Early the next morning, Dawn made her way down into the kitchen. Going to one of the cabinets for a box of cereal, she noticed a familiar black duster draped over one of the stools.
"Hey Dawnie," a very sleepy Buffy said, as she entered the kitchen.
"Spike was here last night." It was a statement, not a question. It was obvious the vampire had been in the kitchen, what wasn't obvious was where he was now. The last time he had run off into the night without his duster had been . . . Dawn didn't even want to think about it. "Did you have some sort of fight or something?"
"Not exactly," Buffy said, pulling a stool up to the island and leaning her elbows on the hard, cold surface.
"Then is there something you want to tell me?" Dawn asked suspiciously.
"Why don't you sit down? I'll make you some breakfast." Buffy moved to stand but Dawn stopped her.
"No thanks. I've had Buffy breakfast before. I'll just get us some cereal."
Dawn brought two bowls to the table and poured herself about three servings worth of Cap'n Crunch. "Okay," she said, finally settling in, "so what's the big? What's up with you and Spike?"
Buffy smiled to herself. It was going to be difficult, telling Dawn, but she hoped, somehow, her sister would be happy for her. "I'm not quite sure how to say this."
"Just say it."
"We don't know how – well, actually, we do know how – we just don't know why."
"Why what?" Dawn asked through a mouthful of cereal.
Buffy steeled her nerves. "I'm pregnant. Spike and I are–"
"Spike! You and Spike? Oh my God Buffy, how could you?"
"After what he did to you? How can you even stand to let him touch you? I know it was like a year ago, but it's not the kind of thing you just get over."
"And I haven't."
"Oh really? That's why you're sleeping with him?"
"Dawn, things have changed. Spike has changed."
"What? Because he has a soul? There's not much difference between that and the chip. He tried to rape you Buffy. He knew it was wrong even then. He didn't need a soul to tell him that. It's why he left."
"Then how could you do this?"
"It's not that simple Dawn."
"Well I think it is." She got up from the table and put her bowl in the sink. "He's a monster Buffy, plain and simple. Think all you want that he's a man now, but he's not. He's a monster and he'll never be anything more."
"And what about everything he did for us?" her sister asked quietly. "The pain and suffering and risk he has endured for our sakes?"
"For your sake, you mean. Everything he's ever done has been selfishly motivated. Everything he's ever done, he's done because he wants you. And now, apparently he has you. So what's to stop him from killing the rest of us?"
"Dawn!" Buffy was appalled.
"No, it's true, and I don't want to hear your excuses. I'm sick and tired of it Buffy. It's all about you, isn't it? Your little self-inflicted dramas, and your chosen-one issues. Well, I'm sick of it. You want to play house with a vampire? Fine. But don't expect me to stick around and watch." Dawn ran out of the room and bounded up the stairs. Buffy followed her.
"No, stay away from me, I don't want to hear it," Dawn yelled, as she stormed into her room and slammed the door.
Just then, the door to Buffy's room opened and Spike stepped out into the hall. "Not taking it all that well, is she?"
"I didn't even get to the marriage part."
He shook his head in obvious frustration. "Let me talk to her."
"No. She won't listen to you. She's got this idea that you're some sort of monster."
"I wonder were she got that idea?"
"You know what I mean."
"I still think I should talk to her. Give us a few minutes." He crossed the hall and knocked on Dawn's door.
"Go away!" she cried from the other side.
"It's not that easy pet," he said, as he turned the knob and stepped inside, closing the door behind him. "I don't need an invite into your room. That's not the way these things work."
"Get out, get out, get out!" She threw a pillow at him.
Spike bent down and picked it up, clutching it to his chest as he sat beside her on the bed. Dawn was lying on her side, across the bed, her back to him.
"Get out," she said, a dangerous edge to her voice.
"So, is it me that you hate, or are you just mad at Buffy?"
"I said get out. I don't want to talk to you."
"Right, well, can't blame you for that."
"Can't do that, lil' bit."
"Don't call me that! Why can't you see I don't want to talk to you? I want to be left alone!" She grabbed another pillow and covered her head with it.
Spike sat patiently and waited. He had known this wasn't going to be easy. Dawn's attitude toward him had run the gamut the past few months from cold to downright hostile. Some days she was more wary of him than others, but she never truly let her guard down. She was still angry because of what he had done to Buffy. He knew that. But he knew there was more. Dawn had felt left out for a long time. After Buffy came back from the dead, he had spent all his time with her, leaving Dawn floundering in the background. It wasn't just him and Buffy either. Dawn had long felt disconnected from all the Scoobies, and now they were going to make things worse. There was going to be a baby to compete with. He knew she'd feel angry, betrayed, displaced. He wanted to reassure her, but he wasn't sure how.
Finally, she broke the silence. "Haven't you left already?" came her muffled cry from beneath the pillow.
"Nope." He looked himself over. "Still here."
"Why don't you go?" she asked, turning to look at him, the pillow still wrapped over her ears.
"Because I can't. Because I caused this problem, and it's my job to fix it."
"It can't be fixed." She sat up. "You can't just come in here and say you're sorry for everything and think it's all going to be okay."
"I wasn't planning to."
"Then what do you want?" she sulked.
"I don't know. A lifetime's supply of pig's blood? A dusty ending for Angel? A cozy little tomb with a view?"
Dawn did her best not to smile. "I doubt Buffy would go for the Angel bit."
"Yeah, well, a man's gotta have his dreams," he said wistfully.
"You're not a man."
"No, I'm not. I'm a monster. Always have been. Always will be. Not even a bleedin' soul can change that."
"You know I hate you, right?"
"And well you should, after everything I've done."
She looked at him slyly out of the corner of her eye. "You're not trying to use some sort of reverse psychology, are you? 'Cause it won't work."
"Wouldn't even dream of it," he said, shaking his head with a shrug.
"Good. Because that stuff doesn't work. And don't try going all after-school-special on me either. I'm not a child."
"Didn't think you were."
Dawn sighed heavily, some of the fight going out of her. "You lied to me. You said you loved Buffy and then you . . ." her voice trailed off.
"I never lied to you. What I did . . ." he took an unnecessary breath. "What I did, I did out of desperation. Desperation and sheer stupidity. I never, ever, wanted to hurt Buffy, or you. Not really. Not like that." He paused for a moment, trying to find the right words to make her understand. "What I did was wrong. Inexcusable. But it was done in a moment of weakness. Pure, pathetic weakness. I never lied to you Dawn. I may have done some unforgivable things in my time, but lying to you isn't one of them."
A long silence followed. Finally, she said, "How do I know you won't do it again? How do I know that the next time things get tough, and Buffy turns away from you, you won't try something like that?"
"You don't," he said, matter-of-factly. "What you do have to do, is take everything you know - everything you know about me and Buffy - and decide for yourself, if you can still trust me. You have to decide Dawn. I can't make that decision for you. You know how I feel about her. You know what I've done for her. And to her. You have to decide what the truth is for yourself. I can apologize from here till the end of eternity, and never convince you that I've changed. You have to see it for yourself, believe it for yourself. Like it or not Dawn, we're family. All of us. I never meant to hurt you. I'd never let anything happen to you."
"Right. If that's what Buffy wanted."
"And what is that supposed to mean?"
"Just that you're only there to save me when you've promised Buffy that you would. Everything's always about Buffy."
"It's not all about Buffy, Dawn. Maybe there were times when it was. But not anymore. If you want to hate me, go ahead and hate me. But don't take this out on your sister. She needs you, now more than ever."
Dawn was quiet for a moment. Finally, she asked, "Are you sorry?"
"Oh, God Dawn, if there was anything I've ever done that I could take back, it would be hurting your sister. Not even getting my soul back can make up for it. Not really."
"So now what?"
"I don't know."
They sat there in silence for the longest time, neither one sure of what to say. He could sense that Dawn was trying to think things through, trying to decide whether she should continue ranting, or just let it go.
Finally, she broke the silence. "So. A baby, huh?"
"Yeah." He smiled to himself. "A right bloody shock that was. Half vampire and half Slayer. The kids gonna be a nightmare."
"I don't know. Maybe he or she will be just as good at kicking demon tail as at writing bad poetry."
Spike gave her a dark look. She smiled back at him.
"Well, whatever it is, it'll be unique."
"Yeah, that's just what we need around here," she said, sulkily, "someone else who's unique."
"And you're not?"
"No, not really," she said sarcastically.
"So, you've met other ancient, glowing key thingies then, have you?"
"That's not what I meant."
"So, you're not the Slayer. Or a witch. Or part vampire. Big deal. There's worse things you could be than human. You could be a Gak demon, for instance."
Dawn couldn't help but smile at that. "Well, at least I'd have some special skill. I'd be able to dispose of my own rotting carcass."
"Not exactly a major selling point."
"No. I guess not."
"Well," he said, getting up from the bed, "I'd better go. It's been so quiet in here, your sister's probably starting to wonder if you just went ahead and staked me."
"Spike?" she said, just before he reached the door.
"I think, maybe, I don't completely hate you. But I'm not sure," she added hastily. "There may be some major hate going on, deep inside. I'll have to let you know."
"All right Nibblet." He smiled to himself. "You do that. You let me know," he said, as he opened the door and stepped out into the hall.
Dawn got up from the bed and went to the window, lost in thought. She didn't want to trust Spike, didn't want to just accept his apology and pretend that none of it had ever happened. She noticed that the window was closed, and leaned down to open it. How easy it would be to just slip through and run away, run to where they would never find her. And then Buffy and Spike - and their brand new little baby - could start their own little life without her.
Dawn knelt down on the windowsill, still contemplating her escape, when a sudden thought struck her. Without thinking, she got up from the window and ran out into the hall, down the stairs and into the kitchen, where she found Spike and Buffy talking by the counter.
"Vampires don't have babies!" she said, as if she were the first person ever to realize this.
"This just dawning on you now?" Buffy asked.
"How is this even possible?"
"Well," Buffy shrugged a little, "we don't really know. Will's doing some research, but I'm not sure it's going to help. I'm not sure this one's in any book."
Dawn looked from Buffy to Spike. "What did you do?" she accused.
"Me? Nothing!" He seemed appalled. "What? You think I used some sort of spell or something? Mind control? Your sister only thinks she's pregnant?"
"I wouldn't put it past you."
"Well, thanks for the vote of confidence."
"Dawn." Buffy touched her sister's sleeve. "This isn't' Spike's fault. He didn't do anything wrong. Apparently, this isn't the first time something like this has happened."
"What? So you've done this before?" She turned to Spike. "Don't tell me there's another little Spike running around out there. Let me guess. You and Drusilla? What? Is the kid half psycho, half pining loser?"
Dawn stared at Spike. She could see that she had hurt him, but she was too angry to care.
"It's all right," he said to Buffy. "I'm gonna go."
He gave her a quizzical look.
"I mean, it's morning, daylight. You might as well stay here if you're just going to go back to your crypt and sleep anyway."
"Oh?" Dawn said. "So now he's a house guest?"
"I think I'll take my chances out there," he said. He looked pointedly at Dawn. "Less chance of getting burned."
"Are you sure?" Buffy asked.
"Yeah. I'm just gonna go find myself a blanket. Don't want to burst into flames or anything." He gave her a wan smile before leaving the room.
"I can't believe you did that," Buffy said, turning on Dawn.
"Well excuse me. I'm not the one who's going around getting girls pregnant."
"It's not Spike."
"Really? So you mean, he's not the father?" Dawn said cheerfully.
"No. That's not what I mean, and you know it." Buffy sighed heavily and sat down on a stool. "This has happened before. Another vampire has been known to have fathered a human child."
"And . . ." Buffy looked up at her sister, a despondent look in her eyes. "It's Angel."
"What?" Dawn could barely form the word. "Angel has a baby?"
"Well, apparently, according to Spike, it's not really a baby anymore, but that's kind of beside the point."
"When did this happen?" Dawn asked, as she drifted onto the stool across from Buffy.
"Oh, a couple of years ago."
"And you're just telling me now?" Dawn moved to get up, pure indignation spurring her movement.
"No." Buffy reached for her. "I didn't find out until last night. Spike told me."
Dawn sat back down and eyed her sister warily. "Are you okay with this?"
"Me? Yeah, I'm fine. It's the least of my problems right now."
Dawn watched as Buffy drew lazy circles on the table with her finger, obviously lost in thought. So, Angel had had a baby? The selfish jerk! Dawn reached out and covered Buffy's hand with her own. "Hey," she tried to cheer her sister. "It's not the end of the world, right? I mean, you've got your own vampire baby coming. What do you need Angel for anyway?"
Buffy looked up at her sister and smiled. "It's not that, Dawnie. I don't care about Angel. Well," she stopped, "I mean, I care, but just not in a jealous, hostile way."
"So what's the problem then?"
"I don't know. Everything changing, I guess. Spike, the baby, the—" Buffy stopped.
Buffy seemed at a loss for words. Finally she said, "Dawn, do you think there's any way you can ever forgive him? I know he hurt you, I know you feel betrayed, but—"
"I don't really want to talk about it," she said, getting up and crossing over to the sink to get a glass of water. "He hurt you Buffy," she said, with her back to her sister. "He hurt all of us."
"How can you forgive him?" Dawn asked, finally turning around.
"Because I love him."
Dawn had never heard her sister say she loved Spike before. It had been a long time since she'd heard her sister say she loved anyone. It took a moment for Dawn to recover. "Is that enough?"
"Yes, Dawnie. Sometimes it is."
"And you want me to just forgive him? Just get over it?"
"No. No, I wouldn't ask you to do that, if you feel you can't. But Dawn, forgiveness? That's what family's all about. We all forgave Willow for what she did to Warren, for nearly ending the world."
"Willow was grieving," Dawn protested.
"So was Spike."
"Fine. But what? Do you expect me to be happy for you? To just accept this?"
"Well, I don't think any of us really have a choice. I love him, Dawn. I do." Buffy smiled to herself. "I can't explain it. It's beyond reason. But it's true."
"What about Angel?" Dawn asked, wondering if she could trip Buffy up.
"What about him?"
"You loved him once. In fact, I thought you were never going to get over him."
"Neither did I."
"Am I what?"
Buffy thought for a moment. "Yeah, Dawnie, I am."
"You gonna tell him about you and Spike?"
"I have to. Of course, Spike's not going to be too keen on the idea. But yes, I have to tell him. Face to face."
"Any chance for a reconciliation?" Dawn asked optimistically.
"Fine," Dawn sulked.
"Oh Dawn, will you just get over it? I'm marrying Spike and there's nothing you can . . ." Buffy stopped in mid-sentence, and stared openmouthed at a very shocked Dawn.
"Yes." Buffy shook her head slowly in the affirmative.
"Marrying? As in bells, and rice, and ugly bridesmaids' dresses?"
"Yeah. Although I'll try not to make the dresses too ugly."
"No green taffeta," Dawn said emphatically. "I mean it. I know Anya was trying to do us a favor by going with the taffeta instead of entrails, but please Buffy, if you do that to us, I'll die."
"I thought . . . you didn't want me with Spike?"
"Well, I don't," she said, unconvincingly. "But if you're determined to ruin your life - marry a good-for-nothing vampire - then who am I to stop you?"
"And the whole excitement of helping plan the wedding has nothing to do with it?"
"What? No. Of course not. I'm just trying to be a supportive sister. That's all."
"All of a sudden?"
"I'm crushed! Haven't I always been supportive?"
"Not so much."
"I think you just like conflict," Dawn said, matter-of-factly. "Always have to make up some silly drama. You really should see a shrink."
"Yeah, already done that. Look, Dawn," Buffy said, getting up to stand by her sister, all seriousness again. "If this is okay with you, you really should go talk to Spike. Maybe you think he's a monster, and incapable of being hurt, but he isn't. What you said, hurt him, you know that. I want you to sort things out with him, before you go congratulating me on my upcoming nuptials."
Dawn weighed her sister's words thoughtfully. Buffy was right. She had hurt Spike, and if she was going to accept him back into her life, she owed him an apology. "All right. I'll talk to him."
* * *
Just after sunset, Dawn made her way to Spike's crypt. She had spent all day thinking over what both he and Buffy had said to her. It wasn't going to be easy, forgiving him, but it was time she took the high road. Staying angry wasn't going to do any of them any good. And, if truth be told, Dawn really missed being friends with Spike.
Before all the drama of the past year, he had always been there for her. He'd let her hang out in his crypt, told her stories from his days as the Big Bad, even helped her break into the Magic Box that one time. When everyone else had treated her like a child, Spike had always treated her like an equal. The summer Buffy had died, he had been her constant companion, the one to get her through all the heartache and confusion. She missed him. It was time to start healing.
Dawn knocked tentatively on the door. There was no answer. Soundlessly, she crept inside and surveyed the place. Nope. No Spike. She climbed down the ladder to the lower level, concentrating on not falling off.
"Hey?" a very annoyed voice snapped. "What are you doing here?"
Dawn nearly fell off the ladder, in surprise. Spike rushed forward to save her, catching her just as her toes skimmed the floor.
"You all right?" he asked, as he put her down on her feet and made sure she was okay.
"Yeah, I'm fine," she said, backing away a step.
Spike pulled away himself, and gave her his back.
"Look . . . Spike. I'm sorry about before. What I said? I didn't mean it. You're not a loser. And I don't really mind you hanging around my sister. If you love her – and I really think you do – it's okay."
Spike turned to look at her, his eyes wary and uncertain. "Dawn?" he asked, disbelieving.
"Yeah," she shook her head. "It's me. I know I've been pretty rotten to you these past few months, and I'm sorry. It wasn't my place to hold anything against you. If Buffy can forgive you, then I have to trust that she knows what she's doing. I'm sorry Spike."
"That's okay, Nibblet." A slight smile pulled at his lips. "Does Buffy know you've come over here to do all this apologizing?"
"Oh, yeah, she's cool with it. Said she wanted me to square things away with you before I went congratulating her on the whole wedding thing."
"Oh?" he asked, slightly surprised. "So she told you?"
"And you haven't come here to kill me?"
"No. Geez, Spike, give it a rest. No, I am not going to kill you. Nor, do I any longer have a desire to kill you. Buffy would never let me get away with it. Send me to my room for the rest of eternity if I even tried." She pouted.
Spike laughed. "All right. Friends again?" he asked, his confidence returning.
"Friends. Well . . . brother and sister, actually. Now Buffy's problems are your problems," she said cheerily. "My big brother Spike." She came up to him and placed a small kiss on his cheek. "Lucky you."
* * *
The next day - after they had broken the news to Xander, Willow and Anya - Buffy picked up the phone and dialed Giles number in England. She didn't quite know how she was going to break it to him, but he had to know.
After three rings he picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Hey Giles, it's Buffy."
"Oh, hello. Is everything all right?"
"Yeah sure." She tried to sound breezy and carefree. "Why wouldn't it be?"
"Because you only seem to call when the world is ending. Is there something I should know about?"
"What? No. It's nothing big. Not end of the world big anyway."
"So, there is something?" he asked, in his best fatherly voice.
"Well, now that you mention it, yes. There's a little something."
"Oh good, progress. Well, why don't you break the news to me as slowly as humanly possible?"
"That's quite all right. Just get on with it. I would like to get off this phone sometime before the beginning of the next millennium."
"Right, okay, here it goes." She paused for a second, trying to find the best way to say it. "You know how things have been with Spike lately, right? How he got his soul back, how he's helped us so much, survived The First and all?"
"Yes," Giles prodded.
"Well, he and I are sort of together. Again."
"That's it? You see?" she asked, a little offended.
"Well, Buffy, you're a grown woman now, and if you feel that being with Spike is in your best interest, who am I to argue?"
"Don't you care? Doesn't it bother you that I'm taking up with an evil, miserable vampire? Shouldn't you say something like, 'Buffy, I'm very disappointed in you?'"
"Would you like me to say that?"
"Yes, I would."
"Fine. Buffy I am very disappointed in you. As your former Watcher, I am appalled. Are you happy now?"
"I think so."
"Good. Is that all?"
"Splendid." She could hear him sigh on the other side of the line.
"Maybe I should tell you this in person."
"If it can wait that long, please feel free to pop over here and let me know."
"All right. Giles, look, I just don't know how to say this. It's not exactly the kind of thing you're just dying to hear. I remember how horrified you were the last time."
"The last time? Buffy, what are you talking about?"
"The last time I told you that Spike and I were engaged."
The silence on the other end was deafening. Finally, Giles found his voice. "Let me talk to Willow."
"Giles, no. This isn't a spell."
"I still think I should talk to her."
"Fine." Buffy turned to Willow, who was standing beside her, and handed her the phone. "He wants to talk to you."
Willow gave the phone a funny look before bringing it to her ear. "Hey Giles."
"Willow? Tell me honestly. Is something wrong with Buffy? Is this a spell of some kind?"
"Nope. Not this time." Willow turned to look at Buffy who was sitting at the island, sulking.
"So she's marrying Spike?"
"Yes, it seems that way."
"Right, well, I guess there's more than one way for a Watcher to fail his Slayer."
"Giles. Don't be so hard on yourself. This isn't your fault."
Buffy gave Willow a shocked look. Willow shook her head to reassure her friend.
"Because I feel like I've failed."
"No, no you haven't. Buffy made this decision all on her own. Really Giles, you're not to blame."
Buffy couldn't take it anymore. She got up and took the phone from Will.
"Giles, please. Stop being such a drama queen."
"A . . . a what? I beg your pardon?"
"Giles this isn't your fault. It isn't anyone's fault. I . . . I'm in love with Spike."
She heard a choking sound coming from the other end of the line.
"For real, this time," she added, emphatically.
"All right. If it's not a spell and you say it's for real, I'll have to believe you. But Buffy, have you really thought this through?"
"Yes Giles, I have. And, there's one more thing you have to know."
"I don't think my heart can take it. Can you, perhaps, call back tomorrow, with the earth shattering news?"
Buffy heard the phone drop.
"What happened?" Willow asked.
"I don't know. Maybe he fainted. Giles? Giles, are you still there?"
Finally, she heard the receiver being picked up. "Yes, I'm here. What were you saying Buffy?"
"I'm pregnant Giles. With Spike's baby."
"Right. That's what I thought you said. You realize of course that that's impossible?"
"Yes, Giles. I've only been a Slayer for like what, eight years? I know vampire's can't produce live offspring."
"And yet you say you're pregnant? With Spike's baby?"
"And how do you explain this?"
"Well, that's kind of what you're for."
"Oh really? So you want me to tell you why you're pregnant with vampire spawn?"
"You don't have to be mean about it."
"I'm sorry Buffy. I realize this must be very traumatic for you. But you must realize this isn't easy for me either. I mean, it's every Watcher's worst nightmare, having your Slayer run off and get . . . well . . . "
"You can say it."
"No I can't. Look Buffy, I'll see what I can do. Just tell me, why do you think this is Spike's child? Couldn't it be the work of a spell?"
"Well, even if it is, the child seems to have been conceived in the normal way."
She heard him clear his throat nervously.
"Willow connected with it. She saw it, and she says not only is it human, but Spike is the father."
"Do we know anything else?"
"Just that this has happened once before."
"No, to another vampire. Apparently Angel . . ."
"Angel and Darla had a baby a couple of years ago. Don't ask me how."
"All right, well I'll look into it. In the meantime, just be careful. Are you still patrolling?"
"Well, I haven't been out the last couple of nights, but yeah."
"Well maybe you shouldn't. All you need is to get into a fight that you can't handle and . . ."
"The baby? You may be able to survive the average fight, but the baby might not be so lucky. Just don't put yourself at risk. If someone has to patrol, get Spike to do it. If he's any kind of a man – well, vampire – he won't let you go anyway. Just promise me."
"Yeah Giles. I promise."
* * *
Giles was right about Spike. He wouldn't have let Buffy go out on patrol even if his unlife depended on it. Slayer or no, she was not patrolling in her condition. He had been adamant about that.
A week had passed since Buffy had broken the news about the wedding. Things were going relatively well. Willow and Dawn were genuinely thrilled for them. Xander was a little less than thrilled, but he was dealing. And Anya, well, Anya had her issues – weddings and all – but generally she seemed to be coping. What wasn't going so well was the research.
Neither Willow nor Giles had found anything definitive concerning vampires siring human children. The best anyone could figure, the conception had something to do with Spike now having a soul. But whether The Powers That Be had just taken pity on them, or whether something bigger was at work, they didn't know. Either way, it left Buffy wondering about Angel.
Despite Spike's disapproval, he had conceded to let Buffy go to LA on her own and tell Angel what had happened. No matter what he thought, Buffy couldn't let Angel find out about her and Spike the way she had found out about him and Darla. It wasn't right. Especially since she would be marrying Spike. Angel needed to know the truth.
Xander and Anya agreed to drive Buffy out to LA. The two were getting along a lot better these days, but they still had their issues.
"I mean, if a vampire can keep his word then why couldn't you?" Anya asked Xander. "I bet Spike will show up for his wedding. By rights he shouldn't even step foot in a church, but he'll do it for Buffy. Why can't you be more like Spike?"
"Because I'm not really into the whole evil, bloodsucking fiend thing. Sorry Buffy," he said to her, meeting her eyes through the rearview mirror.
"No go ahead. You know, I think he'd still take that as a complement."
"All I'm saying is, if Spike can make a commitment, why couldn't you?"
"Maybe because I don't have a death wish."
"You think Spike has a death wish?" Buffy asked, interrupting whatever Anya was going to say.
"Well, not so much anymore, but I think, secretly, he's always wanted you to stake him."
"Lord knows you seem to enjoy him staking you."
"Thank you Anya," said Xander.
* * *
Buffy had never been to the Hyperion Hotel. Willow had been there once, when she had gone to tell Angel that Buffy was dead. It was more lavish than she expected, but then Angel always did have rather extravagant tastes. When Spike first came to Sunnydale, he had boarded in that old factory, Angel had had to have a mansion.
Buffy grabbed the door handle. "Here goes nothing."
She opened the door and stepped inside. Immediately, two pairs of eyes looked up to meet her, one belonging to a plain girl, with mousy brown hair, the other, to a rather well-built, attractive African-American male. "Is there something we can do for you?" he asked, a little skeptically.
"I'm here to see Angel."
"Who, exactly, are you?" The girl came out from behind the desk, and stood next to the man, wrapping her arm protectively around his.
Buffy could have laughed. "The Slayer," she said, matter-of-factly.
"Oh," the girl said, a little confused. Then, "Oh."
"Yeah, 'oh,'" Buffy shook her head. "Is he around?"
Just then Buffy saw him step out of the office, his head bent over the open book in his hands. "Fred, do you know where that book on Egyptian prophecies went? I can't seem to find it anywhere. Fred?" He looked up after she didn't answer. "Buffy."
"Angel." A small smile played at her lips. It was good to see him again. Not at all like she thought it would be. She had wondered if it would hurt, seeing him so wrapped up in his new life. But it didn't. She had her own life now, and she wouldn't trade it for the world.
"Uh, Fred, can you just go through the second chapter for me and see if you can find anything about that Chariot of Osiris?" he asked, as he tossed her the book.
"Yeah, sure. We'll get right on it."
"Thanks." Without a word, he ushered Buffy into the office and closed the door.
"Nice digs. Not really very private," she said, making note of the large, uncovered window that faced the lobby, "but nice."
"Well, it's just the office."
"So, what brings you to LA? Is there something I can help you with?' He began straightening the pile of books on his desk, clearly uncomfortable talking to her face to face.
"Not as such, no. There's something I need to tell you." She reached out and stilled his hand. "Something I think you should hear from me."
Angel looked up to meet her eyes. After a long silence he said, "Go ahead. It's not like I didn't know this day was coming."
Buffy pulled away and straightened up to look at him. "How do you know what I'm here to tell you?"
"How?" he asked, a slight edge to his voice. "You're a beautiful girl. I didn't expect you to stay unattached forever. So, what is it, wedding bells? Or worse?"
"As far as you'll be concerned? Or worse."
"Maybe we should just leave it then. I'm not sure I want to know," he said, crossing behind the desk, effectively putting it between them.
"The way you thought I wouldn't want to know about you and Darla?"
His eyes shot up at that. "We have our own lives Buffy. What was the point in me telling you? I knew you'd just be hurt. We could never have that together, you and I. I could never have given you a normal life. I don't know why Darla and I were able to conceive a child. It shouldn't have happened, but it did. I didn't know how to tell you."
"I hear he's all grown up now."
"Yeah. It's a long story."
"So I've heard."
"Who told you?"
Buffy paused. Once Spike's name entered the conversation, there was no going back. "Spike."
"Spike. Good old Spike. Did he enjoy telling you? Did he rub it in? I knew I should have dusted him years ago. Always was a pain in my ass."
"It wasn't quite like that."
"I'll bet. Look, I've heard he helps you guys out from time to time, but is it really worth it? Why don't you just kill him and get it over with?"
"That also is a long story."
"I guess we're even then." He looked down at the desk and then around the room, obviously looking for something to say. "Buffy . . ."
"Angel," she interrupted him. "As much as I know you don't want to hear this, I have to tell you. Spike and I are together."
He just stared at her for a moment. "What?"
"We're together. As in together, together."
"I see," he said, apparently limited to one-syllable words. Finally, he seemed to recover a little. "So, there'll be no wedding bells at least. That's a relief."
"Well, we haven't really talked about whether or not there'll be bells at the wedding, we're thinking maybe a church thing. We're not sure."
Angel looked at her aghast.
"Oh, right. That's not what you meant. Angel I'm sorry."
"Don't," he said, his mood dangerously black. "Just don't. I do not want to hear it! You and Spike! You're going to marry Spike? Are you insane? Are you completely out of you mind? Buffy, he's a vampire!"
"With a soul."
"What?" he asked, obviously surprised.
"With a soul. A vampire with a soul. He did it for me."
"Did what for you?"
"Got his soul back."
"How? How is that even possible?"
"He made a deal with a demon - risked everything to get his soul back - so that I might love him. And I do. Oh God Angel, I do. I am so sorry."
He shook his head, unwilling to make eye contact with her. "I don't believe this. William the Bloody now has a soul? And you're in love with him? Well now I've heard it all."
"I don't want to know."
"You have to. I didn't come all this way just not to tell you. There's one more thing." Buffy absently fingered the paperweight on his desk, in agitation. "We don't know how, or why, it happened," Buffy swallowed hard, "but I'm pregnant."
Buffy could see the silent fury building up in Angel. He wouldn't look at her. "I think you should go."
"Now!" he warned.
Buffy gave him a final glance as she turned toward the door and walked away. She wanted to say something, to find the words that would make it okay. But she knew she couldn't. There were no words to take away the pain Angel was feeling. No words to salve what she had done to him.
* * *
Back in Sunnydale life began to fall into a comfortable routine. Spike assumed most of Buffy's Slayer duties, while the Scoobies helped pick up the slack. Eventually, Spike and Buffy decided on a church wedding – after all, Spike had a soul now, so who was to say he shouldn't have a real wedding? They would just have to make sure to keep him away from the holy water and the crosses.
A week before the wedding, Spike was in the lower level of his crypt, squaring away some last minute things, when he heard the door burst open upstairs. A slow smile spread across his lips. His slayer.
It was ridiculous, the idea of a vampire being giddy with excitement. But he was. Never in his unlife had he imagined that he might one day be a father. And of Buffy's child, no less. Whoever had granted them this miracle, whether it was God, or The Powers That Be, had given him the greatest gift he had ever received. Buffy loved him, and this baby would be his salvation, his shot at redemption. He still didn't think he deserved it, but Buffy did, and these days there was no arguing with Buffy.
He heard footsteps on the ladder behind him. In spite of his keen vampire senses, he was so wrapped up in his own thoughts, that he failed to notice that the footsteps were nothing like Buffy's. He didn't even bother to turn around as he asked, "Up for a bit of the rough and tumble?"
"Yeah, I think I could go for that," Angel said as he grabbed Spike and spun him around. "What do you think Spikey? Do you think you can take me?"
Spike was momentarily stunned, giving him no time to deflect the blow when it came. Angel punched him square in the nose and sent the blonde vamp flying across the room.
Spike grabbed his nose and cursed under his breath. "Bleedin' hell, you could at least give a bloke some warning. You always were a wanker."
Angel moved forward and stood above Spike. "Get up."
"Why?" he asked from the floor. "So you can hit me again? No thanks mate."
"I said get up." Angel grabbed him by his shirt and pulled him to his feet.
"Well thanks," Spike coughed, as Angel tightened his grip on Spike's collar. "Somethin' you wanted?"
"You and Buffy, is it true?"
"Oh, I see," Spike managed to pull away from Angel, "so that's what this is about." It didn't come as any surprise to Spike, of course, but he'd be damned if he'd let Angel see him acting like a souled, lovesick fool.
"As if you didn't know."
"Well, knowing you it could be anything." Spike crossed the floor and propped himself up against the pipe in the middle of the room, the one he had tied Drusilla to the night he had told Buffy that he loved her for the first time. He felt a pang of guilt at the memory. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it. "What do you care anyway? Last I heard you were pining after Cordelia, or am I wrong?"
"My relationship with Cordelia has nothing to do with this."
"Oh really? Does she know you're here? How do you think she would feel if she knew you came running all the way back to Sunnydale for Buffy?"
"Well, good for her. She's got a real upstanding vampire on her hands. You told her the truth. I'm proud of you Peaches. Truly I am."
Angel was trying his best not to lose his temper, that much was obvious. "Buffy said that you have a soul. I find that hard to believe."
"Yeah well," he threw the cigarette to the ground, "we can't all be like you. Some of us just never lose our bite, soul or no soul."
In an instant, Angel vamped out and threw himself at Spike. "I should kill you right now. Not give you a chance to hurt her."
"Is that a stake in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"
Angel let go of him, and let his human mask fall back into place. He put his hand inside his coat pocket and pulled out a stake. "I mean it Spike," he said, holding it to the other vampire's chest. "I should kill you right now. Cure Buffy of her insanity."
"Go ahead, you don't have the guts."
"Oh don't I?" He ground the point into Spike's chest.
"You can't do it. You know she loves me. As much as you can't stand it - as much as it burns - you know that if you stake me, you're taking away the only chance at happiness she's ever had. You can't do that to her. No matter how much you hate me, you could never do that to Buffy."
Angel pulled the stake away and took a step back. "You bastard!" He drew his fist back and landed another punch in the middle of Spike's face.
"Ow! Dammit. Why do they always go for the nose?" He pulled his arm back and landed a solid hit on the right side of Angel's jaw. "All's fair mate," he said as he jabbed him in the stomach, " in love and war."
Angel doubled over in pain. "What do you know about love?" he rasped, a dangerous gleam in his eye, as he looked up at Spike.
"Well, apparently a lot more than you. After all, I'm not the one who left the girl of his dreams to go find himself."
Angel rushed at Spike, slamming him up against the pipe. "I had no choice, and you know it."
"Oh right, right," Spike breezed, "you did it for her. I'm sorry, my mistake. Leave the girl, for her own good. What a noble idea." Spike pushed Angel off of him, and sent him flying across the room.
Angel landed in a heap on the floor, but quickly recovered, standing to his full height and glaring at Spike. "Not the kind of thing you'd ever do."
"Yeah," Spike laughed to himself. If Angel only knew. "We can't all be heroes."
Angel took a determined step toward him. "Apparently some of us can't be anything more than the evil, selfish, bloodsuckers that we are."
"You know, you really shouldn't talk about yourself that way. Not good for the image really. What would Cordelia say?"
Angel closed the space between him and Spike. "You want Buffy?" Angel asked, a dangerous edge to his voice. "You're going to have to go through me to get her."
"Oh? Over your dead body, is it? I've got no problem with that."
Spike moved to punch Angel again, but this time the plan backfired. Angel caught his fist and flipped Spike over onto his back, landing him on the floor. Angel brought his foot up to Spike's neck and pushed down on his windpipe.
"You think it's going to be that easy?" Angel asked. "Oh no, it's going to take a lot more than that to bring me down."
Spike grabbed Angel's foot and pushed the other vampire off of him, flipping himself up in the same move. "Is that a promise? Because I'm up for anything you've got."
Spike was more than ready to take on Angel. So, Buffy wouldn't like it. Spike couldn't stop himself. It had been a long time since he had faced his grandsire, a long time since he had given reign to the baser feelings inside himself. And who better to take them out on than Angel, the first vampire who had broken Buffy's heart?
Spike stalked toward Angel, his duster billowing behind him. He resorted to a kick this time, right to Angel's side. Angel caught his foot and twisted his leg, again driving Spike to the ground. "Losing your touch William? Has love made you less of a man?"
"As if you could ever be one." Spike got up and threw himself at Angel, finally catching him off-guard and landing several punches to the other vamp's face.
Finally, Angel had had enough. He kicked Spike, setting him back several feet, and then came at him with all the anger he felt. "You think," he said, punching Spike in the gut, "that Buffy could ever love you?" Another punch. "You? William the Bloody? You miserable, evil, good-for-nothing vampire?" Angel punctuated each word with another jab at Spike. "Do you really think she could ever love you? Ever see you as more than a pathetic substitute for me?"
Spike growled - a low, horrible, feral sound - and lunged at Angel, knocking him to the ground. "You think she doesn't love me?" Spike asked, as Angel stood and Spike hit him again. "You think you're the one she bloody thinks about when she's with me? Well it's not true."
"Hitting a little close to home, hey Spikey?"
"You're wrong," Spike said, raising his hand to his chin to wipe some of the blood from his battered face.
"Am I? Is that why she had to come tell me? Is that why she was so hurt about Darla? Because she loves you so very much?" Angel approached his enemy, his stride ever confident. "You're nothing to her Spike. Just convenient." And then, as an afterthought he added, "You're beneath her."
For a split second Spike stood there stunned. He wanted to fight back, but something inside of him gave way, and he didn't know how. Angel took advantage of his weakened state, and started beating Spike senseless. With every blow he hurled a new epithet, and with every blow Spike lost more of his will to fight back. He could believe whatever he wanted, but the truth was, he was beneath her, and he always would be.
Finally, Angel landed one last angry blow, knocking Spike unconscious.
Victorious, but not quite satisfied, Angel stormed out of the crypt. He vowed to himself, he'd kill Spike if it was the last thing he ever did!
* * *
Angel made his way back to the car where Cordelia was waiting for him. She ran to him as she saw him approach. "Oh my God, Angel! Are you all right?" she asked, noticing the abundance of cuts and bruises marring his face.
"Yeah, I'm fine," he said, swatting her hand away, as she reached up to brush his cheek.
"Fine. Don't let me help you," she said, obviously offended. "So, is he a big pile of dust, or what?"
"Angel, tell me again exactly why we're here? What is it you're hoping to prove? I've tried to be understanding, but if this is just some kind of pissing contest to see who's got the bigger lumpies, I'm going back to LA right now and you can find your own way home."
Angel sighed, releasing some of his pent-up frustration. "I just want to make sure that Buffy's okay, that's all."
"If that was all, why was chez Spike the first stop on our list?"
"I . . . I don't know. I just had to see him. Call it a family thing if you like," he said, moving around to the other side of the car.
"I think it's more than a family thing. Why don't you just have it out with Buffy and get it over with?"
"I will. I just needed to see Spike first." He opened the car door and moved to get inside.
Her voice stopped him, and he looked up at her, over the roof of the car.
"We talked about this, didn't we? I told you I saw them together, last year, when I was up there." She pointed to the sky. "He's not going to hurt her. You don't have to protect her."
"I have to do this Cordy. I'm sorry."
"Right. Because you just love me so much."
"It's not about that."
"Oh, isn't it? Suddenly, it's poor Buffy? Why do you have to protect her? She doesn't even love you anymore."
Angel stared at her, visibly shaken.
"I mean . . ."
"How do you know that?"
"I told you, I saw them together. Some things are just obvious Angel. She loves him. Don't believe it - if that's going to make you feel better - but it's true. She doesn't love you Angel. Not the way she loves Spike."
Angle's eyes dropped and he was silent for a moment. "Get in the car."
Cordelia watched him warily, as she opened her door and slid down into the seat beside him. What she had told him was true. She had seen Spike and Buffy together. Of course, it hadn't all been harmless - she had seen all sorts of things in their past together, including the night Spike had tried to rape Buffy - but Cordelia had been a higher being. And as a higher being, there were some things one was privileged to know. One of those things was that Spike and Buffy were meant to be together. There was a connection between them. Something that had always been there. And not even Angel could destroy it.
As much as it hurt Cordelia to know that Angel had to go on this quest, she wouldn't let herself stop him. They had both made mistakes in their relationship. If Angel needed to end things with Buffy, once and for all, then Cordelia would do what she could to help him do that. And it would end. Whatever Angel thought, Cordelia knew this was the final chapter in the story.
* * *
Angel pulled the car up in front of 1630 Revello Drive. He had left Cordelia at the hotel they were staying at. She had no desire to see Buffy, and he was sure them meeting up after all this time wouldn't be such a good idea, under the circumstances.
Cordy had been surprisingly understanding about the whole thing. It wasn't that he was in love with Buffy - he wasn't, he truly did love Cordelia - but he needed to know that Buffy was safe, that she was ok. Knowing that she was with Spike - of all people - was difficult for him to take. They had never seen eye to eye on anything, him and his grandchilde. He had never trusted Spike, and just because Buffy was in love with him, didn't mean that Angel had to start trusting him now.
Angel cleared the steps of the front porch and stood in front of the door. He could hear voices inside. Obviously Buffy wasn't alone. Well, it didn't matter. This had to be done.
He knocked and heard the sound of light footsteps approaching the door.
"I don't care, I still think Nosferatu is a stupid name for a vampire. Is that really supposed to be scary?" Dawn answered the door, her attention still on her friends in the living room. Finally, she turned to see who was there. "Angel?" she squeaked.
"Uh, Buffy?" she called into the other room. "There's someone here to see you."
Buffy came into the entryway, her step faltering when she saw him. "Angel."
"Buffy. Can I come in?"
Buffy thought for a second, momentarily stunned by the sight of him in her doorway. "Sure, come in."
It wasn't as if he needed an invitation. She had never deinvited him from the house. But still, the moment was awkward.
"Hey is that the pizza guy? I'm starving," Xander asked as he and Anya entered the room. "Angel!"
"Xander," Angel grudgingly acknowledged him. Was the entire Scooby gang camped out in her living room? He turned his attention back to Buffy. "Is there some place where we can talk?"
"Sure." Buffy cautiously led him into the kitchen, slightly discomfited by his presence.
"Look, Buffy I . . ."
"What happened to you?"
"Your face." She lightly brushed her finger against his cheek.
"Oh that? Just in a little scrape earlier tonight. Nothing to worry about."
Buffy eyed him suspiciously. "What does the other guy look like?"
"Oh, about five-ten, dyed-blonde hair. Skinny thing really. Makes you wonder why anyone would find him attractive."
He gave Buffy a firm look. "Don't expect me to apologize. He's my grandchilde. I can discipline him if I want to."
"I don't think this has anything to do with discipline. Is he okay? Where is he?"
Angel shook his head in obvious frustration. "I don't believe this. You're actually worried about Spike."
"Yes, I am, and if you don't tell me where he is, I'm going to have to seriously hurt you. After all, I am still a Slayer." She stood dangerously close, staring up at him threateningly.
"He's in his crypt. No worse for wear."
"I'll bet," she said, backing away. "Angel, what exactly are you doing here?"
"I don't quite know. I didn't like the way we left things, back in LA. I needed to see you."
"Well, now you've seen me. What do you want?" She folded her arms across her chest.
What did he want? Forgiveness? Her word that she wouldn't marry Spike? Finally, he said, "I just want to know that you're all right."
"I told you I was, back in LA."
"I know, you're right, you did. But Buffy, you couldn't expect me to just lie down and accept the fact that you're marrying Spike. So I went a little crazy. I'm sorry."
"You're sorry? You come here and beat the man I love to a bloody pulp, and you're sorry?"
"You really love him?"
"Yes, I do. Angel, I told you that.
"But Spike? Buffy, he's a killer."
She gave him a steady look. "You're point, oh blameless one?"
Angel sighed heavily and stared at Buffy. "He's . . . Spike," he said, obviously at a loss for a better reason.
"Which means what? That he's incapable of loving anyone? That he can't feel? He has a soul, Angel. And he can feel. More deeply than most people I know. What he feels for me is real. And so is what I feel for him."
"He didn't seem any different to me. Same pain-in-the-ass Spike."
"Yeah, well, for you, I'm sure he'd make an exception."
"I mean it Buffy. He didn't seem any different. Are you sure he's telling you the truth?"
"Yes. I've seen it, seen the change in him. Anya saw it literally. She knew before anyone else that he had gotten his soul back. I guess it's a demon thing."
"But Buffy, you've met . . . Angelus. You can't tell me that I'm that much like him."
"Then how do you explain Spike? He seems unchanged. There's no Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde-thing going on there."
As much as she didn't want to agree with Angel, Buffy had to admit that it was more or less true. Although there had been some changes in his personality, essentially, Spike was the same person he always had been. Of course now, instead of being cocky and self-assured, he was usually down on himself, but other than that, Spike was pretty much Spike.
"Apparently, William and Spikes' personalities aren't that divergent. I can't explain why really. It's just the way it is."
"So, you love Spike then? The upstart? The reckless fool? The eternal stake in my side?"
"Buffy . . . " he seemed at a loss for words. "Are you sure this is what you want? Are you sure you can trust him?"
"As much as I could ever trust anybody." She paused for a moment, and then corrected herself. "No, that's not true. I trust him more than I've ever been able to trust anyone. Angel, you don't know what he's done for me. What he's gone through to make himself worthy of my love. He still doesn't think he's worthy, but I know he is. You don't know how many times he's risked his life to save mine. The torture and the suffering he's endured, just for me. He would never hurt me, believe me. If there's one thing on this earth that I know, it's that Spike would never hurt me. Never again."
"So what do you expect me to do? Just give you my blessing and leave?"
"Well, your blessing would be nice. But really Angel, I didn't go to LA to hurt you. I went there so that I could be the one to tell you the truth. So you wouldn't have to hear it from just anyone. So that maybe I could make you understand."
"I understand." He pulled his eyes away from hers. "You don't love me, anymore."
"Angel." She came up to stand beside him. "That's not it. I do love you. I'll always love you. But what I feel for Spike is . . ."
"Different?" He looked up at her.
"Buffy, I want you to be happy. I want you to have your own life. To fall in love and have everything you've always wanted."
"You just hoped it would be with someone else, someone other than Spike."
"Well, actually, the thought never even crossed my mind. I mean, come on? You and Spike? Not even as a joke would I ever have even thought of it."
"Thanks." She pulled away.
"That's not what I meant."
"Angel, I love you. But I am in love with Spike. It isn't a spell. It isn't a curse, or magic, or any kind of sickness. I am in love with Spike, and that isn't going to change."
"So that's you final answer on the subject?"
"I guess I've got no reason to stick around then. I should go." He turned to leave.
Her voice stopped him.
"Don't be." He forced a smile for her. "It's okay. I'll just have to learn to live with it."
"It's not so bad. Giles is recovering quite well. Maybe you could call him for support."
"I'll do that."
"Seriously though, thank you."
"For caring. For loving me so much that you came here just to make sure that I was safe." She came to stand next to him and reached up, kissing him on the cheek.
* * *
Twenty minutes later, Buffy was climbing down the ladder of Spike's crypt. As soon as her feet touched the ground, she spun around, looking for Spike. She didn't see him. Cautiously, she made her way around the bed. There he was, lying on the floor, his face battered and bruised, dried blood caked across his knuckles.
Buffy hunched down beside him and lifted his head into her lap. He moaned softly with the movement, but didn't wake up. Tentatively, she touched his face, trying to ascertain how bad the wounds were. Whatever had happened between them, Angel had gotten the better end of the deal. Buffy couldn't believe that Angel had been able to inflict so much damage on Spike. Although Spike was indeed an upstart, he was also a better fighter than Angel. There was no way Angel could have won, unless Spike had wanted him to. No matter how angry Angel had been, he could never have done this much damage to Spike. But William? Buffy sighed. William would have taken it.
Buffy gathered Spike up the best she could, and put him on the bed. "Thank God for Slayer strength," she mumbled to herself.
Buffy sat down beside him and looked over his wounds. She tried to feel for broken ribs, but couldn't be sure if they were broken or not. "What am I ever going to do with you?" she asked, as she gently stroked his hair. "You'll be the death of me, won't you? Of course, I won't mind though." She dropped her hand and absently smoothed down his wrinkled shirt. "I don't know how I'd live without you anyway. Don't know how I ever did it before."
"Neither do I luv." His voice was weak and rasping.
"Spike?" Her eyes shot up.
"Yeah, that's me." He closed his eyes and exhaled a long, painful breath.
"You let Angel hurt you."
"Did I?" he asked, trying to sit up.
Buffy pushed him back down - firmly, but gently. "You let him beat you to a bloody pulp. Why?"
"Does it matter?"
"Yes, it matters."
"Buffy, luv, I really don't want to talk about it. I just want to sleep," he said, forgetting his bruises and throwing his arm over his eyes. He winced in pain. "Ow! Bloody hell." He put his arm back at his side. "Can we just talk about this in the morning?"
"Fine." She got up from the bed. "Goodnight . . ." She almost said "William," but she didn't want to hurt him like that, didn't want him to know that she knew. She turned and left the crypt.
* * *
A few hours later, Buffy was sitting in the kitchen, absently flipping through the latest bridal magazine. She was dressed in her pajama bottoms and a tank top, a warm cup of tea in her hand. She was having trouble sleeping. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw Spike, beaten and bruised. Dejected. Defeated. What could she ever do to convince him that he was worthy of her? That she loved him, and only him? Whatever Angel had goaded him with must have been pretty bad. Buffy wished she knew what it had been.
Suddenly the door opened, and Buffy turned around to see Spike standing in the doorway.
"You want to come in?" she asked.
He looked a little better than when she had left him, four hours earlier. Some of the swelling had gone down and some of the minor scrapes had disappeared. Still, he didn't look all that well.
"Are you sure you want me to?"
Buffy rolled her eyes. "What kind of a question is that?"
"An honest one." He stepped into the kitchen, closing the door behind him.
Buffy shook her head. "I don't believe this. So, Angel shows up, tells you you're not good enough - or something like that - and suddenly you start wondering if it's true? Again? You've never believed a word he's said before? Why start now?"
"Because he's right. For once in his bleedin' life, he's right."
"No. He's not. He knows that now. I told him. Told him everything."
Spike looked around the kitchen. "Where is he now?"
Buffy nearly shattered the mug in her hand. "He's upstairs, in my bedroom. Where else?"
"I'm sorry." He shoved his hands into his pockets and averted his gaze.
"Well you should be." Buffy got up from the table and went over to him. "Spike. Look at me."
He raised his eyes to hers.
"I love you." She put her hand up against his cheek, holding him there. "There is nothing between me and Angel. Nothing! How could you let him do this to you? Please William." She let him go. "Don't ever let anyone do that to you again. Not for my sake."
"I am beneath you," he said, after a long silence.
So, that was it? "You're not."
"Buffy . . ."
"No. I won't let you do this. You're in this for the long haul. Whether you like it or not. You love me. And I love you. And I'm not going to let you go."
"I didn't mean to . . ."
Buffy smiled. Never, in all the time she had known him, had she ever been so happy to hear one of Spike's colorful phrases.
She moved behind him and helped pull off his duster. "Why don't you sit down? You look like you could use some hot chocolate."
Spike did as she asked. "So where is he now? Really?"
"Gone back to LA, I suppose," Buffy said, over her shoulder, as she rifled through the cabinet.
"Is he gone for good?"
"Yes." She came to stand beside him. "He won't be coming back." She wrapped her arms about him and placed a kiss atop his blonde head. "I know I shouldn't say this," she said, as his eyes came up to meet hers, "because this was never supposed to be a contest. But you won. Why can't we just leave it at that? He's gone and he's never coming back."
"Do you want him to?"
"No. No, not if this," she gestured toward his bruised form, "is what I have to look forward to every time the two of you cross paths."
"That's not what I meant."
"No. I don't want him back. Spike, he's not my equal. Do you really think Angel and I should be together?"
"He was your first."
"And you're my last." She leaned down to gently kiss his still-tender lips. "Tell me Angel isn't beneath me."
"I never said he wasn't."
"Spike." She ran her fingers lightly down his neck and over his chest. She felt him draw in a sharp, unneeded breath as her hands skimmed his body.
"Buffy . . ."
"He is beneath you. We're all beneath you."
She shook her head from side to side. "No. You're not. Not yet," she said, a slow smile gently curving her lips.
Instinctively, Spike started drawing small circles on the small of her back with his hands. A shiver ran up Buffy's spine as she drew closer to him.
"Tell me you love me," he said.
"I love you, Spike. And only you."
"Tell me you want me," he said, his hand sliding higher.
"I always want you."
He pulled her closer and kissed her, his mouth devouring hers, in spite of the pain. They had promised each other, that at least for this last week before the wedding, they wouldn't do this. But somehow, there were other promises they had made that were more important. Spike picked Buffy up and carried her up the stairs. Tonight, once again, she would show him just how much she loved him.