Originally written in January of 2001.

Feedback:  Please.  This is my first piece on the net, and I'm very, very nervous. 

Rating:  PG (not-too-graphic violence, someone dies)

Distribution:  At this point, here.  If you're interested, please let me know.

Spoilers:  If you know what "the chip" is, you should be fine.

Author's note:  Takes place the summer after season four. Although I like her, Tara does not exist in this story.

Disclaimer:  All characters are owned by Mutant Enemy (Joss Whedon), a wonderfully creative company whose charcters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy.  Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you.  Thank you.

Dedication:  To the fabulousness that is the Green Bunny Goddess.  Now go read Venus Blue's fic.  Go on now!  Scat!

Rejuvenation

            Willow had desperately needed a vacation for months.  Now, at last, after spending countless hours pouring over musty volumes in Giles's library and taking far more credit hours than any sane person would consider healthy, summer was here.  True, there had been one disturbing round of unexplained demonic activity in the last few weeks, but Buffy had put her foot down with her best friend.

            "Will, I'm the Slayer.  You've done all the research you can, and it just doesn't look like your magic is going to help us out with this one.  Besides, you need a break.  Go someplace undemony for a while.  Just chill."

            "Like where?  Money is not exactly plentiful just now.  In fact, I can spend about, oh, nothing."

            "How about that abandoned cabin Spike found last spring?  He even rigged up electricity for it.  It's peaceful, nothing but trees for miles in all directions.  Also, it's free.  Just go there and relax.  And no bringing along any books that weigh more than you do!"

            It had seemed like a great idea at the time: nothing but the occasional Bambi look-alike to spoil the pristine quiet, plenty of time to do nothing, and, to top it off, the cabin was in one of the prettiest spots Willow had ever seen.  In fact, she was so inspired by the idea that she hastily packed a bag, borrowed Giles's funky little Citroen, and headed off to her own private vacation wonderland that same afternoon.

            After stopping at a roadside gas station/convenience store to pick up food and other essentials, Willow arrived at the deserted cabin just at dusk.  Perhaps other girls would have been nervous about entering the empty building, but Willow had been in so many highly dangerous situations by now that this seemed perfectly normal.  After quickly performing a spell to make certain that the cabin contained no unwelcome visitors, she happily emptied the tiny car of the few bags she would need for the next two weeks and made herself at home.  Her first night was everything she had hoped:  quiet, uneventful, and peaceful.

            Rosy light was just starting to beckon from the east when the sound of glass shattering outside her bedroom window woke Willow very early the next morning.    Cautiously, she peered through the curtains and saw that a dark shape had collapsed about thirty feet from her doorstep.  It took her a few moments to process what had happened before she leapt into action.

            Lightning fast she ran through the front door and grabbed the intruder under his arms, kicking the broken whiskey bottle out of her way as she dragged him towards the cabin with all the strength she could muster.

            "Just in case it isn't completely obvious, I'm inviting you in, Spike," she said through gritted teeth as she heaved him across the yard.  "Geez, ever think of switching to low-cal blood?"

            However, the joke was lost on him since he wasn't conscious.  Truthfully, Willow was more than a little frightened.  The sun was very obviously starting to rise and it was only the shade of a few trees that had kept him from bursting into flame already.  She momentarily considered the implications for herself if he caught fire while she was dragging him, but shoved the thought away.  With one last heave, she pulled his inert form across the threshold and slammed the door on the invading sunbeams.  The toes of his boots were singed.

            Willow stared down at her unplanned visitor.  Judging from the smell that reached her nostrils, he'd either been drinking or fallen into a vat of whiskey.  Possibly both.  With a sigh, she began the process of blacking out the windows with extra blankets.

            "So much for a peaceful vacation," she said aloud, stretching her now sore back.

            Spike gave out a low moan but did not regain consciousness.  Well, if she had been worried about being bored, that certainly wasn't a problem anymore. However, the day passed uneventfully until late afternoon when Spike finally started to show some signs of coming around. 

            "No," was the first intelligible word he whispered.  It came out as a groan.

            "Oh yes, and I'll bet you've got one major headache right about now."

            He slowly dragged himself off the floor and onto the dilapidated couch and looked confusedly about the room.  The haze of alcohol had almost completely lifted.   

            "Red?" he asked uncertainly.

            "Yes."

            "What in blue blazes are you doing here?"

            "I'm on vacation.  What's you're excuse?"

            "How did I get in here?"

            "The first part of your journey remains a mystery, but I dragged your surprisingly heavy corpse the last thirty yards."

            "What you do that for?"  he said in a strangely colorless voice.

            "Either that or let the sun get you," she responded, starting to feel something was wrong.

            "Should have let me burn."

            "Come on, the hangover can't be that bad," she started to kid him, but the look on his face stopped her cold.  "You're serious, aren't you?"

            He turned away.

            "I thought you were trying to get in and stumbled off when you couldn't cross the barrier, but you weren't, were you?  You were trying to…"

            "Don't go doing me any favors saving my worthless hide.  I'm a monster.  I'm not worth it," he intoned in a completely flat voice.

            "Don't say things like that!  What happened?" Willow was honestly concerned.  During the previous year Spike and she had grown quite close.  He had become surprisingly kind to her, especially in the last few months. 

            He refused to speak.

            "Look, I don't know what's going on, but I don't want you to even think of anything like that again."

            "I'm sorry; I didn't mean to frighten you.  I'll be on my way," he almost whispered as he started towards the door.  She promptly stepped in front of it.

            "You're only getting out of here over my dead body, which that chip isn't about to let happen," she said with her resolve face firmly in place.  "Now go in the bathroom and take a shower.  You smell like a brewery."

            He stood for a moment, apparently considering his options.

            "Scoot!" she shot at him.

            With a resigned look, he turned to the bathroom and shut the door.  Willow was relieved when she remembered the room had no windows.  In a few moments, she heard the sound of the shower come on. 

            Unsure of what else to do, Willow started to build a fire in the old grate.  It often got cool in the evenings up here.  Soon brightly colored flames were crackling away in the hearth.  Willow was unpleasantly reminded of what could have happened to Spike earlier that day and immediately wished she hadn't lit the fire.  Before she could perform a dousing spell, Spike opened the bathroom door and entered the room, gazing at the fireplace.  He said nothing.

            "I, uh, don't have anything for you, you know, for dinner," she said feeling suddenly awkward.

            "S'alright.  I put a few bags in the refrigerator last month.  Should still be fine," he said as he went into the kitchen.

             Willow couldn't believe that she hadn't noticed this when she'd unloaded the groceries.  Apparently she'd become so used to seeing the blood bags in Giles's refrigerator that she hadn't even found it odd.

            Spike returned with a bag a few moments later and set it on the hearth to warm.  He stared into the fire with a look of emotional exhaustion on his face.

            "Sit down, please," she said after she'd finally worked up the nerve to break the silence.  "I can't stand seeing you this way," she blurted out before she could stop herself.

            He looked up at her.  "Sorry, pet."

            "Why don't you just tell me what happened?"

            His eyes locked with hers.  In place of their usual mischievous sparkle was an almost tangible heaviness.  "Why do you do that?"

            "Do what?"

            "Treat me like a human being.  I'm not you know.  You don't have to be nice to me."

            "I know I don't have to.  I want to.  Spike," she paused a moment before deciding to take the risk, "I like you.  I like having you as friend.  I'd never want anything to happen to you, so please don't ever think of doing anything like that ever again" or you'll tear my heart into pieces, she silently added.

            At last he sat next to her on the couch.  "You'll know soon enough, I suppose.  Dru is dead."

            Willow was surprised by the news but not exactly saddened by it.  Drusilla was, after all, a maniacally insane vampire with a tremendous appetite for cruelty.  Her turning into a big pile of dust didn't rank as a major tragedy in Willow's book.  Still, she knew that Spike had loved her for over a century.  It had to hurt him.

            "I'm sorry," she said, but she couldn't help the uncertainty about that proclamation that crept into her voice.  "When did it happen?"

            "Last night.  In Sunnydale."

            "Was it Buffy?"

            "No.  It was me."  When he raised his eyes off the floor, she realized there were silent tears tracing faintly red lines down his face.

            She had no idea what to say to him, so she said nothing instead.  The two of them sat there on the couch for a long time without speaking.  Finally, unable to stop herself any longer, she reached forward and put her arms around him gently.  It was several minutes before he did the same to her.  Slowly, his grip around her tightened until he was holding her so closely it was almost painful.  She felt her shoulder growing damp from his soundless tears. 

            At long last he let go of her and turned to the fireplace.  Picking up the warmed bag, he brought it into the kitchen.  He didn't want to drink it in front of her.  For the first time the taste, even the thought, of it sickened him.  Willow waited patiently for him, bewildered about what to do when he came back.

            When he did return, he sat at the furthest end of the couch from her.

            "Are you okay?" she asked uncertainly, knowing it was a stupid question.

            "Not really."

            "Would it help to have someone listen?"

            He looked at her kindly for a moment, then moved closer to her.  "Why do you care so much?"

            "I said before you're a friend, and I meant it," she said simply.

            "Friend.  Now there's one word that should never be applied to the likes of me.  Demon.  Fiend.  Inhuman pile of garbage, perhaps.  But not friend," was his bitter reply.

            This just wasn't like him.  It was a bit like Angel, but not him.  Willow was getting very worried.

            "Yes, friend.  And friends tell each other when something hurts."

            He looked at her intently for a moment, then seemed to make a decision.

            "Alright, you want to know, I'll tell you.  That demonic activity that Giles has been picking up on for the last few weeks?  That was her.  I didn't realize until day before yesterday.  She didn't let me see her until then."

            "But the victims didn't seem to be dying from vampire bites."

            "No.  Covering her tracks a bit.  Wasn't killing 'em for food.  Her way of playing, poor, demented thing that she was."

            "Why did she come back here?"

            "Me.  Apparently she got rather lonely after she wandered around Brazil and started missing the old days.  I never would have believed it, but she wanted me back. Would have made me the happiest demon in the world once upon a time. But it was too late for that.  When she came to me, I told her I was out of the violence business permanently.  Sent her round the bend even more than usual."

            "You told her about the chip?"

            "No," he looked up at her with a strange expression on his face.  "I told her I didn't want to kill anymore.  Willow, the chip stopped doing anything about three months ago.  That's your tax dollars at work.  Cheap government issue parts.  It's been me holding myself back since then."

            Her jaw dropped and her eyes increased to twice their usual size.  Even Angel hadn't been able to control his demon until he'd gotten a soul, something Spike didn't have.  The level of his will power must have been incredible.

            "Three months?"  She found herself visualizing all the instances she had been alone with him on patrol in that time.  He could have killed her, or any of the others for that matter, whenever he felt like it.

            "Don't blame you if you want to revoke the invite.  I'm not safe anymore."

            "Spike, are you telling me you haven't hurt anybody in all that time?"

            "It's three months, Red.  I spent over a hundred years doing plenty of damage.  Don't make it sound like I'm a saint.  I'm about the furthest thing there is from that."

            "Don't you dare downplay this!  Spike, why didn't you tell us!"

            "Because I didn't fancy being staked by the slayer.  You know she would have."

            Willow couldn't argue with that.  It was quite true.

            "So," she said, trying to return to the original topic, "what did Dru do when she found out?"

            "Went ballistic, naturally.  Said the slayer had made me all marshmallowy.  Said she was going to turn me back to normal."  He shook his head.  "Normal meaning a raging psychopathic murderer, of course."

            "So you staked her?"

            "Not then.  I couldn't do it.  I haven't really been in love with her for a long time, but there were still feelings there.  Maybe I should have, though."

            "Which brings us to last night?" she asked tentatively.

            "I was walking home from Giles's when I happened to see her.   Could be she planned it that way.  It was the next street over from Buffy's.  Dru was standing silhouetted in an open door frame.  Some kid was inside, maybe five years old.  You know how charming Drusilla could be when she wanted to.  It didn't take her long to get him to invite her inside."

            Willow could picture the scene frighteningly well.  Once Dru was inside, the life expectancy of anyone in that house was probably about three minutes, and that was if they were lucky. 

            "So she…"

            "That was her plan.  Kid ran when her face switched over, but she caught him fast.  The mother showed up, which distracted her for a bit.  Being hit over the head with a lamp has a tendency to do that.  Unfortunately, it just made her angry.  Dru flung her through the living room window then started in on the kid.  I don't know what it was, but I suddenly realized it was the sickest thing I'd ever seen.  And it could just as easily have been me doing it."

            "But it wasn't."

            "Not this time, no.  But I have killed, Red.  When I saw what an animal she had become, it was like looking into a mirror and seeing my own reflection, the way I had been before."

            She couldn't argue that point.  Spike at his worst had been Drusilla's equal, no question about it. 

            "But you are different from her now.  The minute you realized that you didn't want to be that anymore, and actually succeeded in controlling yourself, you stopped being what she is… was."

            He looked at her sadly.  How could she possibly understand?  The worst thing she had ever done in her entire life was kiss Xander, which he had to admit he didn't really understand.  Killing him, yes, but kissing him?

            "Willow, I'm stained.  Bad.  Nothing can take those stains out.  The only thing to do with me is pitch me into the sunlight and wait for it to burn off."

            "I said don't ever think anything like that again!"  Willow was completely furious.  Her green eyes flashed with more intensity than the crackling fire.  Spike was mildly stunned by just how angry she had become. 

            "I…"

            "You think letting yourself combust is just going to take away all the pain?  You're being selfish.  You'd just be hurting more people again!"

            "How is that possible?"

            "I couldn't bear it if I lost you!"  It was out before she knew she'd spoken.  Immediately, she turned nearly as red as her hair.  "I mean, uh… oops."

            He stared at her in disbelief.  "What did you just say?"

            "Absolutely nothing.  Rewind, erase, hit delete, never mind.  Let's get back to what happened last night."

            He decided that ignoring what was obviously only her concern and pity speaking was the best plan. 

            "Right.  The mother was still alive and fortunately conscious enough to call for help.  Counted as an invite.  I clambered through the broken window and managed to pry Dru off the boy.  She looked so confused, disappointed even, like someone had taken away her favorite doll.  'There's enough for both of us,' she said.  'I don't mind sharing with you.  Come back to me.'"

            "Was he dead?"

            "No.  She hadn't had enough time to drain him," he turned to face the fire with a look of profound misery.  "Her eyes were still beautiful, even when she was in full demon face.  There always seemed to be a bit of her human self lost behind them somewhere.  Maybe that's what drove her mad."

            "You really loved her, didn't you?"

            He paused. 

"It came back to me then.  Every moment the two of us had ever spent together, every word that passed between us, every feeling she'd ever stirred in me, every night…" his voice drifted off in memory.  "I knew I could have her again if I wanted.  I knew I could return to the life I'd led.  There was absolutely nothing to stop me.  If that wasn't enough, she started in kissing me.  But I think it was the taste of blood on her lips that did it."

"Umm… did what?" Willow asked with some fear in her voice.

"I knew that I didn't want that anymore.  I pulled back from her and told her to leave, now.  She gave me that agonized, little-girl look of hers, then started to pick up the boy. 'No,' I said.  'He stays.'  I remember her eyes becoming very narrow, then she slashed at me with her nails.  It couldn't have killed me, but it was obvious she didn't plan on walking out of there without some take away."

"Take away?" Willow interrupted in confusion.

"Sorry, pet. You Americans say carry-out."

"Oh.  Got you."

"Naturally a fight ensued.  I've still got the bruises, which is saying something.  At one point she came near to ripping my head off with a pair of salad tongs."  This particular image stayed with Willow for a while.

"But, you won…"

"Yeah, I won," he said darkly.  "I ended up staking what had once been the love of my unlife with… well, it isn't important what it was," It had actually been a chopstick, but it seemed somehow disrespectful to her to admit she'd died from something so ordinary.  "In that split second before she disintegrated into dust, I saw such a pitiful look on her face.  She's been haunting me ever since."

"Literally?" she asked with more than a touch of panic.  She'd lived on the Hellmouth too long to take anything for granted as impossible, and a vampire's ghost didn't sound too good.

"No, love, not literally.  She's just in my head is all.  Probably will be forever."

"So then you got drunk and decided to watch the sunrise?"

"No.  I called 911, stopped the kid and his mother from bleeding to death, and stuck around until the ambulance arrived.  They'll be okay.  Then I got drunk and decided to watch the sunrise, as you so delicately put it."

"Because you killed Dru."

"No, although that did hurt like hell.  Because I knew, and still know, that nothing I'll ever do for the rest of my life will change me from being what I am – what she was – a blood sucking, inhuman, soulless monster.  I saw myself in her, and I don't want to be that.  But I am."  His expression was almost unbelievably pained. 

Willow had never seen anyone like this, not even Angel in the depths of his worst depression.  Drastic action needed to be taken.  Realizing that if she was wrong she was as good as dead, Willow decided to gamble everything on her trust that Spike had changed.

"You think you're a monster?  Fine.  Prove it."

"What's that?"

Willow undid the top button of her blouse and exposed the tender, ivory curve of her neck to him.

"Go ahead, if you're so unredeemable.  Now that the chip's dead you could snap me like a Popsicle stick.  We're stuck out in the middle of the woods without a single person to hear me scream for ten miles in any direction."

"Red, don't tempt me like that," he said with a warning note in his voice.  He could hear her heartbeat increasing, but aside from that he would never have know she had the slightest fear of him.  Her white chocolate neck was maddening him.

"Why not?  If you are what you say you are, then you shouldn't be thinking of me as anything more important than the plastic bag that held your dinner tonight.  Crunch me up and throw me in the trash when you're done.  It's not like you have a conscience, right?"

She was driving him right to the edge and she knew it.  Clenching his fists, every muscle in his body tightened, he fought his demon with everything he had, but he was starting to lose the battle.  Without warning he grabbed her close and his face rapidly switched.  Willow's eyes widened as he stared at her through his changed eyes, his mouth inches from her throat.  She steeled herself for what might well be her final words.

"Come on.  Get it over with."

This one always did have more nerve than the rest of the pack put together, thought some corner of his mind.  He had never wanted to drink more than he did now.  It had been over a year.  Her scent was delicious, innocence tinged with fear, absolutely delectable.  He lowered his mouth to her neck.

Willow was expecting the sharp jab of his fangs, but it never came.  Instead, she felt his lips giving her an almost indescribably tender kiss just below her ear.  Then he pulled away, turning his back to her.  She released her breath, not even aware she had been holding it. 

"I'm sorry.  I shouldn't have done that," came his voice as his features slid smoothly back into place while he faced the fire.

"Umm, Spike, you kissed me instead of biting me.  You don't exactly have to apologize for that."

"I almost…"

"But you didn't," she interrupted as she darted between him and the fire, forcing him to look at her.  "When it came down to it, you didn't do it.  Admit it Spike. You aren't what you used to be.  You've," she searched for the right word, "evolved."

He couldn't help laughing a bit at her choice of words.  Evolved?  It made it sound like he was a fish sprouting flippers.  He looked at her and shook his head.

"Alright.  Maybe I have.  But that doesn't change what I am."  He couldn't help noticing how she looked with the firelight playing over her hair, the delicate contours of her face emphasized by the flickering shadows.  She was beauty personified.  He had been slowly falling in love with the girl for what felt like ages, which he considered to be further proof of just how depraved he was.  How could someone like him even dare to dream of someone as wonderful as her?  That kiss he had just stolen was, in his mind, a horrible insult to her.  He was surprised she hadn't slapped his foul mouth for it.  He was completely unprepared for what happened next.

Without a sign of warning, Willow wrapped her arms around him and launched herself in an endearingly awkward way at his lips.  Her mouth was startlingly warm to his cold flesh.  After a few moments he began to return the kiss passionately, holding her tightly against him, lost to everything, every thought, every reality but the warmth of her.  Then, as suddenly as the kiss had begun, Spike stopped it, breaking away from her.

"No."  He realized he was actually shaking.  "No, Willow.  You don't know what you're doing."

"Yes, I do.  What I said before, about not being able to bear it if I lost you?  Okay, I didn't mean to say it, I thought I was just thinking it really loud, and then my lips were moving and words were coming out and I heard myself saying them.  I have a really bad habit of doing that.  But I meant it," she said in a rush.  Then she took a deep breath.  "Spike, I'm in love with you.  I have been for a long time."

Under any other circumstances those words would have made him divinely happy, but all he could feel was pain.  The most wonderful woman he had ever met was in love with him?  It simply wasn't possible. 

"Red, you're still hurting from that thing with Oz.  It's understandable that you'd get confused after that whole mess.  You're just…"

"Don't you dare tell me how I feel or don't feel!"

"Don't love me.  Just don't."  Please don't, he added silently.  I could only hurt you.

Slowly, a horrible thought crept across Willow's mind.  I've just made a fool out of myself!  He can't stand me!  I need to crawl under a rock, right now!  For the second time that night embarrassment made itself plain across her face as she turned a vivid shade of crimson.  He realized what had happened and couldn't stand seeing her so obviously ashamed.

"No, pet.  It's not that," he said as he gingerly touched her face.  "I've been fantasizing about you doing that for so long.  And no fantasy could even hold a candle to the reality.  I've never in my life tasted anyone as sweet as you, or anyone I wanted more.  But I can't let this happen.  Have you really thought about what it would mean?  If you think it was hard to live with wolf boy locked in a cage for three nights out of the month, imagine what it would be like to never see each other by daylight."

"Buffy survived it," she said quietly.

"Barely, as I recall.  And we both know how that turned out."

"Can't we at least try?" she asked as tears started to fill her green eyes.  "Please?"

"Even if you could learn to put up with the separation, you're still forgetting something.  I may not have bitten you tonight, but the truth is I'm still… what was it you said… unredeemable.  No soul to save.  I know it's a cliché, but I'm just not worthy of you."

"But…" she started.

"Love," he said, addressing her by the term for the first time with a completely different meaning, "you're the dearest girl in the world.  I don't even have a heartbeat.  I'm not even Angel, out trying to gain redemption by saving the innocent and all that," he couldn't resist adding, "the big pouf."

"Yeah, well, staking Drusilla to save that kid was pretty darn pouffy of you if you ask me.  Maybe…"

"Willow, it would take a not-so-minor miracle to make me believe that I had the right to love you.  And I don't see that happening for the likes of me.  Look, I promise, no more attempted sun bathing.  Why don't you go to bed?  You've had a long night."

"Yeah," she said dejectedly.  There was no way to change his mind.  His resolve face was even more resolved than hers, which was saying something.  "It has."

Feeling like she was carrying at least fifty pounds of lead around her heart, she crossed the room to her bedroom door.

"Goodnight, Red."

"Night, Spike.  See you in the morning?"

He gave her a reassuring nod and the slightest of smiles. 

Once the bedroom door was firmly closed, Willow crawled under the covers like a small child.  What a lovely vacation this had turned out to be!  She did her best to muffle the sounds of her inevitable crying.  Unfortunately, one of the so-called bonuses of being a vampire is phenomenal hearing.  Spike wasn't fooled for a moment.  He hunkered down on the old couch and watched the fire die away.  It took every ounce of self-control he had not to go into her room and kiss away her tears.  Eventually her stifled sobs faded and he heard her breathing take on the regular rhythm of sleep. 

Lying down, he stared up at the ceiling and started to consider his options.  Willow had been right about one thing:  immolating himself wasn't going to solve anything.  He thought briefly about leaving now, just disappearing into the night, but he knew that it would be taking the easy way out for himself.  Desertion had already happened to her, and he didn't want her to have to experience that again.  Girl would start to get a complex if that kept up.  He didn't know what to do, when he suddenly had a wildly improbable thought leap into his mind.  It was ridiculous, even insane, but it seemed to be the only option he hadn't tried, and if nothing happened, well, at least no one would be the wiser.

"Alright," he whispered quietly.  "To say I'm not a church-going man is an understatement, but if You do happen to be up there and haven't already sent a lightning bolt hurling down to crack my evil skull in two, there's someone down here in trouble.  I ain't askin' for me.  That'd be stupid, that.  I deserve any suffering I get and worse, and I know I'm going to end up roasting like a Thanksgiving turkey eventually for all I've done.  But," he took a deep breath, fully expecting to be struck down even deader than he already was, "I am sorry for it all.  Can You please help Willow?  I didn't mean to hurt her, but it seems that's all I'm good for, and I can't see any way out of this.  She's good, that one.  Not like me.  Could You just straighten her out a bit?  Make her see I'm not worth it?  So's she's not in pain, like.  I'd say I'd never kill again if You do, but I've heard You're none to fond of bargains, and anyway I don't plan on doing any murdering again. Well, that's about it."  He rolled over on his side to get some sleep, then suddenly sat bolt upright.  "Meant to say amen!  Sorry, haven't done this in over a century."

Eventually, he too drifted asleep. 

Neither one of them heard the dull thud of the heavy blanket as it fell, leaving one window completely bare.

Willow woke up shortly after dawn.  She got out of bed and started to get dressed, remembering her bizarre dream of the night before:  Spike killing Dru, almost getting burned to a crisp, and, most unbelievable of all, declaring his love for her.  Xander had been right; she really did need this vacation.  Still, she couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't quite right.  When she opened her bedroom door, she actually screamed.

The ear-piercing shriek woke Spike immediately.  He abruptly stood up and stared at her.

"What the…" he started but was cut off by Willow tackling him back onto the couch.

"Don't move!  Oh boy, oh, what are we going to do?"

A few ideas randomly flashed across his mind's eye, but he pushed them out of the way to ask the obvious question.

"Have you gone mad?"

"You promised me you weren't going to do that again!"

"Do what?!?"

"The sunlight thing!"

"I haven't done anything!  I was lying here fast asleep until you decided to do an imitation of a banshee.  What's going on?"

She realized he really didn't know.  When she had walked out of the bedroom, she had seen a shaft of sunlight falling almost directly on him. The only thing keeping it from touching Spike had been the thin shadow cast by the couch's back.  When he'd stood up, he had been directly in the sunlight for a moment, although apparently not long enough to do any damage.  She explained the situation to him quickly, keeping her body on top of his to protect him from any stray sunbeams.

"I'll just make a run for it into the kitchen, then if you'd be so kind as to put the blanket back in place, there shouldn't be a problem.  It'll be alright," he said trying to sound normal, but what he couldn't help thinking was that he'd gotten his answer.  He was toast.

"You're not fooling me, you know.  I can tell how scared you are."

"No, I'm not," he lied.

"Forget the con job.  I know you are.  Your heart is pounding like a jackhammer."  In fact her hand, which was resting on his chest, was practically bouncing with the strong rhythm.

He couldn't help laughing out loud over her statement.  "Love, if you're feeling a heartbeat, it's your own.  I haven't had one in the last century."

 "Umm, Spike," she said in a slightly scared voice, "I'm pretty sure it's not mine."

He rolled his eyes and then, to prove her wrong, put his own hand on his chest.  What he felt absolutely bewildered him.  But it was impossible!  That would mean…

His mind was racing wildly, but he decided to try a very simple test.  He closed his mouth tightly and, in spite of the fact he knew he would look ridiculous, pinched his nose shut.  Nothing happened at first, and then slowly he became aware of a strange sensation, almost as though a metal band were tightening over his chest.  Before he knew what he was doing, he opened his mouth and took a deep gasp of air, filling his lungs.

"What are you doing?" asked Willow in a cross between amusement and confusion.

"I'm… breathing," he said in disbelief.

"That's not possible."

"Yeah, well, I am."

A thought occurred to him, but it seemed preposterous.  There was only one way to be sure.  Cautiously, he lifted his little finger above his head until the tip was directly in the sunlight and waited for the sudden, burning pain to begin.  Nothing happened.  He wiggled the digit a bit, again expecting it to start smoking or even turn into a mini-cigarette lighter.  Still nothing happened.  Willow stared at it in amazement, beginning to realize what might have happened.

"Pet, would you stand up a second, please," he said in a shaking voice.

Wordlessly, she got to her feet, poised to run for the fallen blanket at the first sign of trouble.  Then, very slowly, Spike also stood.  The morning sunlight completely covered him.  Again, absolutely nothing happened.

"What the…"

He just stood there in the light with his eyes as wide as saucers.  Then, quite suddenly, he ran into the bathroom.  The next thing Willow heard was a scream that rivaled her earlier one.  Afraid that he had at last started experiencing some adverse effects of the sun, she skidded to a halt next to him.

"It's okay, we'll put you out!"

He was white as a ghost, but she couldn't see what the problem was.  There weren't any smoke or flames.  Then she realized she was seeing, not one, but two Spikes.

"I've got a reflection!"

Willow's eyes darted from the mirror to Spike and back again.  It was true.

"I don't understand any of this," she said in a very small voice.

He hadn't seen himself in so many years he wasn't completely sure at first if the reflection actually belonged to him.  But it mimicked every last movement he made.

"I feel like Peter Pan finding his bloody shadow!"

The realization of what had actually happened very slowly started to seep in for both of them.

"You said it would take a not-so-minor miracle for you to believe you had the right to love me," she said quietly.  "I'd say this qualifies, wouldn't you?"

"Oh my God.  I'm human.  Do you have any idea what this means?"

She shook her head nervously.  After all, he'd just lost his immortality.  This might not exactly be good news to him.

"I'd say it means this!"  he roared as he swooped her up in his arms and ran out the front door with her.  He swung her around in countless dizzying circles in the morning light, both of them laughing uncontrollably. 

At long last, he set her back on her feet, took her hands in his and gazed into her eyes.  The color of her hair in the sunlight was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. 

"I don't know how I was lucky enough to have this happen, but I'm grateful.  Deeply grateful." Tears were starting to collect in both their eyes.  "Willow, I love you."

"I love you, too."

He kissed her tenderly.  The two of them walked, hand in hand, through the soft green grass covered in morning dew.  Neither one had ever been so happy.  Well, thought Willow, this vacation may not have been such a bad idea after all.