A/N: Last chappie. I didn't think it was possible, but I've wrapped a story in five parts. My sincere thanks to everyone who read and reviewed, and a special thanks to Kimmie and Megan for their wonderful job in both editing and reassuring me that all's well that end's well. You guys rock.
L'Amour is officially off hiatus. I'll hopefully have an update before the end of the week.
It didn't take long to smooth through the process of checkout. Spike had all but healed, save his side, and the last thing he wanted to do was linger around a hospital longer than needed. While his experience in such buildings remained on the side of little, he was starting to develop the nauseated cabin fever that so many had complained about.
Giles and Willow were waiting in the lobby, and while they spoke in turn, the air around them was constrained and awkward. Buffy had appeared at his side the next minute, and he had wrapped an arm around her out of something that he reckoned would definitely become habit.
The Watcher and the redhead relaxed at that, and Spike couldn't help but grin. They had been dancing around the issue of his relationship with the Slayer since he emerged from line. And evidently, the display of affection—minor as it was—was all that they needed to breech the subject conscience-free. "So…you two have everything worked out?" Willow asked softly. "I mean…you were in there for a long time and…"
Buffy glanced down and Spike offered a reassuring smile. "Not everythin', Red," he retorted. "Bollocks, 'f we could've solved everythin' in jus' a few hours, we'd have to publicize ourselves as the world's healthiest couple, an' no one knows how much rot that is better than the two of you."
Giles nodded grimly. "I would say such is the understatement of the year, but the year's not quite over, is it?"
"We'll take numbers an' tally up the scores at the end."
The Watcher paused at that, tilting his head curiously. "How are you feeling otherwise? Angel suggested that there might be…some change."
Spike frowned. "Change?"
"He's wanted water," Buffy offered with a shrug. "Lots and lots of water. And he's been breathing more than usual."
He turned to her. "I have?"
"Yeah." She glanced down almost shyly. "While you were sleeping. You…you breathed more in your sleep than you have in the past."
"Well…that's a li'l strange." He shrugged. "The water bit…I dunno."
Giles and Willow exchanged a conspicuous glance.
"Nothing," the Witch said, smiling lightly. "Sure it's nothing. But to be on the safe side…don't smoke anything until you're positive that everything's normal, okay?"
Spike's brows perked. "Don' smoke? You have any idea how long 's been since I've had a ciggie? Peaches's been cuttin' me off li'l by li'l ever since I got mojo'ed back."
Buffy laughed lightly. "And you listened to him?"
There was a gruff pause. "Not at firs', of course. But, as I've said, li'l by li'l. We were even gettin' along there in the end."
Willow offered a grin and nodded. "Understandable. Where are you guys headed from here?"
Another still beat passed between them. Spike met Buffy's eyes and shrugged when she shrugged. There was still so much to work out, and they had only started. All he knew for certain now was that he didn't want to let her out of his sight. Not now, perhaps not ever. He was too afraid that everything since awaking had been a dream. A dream as only his life would tell: one with tears and revelations, the confession of requited love and a promise to start anew, no matter how long it took to get where they needed to be. Nothing like this had ever happened to him.
Being loved in return was the most elated feeling in all his existence.
"We dunno," the Slayer replied. "Guess to a hotel."
Spike shook his head. "We can go to my flat. 'm guessin' it survived the worst of the damage." He considered that briefly, then frowned and turned to Giles. "We are in LA still, right?"
He nodded. "An' does anyone 'round here have a watch? For some reason, I 'aven't the faintest clue what time it is. An' seein' as my girl saved me from a fate worse than death, it seems hardly fair to repay her by explodin' the minute I step outside."
Giles and Willow exchanged another glance. Spike sighed his exasperation.
"Nothing," they replied together.
The Cockney squinted at them suspiciously but let the matter drop. If there was anything he knew about the Scoobies, it was their vastly annoying habit to wait until the very last possible minute to reveal vital information—especially if they were as uncertain as the two before him looked now. There was no choice but to wait it out.
"It's just past sunset," the Watcher explained. "Does your flat have a telephone?"
"'m not from the sodding stone age, mate." Spike reached inside the lapels of his duster and whipped out a small cell, smiling unpleasantly at the other man's astonishment. Then, with another sigh and a roll of his shoulders, he slumped once more and conceded, "Peaches made me. Said that it was bloody imperative that he know where everyone was."
Buffy's eyes widened with playfulness that made his heart warm. It looked good on her, especially considering the emotional roller coaster that still had both their legs wobbly. "Wow. Giles, are you sure the world didn't end?"
He smirked and pocketed the phone on the same beat. "Very funny, pet."
"Ooh!" Willow's eyes alighted eagerly. "Does it have a funny ring? 'Cause you know…some cell phones do that. Really, most of them do nowadays. And…it would be…well…funny."
"Hence the funny ring."
The Witch nodded.
Spike rolled his eyes. "Lorne got hold of it at some point. Can't get it to play anythin' but the sodding Imperial March."
Giles grinned thinly. "How very fitting."
"Yeh…well…" He glanced down, shifting uncomfortably. "Guess I owe you an' yours some thanks an' what all. We likely wouldn't've made it without you." The look on the faces around him suggested they thought it more probable if he took out the likely and simply admitted that they had saved his life. "So…uhhh…thanks. For comin'."
The redhead beamed a warm smile. "We had to," she replied. "You know how we love a good apocalypse."
"Yeh. Gotta tell you, though: hobby. Look into it."
Spike smiled in turn and pivoted to Buffy. "We have wheels?"
"One of Angel's cars."
"One of Angel's cars got saved?"
She shrugged. "It was the one at the Hyperion. Your getaway car, I'm guessing. He told us we could have it."
He blinked incredulously. "Peaches gave you one of his precious cars? His last precious car? After all the bloody grief he gave me? Sod it all."
"He still had one," Willow obligatorily pointed out.
"Oh." Spike pouted a minute. The prospect of making way with the last of his grandsire's prized collection had been fleetingly exciting. "Well, still. 'S the thought that counts, right?" He turned to Buffy again and held out a hand. "Keys?"
There was a beat of hesitation, but she handed them over all the same. He read her uncertainty for what it was worth, and smiled kindly the next minute.
"I'll be 'round to pick you up," he murmured, pressing a kiss to her forehead.
"Promise. An' I keep my promises, luv."
She grinned at that and nodded. "I know."
They paused a minute before parting, eyes meeting in a way that wordlessly promised so much more ahead. It was strange—this forced non-distance. They would take the necessary steps hand-in-hand. They would tackle all obstacles together. They would have what they had wanted for so long, and they would have it together.
The prospect of being one half of a whole was something that Spike reckoned it would take lifetimes to adjust to. He had never been granted as much. It was more than he had ever thought to ask for.
One step at a time. That was what they were made for.
And for once, they had all the time in the world.
Buffy was nervous as the car came to a halt, and she hadn't the faintest idea why. In retrospect, she was as happy as she had ever been. There was nothing else in the world that she could have asked for; the idea, however, of stepping into the outside reality with something that her heart had pined for with relentless seeming perpetuity made her start with the realization of how authentic everything was.
Just a little over three days ago, she had been in Rome. And Spike had been dead.
Now Spike was sitting beside her. He was smiling at her with warmth that she didn't know could exist in a world so cold. And while she would never allow herself to forget the stab of pain that every one of his callous words had purchased, she similarly wouldn't dismiss what had gotten her here.
She and Spike had been honest with each other. Today. A year ago. Honesty. What she craved. And even while it stung with more ferocity than she thought she could tolerate, it was better than the image of happiness. They weren't okay; they had things to work out. But of all her relationships, this one had the most promise. The most anything.
Spike loved her. She had known that, of course, but it didn't stop her heart from melting every time she considered the revelation behind his confession. A year could change a person. She knew that better than anyone, save the man at her side. It had changed her. She had become someone worthy of his love, and he had become someone that understood the world for its acceptance in a whole new light. Somewhere in the middle, they had met, linked, and were steadily walking forward.
There was still one thing, though. One more trench to cross. And everyone knew it was happening except for him.
Little by little, Spike was becoming human. More than his soul, his ethics, his love…his body was finally following suit. Angel had told them that it would happen; he was, after all, a vampire that had genuinely given himself up in the heartland of saving the world. He would have twice if need be. And now that the only other vampire in the running for the Shanshu prophecy had been disqualified, the Powers had their champion and were finally issuing the reward.
Everyone knew it. From the water to the breathing, the loss of his vampiric clock and the lack of blood from his diet. He hadn't even noticed that one—hadn't noticed how he hadn't craved something warm and red upon awakening.
Of course, there had been an immediate distraction.
The reflection would be next. That was her guess.
Buffy sighed and tossed him a quick, nervous glance. Broaching the subject seemed too tender. She was doing somersaults of nervous ecstasy at the thought. It was what she had always wanted. To be with someone she loved—really loved—and have him in all the ways a normal girl was supposed to have her man. There were no lies. No pretenses. He would not be a vampire, and she was no longer the Slayer. Not really. She was free.
And soon, he would be, as well. And they could grow old together. They could be one of those adorable old couples that end up dressing alike and rely on Country Kitchen as though time knew no end.
A possibility both were very familiar with.
She tried to imagine what Spike would look like as an old man. He would probably have to go by William by the time his age started showing. As a child, it would be wigsome to live next to a crazy British man who shared a name with the dog off Rugrats. Not that Buffy was any better. She would have to revert, as well.
The blonde lent herself pause at that, then mentally shook her head. No matter their age, she suspected she and Spike would be as boisterous and outside the boundary of normality as possible. Hell, they would likely still be saving the world.
Good thing, too. The world found them invaluable.
"I warn you," the man at her side murmured, jarring her out of her thoughts. "'S not very posh. Haven't rightly had enough time to decorate. There's a telly an' a fridge. Sofa in the living room an' a bed in the back. Comfy, but 'f you're expecting some hot digs, I—"
Buffy smiled timidly and placed a hand over his. "It'll be fine."
"You've been livin' the high life in Rome, Slayer. This'll be a rude awakenin'."
"You're here. I'm here. Color me happy."
He paused at that to warm her with his affection. "This feels surreal," he observed, leaning in to brush a kiss over her forehead. "I never thought I'd get here. Never thought you'd…"
"I know. Me, either." She quickly covered his mouth when he started to speak again, her eyes wide and imploring. "Can we not talk about the serious stuff tonight? I know we have a lot to go through. We have an entire beginning to make. I just…I've had a long day."
There was a beat of silence and his smile grew solemn, but he nodded his agreement all the same. "I know," he replied. "Right. Come on, sweetheart. I'll give you the not-so-grand tour."
Spike's place was in shambles, but she had been expecting that. It had all the signs of recent dispute; broken furniture, splatters of blood on the ground, a sizable dent in the far wall. Buffy bit her lip, hardly paying attention as he took her handbag and placed it at the nearby counter. Though true to his word—the apartment wasn't much—it was oddly homey. He had nested here, and nested well. The telly was Spike. The Playstation was Spike. She could picture walls filled with obscure art and posters advocating punk bands in the near future.
It didn't end there. She found everything on his makeshift tour to be very much him.
"Had to upgrade the bed, 'course," he explained as they briefly peeked in to the bedchamber. "You know how much I love room for…" Words caught in his throat and he coughed, glancing down. Though they hadn't said anything, it was tacitly understood that progression to a physical relationship was something they would have to wait on. With as well as they knew each other, it was similarly understood that there was too much healing to do before they made the leap into the sack.
That was, after all, what had gotten them in trouble in the first place. And they weren't about to make the same mistake twice.
No matter how much love was present now.
Thus Buffy offered a self-conscious titter and nodded. "You're a bed hog."
He scoffed. "Am not."
"Well, you do like 'em sizey. In fact, you like everything sizey." She frowned and gave the place another once-over. "Not that that's bad, 'cause it's not. It's really…nice, actually. But it seems too small for you."
Spike shrugged, brushing past her and heading for the fridge. "Mighta been a li'l cramped at firs', but in the end, it was jus' fine for jus' me, sweets," he replied. "Don' expect to get too comfy, though. I don' intend to stay in Los Angeles. Don' think you wanna, either."
"That'd be a no."
He smiled thinly and nodded, popping a beer open. "'Nother thing to discuss come tomorrow, right?"
"I think there will ultimately be a series of conversations that span the rest of our lives, Spike." Buffy crossed her arms and stepped forward, eyes glowing with poignancy and need of reassurance. He was right; it was surreal. Standing in the place where Spike had lived. For months. Without her. These walls knew him better than she did right now. These walls knew everything that had happened while he had been living without her.
When she came to herself again, she found Spike directly in front of her, smiling his kindness and tilting her chin up so that her eyes would meet his. The gentility on his face was reassuring, but she was still on eggshells. For everything that had occurred only a few hours earlier—the words he had spoken, and the conviction she knew he had felt, it seemed entirely possible for her dream to collapse and everything to be as it was before. Before she knew that he was alive. Before she came to be here, in this place that knew him better than she did, with the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. The man she lost years with because of her own foolishness.
"I hope so, Buffy," he told her earnestly. "We have a long way to go. But I love you. An' I'll be here. I'll be wherever you are."
"It just seems so…"
"I know. What a day, huh?"
An ironic chuckle rumbled through her lips. "'What a day' doesn't even begin to cut it," she retorted. "I don't know what I expected with you. I was terrified that we wouldn't get here in time, and you would die…again…without knowing I…" She reached up to cup his cheek, shivering a bit in content as he leaned into her. "And then…not knowing if you'd wake up…"
"Vampire, luv," he reminded her lowly. "They din't set me on fire, an' my heart…" He took her hand and placed it above his chest, and she held her breath for a minute, fleetingly expecting a beat to resound beneath her fingers. It didn't, of course. That was the final step. "'S intact."
Buffy swallowed hard, gently caressing him through his shirt. "If I promise that it'll never break again, would you believe me?"
He smiled but shook his head. "Not in a thousand years, luv."
"You can break my heart a million different ways. Doesn' matter what you promise me. We're workin' us out, but that doesn' mean we automatically get our happy endin'." Spike drew in a breath and pressed his lips to her forehead reverently. "Still don' know 'f I believe in those."
She pursed her lips, eyes fogging as she forced herself to nod in acquiescence. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I'm so sorry."
Spike's eyes fell to her mouth, and he drew her into a loving kiss. "Don'…"
The word barely had time to escape his lips before she pulled him back down, tasting the full of him with wanton reassurance of his being. The skin beneath her fingertips felt real. The cloth of his shirt, the lingering scent of leather alongside the cigarettes he had allegedly given up. The barest hint of alcohol from god-knows-when. She was willing to bet he would always be like this; even if he gave up all the bad habits that she was determined to permanently eradicate from his system. The needless desperation that poured from a union they had too long taken for granted. And then it was just them. The silky feel of his tongue caressing hers. The exploration of a mouth she knew so well. Everything into one delicious package.
Having love back up what she wanted was the must fulfilling thought she had ever stumbled across, and she knew then that giving this up would solidify her final means to an end.
It couldn't happen. Not when she finally had him.
She feared him long dead, but he was here. Loving her as wholly as she remembered. Fiercely so, because he knew finally that she loved him as well.
"I'm sorry," she sputtered between kisses. "I'm so sorry. I'm—"
He pulled back finally, smiling a little when she whimpered at the loss of contact. It was for the best, though. They couldn't afford to get swept in the moment. They couldn't cover problems with sex and hope that everything worked out for the best. It was time to be honest with each other—brutally honest. Honest, forgiving…the start she had always denied them. A relationship founded on principles and understanding, united with love rather than cleansing one another from their systems over and over again.
She couldn't build a lifetime on that alone. She knew that from experience—the same that pierced her heart every time its memory wafted into retrospection.
"I'm so bloody sick of bein' sorry, Buffy" Spike told her. "Spent the better of my time with you worryin' about what I shoulda said or done. Or worse, what I did say or do."
"We can both be sorry until the end of the sodding world. Doesn' change anythin'. Doesn' mean we get to go back an' make it right." He pressed his brow to hers, purring slightly in contentment. "You an' I aren't made for goin' back, though. Not with what we have before us. I don' wanna be sorry anymore."
Buffy swallowed hard. "Neither do I."
"Then don'. Jus' forgive me."
There was a sniffle. "What for?"
"For anythin'. Anythin' you feel you can forgive me for that you haven't already." Spike let out a deep breath, searching her eyes. "I've done the same. It might smart every now an' then, but what's done 's done." He smiled. "I love you."
"I love you, too."
He warmed her with one of the looks she had come to cherish. The same he favored her with only on occasion marking a change in their relationship. It made her insides melt all within one beat. The endless winnings of a prize she had never thought to meet. "Then we won' prattle along in the past."
She smiled gently, her eyes fluttering closed as he pressed another kiss to her lips, then against her cheek and finally her forehead.
"They say that love isn't who you can see yourself with," he told her a minute later, "but who you can't see yourself without." He willed a sigh against her, resting his cheek against a crown of golden hair. "You're the hardest woman in the world to get over, Buffy. Don' know who I was tryin' to fool in pretendin' anythin' else. All you had to do was walk into a room an' my life changed all over again. I don' wanna see myself without you anymore. The last time nearly killed me."
She shook her head. "You won't."
"I'm puttin' a lot on the line here…"
"So am I."
Spike smiled and met her eyes. "I know." The air grew heavy for a few seconds; he finally willed himself around, shaking his head. "I know I've been lyin' in bed for a couple days, but—"
A thin grin spread across his lips. "Somethin' like that."
"Me, too." Buffy tossed a sideways glance to the sofa. "So…ummm…you just got out of the hospital, so you should take the bed. Don't suppose you have any extra—"
Spike held up a hand and shook his head with a rumble of amusement. "Don' reckon you thought I'd let you get away with that," he jested, tilting his head considerately. "Told you—the bed's big enough. We can avoid temptation."
She arched a brow. It felt good bantering with each other. Good and strange. Like fitting a puzzle piece into the whole that had been missing for far too long. Something she knew as well as she knew anything else, but would have to get used to again just the same.
A smirk spread across his lips. Oh yes.
"I do know my limitations, sweetheart," he retorted, glancing down shyly in a manner that both charmed her and melted her heart in the same swoop. "I jus'…like before. When we just…when I jus' held you."
That was it. The teasing front slipped away, and she could do nothing but offer a watery, heartfelt smile.
A trembling breath escaped her lips. "I'd like that."
Understatement. There had been nights following his death when she laid awake, waiting for sleep, attempting to imagine herself curled in the safety of his embrace. How he had held her as though he could find nothing else of higher value. As though all the pain that had crossed between them could meld into something created in beauty. Something that transcended any sort of feeling she had ever experienced before.
It had never been like that. Not with anyone. She had never felt as safe in anyone's arms as she did in Spike's. And she had told him—for the strength he gave her that night and the two nights following, she had won the last big battle. Her final hurrah.
Only that wasn't fair. She had been there, but she hadn't won it.
"Right," Spike murmured, nearing to caress her lips again with his. "'ll go make sure everything's otherwise presentable."
Buffy arched a cool brow. "Presentable?"
He grinned. "We're startin' off right, right?"
"Well, I might be a bloody slob, but I don' particularly fancy you sleepin' in a pit of filth. You deserve more than a bloody hole in the ground—'specially one with bloodstains an' grime as the décor. This place has taken a severe beatin'." His eyes traveled to the worn walls with a poignant sigh. "Don' know how much damage has been done in there. Hold up, luv. I'll be right back."
A small, happy sigh jittered through her, even if she was immediately bereft at the feel of his absence. Buffy pursed her lips and wiped her hands subconsciously against her jeans, turning to examine the living room once more for herself. The place that Spike had called home for months. For months when he was elsewhere. When he was fighting the good fight with Angel.
When he was living without her.
She shook her head at that. No sense thinking thoughts that only succeeded in bringing her down. They were here now. Together. And nothing would drive her away.
Buffy expelled another sigh, turning to the counter where she had abandoned her purse. She suspected her makeup was ruined, though she knew how much Spike preferred her au naturale. Still, she wasn't in the mood to pull a Tammy Faye. It would be better to wash everything off altogether.
But as she brought her compact to eye-level, something odd caught her gaze. Something that hadn't been seen in over a century.
Spike was approaching. And she knew because he was reflecting.
A sense of overwhelming giddiness snatched her insides.
"Sorry 'bout that," he said, gesturing broadly. "Never saw a need for a mirror in here. Guess we'll hafta invest in one, wherever we land."
An ironic smile crossed her face. "Guess so."
That wasn't enough. Spike's eyes narrowed in suspicion. He had a knack for reading her like an open book—something she had always admired while resenting. No one else held such insight. Not where she was concerned. "What is it?"
Buffy placed her belongings aside and neared, feathering a kiss across his lips.
"I'll tell you tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" His eyes narrowed even further. "You're not welshin' me, are you?"
"Absolutely not," she assured him. "I just want tonight." When his expression failed to lighten, she ran her hand down the length of his arm until their fingers entwined, their palms pressed together in a matter of such unity it sent ripples of awareness down her spine. "I love you, Spike."
He softened at that. "I love you."
"Then let's save everything for tomorrow. I want tonight just with you…nothing else. We have tomorrow for everything else." Buffy smiled softly. "Tomorrow and every day thereafter."
Spike drew still, searching her eyes for something she could not identify. She did not blame him, though. With everything there was, immeasurably the wondrous start of something unexplored had to be tread with caution.
They would stand next to each other; be there to support when the bridge became rickety. When the waters stirred trouble and the earth threatened to fall. She knew it.
And he saw.
His hand squeezed hers tenderly, and he turned to lead her to rest. There, they would pick up where they had left themselves and start anew. Start something that would map the roadway for a lifetime.
But that was for tomorrow. Tonight was all for them with nothing in between.
And in that, for the first time in a long time, they found solace.