Author’s Notes: The next in my series of holiday request ficlets. This holiday was Yom Kippur, and ayinhara was a huge help (as she usually is). Jewish tradition reserves the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for repentance. The idea is that if you have called God’s judgment down upon you as a result of your actions, you can repent and reconcile with those you’ve harmed and change His mind. I hope you all enjoy.
The air was perfumed, and not with the scent of death and blood. Spike couldn’t remember the last time he’d smelled anything else; it had been months, if not years.
No, just months; it only felt as if they’d been fighting for an eternity.
“Hey. Are you awake?”
For a moment he thought about ignoring the question, fearing that it was only a dream—but he knew that reality could not be changed merely by wishing it were so. “Yeah.” Spike opened his eyes to see Buffy sitting on the edge of the bed, gazing at him with worried eyes. “I’m awake.”
She didn’t touch him, but he could see that she wanted to; her hand hovered over his for an instant before it was withdrawn, then came to rest on her lap. “You okay?”
Because she’d reached out to him first, and because she’d come for him, Spike gripped her hand in his. “I’m fine, thanks to you.”
There was a part of him that resented the fact that she had been the one to rescue him, and that she’d been too late to save the others, too late even to save Angel. He wondered if her reaction would have been different had the other vampire still been alive.
“I should have been here earlier,” she replied. “If I had known—”
He squeezed her hand gently to stop her speech. “No. I could have called; Angel could have, too. Wasn’t your fault that you didn’t know.”
She focused on their joined hands. “Are you hungry?”
“A bit. Give me a mo’ an’ I’ll get dressed.”
He felt her eyes on him as he slipped from between the sheets; there had been a time when she would have left the room in a huff, rather than looking at him hungrily. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you that you’re looking good for a dead man.”
Spike glanced over her shoulder as he pulled on his pants. “Yeah?”
“Why didn’t you call?”
He was used to Buffy’s mercurial changes of mood by now, and so he didn’t question the swift change of subject. “Didn’t know that you’d want to hear from me. I went out with a bang, an’ then I was supposed to tell you I was back from the dead?”
“It would have been nice. I missed you.”
Spike paused in the act of pulling his shirt over his head. “Yeah. I missed you, too.”
“You didn’t believe me?”
“I couldn’t. It would have hurt too much.”
She nodded slowly, her eyes shadowed with regrets he’d only added to. Buffy rose from the bed, and faced him, shoulders squared and chin up. “Come on. We can talk about this again later.”
Spike couldn’t say he was looking forward to that conversation.
Buffy was proud of herself for remaining calm. She hadn’t even flinched when Spike had told her that Angel had been dusted just a few days before, or when he’d said they’d been fighting for months by the time she’d arrived with her battalion of Slayers. She hadn’t freaked out when she’d seen him for the first time—battered and bloody, but still fighting.
It wasn’t how she’d imagined finding him—when she’d fantasized about Spike being alive, it had mostly revolved around him showing up at her door and having hot, sweaty sex. That, and her telling him she loved him and Spike finally believing her.
She had never believed that Spike would actually come back, though. He had died saving them all, and a person didn’t come back from that.
Okay, she’d come back, but Buffy was fairly certain that was a one time thing.
Buffy wasn’t angry that Spike hadn’t contacted her; he’d had good reason to doubt her love. She was angry that Giles hadn’t told her that he was alive, and she was angry that he hadn’t told her about the big demon army descending on Los Angeles. She was pissed as hell that so much destruction had occurred, and that she hadn’t been able to do anything to stop it.
“Hey.” Willow glanced up from her coffee cup as Buffy entered the kitchen, and her face said she knew exactly what was going through Buffy’s head. It wasn’t surprising, since she’d been there when Giles had finally broken the news. “How’s it going?”
“Did you pick up blood?” Buffy asked.
“In the fridge,” she responded, offering Spike a tentative smile. “Are you feeling better today?”
“Wasn’t feelin’ that bad before,” he replied. Then, seeming to rethink his surly attitude, he added, “Thanks.”
Her smile faded. “I wish we could have gotten here sooner. After what you said about Fred…”
Spike focused on the contents of the refrigerator. “We tried to call.”
“Wait. What?” Buffy asked, echoed by Willow. “When?”
“When she was infected with the virus that turned her into Illyria,” Spike replied. “Thought you knew.”
“Um, no,” Buffy replied. “Who did you talk to?”
“Why didn’t you call me?” Willow demanded. “I liked Fred.”
Spike straightened, raising his eyebrow. “Didn’t have your contact info.”
“It was my fault.”
Buffy turned to face her Watcher, who was standing in the doorway. She noticed how Spike’s posture stiffened, and she shifted closer. “You had no right, Giles.”
“I realize that now.”
“It’s a little late for that!” Willow said sharply. “I might have been able to save her. I would have liked the chance.”
Xander edged past Giles in the doorway, glancing around at the kitchen’s occupants. “Hey. Spike, you want to give me a hand with something?”
“Spike needs to get something to eat,” Buffy said.
Spike’s eyes crinkled with amusement. “Think I’ll be fine, pet.”
“Bring the blood with you,” Xander suggested. “It won’t take long.”
Spike shrugged. “Sure.”
Buffy caught Xander’s eye, and he raised a shoulder in Giles’ direction; she realized that he was clearing the way so that she and Willow could have it out with Giles. It was probably for the best, since her Watcher was likely to speak more freely without Spike in the room.
“Willow—” Giles began.
“No,” she said. “Why, Giles? This is what we do, we save people. You just left them.”
“Wolfram and Hart is evil,” he replied. “I had to assume that Angel had been subverted.”
“Why?” Buffy demanded. “Why did you have to assume that? You knew that Spike was alive, and you knew what he meant to me. He died to save the world.”
“And he was working with Angel,” Giles replied. “Buffy, he—”
“Stop it.” Buffy took a deep breath. “I’m going to believe that you had our best interests in mind, and that you weren’t deliberately trying to keep us apart for some other reason. I’m going to go with that assumption because otherwise I’d have to give up a job that I happen to like. We can work together, but otherwise we’re done.”
There was nothing he could say or do to make up for lying to her for all those months, nor would she ever be able to truly trust him again.
“What do you need?”
“I thought you might want to get out of the line of fire,” Xander replied, leading him out onto the back porch of the house the Council had found for them to use. “Things are going to get tense in there.”
“They weren’t before?”
“Buffy and Giles were getting along again before she found out you were alive.”
“That an accusation?”
“Just an observation. She missed you. She didn’t say much about it, but it was obvious.” He sat down on the top step and waited for Spike to join him. “We talked about it a little bit because I could understand. You know, after Anya.”
“I heard.” Xander couldn’t see him because Spike was on his left. He was still debating over exchanging the eye patch for a glass eye. The socket was healed enough, but he liked the way the patch looked. “I was sorry about that. She was a good one.”
“She was.” He could say the words with only a tinge of sadness now; he’d mourned her death and had moved on. Or at least moved forward. “I miss her.”
Spike was quiet for a moment. “I’m sorry, you know.”
“Not bein’ able to save your eye. I wasn’t fast enough.”
“It wasn’t your fault.” Xander turned to give him a crooked smile. “I didn’t get a chance to say thank you.”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“That’s not the way Buffy told it.”
“I did what anybody else would have.”
“I don’t know about that.” Xander closed his good eye and thought about how they had found him; they had been surrounded by Slayers, playing the heroes, come to save him and the world, only to discover that Spike had saved himself.
There weren’t a lot of people he knew who could stop a demon army, even if they’d had Angel’s help.
“Thanks. For comin’.”
Xander just smiled. “What else could we do? We might not like each other, but we’re family.”
Of course, he did like Spike these days, but he wasn’t about to admit it.
Buffy knew Spike was on the back porch; she could sense him. Willow and Giles’ voices floated out of the kitchen. They were trying to stay quiet, to not be overheard, but it was all too obvious that the discussion—argument—was growing heated.
There was no apology Giles could make, no way he could atone for the months she’d lost with Spike. No way she could forgive him for allowing her to mourn when he’d known Spike was alive.
Maybe it was wrong to blame Giles when Spike or Angel could have contacted her, but she couldn’t see it that way. The reality was that she had waited too long to tell him, and she hadn’t been honest when she’d had the chance. There were consequences to every action, and every inaction. She’d paid for her mistakes, and it sounded as though Willow was making sure Giles was paying for his.
Hearing Spike ask that question sent her back; it was déjà vu all over again. “Yeah. You?”
He shrugged. “I think the world might have ended without me knowin’ about it, but I’m alright.” When she frowned, puzzled, Spike added, “Harris is actually bein’ civil. That your doing?”
“You died to save the world, Spike. It’s a big deal.”
His head went down, and she could see the embarrassment on his face. “It wasn’t that big of a deal. Didn’t stick, did it?”
Buffy frowned, swallowed. “Don’t you get it?” she asked, incredulous. “Those things would have overrun Sunnydale if not for you. They probably would have—” She broke off; that possibility was the stuff of nightmares. Her nightmares, to be precise.
“I was the sacrifice, Buffy, I get it.” The words were brusque, but his voice was gentle. She realized that he didn’t want to talk about it, that it was part of the reason why he hadn’t wanted to tell her he was back.
Coming back cheapened his very real sacrifice—or that’s how it might feel. Buffy knew that had been part of her reaction to being brought back from the dead.
“I understand coming back,” was all she said, however. There were no words for the rest of it, to explain how she knew.
He nodded. “You would. So, what next?”
“It’s up to you. If there’s more cleanup to do here, we could stay, or you could come back to Rome with me.” She smiled. “Or we could go somewhere else altogether.”
“We, huh?” Spike took a step closer to her, the expression on his face familiar. It was the one he’d worn when he’d tried to seduce her; back then, Buffy had found it annoying, but right now it was welcome.
“If you’d like,” she replied.
“That what you want?” His hand came up to cup her cheek. “After everything—”
Her hand closed over his. “That’s done, Spike. I think we’ve both made up for the past. At least, I hope we have.”
“Yeah,” he breathed. “I think we have.”
Willow wasn’t holding back; she didn’t see the point. From the very beginning, they had intended the new Council to be different from the old; this Council existed to serve the Slayers, and not the other way around. Unfortunately, Giles seemed to forget that he wasn’t the autonomous head, but the person that they had entrusted with the job of overseeing the organization and care of this new army. He’d seemed the one best suited to the task, but she was beginning to question that assumption.
“I made a mistake, Willow,” Giles finally said irritably. “But I did what I thought was best.”
Willow raised her eyebrows, crossing her arms in front of her. “And your decision may have led to the unnecessary deaths of a number of people,” she pointed out relentlessly. “You do not have to be the head of the Council, Giles. We could call for a vote of no confidence.”
Some of the color drained out of his face. “You don’t mean it.”
“Who do you think the others would follow?” she asked, meaning it to be a rhetorical question. “Buffy, Xander, and I, or you? If it came down to it, I don’t think we would have any trouble finding someone who wouldn’t make assumptions that old friends had gone to the dark side without proof.”
“We can.” Xander spoke from the doorway. “Will’s right, Giles. I hate to think that you would have kept information like this from me if it had been Anya who had returned from the dead, rather than Spike.”
Giles opened his mouth to speak, and Willow guessed what he would say. Anya hadn’t been a demon when she died, but she had been a demon shortly before that, and she had been responsible for the deaths of a dozen frat boys.
Of course, she’d been willing to give her life to put things right, but so had Spike.
“Don’t,” Xander said sharply. “Don’t say it’s different, because it’s not. Buffy has every right to be angry, but we need her, Giles. You told her so yourself.”
Willow kept silent, watching his face, wondering if he’d come around. It was true that they had given Buffy some time off, but eventually Giles had convinced her to strap on a stake again. The truth was that they’d needed the most experienced Slayer on record, and they needed her a lot more than they needed Giles.
“Figure out how to reconcile with them, Giles,” Willow advised him. “You’ve got ten days before we’re scheduled to fly out. If you can’t make it right with them before we leave, we’ll call the vote when we go back.”
She walked out of the small kitchen, followed by Xander. “Do you think he’ll do it?”
Willow shook her head. “I don’t know. He doesn’t like Spike very much, and I’m not sure that Buffy will ever trust him again.” She sighed. “I’m not sure that I will.”
Xander put his hand on her shoulder, stopping her just short of entering the living room where she knew Spike and Buffy were. “Who would we get to lead the Council?” he asked in a low voice. “Is there anybody else?”
“I don’t know.” She let out a sigh. “I think he’ll make the right decision. At least, I hope so.”
Giles knew that he had made a serious mistake, and that his decision had cost lives. It hurt to find out how wrong he had been, then and now. He had conspired to have Spike killed, thinking that Buffy had unwisely placed her trust in him, and yet the vampire had sacrificed himself to defeat the First. He had believed that Angel was corrupt, and Spike with him, only to discover that the vampires had overthrown the Black Thorn and were fighting against the demon army sent by the Senior Partners.
But how to fix this mess? He had no doubt that Willow would do as she threatened, and while he was unsure of her ability to find an adequate replacement, Giles didn’t want to deal with the consequences of calling for such a vote.
Whether he was relieved of his position or not, Giles knew that he would face unrest and distrust after such a vote. It would be likely to create a lack of confidence, more than anything else.
He turned to see Buffy standing in the doorway, her eyes shadowed. “Buffy, I—”
“Willow told me what she said she’d do. This isn’t what I wanted.”
“I know.” He wondered if she could see and hear the remorse he felt. He’d made so many wrong decisions where she was concerned, and he knew that this might be the final straw. “I never meant to hurt you.”
“There’s nothing you can do to make this right,” Buffy said flatly. “And I don’t know that I can trust you again.”
Her words were a blow. “I’m aware of that,” he replied slowly. “But I’d like to try.”
She looked away. “It’s up to Spike.”
Giles blinked. “What?”
“It’s up to Spike,” she repeated slowly, as though he was being deliberately obtuse. “We’re together; we’re staying together. Willow says that if I leave the Council, she’ll call for the vote, but I’m not going anywhere without Spike.”
So this was what his future rested upon, Giles thought with a certain grim humor—a demon’s ability to be magnanimous. It was ironic.
“Very well,” he said evenly. “Where is he?”
“I’m here.” Spike sounded irritated. “Go get somethin’ to eat with your friends, luv. We’ll hash this out between us.”
Giles could see that she was reluctant to allow Spike out of her sight for any length of time. “Are you sure?”
“We’ll be fine.” Spike pressed a gentle kiss to her lips, her hand cupped the back of his neck. Giles knew that they had spent very little time together—at least when they were both awake and conscious—since they’d found Spike the day before. He had a feeling that this brief separation would be counted against him as well.
When they broke their embrace, Buffy ducked out of the kitchen without looking at Giles again, but Spike met his eyes, his expression a clear challenge.
“Stuff it,” Spike replied rudely. “Look, you an’ I both know that it’s as much my fault as yours that Buffy didn’t know I was alive. I’m pissed off that you didn’t do anythin’ at all about Fred; you wouldn’t find a nicer bird.”
Giles felt the heat rising to his face. “To be fair, Spike, you lot didn’t give me much time.”
“You think we had time to give?” Spike demanded incredulously. “You know how these things work, Watcher. You’ve been in the game long enough. Somebody contracts a demonic illness, they’re likely dead in hours, not days.”
He was right, which irritated Giles that much more. “Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?” The question probably came out more sharply than he’d intended, but Spike did tend to bring out the worst in him.
Giles was beginning to wonder if that was a failing in himself, rather than the vampire.
“No.” Spike spoke bluntly, his expression making it clear that he meant it. “If you’d done a bit more investigating, or if you’d helped us when we asked, some good people might not be dead now.” His gaze was sharp. “But knowin’ a little something about guilt, I imagine knowin’ that will be punishment enough.”
“I’m off to bed,” the vampire said. “I haven’t had a decent kip since well before we went after the Black Thorn. Think you owe me that anyway.”
“And more,” Giles acknowledged.
Spike glanced over his shoulder as he left the kitchen. “You needn’t worry, you know. You’re the best bloke for the position at the moment, an’ they’ll leave you there. Won’t be but another couple of years, though, an’ one of them will be fit for it. If you keep movin’ along like you’ve got blinkers on, they’ll put you out to pasture.”
The warning stung, but Giles thought he might be right.
Spike felt the bed shift, and he could smell Buffy’s familiar scent. “How was lunch?”
“I thought you were asleep,” she said.
“Was. You came back.” He rolled over to look at her. “Well?”
“It was fine.” She still looked troubled.
He sighed. “You don’t have to get rid of the old duffer on my account. We’ll be civil.”
“I don’t want you to be uncomfortable.” To Spike, at least, she appeared adorably determined.
“Luv, I’m a souled vampire who’ll likely be workin’ with a bunch of Slayers. I wouldn’t say that’s comfortable.”
“But I’ll be with you.” Spike nuzzled her neck. “I’ve been given a reprieve in that much at least.”
Buffy snuggled in next to him. “Willow’s withholding judgment for the time being,” she admitted. “I think she wants to reinforce the idea that we live in a democracy now. None of us can really afford to go off on our own at this point. We’re responsible for too many people.”
“Now that’s a scary thought.”
“Being responsible for a bunch of Slayers.”
“It’s better than it was on the Hellmouth,” she replied. “There’s a chance for privacy.”
“Like right now?”
“Something like that.” Her grip tightened. “Then will you come? Will you stay with me?”
“’Til the end of the world,” he promised.