Part Four "Choices"

The Ramones are wankers, Spike thought.

Despite the bleak tableau--Winifred restrained to a hospital bed--his mind kept skipping away to pound out the catchy refrain of one of his favorite songs. It shamed him, such a cruel trick for his brain to play. Seeing her like this, the song didn't seem fun anymore, never mind why anyone would want to sing about it. For her own good, Angel had said, since she couldn't stop talking about how killing the girl hadn't bothered her, how firing the gun had released more than bullets it had released a part of her that had stayed coiled for too long. Clearly raving. But the look in her eyes when they administered the shot would haunt him until the day he died again. How lost she looked, how she studied his whole face as if it would be the last thing she'd ever see.

The drugs reawakened a part of her long since dead, the little girl who hovered on the brink of two realties, not a participant of either one. He tried to be the person for her that he hadn't found in his descent into madness – his executed so fittingly in a basement. There would be none of that for his girl. He sought to ground her, to make it seem that her clutching at the imaginary collar around her throat, that her more offbeat than usual non-sequiturs, and her constantly terrified expression were natural, normal and healthy. If not that, he'd at least make some part of her know that she wasn't alone in this.

He brought her home perhaps too soon, her senses still dulled by the drugs. Stepping into the newly renovated apartment, she paused; her nose twitched the air like a caged animal's. "The paint's still wet," she announced. She entered the room hesitantly, stopping at the wall where the amulet had released its magic. She knelt down and smoothed her hand over the fresh paint. She traced the swirls of Mellow Beige with a fingernail absently, carving the derivative symbol into the wall's surface. Spike knelt beside her and took her hand.

"Here." He held out a dry erase marker and pointed it towards the wall- sized board across the room. "Got one for you right here and there's more where that came from. Formulate to your heart's content." His carefully constructed tone of levity masked his deep worry for her.

She dutifully took the pen and slipped it into her bathrobe pocket. She gazed up at him, her brown eyes heavy with the drug hangover. Humming softly, Fred adjusted the lapel of his new gray wool jacket and smoothed the white t-shirt underneath.

"That looks nice. You're so much fun to dress up, I think I'll do it everyday. Forget that yucky old lab. Can't keep a marble up here anyway," she rambled. She poked her forehead listlessly and gave a child's frown of confusion. "It's all numb."

"Win, this is temporary. It's a side effect of the meds." Impulsively, he leaned in to hug her and she twitched violently away from him, banging her small body against the wall. He eased back slowly, careful not to make another sudden movement, and patted her awkwardly on the shoulder.

Fred tilted her head at him curiously. She took his hand and put it inside her shirt, cupping his fingers around her naked breast over her heart. "Don't be afraid to touch. Not broken on the outside." She reached out and flattened her hand against his chest. "See. Just like me, just a little broken on the inside. I pulled out a gun and broke all the fun and can't put me back together again. Wait. That doesn't rhyme. You can rhyme, though. Do the one I like."

He drew a shaking breath and pulled her into his lap. From memory, he recited some of the words he'd used to quiet her once before, before the sedatives had slipped in and spirited her away: ...How many loved your moments of glad grace, And loved your beauty with love false or true, But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, And loved the sorrows of your changing face...

"I'm getting better," she said looking up at him, her eyes suddenly the picture of lucidity.

"I know."

***

"I think we've all gotten a much-needed reminder about how important we all are to each other. I need all of you. If we're going to make this work, we don't have to agree on everything. But we've got to stick together. Thanks everybody. For everything," Angel finished.

The requisite pep talk, that's all these offices would hear again, since Angel spoke to them individually and in secret. Must be working, Spike thought. From his perch on the sofa's armrest, he watched Eve hovering outside the conference room, curiously peering in at them through the large window.

He didn't join the rest of them around the inner circle they formed at the table. He liked it here on the periphery. He no longer encroached here alone and held no bitterness about waiting out the fight, now that he had a sparring partner in his corner. Even if that partner wrote physics formulas on dry erase boards by day and shivered in his arms by night. He knew her torment better than she did. Her suffering stemmed from the assault of her soul, her conflicted brain trying to wipe out the nasty actions with regret, make her pay. Only there was a catch: without killing the girl, she wouldn't have Spike. This, she'd told him, saved her.

When the meeting adjourned, the group wavered together, glancing in his direction with obvious discomfort. The weight of his significance hung almost palpably in the air. Even if they thought he'd done it all for her, it didn't matter. They stood here because of him. Who'd found Fred's cell phone with the phone number to the girl's apartment and fetched the wasted watcher? Strung up to the gills on a raging morphine jones, the need for the very drug that held Wesley passive had reared up and broke the restraints, releasing him long enough to make that desperate phone call to Fred. Spike appreciated that sort of poetic irony.

Following Angel's suspicion on the poisoning angle the girl worked, Spike next took a feverish and delirious Lorne out of his apartment. No one knew what caused his near-death affliction, but it disappeared within days of his leaving. A team specializing in post-crime sweep downs went through the apartment after that, dusting for fingerprints and disposing of anything that had passed under Leah's hands. Gunn had suggested they use an old contact from the Angel Investigations days for the sweep and they all agreed. Not using a Wolfram & Hart connection just felt safer somehow.

No one could prove Leah's connection to the Benz accident. But they'd moved beyond proof. After bailing Gunn and Willow out of Cedars-Sinai, Spike brought the Wicca back to the hotel to retrieve her belongings for her flight back to England.

In the car, they rode in uneasy tension together, until finally Willow blurted, "I need to make a stop."

Spike gave her a sidelong glance. "Shouldn't you have thought of that before we left the hotel?"

"No, Spike, really," Willow replied. "If I give you directions, will you drive me there? I got a hunch the other day and I have to see if it plays out."

He sighed heavily. "You brainy birds and your hunches will be the death of me. All right, then. The name of our intended destination?"

"A Starbucks. I've got the address."

He took his eyes off the road for a moment to glare at her. "You are truly joking, aren't you?"

"Come on," she goaded him. "It's on the way to the airport. I'll buy you a latte`."

He weighed the possible security issues of a franchised coffee house on Willow's concussion and deemed it, if not safe, then no more unsafe than anything else they'd faced. "You'll tell me where to turn."

They entered the cookie-cutter building, like so many others of its kind, greeted by an attractive brunette, like so many of her kind, and Spike found the déjà vu unnerving. "Tell me these are not the places I will be expected to frequent as a human," he muttered.

"I'm looking for Sarah Andrews?" Willow asked the salesgirl.

"She's on break," the girl said. "I'll go get her."

"What's going on?" Spike asked Willow.

"Ssh, wait. You'll see," she hushed him, as the brunette returned with an apple-cheeked blonde, her hair pulled back into a neat ponytail.

"Do I know you?" the blonde asked.

"Hi Sarah, I'm Willow Rosenberg. We spoke this morning?"

The girl wiped her palms on her green apron and offered her hand to shake. "Sure, hi. How are you? That sounded like a terrible accident. Are you sure you're all right?"

Willow patted the bandage on the side of her head gingerly. "My melon's a little bruised but I'm good. I can't thank you enough for meeting with us."

The girl shrugged. "No problem. I should thank you for getting rid of this. It's freaking everybody at the hospital. And my mom, she doesn't want it, doesn't want anything that reminds her." The girl reached into her pocket and then stopped. "She's really dead now? Like you said? I mean, I won't get in trouble for this will I?"

Willow took a step towards her. "Sarah, I would never involve you with anything related to this." She looked back at Spike. "Sarah's dad was Leah's doctor," she said quietly.

In another life, Spike would have clarified the introduction with something like, 'right, the man with the size 8 shaped hole through his skull,' but Sarah's sad, tired eyes kept him in check.

"Right. Sorry about your dad," he mumbled.

"Yeah," she replied, her voice wavering. "Thanks. Listen, that's basically all there was. She had some clothes, a passport. I burned them." The bitter set to her mouth told them that rules about disposing of the belongings of dead former mental patients did not apply to her.

"That's okay," Willow assured her. "We don't need anything else."

"Here," the girl said, her tears beginning to flow. "Take it." She handed Willow a large stone medallion attached to an iron chain and then ran into the back of the store with her hand over her mouth. Willow's eyes followed the girl's sad retreat.

"God, Spike. Her dad because of me; he's dead because of my spell. I'm responsible for...."

"For saving the bloody world," Spike finished. "It doesn't even out, or make it right, not by a long shot. But it's all we've got."

Willow looked at the amulet she held and placed it in his hands. "Look familiar?"

Spike shook it in his palm. "A little too, actually. So this is what the lawyers wanted that slayer for, what Lady Headless was willing to lock her own sister up to protect?" He shook his head at the utter worthlessness of it. "Come on, now. You've got a flight to make."

"Feel up for that coffee?" Willow asked faintly.

"I've lost my taste for it," Spike muttered.

The amulet heavy in his pocket, Spike escorted Willow to her gate in the airport. A name hung in the air between them, the elephant in the middle of the room – not that you could use a metaphor like that in front of Buffy or she'd think you were calling her fat.

"I have to say something to her," Willow said before her final boarding call.

"Say hello then. 'Specially to the little bit," Spike replied. "Greetings from L.A. I believe I've seen it on postcards. I'll send you one." He flashed a grin.

She did something strange then, a quick action that made him confront his humanity more than cringing in daylight or wincing from the cigarette smoke that singed his lungs. Willow hugged him – tightly, briefly, intensely. She boarded the plane without looking back. As it should be, Spike thought as he left the terminal, blinking back into the sun. ***

After the meeting, Gunn approached him first, pulling Spike out of his thoughts. Spike leaned over and knocked on his cast. "How's the leg?"

Charles shrugged. "Bones knit, it's cool. Hey, listen, if Wes is feeling up to it we wondered, if uh, we could come over, see our favorite scientist. Tomorrow maybe?"

Spike dragged his eyes over past Gunn's shoulder, catching the backward glance of Wesley from the door. "Yeah, she'd like that."

Charles flashed him a grin. "Hey man, you're doing good for her. Like I told you: as long as she's not writing on the walls, she's solid." He hobbled out the door.

"So the Anne Rice routine about dead blood's spot on after all," Spike said to the last individual in the room. "Who knew?"

"We seem to learn something new every day," Angel sighed. "And always the hard way." He shook his head. "I should've smelled him on her, Spike. She must have been reeking of Wesley. If I had paid any kind of attention, I could've stopped that whole massacre. But Leah started talking about Lilah, about how long it had been since they'd seen each other, how Lilah died trying to save her life, by locking her away. I couldn't help feeling somehow responsible."

"Nasty habit you have," Spike replied. "Nearly got you finished off."

"Anyway. How's Fred?" Angel asked, his guilty expression unchanged.

Spike pulled out cigarettes and lighter from his jacket pocket. "I want to say better. She's erasing, starting over. Like Charlie said. Can't be all bad." He lit up and waited for Angel's lecture on smoking inside the offices. Instead, he sat next to Spike on the couch.

"What do you see happening?"

Spike raised his eyebrows and considered the question. "Some days she talks about finishing her doctorate, some days she can't wait to get back here. Girl should have whatever she wants. Whatever she does, I won't stop her."

Angel cleared his throat and rubbed his palms together nervously. "I meant you."

Spike tapped an ash into the potted plant next to the sofa and tried to seem unmoved "You said you needed me, mate. Think I'd give up rubbing that nugget in your face every day? Besides, miles to go and all that." He pulled the amulet out of his pocket and laid it in Angel's palm. They glanced at each other briefly.

Angel opened his mouth and shut it with a snap. He tightened his fist around the jewel and rose from the couch. Smiling faintly, he pulled the cigarette from between Spike's fingers and dropped it into the soil of the potted plant next to the window. "Tell her I'll be over to see her soon." Then he too left the room.

Alone, Spike rested his elbows on his knees and studied his empty hands, a history in flesh: the blue veins snaking under the calloused skin, the faint pink burn scar on his right palm, the nicotine stain on his middle finger. Their capability for so much harm, so much hurt. So much life. Maybe there was something to being human after all.

When he looked up, Eve stood framed in the doorway.

"What do you want?" he asked.

She smiled languidly. "You look so lonesome. When's your girl coming back?"

"Never, if I have my say," he answered and stood up.

Eve stepped inside the conference room and closed the door. "Well, that's the thing, hon. You don't have your say. The senior partners want her back here ASAP. There's a deal on the table."

"Fine," he answered easily, crossing the room to face her. "She'll come back long enough to tell you and your deal to stuff it."

Eve smiled again, the sort of smile that Fred's doctors gave her when she first came to, Spike thought.

"Sorry, it doesn't work that way. See, if this were still Angel Investigations, your little honey could kill psychotic slayers until the cows came home with only her own moral dilemmas to sort out. Here, there's a balance to keep. The senior partners demand a deal, Spike. It's not my call."

He felt an icy chill of foreboding stab his chest, the seriousness of it all underneath the play. "You got your deal, that sick slayer. That's yours, right? Take it."

"Yeah, she was major disappointment. Thought you'd be a better influence on her, given your thing for slayers and nut jobs. Never would have put you with the scientist. Didn't think that brainy girls were your type."

"Right. So we disrupted your plan," Spike started and Eve laughed with true amusement.

"Spike. There is no plan. Actions and reactions, like your girl believes in, that's all we're about. None of you seems to get that. So get this: the best one of all of you is now a killer. Do you think for a minute that the senior partners are going to let her slip through their fingers? And bless her heart she's in love. She's proven too well that if anyone points the arrow at you, she'll fire again, and again, and again."

"Shut up," he demanded, sick with remembering how Fred couldn't stop firing the gun. "What do you want?"

"I think you know. I don't make the rules. But I am here to enforce them."

Eve's steady glare confirmed his worst fears. He shook his head. "No. Not her. Not Winifred. There has to be another way."

"Of course. We're lawyers. Deals are what we're all about."

"Name it."

"You," she told him. "You for her."

He'd die for Fred, no question on the sacrifice there. But her sacrifice – it wasn't fair. "She can't know," Spike blurted.

Eve smirked. "Sorry. Selective amnesia's got too many side effects. This is the way it has to be. She'll remember it all. You both will. You see, the senior partners want you down, but not out. You can pick up where you left off or you can drop out of the game altogether. Your call."

Spike considered the offer, death or demon – some choice. He'd experienced most of the countless drawbacks to humanity in the past few weeks, his body still unaccustomed to living flesh, and he wouldn't miss the physical properties at any rate. He knew how to be a vampire, knew what that held for him. He could fight it, fight the urges that the body and mind rationalized were natural and necessary – or he could give in to them. He'd be giving in to death. If another battle came, he wouldn't survive as a human and neither would Fred. It was that simple. He craved the smallest scrap of chance to exist in a world with her in it – maybe even save her and let her live. But he couldn't make her live with this, live with his choices.

He would not give Eve the satisfaction of hearing him ask for it. He swung his arm back, satisfied at seeing her cower, and stopped. He resisted the strong urge to strike her. "If you were a man, you'd be spitting up teeth," he snarled.

She smiled in surprise. "You really have to see how it all ends, don't you? Even her end?"

"Make the fucking deal."

"Don't forget, there's still the Shanshu up for grabs for you and Angel to duke out, maybe even destroy each other to get. I want a ringside seat for that apocalypse."

He turned away from her, trying to shut out her words. "Shanshu be damned. You leave her alone. Forever."

"Forever's an awfully long time, but you'll figure that out," Eve paused and turned away at the glare he fixed her with. "Fine, yes, she's safe. You'll be around to see to that, won't you?" She walked towards the door.

"And all of them," Spike called after her. "Put them all right. No more nightmares, no more symptoms of things better left unsaid. That's what's wrong with them, right? A mind sweep? That selective amnesia, as you called it?" He felt for perhaps the first time, the weight and meaning of his life, what it could buy. He grasped for one more deal, one more chance to bring Fred some comfort in her life. At the very least she'd suffer no more headaches.

Eve spun around with her hand on her hip. "Damn, boy. How much do you think one gal's worth?"

"She is worth it," he muttered, his hands clenching into fists. "You be the one to tell me she's not."

"Done, but that's it," Eve conceded with an exasperated sigh. "In the meantime, you've got one more day in the land of the humans. Have fun."

***

Spike entered the apartment in time to hear Fred on the telephone, his heart sinking at the exchange he overheard. "And mom, he's wonderful. I can't wait until you meet him! OK, yes, he's here now! OK, bye!" She hung up and ran over to him, throwing her arms around his neck. He pulled her close. He'd miss her welcome home for him every day after work, a hero's welcome. One he didn't deserve.

"They're dying to meet you! Mom says she's never heard me so happy. And she's right, you know," she added shyly, squeezing him again. "You're home so early, everything all right?"

Spike swallowed past the lump in his throat and smiled bravely. "You've been after me to go to the pier with you for weeks. You up for it?"

"Wait. Yes. Yes, I want to go," she decided, jumping with sudden delight. No evidence of the craziness in her eyes. She was getting better.

He'd done the whole LA scene years ago; so long it felt like another person who'd lived that life. But he'd never seen this city through Fred's eyes, through the dazzling light of day. She experienced the Santa Monica pier with the same joy and enthusiasm she embraced everything in her life. Including him. He'd snuff out that joy, but only momentarily and certainly not by dying on her. She'd never know. He'd do it quickly and her cavalry would sweep in to pick up the pieces. Only a little broken, he thought. It seemed that everything he touched wound up that way.

"We'd better go soon," Fred advised. "Somebody's getting a sunburn." She snubbed the pink tip of his nose playfully. They passed one of the many instant photo booths that lined the boardwalk. Suddenly inspired, Spike rifled through his pockets and pulled out several dollar bills. He pulled her towards it.

"Come on in here, love."

"Spike, no, I'm not that adventurous yet!" she giggled.

"No, not that," he said gently. "I'd like a picture. Of us."

She held back, watching him warily. "Spike, you think these are the tackiest! You hate them!"

He bit his lip and tried to smile. "Not today. I don't hate anything today."

Back at the apartment, he traced the cheap celluloid image of them smiling together. Seeing it on film almost made it real, what a damn fine couple they made. He'd allow himself one set. She could have the rest to keep. Or burn. He dropped the pictures on her nightstand and made quick work of his packing, readying himself for the scene to come. The fading of her bright smile when she saw his bag in hand nearly brought him to his knees.

"What's going on?" she asked hesitantly.

He mustered as much bravado as he could. "This can't work, pet. I'm not much on meeting the parents. Not my scene, I'm afraid. You seemed so keen on it; I thought it best to tell you now. Get out of this relatively unscathed."

She stepped towards him and he backed towards the apartment's front door. He tried not to look at her face, still open, still trusting beneath her confusion and hurt. "Why are you saying this?" she asked. "I don't care if you meet my parents, Spike, you have to know I don't care about any of that." Her sweet faith in him, in the face of what he was about to do, brought the hot burn of acid to his tongue.

"That's what you need though. Nice normal boy to bring home to your nice normal family. This is all a bit much for me, Fred. Nice and normal were never put with me in the same sentence. You're better now. Don't need me mollycoddling you," he continued matter-of-factly.

He saw her cringe at him saying "Fred" instead of "Win," his name for her. "What are you talking about? You know I don't see us that way. Please don't leave me," she begged, tears lapping onto her pale cheeks. "Please."

Spike turned towards the door and bit the inside of his lip until he tasted blood, trying to keep up the façade. "You saved me and I saved you. We're square, pet. We had us a bit of fun, you showed your boys that you're all grown up, and it's high time for the big bad to trot off into the sunset."

She ran over to him and tried to pull the bag away. "Please don't go. Please stay with me."

He pulled back, flinching at the way her small body jerked under his hand. "You've got no say in this! Let me go!"

"I can't! "She began sobbing in earnest. "I love you."

"Yeah, well, you'll get over it," he choked. "Like you did with Charlie- boy, like Wesley's doing with you. It all comes around and it all ends."

She slumped against him, flooding him with her scent, sweet lavender soap mixed with the tang of her sweat. He struggled to recoil from her touch. "But you promised me," she whispered.

He had, of course; that night in the hotel room. He drew a shaking breath and held her away from him. "Well, I'm a bad man. And that's what bad men do. We break promises and break hearts and break people. Consider yourself lucky, you've got friends to help you put yourself together again," he told her.

She looked at him; full of wearied love for him, and his chest ached with the sight of her. He found her completely accepting of him, her loving eyes held no praise or blame, in a way that no person had ever seen him before.

Then everything changed.

Spike watched her mind click into a decision and her expression of love and compassion fled from her face, her eyes narrowing like steel traps. She strode over to the door and yanked it open with sudden strength of resolve.

"Go then," she whispered bitterly, the tears drying on her face. "Go to your slayer or wherever else you're going. Get out."

He had to turn his back on her to squeeze his eyes shut, his heart pounding relentlessly against his ribs. Of course, she'd think he'd go in that direction. Couldn't she see that he had no idea where to go? He tightened his hold around his bag and steadied his voice.

"That's my girl. Go on and hate me. Though I'd hoped we could still be friends," he said with cold sarcasm.

He could sense her drawing power from him, steeling herself from him, exactly as he'd hoped she'd do. She'd gotten all kinds of strength back – and he'd helped her do it. Still, he imagined himself screaming in protest, throwing himself at her feet and begging forgiveness, promising never to leave.

"I feel nothing for you," she hissed in reply.

"Even better," he retorted and walked out the door, keeping his eyes forward. She closed it on him without another word.

He reached the end of the hallway when he realized that he still had her key in his pocket. "Nothing like ruining the perfect exit sequence," he muttered and slunk back to her flat. He knelt down and began to slip the key under the thin crevice beneath her door. He heard her hiccupping sobs and her desperate conversation with someone. She'd already started on the phone calls, he noted grimly. Win, he thought. I'm sorry, I'm so very sorry. He leaned his head against the door.

"Yes, I did it exactly like you said," he heard her sniffle from inside. "Yes, I asked three times. He's, he's gone. Make him okay now. Please."

Hearing these words, Spike stood up and flung the door open. "What the fuck did you do?" he demanded. The suddenness of his entrance caused Fred to jump backwards with a start and her cell phone fell to the tile of the hall floor with a clatter.

"Spike!" she shrieked in surprise and her eyes widened. He saw the beginnings of a relieved smile play on her lips for a moment. She tried to catch her breath and pull her face together into a look of disapproval. "What, what do you want?"

"What –did—you—do?" Spike repeated tightly. He grabbed her shoulders viciously in his shaking hands and pushed her against the wall with a flash of fresh power. It's happening, he thought, the change coming, the life slipping out of him like the air of a balloon. But he could not leave without knowing what she'd done, if her safety had been compromised.

"Nothing. Never mind. You have to get out of here," she stammered. "I, I don't want you here. Get out," she added, but with none of the force she'd shown before. She quivered in his hands and every imaginable emotion for her possessed him: confusion, anger, hurt, fear, but most of all, love.

"I'm not moving until you tell me who that was on the phone and what the hell is going on. Win," he took a breath and felt his lungs resist expanding with the air. "Please."

"I know, there's not much time," she mumbled, her eyes fixed on the floor. "You have to get out of here before you change."

Wildly, he dug his fingers into her arms and winced when her muscles bowed under the pressure. He loosened his grip and gave her a small shake. "How do you know about that?"

All the resistance melted out of her. She looked up at him and he found her loving eyes holding him once again. "The senior partners made me a counter offer."

His mouth dropped open in shock. "Fucking hell," he rasped, his hands releasing her and sliding down her arms. "Deliver me from lawyers."

"They said I could try to make you stay. I got three chances," she explained softly. "But if I couldn't convince you, and if I let you go, you could stay human."

Spike backed away from her, raking his shaking hands through his hair in disbelief. "Win. Love, why? Why, why did you do such a thing?"

She shook her head back and forth firmly. "What you're giving up for me, Spike, being human, it's too much..."

"I don't want to be human," he blurted. She stared at him in wonder and he racked his brain for a joke, for a snappy retort that would put them back to where they began. But he could only offer the truth.

He stepped towards her. "Knowing I had a pulse for you – that's what made it worthwhile. Without you, what am I? Another sorry stupid man." He grazed his knuckles over her cheek, traced the delicate curve of her eyebrow, and cupped her jaw into his palm.

"Then stay," she said one more time. Fred pressed her palms flat against his chest, glided them down across his stomach, and slid them up his back. Her thin fingers sank into the back of his scalp, tightened around his cropped hair, and drew him to her chest. He shuddered under her touch, moaned with the relief of it, and slipped his arms around her. He drank in her smell, her warmth. They sank to the floor together.

"Win, you know I won't be human. Are you sure?" he asked.

"I'm sure I love you. That's all right, isn't it?"

He pressed his face into her chest, burying his sudden tears between her breasts and gave one last shaking sigh. "That'll do. That'll more than do. And love: no more deals, no more lawyers," he added weakly.

"Deal. I mean, no," she agreed, squeezing him tight.

"No matter what happens, Win, know that I love you, that I never meant to hurt you, that I'll stake myself before I do..." Her fingers fluttered over his cooling lips to silence him.

"Shh. See," she whispered, stroking his hair gently, as the last traces of human life stole out of him. "Not so different, not so very different after all. Just a little colder. But I've got heat enough for both of us."

Maybe this time, he thought, neither one of us will burn.

The End.

Note: the song Spike's thinking about is the Ramones "I wanna be sedated," which he sings to Buffy in Season 5 "Crush."

This now ends "The Ghost and Ms. Burkle."

All my thanks and love to Addie and Ronnie for both betaing and inspiring.

Thanks to everyone for reading my first ever fanfiction! Stay tuned for the sequel, with more Spike and Fred plus the return of Buffy Summers!