The dream sweeps up from the depths of my psyche with rapid force, puncturing my sleep with alacrity. Breathless with its brilliance, I wake with a start and find the space full of darkness. . . the way my world has been since. . .

"Buffy?" From across the room, Willow is watching me with the tired eyes of someone who has not been able to achieve solid sleep. "A dream?"

It's what we've been waiting for. "Yes." I close my eyes again and summon the courage to add, "It's time."

"Right." Willow's eyes are luminous as they catch a stray bit of moonlight that is peeking around the curtain. She reaches for the phone beside her bed to call Giles.

After my revelation a few days ago, Giles and Willow reluctantly agreed to aid me in my quest. Part of me believes that perhaps they're coming with me to protect me from myself. . . to prove me wrong in a sense. On the other hand, they've seen enough of the mystical to expect the unexpected.

Willow is dressing across the room. My stomach tumbling, I scramble to throw on a pair of faded jeans and a wrinkled T-shirt. I run my brush through my long, blond strands until my scalp tingles with the motion, and I take a quick peek at my make-up-less face in the mirror.

My eyes are flashing emerald green, and my cheeks are flushed with excitement. Despite my restless sleep and the exhausting aftermath of my dreams, I have never looked more alive.

Pausing, I bite my lower lip. I'm questioning myself for the first time.

I told Angel that I'm not done baking. I cringe at my own bad analogy.

Am I ready to be with anyone?

I told Angel the truth. . .

. . . the truth as I saw it in the moment. . . a moment taut with tension, fear, and potential loss. . . a moment when I was still half-asleep, half-lying to myself.

How does a woman tell her forever love that she loves someone else when she's denying it herself?

I may have been aware of it in the hours Spike and I spent cradled in each others' arms, and I may have known in the quiet moments when we just looked at one another, at a loss for words to describe what we knew was to come. It was as if for once we had a clue. . . had a handle on the apocalypse at hand.

There were no wild cards. . .

. . . only a single truth. . . .

We had each other, and neither of us was running anymore.

"You coming?" Willow asks.

I re-focus, eyes wide. With her hand on the doorknob, Willow is holding the door open, letting in the night's scent.

I smile.

Tonight, Spike is coming home, and Willow and Giles are helping me.


Slayer instincts are odd.

Xander asked me once how they worked. With his usual humor, he seemed to want to compare them to comic book heroes' ability to detect their enemies' presence.

They don't work exactly like that.

They're actually more like intuition than superhuman powers. One can hone intuition. As a freshman at U.C. Sunnydale, Willow and I took a one-hour course for freshman women and read a book called "The Gift of Fear." The author wrote about learning to pay attention to one's intuition and using it to form a plan and act rather than react.

So, in a sense, Slayer instincts are present in everyone to some degree. I just learned to pay attention to mine.

And tonight, my instincts have led me to a crowded demon bar. I find irony in the notion that Spike will return to this world in a bar.

I push my way through the throng of vampires and demons who eye Willow, Giles and I with an air of disdain. We're not carrying visible weapons, and plenty of demons look like humans, so for now, we can get away with our bold entrance.

As I turn to face the crowd with my elbows on the bar, Willow whispers in my ear, "Buffy, you're right. I feel something here. . . something's not right with the aura of the place."

"You mean, outside of being a demon bar?" I ask in return.

She imitates my stance while Giles hovers on my left. "Yeah. Outside of."

I survey the dim room with a critical eye, patterns and battle formations forming in my head with minimal effort. I count twenty demons and seven vampires.

"What next?" Willow is crackling with mystical energy. I still haven't gotten used to seeing my friend with sparks of white light dancing through her hair when she uses magicks now. It won't be long before the demons take more notice of us.

Before I have a chance to reply, a vampire charges toward us. He's swaying a bit from the alcohol in his system. Never really understood how alcohol could affect vampires without circulation and all, but then, I've never been good at biology.

I crack his wrist easily when he reaches out to grab me.

And the fight begins.

At first, in the midst of whirling and kicking, I don't feel Spike's presence. I am only aware of a soaring happiness with each neatly landed punch and each kill. Willow's magicks are zigzagging through the bar, hitting their marks with surety. Ever the improviser despite his insistence on research's importance, Giles fashions weapons from furniture and broken liquor bottles.

Bodies begin to litter the ground.

And then. . .

. . . I experience Spike.

His existence breathes over my skin in cool drafts as he once did in what seems like the distant past. Unbidden goose bumps rise, and I shiver and make a soft primal noise in response.

I search for Willow, and our gazes instantly connect.

She senses him, too.

Giles skirts in from the side to protect her as she raises her hands, one hand grasping the medallion and one hand weaving a tapestry of archaic symbols in the air. The bar lights flicker and wink out, leaving only the result of Willow's chanting to add sparkle to the bloodbath.

The demons around me pause for a moment.

But I need them to continue their attack on me, so I prod them and provoke them with words until their tempers are completely gone.

And they oblige me.

Sweat is pouring off my skin, and my muscles scream at me to stop, but with each second I remain focused, Spike is stronger. My legs and arms are unstoppable weapons, and I grunt with each landed blow.

Demons are dying so that one may live.

In an instant, the tiny sparkling lights become glaring, and Willow's voice rises to drown out everything in the room. . . .

My ears pop as if I'm on an airplane with poor cabin pressure.

The demons that we haven't killed are stunned into immobility as they cover their ears and drop to their knees in the gore that covers the slick floor.

My body begs me to do the same, and just as I'm about to crash, a tear rips down the air before me.

Light thrusts forth, and the room is bathed in white.

A silhouette blots out some of the brilliance. The body tumbles into me, knocking me to the ground.

In the same moment, the noise and lights fade until the room is completely dark. A quiet thud tells me that Willow has collapsed from exhaustion. The demons that survived have lost consciousness.

The body on top of me is warm and muscular. . . and fully clothed in some sort of loose robe.

My hands fumble over the form until I find shoulders, and I heave him off of me so that I can sit up and embrace him against my chest.

Giles murmurs something, and a tiny pinprick of light appears. I hear him checking on Willow who is moaning but sounds otherwise okay.

My eyes slowly adjust to the quite opposite lighting and confirm what I've known all along.

Spike is in my arms.

And he's watching me as if he's never seen me. . . blue eyes dark with. . .

. . . a love that still burns. . . .

"You heard me," are his first words, and my heart sings.

I stroke his face with an open hand, running my fingers over his eyebrows and down the concave of his cheek to his lips.

"I did."

"And you didn't give up," he says.

I shake my head. "I didn't."

His arms move around my waist, and we tremble together.

"Thank you, Buffy."

My one available answer is to hug him closer.

Then, I swallow past the lump in my throat. "Spike?"

He nuzzles into my neck like a kitten that's found a home. "Mmm?"

"Where were you?"

"I don't know."

"You had to have been somewhere," I press, trying to confirm or deny my biggest fear. "I hope I didn't rescue you from Heaven."

He mumbles something against my flesh, and all I feel is his breath warm on my skin.

I push him back a bit, and he looks a little bewildered when I ask, "What did you say?"

He won't meet my eyes, but his tone tells me his next words are genuine. "Anywhere that isn't with you. . . those places aren't Heaven."

Tears spill from my eyes, but before I will allow myself to break down completely, I have one more thing to say. "Spike, I love you. And I need you to believe me this time."

His eyes give me every answer I want.

The bar entrance bangs open.

Alert, Spike and I rise simultaneously.

Angel stands in the doorway with a cluster of his L.A. group behind him. He surveys the scene, gaze landing on Spike. His expression is unruffled and unsurprised until he meets my eyes.

With the wisdom of someone who has read tens of thousands of faces over the centuries, Angel knows the truth. . . that Buffy Summers is done baking.

With a single look, he offers me the only thing he has left to give me. . .

. . . his blessing.

He returns his attention to Spike whose hand has found mine in the shadows.

Nodding to his grandchilde, he announces something about Spike that I hadn't noticed. . . that hadn't seemed relevant, "Welcome to the world of the living, Spike."

The end.

Hope you enjoyed:o)