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if you ever come back

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Giles was regretting not taking Xander’s advice on using GPS after night fell. Buffy truly lived out of the way these days. He looked at the crumpled paper in his lap, gripped when he almost hit a car coming around a dangerous curve, and checked the address again. 2601. He looked at the house number. 2601. Surely with the money brought up from the fallen watcher’s council, Buffy could’ve afforded better living arrangements than this. The streets were quiet but even in the dark Giles could see the old chipped paint of the houses, the silence broken only by the ocean. No one laughed or sat outside. No one talked. The street was completely dark and if it weren’t for the occasional light in every other house, he would have thought the place deserted.

He pulled into the driveway, realizing he was early by the clock on the dash, and twisted the leather of the steering wheel under his palms. Should he have come? He cut the engine off and stared at the back of his hands. Thinner than he’d like but no longer shaking, at least.

Giles looked up as a shutter moved. Someone peeked through the blinds and Giles whispered, “fuck” before the door opened and Spike poked his head out.

Shit. Spike came down the steps as Giles shuffled out of the care and crushed Giles in a bear hug.

“Air Spike,” Giles grunted out.

“Oh, sorry mate,” Spike set Giles down, patting him on the back and smiling. “Just happy to see a fellow Englishman.”

“Joy is fine as long as my ribs stay intact.”

Spike laughed and Giles noted Spike wasn’t in all black. In fact, he was wearing jeans and a white button down. He looked almost human.

“Is Buffy inside?” Giles asked.

Spike nodded but made no move to invite him.

“You nervous?” Spike asked.

Giles chuckled weakly. “Of course not. I’ve only been anticipating this ever since you called.

“You sober?”

For a second Giles flinched but covered it with a glare. “Yes I spent two years getting sober just to show up at Joyce’s memorial right pissed,” Giles said.

“Just checking mate, for your sake as well as hers.”

Giles looked down, suddenly taken with cleaning his glasses.

“Not a threat,” Spike said, softening his tone, “You still have friends here.”

Spike leaned against the hood and Giles followed, noticing the long line of cars parked along the street. He finally heard low voices muttering and laughing from the back of the house.

“How is she?” Giles asked.

Spike sparked a cigarette and passed it to Giles. “Still the Slayer if you ask me. Checkin’ on everyone else first, leading the group an’ whatnot.”

Giles laughed to himself. “I’m glad everything hasn’t changed.” He inhaled deep, savoring the burn before passing it to Spike.

“Does she know I’m here?” Giles asked.

Spike took a long drag, “Yeah she knows,” Spike said. “She’s happier about it than you think.”

Hot shame flamed in Giles’s throat. The shock, the hurt. He hurled a glass at her head and she didn’t even flinch when it squeaked past her ear. The ladies at the convent tried to convince him it was all the alcohol but Giles knew better. The alcohol merely enhanced the side of himself he swore he’d never be again. Then again he swore Buffy would never see him again.

“I just…after Rome, and I—“

“You got sober.”

“Spike I said things--,” Giles sighed, pulling for scraps of his old self, “things I cannot take back.”

Spike looked at the ground then down the street. “I’ve been there,” Spike said, lost in memory. “Believe me I’ve been there. But what’s done is done. No changin’ that. And today isn’t about you or me or the past, it’s about Joyce.” Spike headed towards the house and paused at porch when Giles didn’t follow. “No more excuses, Rupert.”

Giles stared up at the house, its peeling paint, its brown grass and listened to the empty crash of the ocean several feet away. He drug his feet to threshold.

Spike opened the door and warm light spilled over him. Music played in back and bottles clinked. There were people he didn’t recognize sitting on the couches and a blonde he knew well sitting on the floor. Everyone stopped speaking, staring at him oddly and Buffy turned from the paper lantern she was making. Her eyes widened and just as if she were still sixteen, jumped up and launched herself into his arms.

 

~*~*~*~*~

 

After a few embarrassing tears and a cup of tea, Giles helped finish the lanterns and the group headed down to the beach. There were quite a few people Giles didn’t recognize, mostly potentials that had trained with Buffy’s California branch. Xander managed the other one in Asia with Dawn and Willow led the convent in Scotland. The last time he saw her, it seemed to suit her well.

Giles came up to where the water barely touched his bare feet, holding his lantern tightly. The breeze wasn’t too bad but they formed a wall with their bodies to light the candles. Buffy checked them before moving to the middle of their circle.

“Right now we’re all gonna think of Joyce. What she did and what she meant to those of us that remember her. If you never knew her, think of your mothers or parent figures that made a difference in your life.” Buffy looked at Giles. “And thank them now with all your heart,” she walked through the group and held her lantern, facing the ocean. “On the count of three, we’ll all let them go,” Buffy said.

Everyone closed their eyes except for Giles. He watched Buffy, marveling at the straightness of her back and found himself almost crying again. Then he closed his eyes and allowed himself to think of Joyce. Would she be proud of him now? Could she ever forgive him?

“Everybody ready?”

Giles opened his eyes and they were all holding their lanterns out, ready to release. His sat warm in his hands, the wind caressing his face. Spike side-hugged him briefly.

“Count with me,” Buffy said, turning to them and smiling with glassy eyes, “One…Two…Three!”

And Giles opened his hands, the lantern swept up by the wind, joining the others. People clapped and Giles felt a small arm around his waist.

“Thank you for coming,” Buffy said.

Giles squeezed her shoulder. He felt he should say something fatherly but his mouth had gone dry. Instead they stood and watched the flickering lanterns float, grouping close and then spreading far and out of sight.