Chapter One

Years before the moment in the bowels of Sunnydale, Buffy had realized that, in times of extreme distress, old habits had a tendency to come out of the woodwork. Of course, most of her life was made up of extreme distress, so there weren't a lot of habits that she had the time or the will to break.

But she had been fairly sure she wouldn't be punching Spike in the nose for some time.

Of course, that was until he said the stupid thing.

Her fingers laced with his, and she barely noticed their entwined hands lighting on fire. It didn't hurt, just felt pleasantly warm. The warmth traveled up her arm, down her spine, and into the pit of her belly, where it exploded outward through every nerve. She was suddenly presented with one astonishing fact. She supposed she'd known it for ages, but it had been so lost among all of the chaos of her life that she'd somehow missed it. But Spike needed to know. He deserved to know.

"I love you."

Spike gave her a sad smile, and replied, "No, you don't. But thanks for saying it."

The warmth in her flared up to blinding heat, and Buffy did the only thing she could really think of to do. She did it without even thinking about it. He was determined to die here, and she was not going to let him. He didn't get to be let off that easily. So she punched him in the nose, ignoring the instant burning and then extinguishing of the flames in their hands. Then she ripped off the amulet and dragged him to the exit of the cave.

Their injured hands aggravated each other with the contact, but Buffy continued to ignore the pain, focusing only on getting both Spike and herself to that bus in time.

"Oi, Slayer, I'm coming! Let go of me!"

She used the momentum of his movement to swing him around in front of her once they got up into the school and pushed him towards the exit, just to make sure he didn't dart back down into the Hellmouth to finish the job. If anything got to kill this particular platinum pain in her ass, she'd damn well earned that right.

He did glance back to make sure there was no way to get back down without barreling through her, but it only took him a fraction of a second to decide it wasn't worth her life to ensure his hero's death. He ran for the exit, hitching his duster up over his head as he moved. Buffy followed closely at his heels.

Robin was just gearing the bus up for their departure when he saw the black-clad blur heading for the bus. He almost left anyway, except for the other blond he saw behind the vampire. He sighed and opened the bus door, allowing the smoking vampire to enter, only to trip on the stairs. Buffy, unable to stop, simply jumped on top of him and nodded to the ex-principal. He stepped on the gas and drove them out of Sunnydale, barely ahead of the collapsing hole that used to be the town.

It wasn't until Buffy looked for a thick blanket to cover Spike with, in case of sunlight, and found nothing, that she realized that he really hadn't intended to make it out of the Hellmouth alive. He had been so sure that he was going to die down there that he hadn't even prepared for the possibility that he wouldn't.

She shook her head. She'd have to be pissed at him later. Right now he was extremely weakened, singed, and huddling under one of the seats. Nevermind the hand that could be mistaken for a crispy critter, not unlike her own.

Finding nothing suitable to cover him up with, besides the duster he was already wearing, she ducked down onto the floor to meet his eyes. "I am so gonna kick your butt later. Forget to bring a blanket?"

Spike averted his gaze, suddenly finding her burned hand very interesting. "Yeah. Must be it. Suppose I'll just stay down here then, yeah?"

She shook her head. "No. I've cleared out the backseat. If we fold down the seat from the emergency exit, it's a bigger seat and you can stretch out a little. Not a lot though, because we'll have to cover you up with your duster. It'd be better than the floor, anyway."

"Fantastic," he agreed. He moved to get out from under the seat and tried to avoid any sunlight he could. Luckily, the sun was pretty much above the bus, so there wasn't a lot of direct sunlight, but Buffy wasn't going to be taking any chances. He groaned with the movement. "Bloody hell. Don't think I've ever been this sore, pet."

"I know," she replied quietly, taking his unburned hand with hers and leading him to the back of the bus. She pushed down the seat, making one long seat that stretched from one side of the bus to the other. Spike shrugged out of his duster and handed it to her, then laid down on the seat, curling up into a fetal position to be sure the duster would cover him. She pulled the coat over him, then sat down next to his head. She put her hand between his head and the seat. "Up," she said gently. He obeyed, and she scooted a little closer to his body, then put his head down on her thigh. She adjusted the duster again, just to make sure no sun would touch him. Then, her hand still under the leather, she ran her fingers through his hair slowly and, she hoped, soothingly. "Rest."

"Where we going?" he asked, the exhaustion coming through in his voice.

"Los Angeles. We're meeting up with Angel until we can figure out something more long-term."

Buffy could feel his jaw clench. "Great. Why didn't you just let me die?"

She smiled. More jealous vampire crap. At least she was used to that. She knew how to deal with it. Unlike whatever was next with her and Spike. That would be new territory. It terrified her. "Shh. Go to sleep. We'll talk about my intense need for you to stick around and your stupid suicidal urges when we're settled. I promise. Just rest for now, okay?"

Spike didn't answer her, but he did turn his head and press a kiss to the palm of her hand before he returned to his position and went to sleep. She continued to lightly run her fingers through the hair she could reach.

Eventually, she started to doze until a pothole in the road startled her out of it. When she opened her eyes, Willow was looking at her with a worried look on her face. Buffy still felt the soft locks under the fingers of her uninjured hand, and they managed to quell the short moment of panic she'd felt immediately upon waking.

"How is everyone?" Buffy asked quietly. She knew the volume didn't really matter. If Spike was still asleep through the racket of the other Slayers, her volume wouldn't do much to jar him. But she didn't feel right talking at her normal volume.

Willow understood, and lowered her volume to match Buffy's. "The Slayers, the ones that made it out, will all live. You know how Slayer healing is. So long as we get the thing trying to kill you guys away before it succeeds, you can heal from just about anything. Some will take longer than others, but they'll make it. Robin's in pretty rough shape, but Faith managed to stop the bleeding, so once we get him to a hospital, they should be able to patch things up. And Xander is..."

Buffy cast her eyes to her old friend. He was sitting near the middle of the bus, staring out the window as the road passed by. "Yeah," she replied. "I noticed that Anya was..." She looked down as a tear made its way down her cheek. "It'll be hard. But we'll help him through it."

The redhead nodded as she looked at the leather covered lump that was Spike. "That's new."

She didn't have to ask what she was talking about. "Yeah," she said again. "But it's really not, at the same time, you know? It's all new and...surprising, I guess. But it also feels like its somewhere I've been before, like something just snapped back into place. Something good though, which means it can't be somewhere I've been before." She shook her head, forcing the ramble out of her brain. "Are you...?"

Willow smiled. "Buffy, if you're looking for condemnation over an unconventional relationship from me, you're looking in the wrong place. I won't lie and say that I won't worry, but...well, there's not much bad I can say about him right now, seeing as how he just sort of saved the world and stuff."

"That's not why I..." Buffy started, but she was cut off.

"I know. I'm not blind. The last few weeks...well, it was pretty clear to all of us how you feel about him. Even Xander," she added with a chuckle.

"Yeah. Clear to everybody except him," she said, running her fingers through his hair again. "You know he actually had the nerve to tell me I didn't love him after I finally told him I did?"

"You know...we never really talked all that much about what your relationship with him was like, but from what you have said...there's a lot of damage you guys will have to work through. It could be that you'll end up finding out that all you guys can really do for each other is cause pain. Not that I'm saying you will," she amended quickly after she took in the look on Buffy's face. "I'm just saying that, if he says something stupid like that, you can't hold it against him. Long hard road out of Hell, right?"

Buffy raised an eyebrow at her friend. "You listen to Marilyn Manson?"

Willow rolled her eyes. "Kennedy does."

She smiled as Spike moved in his sleep and caught her hand and pulled it down over his chest, hugging it like a child would a stuffed animal. "We've got a lot of girl talk to catch up on, don't we?" At Willow's nod, she said, "I'll tell you everything once we're settled. Though I do promise to leave out the more graphic details."

The minor shifting to accommodate Spike's new hold on her hand had brought her burned hand into Willow's sight line. She'd actually forgotten about it until the widening of her friend's eyes brought it back to her memory, and the dull throbbing pain came back. "Gods, Buffy, what did you do, stick your hand in a pot of boiling oil?"

Buffy studied her hand. The healing had started, but it was moving slower than her Slayer healing usually did. Still a lot faster than a normal human's would, but it was sure taking its sweet time. "Spike's probably looks worse. It was so amazing, Will. He was standing there in the sunlight, and it was just shooting out through the amulet. He told me to leave and I held his hand, and our hands lit on fire. But it didn't hurt. I don't even think it started to burn us until I had to punch him in the face to get him to come with me."

"Wow. Did you bring the amulet? I'd love study it."

"Yeah, I brought it. Its in my bag up front." Spike shuddered in his sleep and squeezed her hand tighter. She squeezed back, hoping it would comfort him. "How long do you think until we get to L.A.?"

"Not much longer. I already called Angel. He and his people will meet us at his hotel, and one of them will take the bus to the hospital, along with anyone who needs it. Maybe you should have that hand looked at."

"No," she said quickly. "I'll stay with Spike. It'll heal."

Willow nodded and walked back to the front of the bus. Buffy closed her eyes again.