Greater Good part 12/27: Aftermath
Spoilers to Season 7.
Summary: The initial battle is over and the Scoobies are left to clean up after the damage. But some wounds don’t heal so easily.

Smoke and cinders danced on the breeze coming through the shattered windows of the hardware store. Buffy was quickly losing hope. They’d searched for minutes with no sign of Giles. Between the recognition of the damage to the store and the eerie film of ash that blanketed the wreckage, Buffy was left with an unwelcome deduction, that he’d burned up with the uber vamps.

“Maybe he escaped out the back?” Spike's attempted reassurance was pointless, he knew they both had the same reluctant assumption. Giles had sacrificed himself to save them.

“Giles?” She weakly called out his name in one last effort to get a response.

From somewhere in the quiet of the ruins, there was a muffled rustling. It sounded under a heap of busted shelves and both Buffy and Spike rushed to it. They hastily worked to remove the broken and twisted wreckage until they uncovered a scorched and bloodied hand donning a very familiar onyx ring. Buffy’s heart quickened at the sight.

"He's fine, just a bit tattered is all," Spike offered. As they both lifted the largest piece of debris out of the way, the slightly charred face of the unconscious Watcher was finally exposed.

"Still in one piece. That's at least something." Spike tried to pull him out from under the remaining ruins. "No pulse…no breathing… just how I like my vamps. I'd say he's still on the active list."

Buffy had to turn away, unnerved by the unexpected wash of emotions. She didn’t want to care but the instant she thought she’d lost Giles, she fell victim to her ridiculous attachment to a man who was already dead. She took in a few calming breaths, pacing aimlessly as she tried to collect herself. It was useless. Insistent tears filled her eyes and she knew she couldn’t hold them back.

"Could use a little help here," Spike huffed as he got Giles’ other arm free and paused with an inquisitive brow at the Slayer's odd behavior. "It's ok, Buffy. He'll be fine."

"Yeah... good. Whatever." Her voice cracked and she cursed her botched effort to hide her emotions.

"Are you… are you crying?" Spike ignored the task at hand and was immediately focused on the upset Slayer. "Bloody hell... you are!"

"It’s the ash. Irritating my eyes," she shrugged it off and tried to wipe away the evidence. "Smoke too. Always makes me..."

Spike gripped her arm and spun her round to face him. She tried halfheartedly to pull free but he held firm. "Don't give me the heartless routine, Buffy. You don’t wear it well.”

“Shut up, Spike.”

“No…one minute you’re giving me the ‘Movie of the Week’ tissue moment and in the next breath, making like the ice queen.”

“We’re finished here. Let’s go before the First makes a curtain call.” Buffy didn’t wait for a response. She shuffled through the rubble and climbed out the window, leaving Spike alone to tend to the fallen comrade.

“You’re the boss,” Spike snarled crossly and returned to removing Giles out from under the debris. “Let’s get you home, big guy.”

Everyone went silent as Buffy came through the door. She paused with confusion at the unexpected darkness of the house.

“Powers out all over town,” Andrew scampered over to offer any help he could. “How’d the duel go? We win?”

After a quick inventory of faces, Buffy lowered her tired head and disappeared upstairs to the solitude of her bedroom without uttering a single word.

The anxious Potentials were sprawled out along the living room furniture, snacking feverishly on chips and diet soda. They exchanged inquiring glances, muttering on about what could have happened with the fight.

Anya was annoyed by how they seemed to treat the moment as if it was some kind of pajama party or juvenile sleepover while she was industriously busying herself with lighting candles and repositioning the many looted flashlights they’d collected on the way back from running cowardly away.

Willow, Xander, Dawn and Faith took up positions near the door, waiting eagerly to greet Giles who was surely following behind the Slayer. After a few impatient minutes, there was a loud thump followed by some faint scratching at the front door and Dawn rushed to open it. They froze at the sight of Spike struggling to manage the taller figure of the injured Watcher draped precariously over his shoulders.

“This is much harder than it looks. Mind giving me a hand,” Spike asked and Xander hurried to his aid. Willow herded the nervous girls out of the way as Spike and Xander moved Giles to the couch.

“What happened?” Kennedy asked.

“I’ll give you the highlights later. Let’s get him downstairs so I can get him cleaned up.” Spike waited for a hint of recognition from Xander who had already started to support the Watcher’s torso when Faith stepped up to take his place.

“No offense, stud,” she lifted the larger man with ease and Spike smiled at both parties willingness to help. “Might as well use it when you got it.”

The Slayer and vampire cautiously maneuver their way through the obstacle course of furnishings and nosey spectators, keeping an attentive eye on the body hanging limp in their grip. Dawn and Willow worked to clear the way and light the path with flashlights. Anya and Andrew followed with boxes of bandages and a variety of medical paraphernalia as well as more flashlights. The group headed into the darkness of the basement.

Once Giles was laid to rest on the old bunk, Spike turned toward the gang with a grateful smile.

“Thanks, I’ll take it from here.”

“Is he alright?” Xander asked anxiously. All flashlights pivoted toward the vampire who flinched uncomfortably at the sudden spotlight.

“He’ll be fine.” He waved his hand to shield his eyes from the intrusive light.

“Sorry,” Willow said and flipped off her flashlight, followed shortly after by the others. “We have to work on our flashlight etiquette.”

“Powers out all over town,” Andrew explained again and managed to light up a few less conspicuous candles, much to the appreciation of the pack of worried friends.

“I kinda pieced that one together, kid, but thanks,” Spike grinned.

“So, Giles is ok?” Anya repeated the question, hoping for more details.

“Met with a few unfriendlies, but he’ll be fine. The wounds have already begun to heal. He’ll need to eat, though, to get his strength back.” Spike delicately chose his words.

“Oh… food! I’ll make him some soup. Chicken soup’s supposed to be good for you when you’re sick, right? Or, no… he’ll want tea…” Willow sprinted toward the stairs when Anya blocked her path.

“How will you cook anything with the power out? He might prefer Scotch anyway. Giles used to indulge in that stinky single malt late nights at the Magic box,” she suggested and started up the stairs to join the quest for a fitting meal for their friend.

“Um… Red,” Spike tried to interrupt her and gave Xander a regretful glance.

“Giles doesn’t need that kind of food,” Xander said flatly.

Dawn sighed, already having realized the trouble with Willow and Anya’s intentions. She gave Spike a gentle tug on the arm and he glanced over at her concerned face. She pointed to him and gave her belly a quick rub.

“Yeah… got a hidden stash. Should be enough to last a couple nights. I’ll go snag it.” Spike flashed her a thoughtful grin as he headed toward the stairs, passing Anya and Willow as they returned beside Xander.

“I’ll get him cleaned up,” Xander offered, gently slipping Giles’ coat off and glimpsing the combination of scrapes, cuts, and burns along the pale skin of his arms.

“I can help,” Anya offered, receiving an inquisitive look from Xander. “Well, I can.”

“Something tells me Giles would flip if you got a sneak peek at his naughty bits,” he smiled, trying to lighten the mood as he worked to care for the Watcher.

“Like he has unique parts I haven’t seen before?” Anya dismissed irreverently.

“Take it from me, all men are not created equal, girlfriend,” Faith snickered, hopping up on some boxes to stay out of the way of the nursing crew.

“Well, I’m sure Giles could surprise you,” Xander wanted to take back the comment the minute he’d said it.

“How would you know, Harris?” Anya untangled some bandages and began to tend to Giles arms as Xander worked to remove his shoes.

“What? I never told you about the wild night out with the rated G-man? Woo doggie! Should be X-man by my standards. Adult content, sexual situations. Not intended for immature audiences,” he paused his teasing when he realized Anya wasn’t following his joke. “Come on… almost seven years of hanging out with a guy. You’re bound to notice… things… forget I ever said it.”

Spike rolled his eyes at the strange but somehow comfortable repartee. “I’ll be back before sunrise.” He smiled and left to retrieve the goods. Once Spike was gone, there was an awkward moment of silence as the gang’s eyes fell on Giles’ lifeless body.

“God… I can’t believe I…of course he doesn’t need…” Willow’s voice strained quiet as her eyes started to tear and Anya felt the sudden urge to get some tissues.

“He need’s blood. That was quite stupid of me… of both of us,” Anya said softly. “It had slipped my mind.”

“It doesn’t matter. We’ll get through this,” Xander urged. “We will.” He was tired of saying it, but it was all he could offer. They silently returned to treating their friend, not wanting to discuss it anymore.

Next morning…

Supper time!” Spike skipped down the stairs and approached the bunk as he pulled out a few medicinal bags of blood.

“Well, breakfast, actually.” After lighting up a couple candles with his trusty Zippo lighter, he examined the quiet Watcher lying on the scanty excuse for beddings. He was worried, Giles looked worse off than he’d expected, curled up in a fetal position and shaking uncontrollably as his blank stare pierced the shadows.

“Seeing as how you’re a little under the weather, I’ve been appointed your personal waiter this evening.” He set aside two of the bags and began to squeeze the contents of one. “We have a fine selection this evening. One O positive, one A positive and ooohh… the extremely rare delicacy, AB positive. I think you deserve the treat tonight. Besides, I’m usually a cheap date. You’ll notice I decided against the negatives. So pessimistic.” Spike hoped his lighthearted banter would coax out some kind of response from the sickened vampire but he received only silence.

“They usually keep these refrigerated so I like to warm ‘em up a smidge before partaking. Powers out though, so no nuking available. But you seem a bit out of it to care.” Spike made sure the burgundy solution was mixed thoroughly within its unflattering package and knelt down beside Giles, ready to help the Watcher drink.

“How is she?” Giles’ coarse, shallow voice took Spike by surprise, but he was glad to hear it.

“She’s fine. You did good,” he answered, continuing his preparation of the meal. Then he paused with a disconcerting thought. “Wait… she hasn’t come to see you?”

“No,” his voice hushed to a whisper and he swallowed down his disappointment, “… it’s for the best.”

“I doubt that.” Spike shot a discouraged glare up the stairs. Buffy was not dealing well with the situation and it was beginning to show within the ranks. He returned his attentions to the blood pack.

“You know, they use a special kind of bag for these things. Some special grade of medical plastics. Bloody marvel, really. It’s a real lifesaver when road tripping. These portable packets of refreshment taste pretty darn close to the real thing. I tried to save some in a Ziploc bag once… pah!”

“Take it away.”

“Look, I know it’s nothing like the fresh stuff. I can try to warm it up for you. Can’t cook it too long or it loses its flavor, tastes like piss. Hey, I think we have some Wheatabix upstairs, you want I should…”

“I d-don’t want it,” Giles stammered.

“But I brought you your mug. Found it tucked away in Buffy’s closet, hiding behind some tacky, frilly umbrella thing,” Spike pulled out Giles’ old ‘Kiss the Librarian’ mug and grinned playfully as he tried to position it just right in the dim light for Giles to catch a clear glimpse of the item. “Takes me back. Just like old times…”

“Leave me alone,” he moaned.

“You have to feed, Giles.” Spike’s voice grew stern.

“Why?” He didn’t want an answer.

“Wha… what do you mean 'why'?” Spike was bewildered by the question. “All manner of creatures eat, vampires are no exception.”

“Can I die of starvation?” He only wished he could.

“Well, no… but…”

“Take it away,” Giles commanded weakly. His face was sweat soaked and tensing under the strain of the hunger. Spike recognized the symptoms from his Initiative chipped days.

“You need to feed. Your wounds can’t heal without proper nourishment,” Spike explained and waved the cup in his hand. “And I brought your mug…”

“I don’t need it,” Giles insisted as he buckled over more from another sharp pain.

“The blood or the mug?”

“Go away,” Giles sighed.

“Right.” Spike stood up and swapped the rare blood type for the other more common type and tore open the rubber nozzle at the end. After a quick drink, he wiped his lips clean and tried to calm his temper. It was fruitless.

“Think you’re the first vampire to refuse to feed? History’s splattered with brooding tragic types rejecting the hunger and trying to outlast the fever. But they all cave in the end.”

Giles closed his eyes, as if to shut out the annoying vampire.

“You know the drill. You are a vampire. This is our survival, Giles. It’s what we are. What you are now.”

“I’m different.”

“What… the magicks?” Spike snickered. “Might give you a couple days, maybe a week. But it can’t help you forever. And that’s what this is… forever.” Spike decided to take a different approach and reason with the stubborn Watcher.

“Giles, listen to me… I know why you refuse, I get it. But the hunger is… is like a virus. It will weaken you, strip away your control over the demon. With every passing minute you deny yourself what you need, you will sink further into the sickness. It’s only a matter of time until the demon takes over. It’s a sort of defense mechanism. The demon will always win out over your conscience and morality.”

“I won’t let that happen,” Giles mumbled resolutely, his weary eyes peeking up at Spike and pleading for the vampire to stop arguing.

Spike felt for him, he truly did understand. Giles was trying desperately to be what he was rather than accepting what he is. With a gentle nod, he set the old novelty mug beside the flickering candle and watched as Giles’ eyes squeezed shut under the strain of fighting off what the Watcher had stubbornly determined was only an addiction. The blonde vampire stood up and took a few steps toward the stairs then stopped with his back to the Watcher.

“What you did last night…” Spike paused uncomfortably; reconsidering his words. He glanced back, knowing that sometimes the smallest words can offer strength in a time of need. “You could have let me fry with the rest of ‘em. I don’t know why you did what you did, but thanks. I owe you.” He waited a moment, hoping uselessly for a response he knew wasn’t coming.

“I’ll leave you this little token of my appreciation.” He took up the rare blood type bag and set it on the bunk before stepping away. “But know this… I’m willing and able to force-feed you every last drop of one of these bags. Don’t make me.” His voice was brimming with sincerity.

As he stepped away, he felt a weird thump on his back and turned to see the blood bag lying rejected at his feet. He’d expected no less from Giles.

“What a piece a work you are,” Spike snickered and left the stubborn vampire alone with his pain.

Late that night…

After many long hours of whispering chitchat under the ghostly flicker of candlelight, everyone had finally settled down to sleep. Buffy roamed the now peaceful halls and rooms of the Summers house, savoring the newfound silence. It was odd how she could actually hear the air. You never notice how much background noise pollutes what you hear until it’s gone.

As she rounded a corner into the living room, she saw Anya fast asleep, lying cozily on Xander’s chest as they rested together on the couch. They’d fallen back into old habits so easily. She wished she could follow their example, to run away from the present and retreat to more pleasant yesterdays.

Buffy missed the old library, with the unforgettable smell of musty books and stale tea. Even though it lay above an ominous mouth of hell, it always felt right. Maybe it wasn’t the actual location as much as what it represented. She always knew that when she came through those doors, something nice would be waiting there to greet her. Whether it was Willow, diligently working to hack into some city files or Xander, diligently working to unravel Giles’ patience or Giles, diligently… being there…for her, always. She missed that. She wanted that now.

Breaking herself away from the fond memories, she’d stopped her evening rounds without even realizing it. She looked up to see herself situated at the basement door with her hand gently curling the knob, instinctively searching him out like old times. Her fingers glided along the brass knob as she considered the consequences waiting beyond the door. With a heavy sigh, she moved on. The swords needed sharpening.

Xander waited till Buffy headed up the stairs to come all the way into the kitchen. She hadn’t noticed him there and he was glad for it. Any sign of onlookers and she’d just put up the shields again. It bothered him she was locking herself away from everyone. Something had to be done for her, for Giles, for them.

Next night…

Buffy stared up at the pale stars flickering in the cloud-spotted night sky.

“He’d like to see you,” Spike stepped out from around the gate and tossed a spent cigarette to the ground, stomping it out with his boot. “Still refusing to feed but I think the wounds are healing just the same. Might do him some good to see you.”

“Will he be mobile soon?” she asked impersonally and Spike felt his anger suddenly stirring.

“He’s not a bloody car, Buffy.”

“He’s no good to me bedridden.”

“What is it with you? Why won’t you own up to the fact that you care about him?"

“I do care about him, as I would any soldier," she said apathetically.

"Oh, so he’s a soldier now. You can just write him off like that?" Spike asked, exasperated by her indifference to the man who’d recently saved her life. He hunted through his pockets for a stray cigarette. At this rate, he’d be looting cartons to manage through every conversation with her.

“Why the hell would you care? This coming from the thing that robbed him of his life, who stole him from me in the first place. You’re the one who said we needed expendable brute strength!” Buffy waved a threatening finger towards Spike as her voice rose. “Or don’t you remember your own award winning performance in the role of the schoolyard bully, harassing Giles into vamping out so everyone understands perfectly well that he isn’t Giles anymore. Making it all too clear to everyone that he is a demon, like you!”

“I’m not one for subtlety, ok.” Spike lowered his face into his hands and wiped the sleep from his weary eyes. “I needed to make a point and I made it. Maybe I coulda worked through the kinks a bit first but I’m not known for great thinking, Buffy.”

“What are you saying?”

“I don’t know!” He paused, trying to gather his scattered thoughts to form some type of argument. “Things change and we have to change with them. Yeah, he’s a vampire… and your freshmen Spice Girls needed to see that, to understand that. Giles even refuses to face the fact that he’s not the same old bookman anymore. He needed a little encouragement to accept that. But even after all is said and done… he is still Giles. He’s still your friend and you know it.”

“What I know is that he’s still here and better be useful. That’s what’s important.” Buffy despised every unsympathetic word that spilled passed her lips but she needed to be cold. The confrontation with the preacher and his troops only served to remind her how important it was for her to remain distant and unattached to those around her. She could lose anyone of them at any moment. It was for the best to remain focused on the mission, though her heart ached from the loneliness it forced upon her.

“He saved your arse yesterday, pet. We were getting brutally creamed out there and he put his neck on the line… not only to save you, but to save me. He could have let me burn with the others. But he didn’t. I haven’t a soddin’ clue why but I am thankful for it and you should be too.”

“I’m well aware of what he did and I am grateful for it. But I would expect the same from any of you.”

“Fine!” He threw up his hands in frustration and continued his search for another cigarette. “I pegged you wrong, Slayer… I see that now,” Spike stood up and began to pace in front of Buffy. “You are a heartless bitch!”

“You have no right to judge me!” she growled.

"Oh really? Is the mighty Slayer above the law of common decency?”

“My relationship with….”

“What relationship?" He finally scrounged up a crumpled cigarette and eagerly lit it, taking a few anxious puffs. "Go ahead, play the hard-boiled commandant role to its fullest, Buffy. Alienate all those around you until there’s no one left but you. But like an ill-treated mutt, he’ll remain at the side of his master. That’s why I did this. That’s why I chose him. He’ll take your abuse, he has for years. I've seen it. You can cast him out, keeping him dead and buried in your stubborn little mind. Or you can be the person I know you are, be the Buffy I love and accept him how he is,” Spike took in a long drag of his cigarette and tried to read Buffy’s hardened expression. “But I can tell you now, Giles won’t survive this unless you toss him some scraps of mercy. He's proven himself enough for the likes of you. He damn well deserves some fucking compassion."

"The kind of compassion you demonstrated when you did this to him?"

"I’m sick of having this bloody discussion. I knew exactly what I was doing when I did it and will take what's coming to me for my actions. But rather than aim your hostility and hate in the right direction, you blame him. I…I don’t understand why? You've given mercy and compassion before to creatures whom some might say are undeserving of it. Or is your selective memory kicking in again?"

"Don't go there!" Buffy warned.

"Why can't you offer the same consideration to Giles?" Spike growled. "He's your bloody Watcher... your friend for Christ sake! Or is all that irrelevant now? Is it inconvenient for you to care now?”

“I don’t have to justify myself to you or anyone,” she mumbled, dismissing the argument as she stood up and escaped into the safe haven of the house.

“Oh yes you do… to yourself.” Spike anxiously puffed away on his cigarette, not understanding the frustration tormenting him. Why did he suddenly care about how Buffy treated Giles? She was being completely unreasonable and he knew he was the cause but he didn’t know how to make it right. The only thing he was sure of was the sudden urge to check in on the Watcher.

Part 13...