Fighting back the panic that rose in him, he struggled against the arms that held him, trying vainly to break her hold.

"Please," her voice said with surprising gentleness…and…was she crying? "Please, I'm not going to hurt you…I just need to talk to you, alone. Please."

He froze. This did not sound like the new-and-not-so-improved version of Buffy that Anya had described. This sounded a lot more like the old Buffy, pre-vamping, pre-possession, pre-death. Just…Buffy.

"If I move my hand, will you promise not to scream?" she asked in a tremulous whisper. "I don't need Tara coming up here to kick my butt again."

He nodded almost without thinking about it, just to get her to do it. He knew that the borrowed power Tara had used to defeat Buffy before was long since gone, but it was probably of the good that Buffy did not know that. He felt her arm around his waist loosen some as well as the hand over his mouth dropped to her side. He immediately took advantage of the opportunity and shoved his arms out, breaking her grip, then spun around to face her, landing a solid blow to her jaw.

She stumbled back a few steps, before he leapt upon her and knocked her to the ground. It was only after he was pinning her to the floor that he realized two things.

What he had just done should have been impossible.

And for some reason, he had not made a sound…just as he had promised her.

Looking into her eyes, the pain and heartbreaking sadness he saw there almost took his breath away – not that he needed it anyway. He felt an irrational anger at the sight; he was not supposed to be made to feel sorry for her! She had taken his heart, his very life, and torn them to shreds and thrown them cruelly in his face. He had every right to hate her, damn it!

So why did the look in her eyes make him want to just hold her and comfort her? He was in love with Tara now, and that love combined with the torment Buffy had put him through had pretty thoroughly eliminated any of that sort of love for the girl he now held pinned to the floor beneath him. But that did not mean that to see her hurt did not still hurt him, because it did…and there was still a part of him that ached to take away her pain.

"What are you doing here, Buffy?" he demanded, his voice a low, throaty growl.

Her eyes welled with tears at the hard note in his voice, and she whispered, "I just wanted to talk to you."

"Talk to me," he echoed with disbelief. "Yeah, I know how your bloody talks with me go, Buffy. And they usually start with you running on about how bloody disgusting and pathetic I am, and end with me beaten unconscious. Don't feel like 'talking' with you at the moment, pet."

"Spike – please," she whispered, the tears spilling over to roll down her cheeks to the floor. "I don't know where else to go."

"Why should I trust you for two bleedin' seconds, love?" he demanded, his own eyes welling with tears, in spite of himself.

"I could have not let you knock me down like this," she pointed out softly, her voice little more than a whisper. "I could have knocked you across the room, or drained you dry by now," she went on, and oddly, there was not the hint of a threat to the bluntly violent words. "But I haven't," she finished in a whisper, her wide green eyes locked onto his, pleading that he see the truth of her words.

He did not know what to say to that. It was true, she could have killed him by now if that was what she had come here to do. And she hadn't.

Unless of course, she had a worse idea in mind.

He debated calling out for Tara or Dawn, but decided that the damage Buffy could do to him in the precious seconds it would take them to reach this room far outweighed the potential benefits. Slowly, cautiously, he rose off of her, never taking his eyes from hers, as he backed slowly away and sat down on the edge of the bed.

Suddenly, a sick uncomfortable feeling came over him; he did not want to be alone with her in this room and anywhere near the bed. He stood up again, standing a few feet away from her as she carefully rose to her feet.

"I – I woke up about an hour ago," she began without any further preamble, her serious eyes focused on his. "In the old mansion, with Angel – Angelus," she corrected haltingly.

His eyes widened; he had not expected her to be so forthcoming about that. "So it's true then. Angel's lost his soul."

She nodded slowly.


"I don't know," she replied, shaking her head. Her eyes suddenly widened and she said in an emphatic, defensive tone that sounded very much like her old Slayer-self, "I didn't do it! I swear!"

He almost smiled to hear it. Almost.

"I just woke up with him, and…and I don't know why I didn't see it before…when he found me in…when he found me," she continued. "I guess I was just so confused and scared and glad to see him that I didn't notice. But – I can sense things like that – now," she said, her voice low, ashamed of the new powers she had, and their source. "And when I woke up, he was still asleep, and I looked at him – and I just knew."

She paused, seemingly overwhelmed by emotion, and turned away from him for a moment before going on, "I freaked out, and I came here." Her eyes met his again, and she said, with a pleading note in her voice, "You're the only one around here who knows anything about Angelus, really. I had to talk to you. I don't know why he's here – why I was with him…" Her voice trailed off, and there was a desolation in her eyes that broke his heart.

"He said he came here to help you," Spike said softly. "To help you – overcome the – the evil inside you." He paused, looking at the floor. He wondered about the wisdom of telling her anything more, considering the possibility that this was really her new alter-ego, in some elaborate deception. But the confusion, the hurt lost look in her eyes was very real, and he knew that this was really Buffy.

As he looked at her, her confusion deepened. "He said…he said there was no hope…no chance that I could beat it…"

Spike's eyes widened as he processed the implications of that – then slowly filled with anger. "So Angelus somehow got wind of what happened, thought he'd take advantage of the opportunity," he realized. He looked back up at Buffy and said softly, "Your Watcher is here."

Her face lit up at those words, and he was even more firmly convinced that this was the really real Buffy.

"And he says there is a chance…he says that because you're a Slayer, you didn't completely lose everything that was you when you were turned…and we're working on a way to help you, love," he explained gently, sitting down on the edge of the bed again. He was feeling more comfortable and less threatened with every moment he spent with her.

"Can I talk to Giles?" she asked. "Where is he?"

He frowned, shaking his head slowly. "Not sure I should tell you love," he said cautiously. "How much do you remember from tonight?"

She frowned, too, in concentration. "Not much," she replied. "I've been blacking out. I don't remember what happens, but Angel said it was when the demon was in control."

"That much it seems was true," he nodded. "What I'm afraid of, love, is you and the – the other you – trading memories, facts and such, and her trying to use it against us. You understand?"

She nodded slowly, looking away, ashamed.

"She's planning something…you wouldn't…happen to know what, would you, pet?" he asked her, piercing blue eyes seeking hers out and searching them.

She shook her head without looking up, and he saw a tear roll off her face and hit the floor.

"She threatened Anya and Xander at the Magic Box tonight," he told her, wincing slightly when she did. He had known the knowledge would hurt her, but it could not be helped. "She said she was coming here…so naturally when you showed up like you did…"

She nodded her understanding. There was a short silence before she said softly, "You have every reason not to trust me. To – to hate me."

He did not deny it, just stood there in silence.

"I – I'm sorry…"

"No," he replied in a quiet but firm voice. "Not now, Buffy. I can't – can't do this right now." And now he was the one looking away from her desperate, searching eyes. He looked up very deliberately, changing the subject back to the matter at hand. "We were going to try and overpower her when she got here, you know, see if we couldn't find out anything about what she's planning."

Her eyes were full of pain at his rejection of her attempt to make things right between them, but she bravely nodded and respected his decision of the moment, returning to the discussion. "Overpowering her…not easy," she reminded him in a dark voice.

"I know."

"The chains I keep in the basement are pretty strong…they might hold her…me…" Buffy suggested.

His eyes widened in amazement at her suggestion, and then he let out a low, soft laugh.

She looked confused for a moment, before a little of the pain lifted from her eyes and she laughed, too.

It was just too surreal. The two of them standing here in this room discussing the best way to restrain her when she turned evil again.

"Buffy," he began cautiously, not meeting her eyes. "I want to help you. I want to help you get through this, and if there's a way to completely beat this, I want to find it. You – you've meant a lot to me, love, and…and don't think that doesn't mean anything now, because it does…" His voice trailed off. He wanted to say something, there was so much he wanted to tell her….the problem was he had no idea how to say it, how to put it into words. "Maybe when this is all over…" he went on, haltingly. "I'll be able to talk about it with you…"

A wild hope shone in her eyes as she took a couple of steps toward him, gently taking his arms in her hands. "Thank you!" she whispered. "It's more than I…"

Her words cut off as he jerked out of her touch, alarm in his eyes. "Don't…" he whispered, shaking his head and looking at her with smoldering blue eyes. "don't touch me, Buffy."

The hurt was almost physical, and she turned her head so he wouldn't see. "I'm sorry," she whispered back. "I – I'm so sorry. I should have thought."

He was staring at her now, realization in his eyes as he recognized something in hers. "Buffy," he said quietly. "like I said, maybe when this is all over, we'll be able to talk about what happened, somehow make it right again…but I'll never be… with you again, Buffy." He paused before saying, "I'm with Tara now. We love each other. And that's not going to change."

The disappointment in her eyes was impossible to mask, but she nodded. "I know," she whispered.

At that moment, the door opened and Tara entered, the manacles in her hand. She stopped short at the sight of Buffy, defensive anger rising in her eyes.

"It's all right love," Spike quickly told her, going to her and taking her arm. "She's Buffy. She's herself."

Tara looked at him searchingly, uncertainty in her eyes.

"It is," he assured her. "I know."

After a moment they broke their gaze and both looked at Buffy. Spike was stunned by the image before his eyes.

Her eyes filled with tears of hurt, and a firm resolve, she stood before them…holding out her wrists for the manacles in Tara's hands.