Greater Good part 4/27: Coming Home
Spoilers to Season 7.

Buffy's hard-soled boots slapped the dampened pavement as she ran along the shadowed and deserted streets of Sunnydale, trying in vain to forget the horror of the young girl strung up like a piñata outside her front door. She'd been so young, so innocent, and so naive. Before she'd even gotten a taste of what evils the Hellmouth had in store for her, she'd become meat for the beast, another helpless victim.

Buffy hadn't expected Giles to strike so soon, let alone attack two in such a short time. It was inhumanly brutal and cruel. But in the end, that was the true nature of a vampire. No matter what romantic and mysterious twist you try to put on it, there was a soulless demon at the core of the being. Buffy knew this better than most but still had her doubts of whether even a soulless Giles could behave like that, like a beast. It didn't seem possible. Moreover, she couldn't bring herself to accept it. No matter what Spike said, that wasn't Giles.

She considered making a left into the northern cemetery but decided against it. The darkness seemed more sinister of late and she quested to stay in the light, at least when alone. She slowed her pace, expecting and hoping to see at least one of the toothy locals waiting in the dark, eager for a chance at the Slayer. Buffy wanted it, needed it. If she couldn't have the monster that'd killed two of her soldiers, she would settle for a pathetic representative of their kind.

"Time away from the young ones?" A hauntingly memorable soft-toned British accent sounded from the cold shadows and Buffy's heart skipped a beat as a tall, slender figure revealed itself in the short distance ahead of her.

'You're not real,' Buffy thought as she retreated few paces, watching the silhouette gradually move closer.

"How are you?" The shady form stepped into the cone of illumination cast down by the streetlight and Buffy froze as Giles' kindly face smiled warmly at her. "You look tired... thin. The potentials must have you running ragged."

"You're not him. You're not real." Buffy stumbled timidly backwards as Giles continued to close the space between them. Panic took over, making her mind race feverishly for an escape. She wasn't ready for this, wasn't ready for him.

"You need rest, Buffy. You need to take care of yourself," he said with concern creasing his brow. "They can't survive on their own. They need you."

"What do you want?" Buffy demanded, clumsily tumbling over a sewer grate and falling hard on her backside. She struggled to get to her feet and swiftly turned around to run. Giles stood in her way, passively blocking her path, smiling down at her with his stunningly green eyes, empathetic of her horror filled expression.

"Stop searching the shadows for monsters that aren't there, Buffy. You know where they are. You know whom to blame," Giles' gently bowed lips flattened and his features grew more fretful. Buffy held her breath as he timidly raised his hand, obviously uncertain of his intentions to caress her cheek. He paused just before his skin was to touch hers. "You need to wake up."

Buffy awoke startled and confused. She jerked up to a sitting position, panting to catch her breath as she examined the room around her. After assessing her surroundings, she began to settle down when she recognized she was safe at home, downstairs in her basement. But her anxiety returned when she realized Spike was sound asleep lying beside her. Why was she with him? She must have fallen asleep while they where discussing the game plan for finding Giles. Though she wouldn't want to admit it, she was glad he was there.

'It was a dream, only a dream,' she told herself, repeating it in her mind as she lay back down beside the motionless vampire. Just as she felt confident she believed her rationalization, she was overtaken by grief. She missed Giles with all her heart and wondered if it had been so bad to accept the dream as something other than a nightmare. Perhaps it has a prophetic vision, a visit from the spirit of her former Watcher. But the First had stolen away all possibilities for that kind of meeting. If she couldn't trust the visions of her mother, how could she ever trust in visions of Giles? In both cases, the spirit seemed benevolent, concerned for her welfare, even supportive. But these visions could also be tools used by the first to plant seeds of doubt within her, making her hesitant to finish what had to be finished, hesitant to kill the creature who wore the mask of her dead mentor.

"Stop it," the gruff voice mumbled beside her.


"You're thinking too much. It's not good for you." Spike scooted upright and propped back against the wall.

Buffy rolled over and peeked up at the vampire's weary eyes. "He's haunting me."

"Bad dreams?" Spike nodded. "Yeah, had a taste of 'em too. Bloody odd ones at that. Can't make out whether it's the First playin' with my head again or what."

Buffy sat up, intrigued and strangely satisfied that Spike was suffering the same torment. "What happened?"

"Lil visit from your Watcher, all cryptic and enigmatic. Makes with the pleasantries and all, like we were mates."

"That's gotta tip you off right there. You were never friends." Buffy repositioned herself to be at a more comfortable angle.

"Got it wrong there, luv. We were tight for a while." He noticed the surprised look on Buffy's face and shrugged it off. "Ok, more like one night when I was soundly chipped and playin' like the happy homemaker while held hostage as his so-called guest." Spike lit up a cigarette and took in a deep gulp of smoke as he recalled the fateful evening years back. "Caught him playin the strings. Gave him a bit of a fright and offered the usual sarcastic wisecrack about lockin the bloody door."

"Gotta hand it to him, for living on the Hellmouth, Giles sure didn't let the local flavor cramp his open door policy." Buffy smiled.

"I complimented him on his singing, unintentionally of course. You know me, gotta a soft spot for the old tunes." Spike snickered and saw Buffy's face light up for an instant with a momentary smile. But it was gone as quickly as it came and she returned to her seemingly permanent glower. "We somehow got to talking about music and that led to reflecting on the good ol' times. We worked through a pint of scotch and moved on to emptying out the rest of his bar. Sure enough... we ended up discussing the finer points of relations past."

"I can't even picture that conversation happening. Who'd you talk about?"

"Dru... of course. She's all I thought about back then." Spike took deeper drag of smoke. "A lot's changed since then." He gave Buffy a demonstrative smile and she quickly broke her gaze from him.

"And Giles? Who did he talk about?" She suddenly realized that none of Giles' friends knew what had happen or could ever know of his sad fate. The ordeal of his death was too much to bear and keeping it secret was quickly becoming Buffy's undoing. "Olivia? Ms. Calendar?"

Spike glanced uneasily over at the Slayer and looked away, obviously bothered.
"I can't remember." Spike leaned back, trying to stretch out his knotted muscles.

"If you considered Giles to be a friend, how could you do what you did? How could you kill him?" Buffy's expression was deathly serious and Spike found himself completely unnerved by her sudden change in tone.

"I told you, Giles ordered me to." Spike tossed the spent cigarette to the floor and crushed it under his boot.

"Tell me again," Buffy's voice was stern.

"He wanted it, Buffy. He recognized what was at stake here. We're talking about the end of the bloody world." Spike was actually beginning to believe his lie. However, the cynical expression on the Slayer's face made him realize she was seeing right through him. "He betrayed me, betrayed you. After all the battles I fought at his side, after all the unconditional loyalty I've given his own bloody Slayer and niblit... he sentenced me to death at the hands of a stranger. Wouldn't even give me the common courtesy of doin' his own dirty work. I'd respected that much. So yeah... I got rightly pissed and struck back." Spike paused, taking in the emotionless expression donning the Slayer's face. "And though I knew you'd hate me for it, I did it for the mission. I did it for you."

"You murdered Giles for me?" her anger was starting to creep out from under her shield of indifference.

"I might not survive this," Spike spoke delicately, hoping she could find it in her heart to understand someday. "And if that is the case, I want someone who can be here, someone who can take my place. The others are... are friends, good friends. But they have their own lives, their own ties to the world. But Giles..." Spike shook his head in impressed remembrance of the Watcher. "Giles always focused on one thing." He looked away, bothered by Buffy's condemning stare. "He's the only other man who... who loves you as much as I do."

Buffy's hardened expression began to crumble and she stood up, needing to get away from the confessing vampire. She headed toward the stairs, fighting off the urge to dust the killer pitifully defending his actions.

"For what it's worth, I'm sorry," Spike offered humbly.

Buffy paused, considering the possible consequences of one less soldier in her army. After a brief inner struggle, she decided to grant Spike a stay of execution for the time being. "I know Giles. He would never ask for this. You murdered him and you will pay... after we save the world." She went up the stairway, leaving the vampire to ponder his doubtful future.

"So, we taking the girls out tonight?" Xander asked as he gazed out the kitchen window.

"I don't know if we should," Buffy said softly, hesitantly.

"There's a killer out there Buffy, something is killing our friends. We have to find it." Xander's stare was uncompromising.

"The girls will be safer here. The invitation right..."

"Vampires? Who said anything about vampires? Do you know who did this? Do you know who killed Giles?"

Buffy waved her hand in warning, trying to keep Xander's voice from being heard by the others.

"I don't want them to know. Not until Willow gets back," Buffy urged.

Xander and Buffy hushed silent as Dawn entered the kitchen. The uncomfortable quiet made Dawn immediately uneasy. Everyone was increasingly on edge lately and Dawn couldn't shake the feeling something deeper was going on behind the surface. The tension seemed to break as Spike came out from the basement and went searching through the refrigerator for a blood pack. He gave Buffy a guarded look as he tore the corner from the bag and suckled the thick fluid inside.

"Why aren't we out there? Why aren't we hunting this animal down? Giles is..." Xander paused immediately with a glimpse of Dawn's meddling face. "I have to do something, Buffy. We sit here useless and waiting... for what?" Xander asked impatiently.

"Where is Giles? Has anyone tried to call him? He needs to know what happened to Chao-Ahn," Dawn insisted and Xander gave Buffy a sorrowful glance. Spike also exchanged troubled looks with Buffy as he maneuvered past her and towards the back door.

"We need Willow, Xander," Buffy said soberly. "Then we'll hunt him down."

"Him who? You guys know who did this?" Xander asked, obviously irritated.

"We have some leads," Spike said and lit up the cigarette as he stepped outside.

"Spike, rally the girls. We're going out," Buffy commanded and Spike cocked a brow.

"You think that's wise?" he asked.

"We need to continue their training. Besides, everyone's going stir crazy. Everyone is going out tonight... even Andrew," she explained. "Get Anya and Kennedy to gather up the weapons."

"I'll stay here," Dawn said as she looked through the fridge for any scraps of food. "In case Giles or Willow gets back."

"No. You're coming with us. I want everyone with me," Buffy weaved through the small crowd.

"But if they show up, they'll need to know where you are. We always have someone keep watch at Slayer central."

"Buffy... what do you know?" Xander hadn't gotten his answer yet and wasn't about to let this line of questioning be overlooked.

"Willow will be back any time. We'll talk then." Buffy ordered and quickly headed toward the living room, not allowing any further discussion of the matter. "Dawn, your coming with us."

"Buffy!" Dawn huffed and got a severe glare in response.

"This isn't a debate. Get your coat and gather the others. Now!"

"What aren't you telling me?" The rapidly departing Slayer ignored Xander's raised voice and he turned to Spike for some kind of answer. Dawn waited impatiently for the vampire's response, curious as to what she'd missed.

"When Willow get's back," Spike grumbled and took off out the back door, needing to get away from the heavy weight of secrets.

"She's not thinking straight, Xander. I'm not going. You know someone needs to stay behind," Dawn said in a hushed voice.

"I know. I'll talk to her," Xander moved toward the living room and paused to look back at Dawn. "Just don't go outside, ok?"

"Why?" Dawn asked.

"Just listen to me, Dawn. Please," Xander pleaded with her and Dawn nodded impassively.

They were keeping something from her. Dawn could always tell. Answers got short, as did tempers and their eyes would avoid hers as if she held some truth serum in her inquisitive stare. It irritated her that Buffy felt she couldn't handle the reality of most situations on the Hellmouth, even when the younger sister of the Slayer reminded the elder of her own adventures teasing death. But it didn't matter; Dawn would make the best of a frustrating situation.

She wandered the empty house with fascination. It was a pleasant surprise that Xander had successfully talked Buffy into letting her remain behind. Common sense had finally won out. It had always been a sort of failsafe to keep one person at the house at all times, acting as a makeshift command post. And though Dawn hated to be the bearer of bad news for any home comers, it seemed like forever since she had the place to herself and she was determined to get the most of her all too brief stint of freedom.

She went into the kitchen and checked the cupboards for a snack. The shelves were more barren than Death Valley. Potentials sure ate a lot. Just as she opened the freezer, she thought she heard something coming from the living room.

"Willow? Is that you?" she yelled and got no answer. "Giles?" Again, no answer. Dawn was immediately on alert. If being the young sister of the Slayer taught her anything, it was to always be aware of your surroundings, even when they seemed so familiar and safe. With another faint thump, Dawn reached for the butcher's knife on the counter and looked around for anything better, a good distance weapon.

Her mind raced with possibilities for the source of the noise. The intruder shouldn't be a vampire because they would have to be invited in, unless it was one of those uber vamps. Dawn quickly decided to ban such thoughts, it was just too scary for her to consider. Determined not to give into her fear, she concluded it could be more demonic or humanoid being making things go bump in the night. She made her way toward the living room, moving quietly and cautiously until she was certain there was nothing to fear but her imagination. The living room was void of any visible intruders so Dawn swung around to check the dining room. She was startled by a tall figure standing in the archway and she swiftly raised the knife, ready to defend herself. Her fear faded with recognition of Giles' smiling kindly down at her.

"Giles, your back!" She rushed into his open arms and hugged him warmly. "You almost freaked me out with all the noises. Luckily I've had three cocoas and my Wheaties today so I'm pretty sure I can whoop any Hellmouth bad asses!" She waited for Giles to reprimand her for her crude language then realized he wasn't returning the warm welcome she was offering him. She pulled back, curious as to what bothered him. "What's wrong? Oh... did you hear about Chao-Ahn."

"You're alone," he spoke softly, his face inexpressive. Dawn immediately jumped into defensive mode.

"Yes, but I'm fine. I can so handle myself. Learned from the best who learned from the best, right?" She smiled confidently and Giles' lips slowly drew back into a grin.

"Of course. She's probably off gathering up potential corpses right now," Giles chuckled as his eyes scanned the vacant room.

Dawn's forehead creased with uncertainty. "Giles? Are you ok? You seem a bit... um, off?" Dawn asked nervously; knowing something just wasn't right with the Watcher. Her stomach churned with inexplicable anxiety and she wondered what was causing such an internal fuss.

"Never better." His gaze fell back on the young woman begging for his approval. "Do you trust me Dawn?"

"Yeah," she answered without hesitancy. "Why wouldn't I? You're like... like my adopted dad or something."

"Very good." He stepped forward, closing the gap between them and Dawn's muscles twitched instinctually with dread. What was causing this reaction? Every fiber of her being told her to run but she just couldn't figure out why. Giles gently wrapped his hand around her wrist and pulled her closer to him. Apprehensively, Dawn looked up into Giles' eyes and watched with horror as they turned a fiery yellow and his kindly features bulged and distorted before her, transforming into the demon she'd sensed was there but had regrettably ignored. She gasped in shock at the monster he'd become. She'd seen vampires before but this was different, this was Giles. Dawn was frozen with fearful denial as Giles' lips snarled back to reveal his extended canines and he let out a low ominous growl. "Then come now, and give daddy a kiss." Her scream never escaped her lips.

Part 5...