The distant ringing of a telephone woke Dawn from a deep, dreamless sleep. Warm and comfortable, she thought briefly of ignoring it. Surely Buffy would answer it soon. As the phone continued ringing, her brow wrinkled in irritation. She sat up in bed and rubbed her blurry eyes. About to yell angrily for her sister to get the phone, she spied Spike, still slumbering on the floor. Suddenly the events of the past 24 hours came back in a rush.

She waits with bated breath for rescue. First Doc appears, but her relief is short-lived when the grandfatherly demon reveals his true allegiances. Then she sees Spike. Surely the vampire is strong enough to save her. But the battle is decided not by strength but by cunning, and Spike is sent tumbling through the darkness. Finally her saviour, her sister, appears. Effortlessly Buffy bests Doc and releases Dawn from her bonds. They struggle down the crumbling tower hand in hand. What still seems too far above the ground, Buffy urges Dawn to jump. Xander, loyal and true, catches her. But Buffy has no one to catch her. With a smile, she jumps, floats, falls...

Shaking free of the terrifying memories, Dawn leapt from the bed and raced for the phone. She cursed softly when it stopped ringing before she reached it. 'If it was important, they'd call back,' she thought, trudging into the kitchen to retrieve the cordless phone.

Keeping the white handset within easy reach, she considered her options. Back to bed, or breakfast and cartoons? What she really wanted was to go straight to the hospital, but, rebellious teen or not, Spike and Giles would take turns killing her if she ventured outside without an escort.

Dawn decided she wasn't really tired, so she grabbed a foil-wrapped packet of Pop-Tarts and the phone and went to the living room to settle in front of the television. Just as she got comfortable, the phone rang and Spike appeared at the foot of the stairs.

Dawn answered the phone before the end of the first ring. "Hello?" she asked breathlessly. Her face fell. She'd hoped to hear Buffy's voice. Instead it was Giles, who, hearing the hope in her girlish tones, immediately informed here that there was no change in her sister's condition.

Giles continued, "is Spike there?"

"Yeah, just a second." Dawn held the phone out to Spike. "Giles wants you." She smirked to herself at the double entendre.

Spike rolled his eyes at Dawn while he greeted Giles. "Hey, Giles, what do you need?"

Dawn waited impatiently. From her perspective, the conversation consisted of a lot of 'yeah's', 'okay's', and agreeable 'uh huh's'. Finally Spike ended the call and sat on the sofa beside her.

"Well?" Dawn blurted out, frustration getting the best of her.

Spike grinned, but shared Giles' information with the young girl. "They are just getting discharged now. Xander left a little while ago to get his car; he's going to drive everyone home. Giles is going to spend the day packing, and then tonight we'll go over and help him carry stuff. So it looks like you're stuck with me for one more day. What do you want to do?"

Dawn looked sly. "Well, I was thinking of Saturday morning cartoons, but..." She clicked off the TV and stared at Spike with avid eyes. "Tell me more stories of rampaging through Europe!"
Giles grimaced slightly as he eased himself into the passenger seat of Xander's car. Xander looked at him with concern.

"You okay, G-man?" he whispered, voice covered by the sound of Anya and Willow arguing in the back seat.

Giles smiled at Xander reassuringly. "I'm fine, Xander. It just pulls a bit when I sit down."

Xander opened his mouth, but anything he intended to say was drowned by the voices of the girls behind him.

"Stop crowding me!" Anya shouted. "I don't understand why I have to be crushed back here with you two. It's my car, well, Xander's and mine. I should be in the front, not stuck back here." She crossed her arms and pouted, elbowing Willow as she did so.

Willow's eyes flashed. "You are the most selfish, self-centred..."

Xander thought he should cut them all off before the battle got out of hand. "So I'll drop you off first, An. You'll feel better once you lie down. I'll drive by the school and leave you girls next, then I'll take Giles home. Sound good, all?" Xander asked jovially.

Faint grumbling came from Anya and Willow, but they both realized Xander wasn't willing to put up with any of their sniping. Tara looked at Xander with grateful eyes. She was still pretty worn from Glory's invasion of her mind and then doing magic with Willow. She hated listening to anyone argue, and Willow and Anya's spiteful backbiting was especially uncomfortable. She closed her eyes and settled back against the headrest, her stomach unclenching as the grumbling faded to silence.

At the apartment, Xander helped Anya to the door. As he unlocked the door for her, he looked down at his feet and cleared his throat. "Anya, I know I said I'd drop everyone off and hurry back here to look after you, but I think..."

"You have to help Giles," Anya sighed. "I heard you in the car. With all the packing he has to do, and the pain he's in, he's going to need you to carry stuff. Look, I'm going to rest for a while, and then I'll pick up pizza and take it to Giles'. Does that sound good?"

Xander looked at her with happy surprise. "That's great, Anya! I love you." He quickly kissed her goodbye and headed to the car.

Anya pulled him back for another kiss. "You are such a generous and good friend, Xander. It's one of the reasons I fell in love with you, too."

Xander paused, arm outstretched to clasp Anya's hand. His eyes shone with such love that the older woman passing him gasped in envy. "You're a good man, Charlie Brown," he whispered. Then he took off for the car.

Anya muttered to herself as she closed the door to the apartment. "Charlie Brown? But my name is Anya. I hope he gets my name right during our wedding vows."

Xander turned the car onto the University of California Sunnydale Campus. At the girls' building, he again hopped out and escorted Tara and Willow to the door. Briefly he described Giles' wince, and that he thought he'd better go and help the older man pack for his move to the Summers' household. Willow immediately looked concerned.

"Is there anything we can do?" she asked.

"Anya's going to take a rest and then come over around 6 o'clock with pizza. Wanna bring dessert?" Xander smiled impishly.

Tara smiled crookedly while Willow winked at Xander. "Sure, see you at 6ish."

Xander turned to go, but was stopped by a soft hand on his arm. It was Willow, looking sheepish. "Umm, sorry about arguing with Anya in the car. I was just being childish."

Xander smiled again. "That means a lot Will." He bent to give the redhead a hug. "I love you, and I love her. I want you two to love each other." He thought about that for a minute, then turned to Tara. "But not in that way, you know?"

Tara nodded seriously, hiding her smile.

Xander waved and headed back to Giles. Willow turned to go inside, but stopped when she realized Tara wasn't moving.

"Tara, baby, you okay? You look kinda funny."

"You just made Xander's day by apologizing." Tara looked at Willow with soft eyes. "And it just made me realize how much I love you." They walked hand in hand into the dorm, sneaking loving glances all the while.

Xander drove silently to Giles' apartment. When he'd arrived back at the car, Giles had fallen asleep, and Xander was loath to wake the older man. As he pulled into the drive and parked, he put a finger to his mouth to chew a nail. Should he wake Giles, or just let him sleep? he wondered, letting the car idle. If Giles was in as much pain as his grimace suggested, he probably needed the sleep to heal, to escape from the discomfort. On the other hand, there was a lot to do, and Giles claimed he was okay. Surely Giles knew better than Xander what his own body could handle. Just as Xander made up his mind to wake the Watcher, Giles snapped upright with a gasp.

"Uh, we're here?" Xander offered, trying to disguise his concern.

"Yes, thank you, Xander. I really appreciate you driving me home." Giles pulled himself out of the car, moving very slowly. Xander hurried out and around the car to assist.

Giles was surprised by Xander's gentleness and concern. The young man often seemed like a puppy: clumsy and hyper, constantly breaking anything fragile and making a mess on the carpet. Mentally he reminded himself that Xander was growing up, as even the most awkward puppy must. Xander was becoming a man, and a caring, considerate and intelligent man at that.

Xander trailed behind the Watcher to the apartment door. He followed the older man into the dark, humid room. "Whoa, G-man, it's hot in here," Xander exclaimed as Giles lowered himself to the sofa. "Let me turn on the air conditioner." Xander hurried to the thermostat to lower the temperature, then joined Giles on the sofa.

Giles watched all this through heavy-lidded eyes. He felt so exhausted and sore that he really didn't know how he was going to face packing up. He probably didn't need much at Buffy's, though. He was keeping the apartment, so all the big objects and furniture could stay here. He'd pack up the food in the kitchen. Of course he'd need his clothes. He also had a small but valuable collection of jewellery and heirlooms. He'd better take that. Most of the books and magic supplies and weapons were at the Magic Box, but the items he had here needed to go with him. He groaned. The more he thought about it, the more overwhelming it seemed. If he could just get rid of Xander, he could have a little nap. Surely he'd feel better after a bit of a rest, and be able to face packing.

Hauling himself upright, Giles cleared his throat. "Well, Xander, I'd better let you go. I'm sure you're needed at home, and I've got a lot of packing to do." He looked expectantly at Xander, waiting for the young man to rush out the door.

Xander did stand up, but didn't immediately leave. "Um, Giles, you're looking pretty tough. I don't think... that is, you can't... I'm here to help you pack up."

Giles was flabbergasted. He tried to assure Xander he was fine, but Xander obstinately refused to leave. "Giles, you're injured, you're in pain, and now you have to pack up your life and move in with a 14 year-old. No one should go through that alone."

At first Giles considered arguing. He was an adult, he certainly didn't need Xander, of all people, telling him he needed help. He stood up to assert his authority, but then looked at Xander. The young man stood in front of him, obviously upset to disagree with Giles, but just as obviously having no intention of leaving. Instead of trying to send Xander away, Giles simply sighed.

"Thanks Xander. I do feel pretty battered. Why don't I go upstairs and pack my clothes and personal items, while you grab the books, weapons, and magic supplies. You know where I keep all those items."

"I'll just head out and get some boxes first, Giles. Can I take your key so I don't have to make you come back downstairs to let me in?"

Silently Giles handed over the key and headed upstairs.

Xander practically ran for the door. He knew Giles didn't really want his help, but he also knew the older man was in far worse shape than he was letting on. Giles seemed to forget he wasn't a witch or a Slayer or a vampire. Even Xander, who had no special skills at all, had the advantage of youth. He'd just go and get some boxes and some lunch, giving Giles some time to accept the fact that today he needed Xander's help.

Upstairs, Giles had his head in the closet. His hand was wrapped around the handle of a suitcase, but no matter how he tugged, it wouldn't move. Finally, furiously, he gave a tremendous pull. The suitcase tumbled loose, and Giles fell over backwards, pulling the suitcase with him. It landed on his stomach, sending shooting pains through his injured abdomen. He cursed fluently, lying on his back on the floor, surrounded by a mess he created and barely able to breathe because of the exceptional pain.

Eventually, the pain receded, and he realized how foolish he'd been. He was injured, heart-sore, and about to begin on the most difficult challenge of his life. Why did he feel the need to handle it on his own, beginning with packing with no assistance? Smiling ruefully, he climbed to his feet. He laid the suitcase on the bed and slowly, tiredly, began putting his clothes and personal items from the closet inside. After only a few moments of work he slowed even more, dropping his arms to his sides. Longingly he looked at the bed, and then glanced thoughtfully at his watch. Xander had said he was going to get boxes, but he hadn't eaten yet today. The young man was bound to be hungry. Knowing Xander, he'd walk past a restaurant, suddenly realize he was starving, and forget all about Giles for an hour or two. Giles smiled as he lay down. Just 15 minutes, the Watcher thought. Then back to work.

An hour later, Xander opened the door to Giles' apartment and stumbled inside. He dropped the unassembled boxes in the middle of the room before heading back to the car to get the rest of the packing supplies he'd purchased. When Xander moved from his parents' basement to his great new apartment with Anya, he'd just grabbed boxes from the grocery store and tossed his possessions into them. When he unpacked, several of his more fragile Star Trek action figures had been broken. With all of Giles' precious and magical artefacts, Xander figured he'd better spring for proper packing material, including bubble wrap, packing peanuts, and strong boxes.

Xander plunked himself in the middle of the room and began assembling the boxes. All too soon that was finished, and with a sigh, he approached the bookshelves. He pulled a stack of books, and was about to dump them into a box when he flashed back to a five year old memory.

"Xander, if you bend the spine or drop another of my books, I swear you'll not see another sunrise." Giles looked sternly at the teen. "Look at this," the librarian muttered, grabbing a demonology from the bottom of the pile. "This book is three hundred years old, in perfect condition. Six weeks in the hands of this philistine and it's covered in jelly and sugar from doughnuts, the spine is broken, and there's a watermark from a soda can on the calfskin binding! You learn to treat my books better, or I'll re-cover them all in human skin," Giles threatened, hugging the damaged book to his chest.

Guiltily, Xander looked around to make sure Giles hadn't seen his near mistreatment of the books. Carefully, he set the books into the box, ensuring they weren't packed too tightly so they wouldn't be damaged during unpacking.

Eventually, the bookshelf was empty and five boxes were full. The magic supplies all fit into a single box, but everything had to be carefully wrapped in silk to prevent accidental magical interactions. Some of those herbs were very volatile. The weapons had been collected and returned to the battered green metal lockers Giles had picked up at the Army Surplus a couple of years before. They were heavy, but still manageable, and at least the bottom wasn't going to fall out with the weight, the way cardboard would.

Xander swiped his brow. A faint sheen of sweat stood out on his forehead, and he went to the kitchen for a glass of water. Feeling a bit cooler for the drink, he glanced absently at his watch. It was after 3 pm. He'd dropped Giles off at 11, been gone an hour for lunch and shopping, then packed for three hours! His eyebrows shot up. Four hours, and Giles was still upstairs, packing his clothes? He dropped the glass in the sink and bolted up the stairs, calling for Giles.

In the bedroom, Giles mumbled in his sleep. Something was teasing at his consciousness, and it was getting louder and more insistent. When the door burst open with a crash, he sat bolt upright with a small scream. His eyes met Xander's panicked gaze, and he leapt from the bed, searching for the vampire or demon that was attacking. There was nothing. Eventually the pounding of his heart slowed, and the rushing of blood in his ears subsided. He turned back to Xander, who still stood in the doorway, looking abashed.

"You couldn't let me sleep for ten minutes, Xander? Surely you can pack books without my supervision," Giles said scathingly.

Xander bristled at the tone. "Ten minutes? Listen, Giles, you've been up here for four hours! I've got boxes and packing supplies, and I've packed all the books, magic supplies and weapons. What've you been doing? All I see here is one mostly empty suitcase, and a puddle of drool on your pillow."

Giles was stunned. He'd slept for four hours? He glanced at the clock, and then looked sheepishly at the still angry young man. "Sorry, Xander. I was just going to take a nap. I must've been more exhausted than I thought."

Xander visibly softened. "You feel any better for the rest?"

"Surprisingly, yes. In fact, I'm starving."

The argument forgotten, Giles and Xander headed down to the kitchen. Xander grimaced when he saw the glass shards in the sink. "Sorry Giles. When I realized you'd been upstairs, silent, for four hours, I panicked. I'll clean that up." He carefully picked shards out of the drain and dumped them in the garbage while Giles rummaged in the fridge.

Finally, Giles pulled out some eggs. "I haven't eaten anything yet today, and I'm really craving breakfast. Care for an omelette, Xander? It'll save me having to pack the eggs."

"I could eat. How can I help?"

In companionable silence, the two men set about making omelettes. Xander chopped onions, meat and cheese, while Giles whisked eggs and milk and gently cooked them in a frying pan. In just a few minutes, they sat down to fluffy omelettes and toast.

Comfortably full, and much more relaxed, Xander leaned back in his chair. He really wanted to just relax, but he knew there was still a lot to do before Giles would be ready to move.

Xander watched Giles push back his chair, and rose with him, following the older man into the living room. "It certainly looks barren with no books on the shelves," Giles said ruefully. Xander nodded agreement. Giles shook off his bemusement, and headed for the stairs. "Well, I still have to pack my clothes and the rest of the stuff upstairs. Other than those and the books and items you've already packed up for me, I'd only planned to take the food with me to Buffy's. Do you think you could make a start in the kitchen?"

Xander nodded agreeably, heading back to the kitchen. "No problem, G-man."

Shaking his head, Giles headed back to the bedroom. His step was much firmer than it had been earlier. He obviously felt much better for having had such a long nap.

In the kitchen, Xander surveyed the mess they'd made while cooking. With a glare at the ceiling, he turned to the sink to do the dishes. He muttered as he turned on the water. "No wonder he wanted me to do the kitchen."
Dawn's eyes were wide and fixed on the vampire in front of her.

"So, in my deepest, most menacing voice I said 'stand aside, young man. Don't you recognize the headmaster when you see him? I'll have your badge for this!' and stalked past him as he started stammering an apology. Once I got past that, it was smooth sailing.

The young girl laughed in disbelief, almost falling off the couch in the process. "Seriously? You impersonated the headmaster at the school you went to as a boy just so you could eat him?"

Spike smiled proudly. "Practically the first thing I did after I was turned. Look, 'bit, it's like this: everyone has someone they hate, someone they wish they were strong enough to punish. With Darla, it was her pimp, Angel, his family, for me, it was Headmaster Wilkins. When you become a vampire, you have all this strength, and no moral conscience to prevent you from doing the worst."

"Firstly, Darla had a pimp? How come no one told me that? Secondly, what did this Wilkins guy do that was so bad? Thirdly, why didn't you just eat the gatekeeper, too?"

Now Spike dropped his head in his hands. "Firstly, don't ever let Buffy know that I told you about Darla, secondly, it's stupid, and thirdly, I didn't even think of it."

"Some big bad you are, sneaking in instead of killing everything in your path," Dawn teased.

"That's pretty much what Dru said, only less insane."

"Tell me what Wilkins did," Dawn demanded, returning to their previous conversation.

"I told you, it's stupid." Dawn merely looked at Spike until the vampire finally sighed and started speaking.

"I was eight and it was Christmas break. It was my first year at boarding school, and I was really excited to go home. I was running in the main hall towards the front door, and I ran right into the Headmaster. I was just a wee mite, and the bigger kids had told us all these stories about how mean he was to little kids, about getting the strap, or he'd feed you nothing but water and porridge if he didn't like you. So I'm eight, I've been caught running in the halls, and I'm terrified. I freeze. He bends down to me, grabs my shoulder and propels me into his office. He... he made me stand in the corner while we waited for my mother to collect me. When she got there, he made me tell her why I was being punished. Then I stood outside while they talked inside. I couldn't hear what they said, but all the kids pointed and laughed as they left the building with their families. When Mother finally came out, she was smiling. Thought the pillock was a funny bloke, I guess. He bent down me again, and said, 'now, William, I guess you won't be running in the halls anymore," with this satisfied smirk and nasty little laugh. I hated and feared him in that moment. I never got over it."

Dawn stared at the vampire silently. Finally she spoke. "You're right, that is stupid."

"Hey, I was eight!"

"Apparently, you stayed eight. Oh, I hate the man who made me stand in the corner, so scary, must eat him now that I can," Dawn smirked, laughing at the ridiculousness of the conversation.

Spike pouted. "Last time I ever tell you a story."

For a brief moment, they sat in silence, glaring at each other. Soon, however, a small smile tugged at Dawn's lips. Unable to resist the teen, Spike smiled back. "So, Little Bit, what should we do now?"

Dawn stretched as she looked at the clock. "Damn," she pouted. "We really need to clear out Mom's bedroom for Giles before tonight."

Spike winced. "Is that going to be okay, 'bit? Can you handle it?"

"What? Oh! It's mostly cleared out. Buffy and I went through Mom's things a couple of weeks after she died. But it hasn't been vacuumed, the sheets need to be changed, and there's still some knick-knacks and stuff in there. Be nice to give Giles a room of his own while he's here, since he's giving up so much to take care of me," Dawn finished wistfully.

"You're a sweetheart, you know that, Dawn?" Spike smiled at the girl. "Got any boxes in the basement to put the stuff in?"

"Yeah, Buffy picked up some boxes last week."

Spike looked steadily at Dawn for a long moment. "Does that mean she knew we'd be having to do this?"

"What? Oh! You mean, she expected us to have to clean out Mom's room for Giles?" Dawn took a deep breath. "When she wakes up, I'm really going to give her a piece of my mind."

Spike laughed. "Okay, Nibblet. I'll go to the basement and get a couple of boxes if you grab the vacuum. Meet you up in Joyce's room?"

"Race you there, Spike!" Dawn squealed and sprang towards the closet.

The vampire laughed at the girl's antics, pleased that she was handling the situation so well and set off at a trot for the basement. Once downstairs, a quick glance showed him a pile of boxes, many more than would be needed to clear out a few knick-knacks. His smile faded. "Oh, Buffy. You really didn't think you were coming home, did you?" he whispered. He looked upstairs, listening for Dawn. She was still struggling with the vacuum hanging in the closet. He had a few moments. He couldn't bear the thought of Dawn coming down here, seeing all the boxes, and realizing yet again that Buffy never expected to live through the battle. Hurriedly he flattened all but two of the boxes, sticking them behind the water heater. Then he grabbed the remaining boxes and sprinted up the stairs, passing Dawn on the stairs.

"Gee, thanks so much for your help, Spike," Dawn hollered after him.

"You're the one who turned it into a race, Little Bit," Spike laughed. He set the boxes outside Joyce's door, and then returned to help Dawn with the vacuum. Picking up the vacuum with ease, he allowed Dawn to precede him down the hallway.

Dawn opened the door and walked into the darkened room. Crossing to the window, she flung open the window to allow air to circulate, being careful not to open the blinds for fear of burning Spike. She turned around to survey the room and get an idea of what needed to be done, only to be arrested by the sight of Spike hovering uncertainly in the doorway.

"Relax, Spike, the blinds are closed, the sun can't get you here," Dawn teased. Spike turned anguished eyes on the teen. "Spike? What's wrong?" she asked, hurrying to his side.

Spike looked down at Dawn with solemn eyes. "Your mum was a great lady, Dawn. I still miss her. This room, it still smells like she lives here, you know?"

Dawn's eyes filled with tears as she looked around the room and sniffed the stale air. She couldn't smell anything that reminded her of her mother, but her mind flew back to all the years the three Summers women had lived in this house. She remembered storming in here to complain about Buffy, or sitting and watching her mother get dressed up for a date or special event. For a moment, the dim room was filled with shadows of the past, but, after an instant, the images receded, becoming once again the bittersweet memories she'd tucked into the recesses of her mind to enjoy when the pain went away. Dawn took a deep breath and looked up at Spike. "Yeah, Mom was wonderful. I have great memories of her. We all do, even you. We don't need a room to remember her. We'll never forget." Dawn blinked away tears, and moved to the bed to begin stripping the linens from it.

Spike blinked. Sometimes he was startled by Dawn's maturity and perception. Despite her youth, Dawn had experienced a lot in her short life. Even without her true identity as the Key, dealing with her parents' divorce, their move to Sunnydale, her sister's apparent misbehaviour and the truth behind it, and her mother's illness and sudden death made Dawn an unusual 14 year old. As the sheets hit him in the face, Spike reconsidered. Maybe Dawn wasn't that unusual after all, looking at the giggling girl.

"What were you thinking about, that I got the drop on you like that?" Dawn asked, laughing.

"I was thinking how mature and perceptive you were, how much you've gone through, and how grown up you are. Then I changed my mind," Spike taunted, piling the sheets and blankets in a corner and returning to the hallway to retrieve the boxes he'd brought up from the basement.

Dawn stuck her tongue out at him, and then began directing him to collect the few knick-knacks remaining on the dresser and bedside table. "And make sure you wrap them in tissue so they don't get broken. When you finish that, put all the stuff on the walls in a box as well."

"Yes, ma'am."

They worked in companionable silence for a few moments. Dawn retreated to the basement with the linens and started a load of laundry, returning with her arms full of fresh sheets from the linen closet.

"Spike, could you help me turn the mattress over? Mom always did that when we were spring cleaning, but we didn't do it this year."

The vampire sauntered over and easily turned the heavy and unwieldy mattress over.

"Or you could show off how strong you are and do it yourself. That's what Buffy does too," Dawn pouted.

Spike grinned to himself and returned to his assigned duties while Dawn made the bed. With that task accomplished, she moved to the closet. When Buffy and Dawn went through their mother's things before, they'd simply made six piles: things Dawn wanted, things Buffy wanted, things to display in other parts of the house, things for charity, things to toss, and things they couldn't bear to get rid of but didn't want to display. The objects in the last group were boxed and the boxes returned to the closet. Dawn viewed these boxes with misgiving. They'd planned to go through this stuff later and figure out what to do. She really didn't want to go through those boxes without Buffy. As she recalled, the contents included her mother's favourite clothes, some pictures of Joyce and Hank in happier days, and Joyce's diaries. Dawn chewed her thumb and tried to think of what to do.

"What do you want me to do with these boxes?" Spike's voice startled her.

"I'm just trying to figure out where to put this stuff," Dawn confessed. "There's not really a lot of storage space, and Giles will need this closet for his own belongings. Is there much space in the basement?" Dawn asked.

Spike silently congratulated himself on his foresight for collapsing the boxes he'd found in the basement. "Yeah, there's some space on the shelves down there. There are only four boxes, right? I think they'll fit." Spike picked up the two boxes he'd packed and led the way downstairs, Dawn trailing behind with a single box.

In the basement, they set about reorganizing the shelves to make room for the packed boxes. At one point, Dawn left, and returned with the final box and a marker. She carefully noted the contents of each box on the outside before Spike placed them on a shelf.

Back upstairs, Dawn vacuumed the bedroom while Spike ran a damp rag over the surfaces. Dawn suppressed a snicker at the picture of domesticity the vampire made as he dusted the furniture.

Finally they both stood back and admired the job they had done cleaning the bedroom. The air was much fresher and the room looked somewhat less feminine. There was nothing they could do about the floral wallpaper though. Giles would just have to live with that.

Dawn stretched and glanced at the clock. "Wow! It's 4 o'clock! No wonder I'm hungry. Some babysitter you are, letting your charge starve to death," Dawn teased, heading for the kitchen.

They both prepared some food, Spike having had the foresight to bring some blood with him the night before. They sat at the island in the kitchen, enjoying their respective meals, though Dawn tried not to look at Spike's mug too closely.

With everything prepared for Giles' arrival, they settled back in front of the TV for the rest of the afternoon. At about 5 o'clock, the phone rang. It was Willow, letting them know that everyone was meeting at Giles' place in an hour to have supper and help with the move.

Spike eyed the sky. "We'll probably be a little late," he told the witch. "After the past couple of days, I really don't fancy a dash through the sunshine. We'll probably be there around 6:30. Save us some food?"

Willow laughed and agreed.

Dawn flipped to the Weather Channel. "Spike, sunset isn't until 7:53 tonight. You're still going to have to outrun the sun."

"Ah, but that's where you're wrong, Nibblet. By quarter after six, that big tree in your yard shades the car, so I can amble out with not a care in the world. Your mom's car has tinted windows, so I can drive no problem. It takes about 15 minutes to get to Giles', and by that time the sun is so low in the sky that the whole street is shaded. Trust me Dawnie, if there's one thing a vampire knows, it's where the shady spots are. Besides, if we want any food at all we'd better get there sooner rather than later. Have you ever seen those people eat?"
Giles surveyed the bedroom. The room looked huge with only the bed and dresser in it. All of his personal effects had either been packed in the suitcases to go to the Summers' or in boxes to keep them from getting dusty.

The Watcher sat on the bed and surveyed his possessions. For over five years, this apartment had been his home. Intended as a haven from the madness that was the Hellmouth, these walls had seen more than their fair share of violence and blood. He shuddered as he looked around, remembering the horror of finding Jenny's cold, bloodless body. After that, he'd really considered moving. He'd stayed in a hotel for a week before he could bring himself to go home. Eventually however, he did return, with the only concession to the ghastliness of the situation being the purchase of a new bed. Instead of letting the sorrow overwhelm him, he used it. Every day this room, this apartment served as a reminder of what he was fighting for, a reminder of the innocents he was helping to protect. Sitting here, he realized he was worried about leaving, not simply because he wasn't prepared to play guardian for a 14 year old who'd been through a horrible year. What if he lost his drive? Without the constant memory of all he'd lost and given up to be a Watcher, to guide Buffy, to fight evil with his own strength, he feared he'd soften. Already he saw Spike as an ally. He thought he'd learned his lesson about trusting vampires when Angel turned on them, but here he was again, relying on a vampire to help defend the world.

Downstairs, Xander rattled things around in the kitchen. The sound startled Giles, breaking him out of his morbid reverie. Counting the pile of suitcases and boxes on the bedroom floor, Giles groaned. He had more than enough trouble in his life right now without worrying that he was going soft. Picking up as much as he could comfortably carry, Giles struggled down the stairs, trying to put his worries out of his mind.

Xander had finished cleaning the kitchen and packed all of the non- perishable food in boxes. He'd looked for a cooler for the items in the fridge, but then decided it would be better to leave that until after dinner. Instead he turned his attention to cleaning the fridge and freezer, throwing out anything past the due date and washing the surfaces. As he'd expected, there was no mouldy food to throw out, and the refrigerator was pretty clean. He was contemplating cleaning the oven when he heard Giles thumping downstairs. He rushed to take the heavy suitcases from the older man.

"Giles, you should have asked me to come and get these," Xander chided. "You'll pull your stitches."

"They weren't that heavy when I started," Giles said, holding his injured side.

"Is there much more upstairs?" Xander asked.

"There are two boxes to go in the closet, and another suitcase to go with me to Buffy's. How many boxes did you fill?"

"There are five boxes of books and supplies, the two metal weapons' chests, and three boxes of non-perishables in the kitchen. I cleaned the fridge, but everything is still in there. Do you even have a cooler?"

"It's in the hall closet," Giles said absently, staring around at the crowded, yet somehow barren, apartment.

Xander followed Giles' eyes. "It looks pretty empty and unlived in, doesn't it? Have you given any thought to what you are going to do with it while you are at Buffy's?"

Giles looked startled. "I was just going to let it sit here. I'll need it again when Buffy wakes up."

"Well, I was thinking while I was cleaning," Xander said bashfully. "The girls, Willow and Tara, they will get kicked out of the dorm at the end of the month. That's only a couple of weeks away. I don't know if they have a place yet, but maybe, if they don't, they could look after this place for you?" Xander finished in a rush.

Giles looked intrigued. "That's a good idea, Xander. I'd hate for something to happen to this place because it's left empty. I'll have to ask them next time I see them."

"Conveniently enough, they'll be here in 20 minutes. Anya's bringing pizza and Willow and Tara are bringing dessert."

Giles looked horrified. "Xander! This place is a mess! I'm hot and sweaty, and neither of us have had a shower for two days! How could you?"

"You needed help packing. You need help moving. You need food. We're helping. Besides, you're family. It doesn't matter that you aren't your usual starched self." Giles still looked appalled at the thought of having guests while he and the apartment were in such a state of disarray. Xander sighed and relented. "You go wash up as much as you can. I'll move boxes around so it doesn't look quite so messy."

Giles headed back upstairs, while Xander began neatly stacking boxes in the corners of the living room. About ten minutes later, Giles came back downstairs, washed and in clean clothes.

Xander, sprawled over the sofa with a glass of water on the floor near his hand, looked up long enough to give Giles two thumbs up. "Looking good, G- man. Feeling better?"

Surveying the room, Giles nodded. The boxes had been tucked unobtrusively into corners, leaving the centre of the room free of obstacles. Giles had just sunk gratefully into the chair opposite Xander when the doorbell rang. Xander quickly hopped up to answer it, waving at Giles to keep him seated.

Willow and Tara stood at the door, looking better rested than they had in the week since Tara's run-in with Glory. Their hair was still damp from the shower and curled gently around their smiling faces. Laughing lightly, they pushed past Xander and straight into the kitchen.

"I baked a cake," Willow carolled as she went past.

Tara sat down by Giles. "Actually, she made cake batter. She's going to bake it now. There's no oven in the dorm."

Giles called to Willow. "I'm glad you didn't attempt to bake it with magic. I've never tried it, but I've heard it can be messy, and you really don't want to eat the results."

"Yeah," Willow said, coming into the living room and sitting on the floor by Tara. "It's one of those things you only try once." She looked thoroughly chastened, and Giles choked, though whether with horror or amusement even he wasn't sure.

The doorbell rang again, and Xander bounded up to greet Anya. The delicious scent of pizza filled the air as Anya entered, laden with six pizza boxes.

"I got everyone's favourite," the brunette said, plunking the boxes on the table. "Veggie for the witches, meat lovers for Xander and Spike, anchovy and pineapple for Giles, pepperoni for me, onion and beef for Dawn and ..." Anya trailed off, looking at the last pizza box. "Oops," She said quietly.

The happy atmosphere died a quick death as they all looked at the pizza. It was loaded with feta cheese, eggplant, sun dried tomatoes and a liberal sprinkling of chicken breast. Buffy's favourite.

After long moments of silence, Giles cleared his throat. "I'm sure someone will eat that, Anya. In fact, it looks delicious." Giles reached out and took a piece. Everyone followed his example, and in a silent toast, raised a slice of pizza to the comatose girl who was never far from their thoughts. Very quickly the box was empty, and Willow quietly put it in a garbage bag.

"Make sure you leave some pizza for Dawn and Spike", she admonished as she sat down again. "They'll be here at about 6:30."

Slowly, the atmosphere brightened as people began chatting again. Giles turned to the witches to ask what their plans for the summer were.

"We both got jobs on campus," Willow said excitedly. "UC Sunnydale runs children's programs all summer, and we got jobs as counsellors. The kids will sleep in the dorm, so we get to stay in our room as part of our jobs. It's going to be great!"

Giles sighed. "That's wonderful, you two. It kind of scuttles my plan though. I was just thinking that if you didn't have a place to stay for the summer, I'd invite you to live here and keep an eye on this place until Buffy gets better. I hate to leave the place empty."

Innocently, Tara offered a suggestion. "Why don't you ask Spike?" Once again, silence filled the room.

Giles flashed back to the thoughts he'd experienced while packing. He'd worried about maintaining his dedication, his righteous indignation in the face of evil. He'd felt simply treating Spike as an ally was abandoning his responsibility. Allowing Spike to actually live in his home would be the ultimate betrayal of Jenny's memory. He opened his mouth to try to explain his discomfort with that suggestion, only to be interrupted by Xander.

"Are you nuts? He's a vampire! He's the embodiment of all things evil, all things that are frightening, and horrible, and dark, and, and, and he's treacherous! He'd as soon kill you as look at you. If he didn't have the chip in his head, we'd all be dead." Xander finally ran out of breath.

Willow winced at Xander's tone. She agreed with everything he said, but Tara really hated confrontation of any sort. Even simply witnessing arguments made her stutter, and Willow feared Tara's reaction to having Xander raise his voice to her. To her surprise, Tara didn't crumble. Instead, she argued back.

"If he's so dangerous, what are we doing leaving Dawn with him? This has nothing to do with him being a vampire, with him being so dangerous," Tara said scornfully. "You treat him like my family treated me. 'You're a demon, but could you make supper and clean the house and where are my clean clothes?' With Spike, it's all 'you're evil and dangerous, and we'll never trust you, but could you look after the 14 year old for a couple of days?' You take advantage of him, of his strength, of his chip, of his love for Buffy and Dawn, without giving him any credit or even a thank you! After all he's gone through, all he's done, still all you see is the fangs, the sunlight allergy, and the past. For people with such open minds to extreme possibilities, you sure are short-sighted when it comes to Spike." With that, Tara turned, intending to storm off into the bathroom and calm down. Instead she froze, caught by Spike's eyes.

Spike and Dawn arrived just as Tara suggested Spike live in Giles' apartment. His superior vampire hearing caught Xander's rant, and he slowed his pace, trying to keep Dawn away from the argument. She felt such loyalty to him she would feel required to defend him, and he didn't want her caught in the middle of this. However, Dawn was hungry and the delicious scent of pizza was hurrying her steps. Unfortunately, as she got closer, she could hear Xander as well, and she stopped, eyes filling as she looked at the vampire who protected her.

When Xander finally stopped yelling, Spike raised his hand to tap on the door. When Tara's voice rang out, defending him, he froze in his tracks. He listened for a moment, hand slowly falling. Beside him, Dawn listened with delight. It was about time someone pointed out how badly they treated Spike. No one ever listened to her when she tried to explain it to them. They wrote her off as too young to understand true evil, patting her on the head and dismissing her. She looked at Spike, who still stood frozen in shock at the notion that anyone would defend him and her heart ached for him. She poked him in the side, trying to get him to open the door. If he didn't walk in now, they would just pretend this conversation never happened, and continue treating him like a dog. He didn't react at all. Finally, frustrated, Dawn slipped in front of him, turning the handle and pushing the door open. She slipped back behind him, out of sight as everyone followed Tara's gaze to the vampire at the door.

Spike finally got himself under control, and tried to act nonchalant. He tried to speak, "hey all, did you save us some pizza?" He was ashamed to realize his voice cracked with emotion. He walked in, smiled brilliantly at Tara on the way by, and then plunked himself on the floor, grabbing a slice of pizza. He was determined to ignore the tension. Despite Tara's defence, he didn't really expect anyone's attitude towards him to change. Too much had happened in the past for them to ever accept him.

Dawn rolled her eyes. She opened her mouth to bring up the topic, but closed it when Spike caught her eyes and shook his head imperceptibility. Angrily she stalked across the room and sat beside Spike, showing her support the only way he would accept.

Silence reigned. Tara went to the bathroom briefly to wash her face. When she returned, the tension was still thick. Xander ate methodically, trying to ignore Spike when he reached across to grab pizza. Spike and Dawn sat quietly together, eating pizza. Willow looked up when she returned, sending her a small smile. Tara could see by the wrinkled brow that Willow was confused by Tara's outburst, but was trying to ignore it. Only Anya seemed completely comfortable and oblivious to the tension.

Giles looked at each person in turn, his gaze lingering on Spike. For a moment, he'd considered ignoring Tara's comments just like everyone else tried to. He thought about finding Jenny's body and all the other bodies he'd had to deal with since arriving in Sunnydale. He thought about Spike's first attempt to kill Buffy. He thought about Spike's deal with Buffy to stop Angelus and Acathla in exchange for his love, Drusilla. He thought about Spike's attack on Willow and the discovery of the chip. He thought about paying Spike for information. He thought about Spike's attempt to prove his love for Buffy by kidnapping her. He thought about Spike's defiance of Glory, despite the torture she'd put him through. He thought about Spike's defence of all of them when they were on the run, his attempts to make them understand that Ben was Glory, his valiant if vain protection of Dawn on the tower. He thought about Spike's heartbreak when they believed Buffy dead, and his bravery at hiding his pain to help keep Dawn together during the aftermath of this apocalypse. He shook his head ruefully. Tara was right. Spike had proven himself again and again, and they treated him like the lowest of the low.

"Spike?" Giles said, breaking the silence. Everyone froze, hands filled with pizza paused in midair, halfway to mouths. "How do you feel about staying here? Just until Buffy gets out of hospital and I move back, of course."

Spike was stunned, but accepted instantly. "Sure, Giles. That'd be a good idea. You never know what's going to happen to an empty building in Sunnydale."

Xander choked, and opened his mouth to argue. Then he caught Dawn, Tara and Anya shooting baleful glares his direction. He quickly brought his slice of pizza to his mouth and stuffed it in. With his mouth full, he'd be much less tempted to say something that would get the girls upset at him.

With Giles' invitation and Spike's acceptance, the tension disappeared as if by magic. The atmosphere was still subdued, for they all keenly felt the lack of Buffy's presence. They talked quietly amongst themselves about commonplaces until all the pizza and cake was finished. Dawn quietly got up and collected the empty boxes, cups and plates, taking them to the trash or the sink. When she returned everyone was surveying the boxes and bags Giles and Xander had assembled.

"There's another suitcase upstairs, and a couple of boxes to go into the closet. Oh, and the perishables in the kitchen need to be packed in the cooler and taken over. We'll probably have to make a couple of trips," Giles sighed.

"We've got three vehicles, I think we can fit it all in," Xander said. "I'll go get the stuff from upstairs and put the boxes in the closet. I'll be back in a minute to help load the cars." He bounded upstairs.

"I'll get the stuff in the kitchen. Where's your cooler?" Willow asked.

"In the hall closet."

Willow went down the hall, returning momentarily with the cooler. She joined Tara in the kitchen where she'd already begun pulling things out of the fridge.

"I'll grab the garbage and take it to the bin," Dawn offered.

Giles, Spike and Anya looked uncomfortably at each other. "I guess that leaves us to start loading the cars."

"I brought Joyce's SUV," Spike volunteered. "It was cleaner and bigger and more convenient than my car. I took the back seats out to fit more stuff in, though, so I can only take one passenger back with me."

"Why don't we load it first?" Giles suggested. Looking around, he pointed at the weapons lockers. "Those are heaviest, and we can put other stuff on top of them. Grab them first."

Spike walked over and picked up one of the heavy lockers. "The keys are in my jacket," he said, signalling with his chin to the jacket draped over a chair. "Could you unlock the back, ducks?" he asked Anya.

Unburdened except by the keys, Anya preceded Spike out the door, holding it open for him, and then opening the back hatch of the truck.

"So, how much of the big argument did you hear?" she asked conversationally, watching Spike struggle with the heavy locker.

He glanced up at her through his lashes. "Everything after Tara suggested Giles invite me to move in here."

"Xander can be an idiot sometimes, you know? I love him, but he only sees things in black and white, good and evil, human and vampire. Don't take him too seriously, okay?"

Spike hid a smile. Anya, saying Xander only sees in black and white. Keeping voice and face serious, he thanked her. A shout from inside caused them both to run back to the apartment.

Xander stood on the stairs with a suitcase in one hand and a glower on his face. "What do you think you are doing, Giles?" he snarled.

Giles was struggling to catch his breath as he dragged the second weapons locker to the door. "I'm trying to help," he puffed.

"You have a big hole in your side. You can supervise. Watch, Watcher," Xander said forcefully, coming downstairs and pushing Giles into a chair.

Spike easily picked up the locker, earning himself a sour look from the Watcher. "Xander, we are loading Joyce's SUV first. What else should go in there?" With Giles trying to treat him better, the least he could do was try and get along with Xander. If letting the young man run this show would get him to see Spike in a more favourable light, Spike was willing to take orders for the moment.

Xander looked startled, but quickly covered it up by glancing over the remaining boxes. "Might as well grab the books and magic supplies," Xander said, pointing. "That should fill it, then we'll put all the food in my car and all Giles' personal stuff in his car. Anya, can you get the door?" he grunted as he lifted a box.

The two men worked in silence, carrying box after box to the vehicles. Finally everything was packed, the garbage taken out, and the door locked. Xander climbed behind the wheel of his car, Anya in the passenger seat. Spike and Dawn headed back to Joyce's car. All four watched the unfolding drama around Giles' car with some amusement.

Giles walked to the driver side of his car, opening the door and about to climb behind the wheel, only to be stopped by Willow.

"Keys please," she said sweetly, hand extended.

"What?"

"You are in no shape to drive. You're still in a lot of pain and I think it'd be best if I drove," the redhead said challengingly.

Giles looked around desperately. He really wanted to feel in control, though he knew he was in no shape to drive. Finally, his eyes lit on the gearshift. "Can you drive a standard?" he asked triumphantly.

Willow's hand dropped and she looked chagrined. "No," she muttered.

Giles made to climb behind the wheel again when a soft hand touched his shoulder. "I can."

The Watcher knew when he was beat. Handing the keys to Tara, he moved to the other side of the car to sit in the passenger seat. Willow quickly slid the seat forward and waved for Giles to take the back seat. "You'll have more space to stretch out back there," she offered with false sincerity.

He shot the witch a glare, but climbed behind. Truthfully, he was too tired to fight anymore. Settling into the back, he stretched out and closed his eyes.

They arrived at the Summers' house well after sunset. Willow and Tara got out of the convertible, closing the doors very quietly. Giles had fallen asleep on the way over, and they didn't want to wake him. They quickly headed into the house with the three suitcases from his car.

"Dawn, where do you want us to put this stuff?"

Dawn directed the girls upstairs to the master bedroom. She sent Xander and Anya to the kitchen to unpack the food into the proper shelves, and helped Spike with the stuff from the SUV. On the way home, they'd discussed where to put things. Despite his vampire strength, even Spike wasn't willing to carry the weapons chests upstairs, so those were left in the living room. The books and supplies had been in the living room in Giles' apartment, but that was partly because the bedroom was so small. The master bedroom in the Summer's house was huge, but Dawn didn't want it to seem like she was trying to keep Giles' things out of the rest of the house. In the end, the boxes of books were left in the dining room for Giles to sort through when he felt up to it.

Just as everything was unpacked, Giles staggered into the house, still stunned with sleep. "I have never slept so many hours of a single day," he muttered, running his hands over his face.

"Well, I guess you needed it," Dawn said, sitting beside him on the couch.

Giles looked up and smiled at Dawn. Looking around, he saw the lockers tucked into corners of the living room, and beyond the foyer, he could see his boxes of books on the dining room table. Dawn followed his line of sight. "We'll deal with it tomorrow, okay? I think we're both too tired to try and figure this out today. Mom's, I mean, the master bedroom is aired out and we put fresh sheets on the bed. There's a TV up there, and Willow and Tara put your suitcases just inside the door."

Too tired to argue with her, Giles got up to head upstairs. On his way, he stopped in front of Xander, who leaned against the wall, yawning tiredly. "Thanks for the help today, Xander. I couldn't have managed it without you," Giles said, reaching out to shake Xander's hand.

The younger man was startled by the gratitude. "Um, no problem, G-man. I'm just glad everything went well."

"You and Anya should head home. You need sleep," Giles said paternally. Needing no further encouragement, Anya grabbed Xander's arm and the keys. Waving goodbye, they headed out into the night.

Willow and Tara stood up to leave as well. With quick hugs for Dawn and Giles, they ran out to the waiting cab.

Spike, in the kitchen, heard everyone saying farewell. He elected to remain out of sight until everyone left. Hearing the door close behind the witches, he walked towards Dawn and Giles. "Well, I think I'll be on my way as well. Want me to do a quick patrol on the way home?" he asked Giles.

Giles looked at him with gratitude. "I'd appreciate it Spike. Thanks for offering. Wait!" Giles stopped the vampire as he turned to leave. "Here are the keys for the apartment," he said, fumbling them off his key ring and handing them over. "Move in anytime you want. If there's anything you need to know about the place, well, you know where to find me."

Spike looked at the Watcher in shock. "You don't need to do this now. I, well, to be honest, I rather thought you were just offering for appearances sake."

Giles looked ashamed. "I admit I was considering reneging on my offer. But I'm a man of my word. And as I sat there, thinking about all the things you'd gone through this year, things you'd gone through to protect us, I realized Tara was right. I don't know if I like you," Giles said thoughtfully, "but you haven't given me any reason to distrust you. Please don't make me regret this."

Giles looked directly into Spike's eyes. The vampire met his gaze squarely. "I'll take good care of your apartment, Giles," Spike said seriously. Both men knew they were talking about something much more valuable than an apartment, but neither were willing to discuss the girls who were on both their minds.

With a quick turn, Spike headed into the night, only to be waylaid by Dawn on the porch. "Get inside, Dawn. You know better than to be hanging about after dark."

"I just wanted to say thanks for staying with me the past couple of days. I couldn't have got through this without you."

"We both know that isn't true, Little Bit," Spike said tenderly. "You have the Summers' grit. You women can get through anything." He caught the girl as she flung herself into his arms, a small sob caught in her throat.

"Be careful patrolling," she said, pulling back and heading for the house. "And say hello to Buffy."

Spike stared at the closed door. "Summers' women," he groused. "How is it they always know what I'm going to do before I do it?" Spike headed for the nearest graveyard.

Patrol was quiet. It seemed to be taking some time for the baddies to filter back to town, post-apocalypse. Spike wound up his patrol in the cemetery nearest the hospital. For long moments he looked at the bright lights surrounding the public building. He headed for the entrance, stomping out his cigarette on the way through the sliding doors.

Once inside, the scent of fear, pain, and antiseptic overwhelmed him. He shuddered. He'd never liked the smell of hospitals or sick rooms, even as a human. With heightened vampire senses, he liked it even less. Quickly he headed for the elevator to Buffy's floor.

With a quick smile for the ICU nurse, he slipped past and into Buffy's room. Once inside the room, he moved more slowly. First he looked at her, the beautiful blond hair splashed across the pillow, the features relaxed in her coma. Then he extended his senses, searching for any injury that the doctors might have missed. He sighed with relief. She seemed healthy, aside from the fresh injuries, which were healing well. It was just her mind that was closed off, and he could never reach that, even when she was awake and aware.

He pulled a chair to the bedside and gently gripped her hand, carefully avoiding the IV tubes. "Hey, Slayer. I don't think anyone came by to see you today, so I thought I'd stop in and say hello, let you know that everything's going okay and all. Giles moved into your place today to look after Nibblet. Poor bastard. No idea what he's gotten himself into." Spike laughed quietly. "I did a patrol tonight for you. Pretty quiet. I think all the baddies fled. Can't say as I blame them. That Glory chick was a piece of work. If it wasn't for you and Nibblet, I'd have been out of here weeks ago." Spike cleared his throat and changed the subject. "Dawn's holding up well. We cleaned up your mom's room for Giles, put the last of her stuff in the basement. I hid the extra boxes before she went down there. She couldn't handle any more evidence that you were willing to die for her. She blames herself, you know." Spike sat silently for a while, absently running his thumb across her palm. "Giles asked me to stay at his place. Keep an eye on it and all that. Tara suggested it. You should've seen her, pet. Xander ranted about how I was a monster and couldn't be trusted. You know, the same old song. Tara, shy, quiet, frightened little Tara leapt to my defence. Screamed right back at him. I was standing outside, but I could hear it clear as if I was right beside her. And don't think it was vampire hearing, either. Dawnie was with me, and she could hear it too. You would have been shocked. There are depths to that witch. Should be interesting to watch."

The evening dragged on, and still Spike sat, telling Buffy about his day. Finally, after midnight, voice nearly gone, he offered his goodbyes. With a tender kiss to her forehead, Spike turned and headed for his own bed.
The tiny spark danced with joy when Spike entered the room. She'd spent the day trying the walls of her prison, desperate to make contact with the outside world. A couple of the nurses talked to her as they worked, but their prattle was general and absent-minded. Finally, she gave up. The flame glittered brightly and steadily, but didn't move. Giles would have been impressed by her patience if he could have seen her.

Spike's entrance sent a thrill of excitement through the ember. She told herself she was just happy to see someone she knew, happy to finally have someone tell her that everyone was still okay. She still ignored the frisson of passion that spiked through her when the vampire appeared.

She listened intently to him speaking. He told her everything that happened that day, even down to the minutiae of what everyone was wearing. He detailed everyone's state of mind, how they were holding up. Everyone but himself. She found herself frustrated that he didn't tell her about himself. After several hours, she could hear his voice growing hoarse with overuse. Finally he said goodnight. She danced madly, trying to let him know how much his visit meant to her, but he disappeared out the door. Once more the spark settled into a steady flame, waiting for the walls to wear away.
Hey everyone!

Much apologies for the tardiness of this chapter. Hopefully, the length will make up for the month you've been waiting.

Many thanks to all my reviewers. Particular thanks go out to skywolffem2 who reviewed today. I don't know how you found it, but thanks for the review. Thanks also go out to everyone who have reviewed the previous chapters. There's getting to be so many of you, I can't list you all.

Again, the title is stolen from Sonnets from the Portuguese. Number 7, this time.

Please keep reading, even though it took forever to update. I promise I'll try to do better.

Love Always, GarniGal