Better Buffy Fiction Archive Entry



by OneTwoMany

Summary: Post-Showtime. A time for healing.
Rating: NC-17
Author Notes: Thanks to PlanetJess, Hesadevil and BuffyX for the betaing.


She'd found him trussed and hanging from the cave wall. Scabby holes through his wrists, arms stained with rusted red, skin raw beneath the leather bindings. Standing, watching, Buffy had been so hit by such an intense sense of unreality, of relief, that for a spare moment she had been unable to move. Instead, she had stared with fascinated horror at the carvings of intricate and agonizing beauty that were etched into his chest and stomach, and then at marks of a less artistic nature that marred his delicate face. Black and bloodied eye, cracked lips, chipped bones, broken jaw. Another litany of pain and damage, heightened still more when his swollen tongue had formed fearful, defensive words of bluster and denial.

In that uncertain moment, frozen and waiting for the inevitable flood of motion and emotion, Buffy had recalled a childhood memory. She had seen herself standing in a darkened church, gazing up at the image of a tortured man, watching flickering candlelight dance across a calm yet tormented face. Her small hand had been clasped tightly in her nanna's withered fingers as she listened intently to a tale of sin and suffering and redemption, about a saviour who had been crucified in order that she be saved.

But the allusion had been fleeting. Spike wasn't suffering for someone else's sins; not when he had so many of his own to grapple with. And while crucifixion may have been a punishment of criminals, as well as sons of God, Buffy knew this torture had not been about justice, that it couldn't even the score. It was a sick, twisted parody, designed by a creature that Buffy had immediately determined, with doubtless certainty, was going down.

Her procrastination had lasted but moments, before she'd remembered the knife in her hand, the purpose in her being there. She'd cut him down, helped him walk out of the eerie basement, through the silent school halls, into the cool night air. She'd been acutely aware of her arm around him, of the proximity of their bodies, of her skin against his. He'd been so cold, much colder than the crisp night air, his body empty of the blood that gave a him a kind of life.

The journey had been painful and utterly silent except for the occasional gasp of pain and the jarring, vaguely sickening sound of crunching ribs. Shell-shocked and battered herself, Buffy had been unable to find even words of comfort, afraid that once she started, she wouldn't be able to stop, that the walls that protected her heart would come tumbling down beneath the whirlwind of released emotion.

So much to say, but nothing to be said.

Yet, as she'd looked into the face of her rescued vampire while she helped him climb painfully into the passenger's seat of her mother's Jeep, Buffy had seen such relief and adoration and love reflected in his silent countenance that her own dampened with tears.

The walls around her heart had shuddered, but still held.

The rescue had been Buffy's crusade alone. She had driven to the school herself, unable to ask her friends to join her, unsure of how they would even respond. But, when she met his gaze beneath the pale streetlights, felt the intensity of his emotions, Buffy had been glad she was alone. What transpired in that carpark had been a special moment for the two of them, a private confirmation of their tentative and painful friendship.

"I knew you'd come for me," he'd said then, his voice cracking but determined.

"And I knew you'd wait," she'd replied evenly.

She had smiled slightly at him, reaching up to tentatively brush his cheek. He'd leaned into her touch, eyes closing, drawing comfort from a gentle, tangible connection. Perhaps the first he'd ever known with a soul. Finally she'd broken the contact, closed the passenger-side door and climbed into her side of the vehicle.

"Come on Spike," she'd said, throwing the car into drive, "We're going home".


Half an hour ago, as they drove back along silent streets, it had all had seemed so easy, the distance between finding him and coming home calculable in mere miles. But now, standing on the threshold to her house, her arm still firmly around Spike's narrow waist, Buffy understands that the journey can not be measured with such precision. The barriers between the then and now are less tangible, more mutable. And yet, oh, so very real.

Reality hits harder than a Fyarl Demon's punch.

Dawn stands before them in the hall, eyes narrowed, arms crossed, her stance defensive. Sentinel and guard against vampire corruption. Xander's little helper.

"What is he doing here?" she asks, voice petulant.

"Dawn, I don't have time..."

"You never do."

"I can't do this Dawn. Not tonight." And Buffy wonders if she can do any of this. She's never been a quitter, but sometimes it is just all too much. The angry, resentful little sister, the wounded, lost vampire clasped in her arms, the inexperienced and vulnerable Potentials, the friends who expect too much of her. All are in her home, her life, invading her sleep as she tosses and turns and looks for answers that always elude her.

"Please, Dawn," she says tightly, trying to keep the aggravated edge out of her voice, "not tonight. I want him here. It's my choice. Okay?"

"Well, I don't." Her voice is cold and sharp as ice. "And I have to live here too, you know."

Buffy almost laughs at that. As if she needs reminding that everybody lives here now. Her mother's house has become home to more and more, even as it falls down around them. Smashed windows, busted doors, fried microwave and shattered television; the ruined trappings of the not-quite-suburban life she had clung to after her mother's death.

Too tired, too emotionally drained to start a fight now, Buffy settles

for the easier alternative. "Dawn, it's really not any of your business."

Instantly, she knows she's hit a sore spot. Dawn's eyes narrow even more, and the explosion follows. "How can you say that? How can you think I shouldn't care that you're letting your attempted rapist into our house?"

Too late, Buffy feels Spike stiffen beside her, muffle a groan, and begin to shrink back. Her instinct is to tighten her grip on him, but she stops herself, fearing she will only hurt him more. Instead, she lays her free hand on his bicep, moves herself even closer, though space is already a premium between them. He's still stiff as a board, but he halts his retreat. Her hold on him remains, and she hopes that it is enough to keep him from falling.

Still standing on the threshold, Buffy feels the first stirring of something unfamiliar and discomforting. Desperation, the need for peace and to end this now. The sudden need to protect Spike from her sister's words is startling, but she sets the feeling aside, stores it where it can be examined in more reasonable times. Forfeiting words, she catches Dawn's gaze, and a new, silent contest begins.

Spike watches the battle of wills with distracted and blurred disinterest. So hard to focus, so bloody painful. He can't bring himself to even care who wins, isn't sure he even knows who is right. What is he doing here, where he is so clearly unwanted, being comforted by the woman whom he has hurt so profoundly? Oh, he had known she would come; he had clung to that belief with every inch of his being. But this kindness, this apparent desire to heal him, this was unexpected, and brought its own form of torment.

Smuggled in the cargo hold of a jerky cargo plane, newly soulled and barely cogent, Spike had taunted himself with visions of his unwelcome return to Sunnydale. Had girded himself to face his love's hatred and anger, planned to watch from afar, to do what he could to help, until she caught him and drove a stake through his heart. He had never expected that he would again be so close at her side, her hip resting against his, her scent engulfing him. Could not have prepared himself to walk the fine line between gratitude and desperate, unwanted hope.

A hope that terrifies him, even as it is the one thing in his life he clings to.

Spike is acutely aware of Buffy's small hand on his bicep, another on his waist, the places where her skin touches his own. Her touch is hot, almost burning, but it's comforting and real, and tendrils of heat radiate beyond the limits of her small handspan, lighting and enlivening where he is darkened and dead. He is leeching the warmth and life from her, and he knows it is wrong. He should leave, save her from his tainted existence, but being away from her again is unthinkable. Not while the cold and despair recede in steady beats, timed to the rhythm of her beating heart. He's a selfish pillock, a right bastard. But maybe, with Buffy beside him, he can stay here, get better, get it right. Prove he has a soul, just as she wanted.

Finally, without another word spoken, Dawn grudgingly stands aside, her resentment palpable in every stiff-limbed movement. He should probably be relieved that she is letting him in, but he can't summon up any kind of pleasure beyond the relief that, with Buffy victorious, the yelling has probably stopped. Hates, now, this kind of conflict, where once he would have loved being the center of such dramatic attention.

He looks briefly at Dawn, trying for a "thank you," but the hurt, hatred and anger in her expression is too raw to bear. He looks away. Coward. But too late, the image is filed away, to be sought again during the long hours of daylight, when self-flagellation is his pastime of choice.

Thankfully, Buffy's arm tightens around him and she murmurs a gentle encouragement as they take a tentative step toward the stairs. Together. And suddenly, it's good. This comforting togetherness. Almost too good. It's closer to her than he's ever been. A bloody miracle, because this time she is holding him. But then he remembers that together means two, and he is less than one.

He wonders whether he'll ever be complete again, and if she'll want him if he is.

She releases him when they reach her room and he hangs limply against the door frame, not sure what to do as he watches her turn down the sheets on her bed. Of course, he knows what it looks like she is doing, but then he thinks he must be delusional again. Probably back in the cave, about to wake up and face the music. Because he can't be back here, in her room, the place that has haunted his dreams for a year, surrounded by her things and witnessing her bedroom ritual. It would be too much to wake up now, with his feelings this high. It would break him. He might just let It win.

But this looks real, smells real, feels real. He knows his Buffy, can sense the life and goodness in her, the strength and beauty. This is she. It has to be.

He notes, then, the tawny color and circular pattern of the sheets. Startling, jarring, to realize that she'd changed the bed coverings during his absence.

But of course she did. Life goes on without him. Always has.

"How long was I gone?" he asks, and she jumps ever so slightly at the sound of his voice in the silence.

"A while. Weeks," she replies without looking at him.

Weeks. The word hits him hard. He'd lost track of time, moments registered only in the catalog of pain and torture. Did she search for him all that time? The gash on her cheek, the shadows under her eyes, were they because of him, too? He knows he shouldn't want that they are, Slayer should have better things to worry about that a kidnapped vamp. But there is that hope again, that painful longing for confirmation that she cares; that she did this for him; that he somehow matters. To her.

He looks again to the bed, wishes he'd taken more notice of how the sheets used to be. Recalls a time when he'd known everything about Buffy's bedroom: the arrangement of her girlish possessions-- and her warrior ones, the color and brand of her sheets, the days she did her washing, the scent of the detergent she used, the noise of her bed as it creaked beneath her slight weight. He dreamed of being allowed to hold her here, surrounded by her things, to pull her slight body against him and revel in the embrace of her private life. Once, he'd known every little detail, and now he can't recall what was on her bed the day he was actually in this room, the day this nightmare began. When did he stop noticing?

His musings are interrupted as she comes back for him, the answer to his confusion in her eyes and on her lips.

"You can stay here, at least for tonight," she announces.

He knows that she expects some reaction, wonders what. Happiness, perhaps, or gratitude. Maybe a lascivious comment, a dash of the old Spike? But he can think of nothing to say, struck as he is by the irony that he is being offered what he always wanted, but for reasons that are the worst imaginable. He wants to collapse on the bed, he wants to leave with dignity, he wants to fall to his knees and lay kisses on her feet.

Unable to reconcile his conflicting emotions, he instead stands and stares and tries, tries so very hard, not to burst into tears.

Only upon reaching her bedroom does it occur to Buffy that tying Spike to a chair is no longer an option. Marvels that she had thought until then that it was. Or not thought, maybe. Leaving the wounded vampire standing against the doorframe, she busies herself preparing the room, all the while wondering what to do with him, and whether she can do what her instincts tell her to.

She hides it well, but guilt has an iron grip on her heart. Spike's painful, awful love for her has broken and destroyed him. He'd found a new definition of pain and suffering since falling in love with her. She replays those words and never doubts their truth. The physical pain of two years of bruises and breakages, torture at the hands of Glory and the First, and from the force of her own fists as he lay prone in that filthy alleyway. Then the emotional agony, her use and abuse of his body, the isolation, the loneliness and the seclusion that resulted from their cruel relationship, and now the maddening curse of the soul, the result of a desperate quest in search of an impossible love.

And now he is back here, at her side, again waiting for her move. He is patient and quiet now, a new look for this once frenzied, emotional creature. But Spike's will has been crushed and he expects nothing, would likely accept whatever she offered. Should she ask, he would mold his broken limbs into position on the chair, surrender his broken and bloodied arms to the grip of coarse ropes. Or lay his beaten and battered body on the floor and cling to consciousness to guard her bed. The intensity of his love and faith terrify her. She thinks she doesn't want that kind of responsibility. Knows she doesn't deserve it. Wonders if she has anything to offer in return.

So she offers her bed.

"You can stay here, at least for tonight," she says.

When he doesn't move, Buffy almost rolls her eyes, momentarily affronted that he seems unaffected by her offer of admittance into the one sanctuary she has left to offer. Thinks he should look happy, gratified, something other than broken. But she refrains from comment, keeps her gaze steady, looks at him and tries to understand. She's been working on that lately, the patience and empathy, the whole respect-for-others thing that single childom and being the Chosen One seemed to undermine. She thinks she may have got the hang of it as she witnesses the interplay of emotions across his face. Grief, love, pain, confusion. And fear, fear such as she's never seen on the face of this once cocky vampire.

She sees the water glisten in the corner of his open eye, and she understands that he is lost and waiting for her lead. A gentle smile, and she moves beneath him, tries to take his slight weight on her shoulders. He is stiff, edgy, and his good hand remains on the doorframe, trembling slightly. His eyes dart between her and the bed.

"Buffy," he whispers in alarm. "Not sure this is such a good idea."

"No arguments, Spike. You can hardly even stand, and I need you well again, which won't ever happen if you don't get some rest. Get in the bed."

"The basement..."

" indefensible. I don't want you taken again." She tries to capture his gaze, make him see the resolution in her face. Instead, she witnesses the vivid flickering of fear pass across his features, feels the quiver of his body. He pushes it down fast, but it's too late. He is scared and he has let her know it.

Her voice is steady as she makes her vow. "They're not getting to get you again Spike. Not the First or those creepy harbringers things or anything else. I promise."

She hopes her words are reassuring, that he hears the truth in them and believes her, draws much needed strength. This comfort thing was never her strong suit. Not even with her friends, let alone with a tortured and broken vampire, a creature toward whom an inclination to be harsh still rages inside of her, tempered only by a jumble of other emotions she is not yet ready to examine.

He nods then, believing in her words. Moves toward the bed suddenly, slipping out of her grasp, surprising her. But he gets only a step, and she is there, catching him when he begins to fall. He accepts her presence easily, as always, and she leads him to the bed, helps him to sit down slowly, notes with concern his agonizingly slow actions and his grimaces of pain. Once he is seated, her curiosity gets the better of her and she flicks on the lamp to take a better look.

She cannot help but gasp.

Close up, under the harsh glare of artificial light, Spike's injuries are even worse then they had appeared in that cave. Worse, Buffy concludes, then when that hell-bitch had him. Worse, probably, than the injuries he'd sustained in that awful fall from the tower, although she is relying on the memory of Dawn's version of events there, which is always far from reliable.

The cuts in his chest are deep, and it is likely that only dried blood and swollen tissue obscure her view of white bone beneath. One hand lies limply in his lap, fingers apparently shattered, nails ripped off. He cradles it now in his other hand, which is pale and fine, the bones standing in sharp relief again sunken, sallow skin. She looks away, her eyes tracing his forearm, the curve of his elbow, his biceps. The muscles are smaller now, withered beneath paper-thin skin. His warrior body tortured and faded into that of a prisoner of war.

Buffy swallows, pushes down the rising nausea and a sudden, overwhelming sense of panic and distress. She focuses on the practical, because that's all she can do to keep herself from fleeing, lest she collapse under the weight of her emotions.

"I think...I think we need to clean the wounds," she finally manages to say.

He smirks softly, a flash of his old self that sends a wave of warmth through her despite his teasing tone. "Vampire, luv. Nothin' lives in me. Not even infection."

"Yeah, but...I still need to clean the wounds." She's firmer this time. Authoritative Buffy, that's what is needed. "And I need to strap those ribs. We don't want your bones mending all wrong. I'll go get...stuff. And blood. You need blood."

"Yeah. Blood would be good."

She helps him get comfortable, or as comfortable as can be. Arranges the pillows, lets him lie back against them. He's still in his blood-crusted jeans, and she fidgets a bit, wondering whether she should offer to remove them. Tells herself she could do it, be objective and nurse-like even. Nothing she hasn't seen before. She looks up at him, a silent question, and sees his good eye is lit with a combination of merriment and something sly and sexy. A beat passes between them, both contemplating the possibilities, hesitation and temptation. But he saves her.

"Pass up the sheet, 'luv," he says, beckoning to the edge. She hands it to him and he awkwardly pulls the covering over his lap and part of the way up to his chest.

Jeans left on it is.

The moment should have passed, but the need for contact still tugs at her heartstrings. Without thinking, she gently reaches out, again runs the back of her hand along his sharply defined cheekbone, her fingers gliding down the ragged skin of his cheek. He sits frozen, watching her with his intense blue gaze, adoration blending with confusion and a little wariness. Unspoken emotion stretches between them in the silence of the room.

Suddenly, she withdraws her hand with a quick shake of her head. Stands up, perhaps a little too fast, avoids his eyes. But her voice is soft.

"Be back in a second," she promises.

She leaves him then, goes downstairs in search of pigs' blood and the first aid kit. Dawn is thankfully gone, although the television hums dully from the living room. She glances in, sees a row of curious eyes staring back - all black in the dim light. Potentials, curious to see what Buffy has stored in her bedroom. She wonders briefly what Dawn has told them, decides it doesn't matter. Shakes her head in answer to their silent questions. It's not the time for explanations now. Maybe later, when she has worked out what to say.

Buffy makes her way into the kitchen, takes what she needs without thinking. Such a waste on a vampire, but again it's about the symbolism. She's not looking for the clinical cleansing found in bottles of ointment and bandages. Spike needs something more holistic. They both do.

Maybe, in healing him, she'll heal herself.

Back upstairs, supplies in hand, Buffy is almost disappointed to find her would-be patient already asleep. She places the kit and blood by the bed, then retreats to the doorway, careful not to wake him. Bandages can come later, along with talking.

Watching Spike as he lies in her bed, sheets strewn carelessly over his ragged body, Buffy can no longer contain the feelings of relief, or sudden release. He is home, and safe. They all are, for now. Another chapter of her life is finished, and she can turn the page and begin the next one.

Standing there, unobserved, unguarded, Buffy feels those walls crack a little. Exhausted, she doesn't fight, but allows herself, for one moment, to gaze upon her former lover with fondness, to revel in feelings that are strong and real, if too complex to dissect.

"Sleep, Spike," she whispers into the darkened room, even though she knows he cannot hear her. "Get your strength back. We need you. I need you."

"And I'm okay with that."


"He's not getting any better."

Giles' rich baritone seeps through the floorboards from the Scooby meeting below, as Spike's realization that he is the topic of discussion drags the weary vampire back to the world of the living.

"Maybe he needs more blood." The higher, earnest voice of Red. Perky and helpful. How bloody ironic that it is so often she who comes to his rescue in moments such as this. She, who, Buffy exempted, he has probably hurt the most. He doesn't deserve this from her, not when her mind should be filled with images of the night in the factory, the attack in her dorm room.

"More blood?" Xander, his tone disgusted and resentful. Only to be expected. "We've already exsanguinated half the cows in Wisconsin. How much of the stuff can one scrawny vamp swallow?".

"Yeah," Dawn's voice now, rising from a position near Xander. "And how are we gonna afford it?"

"My question precisely." Demon-girl, always practical. "Saving your vampire is all well and good, but you need to eat, and money doesn't grow on trees."

A long pause, and he waits for her words, her defence. She doesn't disappoint.

"We'll find a way. I promise you guys, we'll find a way."

Lying in her bed, eyes fixed on the beige ceiling, Spike lets Buffy's voice wash over him, feels her words sink through his skin, warming, calming, balm to both the physical ache and the deeper, more crippling pain that tears at his heart and mind. Always, he believes her, that she'll find a way to save him. She never fails when it's about the people she cares for, and he now knows himself to be one of them. But oh, Buffy, don't you know that you shouldn't care? That this will only hurt you? That you should let me go? That I need you so much and can't let you go.

Closing his eyes, he feels the warmth recede beneath a rising tide of self-loathing and guilt, which crashes over his ragged sanity. It's easier, he's learnt, to indulge such feelings than to fight them or ignore them. Tried both, he has. First, not listening, blocking out the voices by concentrating instead on his uneven, unnecessary breathing. Then strengthening his resolve with images of himself, strong again, fighting at her side. He'd succeeded in neither. The seductive lure of Scooby-discontent, soothed by his Slayer's words, had won. And now he hangs on every word, loves that even as they smother her with words of truth, Buffy still defends him.

The downstairs discussion has drifted now, from the damaged vampire upstairs to the house that also needs mending. Xander and Giles are discussing handyman priorities, considering means of fortification; Anya advises Buffy on the insurance, while Dawn listens as Andrew blathers about the benefits of combining the cheque for the telly and VCR and purchasing a Ti-Vo. Spike snorts softly - not a bad idea. Elsewhere, he can hear the chattering voices of the SITs, gossiping about Joe Millionaire and American food, until one speaks up and requests that they be more careful about wasting food.

Wasting. Now that's a word he rightly owns. He's wasting away. He's wasting resources. He's a waste of space.

He stares down at himself, at the sheet covering what is left of his body. His hand, lying in rest on the white sheet, has shrunken back to its normal size, bones almost mended, but now stark and defined against his shrunken skin. His wrist is as narrow as a girl's. He should do something about this, get up, go downstairs, buy his own juice using his own dosh. But instead he stays here, in her bed, surrounded by her. Damned if he would be move, even if he could.

His musings are broken by the sound of the door closing below, loud and firm but not a slam. Not Dawn, then. Still, a Summers. Buffy, probably off to patrol. Listening intently, he can overhear the distant murmur of voices below. The whelp is accompanying her, probably bitching about him. Good, at least she isn't alone. Xander may be useless, but in his newly soulled state, Spike can not but feel admiration for the boy, brave as he is. All those years, side by side with Buffy, lending his heart but unable to touch hers. Spike understands that, respects it even.

Wishes he could join her, considers it briefly. Do him good, some hack and slash, a spot of violence. But the old rush isn't rising, his demon too broken and put to care, and the brownish-red on the sheets warns against it besides. His gaze is drawn to another small red stain on the sheet, right above his hollowed abdomen. He's bleeding again, the wound having likely come unstuck during his troubled sleep.

Another thing that touched him, rightly stained in blood.

It's all about blood. Always has been, from the moment he clawed his way out of his coffin and into the dark London night. Born to slash, and bash, and bleed. Dru'd told him that, and oh, he loved her for it . Taken her lessons to heart, every one of them, and every one of Angelus' tortured teachings too. Excelled at this new form of expression, this beautiful poetry written in red, lyrics he owned completely.

But now the slash and bash holds little attraction, and the only blood that he intends to spill again is his own. Funny, how slight his desire to replenish it. He should be worried; no matter how sharp and cruel the Harbinger's knife, his wounds should long since have healed. But instead he feels only numbness while he watches with morbid fascination as the red begins to spread across the tawny sheets until he again drifts off into a chaotic, restless sleep.

She's a warrior, made to fight. Kicking, punching, slaying, staking. Instinctive, controlled, precise. It's what she understands, what she's good at. The rush, the power, the knowledge; unique, special, extraordinary. And all so totally her.

She thinks she's almost happy now, in this graveyard, fighting off a gaggle of Satreach demons. Icky, creepy, scaly things, they are, the adults a particularly unflattering shade of orange, but she knows from experience that they are tougher on the eye than on the wits and body. More typically found curled up over a cheap beer at Willies, or maybe enjoying someone's Siamese on a spit than picking fights.

But too bad for them that they'd wandered into the Slayer's path tonight.

Slayer, The.

The term feels comfortable, finally. Once again it's something she is, rather than a burden to carry. Unasked for, yes, but no longer unwanted. She wonders, now, how she could have been so resentful of her calling last year, while she was so oblivious to everything else?

Or almost everything. Swirling leather, flashing eyes, a cocky smirk, the smell of tobacco. She remembers the intensity with which he fought and fucked and drank and snarked, the tender way in which he listened, or moved his callused, knowing hands over her body. The instant recall sends an unbidden shiver down her back, leaves a tingling in her limbs. Adds to the adrenaline and turns her lips up into a wide, almost feral smile, as the first of the strange demons comes at her with a drunken bellow, and launches at her in its strange, vaguely kangaroo-like hop.

Buffy stands and waits for a fraction of a second, stepping neatly to the side at the last moment, her smile growing still broader as the Satreach gets several steps behind her before realising its mistake. The second, on its tail, receives a foot in the stomach, followed by a surprise as Buffy drops and throws it backward, into its friend. The collision makes a satisfying crunching noise.

Easy, natural, fun. If only it were so easy to put the rest of her troubles behind her.

Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy sees Xander make an appearance, moving out of the trees with a speed that belies his size. She springs back to her feet, turns her attention back to the remaining handful of demons, secure in the knowledge he'll take care of Dazed 1 & 2, while she handles their friends. Being Xander, he'll probably just knock them unconscious. Brutish and stubborn as he can be, he isn't usually into the unnecessary euthanasia for the terminally stupid.

Unless they are vampires who get where he can't.

The thought comes unbidden to her mind, but she ducks away from it, leaving it standing as she quickly, releasing a high roundhouse that connects with demon temple. The impact drops thought and beastie alike. Yet, as she sweeps her leg out in a trip, she thinks again how she, at least, misses him. His flashy moves, crafty skills, his running commentary and ill-placed jokes. She wants him back, her vampire companion. Her one partner; her only equal.

Xander's voice, shouting a warning, brings her back to battle as another demon leaps to attack.


Spike wakens with a start and a strangled gasp. A kaleidoscope of images flashes through his mind, brutal and erotic at once. Flying fists, ripping fangs, long white necks, heaving breasts, nails tearing at skin in fear and passion alike and blood. Blood everywhere. Then Buffy, rising from the red before he pulls her back into it. A horrible nightmare, yet no different from his dreams for a century past. Sleep is a seductive enemy now, and he almost wishes insomnia would fight for him as well.

Panting quietly, Spike wonders how loud his cries where were, doesn't know whether to be relieved that no one comes to him. Closing his eyes, he extends his senses through the house. The flock of new birds must be out, the giggly resonance of their voices and distinctive signatures of their scents not evident to his senses. Dawn is gone, too. Must be Friday then, Buffy'd not allow her to go prancing round with her mates on a weekday. Might have taken the other girls, too, or maybe they went with Red. Giles is here, somewhere below. Likely in the dining room, studying in what is left of his library. Andrew, too, sleeping downstairs on the couch.

He is alone upstairs, then, surrounded by silence. Once a curse of his alienated life, the quiet is now almost a blessing. No words to cut him, but also nothing to distract him from picking at his wounds.

The scent of blood still engulfs him, and as he opens his eyes again he sees that there is a mug of it beside the bed. The handle is still slightly warm, he'd only just missed whoever it was who brought it. He drinks it down rapidly, the bland taste on his tongue doing nothing to improve his mood, but the thought of anything else would surely bring a wave of nausea. Notes with interest that his wounds have been cleaned and re-bandaged as well, although the sticky sheets are still the same. Best to use them as long as possible, anyway. They'd be useless after this. Stained and filthy. Yet another waste. Another reminder that he doesn't belong here, in Buffy's bed, indulging in her protection even as he further stretches her scarce resources.

So very selfish, he thinks. Shouldn't the soul have put a stop to this, wasn't it meant to make him a better man? A hero, like bloody Angel? Someone who, at the very least, wallows alone? But apparently not his soul. Just his luck to get the defective one. Makes him pathetic and weepy, even as every part of him demands that he take what he can from her. He revels in being here, lying naked beneath her sheets, breathing air heavy with the tang of sweat, leather, the detergent of her cheap shampoo and the lingering sweetness of her mock-label perfume.

Exactly what he wanted. Too much to give up.

He can count on one hand the number of times he'd had her in a bed. The night she was invisible, that was the first. She'd come to him intent on re-living the glorious release of that night in the wrecked house. No thought of repercussions, no fear of Scooby intervention, no inhibitions or shame. The whole thing had been a riot to begin with, until he'd realized what she was really about. Next, the cuffs, when he'd chained her hands as she lay amongst the lush rugs on the floor of his crypt. She'd trusted him to tease her, but had protested and threatened, eyes strangely fearful, when she'd realized he was carrying her to the bed. Scared, perhaps, that the softness would break her where stones and dirt and metal could not. Still, once he'd deposited her on the bed she'd turned the balance of power as she always did, making sure the both of them gasped and cried and screamed.

That had been a good night and his cock swells at the memory. A moment's guilt, and he allows his good hand to wander across his chest then down his stomach as he pictures her as she was, laid out before him, golden skin, glistening with sweat, luminous against midnight blue sheets as she writhed beneath him. They'd fought and shagged and played for hours that night. So clear, that memory, pleasant and perfect and unbearable in its sweetness and promise of hope.

But that memory is too sweet for his melancholy mood, and he finds inside that his mind travels, unbidden, to an encounter more suited to his honest mood. He remembers with glee the spot of patrolling, their dance of power, the allure of her sweat soaked body as they laughed over the scattered dust. Such twisted images of sex and violence are too much, and Spike gives into his need, moves his hand to his burgeoning erection, stroking hard as he remembers the way he'd kissed her, and she'd kissed him. Thrusting tongues, grasping hands, the connection of superstrong bodies. The way she'd tripped him, landed on him, then the desperate grinding motion that had brought them both off.

Lying in the grass, beneath the sparse light of the quarter moon, he had taunted and cajoled her to stay with him. He had thought then he was charming, of course, but knows now he was right pathetic, begging and pleading, and she'd seen right through him. She'd taken off for home, to her little sister and welcoming friends, and he'd gone home to his darkened crypt. Drank some, smoked, then drank some more until, with no expectation of company, he drifted into a restless sleep, a fitting end to another night of vowing that things would change.

Only she'd returned. He'd woken to find her surrounding him, ripe, reddened lips making a path down his neck and chest and her hot little body wiggling against his. His hands had clasped the sheets as she'd traced his nipple with her tongue, zeroing in and biting down with such force that he'd felt a ripple of agony. At the memory, his hips lurch off the bed, a gasp escapes his mouth and he almost comes. Pleasure and pain, sex and violence, right and wrong. Messed up, fucked up, all blending together in his exquisite, golden goddess.

Eyes squeezed shut, he summons the image again. Buffy, moving down his body, hair falling over his chest as her nails leave pale pink marks across his skin. Remembers how she had paused when she'd reached his straining cock, hazel eyes meeting his from beneath darkened, mascara-thickened lashes. He'd known at that moment that it wasn't about love or fun or even pleasure. She was getting off on the power, the freedom, the knowledge that he would do anything, expect nothing. He was hers, body, heart and absent soul. But as her hands had traced his thighs, and her lips had closed around him, he'd not cared a bit.

The bittersweet memory of her games is enough to bring him off. A few quick spurts, easily cleaned up, mess disposed of quickly in the trash. A fitting end to his reminiscing.

Reality's a bitch.

"That was possibly the lamest demon attack ever," Xander says as they make their way onto her driveway. His hands are buried in the pockets of his baggy fatigues, his gait a little tired but still steady.

Walking at his side, Buffy recognizes the feeling and has to agree.

"Uh huh," She groans, "A handful of Satreach demons isn't my idea of a challenge. And hog-tying them and keeping them for the girls seems...wrong. I can't believe there are so few vamps. Usually that'd be a good a thing, but how am I ever going to get the girls used to combat if we never get a decent fight?" She throws her hands in the air, a picture of righteous frustration. "Vamps. Never around when you need them."

Xander shakes his head. "Love to, Buff, but diet, remember?" He pats his stomach. "Single man, now. On the prowl. Must look...prowl-like."

She giggles at that. "I think you look fine, Xander. But if you insist on losing a few extra pounds, I totally support you."

"Thanks, Buff. If I look fine now, I'll look even finer when I'm trim, taut and terrific. Maybe snag me the woman of my dreams."

His mirthful brown eyes meet hers, and something passes through them. There are moments between them, moments like this, when Buffy wonders if Xander is hinting at the possibility of something more. They share a comfortable trust, an admitted love. Companionship, reliability, security. Isn't that what romance is meant to be about, what sensible people choose? Not the short-lived passion found in novels, but an enduring friendship built on foundations of stone?

She's thought about Xander, especially over this summer, contemplated the ease with which they fell into being a 'family'. Dawn would approve, had all but said so. And she believes that Xander would take her up on any offer, despite whatever may linger between he and Anya. But such thoughts were fleeting. A three-bedroom bungalow and a man with a nine to five job are not for her. Xander may fall into adventure, but his priorities in life are increasingly mundane. House, car, job - no, career. She, Slayer, Chosen One, can't fit into that mold. She's not even sure that she ever wanted to, and knows she doesn't now.

So she responds as best she can, a gentle smile, a pretense of ignorance.

"She's out there, Xander. And when you find her, your weakness for twinkies won't mean a thing".

He takes her brush-off in his stride. Probably used to it, if he even meant it as she feared he did. "Here's hoping. Anyway, have to be on-site tomorrow morning. Might actually get some work done. Marvel at that concept."

She smiles a little wider. So easy, this relationship. "So, I'll see in you tomorrow?"

He nods, fishing car keys out of the letter box, along with the requisite junk mail. He'd learnt the hard way it wasn't clever to leave sharp metal objects in a pocket when on patrol.

"Bright and early. Or dim and late. Either way, I'll be there".

With a jaunty wave, he turns to unlock his car, it's silver coloring darkened in the night. A nice car, symbol of success, the comfortable mundanity she rejects. She stands and watches as he swings open the door, as he starts the care engine and backs into the empty street.

A sigh escapes her, and she briefly scans the advertising pamphlets. Can't see much in the dark, which she is vaguely relieved about. Money is short, and a sale at The Limited would do her in. Still, she squints in the darkness as she wanders up the driveway to the porch, reaching the steps before she remembers that the front door is boarded shut, repairs still not completed. Yet another item on Xander's extensive to-do list. She'll have to remind him tomorrow, beg yet another favor. Or maybe she'll just put Andrew to work. Little weasel needs to start earning his keep.

Rounding the back of the house, she carefully deposits the junk mail in the garbage. No sales, no temptation, she thinks, and feels remarkably proud of herself as she approaches the back door. So proud, she almost misses the petulant undertones of Dawn's voice as it wafts softly across the yard.

The words are muffled, but Buffy knows what they are about. Dawn is rarely reticent with her thoughts, and her opinions on Spike know no restraint. Yet there is a difference between actual discussion and verbal sparring, and conversations about the vampire invariably become the latter. Buffy wants Dawn to understand, but knows she fails to explain. She has tried for the rational, the sensible, the 'we need him to fight' and 'he has information'. But the arguments are weak and Dawn, possessed of their mother's insight, and a hardened heart more similar to Buffy's own, is not so easily fooled.

So Buffy finds herself perversely interested in this seemingly bitter conversation. She stands at the kitchen door, hand on the knob, listening to her sister's complaints, hoping to find insight from words not spoken to her.

"I still don't get it. Why's he still lying around, hogging Buffy's bed? Aren't vampires supposed to heal fast or something?"

"Yes, Dawn, they usually do," Giles replies. "Spike's injuries are grievous, yet even that can not account for such remarkably slow healing. I am beginning to question whether he is making progress at all, whether, indeed, he will get better."

"Good." Dawn's words, more vicious than a Harbinger's knife, and Buffy almost winces as they slice. "I hope he doesn't.".


"I don't want to hear it, Giles," Dawn cuts him off. "Not if you're going to defend him, too."

"Far be it for me to 'defend' Spike, Dawn." Giles' tone is steady, with perhaps a slight undertone of irritation. His patience, too, is wearing in places. Still, Buffy holds no illusions that Giles is protecting Spike. He has always treated Dawn with a certain indifference and confusion, uncertain as he is about her place in the world, her value. "But he has a soul now. A soul he fought for. It is a remarkable thing. Spike deserves our help and compassion, Dawn, if not our trust. My advice is that should try to give them to him."

This is the first time, Buffy realizes, that she has heard one of her friends enunciate such an opinion. Words she needed to hear, even if they are not said to her. She lays her forehead against the door, feels the relief wash over her.

Yes, Giles, thank you.

She is disappointed, but not surprised, that Dawn is less than impressed.

"I can't, Giles. Not after what he did! You do know what he did?"

"I know what he did, Dawn. I know what Buffy has told me. But it is for her to discuss with you, not me."

"You think I'm too young."

"No. I think it is none of your business." He pauses, and Buffy can imagine him removing those glasses, serious eyes boring into her sister's. "Dawn, I have learnt that one can advise your sister, offer good counsel. But you can not rule her. She makes her own decisions, and now more than ever we must trust that she knows what she is doing. Can you do that Dawn? For Buffy?"

There is a pause, and Buffy uses the opportunity to push open the door. "Do what for me?" she asks with feigned indifference.

"Buffy," they chorus. Both look surprised, Giles a little guilty, Dawn more than a little annoyed.

Her sister's blue eyes dart to the door, then back to her. "That was so lame. I know you were listening. Borrowing stalking habits from your rapist boyfriend. You really need help." She turns, storms out, and Buffy knows that something has happened her, something beyond the conversation she had just overheard.

Giles sighs, rubs a temple, then fixes Buffy with his intense blue gaze. "She's been petulant all night, Buffy. Not to mention loud. I think...I think you probably need to go and talk to Spike."

Buffy quietly pushes open the door to find him standing against the bed, half-dressed, battered jeans slung low on narrow hips, but back still bare. Even in the dull light of the bedside lamp, she can make out the greenish smudges and darker, blue-tinged stains the that sully the expanse of pale, smooth skin. He stands awkwardly, right arm raised at an odd angle as he tries to pull a black t-shirt over his head and shoulders.

"What the hell you do think you are doing?" her words startle him, and he shudders and tilts a little, coming close to falling before gaining control. It scares her to see him like this, so battered that he doesn't detect her presence, that he sways like a sapling in the wind at the sound of her voice.

"What's it look like I'm doing?" He responds gruffly, voice muffled by cloth. "Getting dressed, aren't I?"

And yes, he is, except that 'getting dressed' is a generous description of the awkward, painful movements, many of which seem dedicated more to staying upright than pulling on clothes. The sight is absurd, and were it not for the warning from Giles, and simmering anger, she likely would have laughed.

"You can't be serious," she says.

He struggles a little more, pulls the t-shirt over his head. He turns to face her, revealing a stomach and chest still bandaged, white skin and whiter gauze stained with red. Impossible not to notice how frighteningly slender he's become, gapping clothing and jutting bones. He looks vulnerable and fragile, but the sharp lines of face are settled in determination and when he speaks again his voice is steady.

"Bloody serious. Gettin' out of here."

"And going where?"

"Don't matter."

He is still fighting to get the shirt all the way down, and she quickly moves to help him. He guesses her thoughts, steps back jerkily, as if afraid of her touch. Collides with the dresser, scattering a picture frame, pens, the empty mug. They both stand shocked for a moment, like deer stuck in the glare of their own high beam emotions.

"Sorry," he begins to lean over the to collect the mess, but flinches painfully. Broken ribs mean he can't bend down. Another moment, searching for what to do, then he seems to abandon the idea of cleaning up, decides instead to finish dressing. "Boots," he mutters, moving further away again.

She kneels down to pick up the discarded items herself, watches his bare white feet shuffle across the room as he moves away from her. Long toes; she remembers how sensuous they feel against her calf. Feels her color rising, like the drops of left-over blood had spilt from the fallen mug and now stain the carpet. But it's ruined already, what's one more mark?

As she collects the pencils, she asks, "Spike, please, what brought this on?"

"Nothin'. Nothin' but a sudden burst of dignity."

"Spike..." She stands, replaces the discarded items on the dresser without taking her eyes off him.

"I won't have it, Buffy. Everyone talkin' 'bout me, like I'm a cripple or a waste. Need to get outta here. Let you sleep, here."

From his words, she knows. Giles was right. Dawn, the conversation outside, the one in the kitchen, he heard them all. Still proud, her Spike, despite the raging insecurities, his finger-tip grip to on sanity. Proud, but easily wounded. Having let her and her sister pierce his armor once, he's now defenseless against their incessant attacks. She hopes she can repair the damage.

He's holding onto the bed-head now, shaking a little from exhaustion. Likely not going anywhere, whatever his bluffs. The temptation to point this out, to say something more, is strong. Reason comes naturally to her, and she can think of a million reasons that would make him stay, solve this problem now. You're being controlled by the FE. I don't want you to leave because I can't watch you. You're a danger, a menace. You need guarding.

But suddenly it's important to her that this be his decision, not a detention.

She lays a calming hand on his arm, gently pushes him back. "Just stay tonight. I'll work something out tomorrow." Touching him like this, with gentle caresses, is still strange to her. Does it feel as awkward to him as it does to her?

"Spike, please, stay."

Head tilted, he absorbs her words, eyes heavy with confusion. Finally he nods, deflated, moves into her grasp. As she helps him back beneath the covers, the she wonders again at this magnificent creature, killer of her kind, who conquered his inner darkness even as she succumbed to hers. That he still has such faith in her astounds her; just the power she has over him excites and terrifies her. Only this time, she knows she's not going to misuse it.


The solution to the Spike-problem presents itself the next morning, when Buffy retrieves an old sick-bay cot from the high school basement. She'd vaguely recalled seeing it on one of her previous trips into the bowels of the school, had even thought about setting it up for Spike then. But her priorities had been elsewhere and her emotions still jumbled from the soul revelation and the aftershocks of the bathroom and the church and she'd left him to lie amidst the dirt and rats.

She's ashamed of how she acted then, when he was so fragile and in need of her help. She's listened to the counsel of her friends, agreed with them that it was only to be expected. He had hurt her badly and wasn't she supposed to stay away from men who did that? But the words exchanged with vamp-boy Holden in the graveyard echo in her head. Spike had loved her, really loved her. They had hurt each other, but it was he who had done the extraordinary to make amends, while she ducked and weaved and ran.

How different would things be, had she been there for him, had she stayed and helped him be quiet? Would the First have gotten its claws in so deep? Would all those people buried in that house still be alive? Would Spike still be so broken?

Buffy puts the cot in her car, then pays her usual visit to Xander on the construction site. Notices, with some pride, that she still attracts glances and soft whistles from the men. Notices, too, that Xander gets a couple of pats on the back, overhears the teasing words:

"Harris, it's ya missus' checking up again."

"...under the thumb..."

"How'd a kid like you get a chick like that?"

She suspects that Xander doesn't correct such assumptions about their relationship, but doesn't mind too much. She understands the need to hide beneath a pretense of normalcy, if not success. She smiles broadly as he makes his way down the scaffolding and toward her, even plays up a little for their audience.

Once she explains her plan to Xander he wastes no time in heading home at lunch. Sets to work boarding up the basement with scrap found on-site.

"Not exactly Helm's Deep, but it'll do," he says as he puts the final touches on the reinforced timber that stretches across where the basement window had been.

Safe as houses, Buffy thinks, standing amongst the ruins of her own. She knows nowhere is really safe, not when their enemy is intangible and omnipotent and controls the gateway to hell.

Xander is obviously proud of his work, even if not entirely satisfied with its purpose. He's still not pleased with the idea of Spike in the house at all, but she supposes the basement is a step up from her bed on the Xander-kosher-meter.

"Well, I'm finished here. Want me to come around later? Help take the Undead English Invalid downstairs?" he asks.

Buffy shakes her head, declines his offer. Spike is clinging to what little dignity he has left, and involving Xander in the moving process seems wrong, perhaps even cruel. Besides, she has no need for buffering or human security blankets, not anymore. She wants to do this alone, to heal and trust together.

"Nah. We're good," she says.

She really, truly hopes that they are.

Giles watches as Xander's car disappears down the street, ferrying the boy back to his blueprints, raw timber and tools of trade. The young man is spending more time at his job every day and even the tasks he completes for Buffy have an increasing tendency toward the mundane. Giles knows with a certainty born of experience and age that Xander will be the first to leave Buffy's world, to build a wall between his reality and hers that will eventually be insurmountable.

Buffy lingers in the kitchen, nibbling slowly on a thin sandwich as she gazes into nothingness. It pains him to see it, but that blank, thousand-mile stare has become as typical of his Slayer as her quips and high-spirited antics use to be. As infuriating as she was, Giles misses that bouncing, happy girl in her colorful clothing and impractical shoes, but he doesn't have the faintest idea how to coax her back. But then, he also knows that she can never again be that same girl-the harsh realities of the world have taken their toll on her, and some things can never be recovered.

The former Watcher makes his way into the kitchen, leans back onto the counter with a sigh. Is shocked to see her jump noticeably at the sound of his voice. She must have been far away indeed.

"I assume you spoke with Spike?" he asks evenly.

Buffy finishes chewing before she answers. Chooses her words with unusual care. "We talked. He's moving into the basement again."

Giles nods. The situation is still far from ideal, but better the basement than an upstairs bedroom. The Watcher in him had accepted, reluctantly, that Spike had changed, that he deserved help and forgiveness. But no amount of rational acceptance of the uniqueness of Spike's soul could calm Giles' revulsion at the thought of the vampire lying in Buffy's bed, his dead, corrupted flesh touching her sheets. The vampire may have done an admirable thing, but his relationship with Buffy, and the trust she placed in him, remained of continuing concern.

"Giles, I need to know what's wrong with him."

Giles sighs deeply, runs his hand over his face. What indeed? Despite his best efforts, he doesn't quite know. To his mind, there are better things to research than cures for injured vampires, but he nonetheless looked into things as best he could and now offers up what little he can.

"It would seem that the Bringers' knives are in some way enchanted. A single wound from such a blade has proved deadly to many a potential Slayer, where an attack from a regular weapon would not. I assume that the knives have a similar effect on Spike."

Buffy takes this in quietly, face inscrutable. "Which means what, exactly?"

"It means that in all likelihood, he will heal. But the process will be slow, much as it would for a human."

"How long?" She has placed the sandwich back on her plate and is again watching him with that frustratingly unreadable expression.

"It's impossible to say. Weeks, maybe. Months. He is living on a diet of pigs' blood, Buffy. Healing may be slow." Giles pauses at that, considers his next words carefully. Buffy's faith is Spike is curled and any broaching risks an explosion. "I also can not discount the possibility that the problem is psychological."

A flicker of something crosses his Slayer's face, but it is gone so fast that he wonders if it was just his imagination. Instead, her determined hazel eyes catch his.

"I can," she says firmly. "Giles, if Spike could be up and helping me, he would be. I know it."

Giles sighs. Another reminder that Buffy's faith in Spike is only to be expected these days. He pinches the bridge of his nose, debates the wisdom of tackling this head-on. He doesn't want to start a scene like the one the night before, but cautionary words are in order, even if she does not want to hear them.

"Buffy, what Spike did for you, in getting a soul, it is a remarkable thing. Unprecedented. I am rather stunned myself, and I imagine it is overwhelming for you. But, soul or not, Spike is still a vampire."

He pauses, meets her eyes and tries to reveal the love that he doesn't have the words to express.

"Buffy, I want better for you than that."

She looks back to her half-finished sandwich, dark lashes falling against her cheeks as her eyes close briefly.

"It's not like you think."

He wants to believe her. Watches her carefully, but has no way of knowing whether he can. It has never been easy for him to comprehend her emotions, but the reasons for his confusion are so different now that what they were. The teenager he'd taken into his care had been open, eager, impulsive and petulant, never reticent in expressing her emotions. He knew what she was feeling, thinking, even as he struggled to understand how and why she could act like that. But this woman before him is a different creature altogether, and he can not even guess at the depth of sentiment that lies behind her closed faade.

"Are you quite sure?" he asks.

She takes her time in answering, and he imagines he can hear the cogs working in her brain. Wonders if she is searching for the truth, or perhaps only for a version of truth she thinks will satisfy him. When she finally answers, her voice is controlled but firm. "I do care for Spike, Giles. I don't want him to hurt anymore. I...that's...that's all I can tell you now."

Giles nods and sighs deeply. "You've done what you can, Buffy. The rest is up to Spike."

Buffy takes another bite of her sandwich, and doesn't answer for a long, long time. When she does, her words chill him to the bone.

"We'll see, Giles. We'll see."

She collects him shortly after sundown, when she no longer has to worry about stray sunbeams peeking through fractured walls and the remains of windows. He's awake and waiting for her as she enters the master bedroom, already sitting up on the edge of the bed. He fixes his intense gaze on her and raises an eyebrow. The gesture elicits a shiver down her spine, memories of old Spike with bedroom eyes and seductive words and quicksilver movements that electrified every nerve in her body. How difficult this must be for him, a creature of boundless energy and vigor, to be confined like this, lying listless and pained in the care of the people whose calling it is to destroy him.

"Basement's boarded up again, so we're moving you back downstairs," she explains.

He accepts this with a nod. That was surprisingly easy. Likely he realizes that's it's a compromise all round, one that takes him out of Scooby wrath, but keeps him under her care.

"Ready?" she asks as she moves beneath him, arm settling around his waist. He nods, and they stand up slowly. She hears cracking as stiff joints move into place. His arm slung across her shoulders is heavy, but she likes the weight. Spike never hesitates to lean on her; he trusts her strength in ways that Riley and Angel never had.

Spike is still wearing the black t-shirt he'd struggled into the day before. The material is corse and rough beneath her fingers. Worn, much like its wearer. She feels a slight disappointment at the lack of skin contact. Another barrier between them, undermining the intimacy of what should be a familiar posture. Everything feels more clinical and detached than it did the night of the rescue. They have rebuilt their walls and the space between them, and the air is heavy with uncertainty.

"This'll be a barrel of laughs," Spike mutters, legs wobbling in almost comical fashion.

Buffy glances at him, tries to smile. "Hey, your idea to move, not mine. You want to stay here, that's fine..."

He cuts her off with a shake of his head. "Let's get this over with, then."

Spike makes a brave and silent descent, but Buffy can sense his pain. He has neither pulse nor heartbeat by which she can judge his exertion, but he takes deep breaths despite the broken ribs, a subconscious revelation of the effort of walking down two flights of stairs.

They both breathe a sigh of relief as she helps him onto the cot.

"Well, that was a picnic," he says, wincing and grimacing as he lowers himself onto the cot. Its metal frame squeaks beneath his slow, painful movements. "At this rate, I'm sure to be helpin' with the girls sometime 'fore they're in nappies a second time."

It was, she supposes, an attempted at humor, but it falls flat in the ominous darkness of the basement. The injuries should be healed by now, and both of them know it. She wonders how scared he really is, beneath that strange combination of bravado and depressed resignation.

She hands him a cup of blood that is resting on the ironing board. "Drink this. You need it."

He tilts his head, smirks a little. "That I do."

Their fingers touch lightly as he takes the mug and Buffy feels a rush of prickly ants run up her arms and into her stomach. Not desire, she tells herself firmly, stamping hard on the lingering caterpillars in her belly.

She withdraws her hand quickly, obviously so, but if Spike notices her haste he hides it well. He downs the blood in a single swallow, face remaining neutral. Holds the mug out to her again with a slightly shaky hand.

She's amazed how Spike accepts everything so willingly these days. He used to complain so much; "Fills you up, but it's right disgusting," "Worse 'n charred and weeviled porridge and not half as nutritious," "I'd rather be buggered by a centaur than down the stuff in public." But now it's another thing he accepts almost gracefully, thanking her for its meager benefits with his crackly voice and haunted, liquid eyes.

She takes the empty mug cautiously. "I'm sorry it doesn't seem to be helping more."

"Pigs' blood may be good for the soul, luv, but it's not doing much for the body," he replies as he lays back painfully, eyes blinking closed.

No, it isn't. Even Giles has admitted as much. His current diet is not doing a thing, and she needs to change it.

She places the mug back on the bench, and turns to face him again. Watching him lie beneath the thin blanket on the narrow cot, she realizes she'd forgotten how small he is. When was the last time she even noticed? Soulless, Spike's physical size had been irrelevant. Clothed in that billowing coat, possessed of the strutting swagger, his presence had drawn the eye as he seemingly filled the room, his small frame hidden beneath an aura of bravado and fearsome accomplishment. Even naked and exposed in the rubble of that decrepit house, he'd still seemed so much larger than life.

Larger than death even.

Strange, that he's so much more complete now than he was then, and yet he appears so very diminished.

Small. Tired. Kinda broken.

Buffy's eyes pan up the bed-ridden vampire's body, drawn again to his face. The contrast of light from the single bulb and the deep shadows emphasizes the sharp definition of his nose and his hollow cheeks. Where the brightness hits his skin, she can make out a lattice of fine lines, deepening around his eyes and across his forehead. The youthful smoothness of his once-timeless beauty is gone. Like Angel before him, he is aging, withering beneath the weight of guilt and the strain of near starvation.

How old was he when he was turned? She'd never asked him that. Never asked him much at all, really. Hadn't been particularly interested in his life or history. Sure, she'd listened to what he had told her that night in the Bronze, but in a typical display of self-absorption, she'd filtered out the parts that had not been related to her. He'd spilled his life-story to her - or a version of it - that night in the Bronze, and yet he is still so very much a stranger.

Suddenly, she longs to have that night back again. Drink beer and eat buffalo wings and play pool amid the pungent odor of cigarettes and leather and whiskey. Crack jokes and flirt and share a grin at the snide looks from the ignorant college kids mocking the freaks by the pool table. Smirk with self-satisfied glee at the over-endowed slut-bombs who made eyes at Spike as he lined up a shot with his effortless grace. Laugh and relax, talk and listen. Listen. Care. Enjoy.

They would leave only after the last call for drinks. Wander outside together to replay that alley scene beneath the setting moon. Only this time the foes would be real, and she and Spike would fight side by side, on equal footing. She imagines the exhilaration of a hard won battle; feels the coiled adrenaline that longs for release. Fangs and fists and stakes, blood and dust, their partnership on display for all to see and admire. How beautiful they would be together beneath the dim glow of neon lights - fluid limbs and fancy footwork, two pale dancers, cloaked in black but lighting the darkness. Then, afterwards, their enemies vanquished, catastrophe averted, they'd head home, where they'd drink hot chocolate and watch awful television until the sun peeked over the horizon. And the next night, they'd do it all again.

But such dreams are a fleeting indulgence, a sinful pleasure followed rapidly by deep and bitter anguish. For the image in her mind is not of the tragic, tortured man who traveled to the ends of the world and back to give her what she wanted, but rather of the old Spike, bedecked in his trademark duster, with his wicked grin and flashing eyes and hint of deadly fang. He's so different now, so calm and quiet, restrained, almost timid. It's difficult to imagine the sunken man before her bouncing with Tigger-like glee at the thought of a hunt and she wonders if it is wrong to resent that. To not want what he has sacrificed everything to get for her.

Only he has been hunting, Buffy reminds herself, and there's an empty house and a basement covered in dust to prove it. He's far from harmless, even now, and she can't help but fear that curing him will hand an involuntary weapon over to the First.

She twists her hands, shuffles her feet nervously, wonders if she can do what she has planned. Wonders if she even should. What she has in mind goes against every fiber of her being. But it's Spike, and he's different, and she cares. She wants to care. So offer it she must.

Spike's tired voice interrupts her contemplation. "You got something to say, Slayer? Out with it."

The slight snark in his words causes a flame to rise within her, a small reminder of what she misses, what she wants back. She bites her lips, takes a breath.

Chickens out.

"Would human blood help?" she asks quickly, the substitute words falling free with minimal forethought.

He snorts at that, as if she were asking if his fangs were sharp or whether he liked wearing black. "Course it would help. But I won't be having it."

"You could, you know. From Willy's... or, um...the hospital..." And again with the foot shuffle.

When he doesn't answer immediately, Buffy studies the pointed toes of her mock leather boots intently as she draws patterns in the dust on the basement floor. Notes distractedly that the very fact she can do that probably means the place needs a clean. Like much of her life, really. She hides so much away in the darkness, out of sight and out of mind, until catastrophe forces an airing.

She hears him sink into the pillow, can sense his indecision. But when he finally speaks, his resolve is clear.

"No," he says firmly. "No, not after what happened the last time. I can't. I won't."

For a moment, she can not help but be pleased with his answer. She is giving him permission to drink, to quench the demon she knows is raging inside him, to heal fast and thoroughly and be rid of the pain. And he is rejecting it. This is real change, and pride swells inside of her.

Then the contrary frustration hits. Like all things Spike, this is becoming a drama she hasn't the time for. Morals are all well and good, but she needs him up and fighting by her side, not withering away amongst the discarded refuse in her messy basement. He's useless like this. And more than that, he's painful to watch.

For a stretch of seconds, Buffy feels emotion and sense warring within her, until her pragmatic nature wins out. He needs the blood, and she's in no mood to be patient.

"Angel used to-" she begins, but Spike cuts her off.

"I don't care what Angel used to do. I'm not having no more soddin' human blood. Had enough already." His voice catches on the final note. He averts his eyes hastily, as if searching for something on the floor, the sheets, the walls. Searching for something that isn't her.

Buffy sighs, swallows, then cautiously, as if reaching out to a wounded bird, she covers the short distance to the cot and sits gently on the edge. He doesn't move.

"Spike, it's blood from a hospital bag. No one gets hurt...."

He growls, a ferocious sound from somewhere deep in his chest. Does she imagine it, or do his eyes flash yellow? Certainly, his voice is filled with anger and frustration that cuts deep into her sensitized skin.

"You're not gettin' it, are you? Where the blood came from won't make a bleedin' inch of difference to me or my overworked conscience! No drinking, no biting, no needless brawling, no leaving this bloody basement. No nothin' that'll add to this misery..." His hand paws at the shirt above his heart, and he looks at her with liquid eyes. "I can't stand anymore of it. I won't have it. Not even for you!"


His voice collapses to a whisper. "I don't want to hurt anybody, Buffy. Please. Never again."

She silences him with a finger on his lips. She's gone about this the wrong way. Roundabout routes and blurry watercolors never worked between them; she should have been open from the beginning.

"Problem solved," she says softly, "Drink from me."

He starts at that, a sudden movement which clearly brings him pain, then looks at her like she has suggested he take a midday bath in holy water. His eyes grow wide as saucers, his mouth opens and closes, clearly lost for words. Imagine that. Spike speechless. She almost smiles.

Finally, stammers out a single, strangled word. "What?!"

"I want you to drink from me."

She reaches out to touch him, but he jerks out of her reach. The cot squeals beneath him, a harsh noise that cuts through the thick, still air and grates like sandpaper on her already raw, exposed nerves.

"Are you out of your bleedin' mind? If I won't drink blood from a bloke I don't give a toss about, what makes you think I'd drink from the woman I..." His voice catches violently, and after a moment he rephrases, "...from you."

She lets her hand drop gently to the sheets beside his thigh, deciding to wait a few moments before she tries to touch him again. Instead, she imagines the walls built around her heart collapsing, tries as hard as she can to channel the escaping fervor of sentiment into her eyes.

"Because it's different," she replies. "Because I want it."

Please, please understand.

"Oh, you want it? Well, that makes all the difference!" He laughs loudly, refusing to meet her gaze. "Buffy, this isn't Anne Rice. If you want me to bleed you, I have to rip your skin open with my teeth and suck. It'll hurt like a bitch. It'll probably scar."

"You won't hurt me, not really."

Of that, she is less certain. Everything between them is fragile and potentially painful. Like walking over fine crystal and feeling it shatter beneath your feet and then cut deep.

Gently, cautiously, she reaches out and takes his hand where it is still grasping his shirt. His fingers are limp in her grasp, and tremble slightly at her touch. She smiles gently, meeting his gaze.

"Spike, touch me."

He blinks, tilts his head as confusion clouds his eyes. "What?"

She guides their hands to her lap, lays them across her thigh and her open palm across his. "I said, touch me."

She feels his fingers tense and twitch, but he makes no immediate move to close his grasp. Instead, they stay like that for a moment, gazes frozen on their touching hands, the air around them heavy with anticipation. Skin on skin isn't new, not even since the soul. Back to back in battle, a hand grasp to pull him to his feet, her arm on his waist as he limps beside her. But touching him like this, voluntary, unnecessary, gentle, this is different. He hasn't touched her like this since last year, before the soul, when a gentle caress usually resulted in a scorching burn. She has never touched him like this at all.

Then, slowly, his hand curls around hers, until their fingers intertwine. She closes her grasp too, their hands tied. She watches their union, the details compelling. His skin is white against her gold, his fingers thicker but similarly callused. Warrior's hands, both. His nails are square, male, bitten to the quick. She remembers when he used to paint them black. Kind of misses that, too, the old costume, even if the punk thing did make him look kinda gay. She can't help but smile a little at the memory.

Swallowing, Buffy looks up from their interlocked hands to his face, capturing his wary gaze. She squeezes his hand gently and watches as his eyes light up. In the depths behind them, she witnesses something stir, something deeper, darker, richer and intense. Her body responds instantly, fingers tingling and heart jumping. Her hand feels, still in his grasp, grows heavy with sweat.

Yet still, he makes no move to touch her further. Makes no move at all, other than the irregular, unnecessary rise and fall of his chest and the slight tremor of his grasp.

"Close your eyes, Spike," she orders softly, and he does, long smoky lashes falling obediently against his pale cheeks. "I think, maybe, you don't believe me. That I mean this. That's okay, you know. I get that you have doubts. I've said a lot of things, asked a lot of things to you, that I didn't mean."

He begins to respond, but she raises her hand, finger lingering close to his lips. He must sense her motion, because he falls silent again, allows her to continue.

"But that's over now, Spike. It really is." She lets her other hand to fall gently onto their already clasped hands. Watches his eyes flutter beneath the lids, his expressive face flitter from surprise to pleasure and back. "I don't have your way with words. I'm more one for action. But I understand sensation, hearing, sight, feel. Can you feel me, Spike?"

"Yeah...I feel you, luv." His voice is but a whisper. He is breathing more and more heavily now, chest rising in and falling in an animated parody of life. His hand, still holding hers, is shaking more violently, too, and she's transported back to that moment of on her couch on the night of her return. Remembers how he tenderly held her bleeding hands as she sat frightened and confused, an anchor in a sea of fear and pain, quiet amongst the crashing waves and crackling thunder, the storm of living.

"Really feel me, Spike. Feel my blood moving through me, feel my pulse....feel my heart. Feel that I'm not afraid to touch you. I'm not creeped out or pissed off or anything else that you seem to think I am. Can you feel me, Spike? That I mean that?"

His response is a slow nod of his head, followed by a tightening squeeze on her hand.


Buffy releases a slow breath, imagines the ominous weight of history release itself as she exhales. It's important that he understand this, that he know that she has thought about this, that she wants it. And, oh, does she want it. She's thought about it constantly in the days since she has been back, considered it from all angles. She wants to share this with him - her life, her blood. Her trust.

She wants to help him to heal. To finally give back something, something real.

"I'm tired of hating and blaming, of hiding and running away. I'm tired of bottling everything up inside, of being too scared to say what I mean or do what I want. But most of all, I'm tired of lying to myself. I'm not going to do that anymore, Spike. If you don't trust my words, trust in my body, in what I've always shared with you before. Feel me when I say this, from my soul to yours: I trust you Spike. I trust you not to hurt me."

She pauses to let the words sink in.

"And I want to do this."

Spike opens his eyes and slowly raises his head. His pupils are wide, emotions raging as torrid as the seas. "Buffy," he says, his voice tight, slightly panicked. "Buffy, you don't know what you're asking."

But she can see his resolve weakening, sense the desire rising within him, the passion unfurling.

"I think that I do." She knows that she does.

She feels the seconds stretch between them, long and slow and steady as he works through her revelations and his own labyrinthine emotions. She wonders, unwillingly, if she has perhaps made a terrible mistake. Thinks that, maybe she has offered too much too soon? Or demanded, more like. She'd assumed he'd want this, but what if he didn't? Stupid, to make such a fool of herself. Stupider, too, to think that he would leap at this, the chance to further indebt himself to her when she has shown so little ability to manage existing dues.

She shifts restlessly, starts to move her hand as she begins to move off the bed, get out of there. Go some place where she could cry, or hit something, or preferably both.

At her slight movement, he tightens his grip, holds her fast, and even before he speaks she feels she knows that the power and intensity she sensed awakening in him is now on its feet and preparing to roar.


His voice is low, deep, like gently rumbling thunder, and Buffy feels the word roll over her, slow and heavy and warm. She is acutely aware of the sound of her breathing, of her heart racing, the feel of her warm, rich blood pumping through her body. The beat of her pulse sends echoes in her head which such intensity she is surprised the cot isn't thumping.

"More than okay," he adds, eyes darkening from a stormy gray to an intense and seductive midnight blue.

Slowly, deliberately, Spike turns her palm over. His touch is gentle, firm, suddenly tremble-free and erotically confident as his thumb begins to draw lazy circles over the pulse point in her wrist. She gazes at the movement, absorbed by the hypnotic, circular motion. It's such a slight gesture, a million miles from the brutal explorations that had characterized their relationship previously, but the effect is profound, and a wave of longing, lust and undeniable desire hits her with such intensity that she feels she will drown.

Spike's small, pink tongue darts from between white teeth to moisten his lush lower lip. The sight sends a flame of pure desire down Buffy's spine and into her groin. She feels a swarm of superheated butterflies come alive in her stomach as she remembers in vivid detail just where that tongue has been, the oh-so-clever things he can do with it. What it felt like on her breasts, her navel, her clit. The taste of it in her mouth, the flavor of Marlboros and Jack Daniels and that intense, darkly erotic tang that is so uniquely Spike. The way he made her tremble and scream.

His voice breaks through her trance. Raw and gravely, "You sure about this, pet?"

"Yes. Very sure...yes."

Oh, how very sure. She wants to know the velveteen softness of Spike's wicked tongue again; wants to feel it on her neck as his sharp teeth tease her skin. Longs to writhe beneath his skillful hands as they caress her back, her thighs, between her legs, to feel the weight of his body as it settles against her; to feel the completeness as his cock fills her.

With dreamlike slowness, wrapped in memories and sensation, Buffy tilts her head, brushing the hair away and, like a woman in thrall in some cheesy vampire film, exposes her throat to his waiting fangs.

But he doesn't lean into her neck. Instead, Buffy finds herself frozen by surprise and a strange sense of surreal dismay as he raises their joined hands to his mouth. She fears, for a moment, that he has changed his mind, that he doesn't want this, doesn't want her. But then her runs his tongue gently over the small pulse point, lapping at the cooled sweat, and her lingering disappointment, that traitorous doubt, evaporates like water poured on hot coals.

Spike's forehead shifts, the brow deepening, stark ridges rising from beneath pale skin. His pupils, still fixed on her, contract and distort as the crystal-ice irises shiver and shatter, revealing a riveting gold. His grip on her hand tightens as his demon surges through him, and suddenly this is very real. Almost too real. She's never been this close, this intimate, with Spike's demon before. Her Slayer senses awaken, the mystical power inside her roaring and rebelling, indignant at the idea of intimacy with a creature she is empowered to slay. She stamps on them, hard. Her choice to do this, hers alone, destiny be damned.

Spike is watching her still, demon eyes intense and unblinking, laced with a desire and adoration so intense that she is left breathless and trembling. A silent question passes between them, acknowledgment that this is the final moment, the point of no return. But Buffy committed to his journey the moment she collected him from the shelter of her bedroom, perhaps even from the moment she rescued him from that cave. There is no room for U-Turns, no going back.

The Slayer nods her consent.

A flash of fang, and his mouth descends on her wrist. Buffy experiences in hazy slow motion the sensation of taught skin stretching and breaking. The pain is sharp, sudden, intense. Pain to remind her she is alive, and she has never felt anything quite as enlivening as this.

The effect is electrical, a jolt from something powerful and dangerous to touch. Explosive. Fire and ice and pleasure and pain shoot through her, leaving a trembling heart and limbs of warm treacle. She feels the butterflies in her stomach burst forth, sees the world around her disappearing for a moment into a chaos of vivid colors and movement, until clearing, there is only Spike. Her hot hand clasped in his cool grasp, his warm tongue on her fevered skin, his eyes fevered, swirling amber and blue chiaroscuro, brimming with Spike's intense and open emotions. Hunger and need, desire and pain and gratitude and, most of all, love.

Such terrible, absolute love.

She can feel the journey of her blood, from her heart through her veins, to where it flows from her body into the moist, inviting warmth of Spike's mouth. It's more than vitamins and minerals, red and white cells. It's healing life and power; memories, burdens, fears, even identity. She imagines that she can feel her essence, her being, pulsing through him, closing and healing his wounds, both physical and mental. She wants to pour herself into him, body and soul, rejoice in the feelings of liberation and connection and love.

Almost unconsciously, Buffy feels herself moving into Spike. Her free hand tangles in his hair and she pulls herself closer until their joined hands are trapped between their heaving bodies. She needs to touch him, to feel him, inside and out, and her hand travels through his hair, round his neck, down the planes of his face, his chin, his fabric-covered chest. She slips her fingers beneath his t-shirt, caresses his smooth abdomen, before moving over the hem on his jeans, and then lower still. He's hard, of course, and strains beneath her touch. Growls low in his throat as he clutches her to him with a fervor that would crush an ordinary woman.

Then she is in his lap, instinctively moaning and grinding and surging against him. He gasps slightly, perhaps from pain, but holds her fast when she starts to move away, his hand firmly clutching the back of her head, buried in her hair. She responds by clutching him tighter between her legs, pushing herself into him. He thrusts upwards towards her warm center in turn, the movements of hips timed to the laps of his tongue, both increasingly erratic as the tension mounts between them.

She revels in the overwhelming sensation of emptying herself into him, in the effect it has on the powerful creature before her. She feels powerful, possessive, wanted, needed. Feels also, with equal intensity, the tingle of electricity that rushes to fill the spaces left by her retreating blood, livening dim and dusty corners of mind and body alike. The sensation is amazing, her toes curling, stomach taut and stretched as she arches back, meets his strains, strains and cries as, finally, the rising tide overwhelms her and her world explodes, again, in an orgy of pleasure and color and release.

And so it ends. Buffy watches in a hazy, distracted way as Spike slowly lowers her to the bed, his hand still beneath her head. His demonic features slip back into human ones, the sound distant and blurred in her ringing ears. His tongue on her skin again soft and smooth, methodical and calming. And then it is gone, as he removes his lips from her skin. A final kiss to her tender wrist, and her gently lowers her palm from his mouth.

The separation is almost painful, but she can do nothing but lie motionless as she waits for feeling to return to her limbs, and the jumble of her feelings to settle and distill. So she lies and listens to their ragged breathing, as Spike tentatively and gently moves his limbs from beneath her.

Still leaning above her, she fixes her would the most amazing look of love, and peace and gratitude.

"Thank you Buffy," he says, eyes calm and blue now, glistening slightly at the corners. "Thank you for trusting me."

She nods, gently reaches up to caress his cheek. "You didn't take enough..." Enough of her blood. Enough of her. She wants to give so much more.

He shakes his head. "I've taken too much. And you've given me everything I need."

She watches as he bites his lower lip, eyes flicking to her lips. After all they had just shared, his apparent nervousness at just kissing her is almost funny. He takes her smile as an invitation, and, leaning down, places a tentative kiss on her forehead. She very nearly rolls her eyes, and she captures his face in his hands and kisses him gently on his lips. The broad grin on his face sends another wave of pleasure through her, and she smiles in turn. Such a long time, for both of them, since they have smiled.

Shaking his head, Spike collapses beside her. Groans a little as his aches reawaken. "That was amazing, luv. But I'm gonna feel it in the morning."

She giggles. "I'll probably envy you. I'm kinda worried I won't be feeling anything anywhere until at least midday tomorrow."

His looks pleased at the comment, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he smiles a rare smile. "Stay here then, yeah?"

She allows herself a brief moment of indecision, turns over the downside of being found here, like this, clutched in Spike's arms, surrounded by the aroma of blood and sex. But she quickly discounts it. She's already been practical tonight. Now for the overwrought and romantic.

She nods, luxuriates in the look of pure, delighted pleasure that passes over Spike's face. Closing her eyes, she settles herself against his silent chest. It's spare moments before she drifts off to the rhythmic feel of his hand in hers and the low buzz of the downstairs refrigerator.


Lying in the pale morning light, Spike watches his Slayer sleep.

She lies sprawled across him, her head resting below the curve of his shoulder, her ear against his silent chest, her legs entangled with his. His chest quivers slightly where her warm breath touches his cooler skin, and her upper arm is soft and slightly sweat-misted beneath the gentle caress of his fingers. Despite the weight of his guilt and his soul, and the knowledge that this must end, Spike knows he's grinning like an idiot.

Spike wonders what he could sell, what price he would pay, to freeze this moment, to hold back the sun and lie with her forever beneath the soft, pale light that divides day from night. But there's no one to bargain with. Morning is rushing toward them, he can feel its approach in his bones, and sense it in the more material indications - the first call of birds, the silence of insects, the distant noise of early rising humans going about their morning business. Strange that he is almost oblivious to the passage of years, yet in moments such as these even individual seconds pass in such intense detail.

Buffy shifts slightly, demanding his attention even in sleep. She murmurs softly, and Spike stills, but she doesn't wake. Deliberately, with concentrated effort, he times his intake of breath to hers. He's done this before, on those rare past occasions when she'd allowed herself to fall asleep beside him. Taken comfort, then as now, in the knowledge that they could move in harmony in the calm quiet of sleep, just as in the hectic chaos of battle. But this is the first time he's ever felt a connection beyond the simultaneous rising and falling of their chests; the first time he has ever lain with her hand clenched in his or her blood in his veins.

Her blood, rushing inside him. Warming and enlivening and healing. A bloody miracle, that. He still can't quite believe it.

Running his tongue across his lips, Spike can still taste the marvelous, tangy taste of her blood. Rich, satisfying, evocative. It's probably why sleep was so elusive; he's still buzzed, pumped on slayer blood and the lingering affects of arousal and adrenaline. Except the memory of their bloodletting and bonding results in a jolt of intense, almost painful arousal, lighting every nerve of his body again, rousing the demon within. His hand involuntarily tightens around hers. Closing his eyes, Spike tries to get a grip on his body.


Daring a quick glance down, Spike confirms that his morning erection is present as always, and dangerously close to his sleeping slayer. He shifts uneasily.

Startled by the movement, Buffy stirs slightly, mutters something in a sleep-hazed voice. He freezes. But it's too late. Swallowing the sudden lump in his throat, the rising fear, Spike manages to say that only thing that comes to mind.

"Morning, luv."

Buffy's mussed head rises from its place on his shoulder, her hooded eyes unfocused as she struggles to shake off the lingering lethargy.

"Spike? I..."

Time's up, and he waits for the blow. Watches her face intently as the various emotions flit across it: first surprise and confusion, then relief, and finally something truly surprising, something rare and golden, something he doesn't quite dare believe might actually be happiness.

Eyes bright and face open, Buffy smiles; a wide, deep smile that awakens old memories of sunrises and bluebells and Helen of Troy. It's all embarrassingly sappy, but in that moment Spike hardly cares. He could almost write poetry again, except that would require paper and he doesn't want to move. He just wants to lie and stare.

Buffy's inquisitive voice breaks the silence.

"Did it work?"


"My blood. You all healed?"

Spike blinks. Of course, the wounds. He'd forgotten about them. He supposes the blood must have done something if that were possible. Or maybe it was her presence. The night had been so perfect; perhaps his frayed nerves were lethargic and lazy from carrying other, more pleasurable sensations?

Licking his lips, Spike looks down at his chest and tentatively moves one leg. No crippling agony.

"Er...yeah. Think so..."

Buffy beats him to it, her little hands pushing up his T-shirt as she quickly sits up.

"Let me see..."

He shivers slightly beneath her touch, but she doesn't seem to notice, intent as she is on examining his wounds. Her fingers work gently over his stomach, his chest, and Spike again shifts nervously. Prays she doesn't pay too much attention to his other parts. .

Impromptu assessment finished, Buffy pronounces him fit.

"They're all scabby and yucky, but not bleeding anymore."

She flashes him a winning smile; big, big eyes filled with happiness and, he thinks, satisfaction.

"And that's very much of the good."

Oh yeah, definitely satisfaction.

Her hands linger on his body, gently caressing the skin surrounding the nastiest gashes. Unfortunately, the effect her touch is having on him is something quite different. His body, already reacting to her nearness in impossibly inconvenient ways, now begins to betray him completely. He's painfully, and obviously, hard; the throbbing beguiling and he can feel his hands begin to tremble in that annoying way they do when Buffy gets too close.


The words, whatever they were, disintegrate in his mind, and it's like he's human again, stuck in that Victorian parlor, nervous and tender and trying to think of something to say that wouldn't embarrass him further.

Buffy's silent too, still looking at him with that stunningly open, indescribable expression.

A sudden flash of panic flushes across her face, and before any words leave her mouth, he feels his heart shatter and crumble.

"Shit! It's Inservice day. I so can not be late."

She pushes herself off him fast, and he doesn't know whether to be angry and disappointed or simply immensely relieved.

"There's this Nazi bitch from hell at work, she's just waiting for me to screw up..."

He watches Buffy hop around the room, searching for the shoes she'd kicked off the night before. She's delightful, all vibrant and glorious. Effulgent, his mind offers, but he pushes it away. She flashes him another grin.

"Want anything? Need anything?"

Spike shakes his head, still shifting through his dancing emotions. This friendly, business-like efficiency is something entirely new, and he's not entirely sure how to deal with it. She reaches the bottom of the stairs, then turns back to him, all pulsing energy. He guesses he should at least be relieved that she showed no signs of ill effects from the blood-loss.

"Okay, anything you want, I think you can get upstairs for now. There's blood in the fridge. Er...pig, of course."

Her voice hitches only a second, but her fingers go instinctively to her wrist. Spike can't hold back a slight wave of pride, that he'd marked her there and she'd let him. But the moment passes, and she moves to the foot of the stairs.

"Giles and Dawn and everyone are home at the moment, but I'll talk to them before I leave. So, don't freak out. You could watch television ... or maybe, you know, take a shower."

She adds the last part pointedly. Not exactly a suggestion. Spike flashes a soft grin in reply, but she's not looking at him, really. Her eyes dart around the room as clutches at the handrail and continues her frenetic little on-the-spot bouncing.

She must have caught his look of hurt and confusion after all, because in the next moment, she is back beside him, fingers tracing his cheek and chin as she touches her soft, warm lips to his forehead. There's a moment's hesitation and she kisses him again on the lips, gently and briefly but rich with meaning. They both tremble slightly as she pulls away.

Meeting her fathomless eyes, Spike can see only see only kindness and caring, and he feels again that horrid stirring of hope. It's unfurls deep in his belly, stretches and crawls through his body and into his limbs; paralyzes him worse than a tazer blast.

"I'll be back later, 'kay?" Buffy whispers. "And we'll talk."

Spike thinks he nods, but he's really that not sure. He can do nothing else but stare after her in silent shock; the sensation of her lips on his forehead, on his mouth, and her fingers on his cheek, lingers long after she is gone.

Finally, goofy smile back on his face, he lies back against the sheets and sleeps soundly for the first time in weeks. ....................................

When Spike wakes a second time, it is to the bright light of late morning and the blaring of a stereo in an upstairs bedroom. The music is tacky and witlessly irritating. British Pop. Bloody offence against good taste and good reason. Probably belongs to one of the ankle-biters. Spike briefly entertains the thought of storming upstairs and ripping the ears off the mini-skirted, glitter-nailed bint that was listening to it. But the image gave him significantly less pleasure than it should.

Bleedin' soul. Puts a damper on all his fun.

Lying back, Spike tries to recapture the elusive remnants of sleep. He's not ready to wake quite yet; not if there is any chance of snatching back the dream-like memories of last night. His mind is still awash with a kaleidoscope of images that hardly seem real; that he would not have believed could be real were it not for the feel of warm, potent slayer blood rushing through to his extremities. He inhales deeply, relieved to find the scent of their encounter still lingering in the air and attempts to drift into blissful fantasy again.

A squeak from the upstairs door draws him rapidly back to full consciousness as his acute senses scream awareness of a new presence making her way down the stairs. Smells like Buffy, but different, a touch lighter yet older... and darker.


The rush of adrenaline and a slight whiff of fear are not quite masked beneath the ozone-like scent of her spray-on deodorant. One of them flowery scents advertised by wankers giving flowers to some random bird on the street. Nothing spontaneous about this, though. Despite her fluttery heart, Dawn takes the steps with cautious determination.

Gonna say her piece.

Spike braces himself for what he knows will be a draining conversation.

When she finally speaks, her voice is steady, only a slight quaver hinting at underlying fury.

"I saw her leave here this morning."

With a sigh, Spike opens his eyes and turns to face her. His Little Bit, perched on the stairs as nervously as a bird on a wire.

"Did you now?" he asks, carefully keeping his voice neutral.

His fingers itch for a fag. Been a while since he'd thought about one of those. Strange he didn't crave one last night.


Her large blue eyes meet his is an icy stare.

"You're fucking again, aren't you?"

There is still something faintly Victorian about Spike, enough that it stills shocks him slightly to hear such language from the lips of such a slight girl. All thoughts of the cigarette are gone.

"What?!" he chokes out as he sits up abruptly. He regrets the move immediately as a small sliver of pain cuts its way through his ribs. Not entirely healed, then. "What the heck kind of a question is that?"

She remains silent, crossing her arms, but never dropping her eyes from his. Girl could outstare a tiger.

Spike sucks in his cheeks, searches for an answer that isn't gonna get him staked by someone.


She's having none of it.

"I'm not your 'Niblett,' your 'Little Bit' or anything else. I'm Dawn Summers. No, you're not even worthy of that honor. It's Miss Summers to you."

"Well, pet, if we're getting all Victorian, you'd actually be 'Miss Dawn...'"

"Shut up."

"Fine with me."

He'd rather not answer her questions anyway.

Spike knows he's usually good with words. Good with most folks, but 'specially clever when it comes to this girl. Treat her like an adult, say something clever and little saucy, win a grin that lights stars in her eyes. All so easy. But there's nothing he can say that'd make this right. Her hatred feels so real, so thick he can feel coating him like tar. He's not sure he even blames her.

Fuck. He tried to rape her sister.

So Spike decides instead not to talk, not even to think. He lies back, stares at the ceiling. Floorboards, cobwebs, nothing much different from home, really. Or what use to be home. Doesn't really have one of them anymore, does he? Another problem.

Why won't she leave so he can get some more sleep?

Dawn's shuffling a bit, nerves rising and heart pounding faster. Her script wasn't going to plan, and she was probably wondering whether to wing it. She decides it's worth the risk

"Are you sorry?" she asks.

Spike flinches slightly. God, how could she think he was not? He sits up again, swings his legs over the side of the cot and tries to assume a posture approaching dignified.

"Am I sorry? Nib-I mean, Dawn... 'Sorry' doesn't begin to cover it. It's just a word. People say it all the time. Doesn't mean anything; just something that makes the speaker feel better 'bout themselves."

Dawn shakes her head. "I don't get that. Sounds like a totally lame excuse. Isn't everything just a word, really?"

"'Tis different". He pauses, shakes his head, grips the sheet and tangles it around his fingers as he tries to find the words.

He's never been reluctant to share with Dawn before. She, alone of the Scoobs, always understood his darkness, his conflict, accepted his weaknesses without ridicule or disdain. But so much has changed ... Spike notices he's torn a hole in the bunched fabric. It can be patched, but never truly made right. Never restored to what it was. Probably the same with him and Dawn. But he still wants to try.

"That night, in the bathroom, I wasn't thinking...let everything get the better of me. I was weak and desperate, and pissed out of my brain. Not excusing myself, just saying, I didn't go there with the intention of... of doing that."

She's still watching him with those intense, cobalt eyes; face unreadable. He continues in the steadiest voice he can manage.

"I've never been one for introspection, Dawn. Just kinda do it, you know, live with the consequences. 'Cept, couldn't live with that. So I went and got the soul. Like I said, I don't believe in saying sorry. I believe in doing something 'bout it. That's why I can't apologize to your sister, why I certainly can't apologize to you. Cause words aren't good enough. But I'm gonna do something, do something right. Act better. Promise it. I'm never gonna hurt your sister again." Spike paused, meets her eyes with a fervent intensity "And Dawn, I keep my promises."

She holds his gaze for a long, frozen moment, as she weighs his words.

Then time melts. The smell of salt rises in the air as her lip trembles, her eyes fill with glistening liquid and a sob escapes her pink-glossed lips.

"Except you don't, do you?"

She's crying now, words cracking and uneven.

"You weren't there when we needed you. You went away and you didn't say anything and...and you went away because of Buffy... and now I know it was all about Buffy. You never thought about me, only about Buffy."

In that brief space of moments, Dawn's simmering fury has collapsed into a messy puddle of tears and soaking misery. She's really crying. Crying her eyes out because of him. Another victim of his foolish ways.

Instinctively, he opens his arms and draws her willowy frame to him. She resists for only a moment, before melting into his embrace. And it's not awkward like it was before, his movements no longer guided by distant memories, but by a genuine understanding of human need that spills from his soul to his heart. The need to comfort is suddenly so natural, so real, so stunningly intense, and the words pour out in rapid, unconscious, and, most likely, incoherent succession.

"Oh, God, Dawn. I'm sorry. . . . So sorry. . . . I'm a bad man, Dawn. A stupid, rash, bad man. I didn't think. I should have said goodbye, wished I could. But I couldn't. . . . Not after that. Couldn't see you again. Not, . . . not after, so sorry..."

Time passes, and Dawn's sobs slow and then stop. Finally, she sniffles, and allows her thin arms to slide around his waist, and she clutches him to her. Oh, it's good. Warm and wonderful and so completely unlike what he has with Buffy.


Spike toys with the word in his head. Examines the wondrous feeling of satisfaction when he says it. He'd thought he'd grown to love this girl before, but it was but a glimmer of what he felt now. She's his friend and she cares for him and there was no shame in that, no uneasiness or secret horror. It feels natural and right, and, sod dignity, it's suddenly also very important that she knows what it means to him.

"Die for you, I would, same as for your sister." He murmurs the words into her hair. "I love you Dawn. I know you don't believe me, nor reason to, but I'll prove it again. You'll see."

Her voice is muffled against his soggy shirt.

"I do believe you."

All he can do is grip her tighter.


She begins to struggle against him, but it's good-natured. Spike releases her slowly, and she pushes herself back, sits up and straightens her clothing dramatically. Wipes her face on the back of her sleeve. It's almost comical, her attempt to present a picture of maturity despite her red-rimmed eyes and snotty face. He's tempted to laugh, but it would probably ruin the moment.

"Okay," she says, as authoritatively as possible. "I'll give you one more chance. But that threat? The fire? It still stands"

"Don't doubt it."



Another moment of silence, but this time Dawn's eyes are brighter, that star-like sparkle is back. He can see the mischief rising.

"So, now we're like friends again and all, and there shouldn't be secrets between friends..." She raises an eyebrow, and her pink-glossed lips curl in an almost-smile.

"...are you and Buffy fucking again?"

Spike snorts, shakes his head. Pushes himself to his feet and stalks past her onto the stairs. "That, Niblett, is something you're gonna have to ask your sister."

She'd changed the shower-curtain.

It's bright yellow now, or white, but with large, printed daisies. Glaringly, almost insultingly cheerful and ugly as sin. Soul or not, it almost made him nauseous. But... it's probably better to start the days with an eye full of offensive dcor than to be reminded of an attempted rape.

Grinding his teeth and closing his eyes, Spike manages the single step from carpet to tile. Strange, that he should be so distressed, when it is Buffy who was attacked. Seems almost an insult to her, a parody of her pain. Not that he is surprised. He'd always been too emotional for a vamp, and for a man; too readily caught up in the ebb and flow of passion. Never easy to live like that. But not half as hard when he had was guilt and conscience free.

Still, only right that he should suffer this torment.

Moving to the middle of the bathroom, Spike casts his eyes over the scene of his most blistering memory. The rest of the place looks the same. Sink, lavatory, basin laden with all kinds of girly products and several different soaps. His observations bring a strange uneasiness. The room is a vivid symbol of humanity in all its weaknesses and strength and propensity for change, where the most base of human functions are transformed into something almost luxurious by the antiseptic efficiency of the modern world.

Introspection may not be his thing, but Spike's not short on imagination or dreams. He wonders, sometimes, what it would be like to be human again. He'd even contemplated it briefly on that agonizing flight to Africa. He doesn't know for certain, but he suspects Lurky'd probably have given it to him, had he asked. Wouldn't that have given the Poof a shock? Still, he'd come down on the side of no. Spike can hardly remember what it was like to be William, but he knows he didn't like it. When it came down to it, he didn't think that Buffy would've been impressed either.

'Sides, what would have been the point? It wasn't the just the demon that forced Buffy onto the cold tiles, that thrust its legs between hers. It wasn't the demon who hadn't heard the word 'no.' It was the man. The selfish, dependent, willfully blind man who'd been so desperate for love and affection, so truly pathetic and delusional, that he'd devoured the slightest crumb, hung on to the most flimsy thread, and pulled the woman he claimed to love down with him.

Spike leans over the sink, white knuckles gripping the edges of the basin. He feels the strong urge to vomit up everything in his stomach, but is even more revolted by the thought of loosing even a drop of slayer's blood. His undeserved gift; his most precious possession.

"She's moved on mate, so can you."

Determinedly, Spike walks to the shower, turns on the spray and steps inside, oblivious to the cold. He feels the water begin to wash away the grime and blood. Imagines that it can clean his soul.

This, at least, is a start.


Reluctant as Spike was to enter the bathroom, he is nearly as hesitant to leave it. Spike stands at the door, hand on the doorknob, listening intently for signs of life in the house beyond. Bloody stupid thing to be doing, but he's in no mood for questions, let alone curiosity, and the last thing he wants to do is run into a gaggle of Slayer wannabes.

He's dressed again in the familiar black jeans and plain black T-shirt. It made him smile when he realized Buffy had left them for him. His smile widened when he realized they were new. Cheap, chain-store jeans, the type he'd rather have been dusted than be seen in a year ago. But he couldn't give a fuck now, not when she'd shopped for them; shopped in expectation of rescuing him. It was the strangest, most touching thing he could possibly imagine. They'd never, in all their time together, exchanged any

kind of gift. He'd never had the courage to risk it; he doubted she'd ever considered it. And yet here she'd gone and bought him clothes. She'd even known what size to buy. Funny that, considering he couldn't remember a single instance in all their time together when she'd paused long enough to check the label.

The house beyond the door is quiet, but he knows it won't be for long. He decides this lull is as good as any other. Finally, he pulls the door open, steps into the corridor and makes his way downstairs, bare feet padding along the thick carpet.

He's almost at the basement door when the sound of Giles' voice, cool and deadly calm gives him cause to stop.

"I see you got what you wanted."

Too calm.

"And what's that then?" Spike asks as he turns to meet the Watcher's glare.

Giles looks even older, more exhausted than usual. The lines on his face are etched deeper, his brow furrowed in a crease, gray hairs sprouting on his receding hairline. Humans age, and it's been a while since Spike's seen this one; but surely not that long? Last time was during that ridiculous farce that resulted from Red's mind-wipe spell. A year? Sounds about right, even though it seems like so much longer. So much has happened since then.

"You know what I'm talking about." Giles' tone is severe, cutting, and Spike has the sudden sense that he's about due for a scolding. How bloody ironic, given that the last time they spoke he was calling the bloke 'Dad.' Definitely a moment best forgotten.

"Know what, Watcher? Not in the mood for chit-chat, much less twenty questions. What happened between the Slayer and me, that's our business. If Buffy wants you to know, I'm sure she'll tell you; you being her Watcher and all." He turns back to the stairs. "In the meantime, I'm gonna waste the rest of my day getting some hard earned kip."

Spike's through the door and partially down the stairs before Giles' deep sigh reaches his ears.

"Spike, please, a moment."

Spike is mildly disgusted to find that he stops immediately. He's never been able to put his finger on it, but there's always been something about Giles that gets his attention, despite his long-lived aversion to authority figures.

Spike remembers in vivid detail that long, awful night when Giles was a guest of Angelus; the night that saw the birth of his uneasy alliance with the Slayer, and the beginning of the end of his life with Drusilla. Remembers how Giles' screams had echoed through the empty rooms of the mansion, until at last they had petered out into hoarse groans and half-choked sobs. And yet the Watcher had withstood it all, the worst of Angelus; had held out for duty, or pride, or for the love of a tiny blonde girl who'd already started to pull on Spike's own heart.

It's impossible to remember that night and not feel a deep respect for Rupert Giles; but more impossible, still, for Spike to willingly show it, even if the bloke is fixing him with the same steel-gray gaze with which he stared down Angelus.

"What?" Spike asks, hoping his bored, tired tone hides any of those pesky uncomfortable feelings.

"I didn't start this to make accusations." Giles' voice is as firm and as penetrating as his gaze.

"Oh, really?" Spike raises an incredulous eyebrow. "You've got a funny way of showing it then, mate."

"Well, if you'd stop with the dramatics and listen to me for half a moment..."

Spike bit back a retort. Okay. "I'm listening."

Giles nods, looks mightily uncomfortable as he pinches the bridge of his nose. The silence around them begins to thicken, and Spike thinks he can actually hear the Watcher's teeth grinding together. Obviously he hadn't expected it to be quite that easy. Should've known ol' Spike just isn't up for the fighting these days.

Spike sighs and leans back against the doorframe. He can glimpse vivid brightness of the day outside through the blinds. The yellow of the sun, the brilliant azure of the sky, the richly fertile green of the grass and foliage, the occasional burst of a more passionate color in the flowering spring garden. Vampires live their lives in black and white and shades of gray, but the presence of the soul has reawakened the poet in him, and a part of him now longs for color.

Finally, Giles' voice breaks through his musings.

"Buffy told me that you went and sought a soul, voluntarily. Is this true?"

"You think I lied...?" Should have known Giles' would never believe that one. So why does he feel so disappointed?

"I don't think anything. That's why I am asking you."

Spike's feels his mouth go dry, and his fingers itch for a cigarette.

"Yeah. It's true," he says, keeping his voice as even as can be. "Went to Africa. Got the t-shirt with bonus soul. Back here to do good. Now, if you'll excuse me..."

"Do you realize the enormity of this Spike?" There's just a hint of something in Giles' voice; something that almost approaches hysteria. "Why would you do such a thing?"

"Why, to save the world and bring peace and freedom to the galaxy..." Spike's voice drips with sarcasm. "Why do you think I got it?"


"Clever boy."

"Good Lord." Giles half sighs, half groans. He leans heavily against the counter, one hand rubbing his temple as if the revelation has struck up a sudden, crippling headache. Not inconceivable that it had. "Does Buffy know this?"

"Yeah. She knows."

Knows all too well. Knows the need and pain and fear. All courtesy of one horrific night in an abandoned church when, still teetering between insanity and bleary coherence, he divulged everything to her in a typically melodramatic display of drama queen excess. Tears and self-pity and near immolation. No wonder she'd fled; he was lucky she hadn't laughed. God, how could he have been such a fool?

Giles stands in silence for a long time, not looking at Spike. Not looking at anything really, his eyes reflecting a distance that was rare in someone as steady and grounded as he. He's processing, filing, cataloguing, Spike realizes. Doing all those things librarians are meant to do when they get new information. Clearly having a hard time of it too, reconciling this new revelation with the existing mountain of contradictory lore.

"Crusty old books and dry Council sermons not prepare you for meeting a vamp who chooses a soul, eh Watcher?" Spike asks, barely keeping the slightly malicious amusement out of his voice.

"No". Giles answers simply. And the room lapses back into silence once more.

Eventually, Giles raises his gaze to meet Spike's again. It's steady, deadly serious, and nearly all Ripper. His voice is just as fearsome.

"Spike, I don't pretend to know the full extent of what happened between you and Buffy. Nor, do I ever want to. I've learnt that when it comes to Buffy, it is best not to pry into her personal affairs. As I told her, I can not control her, and I will not judge her, not even when she enters into what I consider to be a highly imprudent relationship."

Spike snorted. "That your version of giving us your blessing, Dad?"

"Certainly not!" Giles' eyes flash with the sharp, deadly intensity of an electrical storm. "I will never approve of Buffy's relationship with you. Just as I didn't approve of her relationship Angel. In my opinion, the entirety of your unlives are not worth of a moment of her time. But I am saying this. You have a soul now. Maybe you don't understand the enormity of it. I'm not sure that any of us do. But it is clearly an amazing thing and I don't think it was coincidental that it is happening now."

"Coincidental to what?"

"Coincidental to this; to what is coming. To what is already here. This foe is greater than anything Buffy has ever faced. Greater than anything anyone has ever faced. She needs friends who will stand behind her, no questions asked. Can you do that Spike?"

Stunned at the faith that Giles is seemingly placing in him, Spike can only nod his head once. "Yes."

"Very well. Then you do not have my blessing, but you do have my acceptance."

"Er...Thanks. I think."

Giles sighs deeply. "Very well then Spike. Now, get dressed. We have work to do."

Standing on the porch, Buffy watches in mute surprise as Spike and Giles go at it with staff and blade. Thrust, parry, twirl. Elegant blocks, complex foot movements, crafty changes in stance, all made look easy through Spike' exquisite grace and Giles' years of experience. She feels her lips begin to curve into a smile at the sight of the awe plastered across the faces of the young women who stand watching. This display is probably the last thing they expected to see tonight - the last thing she expected, for sure - but it's far from unwelcome.

Unconsciously, Buffy's gaze is slowly, inevitably, drawn to Spike in particular, and she finds herself scrutinizing his movements. To the girls, he doubtless looks amazing, sleek, and nimble and totally deadly, but her practiced warrior's eye immediately recognizes his weakness - The slight caution in his movements, the odd stiffness, the occasional flitter of his eyes and the brief grimaces that are quickly hidden. He's still injured, and she can can't help but feel a little - offended, or disappointed? - that her Slayer's blood isn't a total cure-all.

Still, not bad; big improvement from last night, when walking was an issue. She's a walking vampire-fountain-of-life. Sometimes, being the Slayer really did have it's bonuses.

The demonstration comes to an end, and Giles beckons Rona to come forth and take the blade. The girl is hesitant, scowling reluctantly, her street-wise attitude not quite disguising the shy trepidation in her face. She's clearly not pleased at being singled out as the demonstration model, to be put through her paces like a prize pet while the others sit back and watch. She's gonna have to get used to it, though. Being watched is all part of the fun Slayer package.

Buffy's always been watched; by Giles, the Council, her friends, her two vampire lovers, unnamed chroniclers, various demons, the Powers, and who knows what else. She feels that she's lived her life in a fishbowl - blurry faces belonging to unfathomable beings watching her every move for their personal enjoyment. Or maybe not a fishbowl, but a stage. Hadn't she sung that once? That's life's a show for everyone, but the Life of the Chosen One plays out on a particularly grand and gorgeous stage. It's a spectacle for a sell-out crowd. No wonder she's acquired the acting skills to deserve a standing ovation.

In the yard below, Spike and Rona circle each other slowly, the girl cautious and serious, the vampire slightly grinning in that intense, vampiric way that still frightens Buffy, reminding her that Spike remains The Other. He starts his attack suddenly, jabbing the staff. He's slow, but not exactly gentle, and they both yelp as the wood cracks against Rona's ribs. She retreats slightly, but her dark eyes are ever more determined, her posture wary and ready. When Spike tries to same attack again, she blocks it easily, and her next series of parries is more impressive still. The girl's got spunk, Buffy has to give her that.

Buffy's never had that, that training to be a Slayer; never knew a time when being one was something to work towards and practice for. She'd learned and adapted. But even after all of these years, it's all still an act; an extended, obsessive period of method acting designed to present a comfortable and acceptable faade, a persona to appear in chronicles and histories, to satisfy the demands of her mysterious destiny.

And she'd fooled everyone... Except Spike. She'd never been able to fool Spike. But then, she'd never needed too. With him, there was so little need for pretense. So little point, really. Those steely blue eyes saw straight through her artifice and lies. Spike wasn't interested in perfect Buffy; he didn't need her to be a hero to hang onto. He knew her, understood, and always - always - loved her.

Spike looks up and sees this, her face appearing to brighten even in the dim evening light. His gaze is lean and hot and hungry, where hers is green and cool, and as she meets its stare, she feels the last of her lingering doubt evaporates beneath the penetrating fire of his blue-flame eyes. This is her Spike, here before her, fully souled, but still with all his passion and wit, still possessed of that intense and adoring love that threatens to consume him from within. All here, and all hers, should she want it.

And, oh, how she does.

Spike's still looking her, his lips curled in an endearingly cautious half-smile. They exchange a brief, indescribable looks. A mutual acknowledgment that they will talk, later. She forces down the rising heat, the sudden feeling of dizziness as Giles beckons for the next potential to take to the ring, and the training starts again.

Unable to watch any longer, Buffy escapes into the house.

Suddenly the thought of cooking dinner for a dozen seems significantly less intimidating.

"You're smoking again."

Spike glances up form his position on the steps of the Summer's back porch. Buffy's standing in the kitchen doorway, the back-light from the kitchen illuminating her hair and casting her slender form in an alluring silhouette.

"Er, yeah..." he responds, before trailing off uncertainly.

He worries for a moment that she is scolding him, but her smile is as wide and bright as a distantly remembered sunrise, and her eyes are sparkling with a twinkle of amusement that he hasn't seen on her weary face in so long. She's teasing him. He drops his gaze to the smoldering cigarette in order to hide his delighted smile. It's been so long since either of them has been in the mood to be playful, to participate in any kind of their usual witty repartee.

Spike fixes his gaze on the smoke as it weaves and dances its way skyward, drawing intricate patterns in the air before dissipating slowly into the cooler night sky. Funny, how he notices little things like that again now - the beauty of swirling gray, the exotic orange flare of the burning paper; simple things, unnoticed for more than a century, are once again absorbing.

William's influence; the wanker.

Spike shakes his head slightly to clear the ghostly cobwebs.

"Nabbed it from your Watcher," he replies with a shrug.

"Giles smokes?"

He can hear the laughter in her voice; tinkling little bells that cause his skin to dance and his heart to soar. She's in a rare mood tonight, charming and tantalizing in all her girlish good humor. He wonders what's gotten into her, and whether he can seal it in.

"When he worries for you, yeah. Not his brand, though. Think he bought them for me. Rupes is an okay bloke, once you get to know him."

"Giles mentioned over dinner that you'd had a chat."

He did? That surprises Spike, and he wonders briefly how much to say.

"We came to an understanding. Of sorts."

"I'm glad, Spike."

Buffy covers the few paces between the porch and the steps, and then plunks herself down next to him. The move's a strange combination of clumsy and graceful, like she's coordinated but couldn't care less. It strikes him as an open move, devoid of pretense and posturing. He continues to watch her out of the corner of his eyes as she fidgets for a second, then folds her hands in her lap and follows his gaze into the night.

This is a familiar position, hip to hip, parallel stares. But this quiet companionship, the giving of conditional comfort had seemed foreign to him before, even unnatural. He'd let his heart guide him and put on a good show at it, such a good show, in fact, that the seed of their friendship was planted here. Now, nearly two years later, it's finally in bloom.


He thinks they're friends. Hopes they are. Still sometimes hope for more than but...But Hope is a mercurial little bitch; sweet and painful in turn, and he doesn't let her seduce him too often. Right now, though, he feels himself giving into the sweet agony of Hope's embrace, allowing her to remind him again of how so close, and yet how far he is to that which he so craves.

And yet, even as he longs to reach across and take her hand, to touch her and love her, a part of him thinks that this - this friendship - is enough. Spike reminds himself of how blind he was last year, how damnably stupid as to believe that frantic, grasping shagging and random acts of violence could amount to a real relationship. He'd been kidding himself the whole time; convinced himself that if she was fucking him - pitiful, evil, disgusting him - then she must have felt something, some connection beyond the physical. Why else would she debase herself? But, oh, he knows her now. Knows with the clarity of hindsight that it was never about him. It was always about her and her need to punish herself for being alive. She'd not seen him at all, and certainly never loved him.

You don't feel love for just a Thing. You use it.

Funny thing is, Spike still can't truly think of unsoulled vampires in quite such simplistic terms. He wonders if even Angel can. He's no problems dusting the ones he doesn't know, the barnyard bloodsuckers that are a dime a dozen in Sunnydale. He'd never had a lot of time for minions, so nothing much had changed on that front.

But then there is Dru. Evil and twisted as she was, the mention of her name, the memory of her soft hair and white body, of their century of togetherness, still kindles a certain dark fire in his heart. Did she love him? He doesn't know. But he loved her, right? Would've died for her. Probably still couldn't kill her, ranting threats aside. No, he can not think of Dru as a thing. Not yet, maybe never. Doesn't even know if he wants to.

Bloody hell, the soul is making him melancholy tonight.

"It's a beautiful night," Buffy comments suddenly, breaking through his thoughts and offering him a reprieve from his depressing inner monologue.

He has to smile at that. Damned if he'd admit it out loud, but she's right. The clouds have begun to clear and the nearly full moon casts silver shadows across the yard. Best of all, she's sitting beside him, heart calm and steady, color in her cheeks and mouth turned up in a smile. Beautiful indeed.

"You're in a blinding mood tonight, Slayer."

"Huh?" She raises an eyebrow in confusion, brow creasing slightly in a way that makes him grin.

"Happy, pet. You're happy." Another drag from his cigarette, a long exhale. He's scrupulously remembering to blow the smoke from Buffy's cancer-sensitive human lungs.

Buffy shrugs a shoulder, pushes a wayward strand of hair behind one ear. "Surprised, huh?"

He shrugs a little. It is and it isn't. "Long while since I said that, ain't it? 'Tis good to see."

'Cause, if he believes her friends, believes her, then Buffy is often happy. Just never when she's around him.

"Well, I've got a lot to be happy about," she says determinedly. "I had a great day at work. I came home to find Dawn in an unusually happy mood. Then I see you and Giles, with the working together. And you up and about and being helpful and teacher-y." She flashes that gorgeous smile again, the one that reaches her eyes and lights up all of her features. "That was a good moment. So, yeah, I guess I am feeling remarkably generous and open-minded about everything right now."

"That right? Your feeling 'generous' are you?" Spike smirks softly, figures he can get away with a bit of fun. "You know Slayer, 'm still feeling a bit weak. Seeing as you're feeling so 'generous' and such... 'Nother taste of the good stuff would heal it right up..."

He's careful to keep the words gently teasing, without a trace of serious intent. He's not sure how to handle this new easiness between them. But he hopes his eyes reflect the depth of his gratitude.

The glint in Buffy's eye is a delight to see, and her reply almost makes him fall off the stairs. "I'm sure we'll find plenty of opportunities to let you... taste me."

Spike's stomach drops, and it's as if the seat beneath him falls away as well. 'Shocked' isn't a strong enough word, but his mind refuses to submit another. His jellied brain refuses even to comply with his subconscious' demand that it closes his gaping mouth. And then, this thinking process stops entirely as she reaches over and threads her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck, and begins to caress the skin there gently with her slightly callused fingers. The movement is soft, gentle, and intimate, much like the pattern of his thumb on her wrist the night before. He feels her touch reverberate through every part of his body.

He knows this can't be happening; the flirting, the touching, the sexual innuendo behind the offer of more 'tasting.' He must be dreaming, or deluded, or maybe both. Or perhaps she's simply joined him in Gah Gah Land. He'd thought when he was a kid madness was contagious; this must be proof.

"Buffy..." he begins, but his voice cracks and dies. Fuck.

"Shh, Spike," Buffy coaxes softly, much as she would a child. "Don't say anything. Just...enjoy the night."

Spike usually follows his blood, lives by the motto. But right now, he's not sure that's such a great idea, lest he mess up this most amazing of moments. Buffy is so calm, so beautiful like this, skin white and hair glistening silver beneath Artemis' light. He feels his still heart ache, his love and adoration and desire sore. He knows thousands of lines of poetry, masters a-plenty, and not one does her justice. His strong, amazing Slayer.

A long moment passes as Spike struggles for control of his turbulent emotions, and his rebellious body. He can't leave it at that. Impatient, demanding as always, he needs to know what this is about. Finally, he swallows and licks his lips. Looking at her is suddenly too much, so when he speaks, he addresses some spot on grass between them.

"We back together then?" he asks.

Buffy draws a quick, harsh breath, body tense. But she exhales slowly, her clothing rustling softly as she turns to look at him. The seconds seem like hours as he waits for her response.

"Do you wanna be? Back together?"

Her words cut through flesh and bone as a sword, penetrating him to the core and leaving him speechless. For a moment, Spike wonders if he has misheard, and then if he has misinterpreted. Only a question, he reminds himself sharply, not an offer. But his answer escapes his lips before he fully has tome to think.

"Do I... Do you need to ask? Course I do! God, Buffy, more than anything. I'd do anything for you. Be anything..."

Only, the words aren't true. Not really. And as he they pass his lips, his voice fades and he looks away; buries his gaze in the garden, somewhere amongst the strawberries. Silence suddenly falls between them, and the night air grows thick and heavy beneath the weight of memory. Spike can sense the burning blood rise in Buffy's cheeks, can feel the slight shudder of her body and then the rise of her heart as she wraps her arms around herself.

"I thought we went over this last night."

"Did we?"

"Spike..." Her voice fades beneath he silent gaze.

He grinds his teeth as he searches for words. When he finally speaks, it is with unusual slowness and consideration. "Last night, you said you were scared of hiding, of bottling everything up and lying to yourself. So am I. I love you Buffy. You know that. Love you more than anything. But I don't want to be your security blanket again. I don't..." His voice cracks. Becoming a habit, that is. He looks up, pleads with his eyes as much as his voice. Please understand. "I couldn't bear it, Buffy. Not again. Please don't ask it of me."

As he finishes, Buffy's features relax, and he can almost feel the ripple of her body as the relief washes over her. He can certainly smell the slightly salty tang of the tears that suddenly glisten in the corners of her large, green eyes.

"Oh, Spike..." Buffy allows her hand, long forgotten on the back of his neck, to glide across to cheek, leaving a trail of fire in its wake. "You're not going to be my security blanket again. I don't even need one anymore. Security blanket-free me!" She pauses for a second, perhaps waiting for a smile, but he can't quite manage one. The liquid pools in her eyes begin to overflow, tears leaving trails down her cheeks, but her voice is soft as silk. "No more hiding, Spike. I want us to go in there now, together, hand in hand. You and me. You as my boyfriend. They can deal."

Spike wonders if he heard that right, because suddenly there are insects in his head, buzzing wildly, worse than the chip, tickling his mind with images. Last night; this...this declaration, what she is offering, it's almost too much. He stares at her for a moment, assessing her countenance, confirming to his screaming mind's satisfaction that, this time, she is being honest, with him and with herself.

Her face is open, clear, and he knows she's telling the truth. Spike finds he has no choice but to close his eyes against the wave of relief, happiness and desire.

Boyfriend. Stupid term, but it makes him deliriously happy anyway.

Spike feels her lips against his eyelids, first one, then the other. He opens his eyes to meet hers, bright and caring. And then everything feels to be melting as her captures her lips in what feels, to him, like their first real kiss.


It's the first time that she's really kissed Spike. Like, really, truly kissed him and meant it and been all there - mind, body and soul.

And, wow, it's good.

They start slowly, lips touching gently and softly, breaking apart after each brief contact and starting again. Quiet, tentative, taking the time just to get to know each other again. Licks and nips at that lush lower lip - who knew a male pout could be so enticing? Tastes just the tip of his tongue. Her hands run up and down his arms, his back, cup his cheek and the base of his neck. She can feel the warm, damp heat pool in her stomach trickle into her groin.

Time passes - seconds, minutes, Buffy's really not sure - and hands and lips grow bolder, more urgent. The spark of passion ignites quickly in her burning heart, spreads like wildfire across her body, enlivening every nerve. She feels alive - truly alive - the beat of her heart pounding through her body, the sound of her breathing deafening. There's a buzzing between her ears, and it grows louder and louder, becomes a roar as a tsunami of raw need rushes over her, ripping through the last of inhibitions and barriers and leaving her quivering, panting and desperate for more. Desperate for Spike.

Moaning what sounds, she hopes, like his name, Buffy grabs Spike's solid upper arms hard, pulls their bodies together, forces his mouth open and plunges her tongue inside. He growls beneath her, the low, rumbling sound vibrating through his body and into hers, teasing her already raw nerves into a frenzy of sensation. His tongue is smooth, wet, but sensual as velvet. He tastes of cigarettes and whiskey and all things deadly and dark.

He entwines his tongue with hers, strokes and fights in turn. Oh, his long, clever tongue, his wicked mouth. How she's missed this. How she's missed him. She deepens the kiss further; ups the passion a little more, allows their mouths and teeth and tongues to alternately conflict and caress; a reflection of the very nature of their clashing, contradictory relationship.

Never one to be left behind, Spike's reciprocating with equal need, pulling her into the nonexistent space between their bodies, clasping her with a strength no mortal man could ever hope to match. His body begins to vibrate enticingly as he makes that low, growly noise deep in his throat that he must know turns her on. The hairs on her arms bristle in response and she feels a flood of liquid between her legs, the duality of her slayerness laid bare as her body both craves and rejects that which is so obviously not quite human.

It's lust that wins out easily as Spike's knowing fingers trace up her arm, into her hair, along her back and then down her arm again; wrist to shoulder once, twice, then a third spine-tingling, limb-melting time. Her arms are soft and pliable as he finds her hand with his, squeezes gently, the sensation rippling up her jellied nerves. She squeezes in response, kisses him that little bit deeper. This sexy handholding is fast becoming their "thing."

She feels him raise their joined hands, pull them into the spare space between their breasts. He places them over her pounding, over-worked heart, then pulls back from her mouth to meet her gaze. His crystalline eyes are nearly black, pupils wide and dilated, but shot with flashes of rippling gold. Man and demon in one, so very much the essence of her Spike. He holds her eyes for another second, his look all intense devotion and tenderness, and then drops his gaze to where their fingers lie intertwined on her rapidly rising and falling chest.

"Source of both our lives," he whispers quietly, voice ragged but powerful all the same.

Her heart skips a beat, pounding out its agreement beneath his touch. Blood to blood, her life to his, a bond forged in battle and pain and sharing healing. But she's lost for anything to say, be it profound or mundane, and so she goes the action route again. Leaning into him, she captures their hands between them as she twists her free hand into his hair and kisses him with everything she has. She hopes that he can feel her wholehearted agreement, her acceptance of their bond and partnership, even if she can't quite say the words yet.

Spike's trapped hand releases hers, his palm opens to caress her breasts, her ribs, then down her flank to the small of her back. A path of fire smolders on her skin in its wake. His other hand still grasps her upper arm, fingers digging into her skin with a near-brutality born of urgency and need and inhuman passion. A sudden flash of movement, tight muscles flexing, and he pulls her into his lap as she climbs closer to him herself, determined to eliminate every unwelcome inch of space between them.

Clasping each other, bodies melded together like this, hands exploring and chests pounding, it's vividly, evocatively reminiscent of their coupling the night before. She can feel her blood pulsing through her again, beating at the covered holes in her wrist, moving with such urgency that it is heating to near boiling beneath her skin. The bite marks, the nerves down her arm, even the already-fading scar on her neck, tingle in expectation and her body shudders dramatically at the memory. Something within her cries out for more.

Unbelievable, she thinks distractedly, that they'd never tried the biting before. She'd allowed him to penetrate her in every other way, with cock and tongue and clever hands, through his darkened, tempting gaze and slick, smooth words, but never with his fangs. He must have thought about it. Had he been afraid of her reaction if asked? That she'd say "no"? Or maybe that she'd say "yes".

She thinks that if he had dared ask, she probably would have let him. He would have gotten quite a surprise. God, if he asked now...

It's not just the physical, although that was fantabulously satisfying. She's simply never been so close to anyone before, never opened up and let anyone that far in. Closeness is good. She knows that now. Wants to create it again, and again, and again. No more fears, no more hiding...

Buffy's thought processes fizzle out again as Spike scoops her up, turns their bodies over and settles her against the soft, wood of the porch. It groans slightly beneath them, and her hyper-sensitive body can feel the grain of the wood beneath her, smell the slight dampness and the worn lacquer that coats the boards. He positions himself across her possessively, holding her down with his slight weight. It's familiar, and comforting, but way too polite. She grabs his hips and hauls him fully on top of her. He doesn't resist, indeed shifts for maximum contact. They both gasp as he presses his hardness against her softness, as she yields and bucks beneath him.

Their combined sounds are exceptionally loud in the still, night air, and seem to echo through the trees, bounce off an air so thick with passion that it's almost tangible. Spike breaks the kiss to stare at her in alarm, but right now, Buffy can't bring herself to care. It's late and, besides, what's one more spectacle for the neighbors? God knows this place is freak show enough. Filled to the brim with the weird and wonderful and not-so-unique. Filled, too, with duty and solemnity and things that, for this moment, she'd rather just forget in favor of making out with her boy on the porch.

Determinedly, Buffy raises one leg and wraps it around Spike's, pulling him as close as she can. An instant later, he reaches down, runs his hand along her thigh and then pulls her other leg into the same position. Yes. Good, good, good. She pushes herself up against him, and he starts to grind himself into her, pointedly, almost desperately, swallowing her escalating moans with a brutally intense kiss. She responds by running her hands down the plane of his back, over his tight, hard ass and then back up, under the T-shirt,t-shirt, pushing the fabric up as she goes. Spike's skin is cool and dry, familiar in its difference to her own. Her hands are drenched with sweat, red and flushed against his milky white.

Spike continues to push himself against her, eliciting shocks up her back and tremors through her limbs. His fingers continue to trace a line up the muscles of her thigh, under her skirt, drawing small circles on her skin.

Only to draw to a trembling halt on her hip.

Spike's not quite sure how it came to this. Wonders if perhaps he really is still dreaming that there's a hot, trembling Slayer beneath him, holding him close, wanting him near, allowing him to tease her, and love her and touch her with everything he is. No, not a Slayer. The Slayer. His Slayer. His Slayer, letting him kiss her with love and tenderness and passion, kissing him back like she really means those same things too. Like she doesn't just want this, but wants him.

It's a dream, it's gotta be a dream. Except it can't be, because not even in his most glorious delusions has he imagined anything quite like this.

It's good. Beyond good. Splendid. Marvelous. Bleedin' fantastic.

Totally, fucking terrifying.

Her closeness, the taste of her, the smell of her, the feel of her, wet and ready and willing beneath him, the knowledge that she wants him, the concern in her eyes. It's almost too much, and he's losing control.

His dick is achingly, painfully hard, his hands are trembling, his balls feel like lead and he is seriously scared that he is about to come in his pants for the second time in twelve hours. Fuck this, what was he? Eighteen again? Or even twenty-five? A trembling virgin who got off on the thought of Cecily's dcolletage and the stocking clad ankles of the daringly dressed New Women? A pathetic child in a demon's body, desperate and sad and liable to do anything for love... No, not again. Never that again.

Suddenly, he needs to stop. Needs to take control, to think. Needs to make sure she wants this, that she's okay with this after...after what happened. Before. Needs to take this somewhere else, someplace not rushed or urgent. Need to not shag her on the porch beneath her sister's bedroom window.

But also needs to do this now, to finish what they've started before he literally bursts.

Needs to do anything, really, but lie here paralyzed with his hand up the Slayer's skirt.

Buffy makes his decision for him, takes control, but thankfully softly, gently not in the General-like manner she's been adopting lately.

"Spike? What's wrong?" she asks calmly, as she stills her hands. Her beautiful face is as open as he's ever seen it, and even the shadows can't hide the warmth and concern that radiate from her. Nor, if truth be told, the slightly worried, anxious look in her eyes.

What isn't?

Spike swallows hard, concentrates on taking control of his willful, rebellious body.

"Buffy...this, this is wrong. Me here, like this, after...everything that's happened. It's too much...I don't deserve...I mean, we need time."

He feels Buffy's body relax beneath him, the sudden tension draining from her limbs again. Her hand resumes its passage up and down his back, stroking more gently this time, and he feels nerves settle in response to her touch. When she speaks again, her voice is even, steady and comforting. It's so long since anyone has spoken to him in such a way, probably just as long since Buffy has spoken to anyone at all like that.

"We've been over this Spike. I forgive you. You forgive me. Time to move on." Reaching up, she kisses him again, then adds with a teasing smile, "Yadda, yadda, yadda."

Yes, move on. Move on. Move on to the sex, which they're so good at, and then move past it and onto something more this time, too. And, oh, how he wishes he could box up all those fears and regrets and leave them by the roadside as he rides away. But letting go of the past is always so difficult, and he clings to emotional mementos like a drowning man clings to a thrown rope.

Spike drops his head to Buffy's shoulder, rests his face in the hollow of her neck. Buffy's skin beneath his nose is soft and smooth and smells of soap and sweat and lingering body lotion.

"Just never thought we'd get this far again," he admits. It's almost a sob, and he can't believe how pathetic he sounds; how pathetic he is, lying here between the slayer's legs, surrounded by the sweet scent of her arousal, and blubbering like a baby.

Get a grip, mate.


He gently nuzzles deeper into the area between her clavicle and her neck as he concentrates on recapturing control over his traitorous body. He's almost there, when her next question gives his precariously balanced emotional equilibrium a vicious push.

"Is it different?" she asks quietly. "This? You know... with a soul?"

Spike raises his head abruptly, stares at her. For a moment, the need to protect himself is sharp and intense, and he's tempted to lie. To say what the lady-killing Big Bad should say. But he can't, he's so tired of pretending, and the honest truth tumbles out unbidden.

"I... So far? Yeah, I would think... well, not the mechanics, don't think, but maybe the connection... I mean, never burst into tears before...." He draws a shuddery breath, decides to just come clean. "I'm not rightly sure. Least, not yet."

A second later, Buffy's eyes widen with surprise as the full purport of which he just said hits her.

"You mean, you've never? With a soul?" She nearly squeaks out the question.

He sucks his cheeks in. Opened a potential can o' worms now, another reason for her pity. But what's the point in denying it? Better to make a bit of a boon out of it, maybe. He forces his lips into what he hopes passes for a sexy smirk.

"Like that, wouldn't you slayer?" he asks. "Getting to deflower the Big Bad and all?"

She doesn't bat an eyelid. "Maybe I would."

He can't help it, she's too adorable and plucky, so sexily coy that he just has to laugh. A second later, and she's giggling too, burying her face in his shirt to muffle the sound or wipe the tears. He's not sure what's so funny, and isn't convinced that she is either - unless she's cracking up at how totally ridiculous he is, which is a likely if somewhat disconcerting possibility.

Doesn't really matter, though, not when it feels as good as this. Not when she's actually happy. Happy with him.

Finally, she pulls back from him, captures his eyes with a warm, open gaze.

"Spike, I want you. Okay? The rest? So over it. But we don't have to do anything. Not if you don't want to."

"Want to do everything...but take things slowly, yeah?"

She nods. "Can do. I think."

He shoots a quick look up at the bedrooms above them. "And maybe also take things elsewhere?" he adds as an afterthought.

"Good idea." She says as she pushes him off her gently, climbs to her feet and then offers him her hand. "C'mon Spike, let's go to bed."


The word has an instant effect on him, and he can feel the blood rush south as the words escape her lips. Her bed, her room. Finally her lover. He feels like he's about to faint from the happiness. Or maybe just from lack of blood in the brain. He's so completely, painfully hard that he doubts there's any blood left for any other functions.

Grasping his hand in hers, Buffy leads him inside, and he follows her as always. Will follow her to the ends of the Earth; would walk there himself if she ordered. Still, he's not sure how he makes it up the stairs, not when he's this hard and high and Buffy's firm little ass is swinging mere inches from his face. It's a matter of concentration, he tells himself, of putting one foot in front of the other, of not tripping and making an even bigger ponce of himself than he already has.

Once the landing is reached, it's a dozen quiet steps down the carpeted hallway until he finds himself standing paralyzed and mute in her bedroom doorway for the second time in just three nights. Releasing his hand, Buffy busies herself turning down the covers. The new sheets are pale and blue, the quilt-cover an intricate quasi-patchwork, the kind of cheap but attractive thing you picked up at the local Home Decor. Spike chooses not to dwell on how he knows that.

The scent of two slow-burning sandalwood candles covers the faint aroma of his vampire and pigs' blood. Did she light them in preparation for tonight? It causes a shiver of pleasure to think that she did. The Slayer; his seductress.

As she turns back to him, Buffy pulls the band from her hair, lets the golden waves fall over her shoulders. It's possibly the most erotic thing he's ever seen. He's suddenly not exactly sure what he's meant to be doing.


She doesn't answer. Instead, she stands, walks back to him, runs her hands down his cheeks and up on tippy-toes, kisses him. Kisses his nose, his eyes, his cheeks and forehead, everywhere she can reach. He tries to capture her lips, misses, and ends up kissing her cheek, then her temple. They break away and smile, the look on her face happy and indulgent. She's glowing.

The air crackles with nervous expectation.

"Welcome home, Spike," she whispers gently, and his unnecessary breath hitches in his throat at her words. Maybe, finally, he's found a place where he belongs.

He's not exactly sure how, but they manage to stumble back to the bed, and she pulls him down next to her, runs her hand down his cheek and leans in for another kiss. This time, they get it right again. They set a slightly different pace now, long, languid kisses, slow and deep. He can still sense the blood pounding under her lips, through her veins, and his demon rumbles within him. But there is no longer the same agonizingly frantic energy that there was before, the same need for instant gratification. He can be gentle now; there's no contest between them, less urgency. It's a new kind of dancing, the intricate movements of partners with all the trust and time in the world. Gonna take it slow, accordingly. Prove that he's good for more than a quick fuck in an alley, or a fast screw on the crypt floor.

Yeah, gonna prove he's as good at this with the soul as without. Damn good.

He moves to kiss her cheek, teases the hot, flushed skin with lips and tongue. He continues down the sensitive underside of her chin and neck, before gently pushing aside her hair and running the tip of his tongue up the side of her neck, drawn to the quivering pulse point and the messy scar. She hums at his touch, a low, rich sound that starts deep in her throat and reverberates through her entire body. He nips at her skin with blunt teeth in response, tries not to think about the others who marked her, and stamps hard on his demon as it screams its jealousy and anger. Who cares what Angel got to do to her when she was a kid? It's he who's here now, he who she is clutching to her and bucking beneath.

Possessively, he slides a hand down her ribs, over her tummy and hipbones, and then lower still. She gasps when he runs his fingers along the delicate crease between leg and torso, and then over her skirt until he reaches the naked skin above her knee. Her skin is fire to his ice, river to his desert, a clash of opposites drawn together beneath the potent power of an electrical, emotional storm. He grabs her knee for a moment, as much to steady himself as to seek contact with her, and then boldly runs his hand back under her skirt, along the top of her thigh.

Warrior's legs, she has, toned and strong. He can feel her taut muscles quiver and jump beneath her soft, womanly skin. Steel encased in silk, that's his woman. His hand moves higher, and he's slightly surprised but overwhelmingly pleased, to find that the skin between her thighs is already heavy, slippery with delicious moisture. She's ready for him, wants him, and he isn't about to disappoint her.

Her eyes open and meet his and he gently tickles the warm skin on the inside of her thigh, then higher along the silken edge of her panties and the so-soft skin that lies outside. Her eyes dilate, lips part, and she shifts and widens her legs a little further in response to his attentions. Boldly, he runs his finger over her sodden panties, and she gasps and jumps at his touch, gasps and grips his arms. He smirks, proffers a few more quick strokes, and then grabs the delicate fabric and yanks it away. It gives easily, leaving her bare beneath the skirt, and an intense wave of her arousal flows into the air around him.

"Hey, those were expensive!" she gasps.

Spike's allows his smirk to widen into a genuine grin, then deliberately brings the sodden dark green lace to his nose and inhales deeply. Essence of Slayer, dizzyingly rich and potent aroma. Fires his brain better than the best absinthe.

"Much appreciated, pet," he says, before throwing what is left of the garment onto the bedroom floor. Makes a note to collect it later.

Buffy answers him with a patented Summers' eyeroll, but it's offset by a devilish grin of her own. He stares as she runs her hands down her lace blouse, pulling the material tight over her breasts, then clasping the hem teasingly. He swallows hard, licks his lips, as she begins to pull the clothing up, revealing a swath of golden skin stretching across sharp hipbones and sensuous, defined stomach. She's beautiful - did he really forget how much? - and the need to touch every inch of her is suddenly overwhelming. He reaches for her again, and she shudders as he caresses the skin above the hem of her skirt, then runs his hands up her flanks and over her ribs, chasing the teasing path revealed by the escaping blouse. His hands are still slicked from his earlier explorations, and his touch leaves a slight trial of her own arousal on her already sweat-coated body.

She's wearing a simple cotton bra and his hands stop when they reach the bindings, determined to explore the small fabric-clad mounts. She arches into him as his thumbs trace her nipples, throwing the shirt away in a complimentary movement. The feel and sight is irresistible, her little breasts thrusting straight into his hands and toward his mouth. He bends down and runs his tongue over one concealed nipple, then across the smooth skin above the fabric, and into the valley between her breast. She shivers under his ministrations and soon her hands are pulling at his own clothing, pushing up his T-shirt and stroking his straining cock through the coarse denim of his now painfully tight jeans.

Spike yields to her desires. Standing quickly, shakily - each moment without her touch sharper and more agonizing that any deliberate torture - he tugs his T-shirt over his head, deposits it on the floor and then tears at the buttons on his jeans. His cock springs free, ready and willing, engorged with borrowed blood, much of it hers. It leaps a little more when Buffy's eyes shoot straight to it. Hastily, Spike pushes his jeans down the rest of the way, only to experiences a moment of sheer embarrassment as he tries to kick the pants' legs off without falling over. If Buffy notices, she lets it slide, her heated, hungry gaze and burning emerald eyes making it clear she's got more important things on her mind than holding this sudden clumsiness against him.

Fully aware of his scrutiny, Buffy kneels up and, after a tortuous moment's pause, slowly slides down the zipper on her skirt, then shimmies out of it in a gracefully appealing maneuver that is testament to the many less obvious uses for Slayer co-ordination.

She's naked before him, and his tears evaporate in the wave of pure animal heat that shoots through his body. Christ she's beautiful, even more so than last year. Small and slender, deceptively fragile, but there is now an added fullness to her form that is deliciously feminine.

"Come here, Spike." She smiles seductively, extending her hand. Spike grabs it, kisses it as fervently as William would have, had William ever gotten within touching distance of a real, live woman. He teases the healing wounds on the delicate inside of her wrist. The blood rushes beneath, thick and rich and tasty, the already intoxicating aroma enhanced by the salty tang of her sweat and the marvelous fragrance of her arousal. The surrounding air is suddenly redolent with the essence of everything Buffy that he thinks he can taste it.

Her small hand twists around his wrist and she pulls him onto the bed with a strength that belies the girlish giggle that escapes her mouth. A rare, vibrant sound, it causes him just as much pleasure as the physical touching. She's laughing, playing with him, and he can feel her body shudder and thrum as she climbs over his, kisses his again with a smile on her mouth. It's never been anything like this before. Never this comfortable, this easy, this free from pretense and... well, friendly.

He feels unbidden tears threaten at the corners of his eyes. Bloody hell, not again. Definitely not now!

Thankfully, the tears are quickly forgotten as she fixes her mouth on his Adam's apple, then nibbles her way over his clavicles and down his pecs. Accomplished at this, she is now. Knows him well enough to know what works, and it fills him with happiness and pride that she remembers so well. He can't help but squirm as her mouth works lower, and he gasps loudly, jerks, and almost comes as she fixes her mouth on his nipple and bites down firmly.

He feels her smile against him as she continues to lick her way down his chest and stomach. Her tongue circles his navel, causing his back to arch involuntarily and his toes to curl. She wiggles against him seductively as she moves lower still, until finally he can feel her warm, wet breath against the head of his dick. A second later, she runs her tongue up his length with absolute precision, leaving a trial of wet heat in her wake.


She makes that soft, giggly sound again, looks up at him with mischief in her eyes.

"So tense," she murmurs, running her hand down his trembling thigh. "Relax a little, okay?"

"Yeah, relax. With your lips on my sensitive parts? Not bloody likely, Slayer."


Her hot mouth descends on him again, licking the head then enveloping him as deeply as possible. Fuck, it's incredible. She's incredible. And she's enjoying this. Enjoyed it before, too, he thinks, but not for the same reason. Not about power this time, no struggle for control. Sharing, exploring, being...and, God, if she keeps this up he's gonna continue the theme of the night and make a real right fool of himself. His body jerks once, violently, in agreement. Gotta stop this now.

"Buffy... stop."

She looked up, eyes filled with uncertainty. "You don't want me to...?"

"Fuck, yeah I do. But it's been a while and... I want to be inside you."

As soon as the words escape his mouth, he realizes his mistake, recalls the memories that line is bound to evoke. Buffy tenses sharply for a moment, and he freezes, bites his lip, watches a succession of emotions rush across her face. There's fear, he recognizes that, feels it shoot from her and slice through him with vicious ease. But it's gone fast, replaced briefly by confusion, then the calm of resignation and, finally, determination.

"Love, give, forgive..." she whispers quietly. Then she opens her eyes, fixes the dark green orbs on him. "...and move on."

She sounds as if she's quoting something; chanting it as a mantra. He's never thought of her as the literary type, not one for books and slabs of text. But she's brilliant at everything she tries, be good with words if she tried. And wherever she picked this up, it suits him well.

She's crawling up his body now. Small, graceful, proudly feline; gold-gleaming hair framing her face as a mane, eyes wide, bright, predatory. It sends a thrill through his body, toes to brows, to know he is claimed by such a majestic creature. He's hers to do what she pleases with; has been for so long now that he's not sure what he did before his world revolved around her sun. Wouldn't want it any other way. She kisses him again, and their tongues gently intertwine as she presses her naked form against him for a long, beautiful moment.

Lips still touching, Spike opens his eyes to find that she is watching him too. It should be weird, this open-eyed kissing, but instead it's richly intimate, sensual, the connection between them almost touchable, enveloping them with it's intensity. She's looking into his soul, baring her own. In that moment he knows that she is his, too.

"I love you so much," he says, the words barely more than a whisper. When their lips finally separate again, Buffy is gasping for air.

The moment is gone, and her gaze drops into hiding beneath her long, dark lashes. "I..." she begins, and he senses the uncertainty.

"Shh...don't. Unless you mean it..."

His heart is crumbling, reality slithering like a cold serpent through his bones. He'd gotten his hopes up too high, when this - to be wanted, needed, cared for and desired - should be more than enough. Reckless, as always. He swallows hard against the sudden wave of something that feels very much like nausea.

But her hand on his cheek, gentle and caressing, settles his nerves and she guides his now blurry gaze back to hers. He is surprised to see that her eyes, too, glisten with unshed tears.

"I do mean it. Or I want to..." Her voice fades off, and she closes her eyes for a moment, blinks away the pooling liquid. When she opens them again, the irises are calm and clear. She beckons between them, runs her other hand down his naked chest.

"This is easy for me, Spike. This, physical, doing stuff. But the other, mushy, gushy stuff? Not so much... Also, I've already out-mushed myself tonight..." She pushes herself up so she's on hands and knees above his stomach, looking down on him, her skin not quite touching his. His erection bobs behind her, not quite within reach.

"Buffy, you don't have to..."

"No, I...I want to." She says the last part determinedly. "I need to." She fixes her intense gaze on him and draws a deep breath. When she speaks, her voice is soft and sweet as honey.

"I love you Spike."

He knows it's the truth. She's not hiding anymore, not acting. It's just her. His Buffy. Looking down at him, completely honest and open. He'd never, in all these years of watching her - stalking her, really - seen her look more beautiful.

He closes his eyes against the rush of pure happiness. Her words are better than anything he's ever experienced, far better than football, or killing a Slayer, or even hours of rutting with Buffy on the floor of that abandoned house. Thanks the Gods for a curse-free soul, 'cause otherwise it'd be gone right now.

Then his eyes fly open as she lowers herself onto his near-forgotten erection, enveloping him slowly, inch by glorious inch, in her amazing heat. The moment is so intense, so right and splendid, that he imagines his soul and demon dancing hand in hand. And then he can think of nothing further as her tight, strong slayer muscles clench around him, and he is lost amidst the swell of overwhelming, incredible, impossible pleasure.


Had she really forgotten how good this feels, the cool, hard length of him pressed into her? They're a perfect fit, always have been, his size filling her to perfection, the borrowed blood inside of him pulsing and pleasuring her in near perfect time to the intense, urgent throbbing in her groin and womb.

As she lowers herself onto him completely, Spike makes a strange sound, somewhere between a whine, a gasp and a cry. Squeezes his eyes shut, and tenses beneath her, the strain throwing every muscle and sinew in his taut, powerful body into sharp relief. She watches his beautiful, dark lashes flutter against his pale cheeks as his hands fall from her legs and bury themselves amongst the sheets, clenching violently.

"You okay?" she asks softly.

"Yeah." His voice is husky and lust laden. He's already over the precipice, holding onto the edge by his fingertips, and Buffy feels a rush of feminine pride that she's had such an intense, profound effect on such a powerful, ancient creature.

Drawing a long, shaky breath, Spike finally opens his eyes and meets her gaze. "You all right?"

"I'm good. Great." She smiles.


Yes. Yes, it is.

Slowly, Buffy begins to move. Balancing on her knees, she rises above him, then slides back down, reveling in the rich, indulgent pleasure of being filled, completed. Her hands rest on his chest, fingers running over his hard, brown nipples. He cries and arches and thrusts up eagerly as she rises away from him and repeats the move again, and again.

His gaze is fixed on her, guileless and adoring, the usually cool blue irises almost black with passion, yet glowing with the embers of heat and need and sheer ecstasy. She watches him in turn, vision sweeping over his prone form, entranced by the weaving, luminous patterns of candlelight on his alabaster skin. Every so often the flickering light illuminates the raw pink skin of a healing wound, or the ugly purple patch of bruise, and she's reminded of what he has been through, what he has withstood for her.

So typical of Spike, bravely running barefoot over broken glass and carved crosses, cashing in an intangible glimmer of hope for a nearly impossible love.

Eye's locked, gazes fixed, they rock and thrust rhythmically in an, ancient, intimate dance to which they both know the steps. It's familiar, yet, like their kisses, also very new, different. Slower, more sensual, more intimate. There's no rush to get anywhere, to prove anything. For the first time ever she's doing this for the both of them. For him.

The angle of his cock is perfect, hitting nerves in all the right places, sending rolling waves of pleasure through her body. It's good... wonderful... and she wants more, more, more. She pushes herself down on him harder, then arches and throws her head back as a particularly tantalizing sliver of pleasure runs up her spine and across her thighs. Spike clearly feels it too, and his cock leaps within her.

"Buffy, Buffy, Buffy..."

Spike raises his hands to tease and caress her breasts, callused fingers kneading soft flesh with potent urgency. Streams of ecstasy shoot from her nipples to her groin, another burst of energy through muscles already quivering, tensing and straining for release. Her inner muscles contract around him, and she grips him and holds him within her for a long moment before gently rising and rocking again.

Spike's trembling escalates into shaking, his movements increasingly jerky, his brow is furrowed in concentration, his cheeks hollow as he sucks in air. He's close, and trying hard to make it last, and the painful-delight is written over his expressive face.

"It's okay Spike, let it happen..."

"Can't... wanna make it good... give you what you deserve..."

"It's already good Spike. So, so good... missed you so much. Whatever you give me... it's enough." Just a little bit longer...

"'s not. Never be enough."

Spike swallows, eyes glazed, and moves his hand from her breast, draws a line down her stomach, and through the damp, springy curls at the juncture of her legs. He finds her clitoris with practiced ease, fingers teasing the bundle of nerves with an urgent, desperate action. Spike moans beneath her, jerks his hips spasmodically and comes with a sudden cry, shooting his load deep within her. She pushes herself into him, grinds against his hand and feels it happen to her, too. Her vision blurs, dull candlelight growing brighter and brighter, consuming everything in a blaze of fire and white as the straining tensions burst and explode within her, and the delectable sensations of orgasm wash over her leaving her shuddering and quivering.

Sighing, she collapses on top of him, rests her forehead against his. His arms settle around her, gently stroking the curve of her back. They're both panting, and she shares his dry, warm breath as she waits for feeling to return to her limbs, and her breathing to slow to something less than hyperventilation.

As the last tingling sensations of climax recede, Buffy finds they're replaced by a new wave of feeling. Something richer, heavier, penetrates her skin and bones, heart and mind. Seeps through every wall and fills every nook and cranny and hidden space.

Oh God, it's love. Real, thick, messy love. Love for Spike like she's never felt before.

"I love you." She says again. It's so easy now, she wonders why it was so hard before.

He opens his eyes and smiles at her. A real, genuine smile that reaches all the way to his eyes, and she wonders if she's ever, ever seen him quite this happy.

"I love you too," he responds simply, pushing a strand of sweat-slicked hair behind her ear.

Buffy smiles right back at him. "Yeah, I know. Really know, Spike. What you feel, everything you've done for me, it's all a little overwhelming sometimes. Honestly, you're a little overwhelming sometimes." She drops her gaze for a moment, then looks back at him through a veil of hair. "And I can be a total bitch. But whatever happens, I need you to know that I do love you Spike. I really, truly do."

There are tears on his cheeks, but he doesn't bother to brush them away. Instead he pulls her damp, still trembling form to him with almost painful intensity.

"You're an incredible, amazing, wonderful woman Buffy Summers. Strong and brave and mad as all hell. Love everything about you, even on your not-so-pleasant days. God, I love you. Love you so, so much."

She kisses his cheek, his chest, then settles herself quietly against him, ear on his silent chest. It's not long until he drifts off to sleep, arms still clutched possessively around her, salty tracks down his cheeks. And then, lying silent next to him, she simply watches him sleep.

Rest Spike. You need it.

She used to always deny it, but she knows now that Spike has loved her for years. Loved her and worshipped her and cared for her with everything he had, no matter how she used and abused him. She's a lot less sure of her own feelings. Thinks sometimes that she loved him last year, when they spent their days in a pantomine of living and their nights sweating from killing and shagging. Or maybe just loved him as best she could, which wasn't much when her heart was nearly frozen. She couldn't really love him, because she couldn't love anyone. But she remembers wondering whether, if she could love him then, could they be happy together?

She smiles, lays a gentle kiss in his chest and curls deeper into his slumbering embrace.

Here's her chance to find out.