Stormy thoughts raced through Giles' mind as he made tea in the Summers' kitchen. Beljoxa's Eye had been clear. Buffy's resurrection had left this opening for the First. He knew her dying now would make no difference, but what if? What if?
"Giles?" Willow asked, when she entered the room and saw him staring into the middle distance.
"Willow. Can I t-talk to you in private?"
"Sure, but this house isn't private these days." Willow nodded her head toward the back door. "Let's take this outside."
On the porch, Giles searched for the right words. "I'll just come out and say it, shall I?"
"Please." Willow knew that this was Giles at his most serious, she'd seen this look before and it never preceded gifts and candy.
"Remember when Anya and I went to see Beljoxa's Eye?"
"What did you find out?"
"That the reason the First had this opportunity to act is because of your resurrection of Buffy."
She nearly gagged on the sudden onslaught of self-disgust. "Oh God. I did this."
"If you could undo it, would you?"
"Yes, of course! Are you telling me I can?" The tears didn't dry but slowed.
"You can. It's a one shot deal, but it can be done. Time travel of a sort is possible if you're traveling within your lifetime." Giles cleared his throat. "I've thought about this for a long time, and I believe if you go back to the fight with Glory, you can change the battle so Buffy never dies."
"Are talking about vicis eo?"
"I am. I was rather surprised you didn't try it after Tara died."
"I only found the spell while I was with the coven. Althana discouraged its use. She said the consequences could be dire. That if my intentions were selfish, the spell would kill me rather than take me back."
Giles leaned against the banister. "I'm asking you to consider the spell for unselfish reasons. If you go back, you can save everyone you love and a lot of potentials from the tragedy of the last two years. Save the world. Can you do that?"
"Give me time to plan out what I'm going to do once I get back there. Then yes, I'll do it."
He laid a hand on her shoulder before reentering the house.
Willow sat down on the top stair and rested her head on her knees, thinking back. How far back should she go? Before the actual battle against Glory was all she could think, but she needed to be precise. Before the Winnebago? Before Glory sucked out Tara's mind? No, couldn't go back that far. She'd risk forgetting that Ben and Glory were the same person. So, the day of the battle, while they were in the Magic Box talking strategy.
Now the question became, what could she change? She'd have the same power she had now, so the possibilities were endless, but which would be the most efficient?
"Not safe out here, Red."
"Spike, can you help me with something?" Willow asked as she looked up at him.
"If I can." He sat next to her. "What ya need?"
"The fight with Glory…"
"Why you thinking about that?"
"I'm going back. I'm going to change that battle and I need help."
"Why?" he asked confused. "What difference would that make now?"
Willow explained what Giles said. Then she asked, "Wanna come with me?"
"I'm in but we better have a plan." Spike huffed a laugh. "I've gone over that battle so many times in my head. What I could have done better, smarter."
"Come up with a solution?"
"Sure, tons of 'em. But with you helping, we can do it easier." Spike pursed his lips.
They talked about it for hours. Decisions got made, and a plan formed. A half hour before sunup, Willow took Spike's hand and said, "Vicis eo."
In a flash they were sitting in the Magic Box and the conversation about fighting Glory was going on around them. Spike and Willow's gaze met for a moment before taking in their surroundings.
"You wanna fight a god, use the weapon of a god." Anya moved her hands in front of the hammer like she was Vanna White.
"Good," Spike said. "Now all we have to do is follow Willow's bird to Glory. Get the bitch on the ropes and save Dawn."
"Follow Tara?" Giles asked.
"Big day. Oh, it calls me! I have to be there!" Tara cried out before sinking back into the chair.
"Spike's right, Tara can get us there." Willow moved to sit on the arm of Tara's chair, relief at the feel of Tara's hair under her hand. "It'll be OK, baby, I promise." Willow and Spike shared another glance, and she asked Xander to look after Tara for a few minutes.
They took different routes, but they met out back. "Glad it worked."
"It hasn't worked yet. We still have to save both Dawn and Buffy. I can't believe I'm more nervous this time around. And no, I don't want any alcohol." Willow wiped her palms on her pants.
He shrugged. "Maybe we should tell them what we know."
"We don't have time. Less than two hours is not enough time for them to get over the shock of what we did." She shook her head. "Let's go over the plan again."
"You. What are you doing here?" Glory asked holding Tara by the shoulders.
"She's with me." Willow sunk her hands into Glory's skull and freed not only Tara but the other humans from their god induced madness. "Anya! Take her!"
Anya went to where Tara fell and helped her up. "It's going to be OK."
Glory stumbled and fell. "Holes. So many holes. Need a brain. Lots of 'em."
Her minions went to her while Spike and Willow went after Dawn. Spike ran up the stairs while Willow flew in a whirl of smoke, getting there first.
"Willow!" Dawn screamed.
The witch smiled at Dawn. "I've got you." Willow got Dawn untied and saw through the grating that Spike was fighting Doc on the stairs. "We need to get off this tower. Wrap your arms around my neck and hold on tight."
"OK." Dawn closed her eyes once she got hold. Wind blew up her dress. "I'm ready."
"We're down." Willow said with a smile.
Spike trotted down the stairs, happy with his results. "We did it, Red."
"We should help Buffy. Dawn, Anya and Tara are over there, get them and get out of here." Willow saw the worry in Dawn's eyes. "It'll be fine. I promise. Go."
Dawn nodded. "Help Buffy."
"We will, Bit." Spike nudged her toward the other women.
Buffy was hitting Glory with the hammer while Glory shrieked and gave as good as she got. The god's movements were desperate but effective.
In a wave, Glory's minions attacked Spike, leaving Willow to help Buffy on her own. She did a spell on herself to make her as strong as Glory. It wouldn't last long, but she didn't think she needed long.
When Glory punched Buffy into the tower, bringing the structure down on her and everyone in the vicinity, Willow attacked Glory with everything she had, some hand to hand combat, some magic. She was blind in her panic, and she missed when Glory turned into Ben. Willow punched him in the chest breaking ribs. Ben's eyes were wide as he gasped for air. Blood poured out of his mouth, and Willow finally noticed him. She let him fall to the ground and offered him no aid. Willow was leaving him there to die.
"Buffy!" More than one person was shouting in the background, digging through the debris.
Willow turned, saw the amount of rubble and choked on a sob. "Buffy."
Moments later, Spike found her. "Buffy?" He didn't hear a heartbeat. Then he saw that several pieces of rebar and metal had impelled her. She was gone. "NO!"
"Oh, no," Willow whispered as she got closer to her best friend. "No!" Her wails were as loud as Spike's. "No! This wasn't supposed to happen! I failed!" She crumbled under the weight of her grief.
"I'm worried about her," Tara said to Xander when he came over to cut the grass a week later.
"Still not getting out of bed?" Xander shook his head. "I'll talk to her again." He trudged up the stairs and into Joyce's old bedroom. She wasn't there. He heard the shower and hoped she'd finally snapped out of it. She was at least taking a shower. He decided to be helpful and changed the sheets and pillowcases. When he was done, the shower turned off, so he sat to wait for her.
"Hey, Xander," She said as she walked in drying her hair with one towel while another was wrapped around her.
"Finally getting out of bed?"
"I have to get a job. No more time for grieving." She opened the top drawer of her dresser and picked a pair of underwear and a bra. She tossed them on the bed on her way to the closet where she picked out a respectable outfit for job hunting. There were a couple companies that would be happy to get her services. And she might be able to finish getting her degree in a few years.
"Just like that?"
"What else am I supposed to do? The plumbing in this house needs replaced, Dawn needs clothes, we need food, the bills need paid. Joyce's insurance pay out won't cover things forever. The sooner I get a job, the sooner that can be nothing more than an emergency fund or go to Dawn's education. I also need to take legal actions to keep Dawn here with us if she still wants. Hank could take her away." Willow stood in front of the dresser again, this time brushing her wet hair.
"So you're OK now?" he asked, knowing better.
"No, but I don't have time to wallow in grief anymore. Things need done. I have to do them." Willow turned to him. "Can you go so I can get dressed?"
"Yeah sure." Xander stood up and walked out the door with a quick, "Gotta mow the grass anyway," thrown over his shoulder.
He met up with Tara in the kitchen. "She's going job hunting."
"She's showered and getting dressed now. Said she didn't have time to wallow anymore." Xander saw the picture of Buffy, Joyce and Dawn on the fridge, and grunted. "I have to cut the grass before you get fined."
Tara nodded then went upstairs to see Willow. "Baby?"
"Hey, I have to dry my hair yet, so can you give me ten minutes?" Willow asked as she went into the bathroom.
"I'll be right here, waiting."
Willow sucked up her tears and clutched the sink counter in an attempt to suppress how weird she felt. Buffy was gone, for good this time. Tara was alive and would likely stay that way. Her conflicting emotions had left her paralyzed for over a week. But she hadn't lied to Xander. Things needed taken care of, now not months from now. Buffy wouldn't be coming back to take care of them, so that left Willow.
She turned the hair dryer on and combed her hair under the heat. When she was done, her hair was silky and straight. A couple barrettes and it was out of her face. A bit of makeup finished things. She sighed as she looked at her eyes. They looked so tired even with the bags expertly covered. A couple attempts at smiling told her she needed to crinkle those eyes if she wanted to fool anyone. When she saw the effect, she had confidence that no one would know the difference.
Tara was waiting on the bed for her. "You look better."
"Seemed like the thing to be, better that is." She sat on the bed and put on her shoes. "So much needs to be done. Gotta start sometime."
"You're job hunting?" Tara asked.
"Have to. I don't think magic is the way to get our needs met."
"You should eat before you go. I'll make you something." Tara got off the bed.
"Cereal's fine." Willow stood up and hugged Tara. "But thank you."
"Willow? I'm glad you rejoined the rest of the world, but you don't have to stop grieving. You can slowly get back into the swing of things. The insurance will cover us for a while."
"Thanks," Willow paused to kiss Tara, "but I think a job sooner rather than later is the best course of action."
Tara watched Willow pick up her laptop case and leave the room. "I'm still worried."
The crypt door was metal and stone, no way to knock, so she pushed it open a crack and called inside. "Spike?"
"Come in, witch." He sounded sober. He looked sober too. "I hate this place."
"You can move into the basement at the Summers'." Willow leaned against the tomb in the middle of the room. "Can we talk?"
He sat on his couch. "Sure, love."
"Are you OK?"
"Better than last time around. Why?"
"You know I can't bring her back this time, right?" Willow hugged herself.
"I know. But I also know she's in heaven." He lit a cigarette. "Can I move in tonight?"
"Sure. I-I need to make a plan on how I'm going to take care of things. What to tell the others. How to keep Dawn. How to protect the Hellmouth. Pay for everything."
"Don't tell the others anything. It'd only hurt them more. Get a job, or let me get the money illegally for the paying for things. Maybe both. As for protecting the Hellmouth, we did OK last time round, but we need a more long term plan. What about Faith? Couldn't we break her out or something?"
"I'll go visit her today. Stop by Circuitsoft on the way, put in my resume." Willow sighed. "I don't want to but I will probably resort to magic to sort a few things out. Custody of Dawn, getting Faith out of prison."
"Neither of those things are selfish. Dawn needs the stability, and we need Faith to keep the world safe. Although if I were you, I'd consider making both happen in one spell." Spike tapped his temple. "Think you can get rid of the chip while you're at it?"
"Since you retained your soul, I can do that. Save the pain you'd be in for next year." Willow pushed off the bier and put a hand on his forehead. When she pulled her hand away there was a tiny microchip in it. "There."
"Ta, love. Didn't feel a thing."
"Good. I-I should go. Later."
He nodded at her on her way out the door.
"Couldn't believe it when they said it was you, Red," Faith said when they both had their phones to their ears.
"I didn't want you to hear it from someone else. Buffy's dead."
"Damn." Faith turned her head away then back. "Who's watching over the Hellmouth?"
"Xander, Spike, me, sometimes Tara. Giles. Her death won't call another slayer this time. We need you."
"As you can see, I'm otherwise engaged." Faith clenched her teeth for a moment. "Can you fix this?"
"Give me three hours." Willow closed her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Faith."
"I'll see you soon." Faith hung up her phone and stood.
Willow did the same, and the two women nodded at each other before leaving.
The spectre of the Summers' home loomed over Faith as she stood on the walkway with Willow. "I can't believe she's gone."
"Gods aren't easy to kill." Willow lifted her arms a little then let them drop. "We should probably go inside."
"Yeah." Faith sighed and walked with Willow up the porch steps. "Are you sure I can take B's old room without pissing anyone off?"
"If anyone gives you a hard time, send them my way. My resolve face is still as powerful as ever." While the words were jovial, her tone wasn't.
"Do they know how you got me out?" Faith asked.
"Do you want them to?" Willow countered.
"They should know the truth. All of it. Things go better when everything's out in the open." Faith still looked nervous.
"I'll tell them about how I got you out, why I got you out. I didn't mess with their minds on the subject. That way only leads to badness."
"But you messed with some minds. I got released on a technicality that didn't exist before."
"I can own up to it. I know at least one person who will be angry about it, but I'll deal." Willow gestured to the door. "We should go inside."
Faith took a deep breath and opened the door. Everyone was in the living room, Xander, Anya, Dawn, Tara, Giles, Spike, all there and none of them happy.
Willow quipped, "Got us a slayer."
"You told deadboy junior he could move in here. You sprung Faith. You didn't even talk to us about it. You just went to get her. How's she even out of jail? You didn't mention that part on the phone." Xander asked face turning red.
"I used magic. People think she's out on a technicality. Hank will call soon, telling us Dawn should live in the stable environment Tara and I offer her rather than his constantly traveling for business one. He's going to suggest I adopt her. And I'll agree."
"Good," Dawn said. "I didn't want him taking me away."
Tara got up and left the room. Willow went after her, catching up with her in the kitchen. "Tara, I'm sorry."
"You didn't talk to me about this. And you played around with people's memories. After what Glory did to me, how could you think I'd be OK with that?"
"Do you mind your memories of Dawn?" Willow asked tired and looking for the fastest way out of this argument.
"Of course not. But that's not the same."
"How isn't it the same? I took nothing away from people, I added new things. Things that keep Dawn and the world safe. How's that a bad thing?"
Tara rolled her eyes. "You don't get to play god, putting thoughts and memories there that shouldn't be."
"What would you have done?" Willow asked curious.
"I would have found another way."
"What other way? Because I know what happens. We'd use the bot for a while to keep Hank and the demons and school at bay, but she'll mess up and we'd be unprepared for the fallout. The town would burn to the ground in a large scale demon attack when they figured out there was no slayer on the hellmouth. People would find out Buffy was dead, or they'd think she abandoned Dawn. How is that good for anyone?" Willow felt her ire creep through her brain. "This way Hank keeps the life he's accustomed to, Dawn stays where she's comfortable, and where it's stable, and Faith can work to redeem herself in a more constructive way than rotting away behind bars, the hellmouth will be guarded by two super powered beings."
"What aren't you telling me?" Tara asked with narrow eyes.
Willow felt the deep need to confess, to not do to Tara what she'd done before. Tell her the truth, all of it, and let Tara make an informed decision. "We should talk upstairs. I'd prefer no one else know about this."
"Fine." Tara held herself as they walked up to their room. The air crackled with the tension.
"You should sit." Willow however paced. "The story starts last week and two years ago. Last week for you, two years ago for me. Do you know the spell vicis eo?"
"The time travel spell." Tara sat stiffly. "You're from two years in the future."
"Yes. And last time round, the dimensional walls collapsed, the ritual got started, and Buffy jumped off the tower to save Dawn. She died in a mystical way and we brought her back from the dead, ripping her out of heaven. We thought she was in hell. But bringing her back from the dead created an opening for the First Evil to make waves. It killed potential slayers, and we were losing. Something had to be done. Giles told me to do the spell. I brought Spike with me. I needed his help. But we failed. Buffy still died. But we can't bring her back and wouldn't even if we could. No Buffy return means no First." Willow wrung her hands together.
"Why didn't I come?"
"Because you'd been dead for a year by that point."
"I-I-I died?" Tara gasped and swallowed her shock.
"We'd just gotten back together, and you were hit by a stray bullet meant for Buffy. And I need to be honest with you. I went off all the deep ends. I tortured and killed the man responsible and tried to kill my friends and almost ended the world. I'd gone cold turkey off the magics months before that. I'd gotten addicted. You left me because I took away one of your memories of a fight we had. You were right to leave me. I took away your ability to make an informed decision. So I will tell you everything. I want you to know everything you need to know."
"I know enough. I have to go. Now." Tara stood in a daze.
"Don't leave tonight. I'll sleep on the couch. But it's already dark. I'll help you with anything you need tomorrow. Drive you to the dorms. But stay. And I don't think the others need to know. It'd only hurt them more, knowing that I brought Buffy back before and can't do it again." Willow hoped that Tara understood.
"I won't tell anyone, and I'll stay if you sleep on the couch. But I'm leaving tomorrow, and I won't be back this time. Do you have any idea the lines you crossed?"
"I know. I'm sorry. All I can do is not make the same mistakes."
"But you're still playing with people's minds. You haven't learned a thing." Tara turned her back on Willow.
"I had to make tough decisions on a limited timetable." Willow hung her head. "I'll leave you alone."
Downstairs, Giles and Xander were vying for who was the angriest. "What'd I miss?" Willow asked.
"Giles's pissed that you felt I could replace B, Xander's pissed that he was left out of the loop, and Anya's threatening me to stay away from her man. Dawn's been trying to mediate and Spike's just stood over there looking bored. How'd it go with your girl?" Faith asked.
"She's not my girl anymore. Dawn needs to decide who she wants to be her guardian. Me or Tara."
"You're making me choose?" Dawn's eyes were huge. "How can I? I love you both."
"And both of us will always be there for you. But you need to decide who will live here with you."
Dawn looked at the floor. "You," she whispered then louder said, "I choose you."
"Now that that's settled, why don't you explain to us why you left us all out of the decision making process," Giles said, Ripper close to the surface.
"And if I came to you? Any of you with the choices that needed made, what would you have said?" Willow asked defensive for the second time that night.
"I would have said we'd find another way," Giles said.
"What he said," Xander said as he pointed at Giles.
"And the town would be overrun with demons within three months," Spike said as he studied his nail polish. "Willow made the right calls."
"Thanks, Spike." Willow nodded. "And we should tell them about that thing you got."
"Oh, yeah, right then. I have a soul."
"You have a what?" Xander's disbelief was clear.
"A soul. Got one."
"How did this occur?" Giles asked.
"Wanna field that one, Red?" Spike asked with a quirked eyebrow.
"He asked me for one. I did it no strings attached. It's official, he's one of the good guys." Willow hated out and out lying, but there was no way around it.
"You? You asked for a soul?" Anya snorted. "I don't believe it."
"Did it for Buffy." Spike shrugged like it was no big deal.
"And we can tell by your obvious guilt," Giles deadpanned.
"Got that in spades, mate. I'm just not Paingel. But then his is forced on him with an anti-happiness clause. I don't have one of those. I'm free to feel whatever, brood free." Spike rolled his eyes at the disbelieving expressions on the gang's faces. "You don't have to believe me. I don't care if you do or don't."
"Just the same, I'll remain grateful for the chip," Giles said as he took off his glasses.
Spike smirked and Willow bit her bottom lip for a second.
"So where's Faith sleeping?" Dawn asked.
"I told her she could have Buffy's old room." Willow waited for the recrimination but no one said anything.
"That OK with you, Dawn?" Faith asked.
"I don't like it, but there's nowhere else. Spike's taking the basement." Dawn chewed on her cheek tears welling up.
Willow sat next to Dawn and pulled her into a hug. "It's OK to be upset. Buffy's only been gone a week. The situation left holes in all of us."
"Why did you and Tara break up?" Dawn choked out.
"Because I should have talked to at least her before making all these decisions." Willow stroked Dawn's hair.
"Why didn't you?"
"Because I didn't want to burden her, or anyone. I was wrong. And I'm sorry." Willow kissed the top of Dawn's head. "You can take anything you want from Buffy's room."
"Just leave me the bed," Faith said. "Speaking of, I should patrol then go to bed. Coming, blondie?"
Spike pushed off the wall and touched Willow's shoulder as he walked by. "Take care of the Bit for me."
Willow nodded and watched them go.
"Anya, we're leaving." Xander grabbed his coat off the back of the chair.
"Bye everyone," Anya said as she followed her fiance.
Giles pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm the only watcher in history that continues his duties after his slayer dies."
"I'm sorry Giles," Willow said. "We'll understand if you don't want to help. Buffy was your daughter. If you need to leave, or take time off, we'll all understand."
"Leave?" Giles questioned. "What makes you think I'd leave?"
"W-when Buffy ran away, you spent all your time looking for her. Nothing else mattered to you. Now that she's never coming back, I thought it might be too painful for you to stay. I don't know why." Except he left last time round.
"I'm not going anywhere. Though a short sabbatical sounds prudent." Giles put his glasses back on. "I'll let you know my plans tomorrow. For now I should go home."
"Talk to you tomorrow," Willow said as she continued to hold Dawn.
It was just the two of them, and Dawn fell asleep with her head in Willow's lap. Willow covered the girl with the blanket on the back of the couch and leaned back. She too fell asleep quickly.
"You got a soul for Buffy?" Faith asked as they walked through Restfield.
"Yeah." Spike buried his hands in his pockets.
"You don't seem too broken up by her death."
"She's in heaven. I couldn't want for more. She's untroubled, complete." Spike pulled his cigarettes out and bumped one out of the pack.
"Can I bum one of those?" Faith asked.
He handed her the one already out then got another, lighting his then hers with his zippo. "The only place you'll be allowed to smoke in the house is the basement."
"Buffy knew all the cool vampires, so it won't bug."
"You're welcome in my room anytime you like." Spike looked up after a drop hit his nose. "Rain. Good thing my jacket's waterproof."
"So what's with you and Red?" Off his look, she shrugged. "Saw you two sharing glances. You let her speak for you."
"Willow and me have an agreement. There was a big project she was working on, needed my help. I was happy to lend a hand. But it didn't turn out like we wanted. She's good people though." The rain went from a drizzle to a sudden downpour, soaking their cigarettes and rendering them unsmokable. Spike tossed his away. "Not many demons like this much rain. We should head back."
"Yeah." Faith wrapped her coat around her tighter. "It was already cold out, this sucks."
Her jean jacket wouldn't do a damn thing for her, so he slid his duster off and wrapped it around her shoulders.
"Thanks." She slipped her arms through the sleeves.
"Cold and wet don't bother me."
"How 'bout warm and wet?"
Spike smirked. "We'll have to find out."
"Race you there." Faith grinned.
"You're on." He took off.
She wasn't behind him for long.
Light filtered through the edges of the towels covering the basement windows. The floor above creaked as someone moved around. Faith's body ached in all the right places, and the cool muscular arm over her chest reminded her why.
"Willow's cleaning, and unless you want dragged in, you should stay."
"Thought you were asleep, blondie."
"Don't need to sleep much."
Faith turned over to face Spike. "You know for a guy with a chip in his head, preventing him from hurting people, you did a lot of damage last night. What happened to the chip?"
"She must trust you."
"Gave her reason to."
"What is it with vamps with souls having a thing for slayers?" Faith laughed at Spike's exaggerated eye roll.
"Angel and I have very different coloring." Spike smiled as Faith nipped at his bottom lip.
"I can see that." She kissed him with deliberate intention.
Spike kissed her back and rolled her under him. They were so intent on their kissing that they didn't hear Willow come down the steps until she eeped and dropped the basket she was carrying.
They laughed and looked at Willow, doing nothing to cover their naked bodies. "Hey, Red."
"Sorry. I should have knocked. I'm going to go upstairs… now." She turned and ran up the stairs.
"Think she liked what she saw?" Faith asked.
"According to the nose, she very much liked what she saw." Spike kissed Faith just below her ear.
"We may have to work on seducing her then, find out if she's all the way team pink or if stick shifts still work for her." Faith combed her fingers into Spike's hair, soft with the gel washed out.
He continued to kiss down her neck and over her chest. "Mmm-hmm."
"Put the laundry in for you," Faith said as she sat on stool at the kitchen counter. Willow was cooking something and didn't turn.
"Thanks." Willow tasted the sauce she was cooking then dipped a fresh spoon in and offered it to Faith. "Taste this?"
Faith kept her eyes on Willow as she wiped the spoon with her lips. "Delicious."
"It doesn't need anything?" Willow asked.
"Looks a tad bland, could use a little red."
"Um, it doesn't need to look good. It needs to taste good." Willow went back to the stove and adjusted the flame so her sauce could simmer for a couple hours.
"Could spice it up. Add something hot and fiery." Faith smirked as the back of Willow's neck flushed.
"I-I'll think about it." Willow wiped her hands on her apron before taking it off and leaving the room.
"Might be too soon," Spike said as he ambled into the kitchen. "Tara left this morning and Buffy's been gone for a week."
"Point taken. But she did say she'd consider it." Faith grabbed a banana and peeled it from the bottom.
"Aren't you doing that backward?" Spike asked as he crossed to the fridge.
"If you do it from the bottom, you never mush the thing. Sometimes the long stem isn't soft enough to break, but the bottom is always easy." Faith took a bite.
"Where'd you learn that?"
She talked with her mouth full. "We'd get overripe bananas from time to time inside. You learn how to make the best of it." Faith swallowed. "Where's bitty Buffy?"
"I should go make nice. Girl never liked me before, and she was cool last night, ya know? I want us to get along. Maybe I can be the cool aunt."
"She likes stories." Spike filled a mug with blood and put it in the microwave. "Tell her a good uncensored tale, and she'll love you. Trust me."
"I'll keep it in mind." Faith threw her peel away while tossing the last bit in her mouth. "Later."
No sooner was Faith gone, but Willow showed up. "Need to stir my sauce so it doesn't burn."
"How you taking Tara leaving?" Spike asked. The microwave beeped, and he retrieved his blood.
"She's going to live. I can't ask for more than that without being greedy." She stirred her sauce.
"Didn't answer my question."
"It sucks, OK?" Willow sat down. "That what you wanted to hear?"
"Wanted the truth is all. If you want a no strings attached rebound from both Tara and Kennedy, I think Faith made it clear we'd be happy to oblige."
"You two need to stop teasing me or I'll call your bluff." Willow sighed as she thought about how jealous she was of both Xander and Faith when they slept together. Took her years to figure out that a crush on Faith was why she'd been so vehemently against her.
"Not bluffing, Red." Spike finished his blood and rinsed the mug. "We should think about getting a dishwasher."
"I'll put it on the list." Willow's eyes closed when she realized he said they weren't bluffing. Her heart felt like it was about to beat out of her chest. "Goddess help me."
When she opened them, he was walking past her. She grabbed his wrist and used his momentum to pull them together. Her hand on his chest steadied them. A pause to look into his eyes then she kissed him. The last man she'd kissed was Oz, and Spike was nothing like Oz, making this even more new of an experience. Her ex was always running hotter than normal, and Spike was room temperature.
He wrapped an arm around her waist, pressing their bodies together as he deepened the kiss. Spike always liked Willow, something about her always drew him to her. He could have taken the shopkeeper to do the love spell, but he went after Willow. He was glad it was her in that dorm room, he was going to turn her. But she'd always been too innocent, reminded him of himself when he was human, for him to spend time with her after that. Then there was Buffy. But Willow wasn't innocent anymore, and Buffy was gone.
Faith knocked on Dawn's door. The teen popped her head out of Buffy's room. "What?"
"Just wanted to talk." Faith flexed her hands.
"I'm not going to try and replace Buffy."
"Good. You can't." Dawn crossed her arms over her chest.
"Right. But I hope we can be friends. Buffy left a legacy behind, and for better or worse, I inherited it. She left behind not just the need for a slayer, but family and friends. I want to do right by all of you. Do right by Buffy. You were cool last night, and I'm hoping we can forget the past and let that be our fresh start."
"Practice that speech?" Dawn asked.
Faith sighed. "You know what... I'll just give you space."
When Faith turned, Dawn groaned. "Wait."
"Yeah?" Faith asked as she turned again.
"It means a lot that you want to do right by Buffy. She tried to kill you. And while you were a black hat at the time, it was still wrong and selfish. So if you can see past that, then I can see past all your flaws." Dawn glanced at Buffy's room. "Wanna help me go through her stuff?"
Willow pulled away from Spike and covered her mouth as tears pooled in the corners of her eyes. "I can't. I'm sorry, but I can't."
Spike sighed and hung his head for a moment before meeting her gaze again. "I understand."
Their eyes stayed focused on each other while time slipped by unnoticed until the phone rang. Willow jumped then fumbled with the phone. "Hello?... This is her… oh, that is soon… yes, of course… I'll see you tomorrow morning. Have a nice day." Willow hung up the phone and glanced at Spike. "I have a job."
"I heard. Now all we need is custody of the Bit and things can calm down around here." He leaned against the island, trying to be nonchalant.
"I think calm is a bit much to ask for, don't you?" Willow smiled weakly. "What was the first nuisance we went up against after Buffy died last time?"
"A flock of gerdlols."
"And they weren't easy to kill even after we found out that you have to drown them since they fly." Willow screwed her face up. "What if we snared them with a net?"
"It'd have to be made of chain, but it might work." Spike smirked. "And I know just the place to get what we need. I'll get the supplies tonight."
Laughter rang down from upstairs, but it was short and abrupt.
"Looks like the Bit and Faith are getting along." Spike smiled wistfully. "That's good."
"It is." Willow opened her mouth again but hesitated before talking. "I remembered something last night about the spell we used that I'd forgotten."
"What about it?"
"We can't use our foreknowledge for anything selfish or there will be unnamed but unpleasant consequences. So we need to be careful. Both of us."
"I'll be sure to keep that in mind." He glanced at the sauce. "You should stir that."
"Right." Willow stepped up to the stove and stirred. When she turned around he was gone.
Buffy's bed was covered in two distinct piles of clothes and there was another pile on the floor made up mostly of pants. The two women sat on the floor next to it.
"We need to get you pants." Dawn peered up at Faith. "Buffy was too short for us to use hers."
"I'm also bigger in the chest region, but there's enough here to last me a while. Never needed much." Faith picked at the carpet. "But remember what we talked about. Some of the stuff you're taking is too revealing for you right now. Give it a couple years."
"But they'll be out of style by then."
"Dawn, you're not even fifteen, and Red and Spike would both kill me if I let you out in some of this." Faith looked at the carpet again. "And don't rush growing up. You'll regret it. Trust me."
The teenager picked up her favorite dress of Buffy's. It was an asymmetrical blue sundress with an abstract pattern on it. "Can I wear this?"
"Sure. With your eyes, it'll look great." Faith's smile was sad and so was Dawn's.
Tears slipped down Dawn's cheeks. "She should be here."
Faith slipped her fingers through Dawn's hair. "She should. But since she isn't we need to be brave for her."
With a sniffle, Dawn nodded. "She's got it easy. Willow told us she was in heaven. And this is going to sound awful, but she gets heaven while I get hell. I've lost everyone. Dad was never around, still isn't, Mom died, Buffy died, Tara moved out. Am I so terrible? Why does everyone leave me?"
Arms now full of sobbing Dawn, Faith was in a situation she'd never been in before and with an awkward start, she stroked Dawn's hair. "I know it seems that way. But you got Willow and Spike and Xander and Anya and Giles and you got me if you want me."
Dawn nodded as her sobs melted into hiccups, but she didn't let go of Faith. There was something about the strength of Faith's embrace that made her feel like part of Buffy was still around.
Dinner was a quiet affair even if the house was packed. After dessert was served, Giles cleared his throat. "I have something to tell all of you."
"What is it, Giles?" Faith asked.
"I need to take a sabbatical. I'm visiting England for a few weeks and I'll be leaving tomorrow on the six o'clock flight." He fiddled with his fork. "I don't want to abandon anyone, but if I'm to take on duties as Faith's Watcher, I need time to myself to-to grieve."
"I'll, ah, drive you to the airport." Xander twisted his fork in his hand.
Willow wiped a tear away. "Do you want us to keep in touch?"
"I'll call when I'm ready." Giles couldn't hold her gaze.
"What does this mean for the store?" Anya asked.
"You'll be in charge while I'm away."
"I trust that it'll be in good hands with you."
Anya's smile was bright and proud. Then it fell as the memory of why he was leaving overshadowed the moment.
Spike grit his teeth. The Watcher got to take a break but the rest of them had to stay and keep fighting even though they all lost Buffy? But for Buffy's sake, he said, "I'll take care of them while you're gone. You have my word."
"Ah, thank you, Spike." Giles' smile was more of a wince. But even through the fog of his despair he could see Spike had changed. His edges were still jagged, but they were softly tattered rather than sharp points.
Silence fell once more as the group picked at their dessert. But Dawn couldn't keep up pretenses and shoved away from the table before running upstairs.
"Dawn feels like everyone leaves her." Faith pushed away from the table too. "I'll go check on her."
"No. I'll go." Giles stood up and climbed the stairs. When he knocked on Dawn's door she yelled at him to go away, but he stood his ground and said through the door, "It's only temporary. Should you have children one day, you might understand. And I will be back."
Dawn opened the door, her eyes red rimmed and her jaw set. "You promise?"
He pulled her into a fatherly hug. "I promise."
Spike woke from a nightmare about Buffy's death with a start. Faith snored softly beside him in her bed. Buffy's old bed. He slid his jeans on and padded down to the basement avoiding all the sunlight streaming through the windows. Willow was at work, and Dawn was at school, and Buffy was still dead.
Tears burned as they streamed down his face. He'd held it in for what felt like years, but it had only been two weeks. The adoption proceedings for Dawn had started three days ago, and all he could add to that was a few supportive words to Dawn.
He sure as hell wasn't going to let Dawn slip through the cracks she had last time around. He'd been so obsessed with Buffy that he hadn't noticed the Niblet falling apart. Buffy had suffered from a deep depression, sure, but the Bit had suffered from depression and anxiety and had all the abandonment issues a kid that lost her entire family would have. And he'd been too self centered to help her.
"Not this time."
"Talking to yourself now?" Faith asked from the top of the stairs.
Spike hurriedly wiped his tears away. "I suppose."
"I was wondering when you were finally going to grieve." Faith walked down the stairs as she talked. "I mean you went and got a soul for her, but then you didn't look too upset that she was dead. Heaven or no, it hurts when someone you love isn't around anymore. Things left unsaid or undone."
"You miss her too," Spike said as he handed his smoke to Faith.
"Yeah. You can't hate someone that much if you don't love them. And I never got to make things right with her before she died. Never told her…" Faith trailed off when a lump in her throat formed opting to take a drag on Spike's smoke instead.
"... that you were in love with her?" Spike asked taking the cigarette back.
Faith nodded, her body otherwise still for once. "Xander's always been in love with her, and I think Willow's went beyond friendly too."
It was Spike's turn to nod, not bothering to wipe away his tears this time. "She had that effect on people."
When Faith looked up at him, her own tears gleamed on a stray stream of sunlight peeking through his efforts to blackout the windows. "I can't replace her."
"No one's asking you to." The vampire cupped the slayer's face, thumb grazing over the swell of her cheek, moving the wetness around rather than away. "No one could replace her anyway. Just like no one could replace you."
She allowed him to hold her and they stayed like that until Dawn came home and made a fuss about the smell of smoke. "It comes up through the vents!"
Spike and Faith pulled away from each other when the door opened. Everyone knew they shared a room, but Faith wasn't much for the public displays of affection and Spike respected that.
Dawn trotted down the stairs, stopping at the bottom arms akimbo. "No more smoking in the house. None of the rest of us signed on for pulmonary issues and cancer. Not to mention it smells gross and I hate hugging ashtrays."
Remembering his promise to make Dawn a priority, Spike snubbed out the cigarette. "How bout I quit altogether, eh Bit?"
The teenager's smile lit up the gloomy basement. "You'd do that? For me?"
"Shower so I can hug you!" The squeal of delight wasn't lost on either of the adults.
Faith took the pack from the top of the washer and crushed it before tossing it in the trash. "I'll quit too." Internally she cringed at the prospect, but Faith knew that if she smoked, the likelihood of Dawn picking up the habit got a lot bigger and that couldn't happen.
Flailing hands and another squeal proceeded Dawn hugging them both despite the smoke smell. "Thank you!"
And as if enough tears hadn't been shed, Dawn's added to them and when she saw the matching scowls on their faces, she waved them off. "Happy tears. Buffy would be so proud of you. Both of you."
The teen rushed off when the front door opened again. She had to tell everyone about this super fantastic turn of events. So Willow heard before Dawn rushed to the Magic Box to tell Anya, then the construction site to tell Xander, and the dorms to tell Tara.
Willow, Faith and Spike fixed dinner and tidied the house, and Spike never had to worry about withdrawal, but Faith was biting at the bit jonesing for nicotine. When Spike felt his patience fray, he went to Willow. "Can you just… mojo Faith past the nic fit stage of quitting?"
"For Dawn," Willow said before figuratively wiggling her nose and making Faith a non-smoker.
The sudden relief could only have been Willow's work and Faith's gratitude manifested with her gripping the witch's shoulders and kissing her. While that kiss started as a hyperbolic gesture, the feel of their lips together egged Faith into initiating another kiss, this one filled with ardor. Willow had been tense before, Faith had seen it, but she melted in the slayer's arms.
Spike's fingers slid through Faith and Willow's hair as he watched the two women's tongues and lips entwine, embracing each other with loose arms and roving hands. Letting Willow lace their digits together, he found her guiding his hand up and down Faith's back and sides. Faith followed suit but her hand went under his instead of over so she didn't have to lose the feel of the other woman with either hand.
But then Dawn gasped and Willow jerked away from the other two guiltily. The only remaining Summers had tears in her eyes as her gaze locked onto Willow. "Tara only left a week ago. How can you give up on her so fast?"
Willow couldn't look at Dawn. She hugged herself tightly with one arm and pinched her lip with the other hand, maybe hoping the pain would make her not want to do any of that… stuff with Faith… and Spike, a tear slipped from her eye as the word 'boystown' smacked against the inside of her skull like damn bell.
"Niblet, now listen to me," Spike started as he approached her, but she shoved him away.
"And you! You're taking advantage of them! Buffy! Buffy just died and Faith's suddenly the only slayer and has to do everything she did. She's under a lot of pressure! And she's not just a way for you to finally get Buffy! And Willow… Willow just lost her best friend and her girlfriend broke up with her!"
"And Spike has the guilt of a nearly two centuries of slaughter now that he has a soul and he lost Buffy too," Willow said, able to defend someone that wasn't herself as she stepped between Dawn and the vampire.
Faith couldn't believe that Dawn had stood up for her, and at first didn't want to risk losing that, but knew she had to say something. "Hey, I get it. It's another big change when you've had so many in like no time at all and that sucks, but Spike, Willow, and I are a team now, so if this is what makes us feel better… I guess I'm just saying that we're going through those changes too and found a way to, I don't know, be comforted or whatever."
Dawn, blotchy skin, bloodshot and glassy eyed, bounced in place a bit with her arms wrapped around her waist. "So what? It's not just you and Spike in a relationship anymore? Willow's in it too? Like I have three parents that love each other?" the teen asked as hope rose in her voice and mannerisms.
A quick nervous exchange of glances between the three adults before Willow took Dawn's hands and smiled at her. "Yeah. Yes, you have three parents that love each other. And we love you and would do anything to protect you and give you a happy life."
The two hugged and then Dawn let go with one arm and waved Faith in, then after that Spike, until it was a family group hug… though the three adults were now faced with having to turn what had just been a couple of moments into a relationship for the sake of child that needed them to be stable more than anything.