Day One Hundred and Fifty Four:

"Hi, Xander; sorry I couldn't meet you at the airport. Giles had some not so reliable, reliable info on a vamp nest that I was the only one around to take care of."

The night was chilly, and Buffy stood by the hearth to soak up the warmth of the fire. This was her favorite room in the new Council HQ; the book-lined study had two levels, and, even though it was very English, it made her feel at home.

"No problem, Buffy. Seasoned world traveler guy here."

"So, meet any interesting demons in Africa?" Buffy asked. Xander had gone officially to search for any new Slayers in the area. Giles had also asked him to find out just how Spike had gotten his soul. Giles claimed making sure that the new Council had an accurate record of Spike's extraordinary existence was his only way of making amends, but Buffy had known this was really more for her than for Spike. She'd accepted the olive branch anyway.

"Well, there was this really annoying one - I knew he would be just perfect for you, so I called Giles and Willow to help me smuggle him into the country." He grinned.

"Good one, Xan." Buffy knew that Xander wasn't being nasty. Since the collapse of Sunnydale, she and Xander had talked a lot about their lost loves; mostly about how they had failed to love them completely. They had both had this fear of their own faults and an ideal of what sort of person they should love. It had kept them from the ones that loved them best. Now, when they made bunny jokes or annoying vampire jokes, it was to keep the dead with them. Andrew claimed it was their way of saying "I grieve with thee." One day Buffy wanted to find out if that quote was from the Bible, or some comic book.

"Yeah, Buff, it's real good, also completely true. I don't really know how to tell you, so just sit here and I'll bring him in." The look on Xander's face ignited an unnamed anticipation within her. She tried to remember the last time she had seen it. Maybe right before he gave her that weapons chest?

It might have been helpful if Xander had added the command to 'stay' too. Buffy automatically got up when the knob turned. When she saw who stood in the doorway, she nearly stumbled over the carpet in a very un-Slayer-like way. She felt lucky that she could remember how to move at all. When she was face to face with him, she raised her hand, intending to touch his face. Spike met her hand with his own palm and laced his fingers though hers. That was when she knew it was really Spike.

Spike was the first to speak. "Sorry about the hair, love." That broke the moment and they released their hands. Spike ran his over his teddy bear colored buzz cut.

"Xander told!"

"Number twelve on the 'list of things Buffy misses about Spike.' Afraid so; poor Xander still needs a friend that actually remembers he's a bloke."

"Are you offering to be Xander's friend?" Buffy couldn't quite believe her ears.

Spike shrugged sheepishly. "It was a long trip, and we got reacquainted."

"So tell me why we're talking about Xander instead of how you're back from heaven. Are you okay?" Buffy wished she was as good as Spike was at showing sympathy.

"You're assuming I got into Heaven?" Spike asked, a look of wonder on his face.

"You burned to ash to save the world. Of course you got to Heaven." The idea of Spike being in Hell made her angry. The universe had never been known for its fairness; but no matter what Spike had done in the past, it would be completely ridiculous for him to be damned.

"Easy love, no need to go gunning for the Almighty. I don't remember where I was. Last thing I recall is seeing you get out of the Hellmouth, then I was back in the cave where I got my soul." Spike paced. "At first I thought that the thing with the First had been some kind of nightmare. Then the demon told me there'd been a dispute over my 'free will.' Seems whoever Angel got that trinket from wanted to own the soul of the one who used it. Shaman who returned my soul took exception to it being mortgaged out when no one showed me the fine print." Spike laughed. "And here I didn't even know he cared. Anyway, after the burning stopped it was only a bit disorientating. Nothing to worry over."

"Good, then I can concentrate on welcoming you home."

"I thought that was over for us; long before I burned to ashes," Spike said and moved away from her attempt to kiss him.

"You know, I tried to convince myself that you lied about not believing me so I would leave the Hellmouth. I hoped every day for the last one hundred-fifty-four days that, whatever reward you went to, you would know I love you."

"Did you love me, or did you manage to convince yourself while I was gone that you loved an idealized hero who saved the world?"

"What was it you said to me? I love how you try." She was doing this right; why wasn't Spike just holding her? "If I wanted a love I needed rose tinted glasses for, I'd be with Angel." Her nails were digging into her palms and her eyes burned. Spike was still standing away from her. "If you can't… if you don't love me anymore that's fair. I did some awful things to you. I almost destroyed you."

"We almost destroyed each other." He wouldn't look at her.

"But you admitted it and changed because you loved me. Give me the chance to love you like you deserve. Not because I need to atone, but because I need you in all your annoying, impatient, impulsive, loving, sexy glory. "

Now Spike was finally home in her arms. "I'm so sorry, love. I would've been back sooner. I was only dust for a week. I really didn't believe…"

"That means you've been back for how long without telling me?"

"147 days. Maybe you should play the lottery." He was teasing her; now it was going to all right, they would be all right, everything would be all right, and when did she start channeling Willow in her brain?

"Wait a minute. Xander didn't find you in the cave?"

"No. I was lending the local Slayer a hand, and he said you needed me here."

"I should punch you in the nose," she mumbled, her face buried in his chest.

"Is that any way to convince me of your love?" He cocked his head and looked down at her, giving her that infuriating smirk, number nine on the list of things she missed about Spike.

"If you still don't believe me, you can ask any of the Scoobies. I managed to convince them pretty well the last few months. Hell, ask the guy who sat down next to me in the pub last week. He was very convinced."

"Why don't you just stop yammering and convince me already?"