Lessons Learned at Last
By Miss Witch & GilesFan

Title: Lessons Learned at Last
Authors: Miss Witch & GilesFan
Email: misswitch@qwest.net and tonycomeback@yahoo.com
Rating: PG 13
Pairing: B/G of course
Summary: A much needed epilogue to Dirty Girls, setting right what Marti and the others have made oh so wrong. Posted just before we get Jossed on Tuesday and all the gang goes back to their strange behavior and dysfunctional relationships.
Disclaimer: BtVS doesn't belong to us. We know that, you know that, everyone knows that. It should though. We treat the characters much better than ME and we think they'd rather live with us than Joss and Marti. (We'd have custody of Giles on alternating weekends)
Spoilers: Season 7, up to and including the painful episodes of Lies My Parents Told Me and Dirty Girls.
Distribution: If you've had permission from either of us before, knock yourself out. If you don't have permission, you've just to ask.
Feedback: We could live with some tossing of the bouquets and mad applause.
Author's Notes:
Miss Witch says: This story wouldn't have been nearly as good without the help and input of GilesFan. I can only say thanks. I think after writing this, I can face the last 4 eps.
GilesFan says: Hey, this one doesn't rhyme! But my god, it was therapeutic. My thanks to Miss Witch for letting me join in on this one-I really needed it.


Buffy's chest heaved as she and Spike carried Xander unevenly between them. The attack on Caleb had gone wrong, horribly wrong. Her mind racing, Buffy glanced over at the injured potentials, some walking on their own, some not. Looking back over her shoulder at the vineyard, Buffy grimaced as she remembered the two potential Slayers who hadn't survived the battle.

Xander moaned softly and Buffy stopped, staring at him. His head was hanging forward, his eye bleeding freely. She wanted to say something, anything, to him, but the words stuck in her throat. She squeezed her eyes shut, wanting it all to just go away, but when she opened them again, Xander was the same. She watched, horrified, as a huge drop of blood pooled in his eye and then dropped slowly to the ground.

"Buffy! What do we do?" The sound of her name forced Buffy's gaze away from Xander's ruined face. Buffy found herself staring at the fear-filled face of another potential. Blood from a gash in her cheek was smeared across her face. Buffy opened her mouth, shutting it again when no words came out. Looking around, Buffy found all the girls waiting for orders, fear clearly etched on their pale faces. "What do we do?" the girl asked again. Buffy stared at her blankly, her mind unable to formulate a simple response, much less a coherent plan.

A sudden crashing from behind sent several potentials skittering, cringing in fear.

"Shit!" Faith said, as she emerged from the underbrush. "Well, that was a fucking bloodbath." The dark haired Slayer surveyed the tattered remains of Buffy's attack party, who stared back at her in fear and awe. Faith turned to Buffy. "So what's the brilliant plan now, B?" she asked sarcastically. Buffy looked from Faith, to Spike, who stood silently, supporting most of Xander's weight, back to Faith.

"I. we should. I." Buffy stammered. She stopped. She looked at Xander again and swallowed hard. "I don't know." Buffy finally whispered, helplessly.

Snarling a curse, Faith strode forward, quickly assessing the situation. "Buffy, get Xander and the other injured girls to the hospital." Faith cocked her head, almost sympathetically, as she stared at Xander. "Better hurry." she suggested. The young potentials watched in amazement as Buffy nodded meekly.

Spike scooped Xander up into his arms so that Buffy could help some of the more injured potentials. Faith whirled around to look at the rest of the girls.

"You!" Faith said, jabbing a finger at Kennedy. "Take anyone who doesn't have anything broken and can walk under their own power back to the house." Kennedy opened her mouth to argue, but Faith cut her off. "Do it!" Snatching up some of the fallen weapons from the ground, she strode determinedly back toward the forest. "I'm going to run interference with any Bringers that may try to follow."

The shattered group split up and stumbled off to their assigned destinations to nurse their wounds.

***************************************************

Buffy walked along the corridor of the emergency ward, staring at the injured bodies in hospital beds. Buffy numbly noted their injuries, cuts, bruises, and broken limbs, each wound an accusation. Several of the potential Slayers had suffered internal injuries and were being treated elsewhere. She had no idea how Spike had explained it all to the hospital staff, and she didn't care. Actually, they probably didn't even demand explanations when she brought people in any more.

[Thank God, because I don't have any explanations to give them this time. How could I explain this? It's all my fault.] Buffy paused at the foot of Rona's bed, staring at the girl's broken arm. Rona's eyes slid in her direction. Remaining silent, she looked away deliberately, as if by not acknowledging Buffy she could make this whole nightmare go away.

Buffy desperately wished it was, indeed, a nightmare. But it wasn't. The unmistakable proof that this was reality lay unconscious in the bed across from Rona's.

Xander's bed was separated from the girls by a thin white curtain, and he was mercifully asleep, the painkillers doing their job. Willow looked up from her bedside vigil as Buffy stepped into view. Buffy barely noticed her as she stared at Xander's bandaged head and eye. The bright white gauze seemed to mock her. Buffy wrapped her arms around her waist as she remembered the dark red blood that had flowed from the mangled socket.

Buffy stifled a sob with her hand as she thought back to the speech he'd given the potentials earlier that evening, of the faith he'd so obviously had in her. Faith that had been incredibly misplaced.

[God, what have I done?] Buffy wondered in dismay. How had she been so blind as to what she'd been walking into? Why hadn't she listened to Giles and the others when they had protested against her plan? [Because I wanted make sure they knew who was in charge. That HE knew.] she thought, cringing. [Guess you showed him.] her inner voice taunted.

Unable to take anymore, Buffy turned and listlessly left the hospital.

***************************************************

Giles carefully laid an ice pack on the forehead of one of the injured potentials. She'd been lucky and had only suffered from cuts and scrapes, and a lump where her head had knocked against a wine barrel. Giles tried to keep his face expressionless as he stood and looked around the room. The potentials sat in clusters, groups of young girls traumatized by what they'd seen and been through. Those that had stayed behind were taking care of those not injured enough for a hospital stay.

Giles took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, sighing as he strived to control the anger rolling through him. Buffy's plan had been flawed from the very beginning, but in her anger, she'd steadfastly refused to listen to reason. Giles' hands clenched into fists. [If she'd only taken a moment to think about what she was doing, this could've been avoided.] Giles thought angrily.

Giles glanced at the clock on the wall, wishing that Willow would send word of Xander's condition. Giles was desperately worried about him. Kennedy had stormed into the house, injured potentials in tow, bursting with the news of his injury. Horrified, Willow had snatched up her purse and with a few mumbled words, had disappeared from the house. If it weren't for the fact that the potentials would've been left unattended and unguarded, Giles would've teleported to the hospital as well.

Kennedy had bubbled over with anger as she'd told Giles about the attack. That Caleb hadn't had anything of Buffy's, it had merely been a trick to get her and as many of the girls there as possible. She'd raged about how helpless they had been, how the Bringers had overwhelmed them and how Caleb had bested Buffy in a single blow. Then she had stopped, staring wide eyed at him, and her voice had cracked as she told how two of the potentials had been left behind.

Giles closed his eyes as a fresh wave of rage threatened to overwhelm him. [Damn Buffy for being so stubborn.] he thought angrily. [Damn her for allowing her personal issues to cloud her judgment.]

"Giles!" The front door slammed open and Giles effortless spun around, grabbing a sword as he did. He lowered the blade in relief as he found Faith standing in the doorway, her hair wild, staring at him. "Giles." she said again. "I need your help. I found some Bringers hiding out, and I need you to help me kill them." Giles nodded curtly, grabbing his jacket.

"Kennedy, keep watch." he ordered shortly. Kennedy nodded her understanding as he and Faith left the house.

***************************************************

Buffy walked the streets to her house alone. Spike had disappeared after getting everyone checked into the hospital. She didn't know where he'd gone, but it didn't matter. Spike wasn't who she wanted now. He couldn't give her the comfort she so desperately craved. Not that she deserved any comfort. Buffy was alone, which was what she deserved to be. She had no right to be comforted after what she'd done.

Quietly, Buffy mounted the stairs to the house. Pushing open the front door, she slipped inside. Kennedy glared at her from her seat on the couch, clenching her jaw. Turning away, Buffy stared at all the potentials, both the wounded and the ones that stayed behind. They watched her silently, saying nothing as she wandered through the house. A blonde potential looked up from the wounds she was cleaning as Buffy passed. Buffy could tell they all wanted to speak, to rant at her, but they said nothing. Which was quite possibly worse than if they'd yelled. Mistrust and loathing radiated off them in waves.

Once again, Buffy was struck by the realization of just how badly she had failed. She'd been so caught up in being right, being the boss, that she'd led them into a slaughter. A slaughter which could've been avoided if only she'd swallowed her pride for a few moments. All she'd had to do was listen to the advice of a man who'd always held both her and the world's best interests at heart.

Blindly, Buffy roamed the house, only to be greeted at each turn with further evidence of her stubbornness. What her stupidity had cost. Every room she went to contained injured potentials. Some cringed when she walked by, as if they were afraid she was going to send them back out to fight. Other merely glared, anger rolling off them in waves. And some just stared blankly, the life and fight gone from their eyes, unable to even summon the energy to react to her presence. Finally, unable to stand the silent accusations in their stares anymore, Buffy left.

Dawn looked as if she wanted to speak to Buffy as she passed, to say something comforting. But seeing the cold pain on Buffy's face, she decided to remain silent.

***************************************************

"It's not like they were difficult to follow." Faith told Giles as she led him down the road. "They just went crashing through the forest as if they didn't have a care in the world." Faith paused thoughtfully for a moment, then shrugged. "I guess after tonight, they really don't." Giles nodded.

"Yes, I suppose they wouldn't." he said softly. Faith stopped in the middle of the road, turning to face him.

"I don't get it, Giles." she said. "Researching this preacher guy made so much sense. I mean, even I could see that and you know books and I never got along. So why wouldn't B be willing to wait? Why didn't she listen to you?" Giles' grip on his sword tightened.

"Ah well, we're not exactly seeing eye to eye lately." he said, trying to keep his voice light. He failed miserably.

"Yeah, I noticed that." Faith said. "What's up with that anyway?" she asked, clearly puzzled. "Before my little trip to dreamland, you two were tighter than tight. No matter what happened, the two of you were inseparable." Faith watched, fascinated, as Giles' jaw clenched and his face became unreadable.

"Now's really not the time, Faith." he said firmly, indicating that the topic was off limits. He started back down the road. Faith rolled her eyes and followed.

"She really did a number on you, didn't she?" Faith commented lightly. "Let me take a wild guess." she said impudently as she strolled lazily at Giles' side, swinging the sword. "It was the whole doin' the nasty with another vampire thing, right?"

"Faith!" Giles began sharply, then stopped. He realized that Faith deserved to know the truth. "Faith," he spoke again more softly, "a great deal has happened to Buffy, to all of us, over the last two years." Slowly, haltingly at first, Giles told Faith about Buffy's leap from the tower, of her death and resurrection.

"Dude, she just keeps kickin', doesn't she?" Faith whispered softly, her voice a mix of disbelief and grudging respect. Giles nodded absently.

Looking up at the stars shining through the trees, Giles took a deep breath. He spoke quietly, more to himself then to Faith. "I couldn't believe it at first. I was overjoyed when Willow called me. I called her a miracle." Faith looked at him, her eyes narrowing thoughtfully as she watched the expressions that crossed his face. His voice took on an edge of bitterness, reflecting old anger. "Until I found out that she had been in Heaven." Giles shook his head sharply as if to dispel the image and started to walk forward again. Then, realizing it needed to be said clearly, he turned back to Faith. "Willow had performed a spell that tore Buffy from Heaven."

The sword grew still in Faith's hand. She stopped and stared after Giles.

"Wow. That's harsh." she said softly. Giles nodded and dropped the point of his sword into the ground and twisted it idly. Faith stood silently silent as Giles filled her in on the remaining events that had taken place while she was in jail. He tried to be brief and objective, but guilt colored his voice as he talked about his decision to leave. A painful mix of sadness, despair, and anger tainted the remainder of the tale, of Tara's death, of Willow's dance with the dark magics, of his own discovery of the rise of the First and the threat to the Slayer Line.

After Giles had finished speaking, he looked at Faith as she stared at him, silent for once. Together they started moving again. Faith pointed silently off to the side, and Giles turned in the direction she indicated.

"What's going to happen to me now?" Faith finally asked, scanning the forest for signs of movement. "Is the Council going to come after me and try to put me down again, or maybe, if I show I'm all good again now, I'll get a new Watcher?" Faith stopped as a thought occurred to her. "Could you be my Watcher again?" she asked, a note of hope in her voice.

Stunned by her request, Giles' gaze snapped to her face. Realizing that she was serious and that there was still more bad news to relate, Giles shook his head.

"There are no more Watchers." he said sadly. "The Council was destroyed a few months ago. The Bringers killed as many Watchers as they could while they went about slaughtering the potentials. Then an explosion destroyed the Council building, killing everyone inside." He snorted. "A terrorist attack, the news reports called it."

"Shit!" Faith swore, shaking her head angrily. "God forbid they bother telling me anything!" Silently, Faith cursed Buffy's selfish silence. Stomping her foot angrily, Faith flipped her dark hair out of her face. "How'd you survive?" she asked.

"I wasn't there." Giles told her simply. "I was fired for abandoning Buffy." Faith snickered.

"How many times you been fired, G?" Giles' mouth twitched with a small smile.

"More than I care to think about." he admitted, ducking a tree branch.

Faith followed him. She looked at his tense back and wondered. "You ok?" Faith asked finally. "I mean, most that I met were stuck up dicks, but I guess some of the people on the Council must've been your friends." Giles didn't turn around to look at her, but she could see him drop his head at her words.

"Yes, they were." Giles agreed solemnly at last. He opened his mouth to continue, but was distracted by the snap of a twig to his right. Both he and Faith instantly assumed fighting stances back to back as Bringers emerged from the woods, quickly surrounding them.

"Ok, a couple more than I'd planned on." Faith noted as the Bringers lunged forward.

***************************************************

Buffy pulled her jacket around her tightly as she wandered aimlessly along the street. Buffy felt like she was the only living person left in town. Not another living soul crossed her path as she walked, staring blankly ahead of her, lost in thought.

Over and over, the night's events in the wine cellar replayed themselves in her head, stuck on an endless loop. Buffy shook her head, trying to clear the memory of Caleb casually knocking her across the room with a single blow. Her entire body ached from her crash into the stone wall. Buffy stared unseeingly at the empty storefronts. Instead, she saw a young girl, her neck broken, lying on the cellar floor and Caleb driving the Bringer's knife into Molly's stomach.. Eyes wide with horror, Buffy realized that she didn't know the first girl's name. They had lived for months together in the house, and Buffy had never even bothered to learn her name.

[Dead.] Buffy thought. [They're dead because of me. That girl died because of me and I don't even know her name.] The realization was like a body blow. Buffy stopped in her tracks, tears filling her eyes. She was responsible for the death of two innocent girls, girls that had trusted her.

So caught up in her own misery, Buffy didn't hear the pounding footsteps behind her, or her name being shouted out. But her Slayer instincts kicked in at the last minute and Buffy threw herself to the ground just as a Bringer sliced down with a knife. Rolling up against the gutter, Buffy watched horrified as the eyeless creature moved toward her, the knife gleaming in the light from the streetlamps. Caught up in her guilt and memories, she couldn't think what to do. Buffy scrambled backwards, crawling on her hands and knees, trying to get away. Just before the Bringer could strike, a figure leapt on it from behind.

"You should really pay a little more attention, B." Faith suggested smartly, as pounded her fist into the side of the Bringer's head. Buffy watched speechlessly as Faith made short work of the Bringer, snapping it's neck in one fluid movement. Flicking her hair out of her face, Faith stood above Buffy, hands on her hips, feet apart.

"Well, well, well, look who it is." Faith said sarcastically. "It's a girl who obviously still needs a teacher." Buffy flinched as Faith threw her words back in her face. Reaching down, Faith held out her hand to Buffy, offering her help up. Buffy batted Faith's hand away as she scrambled angrily to her feet.

"What are you doing out here, Faith?" Buffy demanded, brushing the dirt off her pants. Faith's eyebrows rose at the hostile tone of Buffy's voice.

"Saving your ass." Faith pointed out simply. Buffy glared at the dark haired Slayer.

"I could've handled it." she said shortly, turning away so Faith couldn't see the doubt and fear clouding her eyes. Faith snorted and rolled her eyes.

"Like you handled the attack at the vineyard?" she asked snidely. Buffy whirled around to glare at Faith, using her anger to hide her other emotions.

"Don't you dare judge me!" Buffy took a threatening step forward. "You have no idea what's going on here, what I've been through." Tears gathered in Buffy's eyes as she spoke. "If you knew."

"And who's fault is that?" Faith demanded. "Who's fault is it that I had no idea that the Slayer line was being slaughtered? Who's fault is it that I have no idea what we're up against? I'll tell you who's fault it is." Faith brought her face close to Buffy's and snarled. "It's the same person who's fault it is that we left two girls lying dead in some psycho's basement."

"Shut your mouth!" Buffy shouted. Enraged by Faith's words, and the fact that she couldn't deny them, Buffy pulled her arm back and slammed her fist into Faith's face. Faith's head snapped backwards from the blow. Staggering a bit, Faith grinned as she regained her balance.

"Truth hurts, don't it, B?" she said casually, her right fist flying out and connecting with Buffy's nose. Faith didn't give Buffy a chance to recover before striking out with a roundhouse punch that sent Buffy stumbling. "You just had to prove that you were the boss, didn't ya?" Faith demanded, raining blows on Buffy's mid- section. "You led us into a neon-lit trap just to show him you were in charge." Buffy fell to her knees under Faith's assault, but Faith didn't stop. "Too. Busy. Fucking. Spike. To. Care." Each of Faith's words were punctuated by a blow.

"Enough."

Chest heaving, hair in her face, Faith immediately backed away from Buffy at the soft command. Buffy looked up as a pair of man's shoes came into view. They were covered with dirt and blood.

"Giles." Buffy whispered. Giles looked down at her, a sword held in each hand, his face unreadable. Giles stared silently at Buffy for a moment before turning to Faith.

Tossing her one of the swords, he spoke softly. "Head back to the house, Faith. The girls there still need our protection." Faith nodded and, turning on her heel, began walking away. "Oh, Faith." Giles called. Faith stopped and turned back toward him. "Do me a favor and stop at the hospital." he requested. Faith nodded.

"I'm on it. One Xander report coming up." she promised, lifting her sword in a salute. Giles watched silently as she strode off, disappearing into the night. Buffy followed the exchange with a mixture of confusion and jealousy.

Painfully, Buffy began to climb to her feet. Giles reached down and taking her arm, supported her as she stood. Buffy took the handkerchief that Giles silently offered and dabbed at the blood on her split lip. Giles stepped back and slid his sword into a scabbard on his back.

"Why didn't you say something earlier?" Buffy demanded angrily, staring at the blood on the white cloth. "Why did you let her do that? You're my Watcher, damn it. You should've done something." Giles stared at her silently as she ranted at him, his face devoid of emotion. Faltering when he failed to respond, Buffy fumbled for words to reach him. "Don't you even care that I'm hurt?" He simply stared at her in response and Buffy fell silent looking up at him.

"Are you quite finished?" he asked quietly after a few moments. Buffy nodded and felt the anger rushing out of her. All she felt was pain. Tears filled her eyes.

"I'm so sorry, Giles." Buffy sobbed, throwing herself at him. "I should've listened to you." Buffy wrapped her arms around him, laying her cheek against his chest. Buffy could hear his heart beating and feel the heat of his body.

Giles stood motionless as Buffy pressed herself close, sobbing against his shirt. Closing his eyes, Giles fought the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him. Swallowing hard, Giles brought his arms up.

Buffy felt Giles move and waited for him to enfold her in his arms to help ease her pain; to pull her close and tell her that everything was going to be alright. Instead, Giles placed his hands on her shoulders and gently pushed her away.

"You should go home." he said quietly. "It's not safe out here." Buffy stared at him tearfully, confused by his actions.

"Giles?" Buffy reached out to touch him, but Giles backed away. "Giles, wait, please, I need you." she said tearfully and then watched in stunned amazement as Giles turned his back on her and started walking down the street.

Buffy went numb inside. She scrambled frantically for a way to bring him back, to make him understand her pain. The words came unbidden to her lips. She had meant to shout the words, but instead they came out in a harsh whisper.

"I can't do this without you."

The words were intended to make him react, but instead, they were like a blow to her own heart. She gasped when she realized how deeply she meant them. [I CAN'T do this without him. Oh god, Giles, I was so wrong.] But Giles was still walking away. [He didn't hear me.]

"I can't do this without you," she called after him, desperation in her voice. He continued down the street. She ran to catch him. "Giles, PLEASE! I can't do this without you." It was like a mantra for her, the pure truth of it ringing inside her each time she repeated the phrase. She grabbed his arm and he whirled around to face her.

"I heard you the first time." The barely suppressed anger in his voice made her pull back her hand as if burned. "And I've heard it before as well," he continued sarcastically. "What a shame you didn't remember it earlier tonight, or bloody hell," The sudden pain in his voice cut her like a knife, "any time at all over the last few months." Giles stared down at her, his face tight and eyes bright, and his hands clenched into trembling fists. He seemed about to speak again, but then took a long slow deep breath and shook his head. He turned away and continued down the street. "Go home Buffy," he ordered coldly.

Buffy stared at his retreating back in shock. Silent tears streamed down her cheeks as she realized what else she had lost this night. [No, not `lost.' Thrown away. Driven away.] Buffy felt like she couldn't breathe. [I pushed him away every chance I had and now he's truly gone.] Her knees buckled and she sank slowly to the ground as Giles walked out of sight.

***************************************************

For all the pain Buffy had experienced in her life; losing Angel, losing her mother, even being torn out of heaven; nothing had prepared her for the total emptiness, the complete isolation she felt now. Buffy couldn't move, couldn't think. Buffy had no idea how long she'd been sitting on the curb, staring blankly, when a soft hand fell on her shoulder. "Now Pet, what are you doing sitting here in the middle of the street?" Buffy didn't react as Spike squatted down next to her, continuing to stare into the distance. When she didn't answer, Spike took a closer at her battered face. "Slayer.Buffy, are you ok?" he asked confused. She hadn't had these injuries when he'd left her at the hospital. Spike moved around to face her.

"Go away, Spike." The words were delivered in a flat, emotionless voice. She didn't even look at him.

"Now don't be upset about tonight. These things happen. I'm sure Xander will be just fine. Trust me." Spike reached out to caress her face comfortingly. He snatched his hand back when she flinched away from his touch.

"Spike, leave me alone. Please." The last word held a trace of desperation in it.

"No, look, let's you and me, we'll go back and take care of that crazy preacher man. We don't need the others. We're a team, you and I."

Buffy turned to look at Spike, disbelief clearly etched on her face. "What are you talking about? All of us together couldn't take him tonight and you want to go back alone?"

"Hell, those wanna-be's, they weren't really any help. They just got in the way. But if its you and me, well we know each other's moves and we'll do it together. You watch my back, I'll watch yours." Spike managed to make the last sound suggestive in a way that made Buffy's skin crawl.

"Two people died tonight, Spike. Two `wanna-be's.' Don't you care?" Buffy said, anger in her voice. Spike blinked in surprise.

"We're fighting a war, Buffy." Spike shrugged. "People die. That's life." He paused thoughtfully. "Well, that's death, actually, I guess." Spike sat on the sidewalk next to her. "But it doesn't matter. Feeling guilty about it isn't going to bring them back."

Guilt. Buffy was awash in the emotion. Dropping her head into her hands, she swallowed the bile that rose in her throat. Buffy couldn't believe that Spike was able to dismiss the loss of the two potentials so casually. But she couldn't blame him really. She was the one who had dismissed their lives so casually. If she hadn't treated them as real and valued people in life, why should the vampire do so in death?

"Where did you go?" Buffy asked, her words muffled by her hands. "When you left the hospital." she clarified, lifting her head and staring at him. "Where did you go?" Spike snorted, pulling a cigarette from his pocket and lighting it.

"Went back to the house." he said, inhaling deeply. "I figured with only the old man there, the mini-yous would need some looking after." Spike blew out a stream of smoke. "Good thing too. I'd barely gotten there when he went rushing off, leaving them girls unprotected." Spike shuffled his feet in agitation. "Bloody useless wanker." he muttered under his breath.

"He is not!" Buffy shouted, lurching to her feet. "Giles went with Faith to fight the Bringers that we." Buffy stopped and corrected herself. "That I failed to kill." Spike was stunned by Buffy's sudden and emotional defense of Giles.

"Calm down, Pet." he said in surprise. He stood and gestured dismissively. "Like I said, it weren't your fault. Besides, if you ask me, it's about time he did something useful instead of sitting around the bloody house glaring with disapproval at everyone."

"I didn't ask you, Spike." Buffy said harshly. "You don't know anything about Giles, you never have," she insisted.

"Well I know that the Watcher's lookin' to buddy up with the other Slayer now that you wised up to the fact you don't need him anymore." Spike's smirk disappeared as Buffy gasped.

"But I do need him." Buffy whispered softly. Spike watched her, his eyes filled with concern and confusion. Buffy turned and stared at the pale vampire. "I should've listened."

"Oh come on now!" Spike spat. "You're not forgetting that he tried to kill me, are you?" he asked. Wide-eyed, Buffy shook her head.

"No." she said softly. "No, I haven't." She took a deep breath and seemed to center herself. Spike's eyes narrowed as he saw the change in her posture. "Giles did what he thought needed to be done. I don't like how he tried to do it, but he was right. Being in command means making the hard decisions."

Spike watched in surprise as Buffy turned away and began striding down the street.

"Bloody hell." he muttered, dragging on the cigarette and the flicking it into the gutter. Spike adjusted his leather jacket, and began following the departing Slayer.

***************************************

Faith shivered as she approached Sunnydale Hospital. [Bad memories.] she thought to herself. The last time she'd been here, she'd been a patient. Hiding the sword behind some bushes, Faith took a deep breath and strode inside.

Faith tried not to notice the ring of her footsteps on the cold linoleum floor or the smell of antiseptic in the air as she walked to the information desk.

"Yo!" she said sharply to wake the sleeping attendant. The uniformed man snorted awake and looked at her with bleary eyes. "Alexander Harris." she said. "What room?" The guard opened his mouth to argue, but Faith reached over and grabbed his collar. "What. Room?" she said slowly.

"Fa- four oh seven." the guard stuttered, pointing toward the elevators. Faith released him and strode to the elevators. The doors opened immediately and she pushed the button for the fourth floor.

Faith would've died rather to admit she was nervous about seeing Xander. Despite their history, Faith thought Xander was a good guy who deserved a hell of a lot better than this.

The elevator doors opened with a whisper and Faith stepped out into the hallway. The sound of machines beeping and whooshing assailed her ears, sending a shiver down her spine. They were familiar sounds, sounds that had ingrained themselves on her subconscious.

Faith stopped outside the closed door of room 407. Calming her nerves, she pushed the open quietly, slipping inside.

The room was dimly lit. Willow sat in the circle of light, reading a book aloud to an unconscious Xander. She held his hand in hers, her thumb stroking the back of it soothingly. Willow looked up as Faith stepped further into the room.

"How is he?" Faith asked softly, shifting uncomfortably. Willow's face was long as she turned to stare at her best friend.

"He'll live." The words were empty and both girls knew it. "It's pretty bad." Willow admitted sadly. Self consciously, Faith put her hand on the redhead's shoulder.

"The crazy preacher guy will pay." she swore softly. "I promise you, he'll pay for doing this to Xander."

*************************************

The house was dark when Buffy finally limped home. Standing outside the house, Buffy stared at it for a moment, trying to decide what to do. She really didn't want to go in, to talk to anyone or to explain the fresh bruises on her face.

Making her decision, Buffy walked to the side of the house. Scrambling up a tree, she jumped lightly onto the sloped roof and climbed to her bedroom window. Buffy cupped her hands around her eyes as she peered in through the window. She wasn't surprised to find the room empty. All the potentials had moved their things from the room and she couldn't blame them. She wouldn't have wanted to stay with her if she'd been them.

The window slid open silently and Buffy clambered into her room. Sadly, she looked around the room at the symbols of a childhood that she'd had to give up for her Calling. Buffy stared at the pictures on her wall, pictures of her friends, her family. Giles.

Buffy only had a few pictures of him. So little evidence of one of the most important people in her life. Buffy had never needed it before, had never needed the tangible proof that Giles was a part of her life. She hadn't needed it because he'd always been there. Why would she need pictures when she'd had the real thing?

Now, Buffy was desperate for evidence of their close relationship, hungry for a reminder of what they had shared. Buffy studied the candid shot of the two of them in the library, the one from prom and finally, one Xander had taken as a joke of the two them on the couch in the Magic Box, fast asleep, propping each other up. She studied that one the longest, running her fingers over the image of Giles' sleeping face. Tears welled in her eyes again. She looked at how comfortable they were together, how they supported each other even at rest.

[He was always there for me. What do I do now?] Turning away from the pictures, Buffy climbed onto the bed and pulled Mr. Gordo close to her chest. Curling into a ball, Buffy wept for everything she'd lost, thrown away, never to be regained.

*****************************

Giles stood outside Buffy's bedroom door. He'd known the minute Buffy had come home. He cursed the fact that he could still feel her presence, no matter how hard he tried to squelch it.

Through the door, he could hear Buffy sobbing. Giles' heart broke at the sound. Reaching out, he gently placed his hand on the door. He fought the urge to open it and comfort her, pull her close and tell her everything was going to be alright.

But he didn't. Turning, he walked away.

*********************

Breakfast was a subdued event. There was some conversation, but it was spoken in hushed tones or murmurs and it revolved around the events of the previous night. Even Dawn appeared shocked by the results of her sister's actions. Giles studied the serious faces of the girls that surrounded him as he sipped his tea, memorizing each one.

Faith sat on a kitchen counter eating hungrily. He wondered if she had slept at all. They had talked briefly before bed the night before and she had filled him in on her visit to the hospital. Giles had nearly wept in relief hearing that Xander would live. He didn't think he could have handled that loss. Faith had tried to convince Willow to come home and get some rest, but she'd refused to leave Xander's side. Faith had shaken her head in confusion as she'd said that Willow had just muttered something about yellow crayons before returning to her vigil. Faith had wanted to talk more, but Giles had insisted that they needed rest. He hoped that she had been able to sleep more then he had. Memories of his exchange with Buffy in the street and then listening to her weep in her room had kept him tossing and turning most of the night.

On the other side of the kitchen, Spike smoked a cigarette defiantly. Giles didn't have to look to know that the vampire was staring at him with ill-disguised hate. Giles could feel the heat of the glare. He was almost positive that Spike would've sought Buffy out after her confrontation with Faith. Giles was sure that Spike would find a way to blame him for Buffy's defeat.

Conversation stopped abruptly as if someone had flipped a switch. Giles turned to find Buffy standing in the doorway, her face a mask of dread and sadness. The bruises from her fight with Faith were livid against her pale skin. The potentials studiously avoided looking at Buffy as she stepped into the room.

"I know." Buffy began, but stopped as her voice cracked. "I know that I'm the last person most of you want to see right now." she continued. Looking around the room, she saw that her statement was met by several nods of agreement. Faith and Giles merely watched her with matching blank stares, as if they were waiting for her to finish before making judgment. Buffy could feel the bond of solidarity that the two of them had forged in a few short hours, and it ripped her heart to pieces. [I had that once.] she realized. [And I threw it away.]

"What happened last night should've never have happened." Buffy continued. "I was stupid for leading you into battle without knowing more. Without getting more information about what we would be facing. It's inexcusable." Buffy paused as her voice trembled. "You followed me because you trusted me," she said to the group, "and I betrayed that trust."

Despite her better judgment, Buffy risked a glance at Giles. He was still watching her blankly, his face like stone. Buffy felt her heart sink even further, knowing without a doubt that there would be no forgiveness. She felt Spike move behind her in a gesture of support. Buffy shivered and moved slightly away from him, wanting to distance herself from the vampire.

"I made bad choices." Buffy admitted. "I don't know how to fight this thing, so I decided to go in with guns blazing. I took your faith in me and led you into a battle we had no chance of winning." A slight sob escaped her throat. "And we paid a horrible price for that."

"I don't have the right to lead you anymore." Buffy was crying openly now, but she continued speaking clearly. "How can I expect you to follow when you can't trust me to make the right decisions?" Spike put his hand on her shoulder, but Buffy shrugged it off. "I realized last night that Faith and Giles are the people we need to lead us."

Tears streamed down her cheeks as she looked over at the pair. Something akin to sympathy flickered across Faith's face, but it was quickly gone, replaced once again by the same cold look Giles wore. Buffy turned back to the girls. "I'm sorry." Buffy turned and looked directly into Giles' eyes. "I'm so sorry." she whispered before turning and running from the kitchen.

All eyes turned to Giles. Setting down his cup, he stepped forward and cleared his throat.

"I have no motivational speeches for you." he said shortly. "We don't have time for them. But we will not be going into any more battles unprepared." Giles turned his gaze on Dawn, who had a stunned look on her face. "Dawn, I'll need you to concentrate on research. Find out everything you can about this Caleb person. When Willow gets back, have her analyze the wine from his cellar. Faith will give you her clothes for samples." Dawn blinked and nodded seriously, grateful to be of some use.

"Spike, go find Anya. I think she was checking for leads at some of the demon bars. I'm sure you know the places to look. Take her to the hospital. She'll want to see Xander." Giles ordered, facing the vampire.

"In case you haven't noticed, it's a bright sunny day out." Spike said sarcastically, gesturing towards the sunlit windows. Giles raised his eyebrow.

"Use the sewers and a blanket, Spike. You've gone around in the day many times before." he said simply. Dismissing the matter, Giles turned to the dark haired Slayer.

"Faith, you will immediately take over the girls' training." he instructed. Kennedy opened her mouth to protest, but Giles quelled her with a glance. "Teach them fighting techniques they can easily transfer to a battle. We don't have time to teach stylistic routines. Teach them to fight dirty-survival, not form." Faith nodded. She turned to face the girls.

"I expect you all to be outside in 15 minutes, ready to go." she told them. She pointed at Dawn. "You too, short stuff." she said. "Time you learned something useful."

"Now, wait a minute." Spike couldn't contain his anger any longer. "Buffy was specific in that the Niblet wasn't to be training. It's too dangerous." Giles turned his cold stare on the vampire. Spike took a step backwards under the force of the glare.

"Buffy is no longer in charge." He spoke clearly and slowly as if to a child. "We need every able body ready to fight if need be. More importantly, she needs to know how to defend herself when the battle comes." Giles turned to Dawn. "And I think she can handle it." Raising her chin, Dawn glared defiantly at Spike.

"I can." she assured Giles. Giles nodded.

"Good. Train now, and then research after lunch." Giles looked at all the girls watching him. "We learned a hard lesson last night. Let's not repeat it."

Grateful to receive clear, confident and calm orders, the potentials began bustling about the kitchen. They quickly cleared the breakfast dishes and headed toward the backyard, eager to train.

******************************************************

Giles sipped silently a new cup of tea as he watched them. He was glad to see them responding well to Faith's surprisingly good, if non- traditional teachings. They showed an energy and a confidence that had been sorely lacking for some time. Giles desperately hoped that their current trust wasn't once again misplaced. He would do whatever was necessary to win this war. He just prayed that the cost wasn't too high.

Sighing, Giles sat the teacup on the counter and walked to the living room. He wanted to pull specific texts for Dawn to research. Giles stopped in the doorway. Buffy sat on the edge of the couch, her eyes red from crying, her hands folded in her lap.

"I want to help." she said, her voice carefully devoid of emotion. Buffy studiously avoided looking at Giles. "There must be something I can do." Giles stared at her silently for a moment. He'd never thought he'd live to see the day when Buffy's spirit was completely broken. The realization that it was he who broke it made his heart ache almost beyond his ability to bear.

"You can train and patrol. Take Spike with you if you like." Giles said softly. Buffy looked at him for the first time.

"Do I have to?" she asked softly. "Take Spike." Buffy clarified when Giles looked at her in confusion.

"No, of course not, Buffy." he said, a bit of warmth creeping into his voice. "Just be careful. Avoid getting into any confrontations with the Bringers." he instructed. Buffy nodded and rose from her seat.

"I should go." she said, nodding towards the back of the house. "I should train with the others." Buffy began walking towards the back, but Giles caught her by the arm, stopping her.

"Give them a day." Giles said. "I don't think your presence would improve matters today." Buffy nodded silently, knowing he was right. She looked down at the hand holding her arm. Giles had strong hands, even dangerous hands. But Buffy knew they could be gentle, too. Buffy could remember how gentle they'd been as he had tended to her wounds over the years. They had given her such comfort, holding her when her mother had died, enfolding her when Willow had tried to kill them, caressing her cheek in the Magic Box after her resurrection. [A miracle, he called me.] Buffy thought sadly. [Some miracle.]

For the first time, she noticed how close they were standing. There were mere inches between their bodies. Buffy could smell the soap he'd used in the shower and feel the warmth of his body. She fought the urge to lean forward until her body was pressed against his.

Giles followed her gaze and realized that he was still holding her arm. He quickly released her, moving away as though he'd been burned. Giles strode over to the table with several arcane texts on it.

"Go rest, Buffy," he ordered, his back to her. "You should conserve your strength for patrolling."

Buffy stared at Giles, his back stiff and straight. She knew that she'd been dismissed and it hurt. Her only function would be to patrol now, to keep the vampire population down while the others prepared for the real fight.

"Yes Giles." she whispered softly, before turning and climbing the stairs to her room.

Giles stood motionless, books in hand, as he listened to her footsteps on the stairs. He waited for the sound of the bedroom door closing before he released the breath he was holding and resumed shuffling through the books.

******************************************************

Buffy checked her weapons one last time before pulling her jacket on. Tying the belt, she picked up the sword that lay on her bed.

Buffy had grown to appreciate the chore of patrolling at night. It made her feel useful, a feeling that had been sorely missing over the past few days. Things had quickly fallen into a routine once Giles had taken control. Train, research, patrol.

Under Faith's tutelage, the potentials were quickly becoming a team of fighters, growing more confident in their own abilities and in each other. Buffy regretted the fact that she'd never taken the time to build the sort of loyalty that Faith was receiving now. The potentials had followed Buffy simply because she was the Slayer. They followed Faith because she'd proven she was a leader. [God, I messed up on so many levels.] Buffy thought sadly.

The research team of Dawn, Willow and Giles had gained just a few leads, but each one was a step towards understanding how to defeat their foe. Dawn had come into her own, approaching both physical training and the researching assignments with energy and surprising talents. They had found several of the young girls interested as well, so their early evenings were often spent in heated discussions about the meanings of different passages and possible translations and comparisons of different legends from their many cultures. Having speakers of so many different languages was becoming useful.

Buffy had stayed in the background as much as possible, training apart from the other girls, eating when no one was around, watching how things were just falling into place now that she wasn't in charge. She'd avoided Spike as much as possible, much to his dismay. But Buffy didn't want to be near him. He'd tried to corner her while she was on patrol, but Buffy had been able to shake him.

Spike had accepted Giles' leadership and had helped some with training, but mostly he had stayed away from the house. Buffy was relieved by that. He made her incredibly uncomfortable now in ways that she could not easily define and she couldn't understand her previous almost desperate need of him.

She knew Spike was confused by her new attitude and thought it was probably unfair to him. Yet, it was easier to blame Spike for the tension between her and Giles then it was to accept the blame for it herself. And of course she was still bothered by his casual attitude regarding the potentials' deaths and by his condescending attitude towards Giles. But really, she couldn't help fearing that if Giles saw her with Spike, he'd give up on her completely.

The distance between Buffy and Giles had widened over the past days. She'd watched him interact with the other girls, her heart heavy. She stood in the doorway watching when he had written a verse in Sanskrit on Rona `s cast, making everyone laugh and scramble for the dictionary to translate it. She had come into the hallway in time to see her consoling another potential over having to spend her birthday away from her family. He had given her a gentle hug before sending her to the kitchen where Andrew had prepared surprise cupcakes for her and the other girls. As for Buffy, he had been civil, giving her clear instructions for patrol assignments and politely asking after her well being. But there was no warmth there and he never smiled at her.

Buffy sighed, the emptiness inside her aching. She missed Giles. Even though they were living in the same house together, she missed him. She missed his gentle smiles and hands on her shoulders as he spoke to her. Buffy missed the way he sometimes stuttered when he talked to her. Hell, right now, she missed the way he yelled at her. Anything would've been better then the cool civility he was treating her with now. Absently rubbing the heel of her hand over her heart, Buffy wondered if that ache would ever go away.

Buffy was dragged from her dark thoughts by a soft knock on her door. Opening it, Buffy found Willow on the other side, her hands in her jacket pockets.

"You ready?" Willow asked. Buffy nodded and the two girls silently walked down the stairs and out of the house.

"Thanks for coming with me." Buffy said softly, as they walked along the sidewalk. "I think you're the only person who talks to me willingly. I'm pretty sure Dawn's only speaking to me because I'm her sister." Buffy added wryly. Willow gave a small smile and shrugged.

"It's not like I have any room to pass judgment." Willow told her. "I mean, tried to destroy the world and all."

"Still." Buffy said. "It means a lot."

"It must be hard." Willow pointed out. "No one talking to you." Buffy shook her head.

"I could handle that. I mean, even Xander has shown a bit of forgiveness." Buffy smiled as she remembered her conversation with him. She had slipped out of the house the first day to visit him in the hospital. He'd informed her that he was mad as hell, but he still loved her. Buffy had nearly cried with relief at his words and they had spent a long time just holding hands and trying to reconnect with each other. "So, you know, with the two of you still caring, I could handle it." Buffy stared up at the star filled sky. "It's just."

"Giles." Willow finished for her. Buffy nodded.

"Yes, Giles." she admitted. "I remember when he left me last year. I was so lost without him. That's how I ended up with Spike. Stupid, huh?" Buffy asked rhetorically. "I felt so lost and alone, and I never thought I'd crawl out of the pit of depression I'd fallen in. It was awful." Buffy stopped and turned to look at her best friend. "And it's like a walk in the park on a bright sunny day compared to what I feel now." Willow's face was a picture of sympathy.

"I know, Buffy, and I don't mean to be all blamey or anything when you hurt so much already, but I don't know if you really appreciated what he had gone through. When you died, I thought we'd lose him too.." Her voice trailed off and her face reflected her own painful memories. "But he kept it together, for Dawn mostly, and us too I guess, and then anyway, you were back. I know he was mad at me, like ready-to-kill-me-mad, but goddess, he was so happy too. When he first saw you in the Magic Box, I thought he was going to cry. Or maybe kiss you." Buffy's eyes opened wide at the last statement.

Willow mistook her reaction and smiled sadly for a moment. "You know I was all caught up in being Miss Magic and all that, and I was kinda mad at him for not being impressed enough with me, but even with my own rose-quartzy glasses, I could see that he was really hurting." she said softly. "You never seemed to notice he was there. And then, after that thing with Spike." Willow's voice trailed off.

"Which thing with Spike?" Buffy snorted. "There have been too many times I put him before Giles."

"Why did you, Buffy?" Willow spoke with genuine puzzlement. "Again, not with the blame or the judgment, but I just don't understand how you've kept on with Spike all this time and how you pushed Giles away." The two women stared at each other for a moment before walking again. Buffy was silent for a moment and then answered.

"At first it was because he was here and Giles wasn't. And while it made me feel bad, at least I was feeling. But I broke it off, I really did. I knew it wasn't right. And then he went and got a soul for me. I didn't know what to do. I can't kill him-he has a soul and he got it for me."

"Maybe he got it for you Buffy, but you didn't ask him. You're not responsible for that."

"I don't know, Wills. I think I am. At least I thought I was. Maybe I was flattered, here he had gone and done this for me, and of course Giles couldn't even be bothered to come back with you."

"He had things to do at the coven," Willow began to explain, but Buffy cut her off.

"I know, but when he came back, I couldn't figure him out. One minute he's telling me that the fate of the entire world rests on me and that he can't help me at all. Then he's telling me that he knows best and I should listen to him. I haven't really felt connected to him for months." She paused. "He didn't even hug me when he came back." Buffy murmured softly. Shaking her head to clear her mood, she continued. "And then he goes and tries that stunt with Robin."

"I was so pissed off." Buffy admitted. "He jumps in and out of my life and tries to judge it. I was mad that he goes and gives me all this responsibility and speeches about duty, but then he didn't believe in me, didn't trust that I knew what I was doing." She hefted the sword in her hand so that the flat of the blade rested against her shoulder.

"So, you decided to show him that he was wrong." Willow said. It wasn't a question but a statement. Buffy gave a derisive snort.

"And boy, did I show him or what?" she said sarcastically. Growing serious, Buffy frowned. "It wasn't just about showing him he was wrong. It was about hurting him as much as he hurt me." Buffy confessed softly. Willow put her arm around Buffy's shoulder.

"It'll be ok, Buffy." she assured. "Giles never stays mad at you for long." Buffy desperately wanted to believe Willow, but deep down, she feared that this time would be different, that things had gone too far for them to recover from.

"I don't know, Willow." Buffy said. "I think the emotional marathon man is going to be doing the Iron Man race on this one."

*****************************************************

Spike bided his time, waiting for Buffy to return from patrol. She was avoiding him, and it rankled. Ever since the blasted Watcher had taken over, she'd done everything in her power to be as far away from him as possible. Spike kicked the tree in anger. [Damn her.] he thought. [Doesn't she know I'm on her side?]

It pissed him off to have to follow the orders of the old Watcher. But unlike what he had told Buffy, Spike never considered Giles useless or powerless. He was probably the one person that he actually feared and other than Buffy, the only one in the gang he really respected. [Well, Red can be pretty tough when she's all bad, and I guess the Boy Wonder has guts if no power, and the Niblet's shown some character recently, but really overall, they are a pretty pitiful bunch.]

But Spike had lived with Giles, he knew his power and abilities. [The bloody Scoobies always underestimated him-when they were estimating him at all. They have no idea what they were ignoring.] But Spike knew and more importantly, he knew ol' Rupe's weaknesses too.

Spike had done as he was told, waiting for his opportunity for payback. He wondered idly if Giles had ordered Buffy to stay away from him. And if Buffy was obeying, trying to get back in the Watcher's good graces.

Spike lit a cigarette as he watched Buffy return, the witch in tow. Spike had heard Buffy ask Willow to patrol with her, much to his annoyance. He'd repeatedly offered to patrol with her, but Buffy had rather coldly told him that she preferred to patrol on her own.

Spike waited, watching as the light in Buffy's room went on. He knew from experience that she'd be alone. She spent most of her time alone, since none of the others wanted anything to do with her. It was ironic, but he now had a better relationship with the annoying little potentials then she did.

He'd been positive that this situation would drive Buffy into his arms. Spike had waited impatiently for her to come to him so he could comfort her. But it had had the opposite effect and she'd stayed away from him like he had the plague.

Crushing the cigarette beneath his shoe, Spike crept quietly into the house. Avoiding the potentials in the living room, he snuck up the stairs and knocked quietly on Buffy's door.

"Come in." Buffy's voice had a note of surprise and hope in it. Spike opened the door and stepped inside, drinking in the sight of Buffy in her shorts and t-shirt, ready for bed. Buffy's face fell as she saw who was standing there. "Oh, it's you." she said, her voice flat. Annoyed, Spike shut the door behind him.

"You don't have to sound so excited." he said sarcastically. "I just came to see how you're doin', luv." he informed her. "I haven't seen you in awhile." Buffy shrugged.

"I'm not your love," she said simply, crawling on to her bed. "And I'm fine." Buffy sat at the head of the bed, and pulled her knees up to her chin. Spike sat on the edge of her bed, within arm's reach.

"You sure?" he asked. "You don't seem fine." He reached out to touch Buffy, but she pulled away.

"I am fine, Spike," Buffy repeated, her voice firm. Frustrated, Spike shook his head.

"We've been through this, Buffy. Haven't you learned yet that its not all your fault?" he said, ignoring her words. "You can't carry the guilt of those two girls." Buffy looked at him in disbelief.

"It WAS my fault. I should've known better, but I was so busy." Buffy trailed off. She shook her head, clearing her thoughts. "They were my responsibility. One I didn't take seriously enough." [God, I don't want to go through this with him again.] Buffy thought, exhausted. [Why won't he just leave me alone?] Taking another tack, Spike leaned forward, his eyes soft and caring.

"Buffy, I'm worried about you." he said softly. He reached out and caressed her cheek. Buffy held herself still as his cold hand touched her skin. She looked down at his hands. Like Giles', they were strong and dangerous. And they could even be gentle at the times. But unlike Giles', the gentleness was never real and it never lasted. And the hands were cold, so cold. She pulled away.

"Go away, Spike." Buffy said softly. "Please. Just leave me alone." Infuriated, Spike stood and began pacing the room.

"You're the reason I'm here. The reason I've done any of this." he spat. "Bloody hell, I got my soul back for you." Buffy stared at him. Willow's words echoed in her head. {"Maybe he got it for you Buffy, but you didn't ask him. You're not responsible for that."}

"I never asked you to." she repeated the words out loud, watching him move back and forth across the room. He stopped at the foot of her bed to glare at her.

"Well, I did. Just for you. You owe me!" he declared. Buffy blinked. Suddenly, everything fell into place. Spike had gotten his soul back and she'd felt guilty about it. Guilty because he'd done this because he thought it was what she wanted. She'd kept him around out of guilt, until she didn't recognize it any more. Buffy realized that she'd mistaken her guilt for something else, something more. Spine straightening, Buffy glared at the vampire.

"I owe you nothing." she hissed. "Now I think you better leave."

Growling in frustration, Spike took a quick step towards her, hand outstretched. "Buffy, you don't mean that. I love you."

Buffy's anger flared. "And do you plan to prove your love the way you did last year when you tried to rape me? Spike, I'm all healed up now and if you come any closer, I'll stake you. One more chance: Get. Out."

Spike whirled and wrenched open the bedroom door. "This ain't over, Slayer." he promised. "Not by a long shot." Spike stalked from the room, slamming the door behind him.

Buffy sat back against her pillows, scrubbing her hands over her face. She had a sinking feeling that Spike was right. This wasn't anywhere near over. And she feared that Spike really just had become a liability.

*****************************************************

Giles stood in Wood's garage, studying the crosses on the wall. To be honest, he found it a bit disturbing, but was unsurprised considering the man's history.

"You want to what?" Wood asked in disbelief. Giles turned to face him.

"I'd like to use the school gym tomorrow night for some training. The girls need to know how to handle weapons, and the yard at the house isn't large enough." Giles explained patiently. He smiled. "Besides, I thought you could teach them how to handle knifes in close combat. Faith is doing what she can, but even she has more to learn." Wood nodded, casually studying the walls of his garage.

"Dawn tells me you're in charge now." he said, never looking at Giles.

"Yes." Wood turned to look at him.

"Have you staked Spike yet?" he asked, clearly trying to keep his voice neutral, but unable to disguise his eagerness. Giles shook his head.

"No. He may prove to be useful yet." Wood stared at him incredulously.

"What?" he demanded. "Have you lost your mind? He's a vampire." Wood pointed to his neck. "Look what he did to me." Giles stared at the bandage.

"I know." Giles said regretfully. "But I think we may be able to use him to our advantage. I know he's frustrated by the current situation, but he is still helping us." Wood snorted in disbelief.

"You just don't want to piss Buffy off." he guessed. Giles shook his head sadly.

"That's not it at all. Frankly, I doubt that my relationship with Buffy could get any worse. Spike still has his uses." Giles maintained. Wood stared hard at the Watcher, before nodding.

"Tomorrow night then." he agreed. The two men shook hands and Giles headed out into the night.

************************************************

Buffy stood apart from the girls who'd clumped themselves into little groups, talking nervously amongst themselves. They were excited about this new training and to be out of the house together. Buffy wondered if Giles would allow her to help or if he'd expect her to take a place with the girls.

Buffy was more than a little surprised that she'd been included on this outing. When Giles had made the announcement at breakfast that morning, he'd turned to her and informed her that she'd forego patrol to join them.

Buffy's heart had leapt when he'd spoken to her, his voice soft. [Maybe, just maybe, he's ready to forgive me.] Buffy thought. Buffy looked over to where he stood with Principal Wood, their heads close together as they spoke. The white bandage stood out starkly against Wood's dark skin. Buffy winced as she stared at it. One more thing she was responsible for. One more person who's forgiveness she needed to seek.

Giles watched Buffy out of the corner of his eye as he spoke to Wood, outlining what he wanted to do. Her face had lit up this morning when he'd told her he wanted her here for training. Giles had seen the hope light in her eyes. It had taken all of his will power not to smile back at her.

Now he watched as she stood apart from the others, no longer included in their banter. He'd never really realized how truly cruel young people could be. They, for all intent and purposes, pretended she didn't exist. Although Willow had been privately supportive, even Dawn had distanced herself from her sister. Pity stirred inside Giles, but he tamped it down. There was no time for pity.

Everyone turned as the gymnasium doors crashed open and Spike strode into the room.

"Right. I'm here as ordered." he sneered at Giles. Buffy's heart sank, any hope she had of forgiveness evaporating. Now she knew why Giles had wanted her here. She was here to control Spike. Although he had been fairly good in training with the girls, he still tended to get a bit rough with them. Giles probably thought Spike would be on his best behavior if Buffy was around. Buffy dropped her head, her shoulders slumping.

Giles was still watching Buffy when Spike stormed into the room. Buffy was clearly unhappy to see him. Actually he had been surprised to see how little time the two had spent together since the night at the vineyard. He wondered what had passed between them and how Buffy really felt about the vampire.

Spike strode over to the Watcher, his anger palpable. He had spent all day brooding about Buffy's rejection the night before. He blamed the Watcher for her change of feelings and resented being ordered about. Especially when told that failure to appear would result in Faith dragging him out for some special training in the daylight. Faith had grinned and rubbed her hands in anticipation when Giles had said that, and that had grated on Spike even more. He'd had just about enough.

"Spike," Giles said by way of greeting. "I thought that you could demonstrate some methods of attack commonly used by vampires." Spike's lip curled into a vicious smile.

"Be glad to." he said, lunging forward. He threw Wood against the wall and grabbed Giles by the throat.

Giles was caught off-guard by Spike's sudden attack. Recovering quickly, Giles broke the hold Spike had gained on his neck, and slammed his fist into the vampire's nose. Blood gushed down Spike's face, enraging him further. Giles ducked as Spike swung at him, narrowly escaping a broken nose.

Buffy gasped in horror as Spike attacked Giles. She rushed forward to help him but was stopped by Faith.

"Relax, B." she said. "It's only an act." Buffy stared at Faith in disbelief.

Buffy had known both Giles and Spike long enough to know when they were fighting for real. And this was for real. She could see that Giles was quickly losing ground despite his best efforts. Weaponless, he couldn't counter the vampire's strength. He kicked out but Spike grabbed his leg and flipped him to the ground. Crouching next to him, he let his face morph as he pulled Giles close to him.

[Spike's going to kill him, and no one's going to stop him because they don't think it's real.] Buffy realized in horror.

"That's not an act." Buffy protested. Galvanized by fear, she pushed Faith away and sprinted forward.

"Think you can take everything I worked for away from me?" Spike growled softly in Giles' face. "That you can take her away from me?" Giles pushed against Spike, trying to get enough air into his lungs to call for help. Since everyone believed that this was a demonstration, no one was rushing to help him.

Giles closed his eyes as he felt Spike's fangs touch his neck. He waited for his life to flash in front of his eyes, but it was only Buffy that he saw. Buffy defiant as she left to face the Master, Buffy leaping off the tower to defeat Glory, Buffy angrily yelling "I can't do this without you" outside the old factory and then again, whispering it on the streets a few nights ago. Suddenly, Giles realized that he was, in fact, seeing his life pass before his eyes. That everything came down to her. Even his death.

Spike's fangs were sharp as they sank into his neck but there wasn't as much pain as Giles expected. Then, as suddenly as the pain started, it was gone in a sudden shower of dust. Coughing, Giles opened his eyes to find Buffy staring down at him, her pale face devoid of emotion.

"You were right," she said softly. "He was a liability. We can do this without him." Buffy paused. "But we can't do this without you. "

Buffy spoke in a quiet even tone, staring at the small bloody marks on Giles' neck. Without thinking, she reached out to touch the wounds. For a moment Giles saw her heart in her eyes and then the walls she'd built were back.

Turning, Buffy stared at the shocked potentials that had gathered around.

"This lesson's been learned." Buffy said shortly. "Now get to work." Without another word, Buffy turned and left the gym.

****************************************************

Faith caught up with Buffy several blocks away from Sunnydale High and fell into step beside the blonde Slayer.

"Guess you were right back there." Faith admitted. "It wasn't an act." Buffy nodded curtly.

"Doesn't make up for the rest of my crimes." Buffy murmured. Faith looked at Buffy curiously.

"How long you prepared to pay for them?" Faith asked. Buffy stopped and faced her.

"As long as it takes." Buffy swore fiercely. "I will do whatever I have to to earn his forgiveness." Faith cocked her head and grinned.

"He loves you, you know." Confused, Buffy frowned.

"What are you talking about, Faith?" she asked. Faith's grin grew wider.

"You really are stupid, B. You know that?"

Buffy stared at her with a confused expression. Faith laughed and began to stroll back to the gym.

************

Giles winced as Willow taped the bandage to his neck. Around them, the potentials were training fiercely, spurred on by what they'd seen earlier.

"There you go. Good as new." she declared. Giles grimaced as he stood.

"Thank you." Willow stepped back, watching Giles thoughtfully.

"You need to forgive her, Giles." she said softly. Giles fixed her with a glare, but Willow stood her ground, glaring back. "It's gone on long enough." Giles shook his head.

"No, I don't think so." he muttered angrily. Willow sighed at his stubbornness.

"Giles, Buffy regrets what happened. How does making her miserable help matters?" she asked. Willow moved her hands helplessly. "She's still the Slayer. You need her."

"I need her in battle, and battle alone." Giles spat angrily. Willow's mouth formed an `o' as she suddenly understood.

"This isn't about what happened at the vineyard, is it?" she asked, realization in her eyes. "This is about how she treated you." Giles turned away, flustered.

"Of course not. Buffy was reckless and it cost the lives of two innocent girls." Giles stared at the girls that filled the gym. "She doesn't deserve forgiveness." Willow stepped nearer, putting her hand on his arm. Giles looked down at her.

"Giles, you once told us that forgiveness wasn't given because it was deserved. It was given because it was needed. Buffy needs it." Giles blinked, stunned by her words. Willow continued. "And Giles, I think you need to give it just as much as she needs to receive it."

************************************************

Buffy stood at her window, staring out at the darkness. The potentials had returned to the house several hours ago, clattering about the kitchen, squabbling over the bathroom. Buffy had listened to their excited chatter with half an ear. She was sure they were talking about their evening, rehashing events over and over. Slowly, the house had grown quiet as they went to bed one by one.

She'd almost lost Giles tonight. The realization nearly killed her. She had a taste of life without him, and the possibility of it being forever terrified her. Although she feared that their relationship would never again be what it was, she always held on to the faint hope of forgiveness. If Giles had died, that hope would have been forever lost. And what of the world? [He may be our only hope of defeating The First. If he was gone, they might lose the world.] All of it would've been her fault once again. Her fault because she'd insisted that Spike was important, would be useful.

In the moments she'd watched him fighting Giles, Buffy had known how untrue that was. She couldn't imagine what she'd been thinking to trust the vampire with their lives. [Why didn't I stake him years ago when I had the chance?] she wondered. [It would've saved everyone so much pain and heartache.] Buffy turned her head at the soft tap on her door.

"Come in." she called softly, turning from the window. She imagined that Willow wanted to talk to her about what had happened, what had nearly happened, at the gym. Buffy's eyes widen in stunned amazement as Giles stepped silently into her room. They stared at each other for a moment. Finally, Giles turned and shut the door behind him.

"Buffy." Giles started, only to find he didn't know what to say to her. Licking her lips nervously, Buffy took a step forward.

"I'm sorry." Buffy said, wincing as she heard how pathetic the words sounded to her ears. "You were right, I should've staked Spike long ago." Afraid that Giles would leave if she got too close, Buffy bravely took another step closer. She had to see that he was alright. "I couldn't have handled it if he'd killed you."

"Thank you." Giles said softly. "But really, I don't know that I would've blamed you if you'd let him kill me. Not after the way I've treated you." Buffy shook her head in denial.

"No, you were right. You had every right." she protested. "I was stupid, and I deserve to pay for that." Giles took off his glasses, and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"You didn't deserve to be treated as an outcast." he argued, replacing his glasses. "I was just." Giles words trailed off, and he looked aimlessly around the room, searching for the right word. "Hurt." he finally said, looking up to catch her eye. Ashamed, Buffy hung her head.

"I know, and I'll spend the rest of my life trying to earn your forgiveness." she swore, her voice barely audible. Giles moved forward, closing the distance between them. Buffy gasped in surprise as his hand touched her cheek, warm against her skin.

"You have it." Giles told her gently. Buffy looked up at him, her eyes bright with hope, searching his face. Giles smiled at her, the warm, loving smile that she'd missed so desperately. Buffy threw herself at him, wrapping her arms around him. Tears welled up, but unlike so many cried before, they were tears of happiness and relief.

Giles pulled her close, hugging her tightly to him. Giles understood what Willow had meant when she had said that he needed this as much as Buffy. He needed Buffy not just for the battle, but as his reason to do battle. He rested his cheek against the top of her head.

"I love you, Giles." Buffy murmured, her voice muffled by his sweater. She realized with surprise that she had never really said that to him and she felt the words echo gently in her heart. Giles pressed a gentle kiss to her hair.

"I love you too, Buffy." he whispered.

His words washed over her, through her, filling the empty spaces and healing so much pain. Buffy pressed her cheek against his chest, listening to his heart beat. It seemed to be moving in time with her own which suddenly seemed to be racing.

Buffy pulled away so that she could see his face. What she saw there took her breath away. The love he declared was so clearly written on his face, but it wasn't the love for a daughter or a friend. Suddenly, Faith's words made sense to Buffy. Giles was in love with her. Buffy found herself exhilarated by the discovery. Suddenly Buffy realized just how she had meant the words she had whispered and wondered how she could have waited so long to say them.

Moving her hands to Giles' chest, Buffy fisted them in his sweater. "Giles, I love you," she repeated, her voice trembling with emotion. Standing on her tiptoes, she slowly lifted her face to his. Giles stared in wonder as Buffy brushed her lips against his. When she began to pull away, Giles lifted her up and caught her mouth in a hungry kiss.

Buffy returned the kiss passionately. She hadn't realized before this moment how badly she'd wanted this, needed this, from him. Her lips parted in invitation, and Giles' tongue slid inside. She could taste the tea he'd been drinking earlier as her tongue dueled with his. Giles tried to keep the kiss gentle as he explored Buffy's mouth, his hands running lightly up and down her back, but Buffy pulled his head down and crushed her lips against his. She couldn't get close enough.

Finally, slowly, reluctantly, they pulled away from each other. Buffy lifted her hand and traced Giles' lips with her fingers. Giles captured her hand with his own, pressing a kiss to her fingertips. Gently Giles cupped her face in his hands and pressed another kiss to her lips before drawing away. He stared deeply into her eyes, feeling his pain and anger fade away. He smiled at her and she smiled back with a brightness and warmth he hadn't seen on her in years.

He took a deep breath and smiled. "Tomorrow, you'll help Faith train the girls." Giles told her. "After all, you're My Slayer." Buffy nodded gratefully, understanding that she had been forgiven in every possible way. Then he continued, his voice deep with emotion. "And I can't do this without you." Buffy choked back a sob at the words. She had cried enough and just wanted to be with him. Her eyes showed him that she understood his meaning. She wanted to heal his pain and let him heal hers. She reached up and mirrored his actions by cupping his face.

"Stay with me tonight, Giles." Buffy requested softly. Giles blinked in surprise, but then pulled her close, his mouth hot on hers, hands in her hair and running along her body. Buffy's last coherent thought as Giles pressed her into her mattress was that neither was going to ever have to do without the other again.

 
END