Buffy hadn’t thought she’d wind up spending her birthday defending the likelihood that her slayer strength was gone for good to her best friends, but that’s how it turned out.
She knew Willow meant well, but being put in the position of having to be strong for her friends when she was the one it was happening to, really wasn’t fun.
Of course, the day hadn’t started off great either. She woke up to a note on the outside of her window from Angel, wishing her happy birthday. No actual present, no visit (though she wasn’t actually upset about that part). Nothing actually useful. Just proof that he’d looked in her window while she was sleeping the night before without saying a word to her.
Falling out of love was a strange thing. She might have found that romantic before, but these days it was just creepy.
She hadn’t spoken to anyone before she headed off to school, as the moms were both still asleep and Spike was probably avoiding her. They’d kept pretending nothing had happened the night before, but she had a feeling he was probably beating himself up over stooping so low as to almost kiss the slayer.
There was a low ache in her chest when she thought of the possibility, but she told herself it came from her knowing that was how she should feel too, not cutting fear at the thought she might be correct about his reaction.
On the safer side of things to think about, Giles had agreed to pick her up from her house and go with her to the ice show that night.
Her watcher really had become her father figure since she’d met him. Spike’s idea to invite him with her was a great one.
She zoned out for most of the rest of school, thinking instead about what she would wear and how she was going to spend her time getting ready.
It was about an hour before Giles was scheduled to pick her up when she heard the doorbell ring.
By the time she made it down the stairs, though, the porch was empty again, save for a Polaroid laying on the mat.
“Mom…” she whispered. After a second of shock, she screamed for Spike or Anne. Someone to help. Neither of them answered her. She checked the house and found no one else home.
It was strange, but she couldn’t afford to be distracted. She just had to hope they were okay; that it was only her mother in trouble.
Frantically, she picked up the phone and called Giles, hoping to catch him before he left. When she explained what had happened, he promised to be there in ten minutes with answers.
She just hoped the answers weren’t too late.
“How could you, Giles? How could you?! I told you how upset I was after my mom tried to kill me, now you? I thought I could trust you.”
She looked at him with disgust, though she fought to see him through her tears.
She could hardly process the fact that her own watcher, the man she’d been so excited to have replace her father on her birthday, had drugged her and conspired against her to put her through a test that would likely end in her death.
“Buffy, I’m sorry, I–”
“Save it, Giles. I can’t look at you right now. Tell me where they’re staying, I’m going to find my mom.”
“At least allow me to give you a ride. I have weapons in my car.”
She looked at him coldly, but nodded. She patted her pocket and felt that the hunting dagger Spike had given her was still on her person.
Time to go save her mother.
It was only after arriving back home with her very shaken but otherwise unharmed mother that she found the note Spike had left.
“Mom, I don’t want to just leave you here, but I have to get to the hospital.”
Joyce looked at her daughter, shocked. “What’s going on, Buffy?”
“I just found a note from Spike. I guess Anne’s pulse-ox was low and she wasn’t feeling good so he took her back to the hospital. I don’t know when he wrote this, but I haven’t seen him all day.”
“I should go too,” Joyce objected.
“But mom—,” she began, but Joyce cut her off.
“Not buts. We’ve both been beaten up tonight. Not to mention you’re still weak, so it isn’t safe for you to walk alone at night. I’ll drive you, and maybe between the two of us we can convince Spike to come home and sleep for the night.”
“Okay, okay, let’s go.” Buffy acquiesced.
They arrived at the hospital and tracked Spike down almost instantly.
He recognized the sound of their heartbeats as they approached. He’d known they’d show sooner or later, especially since he’d left a note.
“She was having coughing fits and feeling fevered. Doc says she’s not responding as well to the medication as he’d like, so they’re putting her on more and going to monitor her more closely from now on,” he explained, not looking up.
“Spike, how long have you been just sitting out here?” Joyce asked, voice full of motherly concern.
“Kicked me out a few hours back, damned visiting hours again. She needs rest, but I couldn’t just leave her…”
Buffy walked over and kicked his shin gently. “Come on, come home with us for the night and we’ll get you back here bright and early. Before she’s awake, even, probably.”
He finally lifted his eyes, and was taken completely aback at the sight.
In an instant he shot out of his chair, checking over Buffy’s bruises.
Buffy laughed without humor. “Can I tell you about it when we get home? I’m just still wrapping my own head around it.”
He nodded, then looked up at Joyce. He felt faintly ill when he picked up on the bruises the older woman also sported.
“Joyce! Are you both okay?!”
She took pity on her daughter and answered for the both of them. “We’re alright, Spike. Buffy took care of the danger, like always. Now come on, let’s get home.”
Buffy headed straight for the back porch as soon as she sent her mom off to bed, and Spike followed her out.
“So tell me about what happened,” he said, tone leaving no room for argument.
“Giles is why I lost my powers. Some kind of slayer test. And the vamp they planned to test me with got loose and kidnapped my mom. I managed to cut her loose right away, but I got stuck inside as soon as she left. The only weapon I had was that dagger, so I wound up having to let him run right into it and shove it deep enough for the wood handle to get his heart.” She sighed. “Mom’s safe, but she could have died because I had no powers because Giles was poisoning me. I just don’t understand what’s happening in the world anymore.”
He looked at her softly.
“What do you mean by that, pet?”
She sighed loudly.
“I mean, I’m supposed to be able to trust my watcher more than anyone else, and now he’s acting as evil-adjacent as possible without being directly evil. And then there’s you, who’s supposed to be evil, but you haven’t been acting like it since you started staying here. My watcher tried to kill me, and my ex-mortal enemy gave me the knife that saved my life. My job isn’t supposed to be this HARD with all the black and white and shades of gray.”
“Look, pet, I spent a lot of years being tortured by both Dru and Angelus back in the day. Sometimes evil’s straightforward, like Angelus. Sometimes it puts on a loving face until it’s inconvenient for them like Dru. What your watcher did was evil, love, no two ways around that. But that doesn’t make him evil, or a lost cause, or even mean he was purposely malicious. Man was indoctrinated by the council, same as all its other lackeys.”
Buffy looked up at him angrily. “Why are you defending him?!”
“Because I know you need him. Rupes isn’t just your watcher, pet, and him betraying you isn’t something to just get over. But at least it’s not as bad as it might have been.”
“It’s just not very easy to see it that way.”
She stiffened for a second as she felt him wrap his arm around her, but then relaxed. She was this far down the rabbit hole, no reason to stop here. And besides, as she sat close to him, she actually felt calm for the first time since she’d found out what Giles had done to her. Safe.
“I just don’t get understand it, Spike. They’re all human. They all have souls.”
“I know you don’t want to believe it, pet, but a soul isn’t everything. Lots of evil things have souls, and there are plenty of harmless demons out there without human souls.”
She didn’t respond, but he caught the thoughtful look she shot him.
“Oi! I’m not harmless, Slayer.”
Her face turned serious. “I know that, Spike. I know that you could, if you wanted, and you don’t, but I don’t understand why, and frankly that scares the hell out of me.”
“Can’t say that I completely understand it myself, pet. One second I’m the Big Bad, kidnappin’ little red witches to do spells, the next I’m poncy William again, taking care of my mum. Not sure I know who I am anymore. ‘M just winging it. Figure if I just keep doing what I want to do, instead of what I think I should, ‘ve gotta suss it out sometime.”
“I mean, I suppose that does make sense. As long as you don’t decide you want to go snacking on the populace. I really don’t want to stake you.”
“Is that so, love?”
Buffy blushed and pulled away from him slightly.
“I just mean that I love Anne and it would hurt her a lot. And Mom, too, for that matter.”
“Right…” he said slowly, not calling her on the obvious bluff. “For what it’s worth, I wish I’d been there to help you kick that vamp’s ass.”
“Thanks, Spike. But it does makes me feel better that I managed on my own, though, you know? Like maybe you were right and I’m not nothing without my powers.”
“’Ve course I’m right, pet. Buffy is just as incredible as the slayer. And when you’re all wrapped up together proper like you’re meant to be— god help the man who tries to stand in your way.”
“That was you once, you know,” she said with a soft giggle.
“An’ I’m speakin’ from experience.”
“You’re ridiculous,” she said fondly, failing to hold back her smile.
“And you love it, baby,” he replied suggestively.
“And with that, a resounding ‘good night.’”
He caught her hand as she stood from his embrace, squeezing it softly.
“Good night, Buffy.”
She paused for a moment and squeezed his hand back. “See you in the morning, Spike.”
Buffy went to bed with a smile on her face.
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