Dawn met her at the doorway, tears in her eyes, fists balled at her sides, angry words spewing from her mouth. All Buffy could do was put her arms around her sister, needing the contact and comfort just as much as her.

"He's fine, he's fine, he's fine," she whispered into Dawn's hair, rubbing soothing circles across her back, but meaning it more to herself than her sister.

Dawn's ranting turned into sobs and it was only when Xander sheepishly walked through the door, turning to Willow for confirmation, that she pulled away and turned on him. None of the words Dawn flung at him, at them, stuck, because she was caught up in her own thoughts, but she caught the gist of it. Spike good, Scoobies bad. With a final flourish, she watched as her sister stomped up the stairs and turned to find Willow and Xander watching her.

"Is he- Well, is he okay?" Willow eyed her nervously.

"He's fine. Anya made sure of that."

"No, but- We saw that on the camera. I mean, mentally? Emotionally?"

"He's a mess," Xander broke in.

Buffy glared at him. "Funny, you seemed too occupied in trying to kill him to notice."

"Yeah, well- Hindsight, I guess. He didn't even try to fight back."

"What does this all mean? I could call Giles and-"

"No!"

"But, Buffy, he needs-"

"Time and rest for himself. He doesn't need us interfering, Willow. And I don't think there's much we can find for him on the research front. Angel's the only vampire I've ever heard about having a soul and he's not exactly a role model Spike will take to."

"Buffy- The soul itself, it's special, but-" Willow sighed in dramatic effect. "To have gone out and sought it for himself? A demon? That's remarkable and- and- unprecedented and-"

"Let's not get crazy with all the adjectives there, Wills. It's still Spike we're talking about." Xander gestured wildly to make his point.

"But hasn't he always been kind of different? Coming to us for help when he first got chipped, killing demons, helping out against Glory, taking care of Dawn during the summer after-?"

"But it's Spike. And he's-"

"One of us."

Xander whipped around on her and Willow's eyes went wide.

"Buffy-!"

"We've fought that for a long time, but it's true. Like it or not Xander, he deserves to be a part of this team, even before the soul. That means he deserves our help. Right now, we'll give him the time and space that he needs. Willow, if you really think it's necessary, then yes, please, make with the research, but don't expect him to feed into it. I'm going to bed, but we can talk about it more tomorrow."

Resolved and determined, Buffy turned on her heels and started to walk upstairs. She froze.

"Oh, and Xander? You'll want to ice that bump, look for signs of a concussion. Anya knocked you down hard."

She knew they were frowning at her, waiting for more; Xander because he couldn't believe how much her perspective on Spike had changed in mere minutes and Willow because she hated to leave things unresolved. Spike may have turned to Anya for a quick spell of relief, but it would not do anything for him long term. In the morning, she would strategize on the best way to help him, to move on from here, to make him feel like he really was a part of this team, but right now, she needed to sleep. So much had changed, so quickly, and though she was deeply moved, part of her still felt numb and uncertain.

For months, Spike had fought her and fought for her, culminating in something so against his nature. Since she had died, and even before then, she had barely had the strength to fight for herself. It was always about what everyone else needed, what was good for them. Most of those things, they were worth it- nursing her mom through her illness, saving Dawn- and some seemed to ask too much- sacrificing her life for the world, then being ripped out of Heaven because the world couldn't handle not having her in it. For once, she just wanted things to be easy.

In a way, Spike getting his chip out would have been easiest. He would come after her, they would fight, one of them would die. This curveball of his forced her to tackle another complicated, uncomfortable matter, and yet, despite how tired she felt, how much it scared her, how much it meant without being able to identify those feelings, it was worth it.

Buffy woke early in the morning, the sun barely awake and the house quiet. It had not been a long night's sleep, but she felt well rested, waking with a purpose. Breakfast was buttered, burnt toast she barely tasted, so caught up in her thoughts. Above her, she could hear stirrings from her sister and friend, mixing with the snores coming from Xander sprawled out on the couch in her living room. Before they could bombard her with questions, opinions, and tactics, she ran out the door, stopping on the way to the butcher's that seemed to be open at all hours, before heading to Spike's crypt.

The space was dark, yet Spike's silhouette was spotlighted by the indirect sunlight streaming through the stained glass. He still looked like hell, bruises covering his face, neck, and chest. His black t-shirt bore a deep gash at the collar, revealing a strip of badly scarred skin over where his heart. Needing to explore further, Buffy strode towards his sleeping form, her fingers reaching out to investigate when his hand wrapped itself around her wrist, though with a gentle grip.

"Spike's in no condition to play, Kitten, but come again another day."

"Don't be a pig, Spike."

"You're the grabby girl, Slayer. 'M just trying to protect my goods."

"For your information," it was difficult to cross her arms holding the large bag with a month's worth of blood, but she tried her best. "I was not making with the gropey. You have scratches across your chest and-"

"None of your business."

"What happened, Spike?"

"Already confirmed what you heard, yeah? Got my soul."

"But how?"

"Earned it, I did, Slayer, so don't go getting any ideas."

"Did they have to cut you open to put it in you? I don't understand-"

To her surprise, Spike burst out laughing, his bitter and sarcastic tone present.

"No such thing, Luv. The soul, it's almost like an ideal, not physical, though it hurts like hell. More like an essence."

Spike sat up and swung his legs over the sarcophagus to face her properly.

"But, your chest- Right over your heart, it-"

"Tried to cut it out."

"Why? I-"

He gave her a dark look, his eyes turning down, unable to look at her.

"Oh." Buffy sat down beside him, unable to think of an appropriate response. "Will you tell me what you had to do to get it?"

"No."

"Even if-"

"Why are you here?"

"To check on you, Spike. You look terrible and you did this-this enormous thing, you can't pretend that it's not. And to- to give you this."

She handed him the bag of blood, which he accepted without thanks. Reaching in, he picked out one of the bags, changed into game face, and punctured it with a fang. With the overdramatic suckling and fierceness behind his feeding, Buffy realized he was trying to repulse her. For someone who expended so much energy in trying to make her to stay, he was trying twice as hard to get her to leave. Well, she could be just as stubborn.

With patience she didn't have, Buffy waited as he gulped down every last drop of blood, tossed the empty bag at her feet, and dove in for a second. Still, she remained seated next to him, calm and composed, keeping an eye on him, concerned, yet oddly satisfied to see him eating. After the third bag, Spike could no longer pretend that he was still hungry.

Ignoring her, Spike laid back down across the stone slab and turned on his side, away from her. Sighing, Buffy stood and disappeared into the lower level of his crypt to deposit the blood into his refrigerator. When she came back up, she could tell he was feigning sleep, but she kept her voice calm, but louder.

"I have to make sure Dawnie gets to school on time, then head to work, but I spoke to Clem and he said he could check in on you sometime in the afternoon, after you've had your rest."

She waited a moment, but he remained unmoving, so she continued.

"I'll be back tonight to pick you up for patrol."

Spike shot up, glaring at her. Buffy offered him an innocent smile.

"Are you off your bird?"

"There's a bird?"

"'M not patrolling with you. 'M still ill."

"You can and you will Spike. I know this change is difficult and that you're struggling, but it's important to get back to your normal routine as much as possible. And to keep company."

"You're one to talk, Slayer. Shutting out all your little friends. Running to me for a bit of cold comfort."

"I think we can both agree that wasn't my healthiest option."

When Spike's shoulders slumped in shame, Buffy softened.

"Look, you and me, we're both messed up, going through sucky things that really suck, but when I first got back, I needed someone to be there, give me tough love, and I never got that. I guess I still need that. I know you tried, Spike, and I know that the soul was just another part of that, but- We shouldn't be sucking by ourselves, so-"

At his widened eyes, she recognized the innuendo in her words.

"Ew, you know what I mean, Spike."

There was a ghost of a smirk on his lips and she couldn't help but return it.

"Go downstairs, sleep in an actual bed, and rest up, because Clem's gonna be even more ruthless than I am. Nothing too strenuous though because me and you, patrol later. I'm allowing no slacking of any kind. I mean it, Buster, get moving."

Buffy waited until Spike and his exasperated muttering disappeared into the darkness of his downstairs. She listened as he puttered around, until she was certain he had settled into bed. Stepping outside into the warm sunshine, she rested for a moment against the door of the crypt. Per usual, he was resisting every comment, but somehow, she knew it would be worth it in the end, however exhausted it made her.


Spike slapped his pillow around a few times, making a nice dent for himself. It did feel good to have his sheets against bare skin, the softness of the bed against his aching body. He wasn't thrilled by the slayer's determination to butt into his situation, though he could almost laugh at the irony of it all. Get the soul to get the girl, got the soul and couldn't handle the girl. She was a sucker for a lonely, miserable, helpless sap, a la Angelus and even the soldier, so it wasn't a wonder she'd be all over him in his delicate state.

Scoffing, Spike threw the covers over himself and bundled into bed. Later, he'd have a word with Clem about taking orders from bossy bints and he was most certainly not going to go patrolling with said bossy bint, no matter how much she stomped her pretty foot or wagged her pretty finger at him. Despite himself, it was visions of Buffy and her strict, strange kindness aimed at him, the concern flooding her eyes, the passionate fire emanating from her core, so like the woman he used to know before she had died.

Hours later, when Clem had come and gone with his positive and goofy spirit, leaving Spike alone to catch up on his soaps, and the sun had gone down, Buffy marched into the crypt like typical Buffy, grabbed him by the hand and led him outside.

Spike couldn't help but revel in the feeling of her hand in his, as she held on just a little longer than necessary until the first vampire came at them and needed to be turned to dust.