A place for everything, and everything in its place. Odds and ends put where they belonged. Dishes cleared from the bedroom and soaking in the sink. The mask put back in place just enough to begin the mundane tasks that would help hold it in place.
Now that Ripper and Ethan were both, hopefully, thoroughly sated for the evening, perhaps Giles could work on turning that mask back into the overcoat it had been for years..
Ethan hadn’t really been trying to escape. He was actually quite astute at that. No, he’d merely wanted to be chained back up and punished for his misbehavior, and Ripper had been all too happy to oblige him. No matter how much Giles tried to rein in that darker side, Ethan managed to bring it out each and every time with nothing more than a smirk or a bitten lip. For one so domineering, he really ought to have had better control over his reactions by now. But then, that was what had drawn them together in the first place, so many years ago. The broken rules, the danger, and the excitement that came with it.
A perfect sub he was not, but that was what made it all the more fun. Always responsive, always eager for both praise and punishment. Truthfully, it was the reason Giles had allowed himself to be so completely consumed in his youth. He didn’t have that same excuse now, and he hadn’t come up with any logical reason he was still keeping Ethan around. Perhaps he was more of a masochist than he gave himself credit for.
He continued to insist that it was because they were still in possession of Loki’s locket when the others asked. He really did expect the Trickster God to pop back in any day now. Their deal was complete, the Initiative effectively destroyed, and they had no further need of the borrowed power. Of course, being who he was, he was probably hoping to get a bit more entertainment out of the situation first. He’d taken far too much glee in how they’d sealed that deal to begin with.
Giles placed more dishes in the sink with a heavy sigh. He knew it couldn’t continue like this much longer. Sooner or later, he was going to have to put Ethan out and take a sabbatical to get his mind right again. He’d never intended things to go this way. He’d only had Buffy’s safe return in mind when he let Ripper out to play, but it had opened up a veritable can of worms that he was having an incredibly hard time putting away again. The temptation was just too much. He’d denied himself for so many years, and now he found himself overindulging.
Despite that, and despite knowing the mental anguish it was causing him, he almost couldn’t bear the thought of pushing Ethan out of his life a second time. He’d done it before, when Ethan’s interests had caused the death of a dear friend. A terrible accident, to be sure, but… it hadn’t been enough to make Ethan stop what he was doing, and the rift between them had grown to a point that Giles could no longer strain himself to reach across it. Ethan hadn’t been willing to compromise, and so… They’d gone their separate ways.
It was one of the only times in his life he’d felt true heartbreak. He’d gone back home, a broken man, done as told, and become a watcher for the council. It had been much easier then to push down his desires. Young and unsure of his place in the world, he’d been able to meld the persona of a quiet librarian, engorged in his books and lessons. Easier still to keep that persona up over the years, rarely letting his true nature show unless absolutely necessary. Then Ethan had found him, taunted him, and finally tempted him.
Soon, he told himself for the umpteenth time that week. As soon as Loki returns to claim the locket, and I can be sure it’s far out of Ethan’s grasp, I’ll make him leave.
He moved around his flat, picking up the evidence of their sudden tryst and setting the furniture back where it belonged. The lamp, the chair, books that have been rattled loose from the shelf. He put it back in order, desperately wishing it were that easy to do the same with his life as a whole. He glanced up at the sound of his door opening, then stood very suddenly as Faith strolled in and shut the door behind her.
“Giles! Don’t move.”
He couldn’t very well run, with her standing between himself and the only exit he had. He couldn’t help but glance around, hoping there was something within reach that he could defend himself with. He mentally kicked himself for trusting the council’s word. Our very best, we assure you. It seemed they needed the best of a different organization, as theirs was clearly not good enough to get the job done.
“Giles, you have to listen to me very carefully,” she said, in a tone that was far less threatening than he expected, considering her history. “I’m not Faith.”
“Clearly. Well, the resemblance is truly striking.” he said, sliding his feet in the direction of the kitchen, where he was certain he had at least a few very sharp knives.
“Stop inching and just listen to me.” Faith took a few long steps forward, closing much of the precious distance between them.
“Look, I know what you’re going to say-” which he absolutely didn’t, but he had to do something to try to stall her.
“I’m Buffy.” she deadpanned.
“Alright, I didn’t know, but that doesn’t make you any less crazy.”
“Faith did a spell. She switched our bodies. I just broke out of Council custody, Giles! Do you have any idea what that was like after what I just went through?”
Faith couldn’t possibly know about that. Unless… Perhaps she’d taken Buffy and interrogated her? Or gathered intelligence from another source? It wasn’t important. If she wanted to play the part, maybe he could…
“If you really are Buffy, you’ll… let me tie you up without killing me, until we figure out what’s going on.”
She closed the last remaining distance between them and pushed Giles down onto his recliner. “Giles, I do not have time for whatever weird bondage stuff you’re into right now, okay? You want proof that I’m Buffy? Fine. When I had psychic powers, I heard my mom think that you were like a stevedore during sex.”
“She’s right!” Ethan shouted from the loft with a giggle, much to Giles’s dismay.
Well, that settled that. It was definitely Buffy. She glanced up, then back to Giles, her brow furrowing.
“I know I’m going to regret asking this… why is Ethan in your bedroom?”
“I’m going to paraphrase this. Um, I’m an adult and it’s none of your business.” He replied curtly, hoping she wouldn’t press further.
With another barely repressed laugh, Ethan shouted down again. “It’s the bondage!”
“Alright, that’s enough.” He stood up and headed up the stairs. He’d have to shut Ethan up if they were going to have any hope of reversing what Faith had done. He shoved a cloth into Ethan’s mouth with a stern look, a threat wrapped in a promise, before he padded back down to the main level. “Alright, you’re Buffy. How do we fix this? I need you to explain everything to me. Start from the beginning.”
Damned Slayers and their quick recovery time. She’d woken back up half way to the Watcher’s flat, and put up one hell of a fight when he was trying to put her back out. He’d still been determined to not harm a hair on Buffy’s pretty head, and had got a split lip and a black eye for his trouble. He’d picked up the pace after that.
With no arms to knock, and a sense of urgency, and the fact that he didn’t particularly care, he put boot to door with as much strength as he could without knocking himself over. Thankfully, Buffy was already inside, and the situation wouldn’t need more explaining.
“-Spike helping with that.”
“I’ll fix the door up later, watcher.” he huffed, “We need to get her restrained, now. I don’t fancy having to wrestle her down a third time. Where’s the chains?”
The watcher’s face went red as he glanced up to the loft. With the stench in the air, Spike didn’t wonder what had been going on up there. Guess the old boy still had a bit of spunk left in him after all. Funny, he didn’t seem the type.
“Ah, actually… I’ll just go get them, shall I?”
Before he could even take a step to get the shackles, Willow rushed in through the open door, new friend close on her heels. She stopped short when she took in the scene. Spike knew how it probably looked to her.
“Willow.” Buffy said the name tersely, putting a hand up defensively. “You don’t understand.”
“You’re Buffy. You and Faith switched bodies, probably through a Draconian Katra spell.” She held up a little box, a grin plastered on her face.
His jaw twitched with the effort to keep his mouth shut. Chirpy little Willow, so proud that she had everything all figured out and had the solution in her hands. Must’ve made her feel real good. Probably expecting Buffy to shower her in praise and appreciation for it. Judging from Buffy’s face, she was thinking much the same thing.
“How did you..?”
“Tara.” She gestured to the quiet girl standing behind her. “Tara, this is Buffy, only for real this time.”
“Tara is a really powerful witch.”
“No, you are! She knew right away that you weren’t you. So we went to the nether realms to find out what happened, and conjured this. A katra. It should switch you and Faith back. And since she’s already here, we just have to…”
Spike tilted his head at Tara, and gave her a small smile. “Thank you, for helping her.” She blushed in response and shook her head, stuttering a bit. “No, don’t do that ‘it was nothing’ bit. Thank you.”
He turned to look at Giles, then directed his eyes to the loft. “The chains? I’m taking her to the bathroom. Coming, pet?”
Buffy nodded silently, then led the way. Once in the small room, she closed the door behind them. He’d figured she’d be a little quiet around her friends, but he could tell this was something more. Something was on her mind. A knock at the door, and Giles handed the shackles over the threshold. Spike laid Buffy’s body in the tub, taking the utmost care not to bang her head on the edge when he pulled his arm free. Buffy stared down at herself, shackles held loosely in her hands.
“Buffy. Here, let me. It’s only for a minute, yeah? Just in case she comes to before that thing switches you back.”
He took the chains from her slowly, giving her time to object if she wanted to. When she didn’t, he cuffed her body down, hating that she had to watch it being done. When he looked back up at her, her eyes were unfocused and glossed over. He stood, putting himself between her and her body, hoping it would help.
“I want to talk to her. When she wakes up. Before…”
“Yeah, of course. I’m assuming this is one of those things where you don’t want an audience? I’ll be here, if you need me. Got to make sure to get you home to Joyce safe this time.”
As soon as he closed the door behind him, he heard it. Willow, the meddling little bint that she was, talking to Giles in a hushed voice. He missed most of what she was saying, but between his name and the ‘on her throat!’, he didn’t really have to guess what the subject of conversation was. She was spilling the tea to him about what she’d seen at the Bronze. Anger flared, and he couldn’t stop himself. He stormed out into the living room, right up to that redhead, and continued the momentum with his hand at her throat until she hit the wall. The fear in her eyes was a welcome reaction. At least he had her full attention.
Willow squirmed under the weight of his hand, trying to get loose. He wasn’t hurting her, just holding her there. It was the threat that was the important part. He wanted them to know, without a doubt, that he could kill them any time he wanted to. The only thing that stopped him was her.
“It’s not polite to gossip about your friends, Red. And what exactly were you telling the Watcher? Hmm? That you saw her with me? And what about it? I’ve had just about enough of you lot treating her like she’s not… human. She’s not Super Woman. Are you all so blind that you can’t see how much pain she’s in, or do you just not care?”
“I can see enough to know you’re taking advantage of it!” she spat back.
He pressed a bit harder, watched the fear in her eyes as he leaned in. He could feel her pulse racing, the blood pumping through her jugular. Right there, just inches away from his mouth. An instant, and his fangs could sink deep into her flesh. A point he drove home to her by letting his demon visage emerge with a crunch.
“Advantage? Advantage would have been me sucking her dry to heal my own wounds. Advantage would have been giving her what she wanted and shagging her senseless. Advantage would have been me hooking up with that trollop in her body before I came here, because she’d never know. I’m trying to help her.” He pulled back, shifting back to his human face and releasing his hold. “You’re shoving her up onto a pedestal, and trying to hold her to higher standards than any of you. Trying to make her be fine, for your own comfort. You don’t want to think about what happened to her. What continued to happen to her, because you hated the messenger. I already told the watcher, I’m not going to do anything to hurt her, and you’re all damned lucky that includes taking great pleasure in ripping your throats out.”
Spike took a step back, and looked from Giles to Tara. Neither of them had moved, frozen in fear. Neither of them had said a word either. When he looked back to Willow, she’d put a hand up to her neck, and was taking in heaving breaths. Her mouth opened and closed a few times as she tried to find words to say, and failed. Finally, she managed a few nearly complete sentences.
“That doesn’t mean you should… what are you getting out of this? Why were you… with her? You’re supposed to want her dead.”
“Oh, you think I don’t know how wrong this is? That I -” He clenched his jaw. He couldn’t say it. Not to them. Not before he said it to her. “- that I want her? You think I don’t know? A headache, that’s what I get out of it. And a lot of trouble that I could be avoiding otherwise. A growing dependency on alcohol. I don’t have to get anything from her, and that’s the point.”
“So you’re just doing this out of the goodness of your heart? No ulterior motives? You’re a vampire. You were going to kill me a few months ago! And I’m supposed to just believe that you’re all redeemed now because you want to-to get into my friend’s pants? I don’t think so.”
He scoffed at her. God, she was so blind. They all were. Couldn’t see what was right in front of their noses because they were too busy looking for something else. Yeah, maybe he did want more, but that wasn’t his motivation. He could love her until he died and never have her feel the same for him, and he’d still do everything he could for her. Never ask her for anything in return. All he wanted was for her to know he was on her side, and to believe him when he said it.
“I don’t give a bloody damn what you do or don’t believe. I know what I am, and I know what she is, and I know that I will never stop protecting her. You think you know what was happening, and you haven’t the first bloody clue what I was doing for her that night. So you can act as high and mighty as you want, and pretend that you haven’t laid in a bed with somebody other than human, and felt completely secure in that.”
Her mouth dropped open, but she didn’t say a word. Maybe mentioning her ex had been a low blow, but he didn’t exactly care. She wasn’t going to understand her hypocrisy unless he called her out on it, and he was plenty willing to do that as many times as it took.
“Willow… What Spike is saying does have some merit. I appreciate that you value my opinion on matters, but… Ultimately, the decision is Buffy’s to make.” He levelled his gaze to Spike and gave an almost imperceptible nod. “We’ve all been in unconventional relationships, and we have no room to pass judgement. We have no say in who she does, or doesn’t, pursue relations with. And whatever she decides, we have to respect that decision.”
“Giles? Do you hear yourself? This is Spike we’re-”
“I just watched him spare your life. He’s saved Buffy’s on two occasions now, probably more that we don’t know about. And he’s perfectly capable of killing any one of us. Yet here he is, providing help, free of charge, with a matter we might otherwise be incapable of dealing with on our own. If he were disingenuous, I believe we would know it by now.”
Well, the watcher was just full of surprises, wasn’t he? Of all the reactions to what Spike had just done, giving as good as a blessing wasn’t on the list of things he expected. A stake, sure. Maybe a cross or a cast iron skillet. But for Giles to stand up for him, and for Buffy, the way he did? Spike was stunned. There weren’t many times in his unlife he’d been at a loss for words, but… He honestly didn’t know what to say to that.
Willow stood there just as silent, gaping at the older man. The fish-like movement of her jaw was almost comical, and Spike had to purse his lips to disguise the smirk that was threatening to show itself. The silent tension was broken by the soft click of a lock, and Buffy calling quietly.
“Spike? Can you bring the Katra? We’re ready.”
Glad for a reason to get away from them, he grabbed the box from the counter on his way. When he reached her, his glibness was dashed at the sight of her face. Dark lines ran down her cheeks, her makeup smudged from shed tears.
“Buffy? Love, what’s wrong?”
She shook her head and wiped at her face. “I’m fine. Just…” She sighed and cleared her throat. “Will you be with me, for this?”
“Sure.” The answer came immediately, without so much as a second thought. Whatever she needed from him, she could have.
“Thank you…” she whispered.
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