She wasn’t dressed in period clothing, as he might’ve expected. Well, certainly, he hadn’t expected Willow at all, but even so, seeing her in flannel pajama bottoms and a faded t-shirt that said, “Geeks do it with more RAM,” was disconcerting at best. When Giles uttered her name, her eyes went wide and she glanced off at the side as if she was looking at someone else before asking him, “You can see me?”
It seemed a particularly ridiculous question, especially coming from Willow. “Of course, I can see you. You’re standing right in front of me.”
“Is this Buffy?” Like a wraith, William appeared at his side, eyes dark as he looked up to Giles for confirmation. “She is not what I expected.”
“No, this is Willow,” he replied. “She is…a friend of mine.” The explanation seemed to satisfy the young man, but when Giles looked back up to ask Willow what exactly was happening, she was frowning again.
“Um, not to be…” She paused, her eyes darting to the right again, and her hand made a waving shushing motion to…something before she continued. “Who were you talking to?” she asked cautiously.
Something wasn’t right. The circumstances of how he’d spent his afternoon had eased Giles into a false sense of reality, but Willow’s new arrival only served to remind him that this shouldn’t have been occurring in the first place.
“She can’t see me.” William’s voice was almost a whisper, and the downward turn of his mouth betrayed the hurt he was holding back. “She doesn’t know.”
He didn’t have time to ask for clarification on the statement.
“Giles,” Willow said. “Look at me.” She waited until he complied before continuing, her tone slow and even, like she was speaking to a child. “I’m not sure what you’re seeing, but…you’re hallucinating. You’re not where you think you are. You’re in your hotel room, and I’m here, and Buffy and Xander are here, and we’re trying to figure out what happened. Can you tell us what’s going on? Did something happen with the amulet?”
Hallucinating, of course. It certainly made more sense than the non-conclusion he had reached. Perhaps he’d been poisoned when he’d pricked his thumb. Funny, but he had never envisioned himself as Sleeping Beauty.
A small hand curled tentatively into his, warm and steady. William’s. But…how could it feel so real if this was all happening inside his head?
“Tell me what you found,” Giles instructed her, ignoring the direct address of her query.
“I didn’t. Xander and Buffy did. He wanted to go get some breakfast and he knocked on your door to see if you wanted anything, but when you didn’t answer, he went to get Buffy to get him into your room. They found you passed out on the floor with the amulet in your hand.”
“So Buffy knows.”
Willow nodded. “I didn’t have a choice…” When she looked off to the side this time, Giles realized she must be listening to something either Buffy or Xander was saying, especially when she hissed, “I already told you, it didn’t seem that dangerous when we were there!”
His smile was rueful. “I assume Buffy is less than pleased,” he said.
“That’s an understatement,” she replied with a light chuckle. She quickly sobered. “But, what happened? You sound lucid. Well, except for talking to people I can’t see, I mean.”
“And from my perspective, you’re speaking to ghosts as well. Though I must admit, my ghost is a bit more…unpredicted.”
“Do you know what’s going on?”
Giles cast a sideways glance at the youth, the sight of the pensive expectation on his face curbing the words he’d been about to say. “I have suspicions,” he said. “How is it you’re able to speak with me if I’m unconscious?”
“You’re not. Not anymore. I used some of the emanations from the amulet to create a communication conduit of a sort. You woke up as soon as I finished inscribing the circle.” She bit her lip. “But you’re still wherever it is you are, aren’t you? Nothing’s changed?”
“Not particularly. I was told the constable had arrived and was asking to see me outdoors.” Briefly, he explained his inability to sleep, aware of the growing confusion coming from the boy next to him. “I don’t remember very much after pricking my thumb, though,” he finished. “I imagine that’s when I fell unconscious.”
“Blood!” Her exclamation was accompanied by a slap to her forehead, and Willow turned away from him to begin babbling at the empty air. “Have they left yet?” Pause. “I have to stop them. It’s the wrong spell. Here.” She reached forward, her hand curling around an insubstantial something, and yanked, at the same time taking the place of whatever---or whoever it was---she was pulling forward.
All of a sudden, Willow was gone, and Buffy was there in her place, stumbling slightly as she regained her balance.
She looked tired. But then, she’d looked tired the previous day, which was one of the primary reasons Giles had refused to have her told about his endeavors. Dark circles ringed her eyes, the cut that had seemed so vicious on her forehead now a scarlet sliver. Her thin arms were folded over her stomach, and the sweats she wore hung from her narrow hips.
More than anything, Giles’ main wish was that Buffy would be able to take some time and recover from the fatigue this battle had wreaked throughout her body and soul. She most definitely needed it.
A sharp intake of breath from William at his side diverted his attention.
“Miss Buffy…” His eyes were riveted to her, and he took a half-step closer, like a moth to a flame.
“How do you know that?” Giles asked.
The tiniest shakes of his head. “I don’t know. I just…she glows, doesn’t she?”
Giles swung his gaze back to Buffy, trying to see her as William did. In spite of her weariness, her shoulders were still square, her chin high, and there was a resigned peace that gave her eyes a clarity that had been missing for months. “Yes,” he agreed quietly. “Yes, she does.”
“Are you OK?” No greeting from his Slayer. Just the worried inquiry about his well-being. Giles felt his chest warm.
“I feel perfectly fine,” he replied. “Where did Willow go?”
Buffy gestured abstractly toward her right. “She went to stop Faith and Kennedy from leaving yet. She’d sent them off to get some supplies to do the spell she thought would snap you out of…wherever you are.” She glanced down around her feet. “I think she was wrong about her magical circle thing, though. It is going to stain. I’ll bet the hotel tries to charge us for it.”
“I’m sorry,” he said.
She looked up with a frown. “Because Willow’s got ring around the magic?”
“For you finding about the amulet in this way. I didn’t…yesterday was very draining for you. I didn’t wish to add to your burden.”
Before she could reply, William was tugging at his sleeve to get his attention.
“Tell her she mustn’t worry,” he said to Giles. “Tell her it doesn’t sting any longer.”
“Who are you talking to, Giles?” Buffy said. “You never answered when Willow asked.”
“Tell her,” William insisted.
He didn’t understand, but the naked hunger in the boy’s face compelled him to obey.
“It’s…a friend,” Giles said hesitantly. “He’s asked that…he doesn’t want you to worry. Apparently…it doesn’t sting any more, though I don’t know exactly what he means by that.”
She blanched at the words, and started to step forward without thinking, only stopping when she must’ve remembered the circle inscribed on the floor. “Spike?” she asked, and her voice was shaking. “He’s there?”
How she fathomed that out based on the cryptic message, Giles had no idea, but it was pointless to deny it any longer. “In a fashion.”
“Is he…all right?”
William was no longer at his side. Unable to keep his distance from her any longer, the boy had slowly crept forward until he stood in front of Buffy. He was only a few inches shorter, and it made it easier for him to search her face, though Buffy seemed completely unaware of his proximity.
“She’s so beautiful,” he murmured. His head tilted as he began to circle around her, surveying her from every angle. “You must be so proud.”
“He’s fine,” Giles replied. “He’s been very…interesting company.”
Buffy’s head snapped to the right, her body tense again as she seemed to be listening to someone. “Willow’s back,” she said after a moment. “She says she knows how to get you back.”
“I thought she knew how to do it before.”
“She says that she was only guessing before, but that…oh, this is stupid. You explain it.” With a fluid motion, Buffy reached for nothing, only barely avoiding William and causing him to jump out of the way, and in a flash, Willow was back, standing too closely to the Slayer as she tried to stay within her circle.
“Your blood opened the pathway,” Willow said excitedly. “I’d been trying to figure out how it was you could just get sucked in, because the residual magic just isn’t strong enough for that, but it was the blood. It has to be. And that’s how I can bring you back.”
“And how will you…ow!” Giles jerked his hand back as a sharp stab of pain cut across his thumb, and he looked down to see the blood swelling from a fresh slice across the fleshy pad.
“Sorry,” Willow said. “We weren’t sure if you’d actually feel that.”
William had wandered back to his side, large eyes solemn. “You’re going now, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Yes, it would appear so.”
Stiffly, the boy bowed in front of Giles, holding it for a long moment before straightening again. “I’m honored I had the opportunity to meet you, sir,” he said. “Please convey my best wishes to your friends and family.”
He was shocked back into silence, and only the sound Buffy’s voice was able to tear his gaze away from his scrutiny of William.
“Willow’s going to do the spell now,” she said. “Can you tell Spike…” She chewed at her lower lip, weighing her words. “Tell him thank you,” she whispered. Before Giles could respond, she turned and fled, disappearing like a candle flame quickly being extinguished.
Silence permeated the garden. Willow’s neck was twisted, as she watched some drama unfold unseen to him, and when she finally turned back to face Giles, her eyes were sad. “Buffy left,” she said simply. And then… “Is Spike really there?”
“Yes.” He reached out and settled a hand on William’s shoulder. The contact brought it with a germ of an idea, and before Willow could disappear as well, he said, “You didn’t clean the amulet any further, did you?”
Quickly, he explained what he wanted her to do, watching the emotions play across her face, first confusion, then awareness, and finally excited expectation. He was glad Buffy wasn’t present to hear his proposal; if it failed, it would only serve to wound her deeper. There was nothing more painful than hopes being dashed to the ground.
“We’re going to have to be incommunicado for a few minutes,” Willow said when he was done. “I have to do some prep for the spell.”
Giles nodded. When he was alone again, he lowered his gaze to meet William’s. “It would seem I have a few minutes,” he said with a smile. “Would it be too forward of me to ask for another cup of tea? I’d love the opportunity to speak with you some more about your writing.”
He woke up with a splitting headache, blinking against the sudden change of light within the hotel room. Next to the bed, Willow and Xander hovered in waiting, but it was the split focus of their attention that prompted him to push himself upright, even if it did make his head swim.
“Did it…” But he didn’t have to finish the question. There, curled into a ball on the floor at the foot of the bed, was a black and white form, shoulders bunched and tense beneath the t-shirt, bleached hair dull from the dust that clung to it. He was still unconscious, but Giles reasoned it would likely take Spike longer to come around. After all, his soul had been trapped inside the amulet for almost a day longer.
“You were right,” Willow said. “Some of the dust that was on the amulet was Spike’s. Probably a lucky thing. I would’ve hated trying to explain some kind of dirt monster to Buffy if we’d screwed up.”
“Has anyone told her?” When she shook her head, Giles said, “Go get her. She needs to know.”
Without a word, Xander left the room, making sure to keep the sunlight that threatened to stream inside away from the inert vampire. Slowly, Giles rose to his feet, and though his balance was shaky, he strode the short distance to Spike’s side.
“Help me move him to the bed,” he ordered. Taking Spike’s shoulders, he struggled to take most of the weight while Willow grabbed his boots, stumbling the few feet to the bed and laying him as carefully as he could across the comforter.
The vampire groaned. When the lashes parted, dark blue eyes stared unfocused into the room, but they soon clouded in pain. “Bugger,” Spike muttered, his eyes drifting shut again. “Next time I step up to save the world, tell me I’m out of my bloody mind.”
“Are the blood bags still in the cooler?” Giles asked Willow. He sincerely hoped nobody had been overly efficient in clearing out the supplies that were extraneous after the Hellmouth’s collapse.
She nodded. “I’ll go get some.”
Both men were silent until they were alone. At the sound of the door clicking shut, Spike’s eyelids slowly opened.
“Why’d you do it?” he asked. “You could’ve just left me there. Nobody would’ve been the wiser.”
The unspoken Buffy would never have known hung there between them. “Because it would’ve been wrong,” Giles said simply. “After…” He couldn’t say it, but he doubted Spike wouldn’t know what he was referring to. “It would’ve been wrong,” he repeated.
There was nothing to say to that but, “Thanks.”
When the door opened behind them, and Buffy stepped into the room, Giles retreated to the bathroom, allowing the pair their reunion in private. Part of him wasn’t entirely convinced he’d done the best thing for all involved, but an even larger part remembered the solemn gaze of a young William speaking of his dreams.
Remembered the soul that had recognized the Slayer it loved without the benefit of foreknowledge.
Remembered Buffy’s face when she’d realized who Giles was speaking to.
Life was about taking chances. Risking everything to gain what small measure of happiness one could. Sometimes, those were second chances.
After everything, Spike deserved that.
William deserved that.
After misunderstanding for so many months, Giles was just glad he could be the one to give it to him.