by Sandy S.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. All belongs to Joss and UPN.
Spoilers: Through Season 7. . . . No spoilers for the remainder of season 7 cause I don't read em. . . . Any coincidentally similar points to spoilers (I doubt there will be) are accidental.
Summary: So many possibilities tiptoed around in the last few episodes. Let's take a trip down a few of the paths.
Dedication: This story is dedicated to Julie Kyle. . .a fellow graduate student whose bright spirit won't be forgotten.
* * *
What if #1: Xander and Anya get back together. . . despite what they said about being truly over. They did after all start out that way. . . insisting that they were over one another after sharing their passions.
"You did WHAT in my bed?" Spike demanded crossing his arms and doing his best to appear threatening in his newly dusted off leather coat.
Hastily stuffing his shirt in his pants, Xander avoided the vampire's gaze, instead focusing on the pile of chains in the corner and letting his imagination wander to what might have been earlier. Meanwhile, Anya studied the basement ceiling and shoved her hands in her pockets, which was rather difficult because her shirt was inside out and one sleeve was unseen because she hadn't had a chance to poke her arm through yet.
Huffing in exasperation, reflective of the impatient Spike of old, he began stripping the sheets off the bed and ranting, "How the bloody hell am I going to sleep on this bed knowing that you two. . . ." He paused to roll his eyes.
Before he could speak again, Anya noted, "Well, you've done it in many an odd place before. . . I know. . .I mean, I'm sure. Why can't we? It is a free country."
A bit relieved that their silence was at last broken, Xander nodded. "Good, valid. . .dare I say, excellent points. . . all of them. . . both of them."
"How would YOU like it if I did that in your bed with some tramp?" Spike retorted, dropping the soiled sheets into a pile on the floor.
Xander's expression softened at the image that flashed through his mind. Then, his face wrinkled into a mask of disgust. "You're right. Bad image."
"Hey!" Anya protested, punching Xander lightly on his upper arm and glaring at Spike. "I'm NOT a tramp."
Something in Spike's eyes melted, and his tone was serious. "No, no, Anya, you're not. Even if you try to portray yourself that way."
Soft footfalls pounded on the stairs, and the trio glanced up to see Buffy and Dawn standing together on the staircase. The two young women peered curiously down at the vampire, the ex-demon, and the heart of the group.
"What's going on down here?" Buffy queried, hands on her hips. "Why are you shouting? There's enough noise around this house from the girls. I need you guys to be calm."
"'Scuse me if you can't handle a little racket," Anya pouted. "We're handling the situation."
"We most certainly are not!" Spike insisted, rediscovering his momentum and pointing to the bundle of sheets. "Look what they did!"
"What?" Buffy was genuinely unsure about what Spike was talking about. "Pulled the sheets off the bed?"
"Actually, Spike did that."
Buffy did not pick up on Anya's insertion and asked, "They did some laundry for you?"
Dawn's eyes widened as she took in Xander and Anya's appearance. The truth took a little longer to hit Buffy. Then, her face mirrored her sister's.
"Oohhhh," Buffy breathed.
Spike raised his eyebrows. "See what I mean! I can't sleep here. I have nowhere to sleep."
"Poor little vampire needs a nightlight," Xander said, not holding back the sarcasm. "And say, at least we didn't use the chains. They might be ruined, too."
Spike opened his mouth to speak but caught Buffy's eye and didn't utter a syllable in response to Xander's comment. Xander was just covering up his embarrassment about his antics with Anya being discovered.
Buffy sighed and addressed Spike, "Well, ever since the First told Andrew that it wasn't your 'time' yet, I've been wanting to keep a closer eye on you. You can sleep in my room with Dawn and me."
The shock on Xander and Spike's face was almost comical. In exact opposition, Anya and Dawn didn't seem the least bit surprised by Buffy's suggestion.
Struck with the bit of childishness that sometimes leaked out when she was completely exhausted, Buffy rubbed her eye with her right hand and let out a large yawn as she began re-climbing the stairs. "You coming? I have fresh sheets in the hall closet for you. Just stick those in the washer on your way up. We have to get rest while we can."
Spike and Xander exchanged a mutual glance that spoke volumes. Xander bobbed his head once in assent, and Spike, who had been waiting for the acknowledgement, returned the gesture and followed Buffy and Dawn.
When they were gone, Xander turned to Anya, breaking the awkward silence that fell between them when they were alone, "Anya."
Anya glanced up at Xander with vulnerability, fear, and expectation painted over her aura. "Yes, Xander?"
"You know that thing about how we're finally over?"
"Yeah," she said cautiously.
Xander hesitated briefly and then took her hand, which was still uncomfortably twisted in her shirt. Anya stared at their clasped hands and then met his eyes.
"I think I want to test that theory again," he murmured, leaning forward to whisper in her ear.
* * *
What if #2: Spike and Dawn have a chat. After all, they were once very close, and if Buffy is trusting Spike again, why wouldn't Dawn?
Buffy was enjoying a quiet moment alone in the bathroom, so a pajama-clad Dawn entered her sister's bedroom to witness Spike making a pallet on the floor with clean sheets and blankets.
Dawn leaned on the doorframe, arms crossed. "Want some help?"
Spike cast Dawn a fleeting look and busied himself with his work. "Sure, bi-. . . Sure."
Dawn traversed the room and caught the end of the sheet Spike was straightening, evading the vampire's gaze. "So, how've you been? I feel like I've been caught in the middle of a stampede. . . a stampede of girls. I know you've been in the house, but things have been distracting. . . what with the danger and all."
"I've been helping you out with the danger." Spike laid the sheet on the floor near Buffy's bed and Dawn's already made-up pallet.
"Yeah, but since when does that count as seeing someone around?" Spike raised an eyebrow briefly at her, so Dawn continued, "I mean, you have this big monster, evil, bad thing rushing at you or intimidating you, and well, it's a little distracting. You get caught up, and you forget to do things like talking to the people around you."
"That's the understatement of the year, pet." Spike smiled at the teen. "And the speeches aren't very efficient conversation starters, are they?"
Dawn grinned at his reference to Buffy's seemingly endless stream of group confrontations. "No, they aren't. At least, not the way Buffy does them."
"She's not very good with positive motivation. . . ." He fingered the collar of his leather coat. "Although, I suppose that she does motivate."
"Why do you think that she does it like that?"
"The tough speech-making?"
"Yeah." Dawn grabbed Spike's pillow off Buffy's bed.
Spike sat on the ground, wrists resting on his elevated knees. "She's scared. Same as the rest of us. And with Giles telling her to get serious, she's even more scared."
"I guess so."
Spike paused and regarded Dawn more thoughtfully. "You feeling ignored, pet? What with all the little girls running around the house, getting in the way?"
Dawn made a face of concentration as she stuffed Spike's pillow into a pillowcase. "Nah, not really. I mean, I have a job to do here." She tossed the cushion at him and settled on the floor next to him.
"You do know more about demon-fighting than any of the other. . . whatever you've been calling them."
"Right." Spike slung the pillow toward one end of his pallet. "Well, anyway, I'm proud of you."
Dawn glanced up at him with a smile tugging at the corners of her lips. "Really? How come?"
"For being who you are. For going through so much and still going strong."
"Xander said the same thing to me." Dawn picked at a fingernail.
"But I haven't been through that much."
Spike directly faced the young woman. "You've been through more than any girl your age deserves to. You lost your mum, your identity, your sister, your friends. And you're in constant danger of losing your own life. You handled and are handling things the best you know how."
"Not really. Not always," Dawn countered, tearing off the offending hangnail and wincing.
"So, you've made a few mistakes. Haven't we all?" A tinge of regret and clear knowing shone through his last words. "Some mistakes aren't nearly as forgivable."
Dawn leaned her head on the vampire's shoulder, and Spike stiffened at first before allowing the gesture. "I'm proud of you, too." When Spike said nothing, Dawn added, "You've been through a lot, too, and you fought hard to become who you are today."
"I'm afraid, pet, that I've made a few more mistakes than you," Spike reminded her grimly.
"Much worse mistakes than you ever thought of making."
"And again, so? I've seen the impact of some of your biggest mistakes." She glanced up at Spike's pained expression, perching her chin on his shoulder. "And I've also seen how bad you feel about making them. And I've seen what you've done to try to atone for them. And even if you don't ask for forgiveness, you've got mine."
Dawn allowed the impact of her words to infiltrate Spike's brain before she appended in a teasing tone, "As long as you never make a mistake again."
When Spike snorted amusedly in response, Dawn repositioned her head and sighed, closing her eyes. He marveled at the renewed trust she was showing him with her actions. Silence held them captive for several minutes.
Then, Spike whispered, "Do you think she'll ever. . ."
"Ever what?" Buffy interrupted from the doorway.
Dawn blinked up at her sister and covered for Spike with a half-sleepy, half-laughing expression, "Ever get out of the bathroom? 'Bout time!" She jumped to her feet and breezed past Buffy.
As if a thought hit her suddenly, she pivoted back to face her sister and the vampire. "Spike, to answer your question. . . yes."
Spike earned a confused sound from Buffy, but he ignored it, smiling at Dawn's spunk.
"I'm SO sick of waiting for the bathroom," Dawn trailed off as she rushed down the hall before anyone else could slip in the small room.
Buffy grinned at her sister's mirth and asked Spike, "You think Xander could add several more bathrooms onto the house?"
"And make your mother's house the only place on Revello Drive with six bathrooms on the first floor?"
"Guess that wouldn't help with re-sale value." She plunked tiredly onto the edge of her bed, her legs next to Spike's head.
Spike smiled. "Try explaining it to the real estate agent."
"Think they'd believe the truth?"
* * *
What if #3: Buffy and Willow discuss their love life the way they used to do in seasons past.
Grateful for the fading rustles as the members of the crowded household fell asleep, Buffy skipped lightly down the stairs, carefully avoiding the familiar squeaky spots on the stairs. Padding through the darkened kitchen with instinctual ease, she grabbed a ceramic mug from the cabinet and a tea bag from the pantry.
As she swung open the refrigerator to retrieve water to heat in the new microwave, light flared out in an arc and highlighted a figure sitting at the kitchen island. Starting, Buffy felt the breath catch in her throat. Then, she recognized the slouching form.
Willow perched on a bar stool with her head cradled in her palms, her red hair pulled up in a slightly messy ponytail. Her expression was one of consternation and uncertainty.
"What's wrong?" Buffy asked, holding the refrigerator door open and allowing the cold to sweep across the room.
Willow blinked as if just noticing her friend's presence. "Buffy?"
"What's with sad face?"
Shaking her head, Willow looked down at the counter. "Nothing."
As Buffy observed a tear drop from Willow's face, she persisted, "Something's wrong. Tell me."
Sniffing, Willow attempted to subtly wipe away the water from her eyes as she glanced at her friend and then away. "You have more important things to worry about. I'm okay. Just momentary insanity."
Willow let out a small laugh. "Don't be alarmed. It's nothing like what happened before. . . when Tara. . ."
"When Tara passed away?" Buffy filled in for her friend.
Brushing a hand across her cheek to swipe away another tear, Willow threw one hand in the air. "Look at me. I can't even say it out loud. . . what happened. I'm like a self-muted television." Buffy made a face, and Willow followed, "I know. It's a bad analogy, but I couldn't think of anything else."
Buffy was sympathetic. "I understand. It's hard for you to talk about." She set the water jug back on the shelf. "It might always be."
Willow shivered and rubbed her arms and removed attention from her outburst. "Could you shut the door?"
Realizing that she was keeping the refrigerator door ajar, Buffy hastily shut away the cold. "Sorry," she apologized. Before Willow could reply, Buffy pulled open the curtains they'd hung over the kitchen window to keep Spike from getting burned. Light from the streetlamp poured across the room.
Buffy settled onto the stool beside her friend and propped her head up with her arm. "Sounds like you're still really struggling with missing Tara. . . like you did with Oz."
"Yeah," Willow acknowledged miserably. "Seems to be a pattern with me. Love with all my might, get hurt, and hold it all inside for ages." She paused. "Is something wrong with me?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, outside of going all black magicky, is there something wrong with me? 'Cause I hold on so long. . . even when there's no hope."
Buffy thought for a few seconds before responding, "We all have our own ways of dealing with things. We're all different. Doesn't mean that there's something wrong with you if you handle loss and pain this way. . . by holding on. It's just part of you, part of Willow. Makes you *you*. Loyal, loving, good Willow."
"And Kennedy?" Buffy didn't say anything, letting Willow continue, "Is it fair for me to be with her when I still have feelings for Tara?"
"Didn't you still have feelings for Oz when you first started developing feelings for Tara?"
"Well, what's wrong with developing feelings for someone else?" Buffy's thoughts fleeting went to Spike before she banished them away. Now was the time to focus on her friend.
"I don't know." Willow frowned. "There's something else, I guess."
Willow took a deep breath and said as she exhaled, "I'm not sure about Kennedy."
"You two seemed pretty cuddlesome to me the last few weeks." Buffy traced the rim of her empty coffee mug.
Willow tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear, tears forming in her eyes. "I don't know. Part of me knows that I'm not ready for something like what Tara and I had. . . what Oz and I had. That's both logical and emotional me. The other part of me just wants to enjoy Kennedy's company, no matter how she feels about me. . . whether she likes me more than I like her or not. That's selfish me. I mean, what if it's true and in the upcoming battle, we all die. . . or some of us die? Will I regret not at least enjoying my last few weeks on earth. . . at least a little?"
"Does Kennedy know how you're feeling?"
"No. That's why I'm sitting here. Tonight, we were getting ready for bed, and she wanted to talk. I could tell she was about to tell me she loved me. You know how you can just tell sometimes?" Willow looked to Buffy for confirmation, and Buffy nodded. "In the seconds as she was leading up to it, it dawned on me that I couldn't say that I loved her. . . not in the way she wanted me to. I mean, I know I can love someone that way. I just don't think I'm ready. I feel rushed into this in a way. Like one minute, I'm all alone. . . and all of a sudden, I turn around and there's someone else standing there. And she's not Tara."
"Maybe you should talk to Kennedy about it," Buffy suggested. "The truth is always best."
Willow sighed, and her tight shoulders relaxed a bit. "You think?"
As Buffy spoke, her voice grew firmer. "Yeah, that's what I think. You've been through a lot, and when you've been through a lot, you need time to heal. Give yourself a break."
"Seems like we're always healing for one reason or another around here."
"Yeah," Buffy agreed, "you're right. We are. Guess that's life on the Hellmouth for you."
Willow emitted a shaky sigh. "So, what about you and Principal Wood? Or rather, you and Spike?"
Startled by the switch of topics, Buffy sprang up from the stool and hurried to the refrigerator to obtain some water for tea. "Spike and me?"
"Or Principal Wood. Tell me about him."
Buffy poured water into her cup. "Principal Wood. . . Robin is very nice."
"Nice? He seems darned sexy to me," Willow commented, amused by Buffy's flurried movements.
Slipping the mug into the microwave and punching buttons, Buffy said neutrally, "He is very sexy. . . nice, good fighter. I'm glad to have him on our side. We need all the help we can get in the coming fight."
"Heard that one before," Willow teased. "Let's see. . . oh, last night, two days earlier, the day before that. . ."
Buffy shot her friend a rueful grin. "I know. I've been kinda preachy."
"Okay, a lot. But everything I've said is the truth. I want you guys to know what we're up against." Buffy ripped open the tea packet.
"I know, and I understand why you're doing it. But, we're getting off the subject. Principal Wood and potential sparkage."
"I don't have time to do anything about sparkage."
"What have we just been talking about? Enjoying ourselves. . . at least a little in case the world does end tomorrow," Willow reminded her.
"I don't have that luxury," Buffy stated evenly.
"Buffy, you need to take care of yourself. . . enjoy yourself a little, especially now. If you don't, you'll end up. . ."
"If I take time, I'll end up dead and so will a lot of other people," Buffy snapped, punching the stop button on the microwave roughly.
Willow plunged ahead anyway, "What Giles said is true. We do need to prepare, but we can't neglect ourselves either."
"I'm not neglecting myself."
"You are. . . to deny yourself to relax sometimes. . . when the threat is less, it's like holding your breath for too long. . . you'll end up losing consciousness when the crucial moment arrives. You need a little fun. . . a little relaxation to survive. . . just like you need oxygen."
Buffy relented, stirring her tea packet in the semi-warm water. "I guess so."
"Now. . . about Spike. . ." Willow grinned at her friend's shocked face.
"I thought we were talking about Prin. . . Robin."
"Decided I'd rather hear the juice on you and Spike." A light tone pervaded Willow's voice.
"Okay. What about me and Spike?"
"Well, he's different now," Willow began.
Buffy pulled her stool closer to the counter near the microwave but still in proximity to Willow. "Yeah. He's got a soul."
"And you still have feelings for him." Willow caught the objection in her friend's eyes and cut her off, "No, there's no denying it."
"I rely on him; he relies on me," Buffy quoted Giles from days ago. "We've fought together for a long time. There's bound to be feelings there. . . like I have feelings for you and Xander and Giles."
"It's more than that."
"No, it's not." Buffy stared into her cup.
"Okay. It's okay if you don't want to talk about it."
An awkward silence fell between the two friends.
Then, Buffy admitted, "I'm not ready to talk about it. I do have some sort of feelings, but I guess, I still haven't figured out. . . ." She broke off. There were too many issues tumbling through her head to properly convey them aloud. She had a sudden strong urge to be near Spike. . . just to see. . . to clarify things.
Willow patted her arm. "It's okay. Talk about it when you're ready."
Relief spread over Buffy's face. "Thanks, Will." She stood and placed her still-full mug in the sink. She reached over and pulled her friend into an embrace. "I think I'm going to hit the hay."
"Good night." Willow still appeared wide-awake.
"You gonna be okay?"
"Yeah, thanks for listening. I'm just gonna stay up for a while longer. . . maybe go in the bathroom down here where I won't disturb anyone and read for a while." She patted a novel on the counter that Buffy hadn't noticed earlier.
When Buffy had reached the door to the next room, Willow called after her, "Think about what I said about taking some time to enjoy yourself."
Buffy smiled at her friend. "I will. Talk to Kennedy."
* * *
What if #4: Buffy continued the talk she started with Spike after her date with Principal Wood?
Curled on her side, Dawn was fast asleep when Buffy returned to her bedroom after re-brushing her teeth. A few feet from Dawn's unmoving form, Spike was lying on his back with his hands behind his head, eyes closed. Being in Buffy's room, he was still dressed under the sheet.
"Hey," Buffy murmured as she pulled back the comforter and sheets on her bed.
Spike opened one eye and surveyed her. "How'd you know I was awake?"
"'Cause I've never seen you sleep in that position before." Buffy blinked heavy lids at him.
Buffy snuggled down under the covers and lay on her side, facing Spike. Once her rustlings ceased, Spike spoke again.
"You know, pet, I've noticed something distinctly unfair about the sleeping arrangements."
That made Buffy's eyes widen. "What?"
"How come you get the bed when the bit and I have the floor?"
"Umm. You are in my room. Besides, I deserve the bed, being the 'chosen one' and all." Buffy attempted to maintain an impartial expression.
"Hmph. The floor is hard, especially for growing young girls." When Spike caught Buffy's eyebrows raise, he plunged forward, "And me? I'm over a hundred years old. Don't you think an old man like me deserves the bed?"
Buffy bit her lip, trying not to giggle. "If you must know, Dawn and I trade every night. There's really not enough room in here for both of us. And Dawn's a kicker."
Spike glanced at sleeping Dawn. "I can see that about her."
"When she was little, we'd go on family vacations. She and I would share the bed at whatever hotel we were staying in. I ended up covered in bruises by the end of the trip."
"Good thing you didn't kick back."
"Oh, that was before I became a slayer." Buffy's took on the vague look of reminiscing.
Spike smiled at her peacefulness and spoke his mind before he thought, "Nice to see you relaxing a little this evening."
Buffy's muscles stiffened. "I'm not relaxing." Spike opened his mouth to speak, but Buffy interrupted, "I know, I know. I need to take care of myself and have a little fun or else I'll be less effective in dealing with the First when it comes time to."
Spike lifted both hands in a mock defensive gesture. "I didn't say that."
"But you were thinking it."
"Maybe. But there's more to it than that."
Buffy concurred with Spike by not offering a response. Then, she switched the subject. "What do you think of Principal Wood?"
Spike's mind flew over all the potential meanings her question could take. Rolling onto his side, he opted for an evasive response, "What do you mean?"
Following Spike's lead, Buffy asked, "How is he as a fighter? You've fought with him more than me. . . had more of a chance to observe him."
"He's a good fighter. . . got clean technique and the passion on top of it." Spike hesitated and then wondered aloud, "What do you think of him outside of the fighting?"
"What do *you* mean?"
Spike didn't want to ask her what he wanted to know outright. "You see him at school all the time."
"He's nice. Very good with the students. Firm but fair. He was really concerned about the students when things got all weird with the seal."
"He's a good man," Spike stated.
Buffy tucked her left hand under her cheek. "Yeah, he's a good man."
"And what?" Buffy knew what he was asking but wanted to hear him ask out loud. This was one of those moments Willow was talking about. . .where a person knew what was coming next. Only, unlike Willow, she wanted to hear what Spike had to say.
"What do you think of him outside the work setting?"
"Hmm. He's a good fighter." Buffy needed to hear Spike spell everything out.
"I think we established that, pet. I mean, outside of that, too."
"What's outside of work and fighting?" She examined Spike's features in the dim lamplight.
Spike was quiet for a moment but drew a deep breath and said, "Your date with him."
Buffy averted her eyes. "It wasn't really a date."
Spike snorted softly. "Don't tell me that. You told me that I should try it, too. The dating thing. I remember clear as day."
"I did, didn't I?" Buffy's tone betrayed her amusement.
"Yeah, you did." Spike didn't sound half as entertained as hurt crept into his voice.
Buffy melted at his pain in a way she was just getting accustomed to. "I'm not interested in Prinicipal Wood in that way, Spike. Not in the way of dating."
"Oh." Spike took a minute to absorb that tidbit. "So. . ." He left the sentence hanging, not sure where to go next.
Heart starting to pound before her next question, Buffy asked, "Want to know why?"
Spike was honest. "I don't know."
Impulsively, Buffy reached her hand toward Spike. She held her hand in place for a while. Patiently, she informed him, "It's okay to touch me, Spike."
"Is it now?" A trace of the old, ironic Spike infiltrated his tone. Despite that, in the next second, he laced his fingers with hers.
Buffy chose to use what others had told her to communicate her next message. "Do you know how much I rely on you? I have for a long time now."
Spike stroked her thumb with his. "Yeah, I do, pet. It's okay to rely on others. I've told you that before. Well, not exactly in those words."
"Yeah. And other people have noticed that I rely on you. Giles, Willow, Dawn. Everyone else in the house. Probably Principal Wood."
"What do you make of that?" Spike let go of her hand. He wasn't sure what was coming.
She drew her arm back more quickly than intended. "And I'm always the last to know. . . the last to see. At least, when it comes to my personal life, I have a hard time. It's like I'm so focused on other things that other stuff. . . relationships with the people in my life just breeze by me. It's like I don't see what's happening until too late. And I wonder, is that healthy for me as the Slayer? I mean, . . .what if. . ."
Spike cleared his throat. "Buffy, you're babbling."
"What? Am I?" She seemed distracted by his interruption.
"Yes. And you're beating around the proverbial bush. Lay it on me."
"Lay it on you?"
"Whatever's on your mind, pet."
"Well, the point is that I rely on you. . . in more ways than one."
"Is that all?" Spike was disappointed. "That's your big revelation?"
Buffy didn't answer for a moment. Then, "Yeah. That's it."
Before Spike realized what was happening, Buffy slid on the floor next to him and backed into his chest so that she was spooned against him. "Aren't you going to ask me in what other ways I rely on you?"
Spike closed his eyes and inhaled her clean scent. He felt awkward with her this close and wasn't sure what to do with the handful of slayer nestled against him. "In what other ways do you rely on me?"
"Emotionally. You're my rock. Throughout it all. When I lost it, when we screwed it all up before, I felt a piece missing. . . . Does that make sense?"
Spike drew back a bit. "Yeah, so you're dependent on me. I'm always there to lean on, so you can use me to handle things when your life gets crazy. Is that it?" He left the "It doesn't matter that you feel nothing for me" part out of his concerns.
Buffy shifted in his arms so that she was facing him. Tentatively, she touched his chest with her right hand. "It's more than just dependence. I'm not using you anymore. It's not that. I haven't been using you for a long time now. I have feelings for you."
Spike wasn't convinced about what he was hearing. "Feelings? You feel sorry for me because of what I've been through of late."
Buffy pounced on his statement of self-pity immediately, "No! That's not it at all. I'm not telling you this because I feel sorry for you. I don't feel sorry for you. You sorta deserve to feel guilty for what you've done in the past. I'm glad you feel guilty."
"Gee, thanks, pet."
"I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm not glad that you hurt. And I don't like to see you hurt. And there are these feelings that I have that aren't pity, aren't guilt, and aren't based on dependence. These feelings are *for* you."
"Yeah, oh. And if I'm going to have a chance in hell of surviving the upcoming war with the First, I'm gonna need to relax a little." She raised her hand to caress his cheek.
He kept his eyes fastened on hers. "What does this relaxing in tell?"
She ran a finger over his lower lip and ignored his question. "And if I do die in the upcoming battle, I want to have no regrets. . . nothing hanging over my head unresolved. Nothing left unsaid. . . or undone that I could have resolved with a simple word or action. No conflicting feelings marring my relationships that might lead to missteps in battle because I denied myself."
"Buffy. . ."
"Spike. Shut up and kiss me already."
"But you've been doing all the ta. . ."
Spike was cut short by Buffy's warm lips covering his own in a simple, chaste kiss that sent a rush of tingles over his body. He never thought that she would willingly kiss him again. His hands went to her hair and shoulder as he deepened the kiss, eliciting a low moan from the woman in his arms.
Minutes later, Spike gently broke away from her. "Now, we both need sleep. Go on. . . back to bed. We have a lot to do in the morning."
Buffy shook her head. "I'm sleeping here."
"But Dawn and the other seventy-five members of the household?"
"Can just cool it," Buffy said confidently.
A scratchy voice rose from behind Spike, "I'm cool here." Buffy's eyes widened as she recognized Dawn. "Since you two are all snuggly, I'm taking the bed."
The half-asleep, swaying teen stood and managed to make a path to Buffy's bed, crawling beneath the sheets. She switched off the lamp.
"Night, Dawn," Spike whispered into the darkness.
"Love you, Dawnie," Buffy added, turning to face the bed as Spike wrapped his arm around her.
The three fell silent, and Dawn was soon asleep again.
Spike's voice was muffled from being on the edge of sleep. "Hmm?"
"I need you at my side. . . to cover my back." She felt a little vulnerable stating that to anyone.
His arm squeezed her slightly. "You got it, pet."
"Not just on the battlefield," she clarified, gathering his hand into her palm.
"Hmm? What do you mean?" He nuzzled her hair.
"I need you to be here in the morning. To be at my back when I face the herd of S.I.T.'s and Xander's and Giles's."
Spike chuckled. "I think I've got you covered."
Buffy slapped his hand gently. "I'm serious. I've never woken up with someone who hasn't just run off in the morning."
"Run off? What about soldier boy?"
"He was always in a hurry to start the day, take his vitamins, exercise. Half the time, he was out of bed before I was."
"Sounds like that was a problem he had, not you," Spike commented, rubbing her arm.
"Will you be here in the morning?" Buffy was feeling a little desperate, afraid at how he might respond.
She needn't have worried. He would be here as long as she wanted him. His deliberately stated response set her instantly at ease: "Love, I will always be here in the morning."
And with that, Buffy Summers shut her eyes and slept more soundly than she had since the nightmares about the S.I.T.'s and the First had begun. As for Spike, his dreams that night weren't filled with the cries of his victims as they had been on countless previous nights. Instead, the sweet presence of the woman he loved happily haunted his senses and the pathways of his unconscious.
* * *
Would these "what ifs" ever happen on the show? They probably wouldn't. But this was one way they might play out if they actually did. Isn't it nice to dream?