Buffy looked at the hole, all which was left of Sunnydale. Somewhere in the crater were the ashes of the man she loved. It hit her then, like a physical blow, that they had spent their last moments together, their last night together, their last anything together. Her heart twisted in agony as she thought of life without Spike. Her body was physically weak from the fight and the pain in her heart was overwhelming as she allowed herself to crumble to the ground.

He had been part of her life for so long, in every way, and now he was gone. Buffy hadn't been totally sure if she loved him in the Hellmouth, but the words fell from her lips as she told him anyway. But now she knew she had spoken the truth and she loved him with everything in her. Now she would never get to experience any kind of life with him and it hurt deep inside her heart.

Dawn and Willow knelt next to her. "Buffy, are you okay?" the witch asked, concern etching her voice. Willow hadn't seen Buffy so traumatized since the night Glory snatched her sister. She hoped their fallen slayer wasn't going to end up comatose again.

Buffy shook her head. "He's gone, Will," she said hoarsely, with a trembling voice. "He's gone forever."

"Spike?" Dawn asked in confusion as fear settled in the pit of her stomach. "What do you mean he's gone?"

Buffy looked at her sister with her heartache plain on her face. "He closed the Hellmouth," she whispered, tears making their way down her cheeks. "He's…he's just gone."

Dawn shook her head in denial. "Spike doesn't leave, Buffy," she sobbed, tears rising in her eyes. "He always comes back to us." Spike couldn't just leave without saying goodbye to her. She never got to work things out with him and her own sadness forming in the pit of her stomach..

"He's not. Not this time," the distraught slayer whispered, wiping her tears." Let's get out of here." She had to get away from this place, this former town that held too much pain, too many memories. Maybe distance would help ease the ache she felt in her heart, in her soul.

Willow motioned for Xander to come over to help Buffy up. Dawn helped Willow up, the spell she performed still had her a bit wobbly.

"Come on, Buffy," Xander said, gently holding his hand out to her. Having lost Anya, he was pretty sure his pain matched her own. He knew how Spike felt about Buffy. The whole world could see how Spike felt about Buffy. But Buffy had never been one to show her feelings and Xander was a bit surprised that Buffy now had no problem letting everyone know how she felt.

Buffy looked up at her friend and gratefully accepted his hand. Her knees buckled from exhaustion when she tried to get to her feet but Xander caught and steadied her. He helped her to the bus and everyone followed suit, hanging back to give Buffy her space.

Once they were all on the bus, Faith used a cell phone they managed to save to call Angel.

"Hello?" he answered.

"Angel, it's Faith," she greeted.

"How's Buffy?" Angel asked, without missing a beat. He was thinking the worst.

"It's hard to say how she is. But have some faith in her Angel. We just went through the biggest battle of our lives. We're probably headed your way," the darker slayer said, looking at Giles for confirmation, he nodded tiredly. "You'll get the details in a couple of hours."

"I'll be here," Angel replied, and broke the connection.

"Buffy?" Xander asked, but she just nodded. "We're going to Angel's." He expected her to say something but she just nodded. "Buffy, I just want you to know that I am sorry about Spike." She just nodded again and touched his hand, letting him know she appreciated his words, she had a feeling Anya hadn't made it but she had no idea how to comfort Xander when her own grief was gnawing at her.

Giles took his place behind the wheel and looked up into the mirror and for a moment just stared at the reflection of the exhausted and injured that remained. The newly made slayers, thanks to Willows spell, helped whom they could. Faith sat tending to Robin, the relief that he had survived evident in her face. Willow sat leaning into Kennedy and Giles silently thanks The Powers that Be that Willow did not have to endure the lose of another lover. He wasn't sure what would become of the young witch if face with that pain again. Dawn sat with silent tears staining her face as she looked at her sister; Buffy, his charge, the girl that he cared for as if his own child sat with Xander. She looked broken, defeated, as she sat staring out the window looking too beaten to even cry. Xander, pushing back his own pain at the lose of Anya, stroked Buffy's hand offering what comfort he could. Finally Giles pulled his attention away from the reflected pain and closed his eyes slowly, holding back tears, he was their Watcher, their parental figure and most times their leader and strength, with that thought he straightened and started the bus.

By the time they reached L.A. it was dusk and Angel was waiting for them as they disembarked at the Hyperion. He moved to take Buffy from her friend's arms.

"I've got her," Xander said tiredly, his habitual dislike for the brunette vampire showing. "Just show me where she can rest."

Angel looked at his former love, at her eyes, which were swollen from exhaustion…and crying, he assumed. It hurt to see the lack of life in her eyes, see how broken she was. Sighing, Angel gestured towards the hotel.

"Follow me," he said, leading them inside. "Everyone, just make yourselves comfortable and we'll find rooms for you shortly." He led Xander upstairs to one of the bedrooms where he gently laid Buffy down. Xander kissed her forehead softly before looking at Angel, ready to tell him to back off, but the vampire was heading toward the door.

"I want to talk to her for a minute," Angel said, making it plain there was no room for discussion. He knew something was wrong but he wanted the story from Buffy.

Xander narrowed his eyes, showing his displeasure, but grudgingly left. Now wasn't the time to fight with Angel, not with Buffy in such a sorrowful state.

Angel sat next to the slayer and lightly touched her hand. "You need anything?" he asked.

Buffy met his eyes and shook her head. "I want to sleep right now," she replied softly. "I'm sure someone will tell you what happened."

He nodded and shrugged off his leather jacket. He draped it over her and gently pushed her hair away from her forehead. "If you need me, I'll be here," he replied, in his low and hypnotic voice.

Buffy nodded and closed her eyes, letting sleep overtake her. Angel kissed her forehead and silently left.

Downstairs, Angel greeted Faith with a hug and listened as Willow brought him up to date. "We closed the Hellmouth. Well, Spike closed it, and he died in the process," she said. "That's what we were able to figure out from Buffy. Anything else that happened, we don't know. She wasn't able to give us too many details. She's hurting a lot—not really in a talking mood."

Faith stepped in, speaking softly. "Angel, she was with him until the very last second," she said, softly. "I wanted to wait for her but couldn't. I didn't think she was going to make it out."

"She almost didn't make it," Dawn interrupted, making everyone look at her after she had been silent for so long. Tears were in her eyes as she looked at Buffy's ex-love. "She's lost almost everything. She loved him and now he's gone. It's not like you. You can come to her if she needs you. Spike's never coming back."

He sighed. He should be happy that the bleached vampire was gone, but he really wasn't. He didn't like Spike, and it wasn't hard to figure that out. But he hadn't wished him dead. Or any more dead than he usually was. Buffy had made her choice, had chosen her champion, but it had brought her immense pain. He rubbed his face and looked at Dawn.

"I know you didn't like Spike," she said, crossing her arms, trying to force her tears away and be strong for her sister. "But he's always been there for me…and for Buffy. She loves him, Angel. And he…he saved us. Again. Maybe you can try to see Spike the way we do."

"I'll try, Dawn. Gunn will be down in a moment to show you guys your rooms," he said, before returning upstairs to watch over Buffy.

Within minutes Gunn and Fred had joined them and busied themselves tending to the needs of the Sunnydale refugees. Food was offered, rooms assigned and the worst of the injured taken to the nearest hospital for treatment. For the walking wounded, there were first aid kits in every room. Using what little energy she had left, Willow magicked up a picture of Buffy and Spike together and slipped into her room to leave it on the bedside table where she'd find it when she woke. Nodding goodnight to the watchful vampire seated near Buffy, Willow thankfully left to seek her own much needed rest.

A month had gone by and the pain of losing Spike hadn't lessened for Buffy. Everyone was beginning to worry about her a lot more, but there was nothing they could do. At first they gave her the space she needed to grieve but the pain was consuming her. Her sister was sitting with her as she slept when Willow stepped in with a beaming smile. "Dawn, there's someone downstairs for you," she said, smiling as she looked at the slayer's sleeping form.

Dawn looked up at the redheaded witch with a raised eyebrow. "What do you mean, someone for me?" she asked.

"Well, someone for both you and Buffy," Willow said softly. "Someone who will help Buffy and you'll really want to see him."

Dawn's eyes widened and she carefully rose from the bed before slipping out of the room.

Willow giggled softly before reaching out to wake Buffy. She hoped this would work. Buffy's grief had been taking its toll on everyone and their guest downstairs would fix everything.

From the top of the stairs, Dawn could see Faith talking to someone with platinum blond hair and wearing a leather duster. It didn't take her a second to realize who it was and she flew down the stairs, with a squeal of delight. She jumped into his arms, surprising him greatly.

"H'lo Nibblet," Spike said, hugging her tightly.

Dawn squeezed his neck as he lifted her off the floor and spun her around once. "Oh, my God," she whispered, her voice laced with shock. "I so knew that you wouldn't leave us."

Spike pulled back and smiled at her as he wiped her tears. "You should know by now that you can't get rid of the Big Bad," he said.

Dawn smiled and then remembered her sister. "Buffy is going to be so happy to see you," she squealed with happiness.

"I hope so," Spike said, chuckling. "Not hoping for her to be going for the nose or kicking me out on my arse."

Upstairs, Buffy was sobbing in Willow's arms. "Willow, I can't anymore. He's the only one who gave me the strength to go on. I love him so much and I don't know how to live without him. What am I gonna do?"

"I don't know," Willow said. "But there is someone downstairs who could help you, might even be able to tempt you to start eating again."

Willow gently helped Buffy out of bed and found clothes for her to put on. She was shocked to see how much weight Buffy had lost in such a short time. Taking her friend's hand, she led her from the room.

Buffy paused at the top of the stairs, her eyes automatically drawn to the man talking with Dawn. The breath hitched in her chest as she grabbed Willow for support. Her heart was telling her it was Spike and her head was telling her it couldn't be. She gasped softly as tears filled her eyes before continuing their journey down her face. Slowly, she descended the stairs, as if he would disappear if she moved too quickly. Her palms were sweaty and she could vaguely feel Willow behind her as she made it to the bottom of the stairs. What if he didn't remember her? What if he didn't love her? What if he had no soul? So many questions were swirling in her mind but she didn't have time to sort them out.

Faith smiled and stood next to Willow as Buffy made her way to Spike. Dawn pulled away when she felt Spike stiffen a little. She looked up and saw her sister, a beaming smile on her face. Dawn smiled as well and reluctantly moved away from Spike, but not too far. She didn't want to be between them, but she didn't want to be away from him either.

Buffy took her sister's place in Spike's arms and pressed her lips against his without even thinking twice about what she was doing.

Spike hadn't expected a kiss from her, but he wasn't going to pass it up. His arms went around her tightly and he returned the kiss. Their tongues danced lovingly and tenderly. When she needed air they parted, but only by millimetresmillimeters. Buffy rested her forehead against his, not caring about anything else in the world. Her earlier worries about him not loving her didn't matter anymore. She ran her fingers over his face, memorizing the sharp angles and the color of his eyes that she hadn't seen in what felt like forever. There was so much she needed to say to him, but she had no idea how to start.

Spike nuzzled her fingers and smiled a little bit at her. What was he supposed to say to her? It had been a long time since he'd been speechless, but Buffy always had that effect on him. "Buffy?"

Buffy smiled back at him. "Sorry," she said softly. "Just…indescribably happy that you're here. I didn't think I would ever see you again."

Spike pulled her closer to him. "Well, I guess that makes us even then, huh?" he teased. "Couldn't be out done by the Slayer, could I?"

Buffy smacked his chest playfully. "Well, let's settle for a tie and not go for a winner," she retorted.

Behind her someone coughed, and finally she came back to reality. She looked over her shoulder to find Faith, Willow and Dawn watching them, and smiled widely. Her happiness brought answering smiles to their faces.

"But…how?" she asked, turning back to Spike. She was overjoyed to have him back, but that didn't mean she wasn't confused.

"So not important. Right now, you and Spike should go upstairs and get everything sorted out. Go. Now," Dawn ordered, pointing up the stairs.

Buffy took Spike's hand and led him upstairs. They shut and locked the door before she was back in his arms. Without breaking their kiss, he scooped her up in his arms and carried her to the bed, reluctantly tearing his lips away from hers so she could breathe.

"I missed you so much," Buffy whispered, running her fingers through his hair. "And I can't wait to sleep in your arms again."

"I missed you too, pet," he said. "I love you, and you're going to sleep so good tonight. Then tomorrow, I'll make sure you have a big breakfast."

"I love you, too." She opened her eyes and pouted at him. "Are you trying to make me fat?"

Spike's heart swelled as he heard those words and he smiled and kissed her again. "No, just healthy," he said against her lips.

Buffy pulled away reluctantly. She needed answers about what happened between them. "Spike, why didn't you believe me before?" she asked, with a quivering voice. She hadn't told anyone what had happened in the Hellmouth during her last few moments with Spike. If she had, they probably would have been able to understand her pain. His rejection had crushed her and she didn't understand why he wouldn't believe her.

"I wanted to, but I don't understand why you waited to tell me," Spike said honestly, his heart tightening in his chest at the memory. He hoped to avoid this conversation for a little bit longer but Buffy had always messed up his plans. "I didn't want you to just say that to me because I was dying."

Buffy sat up in bed, and Spike sat up next to her. "I wanted to wait and tell you," she said softly. "I didn't think you were gonna die and when the battle was over I wanted us to have some real privacy and I was going to tell you."

"But I did die," Spike said, sadly.

"Yeah, and I couldn't leave without you knowing," she said, looking into the blue eyes that were reading her like a book. "But I do love you," she whispered. "I'm not sure what else you want. I just love you with all of my heart."

Spike stared at her for a moment while running through his thoughts. He wanted more of an explanation from her, but if she didn't have more at the moment, he was going to have to accept with that. "That's enough," he whispered. He hoped in the future they would be able to talk about what had happened between them those past few days on the Hellmouth; specifically Angel.

Buffy nodded and her hand reached out to cover his. "I know that I do love you and I don't want to ever be without you again."

"Never leaving you again. Promise," he said, pulling her into his arms so they could fall asleep.

In the morning, Buffy woke to find Spike's blue eyes watching her.

"Morning, luv," he said, smiling

"Morning," she responded happily, giving him a kiss and snuggling into him. He felt different, but she shook the thoughts from her mind. She was probably just paranoid with all the events that happened. "Am I still getting my big breakfast?"

"If we ever decide to get out of bed," Spike said, kissing her hair. "And I have something I want to show you and Dawn. But we have to wait for her to come back from the store."

Buffy looked at him curiously. "You're making me worry," she said, raising an eyebrow. "Is it something bad? And how long have you been awake?"

Spike shook his head and got out of bed. "It's not bad," he said, smiling. "You'll like it, I promise. Dawn came in to tell me she went to the store quick in case you had a heart attack when she wasn't around. Now, change your clothes, have a hot shower, and I'll have breakfast ready when you're done."

Buffy smiled when he kissed her. "You're too good to me," she said, getting out of bed.

Spike smiled. "Comes from loving you, pet," he said, before leaving the room. His need for her was making him crazy, and if he stayed up there with her they would never get downstairs.

Not 10 minutes later, Buffy joined Spike in the kitchen. She had rushed through her shower, not wanting to be away from Spike for a minute. Obviously she went too fast because Spike hadn't even started cooking breakfast.

"Feel better?" He asked, looking up from inside the fridge.

"Lots better," Buffy said. "Find anything good?"

"Enough to make my Slayer a healthy breakfast," Spike said, smiling at her, as she came over to her.

"You are so trying to make me fat," Buffy said, pouting at Spike.

"If you say so, luv," Spike said, kissing her so deeply and lovingly her knees went weak. If his strong arms hadn't been around her, she would have collapsed.

Spike felt Angel's presence and broke away reluctantly. His arms dropped from Buffy but she touched his arm. "It's okay." She looked at Angel. "We are gonna talk about some stuff later," she said gently. "I know you had something to do with Spike being back."

"So are Spike and I," Angel said, looking at Spike, a silent message passing between them.

Spike met Angel's eyes. He knew Angel knew about his secret, since it was hard to keep something like that from a vampire, but obviously wasn't going to tell Buffy. The last time he had seen him, Angel had his tongue down Buffy's throat, so he was definitely confused about why Angel would want to talk to him. Angel was probably going to lecture him or tease him; anything to ruin what he had with Buffy. But his worry was going to have to wait as Angel left them in the kitchen.

As soon as Angel left the kitchen he was confronted by Giles.

"Angel, I know you care about Buffy. She doesn't belong with Spike." he said, a little bit of Ripper seeping into his voice.

"Giles, we can't control who she loves," Angel said, sighing heavily. He didn't like Giles' attitude. "If you use that kind of tone with Buffy she's going to be pissed. So unless you want to be on the receiving end of her wrath, I suggest you let it go."

"Why are you defending him?" Giles shot back, clearly angry. "She deserves better. Spike doesn't deserve her. After everything he did to her, I'm surprised she hasn't killed him."

"I'm not defending him. Giles, she loves him. I left Buffy to give her a life… which she has chosen to share with Spike. Just now when I saw her, there was a spark in her eyes that I haven't seen in a very long time. Just let it be," he said, walking toward the door. Maybe he was defending Spike, but if Spike made Buffy happy, then he would live with that.

"I will kill him before I let him and Buffy start that… that degrading farce of a relationship again," Giles growled. "I know that he is wrong for her and Buffy may hate me, but I will not sit by and watch her ruin her life again."

Angel stalked over to him, too close for comfort. "You kill him and I'll kill you… But only if Buffy doesn't do it first." he snarled, leaving before Giles could respond. He was thankful that Willow and Faith had gone with Gunn and Fred to take the girls home to their parents. He needed some space, and with all those people in the hotel he wasn't likely to get it if they were around.

"Giles, why can't you be happy for me?" Buffy asked tiredly as she leaned against the doorway, clearly having overheard his argument with Angel. It was kind of hard not to, since it was right outside the kitchen. She thought maybe Giles would have come round after watching the depth of her grief over the past few weeks, and it hurt her that he still held a grudge against Spike.

"You deserve better. What about everything that's happened in the past?" Giles demanded.

"What about it?" Buffy asked. "We've forgiven each other. I hurt him way more than he hurt me so it doesn't matter now."

"Buffy, I can't let you do this," Giles said.

"It's not your choice. I love him. I don't want to lose him again, and if you have a problem with that then you're not the same man I knew," she said defiantly. "I'm an adult, Giles. I can make my own decisions."

Spike smirked at Giles, unable to help himself, as Buffy grabbed his hand and took him upstairs. "You okay?" he asked once they were alone. "Your heart is going a mile a minute."

Buffy giggled, a sound new to Spike's ears. "It usually does that when you're around or when I'm a little upset," she said. "But I'm okay. And Spike?"

"Yeah?" he asked, rubbing her neck soothingly.

"Something is different about you," Buffy said softly, her train of thought becoming derailed at his touch. "You feel different, and you don't talk as much as you used to."

"You always told me to be quiet," Spike teased. "But I am a little different."

"What do you mean, you're different?" Buffy asked, concerned as she turned to look at him.

Dawn chose that exact moment to come into Buffy's room. She knocked quickly but didn't give Buffy any time to answer. Obviously the thought of some loving going on behind closed doors didn't cross her mind. "Hey guys," she said, smiling. "What's Giles' deal? He's bad moody." She noticed something off about the two blondes. "I go out for a half hour to the store and I miss something big. What's going on?"

"I have to show you both something," Spike said, smiling at her. "And your sister is just being a worry wart as usual."

Dawn giggled, earning a mock glare from her sister. She went over to Buffy and poked her in the ribs getting a yelp.

"What was that for?" Buffy asked, trying to glare at Dawn despite the smile on her face.

"To loosen you up," Dawn said, sitting on the bed. "These are happy times, Buffy."

"I am happy," Buffy said, smiling at Spike. "Believe me, I am. But we aren't going to be staying here much longer. The three of us need to get our own place soon. I just haven't decided where."

"I have it covered," Spike said, reaching his hand out to cover hers. "I have a lot of money put away that I was saving for both of my girls. It shouldn't be hard for us to get a house and your girlie stuff. Where you decide to live is up to you."

"We can't take your money, Spike. And you are living with us," Buffy replied, leaning into his side. "Where do you get money from anyways?"

"Tough," Spike said, smirking down at her. "I had a large savings account from when I was human; but I never needed it until you girls. You're not going to win this argument. But back to your question about something being different about me…"

"Do I get to know or is it something gross?" Dawn asked, scrunching up her nose.

"Yeah, this concerns you," Spike said, going toward the balcony even though it was daylight.

"Spike!" Dawn cried in alarm as she rushed over with an equally panicked Buffy.

Buffy expected Spike to sizzle, but he didn't. She stopped trying to pull him back inside and just stared up at him with an odd look, before realization dawned on her. She laid her hand on his chest, and tried to calm her heart as it thumped wildly within her chest. "You're alive," she whispered in awe. She'd been prepared to save him from another possible fiery death when in fact it was exactly the opposite

Spike nodded. "Yes, I am," he said proudly. "But I still have a lot of my vampire abilities. Like sight, scent, and my hearing is really good. Just got some adjustments."

Buffy smiled and snuggled up against him. "Trying to out do me again," she whispered, smiling.

Dawn came over to nestle in with them. "Well, he liked being a vampire," she said, giggling. "Now, he just has a few more advantages."

"Have to take care of my girls," Spike said, puffing out his chest.

Buffy looked up at him with sparkling eyes. "Obviously we need to take care of you as well," she teased. "Can't take our eyes off of you for one second."

"I'm not going anywhere, Buffy," Spike said, seriously. "I promise."

"I know," Buffy whispered, pushing her tears away. She wasn't going to cry anymore, not when things were going so well. "I still worry."

"We both do," Dawn said, backing up her sister. "But if you're not going anywhere, we won't worry so much."

"I'm not," Spike repeated, looking down at Dawn with an intense gaze. "Never again."