He smells her first. His finely attuned senses alert him to her presence but he can't bring himself to turn.

He can't look at her without his carefully controlled cool coming undone; unraveling like a well-worn sweater might.

But then she calls and his reaction is immediate.

He spins on his heel, only to find himself with an armful of weeping woman.

Her scent is different than it had been--no trace of the girlhood perfume that she'd tried to wear all those years ago.

Years. It feels more like a lifetime ago than just a handful of months smashed together into nearly a decade.

He's so conflicted he can't move with the weight of indecision. She's crying too hard--too desperately for him to think straight.

The smell of salt invades his brain and her whimpering cries sing to a long dormant part of the muscle in his chest that he would never call a heart anymore.

He didn't think he still had a heart to ache.

But she's proved him wrong.

This little slim slip of a woman, grieving so loudly as she clings to his chest has worked loose the cloak of bitter frost that he's used to carrying around as a protection. Unworked every knot and pulled free every part of him that he'd thought was made of cast iron.

The warmth against his torso lessens and he feels her start to pull away, her large uncertain eyes meeting his.

She looks so hurt.

"Spike?"

It comes out an unsure and hesitant whisper on the wind and her eyes fill with fresh tears when he doesn't say anything in response.

She moves to take a step back and he realizes…

She's done it again. Poked holes in his armor.

And all he can do is helplessly pull her to him, feeling like a puzzle that's been missing a piece only to have it found and back in its proper place once more.

He can't find words. Ironic, that.

A man who once fancied himself a poet can't find the right words.

He opts to mutter nonsense into her ear, her hair tickling his cheek as he breathes deep; the fragrance of the night air mingling with her so perfectly it seems as though the two were made for each other.

Spike wants to tell her so much…wants to express so much

But words have fled him, leaving only raw emotions in their place and all he can do is crush her to his body, intent on soaking up as much of her as he can while he can.

It's far from right; so distant from proper it's not even in the same hemisphere, but it feels--he feels whole. For the first time in a long time, he feels whole. No longer a broken being left in fragments, she is his equal. The missing part of himself has come back to him at last.

Maybe it's selfish that he wants to keep her…maybe it's wrong and self-centered to want her to be with him like this always…

He doesn't care.

He simply can't bring himself to give the idea more than a passing consideration.

He wants her too much to contemplate such things…

Needs her too much…

Loves her too much.

He isn't sure if it's still that innocent, complimentary adoration and affection he once had for her--he doesn't know if there's something deeper there--but he knows that now he is reunited with her, and he will never let her go. He couldn't handle saying goodbye all over again.

It is selfish of him; in his soul, he knows that it is…but then she looks at him with those eyes overflowing and his thumbs brush across the tear tracks on her cheeks with a certain tenderness he didn't know he possessed.

Yes. It's selfish the way he speaks her name and holds her to him with such overprotectiveness.

But she doesn't seem to mind.

Doesn't seem to mind as his lips move of their own accord to her forehead, then her cheek, expressing through action what words--even if he were able to unearth the correct ones in the muddle of his psyche--could never make clear.

"I missed you," she murmurs as she clings to him and the words are a balm on the sorest part of his spirit.

His eyes try to flutter shut but he forces himself to keep his wits. "I know."

"Buffy's dead."

A pained whisper followed by her hands clutching his duster tighter.

"I know that too, nibblet."

"How?"

"I hear things."

She swallows twice and flings her arms around his neck.

"Don't ever leave me again," her voice is a warning hiss, laden with emotion. "I'll stake you if you try it."

He smiles against her hair. "I don't doubt it."

"Spike?"

"Yes, pet?"

"Take me home."

He feels somewhat thick when she says it. Where's home? Surely not Sunnydale...that's hundreds of miles away...

"Home?"

"Home is anywhere you are, Spike."

She draws back from him and holds out her hand, waiting for him to clasp it in his own.

"Take me home."

-

A/N: Finally. Now I hope this damned story will leave me alone and stop urging me to continue it a chapter at a time. It was never intended to go beyond a one-shot, but apparently, I'm a sucker for happy endings.

-takes a bow- Thanks for reading, oh audience mine.