When they’d finally reached the castle, it felt almost natural to meet Dawn and Harris there. They’d apparently spent a little under three hours walking and he felt yet more fiery warmth spread through his guts at the thought of being close enough to Buffy to be able to do this.
They were just getting ready to choose a movie when the magic got interrupted by the ever-present Satsu.
“Hey girl, love the hair, you should totally give me tips… wait, what’s up?” Buffy’s friendly tone turned serious as soon as Satsu’s sober expression registered. The Asian girl offered her a small sheet of paper where a strangely decorated ‘DC’ was drawn in red lines.
“Leah, Rowena, and I have just verified this. It’s a mark that’s been popping up everywhere for a while, but it’s passed under our radar before now.”
Buffy squinted at the paper until a light lit her eyes and she looked up at him.
“Wait, I’ve seen this. It was in the cabin in the woods, on the shirt of one of the demons, wasn’t it?”
He looked at it and tried to remember, but it was a lost battle.
“Sorry, pet, can’t say that I remember noticin’ anything on those bastards’ shirts.”
“Well, I’m pretty sure of it. Satsu, is there anything you can tell me about it?”
“Not really, ma’am,” she answered, shaking her head. “Just that it’s been seen all over the place.”
“Stop calling me ma’am,” Buffy said with a distracted tone, her gaze still on the mark on the paper.
She glared at Satsu for a second, the other girl struggling to keep a straight face.
“Well, we need to tell Giles then. Maybe it’s nothing but better safe than sorry.”
“Hey, I’m a watcher too here, I can help!”
Everyone turned to look at Harris, who promptly blushed. Dawn rolled her eyes and just took him with her, leading him away, and Buffy and Satsu went back to talking about keeping the slayers on the lookout. Soon they went after Dawn and Harris as well, Buffy casually turning to Spike to remind him to keep up with them; he felt yet another spark at being so easily added to their group, trying yet again to ignore the stupid feeling.
He followed them to a huge room that left him with his eyebrows raised: Xander and Dawn were at the centre of a semicircle of wide panels and screens, spanning both in length and height along two walls of the room, and there were several girls sitting at some of the computers, each doing something different. The air crackled with technology and magic, and he could see that at least one of the girls typing away at the keyboards was using magic too, her eyes wide and completely white in the screen light. It looked like the room belonged to a supernatural 007 movie, and he couldn’t be more surprised to find it there.
“Wait, what… is that Spike?”
His attention was dragged back to one of the big screens leaning from higher on the wall: he could see the confused, slightly flustered face of Rupert Giles squinting in his direction.
“Nice to see you’ve still got to kick the bucket, Ripper.”
“Spike! You’re finally here!” He looked at the screen next to it and saw Willow’s delighted face. “It’s good to finally see you, Mr. I'm Gonna Stay Away From You All. When did you arrive at the castle? Oh, I’m so sorry I missed the big reveal of the place. Isn’t it fantastic?”
“Nice to see you too, Red. Yeah, didn’t exactly expect an entire castle.”
“He keeps forgetting where his room is.”
“Oi, Nibblet, that’s not true!”
“Buffy! What is going on here?” Giles's voice was a tad higher than he remembered, so he had to smirk at his bewildered face on the screen.
“He’s actually been ‘back’ since nineteen days after Sunnydale fell...” sniffed Dawn, glaring at him sideways. “He’s just been too busy being a jerk to mention it to any of us.”
He was undecided between teasing her right back and shuffling his feet in residual shame, but Buffy shut them all up with a clear voice.
“Enough. Giles, we think we might have a situation here. Have you seen this red DC symbol anywhere or not?”
“W-well, yes, I mean no, I mean…” He took a deep breath and looked back at Buffy. “No, I haven’t seen it anywhere.”
“Me neither,” added Willow shaking her head, “but maybe it’s only just started, or we need to ask around. I’ll definitely signal the Aberdeen witches and slayers to be on the lookout.”
“And I’ll do the same here in London.”
“Good. Thanks, guys, and keep me posted.”
“Of course, Buffy. Now, will someone explain to me why nobody is surprised that Spike is alive?”
Spike smirked some more at Giles’s expression getting even more upset.
“He’s been here for a couple of days, Giles, no biggie.”
“No big-... Buffy, are you seriously this unconcerned about this matter?” Buffy shuffled under his incredulous gaze and he shook his head, his expression closing. “We’ll talk about this in person. I’ll be there tomorrow morning, the slayers here have the situation under control.”
Buffy nodded at that and after one last narrow-eyed look in Spike’s direction, Giles broke the connection.
“Well, that sounds dire… want me to head down there too tomorrow, Buff?”
“Wouldn’t mind some best friend time, Wills.” Buffy seemed suddenly tired again, but she was smiling at the witch on the screen.
“Deal! I’ll be there in the evening. Don’t let Giles eat you alive before then — either of you,” she added with a cheeky grin and a wink in Spike’s direction. He grinned back, yet again trying to ignore how much it warmed him to be treated like that.
They all said their goodbyes and she closed the call too. Spike looked around and noticed that Satsu had left sometime during the farewells. As for the remaining Scoobies, they were already talking about what movie to watch next. Buffy left Dawn and Harris to it and walked next to him.
“You look thrilled to see Rupert, pet.”
“Hah. Yes, definitely looking forward to the moment I tell him I’ve known about you for ages and haven’t told him anything. After all, I adore hurting the people I love.”
He debated internally for a couple of seconds, then squeezed her arm lightly for a moment.
“No you don’t, luv. You’re a bloody wonder and you know it, you never make mistakes and your life is just perfect.” She chuckled and then smiled bashfully, and he couldn’t stop a smile. “It’ll be fine. Now let’s just choose a flick and forget about it for tonight.”
She looked at him and her smile slowly grew, her eyes incredibly warm. She didn’t need to say ‘thank you’ out loud for him to get it.
He couldn’t believe his day could end this well.
“OK, so we’re watching Mean Girls,” she exclaimed with a wicked grin.
The next day saw him waking up in the afternoon, again. He wasn’t particularly keen on getting a move on to go and see the head watcher downstairs, but eventually he figured he had to. Walking down the castle stairs had gotten slightly more tense, in the meantime: all the lesser slayers kept sending him distrusting, sometimes downright hostile glances. As for him, he repressed the urge to sneer at them and kept sending them brilliant grins, enjoying how some of them actually blushed at that. Noobies.
When he got downstairs he took the time to make himself a hot mug of blood, then went to the courtyard, glad for the thickly overcast sky; there, several of the training slayers stopped their actions to stare at him. He sauntered to the centre of the courtyard, which was empty of equipment, and then spun slowly, letting a grin show on his face.
“So,” he drawled, “anyone up for a tussle?”
The ever-present Satsu walked up from behind him, looking at the girls that were getting closer to him.
“Come on, girls, you’ve heard Miss Summers yesterday. He’s gonna pay his stay with training.” She looked at him sidelong for a second. “Do we have any volunteer to start, or should I pick one?”
“Picking volunteers, Satsu? You’re a right lover of freedom, aren’t you?”
He could see her hand twitch and he couldn’t have said why he loved to get her riled up. Sure, she hadn’t showed him much sympathy since first seeing him, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on why exactly he enjoyed provoking her so much.
“I’m in!” He turned his grin toward the brunette who spoke and realised it was the girl from the day before. He didn’t let his grin fade and beckoned her forward. She swung her wooden sword, long and wide and clearly not meant just for practising, and stared at him while moving in front of him. “What weapon do you want to train with?”
“Oh, don’ worry about me, pet.” He grinned at her more widely while vamping out. “Lesson the first: got my weapon right here already.”
Then he lunged at her and they immediately set a furious pace of feints and blows and parries. She was strong and her technique was almost perfect — but she was clearly still inexperienced. Pretty soon, he was able to jerk her towards himself using her own sword and then slam her back-first to the ground. When he looked up, he found himself grinning right into Rupert Giles’s narrowed eyes.
“Watcher man,” he said jovially, offering a hand up to the girl. She just stared at him and rose on her own, and he shrugged.
Leave it to Giles to infuse a single syllable with a whole world’s worth of disappointment and disapproval.
Spike did his best to ignore the flare of anger the other Brit sent through him and turned back to the Latino girl.
“Amy, is that it?” She nodded at him uncertainly and he gestured to her sword. “You got a weapon, you use it to keep the enemy away from your limbs, not to give them a chance to get their hands on you. If I’d meant you harm, I’d have gone straight for your neck — and if I’d been another kind of nastie, might have even gotten some venom on you.” She kept staring at him and he huffed. “Really, just trying to help you out here. We can stop with all the posturing, we’re on the same team.”
And strangely enough, he did feel tired of all the posturing. At some other time, he might have felt like the fun had just begun; as it was, seeing all of Buffy’s charges look at him like a potential betrayal waiting to happen was just exhausting.
(He refused to believe that Giles’s presence was the catalyst of this exhaustion.)
“Spike. A word, please.”
“Which word, old man? Rather fond of the word ‘bollocks’, myself. Ladies, who wants to go next?”
“Spike,” Giles muttered between gritted teeth, but Spike could hear a nearby slayer titter and he turned to her instead.
“Fancy a go, then? Or should I try to make the guy here whistle like an old teakettle first?”
This time he could hear more than one soft giggle, feeling stupidly proud of himself. Until the taller man gripped his arm.
“Whenever you’re ready to act like an adult it would be high time to do so.”
“Whenever you’re ready to lose an arm, you keep right on touching me, mate.” They glared at each other for a few long seconds, then Giles finally moved his hand away. Spike set his jaw but relented. “All right, ladies, guess the whistling and the fighting will have to wait. I’ll be right back.”
He strode back out to the courtyard and into the kitchen and could hear the other man right behind him; when they were inside, he switched to following him through a few more corridors, until they found themselves in what was clearly the man’s office. Books were stacked in an elegant library lining three of the walls, and a cluttered desk was beneath a high window.
“Buffy told me you’ve been back and hiding behind Angel for over a year.” Well, the guy didn’t wanna waste time… “She also told me she knew. Her continued loyalty to you is, I believe, completely unwarranted.” Spike just stared at him and tried to remember all the reasons that punching his glasses right into his eyes was not, in fact, a good idea. “Worse, it’s damaging. To be loyal to someone who so clearly hasn’t got the first idea of what caring about people means … I’m honestly finding it hard to trust her judgment, right now.”
What the fuck?
“What the fuck?”
“I’m talking about your utter inability to do her good, and her apparent inability to realise it.”
He was staring at him, and telling him he didn’t know how to —
“Shut your mouth,” he whispered, ignoring how his fists were shaking.
“No, I will not shut my mouth, you ungrateful prat!”
“Watcher, I swear to Christ — ”
“What? You’ll go and ask bloody Angel to keep yet another secret from my slayer for the next year?”
“Shut up!” He finally roared, sprinting up to him and realising he’d vamped out at some point. “Stop talking about what you don’t know and isn’t your fucking business!”
“Isn’t it?” Roared back Giles, looking down at him with furious eyes, and what the fuck was his problem? “Isn’t it my business if the people I care about suffer because of you?”
“You don’t know anything —”
“Oh, I can imagine well enough, Spike,” he spat back at him, not backing down a centimetre. “What, were you too fond of your shining hero image to call her, when you came back? Too fond of your last moment of ultimate sacrifice,” he sneered, “to let her know that here you are, back to your old, non-champion self?”
“What the fuck is your problem, watcher? First you try to get me killed, then you want me back with your precious slayer?”
“I don’t want you ‘back’ with her, because you don’t deserve one second of her attention,” he seethed back, and Spike was dangerously close to hitting him and cracking his neck.
“Yeah, and that’s because I’m a big, bad vampire, too dark for your pure little girl, aren’t I? What, you gonna try and get me dead again? Called your pal Robin already?”
“Oh, get over yourself, you bloody pillock,” Giles scoffed at him, shoving him back — so he snatched him up from his suit lapels and growled in his face.
“You touch me again, and we’re gonna have a real problem here.”
“We already have a problem, because I’m disgusted with you,” he spat, and Spike shook him and growled again. Giles ignored him and went right on talking in a rage. “You bloody tosser. Do you have any idea what she went through?” Spike blinked and Giles shoved him away again, turned and leaned on his desk, trembling slightly. “She mourned you, you ungrateful twat! She mourned you, and so did Dawn, and haven’t these girls suffered enough?” He shook his head and Spike worked his jaw, unable to say anything. “They were proud of you and cried for you. The two girls who need suffering the least in the world. And all the while,” he muttered, turning back to stare at him, “you were in Los Angeles, gallivanting around with that other tosser.”
Spike could feel all his rage drain into a black pool of shame, but he couldn’t stop staring at the other man. After a few long seconds of silence, he spoke, his voice a bit hoarser than normal.
“Already did my apologies, watcher.”
“Yes, so I’ve been told. I’m sure next time it will only take you up to six months to get your head out of your ass and contact them again.”
He set his jaw tight and looked away. Part of him wanted to tell him that it was none of his business; that he had no right to rage against him, especially considering that Giles himself had made a similar mistake when he left Sunnydale after Buffy’s resurrection; and that Spike had made his apologies already anyway — but then he imagined what it had to be on the other side, seeing Buffy cry and mourn for someone, just to then discover that it had all been out of that person’s cowardice… he swallowed hard.
“You’re right. I’ve been a tosser.” His voice was low but he refused to let it tremble. This was still Rupert sodding Giles, after all. “But what’s done’s done. Can’t go back and undo it.”
Giles scoffed at that and they just stared at each other for a few more tense moments. Then a knock interrupted them, and Spike turned to find Harris peeking out of the now-open door.
“I thought to bring you Brits some good Scotch. Just to stop another yelling match, you know,” he added while entering, a bottle in one hand and two tumblers in the other. Right that instant, Spike could have hugged the boy — and then he proceeded to fold down that particular thought and hurl it far, far away from his mind, too appalled to even consider it.
“Xander, there was no need…”
“Oh, there was need, the need could almost be heard from the kitchen, G-man.” Spike saw Giles stare half-heartedly at the boy but accept the full tumbler without protest; he moved towards them to take his own, unspeakably thankful for having a drink. “Come on now, drink to the health of a young woman you both care about very much, and make with the clinking of the glasses. Now, stop staring at me, those are Buffy’s words, not mine!”
Spike stared at him some more, but then he did clink his glass with the other Brit’s, looking up at him just long enough to see his own reluctance reflected in the man’s eyes. This may have been beyond ridiculous, but if the lady of the castle wanted them to make nice, he didn’t feel like he had much of a choice.
“Giles, have you thanked Spike for saving the planet yet?” Spike could almost feel a grin at that as he saw Giles grimace. “Spike, have you thanked Giles for giving you a job yet, since he’s technically the administrative boss here? He’s also gonna find you a regular ID, I’m told,” he added with a pointed glance at Giles. Spike was left grimacing a bit himself, and they both stalled for a few more seconds, twirling and sipping their whiskeys. “Guys..?”
“Oh, will you shut it already,” huffed Giles, one second before Spike was going to say it in more or less the same words. “Thank you, Spike, for heroically saving the world.”
“Thank you, watcher, for administratively giving me a job,” he sneered right back. “And an ID,” he added after Harris elbowed him. The boy smiled his goofy grin at them both.
“See? You’re totally on the right track to becoming best pals, let me tell you.” He ignored their balking and took the bottle back from the table, linking his arms with both of them and going towards the door. “Now come on, let’s go watch some Monty Python movie or something, before Spike gets back to his training chores. We got some bonding to get to!”
Spike couldn’t help exchanging a grimace with Giles over the stupidly overeager boy’s head, but neither of them said anything against watching some Monty Python. He also resolutely ignored the feeling of gratitude he felt towards Harris, ridiculous as he may be, and any sense of hope for an eventual decent relationship with Giles that he might harbour. Getting Buffy’s forgiveness had been a high hope; that, would be just bloody idiotic.
And who cares about him, anyway? Not like he’s anybody relevant… oh, bugger.
As it turned out, they barely even had the time to start their discussion on whether to start with Whither Canada? or The Holy Grail — Giles apparently had the whole collection, and he truly couldn’t blame the man — before they got interrupted again. This time it was none other than Willow, who, after hugging Harris and Giles, hugged Spike too, leaving him baffled and just a tad embarrassed.
“You idiot! You know you’re a poophead for making Buffy and Dawn so miserable, right?”
He couldn’t help but smile at her and her frown when he moved back.
“I know, Red, I know.”
“Good. Because you are. It’s high time you finally got your sorry vampy ass back here and put an end to this charade.” He raised his eyebrows at her and she seemed to deflate a little. “Sorry, I’m spending too much time in charge of people, I get bossy. Except, not sorry! You deserve it and should do some grovelling, still, mister.”
“All right, all right, I’ll grovel, pet.”
“And you better teach the slayers here well!”
“’Course,” he assured her, unable to lose the grin, until she grinned back at him.
“I’m glad you’re back, Spike.”
What was it with these people, that their smiles and lack thereof seemed to be so important to him? Wanna be my own vamp indeed. Simpering git…
“Glad I’m back too, Red. Now, before watcher-boss here decides that he’s already tired of my living and working arrangements, I better go back to explaining to him why we should start with Flying Cyrcus rather than the movies.”
He ignored her raised eyebrows and went back to his discussion with Giles, who was sipping a second glass of whiskey and seemed considerably more mellow already. While they talked, he got a crawling feeling on his neck, and he was sure that a slayer was looking at them. Somehow, he found the strength not to look back and check if it was Buffy; somehow, he felt like maybe he could even manage to become his own… something, eventually, if he gave himself enough time.
And the right people.
You could say many things about the Slayer, he thought while conversing with Giles and the other two, but boy, did she know how to pick her friends.