DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss', of course. 
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Angel's been arrested, Wood's escaped with Faith, Snyder's told Willow about Wesley's getting shot at Heaven, and Spike wrapped up his dealings with the feds so that he can head home to California…

*************

He woke to the warbling of the birds in the nest outside his still-broken bedroom window, a curious blend of the babies' ravenous chirps and their mother's responding coos.  It cut even through the down of Spike's pillow, and he buried his cheek further into its underdepths, his cotton sheets uncharacteristically warm against his cheek.  Just a few feet away, his gun rested on his nightstand, waiting to be cradled in his palm like a long-lost lover and aimed at the poor misbegotten telephone pole upon which the nest perched.

He didn't move to pick it up.  Every morning of the two weeks since his return to California he had awoken to the birdsong, and every morning it went unmolested, scattering into the dawning sunshine and through the empty pane on motes of light and charm that he swore he could reach out and scoop into his hand if he only tried.  It wouldn't be so loud if he got the window fixed, but the incentive to get it done was elusive, vanishing as soon as he rose from his bed and faced another day without Buffy.  If he was going to be without her voice, he wanted at least to cling to the pale reminders the birds provided.  He was going to be a ponce that way.

Six days.  That's how long it had been since he'd last spoken to her.  And fifteen since he'd last seen her face.  Standing in the airport terminal the morning after the shakedown at Heaven, with that white bread cop who'd appointed himself her personal bodyguard hovering in the background.

"How long do you think it'll take?" he'd asked.

Buffy had shrugged.  "A few weeks.  I have to be around for all the depositions, and then there's the probate stuff, and packing, and did you know that Drusilla Conti actually sent me a condolence card about what happened to Angel?"  She shook her head.  "I swear, that girl is loopy to the nth degree."

He couldn't even touch her.  Appearances had to be made and if any suspicion regarding their relationship leaked out, neither of them doubted that not even stalwart Officer Finn could keep it from getting complicated.  The bust would look like a lover's quarrel, and Angel would find a way to walk, which was the last thing either of them wanted.  So he just stood there, hands fisted deep inside his pockets because it was the only means he could find to keep his fingers from gliding over her skin, or pulling her against him, or grabbing her and running as far from the maelstrom of New York City as possible.  And even that small bit of control was beginning to fail miserably.

"You got my numbers?" Spike asked.

"Home, office, Giles', Xander's, and all the local bars in the event you decide to test the theory that you can pick up blonde singers no matter what state you're in," she teased, and then sobered.  "Hopefully, I won't need them for long."

"Hopefully."  The final boarding announcement for his flight made him jerk, and he forced himself to pick up the bag at his feet.  "Not particularly good at just walking away, pet," he said, and his voice was rough with emotion. 

"You're not," Buffy said.  Lightly grasping his forearms, she leaned upward to press her cheek lightly to his in a gesture that could easily be mistaken as a warm adieu to a friend, but left Spike's mouth tingling with electricity, his lashes fluttering shut as the scent of her hair filled his nostrils.  "Dream of me," she whispered.  "Because every second I don't see you, I'll be dreaming of you."

Her eyes had been bright when she'd pulled away, but nothing had been betrayed in her voice.  "Thank you," she'd said, stepping back toward Finn.  "For everything."

And with that, she'd been gone.

There had been a couple phone calls, conversations that started out innocently enough with recaps of what was going on in the Big Apple but quickly segued into hours of whispers and vows and wishes that stretched into the wee hours of the morning, leaving Spike hard, and aching, and desperate to have her within the circle of his arms again.  But the last of those had been almost a week earlier, and he was slowly feeling the itch to just say bugger it and hop on the next flight back.

He wouldn't, of course.  Well, at least he would try not to.  He had to give her the benefit of the doubt.  She'd show.  Even if it took… No.  He wasn't going to consider that.  She would show.

Swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, Spike sat up, rubbing wearily at his eyes as he rolled his shoulders.  He was going to actually have to do something today; the rest and relaxation he'd taken as his due was starting to wear a little thin.  Could go to the bank, he reasoned.  Do something about that twenty-five large, in case the feds start getting funny about it.  Maybe go out and buy something pretty for Buffy, to surprise her when she finally got there. 

Before he could ponder it further, the jangle of the phone clamored over the bird, demanding to be answered, and he reached to bring the receiver to his ear.  "Yeah?" he said into the mouthpiece.

"You know, one of these days, you might actually consider introducing an actual greeting when you pick up the phone.  I hear hello is very popular these days."

In spite of his blue mood, Spike smiled at the cheer in Willow's tone, and sagged back onto the mattress, staring up at the ceiling.  "Someone's been at the coffeepot again," he teased.  "What've I told you about that, Red?"

"Hey, I'll have you know that this gal is one hundred percent caffeine free," she replied.  "This is pure, unadulterated Willow coming at you.  Besides, coffee and those painkillers they're still making me take?  My poor body wouldn't know if it was a-coming or a-going."

He chuckled.  "This a social call?"

"Well, if you mean social as in asking my good friend Spike to come pick me up and talk to me while he drives me to the office in his car, then yeah, this is a social call."

"The office?  You're s'posed to be restin' and recoverin'.  Doc's orders, if memory serves.  Since when does work fall in that category?"

"Since I'm going stir crazy sitting here staring at my apartment walls all day," Willow replied.  "The way I figure it, if I'm going to be sitting around, location isn't so much important so why can't I be doing the books at the same time?"

As much as he wanted to, he couldn't actually fault her logic.  There was only so much doing nothing Red could do at a time, and considering she'd been out of it for close to a month now, he was surprised her it had taken her this long to ask.

Besides, she was dealing with her own emotional upheaval with everything that happened in New York.  The least he could do was make it as easy for her as possible.

"You promise not to stay too long?" he asked.  He tightened his accent, striving for that Ripper tone that always seemed to work so well on her.

"Cross my heart."

"And you'll ring me as soon as you're ready to go back?"

"Like there's someone else in town I could call."

"I don't hear you promising, Red."

"That's because it's a stupid question."

"Really?  I seem to recollect a certain redhead goin' walkies durin' a rainstorm one time when she didn't feel like bothering her two partners for a ride---."

"You were passed out!"

"You could've asked Ripper."

"Do you not remember that clunker he was driving at the time?"

Spike rolled his eyes.  "Sounds like someone doesn't really want a ride---."

"Fine.  I promise."

He could hear her sigh of frustration through the line and grinned.  He knew she'd had every intention of sticking it out at the office, probably planned on spending the night---certainly wouldn't be the first time---and it was only her reliance on him for transportation that was making her agree to cutting it short.  At least it gives me something to do, he thought as he rose to his feet.  And after I'm done with my errands, I'll just pop back there and make sure she makes good on her promise.

"Gimme an hour," Spike instructed.  "I've only just rolled outta bed myself.  Unless you want me smellin' like three-day-old socks---."

"An hour is good.  See ya then."

As he ambled to the bathroom, the image of Willow burying herself in files made him shake his head.  Let her have her way and he wouldn't see until Christmas.  As the current rate of disappearing friends went, he couldn't really afford that to happen.

*************

The top of the desk was completely hidden from view, with corresponding stacks surrounding her chair in piles high enough to reach her knees if she bothered to stand up.  She wouldn't, of course.  Just walking down the stairs in her apartment building to get to Spike's car had about wiped her out.  Willow planned on sitting for a very long time.  Or until Spike showed up to take her home.  Whichever came first.

It was better this way.  This way, she was busy with things that didn't involve gunshots or hospitals or absent Englishmen with flashing blue eyes.

Except…wait.  Spike and Giles both had blue eyes and Giles wasn't around either.  Poo.  Just stop thinking completely, Willow, she chided herself.  Numbers and columns and dates are your friends.  They don't disappear without even saying good-bye…well, they wouldn't if they could talk.  Which they couldn't, but that was beside the matter…

And why was she having so many problems concentrating?

When the knock came at the door, she realized she'd never been more grateful for a distraction. She looked up and called out, "Come in!"

The familiar dark head poked through the crack, a wide grin on his face.  "Someone here order a pizza?"

"Xander!"  Willow brightened.  "What are you doing here?"

Pushing the door open, he sauntered to step just inside, leaving it ajar behind him.  "Anya let me out of the house early on good behavior.  But I think the better question is…what are you doing here?  Aren't you supposed to be home with those dogs of yours up?"

"My dogs were getting bored, so I decided to get some work done."

"Wait.  You didn't walk all the way from your apartment---."

She held up her hand, cutting him off.  "Before you go all overprotective on me too, Spike picked me up and brought me over.  And he's stopping back in a little bit to take me home again.  So stop worrying about me, OK?"

"Oh.  OK."  He nodded for a moment, content with her explanation, and then frowned.  "Wait.  So Spike's not home either?"

Willow shook her head.  "He said he had some errands to run.  The bank and stuff.  Why?"

"No reason," he said with a shrug, and shot a cursory glance over his shoulder at the hall before giving her his full attention.  "How're you doin'?  You hangin' in there?"

He didn't have to elaborate in order for her to understand what he was referring to.  "So so," she replied softly. "I miss him.  A lot.  And I can't help but think that it might not be so bad if we'd just had a chance to really talk before…everything happened.  I mean, you guys were all there, and I…"  Dropping her eyes, Willow began playing with the files before her, obsessively straightening them even though they were already perfectly square.  "I get so angry sometimes, and I wish he was here so I could yell at him for being so dopey.  But that just makes me feel guilty because…well, because, and so I go to sleep, only he's there as soon as I close my eyes and I think…"  Her voice dropped to a hoarse whisper.  "…that's even worse.  Because then, everything is perfect, and we're lying on the alpaca rug, and it's soft and warm and cuddly.  We talk for what seems like hours.  Then when he kisses me, everything…disappears.  And I wake up, and…he's not there." 

She looked up then, and shook herself when she realized Xander wasn't saying a word.  "But that's just me being silly," she said.  "What about you and Anya?  Two weeks is a long time to be stuck in the doghouse."

"That wasn't so bad, surprisingly enough.  She's pretty much accepted the fact that I'm a spineless puppy who does whatever he's told and so puts the blame for the entire New York experience directly onto Spike's shoulders.  According to Ahn, the rest of us are just victim to his 'nefarious charm.'"

"It probably doesn't hurt that he's paying you five thousand dollars for two weeks worth of work, either."

"Nope.  Gotta say that did wonders in paying off the angry Anya meter."

Pushing back her chair, Willow set her hands on the edge of her desk and carefully eased herself to a standing position.  "How about we go grab some lunch?" she said, stepping from behind the desk.  "I'll leave a note for Spike that you're going to take me home and you can help distract me from my overactive imagination."

"Actually…I told Anya I'd be back in time to eat with her.  My morning kind of got gobbled up trying to find you."  He waggled a warning finger at her.  "You should have been at home, missy."

"Oh."  Puzzled, she frowned as she searched his face.  "Were you looking for me for a specific reason or something?"

"I had something to drop off for you.  Wait here."  And before she could more closely examine the expectant look in his eyes, he had walked back out into the hallway.

It took only a moment for his footsteps to return, but when they did, it wasn't Xander's form that filled the doorway.

It was Wesley's.

Only two weeks had passed since she'd last seen him, and yet he seemed to have aged two years in that time span.  Dark shadows haunted the hollows beneath his eyes, and a few days worth of stubble graced his jawline.  A sling held his left arm immobile with his jacket thrown casually over his shoulders, and the rest of his clothing bore the unmistakable wrinkling that only happened after traveling for a very long time.

But in spite of the weariness of his body, a small smile graced his lips, and behind his glasses, his eyes sparkled as soon as he saw her.

"Wesley!" she cried out, and without considering her prior ache, launched herself forward, throwing her arms around him as she buried her face in his chest.  Inhaling deeply, she smiled at the strength of his returning hug, lost in the joy of having him back, safe and sound.

His almost imperceptible wince was what finally drove her away, and Willow pulled back, suddenly aware of the pain in her own healing injury.  "Oops," she apologized, blushing from her over-enthusiasm.  "I guess I forgot for a minute there."

"It's all right," he said quietly.  "So did I."

"Well," Xander announced in a voice that was too loud for the intimacy that now pervaded the room, "guess my work here is done.  I'll just leave you two lovebirds alone so that you can get caught up and…"  They weren't even looking at him, and he shook his head, knowing that he could announce he'd just been crowned Miss America and neither would notice.  "Just remember you're both still in recovery," he said.  "Don't do anything I wouldn't do, which, considering who I'm married to, isn't surprisingly much."

"When did you get here?  Why didn't you call?  Where's Jenny?  Does it hurt?  Oh, god, I've missed you so much."  Breathless and coming forth in a torrent that not even her wound could stem, her words washed over both of them, wrapping them tightly while at the same time rooting them in the reality of their situation as they stood only inches apart.

"I've missed you, too," Wesley replied, and nodded toward the small couch against the wall.  "Can we sit?  I'm afraid I'm a bit---."

"Oh!  My bad!  Of course.  You've got to be jetlagged, and then there's the whole getting over being shot thing.  Come here."  Taking him by the hand, Willow led him to the sofa, both of them sinking into the worn black leather at the same time.  The small two-seater forced them to be close, their knees touching as they angled themselves to look at each other.  It was as if both believed that if they looked away, the other would cease to be there.

His right hand immediately reached forward and grasped hers, warm and strong.  "You're looking much better than the last time I saw you," he said.  "I hated seeing you in that hospital bed."

His comment reminded her of how little she had fussed with her appearance that morning.  A quick brush of her hair, a dab of gloss.  And she was wearing her comfort clothes, the sweater and skirt that hung off her thin frame without exacerbating her injury.  Willow blushed, ducking her gaze.  "I look like something the cat dragged in, but thanks for trying to make me feel better about it."

As quickly as he'd taken her hand, he pulled away, his fingers going gently to her chin to tilt her face back up to look at him.  "You look lovely," he reiterated.  "Most definitely a sight for sore eyes."

She didn't know what to say.  The questions that had bubbled forth now were lost in the clamor of her runaway emotions.  Relief, to finally see him.  Residual anger, for having to be put through what he had done.  Guilt at herself, for feeling angry about something she knew he had done for her.  And love, deep and bubbling and just screaming to be let loose.

"So," he finally said, shattering the silence that had settled between them, "you were saying?"

"Huh?  I was saying something?"

Wesley smiled.  "Your queries.  You want answers."

"Oh, only if…well, some answers would be nice, but I'll understand if…OK, yeah, I want answers," she finished under his knowing gaze.  "Why didn't you let me know you were coming?"

"Because I wasn't certain myself," he replied.  "Frankly, Jenny wanted me to stay underground for at least a month, in order to ensure we managed to fool Snyder, but when the doctors told me yesterday that I was well enough to travel, the first thing I did was make Jenny get me a ticket out here."

Mentioning doctors alerted her attention to his sling, and she raised unsteady fingers to his bound shoulder.  "Does it hurt much?"

"It would hurt less if Faith was as good a shot as she claimed to be." He grimaced as he looked down at it.  "Part of me is of the mind that she deliberately aimed lower in order to work out some frustrations.  But I suppose I'll never know the answer to that, now will I?"

She shook her head.  Nobody had heard from Faith since she'd disappeared from Heaven, though she wasn't sure about Spike's theory that she'd scampered off with Wood.  He had seen her leave with the mobster---who was also still at large---and professed that she must've found another sugar daddy ready to keep her in the style to which she'd become accustomed.  Willow's argument that Wood was probably now without his usual resources somehow fell on deaf ears.

"I still think the plan was insane," she said, voicing aloud the most prevalent of her thoughts from the past two weeks.

The lines around Wesley's eyes crinkled as he smiled.  "I thought you'd characterized it as 'dopey,'" he teased, and was rewarded with a corresponding flush.

"You heard that, huh?"

"Well, I was only in the hallway."  His mirth faded, his eyes darkening as they grew serious again.  "It was the only way I was ever going to be free, Willow.  You have to see that.  There was nothing in Snyder's contracts that was going to guarantee my release from my position, and considering my rather unorthodox relationship with Spike, Jenny and I both believed that Snyder would've exploited me to my fullest and refused my resignation."

"But he can't do that.  It was just a job.  You get to quit jobs."

"Quit, yes.  Live to appreciate it, not always."  He shook his head.  "I knew too much.  Nothing I could've said would've convinced Snyder I wasn't a security risk.  He would've seen to it that I was terminated permanently, so really, faking my death was my only option."

"But telling me about it beforehand wasn't."

He had the decency to look abashed at her direct statement, and it was his turn to break his gaze away.  "That was my mistake," he said, regret roughening his voice.  "You were still so weak when I saw you that morning, and I…I couldn't bring myself to tell you for fear that it would adversely affect your recovery.  And then when the arrangements were brought forward…there wasn't time for me to do it myself."  His eyes came back up then, blue burning bright behind his glasses.  "You have to believe I never wanted you to be hurt from this, Willow.  We didn't anticipate Snyder to take it upon himself to go see you, let alone tell you that I was dead.  Jenny was---."

"I know," she interrupted.  "She explained it all to me."  She didn't tell Wes how much she'd cried during the night, though, or how the morphine-enhanced nightmares had plagued her those long, dark hours.  When Jenny had arrived just before dawn, weary from the travails of "killing" Wesley---getting him to the black market doctor to tend his wound, arranging for the body they'd stolen from the city morgue to be flown to England in his stead, finishing the forged paperwork he was going to need to start a new life over---it was with red-rimmed eyes that Willow greeted her.  She'd listened to the rushed explanations, wondering if this was just another manifestation of the drugs playing with her head, and it wasn't until Jenny had passed over the letter from Wesley and she'd read the truth for herself, that respite from her grief began to seep through her muscles.

"It would've been nice if I could've kept your letter," she groused half-heartedly.  "Until she came back the second time, I wasn't sure the Jenny part wasn't the part I dreamed up."

"And again, I'm so sorry."  His hand came up to cradle the side of her face.  "But, you know it was evidence, right?  If it had been found, all of our work would've been for naught."

"So that's why all the hush hush on you showing up?" she asked. 

"Partially.  It's also partially because I wanted to surprise you."

"Oh, and being told you're dead isn't surprising at all."  At the bitterness in her tone, Willow grimaced, her nose scrunching up in distaste at her behavior.  "Sorry.  That just slipped out."

"And, hence, the other part of why I didn't call first," Wesley finished.  "I must admit, I was a trifle anxious as to how you'd react.  Whether or not you'd be so furious that you'd refuse to see me.  After all, this would constitute the second thing I haven't shared with you."

"You can't believe that I would want you dead?"  Her eyes were shiny with disbelief.  Sure, she'd been angry, but that had only been a small part of it.

"No, but it's rather simple to believe that you wouldn't want me around."  Dropping his hand, Wesley tried to turn away, but was stopped by her feather touch on his knee.

"And which part of 'I missed you so much' was so hard to understand?" she said.  "Not that I didn't get just a little bit of a thrill seeing you show up out of the blue, but…Wesley, look at me."  Willow waited until his blue eyes were trained on hers, the barest hint of trepidation still clinging to their depths.  "I'd be lying if I said we didn't have some things to hash out, not the least of which is the funny habit you have of keeping me out of the loop.  But what matters more than any of that is that you're alive, and you're here, and I'm here, and trust me, if we weren't both the walking wounded, I'd be all over you in a flash and trying to figure out how to convince Spike that an alpaca rug is an office necessity."

His small chuckle eased the tension in both of them, and he covered her hand with his own.  "I had this whole…fantasy, I suppose, of how I envisioned this would turn out, and, I am very glad to admit, you have managed to take me completely and utterly by surprise.  Again.  Don't ever stop."

"That's me.  Surprise girl."  This was better.  This was as she'd dreamt it, as she'd dwelled on how their reunion would play out, this camaraderie that connected them at the same time as that underlying attraction.  Her fingers were burning under his, the heat of his knee enough to make her want to just chuck all those doctor warnings about being careful right out the window.  Instead, she leaned forward, and was pleased when he did the same, their lips touching and caressing in the tenderest of kisses.

"So…" he said when they finally parted.  "…do you think Spike might be hiring any time soon?"

*************

Spike whistled under his breath as he climbed the last of the stairs to his flat.  In spite of the agonizing limbo of his own personal life, seeing the glow in Red's cheeks, the adoration in Wesley's gaze when he looked at her, was enough to assuage the roughest edges from his mood, to educe the remnants of his own faith in Buffy.  Not that he still didn't think that Wesley was a complete nutter for putting his trust in Faith's aim, but he had to give the man credit where credit was due.  He did what he thought he had to be done; it took balls of steel to risk the wrath of Red.

The pair would have it rough ahead of them.  A few trust issues, their need to stay anonymous or risk detection by Snyder…they'd have to work hard in order to make it succeed.  Somehow, though, he suspected that they would.

His arrival had happened sooner than Spike had expected.  When Ripper had called earlier that week, he'd intimated that Wesley's progress was coming along nicely, that the wound to his shoulder was healing quickly, but Spike had attributed his optimism as emblematic of his friend's growing connection to the pretty assistant.  Outside of Wesley himself, she was the one who'd been the strongest proponent for the plan's success, her confidence gradually emigrating to that of his friend even before they'd placed a foot into Heaven.  Ripper had even been the one to find the body they would need for the switch, although how he'd managed to do it in a town he hardly knew, Spike wasn't sure he wanted to know.

But Wesley was going to be a good member of his team, of that he was certain.  Sure, he was going to have to stay in the background of things, keep his mug out of the limelight, but he'd been doing that for years, really.  With Red at his side, it was almost exciting considering what the duo might be capable of.

And fuck if Spike wasn't drooling over the chance to master the ex-fed's little pen trick.

Though his mind was jumping around as he pushed the door open to his floor, it stilled almost as soon as he emerged into the dimly lit corridor, his body halting at the same time.  Goosebumps erupted across his arms, the hair standing up on the back of his neck as he breathed in the heavy air.

It couldn't be.  It had to be his overactive imagination supplanting Red's good news with his own wishes.

Except…

He took another breath, this time deeper, and closed his eyes as he drank down the scent.

It had to be.  He'd been right about it before.  There was no way he could be wrong about it this time.

Before he could move, the soft tread of a footstep whispered in his ear and he opened his eyes in time to see a familiar blonde head peer from around the corner.  She smiled when their gazes met, stepping into his full view with an easy grace.

"Howdy, stranger," Buffy said.

His heart was in his throat, pounding and pulsing and reminding him of just what it felt like to be alive.  Or it could've been Buffy's presence.  That was certainly a viable option as well.

"You're here," he managed to croak, dismayed at his less than eloquent response.

She didn't reply.  Instead, she stepped forward, the sway of her hips riveting his attention just as much as the shine in her eyes.  She was radiant, golden hair loose in waves about her shoulders, the white straps of her sundress only accentuating the curve of her breasts.  It took a moment for it to dawn on Spike that he'd never seen her look so…carefree before, and silently thanked whatever powers that be for giving that to her.

"So…" she said matter-of-factly as she approached, "…did you?"

No context for the question.  No hint of what she could be asking lying in the green depths of her gaze.  "Did I what?"

Closer now, and he swore he could practically feel the heat coming off her bare skin.  "Dream of me," she elaborated.  She came to a stop before him, an expectant cant of her mouth---and how was it he could never seem to stop staring at that lower swell when she curved her lips that way?---making her appear younger than her years.

His response didn't come in words.

Head awhirl, the stray irrational thought flitting across his consciousness---guess Red's not the only one with the surprise arrivals today---Spike did what he'd been wanting to do since being ushered out of Heaven without even getting to speak to her.  He reached forward and curled both hands around her waist to tug her hard into his embrace, crushing her to his chest as his lips came down to hers.

Too long, too long, it's been too long, his inner child chanted, and for once, Spike let the mantra play out as he concentrated on the taste of her, eschewed any sense of decorum to cling mercilessly to her lips, searching and biting and drowning and BuffyBuffyBuffy pounding inside his skull.

Her body was just as resolute as Buffy's fingers clawed into the lapels of his coat, yanking him down just as he pulled her up.  The fullness of her skirt allowed her leg to sneak around his, and when Spike felt the soft heat of her pelvis forging against his erection, he twisted automatically to press her against the wall, hands dropping to her bottom to scoop her up.

"Spike," Buffy gasped, even as she wrapped her legs around his lean hips.  "You've got…"  She squeaked when his blunt teeth latched onto the pulsing vein in her neck, sucking at the hollow as if it was his life sustenance.  "…neighbors," she managed to finish.

"Sod the neighbors," he growled.  The salty tang of her flesh was merging with the elixir of her scent to madden his senses.  How had he lasted two weeks without her? he wondered as his nails raked along the underside of her thigh in their search to find skin bereft of fabric.  Never again, he'd never let her go again, not even if he had to follow her to the bowels of hell itself in order to be in her presence.  She had brought light into his darkened day; to go without again would be akin to suicide.

"Spike…" she tried again, fainter this time as her defenses weakened.  "…please…"

It was the please, of course, that did him in.

Tearing his mouth away from the delicate swell of her breast, Spike lifted his head to see her desire-darkened eyes gazing back at him and watched mesmerized as her tongue darted out to lick at the fine sheen of perspiration along her upper lip.  "Not fair, luv," he groaned, and bit the inside of his cheek to keep from swooping in for a taste of it himself.

Her fingers tangled in the short hairs at the nape of his neck.  "So is it fair to guess that those dreams were of the wet variety?" Buffy teased.

"What do you bloody think?"

"I think…that if you don't get me into your apartment soon, that little old lady who's been watching me sit outside your door for the last two hours is going to get a free show, and frankly, I'm not completely convinced her heart could take it."

Before releasing his grip, Spike leaned forward and captured one last kiss from her unsuspecting mouth.  "Don't think you're gettin' off so easy," he warned afterward, easing her down.  His fingers coiled with hers and he practically began to drag her toward his apartment.  "Once we're on the other side of that door, all bets are off."

He stopped in his tracks before they reached the door, frowning as he scanned over the empty hallway.  "Where's all your kit, Buffy?" he asked, glancing down at her.

"You want the long answer or the short answer?"

"Which one am I goin' to like better?"

The few seconds she paused to reply dampened his mood more effectively than a bucket of cold water.  "New York," she finally said, but when he pulled his hand back to take a step away from her, she hastened to add, "But it'll be coming.  Fast.  I promise."

"So, this is…what?  A little holiday to scratch your itch?"  The coldness of his tone surprised him, but the ache in his heart was all too real.  Almost a week without contact from her, and then a sudden appearance on his doorstep sans suitcases.  It didn't bode well on the permanence he'd hoped they achieve once she came to California.

The sudden flare of pain in her eyes was quickly replaced by a cool and controlled anger.  "Be careful, Spike," Buffy warned.  "Those assumptions you keep jumping to run alongside very steep cliffs.  One of these days, you might just end up missing the edge and I hear tell it's a long way down."

"What do you expect me to think?  No luggage tells me you don't plan on stickin' it out very long---."

"No, no luggage tells you I was in such a hurry to get out here and see you that I begged Jenny to finish up the arrangements to ship it out," she countered.  "And if you'd trust me for half a second so that I could've told you that, maybe you wouldn't be acting like such a jerk, you…jerk."

It took a moment for her words to sink in, the muscles in his jaw rippling with tension.  "Jenny?" he finally repeated, and wondered why it was so hard to believe in them when he had the proof of it standing right in front of him.

"Yeah," she affirmed.  Her voice was softer.  "She called me last night to tell me Wesley was heading back here today.  And I thought…why don't I just go?  All the legal stuff is mostly done, and Giles and Jenny are taking care of all the other loose ends.  What does a couple dresses and a few photo albums really mean in comparison to getting to be with you quicker?"  The hurt was coming back, but she lifted her chin in defiance of it.  "I thought you'd be happy to see me."

"I was.  I am."  Exasperated, Spike ran his fingers through his hair, his head ducking in his shame.  "Fuck, Buffy, do you have any idea how barmy I've been goin' back and forth on whether or not I should just hop the next flight to the Big Apple and say screw Snyder's contract?  It's been so long since we even talked---."

"It hasn't been that long."

His eyes were level with hers then.  "Hundred forty-seven hours at lunchtime.  So, a hundred forty-eight up to now.  'Cept…the last one doesn't count now, does it?"

Her mouth opened to speak, but it took a moment for anything to come out.  "I was just…trying to get everything done," she said.  "I didn't think---."

"No, you didn't.  And neither did I, not really.  But then…thinkin's never been our strong suit, now has it?"  Spike didn't wait for an answer.  He just stepped forward and took her face between his hands, pulling her to him so that his forehead rested against hers.  "Don't mind the prattling of a useless git," he murmured.  "I'm just glad you're finally here."

"Me, too," she whispered.  They were silent for a minute, each breathing in the other, before she said, "Do you think we can maybe go inside before that old lady neighbor comes out and pokes me again with her umbrella?  One more time, and I think I'm going to have to poke her back, show her how it feels."

He chuckled, pulling away.  "Next time you see the old bat, you just pull a face, like this," he said, baring his teeth and pretending to bite at her.  Buffy rolled her eyes at his antics, but there was a smile on her lips.  "The old biddy can't stand it.  Always sends her packing."

"And you know, something tells me that it just won't quite have the same effect with me as it does with you."

"So…" Spike said as he fumbled with the key in his lock.  "…you came in on the same flight as Wesley?"

Buffy nodded.  "We called Xander last night and asked him for the pick-up from the airport.  We kind of wanted to surprise you two."

Pushing the door open, he stepped back to allow Buffy to enter first.  "Think that was one thing that got accomplished, all right," he commented, and followed her inside the flat.

She had stopped inside the doorway, green eyes scanning the meager furnishings of the room---the worn-out couch, the lounger with the sagging springs, the curtainless lone window allowing the California sunshine to come streaming through the glass.  "OK," she said.  "First things first?  You have no right to ever comment on my stuff again, because this?"  Her hand gestured to encompass the surroundings.  "Unless you're specifically going for that junkyard pastiche look, you are the last person to ever be giving decorating advice."

"Hey!" he bristled in mock indignation.  "For someone knockin' about town without a bed to call her own, maybe you shouldn't be so hard on the current arrangements, luv."

She looked up at him, eyes over-wide in innocence.  "You want me to go?" she asked, and then turned toward the door.  "OK---."

"Don't think so," Spike growled.  His arm caught her around the waist and pulled her back into the apartment, his heel lashing out to slam the door behind them as he carried her into the bedroom and dropped her unceremoniously onto the bed.  "We're not doin' that song and dance again so soon here."

Laughing, Buffy rolled out of his reach when he tried to press her into the mattress, her full skirts momentarily blinding him in her speed.  She ended up on the other side of the bed, staring at the missing glass of the window.  "OK, what is it with you and windows?" she asked good-humoredly. 

"What?  Just haven't had a chance to fix it yet, is all."

"When did it happen?"

"Just before I left for New York."

She looked down at him with raised brows.  "I guess if I was looking for a Mr. Fix It type, I'd be out of luck, huh?"

"I can fix it.  I just…haven't.  Been a little busy."  Her amused silence made him sigh as he collapsed back onto the bed.  "Those without windows of their own shouldn't be throwin' stones, methinks."

"And here I'm thinking that you fall into that category as well.  You don't have windows.  You just have big holes in your walls that lead outside."  She was smiling as she stretched out beside him, propping her head up on her hand to look down at him.  "I'll bet that between the two of us, we can make this pretty cozy.  A new window, some curtains so that we don't scare the neighbors, maybe a new chair---."

Spike shook his head.  "Nah, you're right.  It's no place for a dame like you.  Don't know what I was thinkin'---."

"It's fine," she said.  Lowering her head, Buffy brushed her lips across his temple.  "I'm just giving you a hard time.  Besides, you saw where I was living in New York.  I'm not exactly looking for the bigtime glamorous lifestyle, you know."

"Just want you to be happy, pet," he murmured, pushing back the hair that threatened to fall over her face.

"I'm here, aren't I?"  She nestled down into his shoulder, letting her fingers play over his chest.  "I'd say this is a huge step in the very right direction."

Spike let his eyes drift closed as the weight of her against his arm began returning the warmth their momentary scuffles had stolen from his flesh.  It was so easy to forget everything else when she was like this; nothing else mattered as long as they were together, as long as he had her near.  The torture of the past month---the misadventures in the Big Apple as well as the agony of being alone the past two weeks---seemed inconsequential in comparison, even though he knew escaping it entirely was out of the question.

"Outside of your stuff," he began, his voice low as his fingers began strumming a faint melody down the column of her spine, "things all settled back in the city?"

He felt her nod against his chest.  "The feds won the big battle about who got Angel, which Riley wasn't too happy about---."

"Riley?"

"That cop playing bodyguard.  Did I mention he was a fan?"

"Think you might've left that little detail out."  He made a mental note to have Giles run a check on the badge.  The last thing he needed was someone else turning into an obsessed Mr. Hyde trying to convince Buffy he was the next best thing since sliced bread.

"Last I heard, the feds still had Angel locked up and Giles seemed to think everything was going to stick.  Snyder wanted to bring you in when they couldn't find Wood---."

"Ripper never said anything about that."

"That's because he talked him out of it.  Well, him and Lindsey.  That lawyer's a piece of work.  I'm just glad he's on our side because the way he's going after that Lilah Morgan?  Not someone you really want to piss off."

After a moment, he asked, "Dru didn't give you any more trouble, did she?"

"Not me, but she sure made the cops and feds get hot under the collar."  Buffy lifted her head and rested her chin on his chest so that she could look into Spike's face.  "Even after getting shot by him, she refused to have any charges pressed against Angel.  And here I thought I was the stupid one when it came to him."

The last was intended as a joke---both of them knew that---but the lingering pain behind her eyes sent a flash of guilt through his gut.  "You're not…mad at me for not tellin' you about him sooner…are you?" he questioned quietly.

"No," she replied, just as quiet.  "I was mad you didn't trust me enough to tell me about his little note, but the other…?"  She shook her head, but when she spoke again, her tone was bitter.  "I probably wouldn't have believed you anyway.  I couldn't wrap my brain around the fact that he could kill his own dad.  How could you have possibly thought I'd begin to accept the idea that he let my mom and Dawn die, too?"

There was nothing he could say that would make her regret at being suckered by Angel's good boy act any easier, so Spike held his tongue, concentrating on the way her hair felt between his fingers as he continued to stroke it.  In spite of how well he felt he knew her already, he wasn't daft enough to think that there wasn't miles for them to go, and the thought of getting to explore all the nooks and crannies---and damn if even that sounded sexual to him---of Buffy Summers thrilled his bones to the marrow. 

"Whatever it is you decide you want," he heard himself saying, "you know I'm goin' to do whatever it takes to help you get it, right?  Not like Wilkins did, but…well, you know what I mean.  I love you, Buffy."

"I love you, too, Spike," she whispered.  "Do you think…maybe…you could take me to Sunnydale for a day or two?  I haven't been there since…and I haven't seen…"

Aware of just how hard it was for her to even say the words, Spike silenced her with a soft press of his fingers against her lips.  "Just tell me when, luv."

There was a pause.  "…Now?"

He was about to ask her what the rush was, when the possibilities of what she was suggesting began to tick over in his brain.  Get away for a few days, get someone to fix the place up so that it was more presentable by the time they got back, have some time to get reacquainted again in a more neutral setting.  Not that he considered Sunnydale the perfect solution, but in the way of plans, it was a good one.  There wasn't any work to be had at the moment that might get in the way, and even if there was, Spike had no doubt that Red would be asking for time off anyway.  She and Wes had their own bit of reacquainting to do.

"We'll need to do a spot of shopping first," he said, sitting up and pulling Buffy across his lap.  "Pick you up some glad rags 'til your stuff arrives."

Her arms looped around his neck and she pressed her lips to his in a kiss that sent shivers down Spike's spine and made him wonder if they really had to push off at that exact moment in time.  "Thank you," she breathed.  "Not for the shopping, but for the…you know."

"Anything for my beautiful Buffy."

Whatever it took, he was ready to face it head on, to tackle whatever life decided to throw at them next and take it down, whether by hook or by crook. 

It was going to be a hard road; between the pair of them, they had enough history and issues to fill Hedda Hopper's column for a decade.  And he'd have to do something about how his mouth had a tendency to run off and spout its own thing, even when his head was screaming at it to stop.  There was more about Buffy that he didn't know than he did, but of one thing he was so certain, he'd stake his own life on it being true.

Wherever the road led…with Buffy in his life, it would all be worth it.

The End

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  It's done.  I can't believe it's done.  My first AU and a story that makes me not want to stop.  But there it is.  Thank you to everyone who has been reading; I hope you've enjoyed the ride.  Special thanks to angstchic, who asked me questions that I'm convinced made the story better; to Char, for all her vociferous support; to Imzadi, whose consistent feedback regarding characters I'd never written before helped mold the paths they took; and to Tracy, Tammy, Terri, Kristine, Kallysten, Josephine, and all my wonderful friends at LJ for their support and encouragement on this long and wonderful journey.  Before anyone starts asking, yes, I would very much love to do a sequel to this and probably will, but it won't be up any time soon.  I have too many other stories in the pipeline that need to get done first, the next of which, Promise of Frost, I should start posting within a week or so.  So, without further ado…here's lookin' at you, kid. :)