Disclaimer: I own nothing here except the story itself

Disclaimer: I own nothing here except the story itself. The characters unfortunately don't belong to me, I'm just borrowing them.

Author's note: This is yet another post 'Gift' theory of Buffy's inevitable return. I sadly have no inside knowledge, so all of this is complete and utter speculation and fantasy, as usual.

                                                  Return To Me…

            Dawn sat quietly in her room staring at a picture of herself with her mom and Buffy. She couldn't remember when it was taken, but she knew it wasn't that long ago. They were all so happy and smiling. Dawn wiped away a solitary tear as it rolled down her cheek.

            She was the only one left now. And the only one who had never been real in the first place…She thought to herself. It had been two months since Buffy had died. The pain of losing her was still so fresh. And knowing that she had died so that Dawn could live, didn't make it an easier.

            Dawn woke up everyday feeling guilty and responsible for the whole thing. If it hadn't of been for her none of this would ever have happened. She put the picture down and hugged her knees to her chest and let the tears flow. There was a soft knock on the door.

            "Go away." She said through her tears.

            "It's me Dawnie." Willow said with concern. "Don't you wanna come downstairs and eat?"

            "I'm not hungry." She said bitterly.

            Willow stood outside the door while her heart silently broke. In the months following Buffy's death, everyone had taken turns caring for her. When they failed to locate her father, Giles pulled some strings and with the council's reluctant help, some false documents were created, stating that Giles was in fact Dawn's uncle.

            The courts had given him custody, in lieu of Hank Summers ever resurfacing. Giles had moved into the Summer's home, not wanting to further upset Dawn by tearing her out of the one place where the memories of her mother and Buffy lived on. Even though Giles was the legal guardian, every one of Buffy's friends took the role of caregiver on. Everyone including Spike.

            Willow walked back down the stairs and into the kitchen. Giles, Tara, and Spike were sitting at the table.

            "She won't come down." Willow said with a worried look.

            "She seems to be getting worse, instead of better." Giles said, shaking his head.

            He had tried to do everything he could to help Dawn through this, but he felt as though he were failing miserably.

            "I'll go up there, see what I can do." Spike said quietly.

            They all just looked at him and nodded their heads. They knew that he had a way with Dawn and always seemed able to reach her, even when no one else could.

            Spike walked up the stairs and knocked loudly on her door.

            "Open up, Sweet Bit, we need to talk." He said firmly.

            Dawn wiped her eyes and sat up on her bed.

            "Whatever." She mumbled, knowing that he would come in whether she wanted him to or not.

            He opened the door and walked over to her.

            "Aren't you hungry? Giles says you've been up here most of the day. What gives?" He asked her, trying to be firm, but still compassionate. He knew how hard this had been for her, how hard it had been for everyone. He had personally wanted to die himself on many occasions, just so he wouldn't have to feel the pain anymore.

            But he had pressed on somehow. Mostly because of Dawn. She was all that was left of Buffy, and besides, he had promised to protect her until the end of the world. It hadn't happened yet, although judging by everyone's emotions, you would have thought it had.

            "Spike, I just don't feel like eating. I ate yesterday." She said sadly.

            "Yeah, well I hear that eating more than once a week is recommended these days." He said with a small smile, attempting to cheer her up.

            Dawn only looked up at him with despairing eyes.

            "I just miss them so much…" She said softly.

            Spike noticed the family picture lying on the bed and picked it up. He studied it carefully and ran his fingers lightly over the outline of Buffy's smiling face.

            "I know, Dawn." He said, trying to hold back tears of his own.

            "You understand what it's like, right? At first, you didn't want to go on either. You told me so yourself. That's how I feel. I just don't want to go on without them…" She told him quietly.

            Spike's senses perked up, fearing that Dawn may do something stupid.

            "Listen, don't ever talk like that. Don't even think it, you hear me? Buffy wanted you to live. Don't make what she did all for nothing." He said trying to contain his worry and his grief.

            "You blame me don't you? Everyone probably does." She said full of self loathing.

            "Shut your mouth. No one here blames you. Least of all, me. Hell, I blame myself. If I had acted quicker, stopped the ritual…" He trailed off. "Just forget it. You aren't to blame."

            "I just wish that I could have them both back. I want things to be the way they were before."

            "I know. So do I. But what's done is done. Remember? We went through this before when your mum passed. You just can't go bringing someone back." He said hoping she wasn't thinking of attempting another resurrection spell.

            "I know. I couldn't bring mom back. I mean I did, I think. I brought something back, but I don't know what. I was too scared to find out." She told him.

            "It was the right thing to do, stopping it before you had a chance to find out." He said to her seriously.

            "I know. I know mom's gone, and I accept it. I don't like it, but I accept it, I guess. But Buffy…What if there's another way?" She asked tentatively.

            "Another way? Face it, Nibblet, she's gone. Don't go messing around with this." He told her tensely. The last thing he wanted to see was some sort of zombie Buffy lurking about. It would destroy the only thing in the world he had left, which were his memories of her.

            "But, Spike. Listen to me. I've been thinking about this, a lot. We all know that I'm still this magical key thingy, right? My blood opened that portal and my blood should have been the only thing to close it." She said, getting up and pacing around nervously. "Only it wasn't. Buffy's blood is my blood. The monks made me out of her. She said so herself. What if I can make Buffy out of me?" She stood there nervously waiting for his response.

            Spike looked at her for a long while disbelieving what she was saying. Finally he uttered the words he was thinking.

"Have you gone mad? Making a Buffy out of you?"  He asked with utter amazement.

"Why not? I mean if the monks could do it, maybe we could do it too." She said still forming the plans in her mind.

"Okay, okay. Say it could be done, how do propose we find out how? I'm not fancying a trip to far off monk country to round them up. You have no idea how they did it, or if it can just be done for anyone." Spike said, wishing it was a viable option, but knowing that it was ridiculous.

"I'm not talking about just anyone, I'm talking about Buffy." She said softly.

"I know."

"Don't you want her back?" She asked him pleadingly.

"You know I do. I'd give anything for that to happen. But magic? Spells? You're talking about stuff that's dangerous. And magic is certainly not something I know anything about."

"But you helped me before. You took me to that guy who did know stuff." She pleaded.

"Yeah, and as I recall, that guy is the reason all of this happened in the first place. See, I even managed to screw that up." He said tersely.

            "Okay, so maybe that didn't work out, but maybe you know someone else?"

            "No. I don't and I'm sorry Little Bit, but I can't help you with this one. I just can't." He said with regret. "She's gone and we are all going to have to live with it. Hard as it is."

            "Fine. Don't help me. I don't need your help anyway. I'm the Key, remember? I probably have all this power that I don't even know about. I'll figure this out on my own." She said angrily.

            "Don't. Please…don't." He said seriously.

            She looked at him bitterly then softened her face. She moved to him and hugged him tight. He was slightly stunned at her display of emotion, but he welcomed it.

            "I'm sorry, Spike." She said through renewed tears. "You're right. It was stupid. I won't do it."

            "It's okay. We all get a little crazy sometimes." He said patting her back lightly.

            She pulled away from him and smiled.

            "I feel a little better. I think maybe I will go downstairs. What's for dinner anyway?" She asked him.

            "Will made some sort of casserole. I don't know. Smells okay." He said with a smile as they walked down the hall.

            Dawn let Spike go down first and she followed. He didn't notice the smile that crept over her face or the look of calm determination that she had. She had already made up her mind. Buffy was coming back, and she would find a way to do it. With or without help.

            A few nights later, Dawn snuck out of her house and went to the Magic Box. She had a key now, so she didn't need to break in. She made her way up to the loft where all the special magic books were stored. She sat there for what seemed hours just poring over different passages, but she could find nothing at all to help her.

            She knew of the one spell, that she had already tried, but that wasn't what she was looking for. She needed to find someone who knew about these monks and what sort of magicks they had used to conjure her up. But where she would find someone like that, she had no idea.

            She then came across a spell that was used for knowledge seeking. She immediately became interested in that one. She was after all, seeking knowledge. She looked at the ingredient list and it seemed easy enough. She had seen all these things in the shop before. She climbed down the ladder and rummaged through the magic paraphernalia. She found the ingredients and climbed back up to the loft.

            She lit the appropriate candles and read aloud quietly to herself.

            Goddess of light and wisdom, I beseech thee to grant me the power.

            Allow me to gain the answers I am seeking.

            Goddess of truth, hear my pleas

            Bring forth the knowledge

            She sat and waited. Nothing happened. She repeated the spell again, this time louder and more forceful. She waited for the answers to come, or a flash of light, or anything. The room remained silent and still. A tear ran down her face and she wiped it away hastily.

            "Why isn't this working?" She complained.

            She sat there for a few minutes more and finally decided that it was obvious the spell was useless. She gathered up the remains of the items she had 'borrowed' and blew the candles out. She stuffed everything in her bag and stood up.

            She put all the other books away carefully and shook her head sadly. There had to be another way. It just might take a little longer than she hoped. She carefully closed the door to the shop and hurried down the street. She wasn't looking where she was going and ran right into a tall, thin man, wearing a black robe. She started to scream when the man put his long, bony finger to her lips gently.

            She looked at him with quiet terror. She knew she was in big trouble. Not only had she snuck out, but now she was probably going to die. Right now, she could really use Buffy. Her hands were shaking and she tried to be brave.

            "Wh-who are you?" She asked nervously.

            "I am what you are seeking." He responded calmly, in a thick European accent.

            "I-I'm not seeking anything except getting out of here." She said, trying to move past him.

            He grabbed her arm gently.

            "Do not be afraid. I am here to help. I heard you calling." He replied.

            "Calling? I didn't call anyone, and I'm pretty sure I don't have your number." She said with confidence that she didn't feel.

            "You seek answers, no?" He said to her quizzically.

            Dawn just stared at him distrustfully. The spell? Had it worked?

            "Answers? You-you have answers?" She asked him nervously.

            "Yes. You wish to know where you came from, how you came to be?" He asked her.

            "Yes. Do you know? Do you know what I am?" She asked anxiously.

            He nodded his head and smiled, revealing crooked rotten teeth.

            "And you want to know if it can be done again." He told her.

            "Can it? I mean can I bring my sister back?"

            Just then, a figure leapt from the shadows and pounced onto the man sending him flying to the ground. Spike pummeled the man with his fists.

            "Stay away from her!" He shouted.

            Dawn screamed, "Stop! Spike! Don't hurt him!"

            Spike looked up at Dawn curiously.

            "What? Who is this…" Spike said as he looked towards the man who was underneath him, only he was now gone. "guy?"

            "No! Great! Now he's gone!" She shouted at Spike, who was still in a state of confusion over the disappearing man.

            "Dawn, what the bloody hell is going on? Who…what was that?" He asked her still searching the spot on the ground.

            "That was the answer to all our prayers and now you ruined it." She said with tears streaming down her face.

            Spike walked over to her with a grim look on his face. He grabbed her shoulders firmly.

            "Listen to me, whatever that thing was, he was not the answer to anything. I thought you had dropped this nonsense about bringing Buffy back. Besides, what exactly do you think you're doing out here at this hour, alone? Buffy would…" He started but she cut him off.

            "Buffy won't do anything, Spike. She's dead, remember?" She said dripping with malice.

            Spike hung his head and let go of her arms.

            "You don't have to remind me. Look, forget about this. I mean it. Now let's get you home before Giles finds out you're gone." He said, trying to end the discussion.

            "Fine. It's not like it matters to you anyway. She wasn't your family. You probably never even loved her anyway." She said bitterly.

            Spike's head snapped back angrily, but then he stopped himself.

            "Stop it. I did love her. She was everything… Everything to me. But I'm not gonna sit by and watch you mess with things. What if you succeed? What if you do bring her back and she's not right? What if…I just can't let you do this. Don't you want to remember her the way she was?" He said calmly, trying to keep his anger and hurt feelings in check.

            Dawn looked at him with a hard face. She knew that he was right. If Buffy came back wrong, it would be horrible. It would be just like her mother and she couldn't go through with that. But this was different. She was created this way, and she was alright. She could see that he would never understand or approve.

            "Spike, just take me home please." She said softly.

            He looked at her and wanted to say more, knowing that she had fooled him once into thinking she had given up the idea. He knew she was stubborn, just like big sis had been. He was going to have to keep a closer eye on her.

            "Let's go." He said quietly taking her arm.

            They walked in silence most of the way. Dawn kept looking sideways at him, knowing that she had hurt his feelings earlier.

            "Spike?" She said cautiously.

            "What is it?"

            "I'm sorry." She said softly.

            "It's alright. Just don't ever go out like this again. You could've gotten hurt or worse." He said with concern.

            "No, I mean about the 'you not loving Buffy' part. I didn't mean that. I was just angry, you know?" She said trying to smooth things over.

            Spike stopped walking and looked at her.

            "You know I did, and I still do. If there was a way, and it was safe, I'd bring her back in a heartbeat. But, there isn't." He said, still attempting to get through to her.

            "I know." She said as they started walking again.

            She looked over at him once more.

            "I think she cared about you too." Dawn said carefully.

            Spike laughed bitterly.

            "I don't think so, pet. She tolerated me towards the end, but that was about it. Not that I minded. Being tolerated was better than being staked, you know?" He told her with a small smile.

            "No, I really think she did. I mean, she told me stuff." Dawn said looking over at him again.

            Spike stopped walking again and faced her.

            "Stuff? What sort of 'stuff'?" He asked, his curiosity peaked.

            "Well, just that she knew you were different, and that she trusted you. She trusted you with the most important thing in the world to her…The one thing she was willing to die for… Me." She said with a smile.

            "Well, that she did." He said quietly thinking about what she had said. He looked at her again. "Although, doubt she'd be pleased, me allowing you to sneak out and almost get yourself killed tonight."

            "I didn't almost get killed, Spike." She rolled her eyes. Then turned serious again. "You know she wouldn't have trusted you like that if you really were someone, or something that she hated. It wouldn't have made sense." She said to him matter of factly.

            "You have a point, but still…let's just give it a rest. I don't see any reason now in talking about it." He said softly.

            "She also told me that she kissed you." She added with a mischievous grin.

            "What? She told you that?" He asked her.

            "Yeah. She said that she was so touched by what you had done for us, that she couldn't help it."

            "Well it was sort of sweet and innocent like…but I wasn't exactly in a position to enjoy it much. I was slightly humiliated at the moment, plus, I recall my face looked like it had been ran over by a truck." He told her, remembering what a mess he was. Why did Dawn have to bring these memories back now?

            "But still, you have to admit, she must have cared a little." She said to him but he only looked at her unconvinced.

"Well, I think she did care. She just couldn't tell you. But I bet she would have, eventually." She added with a smile.

            "Maybe, but we'll never know, now will we?" He asked, trying to further his point against messing with magic. And also not wanting to give himself the false hope that she had ever thought of him with anything other than contempt or pity.

            "Guess not." She said calmly.

           

            The next night, Spike went to pay a visit to the witches. He figured that someone else needed to know what Dawn had been up to. He figured Will and Tara would be able to talk some sense into her. He still was not convinced that Dawn had given up the idea.

            Willow answered the door.

            "Hey. Is something up?" She asked curiously.

            "Maybe. But I hope not." He said as he walked into the room.

            He  now had established invitations at everyone's homes once again. It was only natural after everything that had gone on. No one had even given it much thought, he had just been invited. For all intents and purposes he was now one of them.

            Tara was sitting on the couch with their cat when Spike walked into the room.

            "Spike. Is something wrong?" She asked noting the concerned look on his face.

            "I came to you guys, because well, you're witches and this has to do with magic." He said as he sat down across from Tara. Willow sat down next to her girlfriend and put her arm around her affectionately.

            "Magic? Y-you need a spell?" Tara asked.

            "No, see it's about Dawn. She's got ideas in her head that she can bring Buffy back." He explained.

            "B-But she tried that once, with her mom. It didn't go too well." Willow said, still feeling a little guilty for encouraging her on that one.

            "Right, this is different. She thinks that because the monks made her out of Buffy that she can make Buffy out of herself." He told them.

            The room was silent for a minute until Willow spoke.

            "That's incredible! Why didn't we think of that?" She said excitedly.

            Tara and Spike both looked at her curiously.

            "Well, we didn't think of it because it's impossible." Tara said to her firmly.

            "That's what I said." Spike chimed in.

            "But…But, it might work. I mean, we'd have to do a ton of research, but that's okay…" Willow said anxiously, her mind racing.

            "Willow. Please. You know that this can't be done. Remember what I said to you about the natural order of things? This is no different." Tara explained, knowing that her love only wanted her best friend back.

            "Tara, this is different. This isn't a resurrection as much as a…as a…restoration. That's different." She pleaded with her.

            "Look, Will, I didn't mean to come here to put ideas in your head. I came so you two could talk some sense into her." Spike said, wondering if he made a mistake coming here.

            "He's right, Willow. We can't let her try this, and you can't be thinking about it either." Tara told her, trying to be the voice of reason.

            Willow slumped down on the couch and hung her head in defeat.

            "I just thought that maybe…" She started.

            "No. It-It's wrong. No matter how much we may want it to be right, it's too dangerous." Tara said firmly taking hold of Willow's hand. She then looked over at Spike. "We'll talk to her."

            Willow nodded her head sadly in agreement.

            "Dawn, please just trust us. This sort of magic is just too risky. Buffy wouldn't have wanted you to put yourself in danger like that. And she wouldn't have wanted you using magic to bring her back. Remember how upset she was at you when you tried this before?" Tara said with a very serious look.

            "I remember, but this is different. I used this spell to gain knowledge and then I met that guy and he said he knew. He could help. Don't you see? It's different." Dawn pleaded with them.

            Willow sat in silence as they talked. She knew that Tara was probably right, but this was Buffy, her best friend. If there was an opportunity to give her another chance at life, and do it right, she didn't see the harm in at least trying. Yet, she kept her mouth shut.

            "Right Willow?" Tara said nudging her.

            "What?" She answered, as she had been lost in her own thoughts.

            "Tell Dawn that this isn't possible." Tara reiterated.

            "Oh, right. Yeah. Not possible." She said quickly.

            "Fine. I give up. No one is on my side. Just forget it. I promise I won't do it again." Dawn said, this time finally giving in. She was tired of everyone trying to talk sense into her. The whole idea was a dumb one anyway. You can't just go bringing back every person in your life that leaves you.

            "Good." Tara said with a smile. "You know we're here for you. We only want what's best."

            "I know." Dawn muttered unhappily.

            "I've got to get going. I have an appointment." Tara said looking at the clock. " I just started doing Tarot readings and it's my first client, so I don't want to be late." Tara asked as she got up to leave.

            "Um, I thought I'd hang out with Dawnie for a little bit, if that's okay?"  She asked nervously.

"Yeah, sure. Wish me luck." She smiled nervously.

            "You'll do fine, Sweetie." Willow said as she got up and kissed Tara goodbye.

            Once Tara had left, Dawn sat on her bed clutching one of her stuffed bears. Willow moved and sat down next to her.

            "Dawnie?"

            "What?" She said forlornly.

            "I-I'm on your side." Willow said softly.

            "You are?" She asked skeptically.

            "I am. You said you summoned someone who knew what to do?" She asked.

            Dawn perked up instantly, and tossed the bear aside and leaned in close to Willow.

            "Yeah. He said he knew the answers and stuff, but he didn't get to finish on a count of Spike attacking him." She said eagerly.

            "Well, we're gonna have to get him back. Dawn, we can do this." Willow said to her softly.

            "But what about what Tara said? Everyone is going to be mad." Dawn said coming back to reality.

            "I know, but if we get Buffy back, how can they possibly be mad?" She asked.

            "Good point. Oh, Willow! You are the coolest!" Dawn said throwing her arms around her neck and hugging her.

            "I am also gonna be in so much trouble if Tara finds out, so you cannot say anything. And Dawnie, if this doesn't work, or if it goes wrong…" She started seriously.

            "I know."

            "No, I mean really. We will have to take care of it before anyone finds out."

            "It won't go wrong. I know it won't." Dawn said assuredly.

            "Let's get started. Do you have the knowledge summoning spell?" Willow asked.

            "Yeah, in my bag." She said going to her closet and pulling out her bag of 'borrowed' goods.

            "Okay. Let's get this started." Willow said taking a deep breath and hoping she wasn't going to regret this.

            Spike walked through the cemetery slowly. He had come here almost every night since it happened. He always brought flowers and always made sure things were kept up around her final resting place.

            He knelt down in front of her grave and brushed some fallen leaves away. Tonight he had a single red rose that he placed down among the other flowers he had brought previously. Some of them were dying now, and he picked those up to take with him when he left.

            Can't have dead flowers. It's just not right… He thought to himself.

            He reached out and touched the cool marble with his hand. He traced the outline of her name gently.

            "Hey, Buffy. It's me again." He said softly. "Yeah, yeah, I know. You still can't get rid of me." He chuckled to himself.

            He propped himself up against the headstone and looked up at the sky.

            "You know, that sister of yours is a real handful. She's got this crazy idea to bring you back. Can you believe that? Don't worry though, Luv. I told her just to leave you be. At peace and all. But still…to have you back? Well…Let's just say it's tempting." He laughed.

            He pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and lit it.

            "Sorry, I know you hate smoking, Luv." He said as he took a drag. "But I'll be careful not to drop any ash on you." He smiled to himself.

            He sat there in silence for the longest time until he finished his cigarette. He put it out on the bottom of his shoe and put the butt into his pocket. He wasn't about to litter on her grave.

            "I've been trying real hard to keep her safe, you know. For you. She snuck out the other night. I promise to keep better watch next time…You know what she said to me? It's kind of funny actually. She said that she thought you cared about me." He laughed. "Oh, I told her she was crazy, but part of me was a little pleased, I admit. Not that it matters…I loved you anyway…"

            He got up and brushed himself off. He touched the marble one last time, resting his hand there for a few moments before finally removing it.

            "I miss you…" He said quietly, holding back the tears that always plagued him now. He felt so ridiculous crying for her. He was supposed to be a monster, wasn't he? Monsters didn't cry. Monsters didn't care, but he did. So what did that make him?

            He turned and walked slowly away, as he lit another cigarette.

           

            "We meet again." The tall, thin man said as he appeared before Willow and Dawn.

            "I-I'm sorry about last time. He didn't know any better." Dawn apologized for Spike.

            "I knew you would call me again." He said calmly.

            "Can you help us?" Willow asked nervously.

            "I have the answers."

            "Great. Answers. So should we be writing this down or something?" Willow asked with an awkward grin.

            "I will tell you what you wish to know, but what you do with the information is up to you. I will not help any further than that." He said gravely.

            "O-okay. Well, then tell us what we need to do and-and we'll take it from there." Willow said anxiously.

            "As you wish." He told them. "You want to know how you were created?" He asked Dawn.

            "Yes. And can it be done it again?" She asked him.

            "It can be done, but I will say no more about that…I will just give you the knowledge, and from there, you form your own judgments." He said cryptically.

            He relayed to them the information on how the monks had created Dawn. They had used a very ancient ritual, that predated the written word. The monks had divined spirits from the heavens to grant them the power to create life.

            There were several items needed to perform such a spell, including blood from the intended donor, hair, and fingernail clippings. All of the things with a strong amount of DNA. But to ensure that an exact clone was not created from the donor, a picture or drawing of the intended likeness was necessary.

            In Dawn's case, one of the monks had made a sketch of a young girl, who resembled the Slayer enough to be convincing as a sister, but unique in her own right. Dawn felt the hairs on her neck stand up at the thought that she was created out of a simple sketch that some unknown monk had made.

            He then went into detail about the spell involved in altering everyone's memory to include Dawn. They listened intently, out of sheer curiosity, but knowing that portion of the spell wouldn't be needed for Buffy. Everyone already remembered her.

            The most difficult step was to summon a soul to inhabit the body, thus ensuring that the life they created was true and real.

            "I've sorta done that before." Willow chimed in. "I mean, I gave Angel his soul back."

            "This is not the same. This is more complex. You did not actually summon a soul, you merely reinstated a curse. That's different. The process is different." The man tried to explain.

            "Oh. Okay. Continue." Willow said intimidated, shrinking back down in her chair.

            He explained the ritual that was used to summon Dawn's soul, involving a sacred crystal that would be difficult to obtain. Once they had everything written down, they had questions.

            "So, with this soul thing, can you summon a specific soul, or is it just random?" Dawn asked curiously.

            "I've told you all that I can tell you." He told them.

            "B-but what if we call the wrong soul?" Willow asked him nervously.

            "I have given you the knowledge that I have… That is all." He said, and with that he was gone.

            "Oh boy. This is a little trickier than I thought." Willow said uneasily.

            "You still want to try don't you?" Dawn implored her.

            Willow sat there for a minute before she answered. She contemplated the consequences. She knew deep down, she shouldn't be doing this, but lately her magic had been so powerful. She was able to zap the energy of a hellgod. She was able to restore Tara's mind. If she could do that, she could definitely do this.

            "I still want to try. We just have to do a little research about that soul part. I think we can do just about everything else, but we have to make sure it's Buffy we bring back. It can't just be someone else walking around in her body. Plus, we have to find a sacred crystal." Willow explained.

            "I'll help, just tell me what to do."  Dawn said eagerly.

            "Okay. Here's what we'll do…" She said confidently as she relayed her plans.

            Three weeks had passed since Willow and Dawn had formed their alliance. Each of them felt guilty for lying to everyone, and knew that there was going to be some serious explaining to do. But if it worked, then maybe a little forgiveness would be in order. They were both counting on it.

            Willow had managed to find someone who had a sacred crystal on the Internet. She had ordered it right away, and it had taken the entire time to get here from China. She had also found a way to alter the soul summoning spell to bring forth a specific soul. She only hoped that it would work.

            The spell had to be performed at sunrise, the dawning of a new day. Dawn had realized just then where her name had come from. Apparently the monks weren't too creative, and just picked the first name that came to mind. They had prepared everything and were planning on doing it the very next morning.

            "Just think, Will. This is gonna be the last night without Buffy." Dawn said excitedly.

            "I hope." Willow said uneasily, having second thoughts.

            "It will. Just wait. This is gonna be amazing."

            Willow planned to meet Dawn outside of her house around 5am. The sunrise was at 6:45 and they wanted to be at the sacred spot in the woods that they had mapped out, well before then. The spell would take a lot of time, and they wanted to be prepared.

            Dawn sat in her room anxiously watching the clock. It was still only early evening and she knew that she'd never be able to sleep. She decided to watch some TV downstairs. When she came down, she noticed Spike had just walked in.

            "Hey, Nibblet." He said with a smile.

            "Spike. What're you doing here?" She asked.

            "Just came to check on you, like I always do. Has she been behaving?" He asked Giles.

            "Yes, she's doing much better I think." Giles said happily.

            "Guys, I'm standing right here. If you want to know how I am, just ask me." She said rolling her eyes.

            "Sorry, pet. So how are you?" He asked.

            "Fine. Couldn't be better, as a matter of fact. What's on TV? I'm in the mood for some mindless entertainment." She smiled as she plopped down on the couch.

            "Well, I-I was just watching the news." Giles said hurrying over to change the channel.

            "That looked more like Jeopardy to me, friend." Spike said with a smirk.

            "Yes, well, I like to keep my knowledge up, you know. Plus, I like to brag to myself when I'm smarter than they are." Giles added almost inaudibly.

            "Nothing wrong with that. Those questions are so easy anyway." Spike said as he sat down on the couch next to Dawn.

            "Easy? The questions are actually quite complex…never mind." Giles said. "I think I'm going to go in the kitchen and make some tea."

            After he left the room, Dawn continued to channel surf. Nothing was capturing her interest. Her mind was too preoccupied with what she and Willow were about to do.

            "So, you do seem to be happier. Things finally settling in?" Spike asked her inquisitively.

            "I guess. I mean, it's not like I'm used to things, but I think that things will get better." She said trying not to reveal her optimism.

            "Right, and they will. Things have to get better."

            They sat in silence for a short time until Dawn looked over at him.

            "Do you visit her grave every night?" She asked him, out of the blue.

            "What?" He asked, taken off guard at her question.

            "I just wondered. You know, I go there a lot and there are always fresh flowers there…" She told him.

            "Doesn't mean they're from Me." He said defensively.

            "They're not?" She questioned.

            He looked at her and shrugged.

            "Well, yeah, they're from me. But how did you know?" He asked her.

            She shrugged, "I just knew…Do you think she hears what we say when we talk to her?" She asked him wistfully.

            "Yeah, I think so. At least I like to think so…You know, I had a lot to say to her, and never had the chance. Most of the time, she wouldn't give me the chance, so now I figure I have a captive audience, you know?" He said with a laugh.

            Dawn smiled, "She was really mean to you sometimes, huh?"

            "Well, yeah. I deserved it, I guess. I mean, it's not like I didn't give as good as I got. Your sis and I…well, it was complicated. Obviously, there was the whole us trying to kill each other phase, that lasted way too long. Neither of us had the heart, you know?"

            "When did you realize that you loved her?" She asked him.

            Spike thought for a moment before he answered.

            "Honestly, I have no idea. It was just like one day, I woke up and realized that there was something else going on. Course, I was horrified, rightly so. But eventually, I just accepted it. But the complete truth is that from the moment I saw Buffy, I knew it was all over for me. I knew that this girl was different, special even...She'd be the death of me…" He said remembering the first time he had laid eyes on her.

            "But she never killed you."

            "No, not literally. But the person I was then? He's gone…dead. Buffy changed all that for me. Well, Buffy and this little chip in my head. But mostly, it was Buffy. See, the chip forced me not kill or hurt anyone, but Buffy…She made me want to be a better man. She made me want to be alive again, and that was something I never wanted before."

            "So, if Buffy did all that, then how come you're still hanging around, still trying to be good and all? I mean, since she's not around…" Dawn asked.

            "Doesn't matter, Luv. That's what change is all about. I didn't change for her, I changed because of her. There's a difference. I can't change the things I've done, or what I am. But I can change what I do from here on out. I made her a promise that I'd keep you safe, and I intend to keep up my end of the deal." He said with a smile.

            "She'd be proud, I think." Dawn smiled.

            "Yeah?"

            "Yeah." Dawn said quietly touching his hand.

            He looked away from her uneasily. The thought that anyone, especially Buffy, would be proud of anything he had done, was making him uncomfortable. He appreciated her words immensely, but didn't feel he deserved them. He rose to his feet.

            "I'd better get going. If you need anything…"

            "I'll let you know."

            "See you tomorrow?" He said as he walked towards the door.

            "Tomorrow. You can count on it. I have a feeling tomorrow is going to be a really good day." She said with a large grin.

            Spike looked at her curiously, but then shrugged it off. He headed out the door, to make his nightly visit to Buffy.

            Willow and Dawn rushed hurriedly down the street with two large bags of magic supplies slung over each of their shoulders. Dawn had managed to climb out her window without alerting Giles and Willow had slipped out of bed quietly, telling Tara she couldn't sleep and was going for coffee. Tara thought it odd for Willow to be up so early, but was too tired herself to make much of it.

            The two girls said nothing on their journey, each alone with their own thoughts about the magnitude of what they were undertaking. Both of them wanting more than anything for everything to go smoothly, and not horribly wrong.

            They reached the spot in the woods and put their bags down.

            "Are you ready? W-we could still back out." Willow asked Dawn nervously.

            "No way. I'm not backing out. Are you?" She asked concerned.

            "No. I'm ready. Let's get the circle prepared." She said, as she opened her bag and removed several candles and assorted stones.

            Dawn poured a white powder around them forming a circle. Willow placed four candles around the edges representing the elements. Willow had gone ahead the other day and hidden a medium sized cauldron behind some brush. She pulled it out now and set it in middle of the circle.

            She poured various potions that she had made beforehand into the cauldron. The sacred crystal was then placed onto a large rock, which worked as an altar, that made up the center of their circle. Everything was now in place and Dawn and Willow stood back and surveyed their setup.

            "Okay. It's looks good. I think we're just about ready." Willow said glancing around.

            "I brought the robes." Dawn said reaching into her bag.

            Dawn had moved her mother's sewing machine into her room and sewed the ceremonial robes a little bit each night. Giles had heard the machine going and just assumed Dawn had taken up sewing as a hobby to occupy her mind. He had been pleased to see that she was finally coming out of her funk and being useful. Only he didn't know what she had really been up to.

            They put the long black velvet robes on and each had a large crystal hung around their necks. Willow looked at the horizon and noticed the faintest hint of color. She turned to Dawn.

            "It's time." Willow said determinedly. "Are you…"

            "Yes, I'm ready and I'm still sure." Dawn said anxiously.

            Willow nodded her head in agreement.

            They positioned themselves around the circle and began reading aloud from the spell books that they had created just for this purpose.

            They began the ritual with the conjuring of the physical form. Willow recited the text and Dawn stepped forward and dropped a small lock of her hair into the cauldron, followed by some of her fingernail clippings. She then produced a small dagger and made a small slash across her forearm. Her blood dripped slowly into the cauldron as Willow continued her chanting. Dawn then pulled out the picture of Buffy that she had chosen for the ritual and placed it on the makeshift altar next to the sacred stone.

            She dripped three drops of blood onto the photo then rejoined Willow at the edge of the circle. A strong wind had picked up around them and the sky was becoming a brilliant pink color due to the suns impending arrival.

            "I call to thee Goddess of life, return to me thy blessed soul" Willow called out and Dawn repeated it.

            A flash of blinding light engulfed their sacred circle and a bolt of lightening struck the crystal making it glow a bright blue color. The photograph of Buffy burst into flame. As it burned away slowly, they continued their chanting.

            "We beseech thee, bring forth our lost soul…" They chanted wildly over the roar of the wind and the crackle of the energy that surrounded them.

            They glanced towards the sky and noted the sun's first rays were beginning to peek out over the horizon. They joined hands tightly and put forth all of the energy that they had combined to finish the spell.

            "Return, restore, return!" They shouted.

            A large bright yellow ball of energy erupted from their joined hands and shot out at the crystal. The crystals color changed from blue to gold and suddenly evaporated. The picture of Buffy was completely burned away and a thick cloud of smoke hung in the air around the altar.

            With a sudden flash, the wind and the energy were gone. Willow and Dawn fell to their knees by the sheer power of the ritual they had just performed. They sat, breathing heavily, staring at the cloud of smoke before them. Their hands were shaking and tears had begun to run down each of their faces involuntarily.

            "Did it work?" Dawn said barely above a whisper.

            "I don't know." She whispered back, her head pounding.

            They finally managed to pull themselves up and approached the spot where the smoke still hung heavily. A small burst of wind suddenly blew through, clearing the smoke and standing before them was a face they never thought they would see again.

            They stood their open mouthed with shock at the sight of Buffy, standing motionless and wide eyed before them.

            "Buffy?" Dawn asked frightened.

            Willow clutched onto Dawn tightly as she watched the reaction of the person in front of them, still leery of what they had actually accomplished.

            Buffy looked at them curiously and then looked at her surroundings.

            "Um, guys?…what the hell?" She finally managed with confused sarcasm.

            "Buffy!" Willow said as she ran forward to embrace Buffy tightly. Dawn followed and they both stood there clutching her tightly.

            "Hey, I appreciate the love and all, but what's going on? Why am I out here? Why are you guys dressed like that?" Buffy asked inquisitively, more than a little confused.

            "Buffy, you don't remember, do you?" Willow asked her friend through tears of joy.

            "Remember? Remember what?" She asked, looking around.

            "Buffy, you died." Dawn said sadly, not knowing of any other way to say it.

            Buffy's face turned into a mask of sadness and shock.

            "What? I-I died?" She asked, as she leaned over onto the rock altar for support.

            "Yeah, and um…well we…" Willow stammered.

            "That's what all of this…" Buffy said taking in the cauldron and the burned out candles. "You did magic? You-you brought me back?" She said disbelieving.

            "Don't be mad, Buffy, please. We jut missed you so much. Don't worry, we did it right. We used the spell that the monks used to make me." Dawn said crying and clutching onto her sister, praying she would forgive her.

            "And Will, you helped her?"

            "Yes." She said meekly.

            "Wow…" Buffy muttered softly, not sure what to make of the whole situation. She didn't remember anything about being gone. The last thing she remembered was speaking with Dawn on the tower. After that, it was all fuzzy. Then it occurred to her that she had no idea how long she had been gone. "How long, you know, was I… gone?"

            "About three months." Dawn said quietly.

            "Three months? My god…" She said as the reality hit her. She started to cry.

            The three girls sat in the middle of the circle holding each other and crying. They had a lot of catching up to do, and more than a little explaining when they told everyone else what they had done.

            Finally, they all got up and cleared the evidence of the ritual away. Everything was stuffed back into the bags, and the cauldron was pushed back into the bushes to be retrieved later. Buffy was still in awe of everything they had told her, and the fact that she had been dead. Actually dead, not just for a minute like before, but for months.

            They were all tired and spent. Willow and Dawn from the powerful magic, and Buffy from the knowledge that she had risen from the dead. They staggered back to Buffy and Dawn's house slowly. They passed the cemetery where Buffy had been buried. Willow and Dawn hesitated as they passed.

            "Am…Am I in there?" Buffy said as she noticed the other two girls uncomfortably looking towards the cemetery.

            "Buffy…" Willow said softly.

            "I want to see." Buffy said, wiping her tears away.

            "Why? We should just…" Willow said, trying to steer her in another direction.

            "I just have to." Buffy said with quiet determination.

            They all walked slowly to the spot under the willow tree where Buffy's headstone resided. Buffy stopped abruptly when she saw her name engraved on the marble.

            Willow and Dawn stood there holding onto either side of her, both had tears running down their faces.

            "That's me?" She asked.

            "Well, it-it was." Dawn said uncomfortably.

            Buffy inched closer and knelt down at her own grave. She saw the pile of fresh flowers that adorned it. She smiled softly to herself. She reached out and touched the marble as she read the inscription.

            "She saved the world…a lot?" Buffy chuckled. "Who's idea was that?"

            "Well, we all…we all thought it was kinda appropriate. But Xander thought of it." Willow said with a smile, watching her friend's reaction knowing that it must have been very unnerving to be sitting at your own grave.

            "Well, I like it. It's funny…" Buffy said quietly.

            "So who brought me the flowers? There are enough here to keep a florist in business." She said trying to be lighthearted about the whole thing, even if it was majorly bizarre.

            Dawn and Willow shifted nervously. They both knew who was responsible for the flowers, but weren't sure what Buffy's reaction would be.

            "Um, they're from…Well…Spike, mostly." Dawn said quietly.

            Buffy looked down at the flowers and picked one up tenderly. A tear ran down her cheek and she looked up at them.

            "Spike? He did all this?" She asked her voice shaking.

            "Yeah, he comes here every night, and always brings flowers…" Dawn said softly.

            Buffy just looked at them and said nothing. Her heart heavy with the thought of the lovesick vampire bringing her flowers every night.

            "He was real upset when you died. I-I mean we all were, of course, but he was pretty bad…" Willow said quietly.

            "Really?" Buffy asked curiously.

            "Oh yeah, he like, cried and everything." Dawn added.

            "Spike? Cried? In front of people?" Buffy asked in shock.

            "Buckets. It was awful. I mean we were all crying, but he…well, he…" Willow said trying to explain, but feeling uncomfortable about the whole situation.

            Buffy absorbed this bit of information quietly to herself. She stood up slowly, still clutching the flower she had picked up.

            "I'm ready to go home." Buffy said softly.

            They all silently walked out of the cemetery and on towards the house. No one knew what they were going to say or do. Dawn and Willow were silently worrying about the trouble they would be in, and Buffy was completely befuddled about how to make an entrance. Somehow, just waltzing in and saying, 'Honey, I'm home' didn't seem to work in her mind.

            They reached the outside of the house and Dawn and Willow both agreed that it was probably best that they go in first and try to prepare Giles. He probably was frantic by now with worry over Dawn's whereabouts, as it was nearly nine o'clock.

            Buffy sat in the corner of her porch, just taking in the surroundings that she had always been so familiar with. This was by far the strangest thing that had ever happened to her, or probably to anyone ever.

            Dawn walked through the door with Willow close behind. Giles ran to the door frantically.

            "Dawn! Thank heavens! Where the devil have you been?" He asked as he clutched her tightly, then looked at Willow. "Did you find her?" He asked.

            "No, we were sort of together." She said quietly.

            "Willow?" He questioned, unsure what was going on. Willow would never intentionally allow him to worry like that.

            "Before you get all parental and mad, we have something to tell you." Dawn chimed in.

            "Yeah, and you're gonna need to sit down probably." Willow said taking his arm.

            "What is this all about? I need to call Xander and Anya and tell them that I found you. Not to mention Tara. She was worried about you as well, Willow." Giles said, confused about what was happening.

            "Giles, listen to me. We did something. And now, before you say anything, yes we know it was dangerous, and not advisable, but it worked." Willow said triumphantly.

            "What worked?" He asked her bewildered, sensing impending doom.

            "We used the same magic that the monks used to make me, Giles. We brought Buffy back." She said with a huge grin.

            Giles sat there in open mouthed shock. He removed his glasses and put his head into his hands. Tears threatened to surface, but he choked them back and composed himself.

            "Let me get this straight…" He started.

            "I'm back." Buffy said quietly as she stood in the doorway sheepishly smiling.

            Giles looked up at the vision before him, and felt his heart leap to his throat. The girl he loved so much, as much as he would have had she been his own flesh and blood, was returned to him.

            "Buffy…Dear God…Is it really you?" He asked as he rose to approach her.

            "It would appear so." She said quietly.

            Giles lunged forward and embraced her tightly. The tears he had held back were now flowing freely and without shame. They finally parted and everyone sat down and tried to take everything in once again.

            Willow and Dawn explained what they had done, and Giles was upset at them for taking such a risk, but he couldn't be too upset because the end result had turned out so well.

            Willow had called Tara and tried to calm her down. She was at first furious at Willow, but shed tears of her own when she learned that the spell had been successful. Xander and Anya were called next and told what had happened. They hurried over as quickly as they could.

            Xander had nearly passed out when Willow had told him what she and Dawn had done.

            "Is she really Buffy?" He had asked over the phone once the initial shock had worn off. "I mean, it's not like zombie, undead, Buffy is it?"

            "No, it's really her. I mean, I think. She seems totally the same, but a little confused. But I guess coming back from the dead tends to be a little unsettling." Willow had explained.

            When Xander and Anya had arrived, Buffy went to the door to greet them. Xander had tried to prepare himself, but it was still emotional for him actually seeing her standing there. He grabbed her tightly and kissed her cheek.

            "Man, Buff…We've all missed you so much." He said full of emotion.

            "Yes, we all are very pleased that you're not dead anymore. Oh, and that you're not a zombie." Anya added with a smile.

            "Thanks, Anya." Buffy said sincerely, knowing that Anya still had difficulty expressing herself.

            They all sat around talking, and trying to catch Buffy up on what had been going on. Everyone had kept up with the slaying in her absence. No new Slayer had been called, since Buffy had technically already died once before. Xander and Anya told her that they were engaged and Buffy was extremely excited for them.

            There was a lot of hugging and crying involved and before anyone knew it, the sun had set.

            Xander and Anya had decided to go home reluctantly. Xander hadn't wanted to leave, but they knew that Buffy needed some time alone with Dawn. Willow and Tara had soon followed, everyone vowing to return in the morning, afraid that they would wake up tomorrow and all of this would be a dream.

            Giles, Dawn and Buffy finally sat alone in the living room. Giles decided to let the sisters have some privacy and excused himself to his room, where he needed to reflect on the events to himself.

            Dawn and Buffy sat silently next to each other holding hands. Buffy looked at her sister.

            "Dawn, you know what you did…It was really, really dangerous." She said pointedly.

            "I know, but it worked…I just missed you so much, Buffy." Dawn cried.

            "I know, I know." She said as she held her sister in her arms.

            "Are you mad?"

            "Dawn, no. How can I be mad? You gave me back my life." Buffy said smoothing Dawns hair away from her face.

            "It was the least I could do…You gave me my life, Buffy." Dawn said quietly.

            They held each other tightly and Dawn finally looked up at Buffy.

            "You know, there's someone else you need to see." Dawn said cautiously.

            Buffy looked at her sister knowingly and nodded her head.

            "I know. I will." She replied, knowing that they were referring to Spike, who still was clueless to her return.

            "He is so gonna die when he sees you, Buffy." Dawn said with a huge grin.

            Buffy laughed softly.

            "He's already dead, Dawnie." She said with a smile.

            "Well, right. But if he wasn't…" She laughed.

            "I know." She said taking a deep breath. "Dawn, has he been hanging around a lot?"

            "Yeah. I mean usually he comes by once a day or so, just to check up on me. He's been good, if that's what you mean." She said, sticking up for him.

            "He still helps out and stuff, even though I haven't been here?" She asked, still trying to determine how she felt about the vampire.

            "Oh yeah. He patrols with the gang and everything. They're cool with him now. When you…well, died, he was such a mess. Everyone felt kind of sorry for him. I mean, they could really tell that he loved you, you know?" Dawn said, hoping that her sister believed it too.

            "He does, doesn't he?" Buffy said softly, more to herself than directed at Dawn.

            "He does."

            Buffy stood up slowly and went to the coffee table to pick up the rose she had brought from her grave. She put it to her nose and smelled it. A smile crept to her face. She turned to Dawn.

            "I've got to go. Tell Giles not to worry. I just need to see a friend." She said quietly.

            Dawn watched as she went to the hall closet to retrieve a jacket. Buffy noticed that all of her things were still in place and she smiled. She took out the coat and put it on. She took a last look at Dawn and smiled, and walked out into the night air.

            She made her way slowly to the spot she had come to know so well over the years. Spike's crypt. She used to go there when she was looking for a fight, but in the end, she had gone there for solace and protection. Now she wasn't sure what to expect when she walked through the doors. Should she knock? No, she never did before, so why start now, huh?

            She approached the heavy door and took a deep breath before opening it slowly. She walked into the darkness cautiously. The stone door made a loud crashing sound as it swung shut. She silently cringed, as the sound seemed especially deafening.

            "Dawn? I swear, if that's you, you're gonna be in big trouble. I told you not to come out here at night…" Spike said as he emerged from the shadows, intent on giving Dawn a good talking to. He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw who was standing there.

            "Spike?" Buffy asked tentatively.

            He just stood there staring at her, afraid to approach her any further. Afraid that she wasn't real, and he had dozed off and was still dreaming.

            "Who are you?" He asked with a shaky voice.

            "Oh, come on. Has it really been so long that you don't recognize me?" She asked playfully, trying to keep things light despite the heavy feeling in the room.

            "But-But you're…" He stammered, as he steadied himself against the wall.

            "Dead? Yeah, I heard." She smiled, as she walked closer to him. As she did, she saw that he had tears in his eyes.

            "Is this…Are you…real?" He asked, wanting to touch her, but afraid if he did she'd disappear.

            "It's real. I'm real. Dawn and Willow brought me back." She said quietly.

            "Damn." Cursed Spike quietly. "I told her not to mess with this stuff. And Will? I thought she had better sense." He muttered.

            "You're mad?" Buffy asked a little hurt and confused by his reaction. "I thought maybe you'd be a little happier to see me."

            "Of course I'm happy. My god Buffy, I can barely stand up, I'm so bleedin' happy. But… is it really you? You're not all…well, evil or anything?" He asked cautiously, still afraid to get too close to her. She was still as beautiful as he remembered, maybe even more so now.

            "No, I'm still me." She said, inspecting herself as she inched closer to him.

            "Well, uh…death becomes you, Luv." He said, trying to make himself laugh, but it wasn't working. He only could stand there motionless and babble at her like a fool.

            She laughed slightly, knowing he was more than a little taken by surprise.

            "I guess I can say the same to you." She said with a sheepish grin.

            Spike stood there gaping at her. Too shocked to do anything but stare. He watched her face as she studied his reaction. He looked down and noticed the rose she had in her hand. She saw what he was looking at and smiled.

            "I heard that this was from you…That they all were…Thank you." She said quietly, unsure what else to say. The moment was quickly becoming even more tense and awkward than she had anticipated.

            Seeing him so disturbed had wrenched at her heart. Her feelings for him were clouded and jumbled. She remembered their last conversation, at her house before the fight with Glory. He had been so kind and brave. Willing to die for her and her sister, despite the fact he believed she thought he was a monster, and would never return his love.

            She had wanted to say so much to him that night, tell him that her feelings had changed, but there wasn't time. She never thought that she wouldn't get another chance to tell him. But here she was now, a second chance. Another time to get things right. She moved closer to him still, until they were only a few feet apart.

            "I wanted you to have pretty things…" He said softly, indicating the flower.

            His emotions began to over take him and he began to sob, despite his best efforts to control himself. He felt like an idiot and was ashamed that she would see him like this. He covered his face with hands.

            Buffy watched as he cried and felt her own sobs forming in her throat. She looked at him with tears in her eyes and he looked at her. For an instant, they stood there, watching each other though mists of tears, until Buffy finally took flight.

            She ran to him without even thinking. Her feet just moved and she was unable to stop them. He opened up his arms to her and embraced her tightly, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to them. He covered her face with gentle kisses, the whole time muttering through his tears.

            "Oh, god, I love you so much…" He said to her over and over again, and she cried harder. Their tears were now flowing together. As he kissed her face, the taste of her tears washed over him.

            Finally, their lips met each others impulsively. Their kisses had a sense of need and hunger, that neither one had ever felt before. They frantically clutched each other, both afraid to stop the madness, desperate for the feel of one another in their arms. Buffy had surrendered herself to her emotions and her heart, and didn't give a damn about consequences at this point.

            She knew that everything had changed, been altered forever. Knowing that she had died had cleared her head about a lot of things, especially her feelings for him. Life was painfully fleeting and she knew it now more than ever. This was her second chance, and she doubted that there would be a third. She knew that there wasn't time to waste on anger or grudges. The past didn't matter anymore. She had a fresh outlook on things, and from here on out, all that mattered was the future.

            They finally pulled themselves away from each other and both stood there breathlessly. Spike knew he didn't need to breathe, but his reflexes had taken over. His entire body was numb with shock. They stood there staring at each other, both completely overwhelmed by their display of affection.

            Finally Spike broke the silence. "Well, now I know you can't be Buffy." He laughed quietly. "She'd never do that."

            She looked at him tenderly, and touched his face.

            "Yes, she would." She said softly.

            He smiled at her and kissed her forehead lightly. He pulled her back into his arms and held her tightly.

            "I never thought I'd see you again…I missed you so much." He whispered into her hair.

            "I know." She said quietly, then pulled back to look him in the eye. "There is so much I need to say to you…"

            "I don't want to talk about this now. I just want to hold you and feel you and know that you're real…" He said softly. "We'll have plenty of time to talk later." He told her, not wanting to ruin what was happening with words.

            "No Spike, I need to say it now." She said with a determined look. "I don't know when it happened, or how it happened, but things aren't the same now."

            "You can say that again. You're back after being dead for three months." He said with a touch of sarcasm.

            "Well, that too, obviously. But I meant me. Us. We're not the same anymore. I knew it even before. I just couldn't tell you. I wanted to. I wanted to say a lot of things." She said looking at the floor, shifting her feet. She was nervous and uncomfortable talking about the feelings that she had bottled up inside for so long.

            "Like what?" He asked anxiously, still afraid he was dreaming.

            "I wanted to tell you that you aren't a monster. Not by a long shot. Not anymore." She said looking him in the eye. "What you did, what you've continued to do…that means something. I didn't want to believe it, I fought it as hard as I could. But I can't pretend to myself, or to you that all you are to me is some monster. It's more than that. I don't know how or why you've done the things you've done…"

            "It's all because of you." He said, interrupting her. "The moment I saw you, something inside me changed. Sure, it took a little while for me to recognize it and accept it, but it was there, all along. I just had to let it happen. I don't know why it happened, but what I feel for you is real…The only real thing I've ever felt…" He said, softly turning away from her.

            "I know. I see that now. I believe it…What I feel is real too…" She said unsure of herself.

            "And what is it that you feel?" He asked, not entirely confident that he wanted to know the answer.

            She looked at him somberly and swallowed hard. She wanted to say it, but the words were not coming easily. She was trying desperately to push her fears aside and allow herself to speak the truth without regrets. She walked to him and took his hand in hers. She looked into his eyes.

            "I…love…you." She whispered.

            He looked at her, surprise registering on his face. The words out of her mouth didn't seem right. It wasn't possible. He must have heard wrong.

            "You what?" He asked.

            She smiled at him and sighed.

            "I love you. I don't know when it happened. Or how it happened. But I do."

            He let her declaration sink in briefly before pulling her in for another desperate kiss. They stood there lost in their emotions, neither one wanting to stop the energy that was between them. Finally they parted and Buffy started to laugh nervously.

            "You're not supposed to laugh when I kiss you." He said, his pride a little wounded. "What exactly is so funny, Slayer?"

            "Nothing. Sorry. I don't know why I'm laughing…its just…its all so ridiculous. Here I am back from the dead, and here we are making out like fools…It's all just a little too unreal and majorly weird." She laughed.

            "It is a little bit ridiculous, isn't it?" He said as he began to laugh along with her.

            "Just slightly. I think it's just gonna take me a minute to wrap my mind around all of this." She said, still giggling.

            He smiled at her seductively and pulled her close to him again.

            "While you're doing that, I think I'll wrap my mind around you…" He whispered into her ear as he kissed her again.

            They ended up on the floor this time, kissing each other. Both wanting to savor every moment they had. Trying hard to make up for lost time. Each of them had not wanted to stop, but both knew that it was best they wait before taking their new relationship any further. When they finally managed to tear themselves from each other, they sat on the floor and Spike held Buffy tightly to him. She rested her head on his shoulder and he stroked her hair gently.

            "I guess this is going to sound a little stupid, but…welcome back, Buffy." He whispered into her hair with a smile.

            "It feels good to be back." She replied with a smile.

            They sat there together in comfortable silence, holding each other tightly, until the sun rose again. Buffy looked up and noticed the small glimmer of light through a tiny window at the top of the crypt. She smiled to herself. It was the dawning of a new day.