Spike's starting to understand what humans don't like about crypts. Because sitting here, alone and scared, waiting to see what happens when (if) Willow comes back from her 'chat' with Tara fills him with that sense of doom and despair humans always feel in places like this. Sure, he's already dead, but Spike knows better than anyone that an unbeating heart can still be broken and there are so many kinds of death.

Like losing the one you love.

It isn't as if he hasn't been there before – Angelus and Dru both found him so very easy to abandon, after all.

For a moment he thinks that perhaps he should have stayed at the Magic Box, but then he thinks that being around Anya would just make everything worse. The girl was still in quite a pet when he left and she'd love nothing more than to pick at the scab of his insecurities. She might be an ex-demon, but a snake is a snake even in a glass case and he's not foolish enough to underestimate the chit the way the rest of them do.

His senses alert him to the fact that he's no longer alone before the door even opens. Lucky thing, that – gives him a chance to get out of range of the shaft of light that appears when the door opens. Even though he already knew who'd be entering, he's still surprised to see her.

"Buffy." He says her name in a way he isn't sure he ever has before – free of sarcasm, antagonism…or love.

"Figured I'd come here and see how you're holding up." She's trying to sound casual, but there's the awkwardness of this unfamiliar role as his friend in every word. It's affecting because it means something and he can't say that of what they shared before. He realizes, of course, that he wouldn't understand that at all if Willow hadn't already taught him what friendship could be. There's a strange symmetry, he realizes, in the way Willow has grown from friend to lover and Buffy has…grown from fuck to friend.

"I'm fine," he says. It's a lie and you shouldn't lie to friends, but…

It doesn't really matter since she doesn't believe him. "No, you're not. You're worried about Willow."

He shrugs. It's not agreement, he tells himself, it's just respect enough not to keep lying.

"She's coming back."

"I know."

"No, you don't," Buffy says, reading him in a way that's disquieting. "But I do. I saw the way she looked at you. It's there, Spike – love, passion, the whole thing. Everything you feel for her, she feels right back."

Her voice once again betrays her inner struggle, but all that means is that Spike is more impressed with her now than he's ever been. "You're one hell of a woman, Slayer." He gives her a smile, tries to keep it light. In a way, this is hard for him, too – unfamiliar and clumsy and strange.

"I know that, too." She grins back. Cocky, cheeky – she's on easier ground now.

There are things he'd like to say to her; she's not ready to hear them. Just as well, really, because he's not yet ready to say them. He thinks that's why they're both quiet now – both groping their way through the darkness of this unaccustomed and unforeseen terrain.

When words come, they come out odd and somehow wrong. "You doing okay?" he asks.

She snorts. "Yeah."

"Didn't mean it like that."

"Like what?"

"Like…whatever it is you thought I meant."

For all that it nearly made him wince as he heard himself say it, the answer was the right one. Within seconds, they're both laughing. It's a bit rueful from both of them, but it is laughter and it works to ease the tension.

"Thanks," she says after a time.

"For what?"

"Everything," she says. Somehow her answer is both precise and imprecise all at once.

His senses kick in and he nearly trembles.

Buffy spots the change in his demeanour in a trice. "She's back?"

"Yeah," he can barely reply.

"Good." She grins just as the door opens again and Willow steps into the crypt.

She won't get the wrong idea, will she?

"Hey," a soft voice says.

"Hey, yourself," Buffy says, sounding sprightly and bubbly and much like the girl she used to be. "Well," she adds, "I guess I'll be going. My work here is done." She puts her hand on Spike's shoulder for a moment. "Don't forget what I said, okay? It's all there." She points to her eyes as if he needs some sort of child's primer. He can't help chuckling softly.

"Bye, Will." She's walked over to hug Willow now and he can tell his Red's confused. But before she has a chance to ask anything, Buffy is out the door.

Her face is expressive, but Spike's not sure which of many possible emotions the cast of her features is expressing. "You're here." Could he have made a more obvious, more ridiculous statement? He's starting to sound like Harris. Bloody hell.

"Yeah, I am." There's no trace of mockery in her tone and he thinks maybe he's suddenly found some way to love her more.

"She told me you would be."

"Who? Oh, Buffy," Willow says, answering her own question. She's absolutely adorable.

"How did it go? The talk with Tara." He could kick himself for cutting to the chase, but it's too late now. The elephant in the crypt is now front and center. At least he remembered to use the chit's real name. He thinks Willow will appreciate that small gesture of respect for the girl he's just bested.

"It…" In seconds she's crumbling and Spike only just gets to her in time before she collapses in sobs in his arms.

"There, there, pet. It was the right thing to do."

She says nothing for what seems like forever and Spike's terror resurfaces. Does she regret it? Does she wish she'd chosen Glinda over him?

When he lets her go, she finds her feet and finally starts to speak; he finds himself actually drawing in a breath. It's an odd and discomfiting sensation. "I know," she says, and he exhales. Again, it almost makes him shudder at the unnaturalness of the exercise. "But that doesn't mean I feel good about it."

"Didn't take it well? Your… Tara, I mean." He can't believe he almost said 'your girl.' Nothing could be more expressive of his inability to truly believe anyone could love him the way he so desperately wants Willow to love him.

"No." Willow says. It's a quiet syllable. A succinct and singular thing, so wholly unlike her that he keeps waiting for the rush of words which are supposed to accompany it. They never come.

Still, he waits.

Finally, she speaks again. "I don't want to talk about it, okay? Maybe I will later, or maybe tomorrow, or next year, or maybe I'll always want it to stay private. It doesn't matter. What matters is that I told her that I love you and that she and I are never getting back together and…"

She might still be talking, but Spike barely hears a word after 'I love you.' All the poets and bards in every language and every age have striven mightily, but none has ever come up with a single sentence more eloquent, more beautiful, more powerful, than that elegant arrangement of three simple words.

"I love you, too, pet," he says, pulling her back into his arms and holding her tightly.

Too tightly, as it turns out. "Uh, Spike?" she squeaks. "Oxygen becoming an issue."

He loosens his hold and they both laugh a little. It's a good thing, the right sort of laughter. That's a lesson he's learned twice today.

"Sorry," he says, rather superfluously, truth be told.

"'S okay," she says, giving him the gift of a smile. "Thanks for not…you know…pushing." He almost loses his balance. It's unnerving that she knows him so well – knows that if he were going to interrogate her, she'd have at least felt him building up to it already.

"I trust you." Also a simple, elegant sentence, and if it falls short of the splendor of that sentence with which it shares two words, it has a power and importance all its own.

"I know. I trust you, too." He realizes he knew that already. Because while he asked for no details about her encounter with Tara, she's said nothing about Buffy's presence in the crypt when she arrived.

"C'mere," he says, though she's standing right in front of him.

Getting his meaning, she wraps her arms around him, laying her head against his chest. He's having none of that. With his hand under her chin, he tilts her head up so her eyes meet his. He kisses her softly.

Freedom – it doesn't mean anything like nothing left to lose. What it means is the difference between furtive and fervent, between guilty and glorious. It means that this touch of lip to lip is like nothing he's ever known. This is not like kissing a Drusilla who was always longing for her sire; it's not like kissing an Angelus who was always looking for something he could never be; it's not like kissing a Buffy who wanted nothing but a hard smack and a hard fuck. No, this is two people who feel the same for each other; two people who don't want and have no ties to anyone else; two people free to have anything they choose and who choose…each other. Freedom – in a way, it means you have everything to lose.

And it also means you believe in something enough to take that risk.

The kiss ends and she takes her arms from around him; she walks toward the ladder that leads down to his bed.

This is not the girl he kidnapped all those years ago; this is not the girl he tried to sire in her dorm room. He sees it all so clearly in the way she silently tells him that she's ready to give that last piece of herself to him and that she wants him to give that last piece of himself to her. She's a woman – his woman.

But he's William somehow and he does need words. "Are you sure?" he asks as he follows her.

They're down the ladder and on his bed before she answers. It's simple and succinct again. "Yes."

He lights three candles, wanting light – not because he needs them to see or because he's worried that she'll look for someone else in the dark, but because she's brought light into his heart and what isn't his soul but feels so very much like one and some sort of literal metaphor seems appropriate.

William, after all, was a bloody awful poet.

The touch of her hand on his cheek feels like an epiphany. "You're beautiful." He won't say a word about her choice of adjectives. Somehow the word doesn't make him feel poncey at all.

He knows enough not return the compliment. For all she's changed, she's still not one to believe what she's told, not when it seems to flatter. So he puts his lips to better use.

The kiss this time is passion and devotion, more ardent and intense than any they've ever shared. It doesn't surprise him in the least that she's capable of so much more than she seems to be on the outside – where there's sweetness, you're likely to find spice, after all. What does surprise him is winding up on his back with her astride him, pushing up his shirt and licking a slow trail up his chest from his navel.

He must be the luckiest creature on Earth.

Still, he stops her for a moment – but only so he can sit up and remove the troublesome garment. He raises an eyebrow, hoping she'll get the point that he'd very much appreciate her returning the favour.

She does, and it's all he can do not to gasp. Sure, he's had fantasies about what was concealed under her clothes, but seeing it…he's never realized someone could be so pale in a way that was nothing like his kind. Her skin glows with life despite its pallor. Then she unhooks her bra and he's even more awed. Her breasts look perfect to him. There's an artistic symmetry to her form – it might not be the lush sensuality of Dru or the tight sexual promise that was Buffy, but it's no less alluring. She's like some decadent wood sprite, and isn't that fit to make a poet hard?

"You're stunning," he says, because he has to say something or he just knows he'll explode in verse as surely as another part of him feels ready to explode right now.

She smiles and then…blushes. It's part of the paradox that makes her Willow and he loves her for the way a compliment can tinge her skin with pink even as she's atop her lover…though not yet in the way they'd both like best.

"Take your skirt off." It's not exactly an order, but she scrambles off him, hastening to comply, all the same. He takes the opportunity to shuck his jeans – bit of a delicate process with him standing rather proudly at attention, but he manages quite easily. Watching as she slides off her knickers, he thinks that he's never seen anything as perfect as she is.

She looks him over as well. Her eyes widen as she reaches his cock and he hastens to reassure her. "It'll be fine, luv. I know it's been awhile for you. I'll be gentle."

But then she surprises him again with a grin both impish and knowing. "Not too gentle, I hope."

And if he hadn't known she was the one before, he surely knows it now. He's on his back again and in seconds she's atop him, and this time…

"Oh!" she cries softly as she guides him inside her. He's too overwhelmed for words himself, not that there are any adequate to describe what he's feeling right now. She's still, adjusting to the feel of him inside her, he thinks at first. But then their eyes meet and he realizes she feels the same thing he does – a sense of wonder and newness and right about this and she just wants to linger in this moment.

They do, but then there's that ache that forces them both into motion. Spike's true to his word, being gentle, mindful of her inexperience and the length of time she's spent with a woman for a lover – and she's true to hers as well, not letting him treat her too gingerly.

There should be a way to capture feelings and experiences in a bottle so you could have them over and over again. The bloke who invents that, Spike thinks, could be as rich as Croesus just off what Spike would pay to be able to keep this time with Willow in such a bottle. Each movement, the sounds she makes, the way she feels around and astride him, the scent of her sweat and the slick of it as her skin slides against his…it's all like being given a sunrise again after more than a century.

And then, joined and as one, they both find release. And that, again, is an experience he could never find the words to describe.

"Wow," she says, when it's over and she's collapsed beside him, panting, the sweat salt and growing sticky on her skin.

"Yeah," he says, because really, she's said as much as could be said.

"I love you." They both say it and which one said it first isn't something he manages to recall. He's too preoccupied with memorizing the look on her face as she falls into sated slumber.

Just like the first night she ever spent here, Spike watches her as she sleeps.

The End.

This is the very last part of the series. We shall leave Spike and Willow in their happiness and entrust fate with their future. Thank you for reading.