TITLE: It Never Happened (part 6 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.
Giles parked half a block away from the address Ethan had given Spike. They could easily have walked from Giles’s flat, but it had seemed more prudent to bring the car; it left more options open.
Willow was riding shotgun—both metaphorically and rather less metaphorically. “There it is,” she said, pointing up the street. “With the green and white sign.”
She had telephoned early in the morning. The ringing had woken Giles from deep slumber, and he’d grabbed the phone and said “Hello?” before even remembering that he wasn’t alone in his bed.
Willow had been ringing to warn him that she and Tara had noticed some sort of local magical disturbance; of course Giles had guessed right away that Ethan’s appearance in town was the cause. He had then faced the daunting task of maintaining composure while explaining this to Willow, with Spike a few feet away blinking sleepily at him. Spike, naked. In his bed.
Once she had received a highly abridged version of the previous evening’s events, Willow had proved quite eager to accompany Giles to Ethan’s shop. She’d arranged to meet Giles at his flat in half an hour, which gave Giles just enough time to pull himself together.
Spike hadn't revealed his intention to come along until Willow had already arrived. This had made it very difficult for Giles to refuse him.
“Looks posh, don’t it?” Spike said, hands tucked in his pockets, as they approached the shop.
He had slept undisturbed the whole night long, as far as Giles knew, under the combined sedative effect of the sleeping pills Giles had given him and the beers Ethan had bought him. Now he squinted against the morning sun, sizing up the façade of this new shop that had appeared between the used book shop and the drycleaner’s.
Giles was annoyed with him for coming, and worried about what Ethan might be provoked into saying in front of Willow. There was no conceivable way that Spike could actually help. Spike himself was aware of this. When he had plunked himself in the backseat of the car and informed Giles that there was no bloody way he was getting left behind, he hadn’t tried to argue that he would be useful; he had only said “Ethan’s an evil bastard and he messes with your head.”
Now Giles pulled open the front door of the shop. A bell tingled, identical to the bell that greeted customers at the Magic Box. The shop was a bit on the dim side, but tastefully decorated in green and white. It all smelt of sawdust and fresh paint. As for the actual goods on display, it appeared to be a camera shop. An antique Brownie had pride of place in a display cabinet, and the shelves held all manner of more modern photography equipment. The wall behind the front counter was lined with multicolored packets of film. And in front of that wall stood Ethan.
“Good morning!” he greeted them, clasping his hands together in a parody of an eager shopkeeper. “How may I help you?”
“By leaving Sunnydale and never coming back,” Giles suggested, his voice icy cold. Willow stepped up to stand behind him, while Spike remained a half pace behind, glowering at Ethan.
Ethan's false smile shifted into something a little bit nastier. "Now, Rupert. Can't you think of a nicer way to greet an old friend? Introduce me to your very sweet companion there, for instance." He leered at Willow, who bristled in response.
"We've met," she said. “You turned me into a ghost.”
"Ah," Ethan said. "You've ... flowered, since then."
"Is he flirting with me?" Willow said under her breath to Giles. "That's disgusting."
"Ethan," Giles said, "You aren't welcome here. We've asked you politely to leave. If that doesn't work, we are prepared to use force."
"Got your commandos waiting out on the sidewalk, do you?" Ethan said, looking unconcerned. He thought, clearly, that he was calling a bluff. "Oh, that reminds me, I never had the chance to thank you for my last little sojourn with the military." And without warning he snatched something from under the counter and threw it at Giles.
Spike shouted a warning and Giles ducked, but too late—it certainly would have hit him if it weren’t for Willow. With a gesture, she stopped the object—a tiny glass ball—in midair. It hovered, bobbing gently.
"Bravo," Ethan said. "Well done. I know Ripper didn't show you that trick; he never could get the hang of telekinesis."
Neither had Ethan, but Giles declined to point that out. "What spell is in the ball?" he asked instead.
Ethan smirked. "It would have made you my slave."
Willow squeezed her fist and the ball, two feet away, shattered inward and disappeared. "Six weeks ago I faced down a god," she said—lightly, but with an edge to her voice that Giles wasn't accustomed to hearing. "You might want to think twice about threatening my friends."
Ethan looked shaken. He always had been a coward, Giles reflected bitterly. Then Giles glanced over at Willow and saw that her eyes had gone black.
"I was joking," Ethan said, rather desperately. "The spell was harmless. It would have made his hair grow ten inches overnight, that's all. I swear. It's a parlor trick. I've given up chaos magic."
"Let go of the power," Giles advised Willow very quietly, touching her arm. When he did so, he felt all of the hairs on his own arms stand up. She was beginning to unnerve him. "We can talk to him." And then, to Ethan, "I don't believe you. Why have you come back to the Hellmouth?"
"To open a camera shop." Ethan gestured widely, and then took a display model from a shelf behind himself. "Say cheese, Ripper." He snapped a picture before Giles could half raise his hand to stop him.
"Do that again, I'll bloody rip you a new one," Spike said—and this, of course, was a bluff, albeit a convincing one.
"Sorry, I forgot to take your primitive superstitions into account," Ethan said with a smirk. He toggled a switch at the bottom of the camera, and Giles heard the soft whirr of rewinding film. "Afraid I'll steal your soul?"
"Good luck with that," Spike muttered, crossing his arms and retreating a bit. "Not even sure I've got one."
Ethan didn't seem to have been listening to Spike, which was probably for the best. The whirring having stopped, Ethan popped out the film and tossed the empty camera at Giles. "See for yourself, it's a perfectly ordinary device."
“The film, too, if you please,” Giles said.
Ethan rolled his eyes at that, but he complied. Giles tucked the roll into his pocket to destroy later—better safe than sorry, as it were—and set about examining the camera.
Meanwhile, Willow was wandering around the perimeter of the store, looking at the shelves. "There aren't any digital ones," she observed, picking up a pink Fuji and turning it over in her hands.
"Certainly not," Ethan said, puffing up behind his counter. "Photography is an art. Computers have no place in it."
"Everybody's going digital now," Willow said. "How are you even going to stay in business?"
Ethan stood up even straighter. "I think you'll find this world still has a place for classical beauty."
Giles stepped forward and placed the camera Ethan had used down on the counter. It appeared innocent enough, but Ethan would never stop being Ethan—there had to be some dark purpose here. "We aren't here to evaluate your business plan," he reminded Ethan. Only the width of the counter separated them now; if he chose to, Giles could reach out and grab him by the lapels of his appalling silver-threaded jacket. "We're here to shut you down and run you out of town."
"Well, that's a lovely way to treat an old mate who's trying to put an unfortunate past behind him and make something of his life." Ethan put on an aggrieved expression that did not suit him at all. "I'd think that you of all people, Ripper, would appreciate the need for second chances."
"I've lost track of how many chances you've had," Giles said. "This is your last warning, Ethan. You are not welcome here."
Ethan shrugged. "So much for appealing to your better nature. Blackmail it is, then."
Giles felt a terrible clenching in his stomach, and he very deliberately did not look at Spike. "We will not respond to blackmail," he said. After all, he and Spike could simply deny everything. Ethan had only his speculations; he couldn't know about last night.
Ethan smiled. "I think you will. You seem very concerned with keeping this secret. Where did you find such a pretty robot?"
Willow looked up sharply, dismay on her face. Giles felt quite broadsided. "What are you suggesting?" he asked as coldly as he could manage.
"Your Slayer's gone. Dead, I imagine. And you haven't told the Council, you naughty boy. Afraid of the pay cut, are you?" Ethan shrugged. "Let me keep my shop, I'll let you keep your secret."
"All right." There was nothing good about this situation, but at the very least Giles could buy time. "We'll leave you alone as long as you do nothing, and I mean nothing, that might endanger the citizens of this town. Any secrets I might be keeping are inconsequential compared to that. Don't test me, Ethan."
Ethan smiled sweetly. "It's a perfectly ordinary camera shop. You should stop by again when I've got it properly up and running. Maybe bring in a film to develop. Our prices are very competitive."
The whole thing with Ethan was terribly unsettling. Giles kept turning it over in his head while he did his own work at the Magic Box, and he couldn't see an alternative to simply letting Ethan do as he wished for the time being.
Whenever he wasn’t thinking about Ethan, he was thinking about Spike. Wondering what would happen at the flat tonight, and what he wanted to happen. It was most awkward, especially when Anya asked him what had him so distracted. Of course he told her it was Ethan, and she seemed to believe him.
The Scoobies convened as usual that evening after the shop closed. In fact Dawn had been in the back room since the mid-afternoon, revising for her final exams. Willow and Tara arrived at five minutes past six. Xander walked in just a few minutes later, his clothes still dusty from the construction site. By then Anya was finished counting the cash, so she called Dawn out to do the money dance.
“Okay,” Xander said as they all finally settled around the big table, “What’s Ethan Rayne doing back in Sunnydale? We gave him to the goddamned Initiative. Shouldn’t he be rotting in a cell somewhere? Or, like, getting cut up for parts?”
Giles hid his wince by clearing his throat. “Well, apparently he escaped.”
“Hey, shouldn’t we be waiting for Spike?” Dawn asked. She looked to Giles. “You said he was coming tonight.”
“Yeah, and he’s Mr. Reliable,” Xander muttered.
“I expect he’ll be late.” Giles’s voice sounded too sharp in his own ears. He hoped Spike would show up, and at the same time he was anxious about facing him in front of the entire group. “This is Spike we’re talking about,” he added, schooling his inflection to casual disdain. “We had best start without him.”
“Anyway, he was there this morning so he already knows as much as we do,” Willow added.
Xander frowned. “What did you bring Fangless along for? Not like he could do anything to Ethan.”
“He wanted to come. I suppose he was curious.” Again, Giles tried to sound like he didn’t care one way or the other. He did wonder, though, just why Spike had invited himself along. He knew it had something to do with last night ... with what they had between them now. Whatever that might be. It gave Giles an unfamiliar thrill to think of it, and that made him uncomfortable, so he pushed the thought away. “In any case, the important question is: what is Ethan up to?”
“You don’t think he could have been telling the truth?” Tara asked. “People can change. Maybe he really wants a fresh start.”
Giles shook his head. “Not Ethan.”
“He turned me into a Teletubby!” Dawn chimed in, the old outrage clearly still fresh in her mind.
“I think we should research what kind of spells can be done with photos,” Willow suggested.
It was a good idea, not to mention the only one anyone put forward, so they all settled into research mode. Spike finally showed up about an hour later. He had a slightly grubby look to him, as well as a bit of a sunburn. When he perched on the table’s edge near to Giles—there being no nearby chairs available—Giles noticed that his fingernails were dirty, and he had smears of grease on his knuckles. “You all look like you’re having fun,” he said. Giles caught a faint whiff of alcohol on his breath. “What’d I miss?”
Anya looked up crossly from the dusty volume she had been assigned. “You were supposed to be here at six.”
Spike shrugged it off. “Went and got myself a job,” he said, with a sideways glance at Giles. “Couldn’t exactly skive off early on the first day, could I?”
“Well, that’s wonderful news,” Giles said. “Congratulations.” He was honestly surprised; he had expected Spike to resist finding employment. Perhaps he had more influence on Spike than he’d imagined.
“Where is it?” Dawn asked.
“The scrapyard on West Elm,” Spike said.
Xander raised an eyebrow. “The chop shop?”
Spike shrugged. “I knew a bloke who knew a bloke.”
“How do you know about it?” Anya asked, eyeing Xander.
“What? It’s common knowledge.” Xander looked around the table for support. “Isn’t it?”
“You do have some dodgy mates, don’t you, Harris?” Spike said with a smirk.
“Anyway,” Willow said quickly before the meeting could get any more derailed, “You’re not too late to help. We’re trying to figure out what Ethan’s up to. See if you can find anything on photos in here.” She handed Spike a thick text on voodoo that nobody had gone through yet. “Good luck!”
Spike took the book and went to sit on a lower rung of the restricted section’s ladder. Giles settled back to his own task; the book he was reading was written in French, and only barely post-dated the invention of photography. It was slow going, but the author had a bent towards chaos magic, and Giles thought it possible that Ethan might have consulted this text himself.
It wasn’t long before Spike started complaining. “This is rubbish,” he said, slamming his book shut. “Why don’t we just go back to his shop and wring the fucking truth out of him?”
Xander sat back, clearly eager for an excuse to take a break. “Are you volunteering? Oh, wait, you’ve got a chip in your head.”
“Well this is bloody useless,” Spike said. “There’s nothing in here. It’s all fucking gibberish anyway.”
“Spike, you’ve been at it for ten minutes,” Giles said, not trying to hide his impatience with Spike’s attitude. “Look at Dawn. She’s fourteen years old and she’s been reading for a good hour—and she’s found several potential leads, as well.” Dawn flushed under his attention, hiding her grin by raising the book higher. “And I daresay the book she’s got is written in a denser style than the one you’ve got. She’d probably switch if you asked her to.”
Spike opened his book again, looking sullen. “It’s giving me a fucking pounding headache,” he muttered, but he returned to the text.
A few minutes later, Spike put his book down abruptly and left the room. From the muffled sound of a door slamming shut, Giles guessed he’d gone into the toilet. He was just thinking with annoyance that there was no need for Spike to make such a production of it, when he heard the faint but unmistakable sound of someone vomiting.
“Oh dear,” Giles murmured, removing his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose. He felt terribly weary all of a sudden. The day had been hard enough already, and Spike had a truly irrepressible ability to make a bad situation worse. Giles remembered smelling the alcohol on Spike’s breath when he first came into the shop, but he hadn’t said anything since Spike hadn’t seemed unduly intoxicated. Giles now revised his opinion, and wondered what on earth Spike had been thinking, coming to the Magic Box in such a state.
When Spike came back into the main shop, he looked a bit pale and shaky, but his dark expression implied that anyone saying anything about it would put themselves in dire peril. Of course Giles ignored the empty threat. “How many drinks did you have before you came here?” he asked, his voice deliberately cold. Spike had to understand that his irresponsible behavior was not acceptable—especially in front of Dawn.
“Get off my back, Watcher,” Spike returned irritably, bending slowly to pick up the book he’d dropped and then settling back against the ladder. “I had two fucking beers all afternoon.” He made a show of ignoring Giles and returning to work—but his hands were shaking.
Before Giles could respond, Xander spoke up. “Spike—at the scrapyard, were you working outdoors?”
Spike looked puzzled at the question. “Well, yeah.”
Xander’s demeanor was unexpectedly serious; for once, Giles realized, he wasn’t just baiting Spike. “Did you have anything to drink besides the beer?” he asked. “Water, or anything?”
Spike shook his head. “No, why?”
“It was ninety-five degrees in the shade today, and I bet you haven’t spent a day in the sun since—well, ever.” While he spoke, Xander stood up and carried his chair over to Spike. “Here, sit down.” He took the heavy book from Spike and laid it aside. “Do you feel dizzy? Like you might pass out?”
Spike shook his head again, but he looked confused. “What the fuck are you on about, Harris?”
“What you’re feeling right now, it’s called heat exhaustion.” Xander looked around at the others. “Anya, could you go soak a towel in cold water?”
Willow jumped to attention. “Oh! He needs fluids! And he should lie down, God, look at him.”
Spike appeared unnerved by the sudden attention. “Look, if I could just get a couple aspirin...”
Giles felt very awkward for the aborted scolding he’d given Spike, and even more so for the uncharitable thoughts he’d had. He also felt bad for not realizing himself what was amiss, though of course unlike Xander he’d spent the day in the air-conditioned shop, and so hadn’t been thinking of the heat. “We have some aspirin behind the counter,” he said, going to get it.
Xander came up behind him, putting a hand on his shoulder to get his attention. “You should take him home,” he said quietly. “Get him to rest, keep him cool, and get him to drink some water, but slowly. If he gets worse, like if he passes out or something, take him to the hospital. We can handle things here and close up the store.”
Spike maintained a broody silence on the short drive back to Giles’s flat. “How are you feeling?” Giles asked finally.
“Like a bloody infant,” Spike muttered. He was turned away from Giles, resting his forehead against the car window. “Last thing I ever wanted was fucking Harris going all mother hen on me.”
“Well, if you’d just be a little more careful—“
Spike suddenly hit the car door with the side of his fist, hard enough to make Giles wince. “Fuck that! It doesn’t matter what I do, I’m just useless. Might as well crawl back into my crypt and fucking die.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Giles said, gripping the steering wheel harder. Spike’s self-pity was irritating, and yet worrying at the same time—because of the strong possibility that he meant every word. “You aren’t useless.”
“I can’t fucking work outside.” Spike squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his head back against the headrest. The tendons in his neck strained with tension, but his voice got quieter. “I fainted in the training room, day before yesterday. I couldn’t do anything to Ethan but fucking give him dirty looks. How exactly am I not useless?”
“You overexerted yourself the other day, and you’ve done it again today,” Giles said. “Try to keep in mind, you were very ill, and you’ve only just got back on your feet. You need to give yourself time to recover. Anyone would.” He arrived at the flat as he was speaking, and pulled into his parking spot. Spike didn’t react to the engine turning off; his fists were clenched in his lap and his eyes were still closed. Sweat stood out on his forehead and he looked pale despite the sunburn; Giles reminded himself that Spike must be feeling very unwell at the moment, and so it wasn’t much wonder if he didn’t respond to a pep talk. “Come inside,” he said more gently. “It’s not doing you any good, being upset about it all.”
“Feel like I’m gonna be sick again,” Spike said, barely above a whisper.
He managed to get out of the car in time, and was sick into the flowerbed by the side of the parking lot. He didn’t have much left in his stomach, so Giles didn’t worry on account of the flowers. He did worry about Spike, however, who straightened up looking even paler than before. Spike didn’t shake off the arm Giles extended, and indeed let himself be led into the flat. He was trembling. Giles brought him to the sofa and then went to get the needed supplies.
Spike let Giles strip off his shirt and cool him off with a wet sponge. The skin under his shirt was ivory-pale, standing in sharp contrast to the dusky burns on his arms and neck. “I’ll have to go out and get some sort of lotion for the sunburn,” Giles said absently as he tried to sponge off Spike’s neck without hurting him. “Tomorrow—were you planning to go back to the scrapyard?”
“Nah, they only wanted me part time. Said they’d call me when they need me again.”
Giles tried not to make his relief too obvious. Perhaps later he could gently suggest Spike find other employment—something less strenuous, and more legal. “How are you feeling now?”
“Head’s fucking killing me. You never gave me that aspirin,” Spike reminded him.
“You should drink some water.” Giles handed him the glass he’d brought over earlier. “I expect a bit of sleep would help, as well.”
Spike raised his head enough to sip at the water. “Give me a sleeping pill, then.”
This again. Giles wasn’t eager to face Spike’s reaction, but nevertheless he said, “No. I don’t think that would be wise.” He went on quickly, not giving Spike a chance to respond, “I’m still worried about heat stroke. I don’t want you falling into a deep sleep I can’t wake you out of.”
“I’ll take my fucking chances,” Spike said, angry, but Giles could see the fear lurking behind the bluster. He couldn’t easily dismiss it; he’d seen the effect the nightmares had on Spike. He was sure, however, that it wasn’t safe to give Spike sedatives when he was in this state.
“All right, you don’t have to go to sleep yet. Why don’t you take some aspirin and have a cool shower,” Giles suggested. Spike did look now as though he could manage to stand up, at least. “I’ll go to the pharmacy and get some aloe for your sunburn. When I get back ... I have some reading to catch up on. Perhaps you could nap a little on the sofa while I do that. I would wake you up if you showed signs of distress. I promise.”
Spike gave him a long, measuring look before he said “All right.”
It took Giles perhaps half an hour, all told, to drive to the pharmacy and find an appropriate treatment for sunburn. Spike wasn’t on the sofa or in the shower when he got back. Feeling a pang of concern, Giles tried upstairs—and was relieved to see Spike curled up asleep on the bed. Relieved, and a bit puzzled. Spike had pushed all the blankets away so he was lying on just the bedsheet, uncovered—but he was wearing Giles’s old flannel pajamas, the blue plaid ones with the hole in one elbow. Spike’s hair clung to his head in damp curls, which showed he had indeed taken a shower. He was doubtless getting the pillow all wet.
As Giles hesitated in the doorway, trying to decide whether or not to wake him, Spike stirred. He half-opened his eyes and gazed at Giles. “You’re back.”
“You’re in my bed,” Giles replied, which was admittedly an inane response. What he meant was, why are you in my bed? Granted, Spike had slept with him last night, but Giles hadn’t thought they’d come anywhere close to the point of assuming that such a thing would continue.
“You weren’t back yet,” Spike said. His voice was muzzy, dreamlike. Giles suspected he wasn’t entirely awake.
“You’re wearing my pajamas,” Giles added.
“Soft,” Spike mumbled, closing his eyes again. “Smell like you.”
Giles found that he had to put a hand on the doorway for stability. He had quite an odd feeling in his knees, all of a sudden, and in his throat as well. The implication—well, he hadn’t imagined that Spike felt—he didn’t know what he was thinking. Or what he was feeling. Except that there was more here than a quick, dirty fuck over the kitchen counter.
Spike was breathing softly, apparently asleep again. Giles drew closer to the bed, wondering whether to wake him up properly and offer him the lotion. He decided against it. Spike surely needed the rest, and he could give him the lotion later.
He remembered his promise. He’d told Spike that he would wake him up if he saw signs that the nightmares had returned. But then, Spike hadn’t waited for Giles’s return—perhaps he’d decided he was all right on his own.
No. Spike was genuinely frightened by his dreams; it was only that his exhaustion had overtaken him. Giles would keep his word and watch over him, for a while at least.
Spike slept peacefully for an hour or more. Giles got through a hundred and twenty-seven pages of Newhall’s History of Photography, and was beginning to nod off in his chair, before he became aware of a change in Spike. The slow, heavy breath of sleep had given way to a faster, more shallow rhythm. Giles could see tension in the set of Spike’s jaw, and, as he watched, Spike’s fingers began to twitch spasmodically.
Giles didn’t wait to see if it would get worse—he went and shook Spike’s shoulder, gently. “Wake up, Spike.”
Spike’s eyes popped open and he grabbed Giles’s hand by the wrist. His grip was like steel. “What—” he said, and then “Where—,” and just when Giles thought he was going to work his way through the rest of the five basic questions of journalism, Spike shuddered and let go, rolling away from Giles to curl up in a tight fetal ball, gasping almost inaudibly “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
“What’s wrong?” Giles asked urgently, thinking of the chip. His wrist didn’t quite hurt where Spike had grabbed it, but the action might have broached the chip’s threshold of tolerance.
“Get away from me,” Spike said without turning around. “I’m a monster. Fucking get away from me.”
Despite Spike’s agitated tone, Giles felt relief—it wasn’t the chip. “You were dreaming,” he said. “It’s all right, Spike. You were only dreaming. You aren’t a monster, not anymore.”
Spike let loose a hollow laugh. “What do you know, Watcher?”
Giles sat on the bed, close to Spike but not touching. “I know that you must have a soul,” he said. “How else could the nightmares affect you so strongly?”
With a deep, shuddering breath, Spike rolled onto his back so that he could meet Giles’s gaze. His eyes were wet with tears. “You don’t know what I’m dreaming.”
“I have ... guessed,” Giles said carefully. He wasn’t at all sure that talking about it was a good idea. “You were a vampire for a very long time. I imagine that ... memories ... are surfacing, now.”
Spike’s mouth twisted into a sardonic smile. “You’d think, wouldn’t you? But no. I don’t dream about what I’ve done. I dream about what I’m going to do.” He pushed himself into a sitting position so his eyes were level with Giles’s. “I murder you. All of you. The witches, Harris, Anya, you, ... Dawn.” He closed his eyes for a moment, perhaps to revisit the images or escape them. His voice was strained. “I can smell the blood. It’s like when I was a vampire, hot and rich. I can hear you all screaming. I can feel the bones crunching under my fists.” He shuddered and covered his mouth. He’d gone quite pale, and Giles was afraid for a moment that Spike was going to be sick again.
“It’s only a dream,” Giles said, gripping Spike’s shoulder. “It horrifies you because it’s not what you are. It’s only your subconscious, trying to work through ... the changes, I suppose.” There was a glass of water on the beside table; Giles offered it to Spike. “Have a drink, and try to breathe slowly. I promise you, you’re stronger than this.”
Spike took the water and did sip at it, spilling a bit around the edges. His hand wasn’t steady. He handed the glass back to Giles. “I can’t do this,” he said. “Every night. I just ... can’t.”
“You can,” Giles said. It was the only possible answer. “I’ll help you.”
Giles took one of Spike’s hands in his and squeezed it. “I’ll tell you that it’s only a dream. As often as need be.”
Spike looked at him. Giles felt the tension—in Spike, in the air between them. They both understood that he was offering much more than the bare words indicated, but the rest could only possibly go unspoken.
“All right,” Spike said. And kissed him.
It was very, very different from last night’s rough, frantic sex. They progressed slowly through the kisses and gentle caresses. Spike suffered Giles to pause, in the middle, and apply the aloe to his burns. Giles made it into part of the love-play, his fingers rubbing gentle circles into Spike’s hot skin, Spike resting his forehead against Giles’s breastbone and murmuring little noises from the knife’s edge between pain and pleasure. When they progressed to actual intercourse, Giles used a condom and plenty of lubricant—purchased at the drugstore along with the aloe—and he went slowly, drawing out the experience, finding great satisfaction in driving Spike to frustrated, incoherent swearing before increasing the tempo and bringing them to a mutual climax.
And yet one thing was exactly the same as last night: the primary purpose of the sex was not pleasure, but distraction.
They fell asleep with Spike wrapped warmly around Giles, back in the flannel shirt and smelling of aloe and sex. And Giles did not dream of Ethan, or of Buffy dying. That night, he did not dream at all.