By the way, I want to warmly thank everyone who's commented so far. I really appreciate it! *hug*
TITLE: It Never Happened (part 4 of 8)
LENGTH: 37,000 words
SUMMARY: It's the summer of 2001. Buffy is buried under a stone that says "She saved the world. A lot." Those she left behind are struggling to figure out how to live in a world without her, and how to continue to protect it.
WARNING: I wanted this story to fit perfectly into the gap between S5 and S6. So if you think about it, you already know how it ends.
FEEDBACK: Honestly? I crave it.
DISCLAIMER: The characters and the world belong to Joss, but he did say that we could play with them. This story was written for fun, not profit.
If you didn't catch chapter one, you can read it here.
Anya looked up and smiled when the shop bell jangled, but she lost enthusiasm when she saw who it was. “Oh, hello. I thought you were a customer.”
“Sorry to disappoint,” Giles said. “Has there been a dearth, lately?”
“Yes! I haven’t seen more than a dozen customers all day. It’s been very boring, and not profitable enough. You have to let me change the window display.”
“Absolutely not,” Giles sighed. They had already been over this, and he had thought he’d convinced her to let it go. “We are not advertising hexes to the general public.”
“But I could get us so many walk-ins!” Anya halted her whinge when the bell jangled again. She retrieved her smile, and didn’t even seem to mind that it still wasn’t a customer. “Hello Spike!”
“Hi, Anya.” Coming the rest of the way inside, Spike took a look around the store like he was wondering what had changed. It had been only a fortnight since he was last here, in fact, but it must seem like longer. “Rupert says you’ve been handling this place well on your own.”
“He does?” Anya’s smile grew a little brighter.
Giles felt a bit perplexed at her reaction. “Anya, I’ve said as much to you directly.”
“Oh, I know, but it sounds more sincere when you say it to somebody else.” Anya pulled out a feather duster and headed over to the shelves. “So, I guess that you’ll be back full-time now?”
“Yes, of course,” Giles said, determinedly not reacting to the disappointment in her posture. Anya had been doing a perfectly adequate job filling in, but really, it was his shop. “I’d like to go over the books with you, if I may.”
“I’ll be in the back,” Spike said, and headed for the training room.
Giles spent the next thirty minutes going over the past two weeks’ sales ledgers. He certainly could find no cause for complaint; Anya kept more meticulous records than he did himself, and was not shy about pointing it out.
When he finally closed the book, Anya took it from him and held it to her chest. She took a deep breath. “I’ve been thinking a lot about the way the store is run—since I’ve been running it, you know. And, I’ve come up with a list of suggestions.”
Giles felt his eyebrows twitch. “Suggestions?”
“Yes. For instance, I tried moving the horn toad feet closer to the cash, and horn toad part sales went up by forty percent. We have got to get better at harnessing the power of the impulse buy.”
Without particularly meaning to, Giles found that he had removed his glasses. He therefore finished the gesture, giving them a quick polish before setting them back in place. “Yes, well, I shall look into it.”
“Here’s the whole list,” Anya said—and handed him a letter-sized sheet covered with bullet points.
“Thank you. Anya. This is most ... conscientious of you.” Giles cleared his throat and tucked the folded list into his breast pocket. “I should go and see how Spike is doing.”
Spike was working with the speed bag in the corner, facing away from the door. A shaft of dusty sunlight illuminated him; Giles could see the sweat standing out on his face and bare arms. His movements were languid but well-coordinated; he would hit the bag, let it bounce itself back and forth a number of times, and then let another punch fly with perfect timing to repeat the pattern.
Interesting. Even without vampire strength or reflexes, he seemed to retain the muscle memory.
When Giles let the door shut behind him with an audible thud, Spike didn’t stop but in fact picked up the pace a bit. In the absence of a spoken greeting, Giles noticed the sounds in the room: the rhythmic thwap, thwap, thwap of Spike’s gloves against the ball, the faster clinking of the ball itself on its harness, and the scuffing tap of Giles’s own hard-soled shoes against the concrete floor as he walked towards Spike.
Closer, and he could hear Spike breathing. Not quite panting, but close; he was pushing himself. The tight black t-shirt he wore showed the pattern of his sweat in a darker shade of black. It showed, too, the enviable flatness of his belly, and his lean, muscular profile. It must be said, being a vampire for a while seemed to do wonders for one’s general physical fitness.
It occurred to Giles, with a touch of amusement, that Spike was showing off for him.
But of course after the events of the past two weeks, he could understand why Spike might feel a need to reassert himself. The contrast with last week’s helplessness was striking. Giles found himself admiring Spike’s form openly, safe in the assumption that Spike was not about to turn around.
“Spike,” he said finally, “I’ve finished with the books. I’m ready to take you back home.”
Spike gave the bag one final thump, hard enough to spin it vertically. “All right.” Breathing hard, he backed away from the apparatus and began fumbling with his gloves.
“Let me help,” Giles said.
Spike held out his fists, and Giles quickly undid the velcro. Spike pulled off first one and then the other, dropping them to the floor. Then he shook his head, a bit strangely, as though seeking to clear it. “Bugger,” he said, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment and pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Is something wrong?” Giles asked.
“No, I just felt...a bit—” and that was all the warning Giles had before Spike keeled over in a dead faint.
He managed to catch him, and it was only a couple of shuffling steps over to a handy pile of gym mats. Spike was already stirring as Giles tried to settle him comfortably on the dusty plastic.
“Where...?” Spike mumbled, blinked confusedly at Giles.
“Lie still,” Giles snapped. “I’ll be back in a moment.”
He hurried back with a damp towel and a glass of water, inwardly cursing Spike’s general thickheadedness. Spike, naturally, was struggling to sit up.
“Lie still,” Giles repeated, planting a hand on Spike’s chest for insurance. “Dear Lord, do you have any sense of self preservation?”
“What’s it to you?” Spike let his head fall back against the mats. “Fuck.” He turned to Giles, his look a mixture of defiance and confusion. “What the fuck just happened?”
“I imagine you overexerted yourself.” Giles swallowed. With the initial rush of adrenaline wearing off, it was a little disturbing to realize how alarmed he had been when Spike had fainted. He was getting far too emotionally involved in Spike’s situation. “Here, this should help.” He laid the cool damp cloth over Spike’s forehead. “Let me check your pulse.”
He took it at the wrist, checking against the second hand on his watch. It was rapid and a bit fluttery, but in the second reading it had already improved. Satisfied that nothing was seriously wrong, Giles released Spike’s arm.
Spike scowled at the hand Giles had just been holding. It was the same one he had cut with Xander’s knife that first evening. The cut was healing well, finally, though it would clearly leave a scar. Spike clenched his hand into a fist, then let go and let it flop back down to the mat. “I fucking hate being human.” He rolled his head slightly to the side so that he could meet Giles’s eyes. “Don’t look at me like that, Watcher. I didn’t say I wanted to get turned again.”
Giles wondered what look Spike thought he had seen in his eyes. “I was merely thinking,” he said, “that you might find being human more pleasant if you stopped deliberately sabotaging yourself.”
Spike frowned. “What are you on about?”
Sitting back on his heels, Giles wondered briefly whether it would be best to change the subject. But with Spike generally on the mend, this might be one of his last chances to talk to him at any length. “Spike, you’ve been living closely with humans for several years now, and for that matter you used to be one yourself. I know that you’re not actually stupid. You couldn’t have thought that crawling into your crypt and letting nothing but liquor pass your lips for four days straight would have anything but disastrous consequences.”
“Oh.” Spike blinked, considering. “Well, maybe I didn’t feel like thinking about the consequences.”
“I don’t believe that.” Giles watched Spike carefully. “I believe you were fully aware of where your actions would lead. You chose to engage in ... in a half-assed suicide attempt, frankly.”
Spike’s expression flashed quickly into anger. “Where the fuck do you get that? I came to you for help, didn’t I?”
“I did say it was half-assed.”
“Well you’re fucking wrong.” Spike sat up, throwing the damp towel to the side, and Giles stopped himself from moving to interfere. Spike tucked his legs up to his chest and hugged them, turning his gaze down to the floor. “I didn’t want to die. I just....”
“You just what?” Giles prompted when Spike didn’t finish the sentence after a good fifteen seconds.
Spike stood up, fists clenched. “What the fuck do you even care?!” he said, and without waiting for an answer turned around and punched the concrete wall.
Giles stood up quickly as well, determined to pursue this through to the end. “I suppose I want to know whether it’s worthwhile trying to keep you alive,” he said.
Spike’s shoulders tightened visibly before he turned around. “Well, then, don’t fucking bother. Nobody asked you to.”
Giles stopped himself from the first retort that came to his tongue, which was that Spike bloody well had, in effect, by coming to the Magic Box that night when he was ill. “I’m sorry,” he said instead. “I answered flippantly. It wasn’t fair. Spike...” Spike had turned away from Giles again, towards the wall. Fair’s fair; Giles removed his glasses and reduced Spike to a blur. “I actually do care whether you live or die.” He cleared his throat. “Since the fight with Glory I have considered you an ally. And since you’ve been living with me ... at times I find I even enjoy your company.”
Spike’s shoulders shook with a half-choked laugh. “You do know how to sweet talk a bloke, Rupert.”
“Spike, please. Answer the question.” Giles wasn’t entirely sure what the question was anymore, but he knew he needed Spike to say something.
Spike turned around again, raising his left fist briefly to his mouth. He must have bruised his knuckles, punching the wall a moment ago. Giles put his glasses back on and saw that Spike’s pupils had gone very wide, and he was holding Giles now in a steady gaze. “The nightmares started the first day after—after the demon’s blood mixed with mine,” he said. His voice was hoarse, almost a whisper; Giles had to step closer to hear him properly. “The drink made it so I didn’t dream, or at least so I didn’t remember it. That’s all.”
“Ah.” Giles took a deep breath. He hadn’t thought about that, but perhaps he should have; he’d witnessed the effects of the nightmares on Spike two nights in a row, and since then had provided the means for Spike to drug himself into a dreamless sleep. “I ... apologize, I suppose.”
Spike shrugged, avoiding eye contact now. His fingers twitched like he wanted a cigarette; as far as Giles knew, he hadn’t actually smoked one since Dawn had told him not to.
“Sit down a while longer,” Giles suggested as delicately as he could manage. He suspected that Spike needed more time to recover his strength, but the mood in the room was complex and fragile; he didn’t want to provoke Spike into further explosions, or damage whatever entente they’d just achieved here. “There’s no need for us to hurry home.”
Spike did, finally, sit back down on the edge of the gym mats. Giles sat down beside him and handed him the glass of water he’d brought over earlier.
“Cheers,” Spike accepted it, and drank half of it in one go.
Spike’s grip on the glass drew Giles’s attention to his knuckles; they were bleeding a little, and there would be swelling. Giles cleared his throat. “You should put ice on that.”
Spike rolled his eyes. “Sod off.”
It was like walking in circles, talking to Spike. Giles rubbed his temple in irritation. “Well then, at least let me clean the scrapes.”
Spike slouched back against the wall, putting the glass down and resting his hand on his knee. “All right, all right. Have your bloody way with me.”
Giles did realize that the shallow cuts on Spike’s knuckles posed little to no danger of infection, but after watching him nearly die of blood poisoning Giles wasn’t in a mood for taking chances. He fetched the first aid kit and applied antibiotic cream generously to Spike’s hand before wrapping it with gauze. Spike watched him work, silent but for his breathing.
As he taped the gauze in place, his head bending close to Spike’s, it occurred to Giles that he had had more occasions to touch Spike in the past fortnight than he had had with another human being since ... Lord help him, since Olivia, nearly two years ago. Spike’s fingers were warm, and they twitched against his own as he clipped the end of the tape and smoothed it down. Giles was seized by an insane impulse to take Spike’s hand properly and hold it for a moment.
He quashed it, of course. Bloody hell, it had been too long since he had been intimate with anyone.
“You all right, Watcher?” Spike asked.
Giles moved away from Spike slightly faster than was discreet. “Yes.” He cleared his throat and tried to look annoyed rather than embarrassed. “It’ll do.” He started repacking the first aid kit, which was a fine excuse to avoid Spike’s eye. “By the way, as you may have gathered earlier, I’m planning to return to the shop full time starting tomorrow.”
Spike shrugged. “Yeah, I caught that bit.”
“I was wondering whether you had begun to think about, well, about what you will do.”
Scratching his knee, Spike gave Giles a puzzled look. “Well, I can get to the loo on my own and all, so I think I’ll manage.”
“Er, that’s not quite what I—” Giles snapped the first aid kit shut. “I rather meant, have you thought about employment?”
“Not really,” Spike said, in a tone rather like what one might use if asked have you considered spending your summer holidays in Antarctica?
“You should give it serious thought,” Giles said. “You might recall I was at loose ends myself for a while last year. I found the days very long, at times almost unbearably so.”
Spike snorted. “Yeah, well, you might recall that I haven’t held down a job since 1880. No, scratch that—I’ve never held down a bloody job. I’ve found ways to pass the time, thanks.”
“Ah.” Giles studied the floor near his feet. He hadn’t really wanted to get crass about it, but if Spike was going to be stubbornly obtuse... “In any case, you might give a thought to your financial situation.”
“Oh.” Spike tilted his head, regarding Giles now through slitted eyes. “Free ride’s coming to a screeching halt, then?”
“Well now you’re being overdramatic.” It was easy to be annoyed rather than embarrassed when Spike was being so very annoying. “I certainly don’t expect you to go out and find work tomorrow. You aren’t entirely well yet, and—”
“Sod your fucking charity,” Spike interrupted, standing up. “I’ll be out of your flat tonight if that’s what you want.”
“Spike, don’t be an idiot, I didn’t say anything of the sort.” Sensing that the conversation was headed into a tailspin with its engines on fire, Giles gave the metaphorical control yoke a rather desperate tug. “Let’s give it a week, shall we? Stay with me for another week, and then you can see about a job and such. It’s not charity. I expect you to start helping us on patrol again as soon as you’re able.”
Spike stopped, looking back at Giles with uncertainty, anger and weariness warring in his eyes. He’d halted in a sunbeam; it painted half of his face in shadow and reminded Giles forcibly of the changes he had undergone.
It isn’t easy for him, Giles reminded himself.
“Yeah, all right,” Spike said.
“Good,” Giles said, with real relief. “Then let’s go home.”