Title: Quiet Invisible
Notes: For jedi_penguin for the B/G Angstathon. Request was: a trigger deeper in Spike's brain, him getting dusted after he'd killed Dawn, who died defending the Potentials. jedi_penguin, I got the feeling you would have liked it to focus more on the actual attack, but it ended up being all about the aftermath…
Her grief has become quieter in the two years since Joyce's death. There's no weeping into his shirt, no falling to the floor and retching. She goes to the bathroom and washes away the blood and ashes, and he follows her and thinks how strangely intimate it is to stand by the locked door and watch as she scrubs her hands together under the running water, over and over and over again. Practically voyeuristic, but when he gets down to it, isn't that what a Watcher does?
"How many?" she asks, her expression set into stone. A general looking for a field report, and he only hesitates for as long as he takes to wonder if she means including Dawn or as well as.
"Two fatalities. Several injuries, none of them serious enough to need hospital treatment. Most of them are probably in shock."
"Lot of that going around," she murmurs. "Who's looking after the girls?" Note of bitterness creeping into her voice that he can't blame her for.
"Xander and Anya are with them." Willow is downstairs, too, and he hopes the others have the sense to keep her away from the basement. He's thankful for the painfully small mercy that she was collecting Faith from Los Angeles, only arriving back at the house for the aftermath. Kennedy's body was broken like a doll's at the bottom of the stairs, and he has felt first-hand how terrible Willow's grief can be.
Buffy has stopped cleaning her hands, finally, but the taps are still running and she's staring down at the sink as if it has whatever answers she's looking for.
He hasn't said 'I told you so' because the only point of it would be to hurt her, if it's possible to cause her even more pain - Andrew's childish fantasies aside, they don't have a time machine, and it's useless now to point out what should have been done - and when she says, "I should have seen this coming," he neither agrees nor disagrees with her. Yes, she should, and yes, so should he, and no, there's nothing they can do about it now.
"You couldn't know there was a second trigger."
"I didn't know there wasn't."
He moves to her side, reaches past to turn the water off. She keeps rubbing her hands together, one over the other. He doesn't know if she's aware of it. He doesn't know if she's ever read Macbeth.
"What was the trigger?" he asks.
She doesn't quite shrug. "I don't know."
"Tell me what happened."
"Does it matter?" she snaps, and then she rubs her hands across her face. "God, I'm… I'm sorry, Giles."
She sounds as if she's apologizing for more than a moment of sharpness. He nods, acknowledging it, but not taking it as absolution. He was willing, once, to kill Dawn in order to protect the world. Sometimes, that summer after Buffy died, he had nightmares where her sacrifice hadn't been enough. The portal had stayed open, and reality had continued to crumble, and if that had happened he knows with utter certainty that he would have given Dawn a quick death. Not a clean one, because he doesn't believe there is such a thing - even vampires leave behind dust, to be trampled into basement floors and washed down drains with the blood that once threatened to tear the world open - but he wouldn't have allowed her time to suffer.
He retreats to his door and leans back against it, suddenly furious at himself for allowing the situation with Spike to have come to this. Five seconds with a stake, and even if Buffy had hated him forever for going against her decision… well, better him than herself.
Downstairs, glass shatters, and he tenses, sees Buffy do the same. The Harbingers have never attacked in daylight, but that's not to say they can't, or that the First hasn't duped another easily guided fool like Andrew into doing its grunt work.
He's making for the stairs when Xander calls up, "It's okay! Just… had an accident with a window. And a chair. Totally fixable."
Willow, he thinks. Or Dawn's friend, the shy girl with the braces and long hair, the one who was crying on the stairs when he followed Buffy.
Buffy hasn't cried at all. Not when he ran down to the basement in time to see her stake Spike and rush straight through the dust to Dawn's side, and not when he gets back to the bathroom to find Dawn sitting on the edge of the bath and berating her sister.
"You let your boyfriend rip out my throat," she says, as if she's complaining about Buffy spilling nail polish on her jeans or whatever silly things they used to quarrel about in all the arguments he tuned out. "Mom is gonna be so mad at you."
The illusion isn't quite perfect. The blood dripping from the gaping wound across her neck disappears the moment it hits the floor. He doubts Buffy notices.
"You're not my sister," she says.
'Dawn' flicks back a long strand of chocolate-coloured hair. "Are we back on that again? Hey, did you even know how much you hurt me that night? You were accusing me of everything. You said I'd hurt mom."
"You're not Dawn," she says again, more emphatically, and Giles thinks that anyone who didn't know her - and most of those who do - would think her terribly cold at the moment. He sees the cracks, the fisted hands, the way she's holding herself too stiffly, as if she's afraid of lashing out.
If she isn't broken, she's breaking.
"You can't intimidate her," he says to the thing that rolls its eyes at him in a credible imitation of teenage disdain. "And Spike's not here to manipulate any more."
"Poor me," it says, the smirk ugly and incongruous on Dawn's face. "Maybe I'll have a new pet to play with. Catch you later, sis." A wiggle of its fingers in a mocking wave, and it vanishes.
"He was bleeding," Buffy says, far too quietly. "I noticed it right before… There was blood on his arm. Like he'd bitten himself."
The significance is as immediate as it is painful. "Did you see her drink?"
"No, but it doesn't mean she didn't." She lets out her breath in a sigh that seems to drain her, and says, "I have to check on everybody. Take care of… things."
And she moves past him and out the door, and he wonders when she's going to stop taking care of things and start processing that her sister is dead. Willow's pain at Tara's murder was devastating, but the very fact that it was so visible meant she could be reached in time.
But that's to be dealt with at some point in the future, possibly not until this battle is done with. For now, he's still her Watcher (the Council may be gone and his position may be very much unofficial; some things don't go away) and there's work to do. Dealing with the survivors. Increased research into how to defeat an intangible enemy.
The First Evil would undoubtedly love the slayer's little sister as one of its servants. The ensouling spell wouldn't even be an option, not now that they've seen how the triggers can overcome a soul. The question of what to do with Dawn suddenly becomes more than a simple, gruesome matter of where to bury her. They can't take the risk of her rising.
He'll deal with it, as he would have in the wake of Glory, if it had been necessary. Buffy can be told the truth, if she protests; not all slayers are taken away from their families, and some of those families become casualties, and when that happens the Watcher can handle the clean-up.
It's the very least he can do.
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