Spike stared at the brightly colored tablecloth on the small, wooden table as he watched her play with the soup in the bowl. She would dip the spoon in and then watch intently as she tilted the spoon and watched the warm liquid drip back into the bowl, making small whirls in the soup. She did this repeatedly ,sneaking in a bite of the soup every now and then. She dropped the spoon and jumped at the sound it made as it hit the floor. He patiently picked it up off the worn linoleum floor and rinsed it under the tap before returning it to her. She looked at him with a slight fear in her eyes as if she expected to be reprimanded for dropping the spoon. After a moment she took the spoon from his hand and gave him a small smile as she went back to playing with the soup for a few moments more before pushing it away from her signaling that she was done.
"All done?" He asked as he picked up the bowl and spoon.
She just looked up at him with her sweet smile and picked up her milk glass finishing the last bit of milk and handing him the empty glass.
He put the dirty dishes in the sink and found a worn, but clean dishtowel. Making sure the water was warm, he wet the corner of the towel. Turning to her, he gently daubed at her soup stained chin and washed her sticky hands. "Want to watch tv? Sesame Street is on."
She smiled at him again and wordlessly followed him into the tiny living room. He turned on the tv and soon she was swaying to the sounds of "Sunny day, everything's a ok, on my way to where the air is........" Making sure she was comfortable, her pink pig clutched tightly to her he returned to the kitchen.
He washed the dishes and put them on the drainboard to dry. He then started on the mess on the table. Good thing it was a vinyl tablecloth he thought as he wiped the soup up. He didn't really mind cleaning up the mess though, because at least now she was able to feed herself and she was eating more regularly. Spike didn't mind taking care of her, in fact it was something he excelled at - taking care of emotionally damaged people. First Dru and now his slayer - Buffy.
When Glory had abducted Dawn, Buffy had shut down completely. She had feared her sister was dead and it was her fault. She simply could not handle any more pain and had turned inward to relieve the pain, to protect herself. Spike didn't know what went on in her little world, but he did know she seemed content to stay there.
Giles, Xander and Spike had found the way to defeat Glory and had saved Dawn in the nick of time. It had been a gruesome fight that none of them would ever forget. But they had emerged victorious with Dawn in their care. She was shaken up and a little bruised but in very good shape for the ordeal she had been through.
Giles had been sure that once Buffy saw that Dawn was okay it would shake her from her catatonic state. Willow's hands had been full keeping an eye on both Buffy and Tara and she had cried tears of joy when she saw Dawn bound through her dormitory room door. Dawn had rushed to her sister's side embracing her and smoothing her hair back whispering word of comfort and love hoping to bring her back to them. Buffy did smile for the first time in days when Dawn hugged her, but she didn't speak and her eyes showed no real emotion.
Giles had taken charge of Dawn. Spike had assumed care of Buffy, setting them up in a small cottage near the beach. Xander had tried to argue about the setup, but Giles just shook his head and agreed with Spike. "Xander he can look after her and protect her, she would be a sitting duck for any thing that came into town looking for the slayer now. Spike is the best choice for now. I'm sure she'll come round soon." Xander came by weekly to check on her and grudgingly he was beginning to respect the blond vampire that took care of her every need without complaint.
Willow was faring better with her charge. Tara was becoming more lucid everyday and she had every hope that one day she would be herself again.
Giles let Dawn call Buffy nightly and had taken her to visit on a regular basis for the last three weeks since her return. She would take Buffy's hands in hers and tell her about school or a strange customer at the magic shop. And Buffy would smile a childlike smile at her and sometimes reach out and run her hand through Dawn's long hair.
On the last visit, Spike had been happy to announce that Buffy could feed herself again. A little messy but a step in the right direction he felt sure she would be better soon. He peeked into the living room and watched her as she mouthed the numbers that "The Count" recited as he counted the bats in his belfry. She had not spoken out loud since her breakdown, but she had begun mouthing words along with tv characters, simple children's shows were her favorites. Spike thought maybe they were comforting to her, a reminder of a safer, happier time in her life. He wiped down the counter tops and went to join her on the couch.
She looked at him and then at the character on the tv, sliding off the couch she scooted towards the tv and put her finger on the character's "fangs". She pointed at Spike and smiled.
He didn't understand what she meant at first, then it dawned on him. She was telling him that she knew what he was, maybe who he was? She had never really shown any sign that she realized who he was, that she remembered anyone except maybe Dawn. She always had a smile for Dawn. She was smiling broadly now, still pointing at the tv. He joined her on the floor and took her hand, she stared at him wide-eyed as he opened his mouth showing a little bit of fang. "You remember don't you pet? You know who I am and what I am right?"
She took her free hand and raised it to his face taking her index finger and barely grazing the sharp edge of the exposed fang. It was just enough to bring a single drop of red blood, she stared at it as she withdrew her hand from his face, watching the crimson drop roll down her finger and into the palm of her hand.
"I'm sorry, luv." Spike told her as he took a tissue from the box on the coffee table and wiped the blood from her hand.
She jerked back from him, fear growing in her eyes as her arms flailed as she fought an unseen demon in her mind. She was soon backed into the corner of the small room whimpering like a wounded animal. Spike quickly removed the afghan from the back of the couch. Crouching back on the floor with her he cautiously inched his way towards her speaking in a soft soothing voice, "I won't hurt you luv, I would never hurt you Buffy."
Her eyes were bright with unshed tears as he wrapped the woolen afghan around her trembling body. She looked tiny and vulnerable wrapped in the ugly, multicolored granny squares of the afghan. He moved closer and put one tentative arm around her, surprisingly she let him pull her closer to him without a fight. "You know I won't hurt you, right?" HE whispered to the bundle he held so tightly in his arms. Then he felt it, it was a very light movement, but he felt her shake her head against his chest, she was shaking her head yes. She did know, she knew he would never hurt her.
"It's okay, it's okay, baby." He whispered the words as he rocked her back and forth. She seemed to calm down as he continued to rock her and run his hand through her hair. The phone rang startling them both. Spike reached for the cordless phone on the table never letting go of his bundle. "Hello. Okay, just a minute, niblet." He placed the phone on the table and turned Buffy so he could see her face, "It's Dawn on the phone, she wants to say hello." He picked the phone up and held it to Buffys ear, he could hear Dawn's cheerful voice on the other end and Buffy's flashed a brilliant smile as she listened to her sister but she didn't speak. After several minutes, Spike took the phone and placed it to his own ear, "She's smiling, Dawn. she knows it's you..........well, no she hasn't spoken yet, but I'm sure it will be soon.....yes......okay..see you soon." He hung up the phone and lay it back on the table.
"That was Dawn. You r sister, she loves you. She wants you back, she wants to talk to you and have you brush her hair again and scold her and laugh with her."
Buffy turned sad hazel eyes to him, and curled up against him, pulling the afghan around her. "We all want that, pet." He sighed as he stood up with her wrapped in the blanket like a precious newborn. "Want a bath?" He walked towards the bathroom and sat her down on the toilet as he ran the water to the right temperature.
He helped her off with her clothes and she climbed into the warm bubble filled tub. Handing her a washcloth, he turned towards the door, "If you need me yell, make some kind of noise."
She took the washcloth and wet it washing her face. He watched her a moment to make sure she was okay and went to the bedroom to find her night clothes. He and Buffy shared the master bedroom. They slept together - slept being the operative word. She was far to frail and out of it for anything else to happen. Spike being in the room with her at night had become necessary because she tended to get up and wander. He was afraid she might hurt herself or go outside and get lost. He found her nightshirt and panties and a pair of socks, her feet got cold at night. He found her in the tub washing her arms and knelt beside her, "Shall I wash your hair?"
She smiled at him then and lay back in the tub soaking her hair, then she sat up and let him pour the shampoo on her hair and work it into a lather, massaging her head and being careful to avoid her eyes. She always relaxed when he did this it seemed to calm her. The warm, comforting smell of vanilla drifting up from the tub.
He rinsed her hair carefully and held out a towel to her as she stepped from the tub. She wrapped the towel around herself and took another for her hair. He nodded towards the clothes he had brought in, "You can get dressed and then I'll comb out your hair."
She began to dry off and get dressed off. Spike noted that all sense of modesty had left her, she never argued when he helped her into the bath or when he helped her get dressed. She just smiled.
Once she was dressed he took her hand and led her to the bedroom. He sat on the bed behind her and pulled the large comb through her blond locks. This was his favorite part, he could tell she enjoyed it, she would close her eyes and let him comb her hair for an hour. When her hair was dry he would pull back the covers for her and she would climb in, usually falling asleep quickly. But never staying that way for long. He undressed and climbed in next to her. His body was tired and his heart ached as he closed his eyes.
Buffy woke up suddenly she was very thirsty. Being as quiet as possible she crawled out of the bed. Juice, she wanted juice. She found her way to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door. A jug of Cranapple juice sat on the top shelf. She reached for it hesitantly, Spike usually poured her juice for her. A little voice inside of her head, said you can do this, you can pour your own juice.
You are the slay....she put her hands over ears to block try to block out the hateful words. She didn't want to be the sl...., she didn't want to even think the word. Too much responsibility, too much pain, too much death and destruction. She was safe here, safe with the blond vampire who didn't force her to face up to her calling. He just took care of her and thats what she needed now. She reached for the juice once more this time removing it from the refrigerator. She took a glass from the dish drainer and poured the juice carefully into the cup.
She drank the juice slowly looking out the window at the moonlit yard. The trees and the glider looked eerie under the full moon. She half expected a monster to jump out from the trees, she turned from the window at the thought.
Spike woke up and reached absently for Buffy, it was his routine just to make sure she was there. He panicked when he opened his eyes and found the spot next to him empty. He ran from the bedroom calling her name. He peeked into the bathroom - no luck he made his way to the kitchen and saw her standing in front of the open refrigerator. "Buffy." Flooded with relief he called out her name.
His voice startled her and she dropped the jug of juice she was putting away. The jug dropped to the ground, not breaking but the lid popped off and juice puddled around her feet. She looked at Spike and then back at the dark red juice she was standing in. Juice part of her brain told her but another part of her said blood, it's blood. Someones blood, someone you couldn't save.
The look of sheer terror on her face quickly drew Spike to her side. "Ahh...ahhh....." She was whining as she watched the juice soak into her socks. Spike lifted her out of the mess and set her on the counter top. "It's okay luv, just some juice. I shouldn't have scared you. I'll clean it up." He went to go for the mop but she latched on to his arm, she was pointing at her sock clad feet dangling from where she perched on the counter. "It's just juice, Buffy. Here...we'll take them off." He reached for her feet and removed her socks.
She seemed relieved as she lifted her feet up on to the counter with her and began to inspect them. Spike lay a hand on her arm, "It's juice." He turned again to get the mop.
"Blood." The word came out so softly he almost didn't catch it. He turned quickly to face her, "Did you say something?"
She looked at him and said the word again, "Blood."
His mind raced, she spoke, she spoke! "It's not blood pet, just juice. It looks like blood but it's not. Let me clean it up okay?" He finally made it across the room to get the mop from the closet. Running some water into the bucket he quickly cleaned up the juice.
"See the juice is all cleaned up now." He smiled at her as he wrung out the mop into the bucket and sat it by the back door.
She peeked down at the floor and gave him a tentative smile, "Juice."
He grinned when she spoke the word it was like the most delicate of symphonies to his ears. "Yes, juice." He held out his arms to her and she let him take her down from the counter. "You've had an exciting night, do you think you are ready to sleep some more?"
She nodded as she took his hand and he led her back to bed. He thought about calling Giles about the breakthrough but decided against it, it would wait until morning. He settled her under the covers once more and patted her arm, "Goodnight, Buffy."
"Goodnight,........Spike." The words were slightly stilted but she had used his name. He fell asleep smiling, she was coming back to him.
Spike woke to find himself alone in the bed again. He ran down the hallway looking in everyroom, not finding Buffy. He finally peeked through the kitchen blind and saw her sitting on the glider in the back yard, she seemed okay and he watched leaned back slowly rocking back and forth in the glider her eyes staring at nothing in the yard. She was still in her nightshirt, her legs tucked under her as she pushed the glider forward with a gentle movement of her body.
"Buffy, watch Dawn in that pool, okay?" Joyce called to her oldest daughter as she looked up from her work in lovely flower bed. She had flower print gloves on her hand and she was busy removing red and purple petunias from their pots.Hank was grilling hamburgers and Buffy was hungry just smelling them on the grill.
"Okay, mom." She called back to Joyce as her attention turned to Dawn in the swimming pool. This was her grandmothers house, she recognized the pool and the garden. She always loved to visit here.
Dawn called her from the side the pool splashing water at her, "Come on in, the water is warm." She pleaded with her big sister.
"I just want to enjoy the sun," she told Dawn as she walked towards the pool and sat down dangling her feet in the warm water.
"You're no fun." Dawn teased as she dived back under the crystal blue water.
Buffy turned to watch her mother again, as long as she concentrated on Joyce, Dawn and Hank she didn't have to pay attention to the dark shadows that loomed on the outside of the perfect garden here. Shadows where bad things lived - where bad things wanted to invade the perfectness of this world.
Spike watched a few more moments, then finding the afghan he'd wrapped Buffy in last night he went for the kitchen door wrapping it over his head, "Buffy!" He called out to her.
She stood up looking around the backyard it looked ominous now with no signs of her grandmother's house. Buffy heard the voice calling her name, it wasn't Mom or Dad or Dawn. Spike called her name again. This time she recognized the voice and turned to face him at the back door. It wasn't anyone or anything bad, it was her protector, it was Spike.
She walked quickly towards the back door, towards safety, towards Spike. She wasn't sure where her family had gone, but she knew Spike would take care of her, he would fix her breakfast and he would pour her milk and then he would brush her hair and lay out pretty clothes for her to wear.
Spike let her in and quickly closed the door. "You scared me, luv. Next time tell me where you are okay?" He lay the afghan on the back of one of the chairs in the kitchen. Buffy followed him to the table. "What were you doing out there?" He asked as he pulled the milk from the refrigerator and the cereal from the cabinet.
"Pool." She answered as she sat down and waited patiently for him to bring her breakfast to her.
"There's no pool back there, pet." Spike frowned slightly as he sat down across from her.
"Grandmother." She said the word softly looking up at him as if he should understand the connection.
He shook his head and mumbled, "Okay."
She smiled at him as she pushed away the empty bowl.
"Do you want some more?" He asked standing up with the bowl in hand.
"No," she shook her head and then after thinking a minute she added, "No, thank you." She grinned at him again as if she was happy with herself for adding those words.
Spike returned the grin, happy to hear a complete, although short sentence come from her. "You are very welcome, luv. Should we call Dawn now? Would you like to talk to your sister?"
She nodded slowly, a bit apprehensively. Spike took the phone from the counter and dialed the number. "Dawn, someone wants to speak to you....yes...okay, calm down..you don't want to frighten her."
He handed the phone to Buffy, "Tell Dawn hello."
Buffy took deep breath and stared at the phone, raising it to her face she spoke softly into the mouthpiece, "Dawn."
On the other end Dawn was dancing around Gile's desk, it was only one small word but it was pure music to her ears, "Yes, Buffy it's me, Dawn. You are going to be just fine. Soon everything will be like it was."
Buffy stared at the phone as the Dawn's words sunk in, she didn't want it to be like it was. It hurt too badly before. Buffy's eyes widened nervously, she seemed agitated as she began to twist the cord between her fingers.
Spike watched the exchange worriedly. He had hoped she might open up a bit more to Dawn, but she seemed to be growing more upset by the minute. He gently took the phone from her hand, "It's okay baby, we rushed it a little bit, didn't we?" He ran his hand soothingly through her hair. She seemed to calm a bit as she leaned against him resting her head against his waist as he placed the phone to his ear. "Dawn, she seems to be upset now.....I know.....yes I'm sure it's a good sign that she is speaking....Oh..did your grandmother have a pool? She did...well Buffy mentioned pool and grandmother this morning. She seemed to happy when she thought about it. Okay, yes we'll see you and Giles later tonight. Bye."
"You okay, now?" He hesitated to move as she was still leaned up against him.
"Okay." She murmured and he moved to hang up the phone.
"Ready to get dressed?"
She stood up and took his hand, "Yes."
She held his hand tightly as he led her to thier room, he let go of her hand while he searched the dresser for a shirt and underwear and grabbed a pair of white jeans from the closet. He handed them to her and she began to dress as he searched for a hair scrunchie to match the pink shirt. He rolled his eyes at the thought of Spike the big bad searching for matchng hair accesories for the slayer. What had his life become? He grinned when he found the perfect scrunchie and held it out to her, "This will be pretty, want me to comb your hair?"
She was pulling up he jeans now and fastening them. She looked so young and vulnerable in the pretty outfit. Willow had advised him to stick to simple sweat suits for her when she had first withdrawn into herself. She had warned him that through exprience with Tara they were easiest to change in and out of . He had stubbornly refused, the sweatsuits just didn't suit his Buffy. 'Sides if she snaps out of it and sees I dressed her like that she'll be very pissed at me, he'd explained as he picked out some of Buffy's favorite clothes to take with them.
"Yes, please." She answered him as she sat down on the bed.
He sat beside her combing out the silken, blond tresses. He pulled the hair back into a ponytail and fastened it with the scrunchie. "There, you look lovely." He stood up and took her hand, "Want to watch tv or read a book?"
"Outside." She answered quickly.
"I dunno, I can't go out there with you, Buffy." He answered warily.
She sat back on the bed and pouted then. "Why do you want to go outside?"
"Pool." She repeated the word from earlier.
"Your grandmother's pool? Niblet told me about it. You went there when you were younger, you always had a good time there?" He gently prodded her for information hoping to get into the tighlty locked door to her thoughts.
She smiled with a faraway look in her eyes. ** "Buffy.........that's not fair." Dawn whined as Buffy threw the brightly colored beach ball over her head for the third time to Hank who sat on a poolside chair.
"I can't help you aren't fast enough." Buffy teased her sister as she caught the ball again from where he dad threw it.
Dawn whined louder now, "Daddy.....please." Hank smiled at his younger daughter as he caught the ball again, this time he threw it directly to her.
Dawn smiled and stuck her tongue out at Buffy as she caught the ball. Buffy dived under the water swimming quickly towards her sister and tickling her tummy until she dropped the ball again. Dawn giggled as the two of the floundered in the water for the ball.
"Time to eat, girls!" Joyce called from the picnic table that sat under a shade tree. Grandma Summers was there and she was smiling brightly at her family. Buffy, Dawn and Hank made there way to the table, as Joyce finished bringing out the food.
"Buffy, Buffy!" Spike called to her as she stared blankly at him. "Are you in there?"
Buffy looked all around for the voice calling her name. She looked back at he mom and was surprised to find she was gone, so was grandma and dad and Dawn. Clouds were gathering and it was darkening as if a storm was coming. Suddenly she was cold and scared. Something in the shadows wanted her and just when she thought it was almost there........
"Buffy!" Spike called as he shook her shoulders.
Buffy visibly shuddered as she sat on the bed looking around she seemed terrified until her eyes rested on Spike. "Spike." She squeaked.
"I'm here, I'm right here." He hugged her tightly to him and whispered into her hair, "Where were you, luv? Where were you?"

"Safe, safe, safe." Buffy repeated the words over and over as if trying to convince herself that her family was indeed safe.
"Your safe." Spike spoke softly, hiding his fear. He was afraid for her, afraid she was going to stay in side of herself where she felt safe. "I'll keep you safe." He rocked her slightly as they sat on the bed.
"Safe, safe, safe." Buffy closed her eyes tightly and found herself back at her grandmother's. This time she
was lying on lawn chair in her favorite bikini glistening with suntan oil. Dawn was lying in the chair next to her, she kept turning the channel on the
radio that sat between their chairs. "Just leave it on
one station, Dawn."
"I don't like this song." Dawn complained as she played with the dial on the radio.
"Another good one will play in a minute." Buffy told her exasperated.
"Stop bickering." Joyce called from the table as she played cards with Grandma and Hank.
The darkness on the edges of the yard started to creep
in again and Buffy cried out. Spike soothed her by rubbing her back in comforting circles and whispering to her, "You're safe with me, Buffy. Safe with me."
Buffy wasn't so sure that she was safe, she wasn't sure she would ever be safe again. Spike picked her up and carried her to the living room where he sat down on the couch with her firmly cuddled against him, he picked up the remote and turned the tv to another children's show. He swore to himself that if he had to
watch that man change his shoes and sweater one more time he would heave,but it seemed to calm Buffy to watch the adventures of King Friday in the land of make believe. Soon she was sleeping against him and he eased her head down on to a pillow on his lap and watched her sleep.
Spike eased Buffy from his lap when he heard Giles drive up. He met them at the door and was surprised to
see Xander with them. "She's sleeping, but it's probably okay to wake her."
"So she's better? She's speaking?" Xander asked excitedly.
"Well, she's speaking, but I think she is still far from better." Spike spoke softly. "She is talking some
now and I'm sure thats a good sign. But she's far from well."
Giles listened to Spike, worry clear on his face. "Shall we go see her, Dawn?" He asked as they all walked towards the living room.
"Yeah, I want to see her. I think maybe its time she left here." Xander frowned.
"Buffy, it's me, it's Dawn." Dawn sat beside her sleeping sister on the couch and gently patted her awake.
Buffy sat up sleepily and smiled at Dawn, "Dawn." She said as she touched the younger girls hair.
"Are you feeling better?" Dawn asked as she hugged her
"Better." Buffy shook her head.
"Hey, Buffy." Xander walked towards her, "How are you?"
She rewarded him with a smile also, "Xander." She said
rather unsurely.
"Yes, it's me." He smiled at her and took her hand in his, "You ready to leave here and go back home?"
Her eyes began to show panic as she backed into the corner of the couch, Spike immediately went to her side and sat down beside her, she wrapped her hands around his waist as she buried her head in his shoulder.
"She's not ready to leave, Harris." Spike said letting
a little bit of his anger come through. He patted Buffy on the back while he spoke.
"I think you like having her here this way, helpless."
Xander spit the words out at Spike.
"Oh yeah, it's like having a three year old around sometimes, I love cleaning up her messes." Spike spoke
the words harshly.
Buffy raised her head at his words, a tear rolled down
her cheek, " Juice, sorry." She looked miserable and Spike wished for all the world that the chip was out of his head for ten minutes so he could show Xander Harris a thing or two. Instead he settled on kissing Buffy's forehead, "It's okay, luv. You don't make very many messes, I'm sorry. I was angry with Xander. You are okay." She nestled back against him hesitantly, "It's okay," He whispered again and she relaxed.
"See what you've done now? You upset her." Spike reprimanded a regretful Xander.
"I"m sorry, Buffy." Xander spoke softly now, running his hand through her hair. "I'm so sorry."
Buffy turned and peeked at him, "Sorry."
Xander nodded his head, "Yes, I'm sorry."
She smiled a small smile at him. Dawn reached for her again, "It's going to be okay , Buffy. Soon you'll be feeling much better." She gave Buffy's hand a squeeze.
Giles moved towards the couch and knelt in front of Buffy, "Dawn's right, you are going to be just fine. Soon you will be slaying vampires and making me crazy all over again."
Buffy violently shook her head at his words screaming,
" No slaying." She burrowed deeper against Spike's chest.
Spike tried to calm her as her small body wracked with
sobs. Giles stood and looked helplessly at Spike, "I didn't mean to upset her."
Dawn touched Giles arm, "We know you didn't, Giles. Buffy just needs some more time, slaying doesn't exactly bring up great memories for her. Maybe we should go."
Xander watched as Dawn lay a hand on Buffy's back, "I'll be back this weekend, maybe I can spend the night with you." Buffy didnt' respond and Dawns face fell, Xander took her hand, "Let's go Dawn. You come back this weekend and I'm sure she'll be happy to see you."
"We'll see ourselves out." Giles told Spike as the three friends made there way to the kitchen.
Spike nodded at them as he kept a firm grip on Buffy. She was peeking over his shoulder now, watchng them leave. "No slaying." A panicked whisper in his ear, "No slaying." She repeated.
"It's okay baby, you dont' have to worry about slaying
now. It's okay."
Even as Spike patted her back and whispered comforting words to her he wondered if indeed it would ever be okay again.

The next few days passed slowly for Spike. Buffy seemed to be improving slowly, she was speaking more, she still had nightmares , and she seemed to have a fear of the dark now, so he had taken to leaving the light on when they slept, which was only for a few hours at a time.
Buffy's exhaustion shown this morning. She had dark circles under her eyes as she played in her cereal. "Not hungry, pet?" He asked as he sipped his breakfast from a warm mug.
"Tired. I'm tired." She said softly.
"I know you are, luv. You aren't sleeping well are you?" He sat down across from her and lay a hand on her arm.
"No, I'm not." She stood shakily jarring her bowl and spilling a bit of milk out of it on the table. She looked from Spike to the milk and reached for the dishcloth to soak it up. She began to tremble, "I'm sorry. "
Spike stood, "Its okay."
She began to cry, "No, its a mess. I made another mess."
He smiled at her, "Buffy, haven't you ever heard 'Don't cry over spilt milk?', its okay."
"No, you don't want to clean up my messes. You'll make me leave." She told him as she finished cleaning up the milk.
"What?" He asked as she followed her to the sink as she turned on the water and wrung out the dishtowel.
"You'll make me leave." She repeated the words and the fear in her voice hurt him worse then if she had staked him.
He reached for her then, lying his hands on her shoulders he turned her around to face him. Lifting her chin up, he met her eyes, "I will never, *never* make you leave. You can empty the contents of the frig on to the kitchen floor - and I will never make you leave. I told you not to pay attention to what I told Xander. You aren't leaving here until you want to leave." He kissed the top of her head and hugged her tightly.
"Now, go take a nap. Giles will be bringing Dawn by soon. She's staying here tonight. You'll like that won't you?"
Buffy smiled, "Yes, I love Dawn." She started towards the bedroom then turned around, "Will Giles stay too?" She asked worriedly.
"I don't think so. Why do you ask?" Spike could see the concern on her face.
"Nothing." She started towards the room again.
"Buffy, Giles wants whats best for you." Spike called after her.
"I know." She mumbled as she lay down on the bed. Soon she was sleeping and then she was dreaming. ****
"Well done! Excellent form." Giles smiled at Buffy as she dusted herself off and picked up her stake.
"That's three tonight. Do you think there are more out there?" Buffy asked as the walked through the cemetary.
"I'm not sure. But you are the Slayer you can handle it." Giles patted her on the shoulder.
Buffy looked around and found herself in a crypt without Giles. She turned to find a very large vampire bearing down on her, she reached for her stake and found it missing. Desperate she scrambled for a weapon and found nothing, the vampire then lifted his hand, "Are you looking for this?" He grinned maliciously as he plunged the stake into her chest. Buffy lie on the ground bleeding, she could hear a 'tsk tsk' and opened heavy eyes to see Giles.
"That wasn't good form at all, Buffy." He shook his head as he knelt by her helping her up.
He seemed oblivious to the gaping, bleeding wound on her chest. "You'll have to keep training obviously." **** She was in the cemetary again, this time alone and scared. Every noise made her jump and she was confused and she seemed to have forgotten how to fight. Vampires stood around mocking her fear,
"Figured it out, slayer? You keep slaying we keep coming back."
"Some slayer you are. How many people have you failed to protect?"
"Lost your nerve, slayer?"
She closed her eyes and covered her ears to block their taunts.
*** Spike ran to the bedroom as soon as he heard the scream. Buffy sat in the bed screaming and staring at her chest. As soon as she Spike entered the room she began to calm down, "Bad dream." She told him as she got off of the bed and went into the bathroom, shakily she pulled a washcloth from the shelf.
"Let me do that." Spike took the cloth and ran cool water on it handing it back to her. She washed her face and looked into the mirror. "I'm scared, Spike." She said simply.
"Scared of what?" He asked as he followed her into the living room.
"The dark, the monsters." She answered him, as the doorbell rang. Me, I'm scared of me.
"That's Dawn. You okay for a minute?" He asked as he walked towards the door.
She shook her head yes and watched him go to the door. She was safe here - maybe she could just stay here forever? She watched Giles follow Dawn in and she wanted to cry, she loved him like a father but now he represented the things that scared her most. Her responisibilities, slaying the monsters. She wasn't sure she could do it anymore and she didn't want to let him down, she didn't want to let anyone down. Buffy wrestled with herself, one part saying stay here where its safe, the other part saying you are the slayer stop hiding from yourself.
"Buffy!" Dawn called to her and hugged her tightly.
"Dawn." Buffy hugged her back and tears filled her eyes. "I love you, Dawnie."
Dawn pulled back and grinned at her sister, "I love you, too. You feeling better?"
Buffy nodded at her, "Yes."
Giles approached and Buffy felt herself involuntarily flinch as he placed his hand on her shoulder. The hurt showed on his face and Buffy tried to make it right by taking his hand.
"Giles." She said his name softly.
"Buffy, you are a bit better?" He asked hesitantly smiling back at her and squeezing her hand.
"Yes, a bit better." She answered and dropped his hand joining Dawn on the couch.
Spike brought in cold drinks for everyone and they talked for an hour. Buffy even joined in the conversation asking about Willow and the other scoobies at one point. But for the most part she seemed content to sit by Dawn and play with her hair.
Spike walked Giles to the door when he was ready to leave. "She does seem a lot better, but you're right, Spike. I think she still has a while to go before she is our Buffy again. The other night...I didn't mean to upset her."
"She knows that Giles. Earlier tonight she told me she was scared of the dark, of the monsters. I think she needs a break from it all. " Spike explained as he walked Giles to his car.
"I hope thats all it is." The Watcher waved as he drove off.
Spike smiled when he walked back into the house, Buffy and Dawn were giggling at something on tv. It was such a sweet sound to his ears. He went to lock up the kitchen when he heard a noise outside. "Dogs in the trash again." He swore out loud, bringing Dawn and Buffy to the kitchen.
"What is it?" Dawn asked as Buffy trailed behind her.
"Neighbors has dogs, they come get in the trash. You can see the little rascal over under that tree." Spike pointed towards the tree where the glider sat.
"He's cute. Hey puppy." Dawn called as she started to walk out the door.
"No, Dawn!" Buffy called, "It's dark stay in here." She turned to Spike, "Spike please come in, it's dark."
"Okay, luv. I'm coming in." Spike replied soothingly as Dawn raised her eyebrows questioningly. He shook his head at her implying he would explain later.
Buffy slammed the door behind him. How was she going to protect them if they went out in the dark with the monsters? She was supposed to protect them right, wasnt' that her purpose?
She looked at Dawn and saw the confusion on the younger girls face. "I'm sorry, Dawn. I'm okay." She hated this - hated feeling scared, hated making everyone worry.
Dawn hesitantly returned the smile. "I brought a puzzle, want to help me put it together."
"A puzzle - big fun." Spike replied with an exaggerated grin, "Come on Buffy, let's go help the Niblet with the puzzle." He held out his hand and she took it following him to the table where Dawn was openng the box.
"We have to find all edge pieces first." Dawn instructed as she poured the pieces on the table. She found an edge piece and held it up, "This is what they look like."
Buffy grinned at her, "I remember what they look like, Dawn."
Dawn grinned back and leaned towards Buffy , "That was for Spike's benefit, not yours." She whispered loud enough for the vampire to hear her.
"Hey." He replied with a frown.
Both girls broke into giggles as they each began to hunt down the edge pieces. An half hour later they had manged to put the framework of the puzzle together and began the harder part of filling it in. Buffy smiled as she watched Dawn nibbling on her bottom lip as she tried to fit several pieces in, smiling when one fit.
Spike watched the sisters, they were so alike and so good for each other. He watched Buffy trying the pieces and triumphantly sighing whenever one fit.
Buffy in turn watched as Spike tried to force the pieces, she caught Dawn's eye and nodded towards him. Dawn began to giggle again.
"What?" Spike looked up at her.
"You really aren't supposed to need a hammer to work a jigsaw puzzle." Buffy smiled shyly at him.
"Oh yeah, well it's been a long time since....I don't remember ever putting a jigsaw puzzle together." He smiled at her and she smiled back. And he noticed that it was a sincere Buffy smile, which was on his top ten of the most beautiful things in the world.
They stopped work long enough to eat a quick bite and then watched a bit of tv. Buffy and Dawn huddled on the couch together as they flipped thorugh the channels. Spike brought them popcorn and sat down to watch tv with them. He noticed Dawn and Buffy both yawning. "Okay, girls. It's bedtime. " He told them as he turned off the tv.
Dawn and Buffy followed him down the hallway to the bedrooms. Spike stopped at the guest room, "Goodnight." He said with a smile.
"That's not where you sleep." Buffy said softly.
"It is tonight. I thought you might want to let Dawn sleep in the room with you." He explained with a smile.
"Oh, yes Dawn." Buffy replied her voice unsure.
"I'll see you in the morning." He kissed both girls on the cheek and closed the bedroom door.
After changing into their nightclothes Dawn turned out the light. Buffy nervously crawled into the bed beside her sister. The dark room seemed to be closing around her. "I miss you, Buffy." Dawn told her stifling another yawn.
"I...miss you too." Buffy told her trying to remain calm in the suffocating darkness.
"See you in the morning." Dawn patted Buffy's arm and within minutes was sound asleep.
I can do this. I can sleep in the dark, I can do this. I fight monsters, I can do this. She repeated the words over and over again finally when could stand it no longer she carefully got out of the bed and quickly left the room. She found herself outside of Spike's room taking deep breaths she knocked softly on the door.
"Come in." Spike called through the door, "Buffy?" He asked when she walked in and hit the light switch.
"I can't..............I can't sleep in there. It's dark." Buffy hung her head as she said the words.
"Come on," He patted the bed next to him and smiled.
She looked at him and hesitated. "Come on, Dawn probably has much more fun for you tomorrow. You need some sleep."
She gave him a small smile as she climbed into the bed next to him and snuggled under the covers. Within minutes she seemed to be asleep and he allowed himself the pleasure of spooning against her back his arm around her waist, he smiled when she placed her hand on his.
Dawn was up early the next morning. She found Spike in the kitchen with his breakfast, "Hungry?", he gestured towards the stove, "I've made eggs and toast."
"Yeah, I am a little bit hungry. Where is Buffy?" She asked filling her plate and taking a seat at the table.
"She's still sleeping, she got a bit scared in the dark and came to my bed." He explained as he sipped from his mug.
Dawn arched her eyebrow at him and smiled.
"What? It's perfectly innocent." He would have blushed if he were able.
"I know, it's kind of sweet how she knows you will take care of her. Thank you for doing that, it means a lot to me and to Buffy too." Dawn grinned at him.
"It's nothing." He muttered as he rinsed out his mug.
"What's nothing?" Buffy asked with a smile as she entered the kitchen.
"Nothing is nothing." Spike replied, "I've got eggs and toast if the Niblet didn't eat them all."
"Sounds good. I'm kind of tired of cereal." She smiled at him as she fixed her plate.
"You should have said something, I would have fixed something else."
"Spike, when I first got here, I wasn't able to handle much more then cereal. Don't worry about it." She patted his arm before she sat down next to Dawn.
"I thought maybe he cooked for you cause he likes you better." Buffy teased.
Dawn grinned at her, "Well we didn't want you to find out about that, but I am his favorite Summers woman."
Spike rolled his eyes at the sisters and started to run dishwater in the sink.
"Dawn and I will do the dishes, Spike. You cooked." Buffy said suddenly.
"Are you sure?" He asked uncertainly.
"I think I can wash dishes, Spike. Why don't you take a break? I mean I feel better and it's about time I earned my keep around here."
"Better listen to her Spike, you know how she gets." Dawn sighed.
"Yeah, I do know. I'm gonna go watch some tv then, I'll leave you two to it." He turned off the water.
"You really do feel better don't you?" Dawn stood up and took her plate to the sink.
"Yes, I do." Buffy joined her sister at the sink and began to fill it with the breakfast dishes.
"So maybe, you'll be ready to come home soon?" Dawn looked hopeful.
"Maybe. I guess Spike will be ready to throw me out soon, anyway." Buffy laugehd softly.
"I wouldn't count on that." Dawn replied with a knowing smile.
The rest of the day was spent watching movies and playing more games that Dawn had brought. She and Buffy also spent a couple hours in the back yard enjoying the sun and playing with the neighbors puppy.
Giles came all too soon to pick Dawn up and was delighted to find she and Buffy outside relaxing in the glider. Buffy stood to greet him and even gave him a hug.
"I take it you are on the mend now?" He asked when she pulled away from him.
"Yes, I am feeling lots better." She smiled at him waiting for the question she knew he was sure to ask.
He didn't dissappoint. "So, when do you think you can come home?" Giles asked hesitantly.
"I don't know Giles. Theres still a lot I don't know." She replied walking towards the house. Dawn followed closely behind them.
"We have a lot to discuss when you feel up to it."
"I know." She opened the door, "Spike, Giles is here."
"Hello, Giles. Tea?" He asked as he stood.
"No thank you."
"I'm going to help Dawn round up her things. You two can keep each other occupied." Buffy told them as she and Dawn went to the bedroom.
"She seems much, much better." Giles spoke as he sat down.
"I think she is, she's really improved the last few days even." Spike smiled, his happiness at Buffy's improved mental state obvious.
"We need to get her back into the swing of things, I think as soon as she is able she should start training again."
"I'm not sure we should push that, but I'll talk to her about maybe she and I doing a bit of training here?" Spike suggested.
"That might be good." Giles agreed.
"I'm ready!" Dawn called as she entered the living room with her baggage.
"I'll miss you." Buffy hugged her sister tightly.
"I'll miss you too, you take your time though, come home when you are ready, okay?" Dawn whispered as she patted her sisters back.
"Deal." Buffy whispered back.
Goodbyes were said and Spike and Buffy were left alone again.
"So did you enjoy the visit?" Spike asked taking his seat back in front of the tv.
"It was nice. I always enjoy Dawn." Buffy sat down next to him, "Did you do okay with two women in the house?"
"Uh...it wasn't too bad." He smiled at her. *Not bad at all, I could get used to it.*
"I think Dawn had a good time too." Buffy yawned as she settled back against the sofa pillows.
"Yeah. Giles brought up something. You might want to think about it. He thought maybe you and I could do some training here." Spike casually made the suggestion.
"Oh........well I guess we could do that." She answered with a small frown.
"Good, how bout later we go outside and spar a bit?"
"Alright." She sighed.
Buffy and Spike sparred for a good hour. She had not lost her touch and her skill amazed Spike. He had always been fascinated by her when they fought, she was graceful yet a force to be reckoned with.
"Okay, let's not push it anymore tonight." He told her as he stood up from where he had landed from her last kick.
"You okay?" She asked offering him her hand as he stood.
"I'm fine. If that's any indication you'll be back on patrol soon enough." He smiled as he took her hand. He didn't let it go as they started back to the house.
"I...I don't think so, Spike." She mumbled the words.
"You don't think what?" He asked her stopping at the glider and pulling her hand to sit by him.
"I don't think I want to patrol again. I don't know if I have it in me anymore." She looked away from him, she didnt' want to see the look in his eyes. She knew he wouldn't understand - no one would.
Spike didn't speak for several moments, unsure of what he should say to the Slayer who didn't want to slay anymore. She kept her eyes downcast and he knew she was waiting for him to speak. He carefully measured each word in his head before placing his index finger under her chin and lifting her face so that their eyes met. Finally, he spoke softly, "Buffy, do you really think it's wise to make that decision now? Maybe you should give it some time. It's not like this is a job you can just resign from."
Her hazel eyes met his watery with unshed tears and possibly a bit of shame at what he was sure she called weakness. "I can't do it, Spike. I just can't fight anymore." She looked more frail then any twenty year old girl should look. Part of him screamed - she deserves a break from everything. Spike knew that it would never work, Buffy was the Slayer and she would never break free of it. Even if she managed to give up patrol there would always be a rogue vampire or a demon looking to bag even an ex slayer. Hell thats why she was with Spike now - so he could protect her in her vulnerable state.
"Buffy, luv. I know it's hard and it's not fair." His hand ran through her hair, pushing it back from her face, "But it's the hand you were dealt."
"Then I want a redeal. I really can't do it." She told him stalking into the bedroom.
He heard her fall on to the bed and gave her a few minutes before he entered the room sitting on the bed beside her, "When you gonna tell Giles?"
She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hands, unshed tears glistening. "Now, I'll call him."
"Don't you think it's best to call. Don't you think he deserves this news in person?"
Her lips trembled as she spoke, "I guess you're right. When he comes next time I'll tell him."
"Okay, but you need some sleep. It's been a long day." He left her to change and went to lock up.
She was already asleep when he returned, a worried frown on her face. He quietly slipped into the bed beside her.
"Buffy!!!" Dawn screamed from the pool.
"What?" Buffy called from her lounger by the pool.
"Help me!" Dawn screamed again.
Buffy peered over the top of her sunglasses and gasped. The clear blue pool water was now black and churning. Dawn helplessly being pulled down by unseen forces.
She never hesitated as she jumped into the black water swimming fiercely to reach Dawn. She grabbed her sisters hand and drug her thorugh the water back to the side of the pool. "Are you okay?" She asked Dawn once they were safe on the ground.
"I'm fine, whats the matter with you?" Dawn looked at her sister as if she had sprouted a third eye.
"The water........" Buffy started and turned to look at the pool which was now crystal blue again.
A voice from the edge of the garden called to her, "You think you're safe here, you're not safe anywhere." Harsh laughter followed.
Buffy woke from the dream slick with sweat. She wiped her upper lip with the back of her hand and moved slowly from the bed. Making her way to the kitchen she poured herself a glass of cold water. She held the cool glass to her forehead as she looked out the ktichen window. A shadow moving across the yard caught her eye. She moved to the kitchen door and opened it slightly stepping halfway out the door. She screamed when a large hand grabbed her, "Slayer, want to come out and play?" A gravelly voice hissed at her. She turned swiftly kicking the vampire in his game face and slamming the door as she locked it and sank to the floor in a heap.
Spike was roused from a deep sleep by Buffy's scream, it took him a moment to register that she wasn't in the bed. Scrambling to the kitchen he sank to his knees beside her. "Buffy!"
She looked up at him blankly. He took her shoulders and shook them gently. "Buffy, Buffy! I am not doing this again - you snap out of it!" He was yelling now, "Answer me!"
Spike, Spike is yelling at me, I have to talk to him. I have to tell him. She took a deep breath, "Spike." It came out as a squeak she barely recognized as her own voice.
He stopped and stared at her, "Right - you're still in there?" He was calmer now giving her a moment to gather herself.
"Vampire. It was a vampire outside." She pointed towards the door.
"Is he still there? Did you slay him?" Spike asked as he stood and walked towards the door.
"I don't know. I slammed the door. I couldn't do it , Spike. I was too scared, I ran in the house. What am I going to do?" She looked up at him, her eyes pleading with him for an answer.
Spike's mind reeled as he pulled Buffy close to him and patted her back, a vampire had found them, how long before others showed up? Torn between wanting to comfort the confused slayer and the need to protect her, he stood them up. "We'll figure it all out later, Buffy. But first which way did the vampire go?" He released her and walked towards the door.
"I don't know." She shook her head, "You aren't going after him, are you?" Fear was heavy in her eyes and her voice trembled.
"I think I should. You sit tight, I'll be right back." He closed the door behind him and left her alone in the kitchen. Her face pressed to the glass of the back door.
Spike searched the entire parameter of the yard with no luck. He tried to calm himself before he went back in to Buffy. He needed to call Giles, if the vamp went back to town bragging on knowing the weakened slayer's whereabouts it could be trouble - big trouble. Maybe the vamp was just a random vamp - maybe he hadn't recognized Buffy.
Running his hand through his short hair, he opened the kitchen door slowly and called to Buffy, she was no longer in the kitchen.
He found her on the couch wrapped in that ratty afghan and shaking like a leaf. "Did you find him?" She asked softly.
"No luck. What exactly happened? Did he say anything?' Spike asked trying to hide his anxiety.
"He said........he asked if I wanted to come out and play?" She bit her lip after she said the words.
"So he was just a vamp who happened to stumble across us then?"
"No..........he called me Slayer." She confessed with her eyes downcast.
"Oh.....well. He's gone now, you can go get some sleep. I'm gonna get a bite to eat - woke up hungry." He helped her up from the couch and pointed her in the direction of the bedroom. "I'll be there in a minute, you go on back to bed."
She nodded and he watched her walking down the hallway wrapped up in the afghan. She looked small and vulnerable and more scared then he ever remembered seeing her.
When Spike was sure that Buffy was in the bedroom he went to the kitchen and picked up the phone. He dialed the familiar number, "Hello ........yes it's me. She's okay, she's okay. We have another problem."
Spike quickly filled Giles in on the situation with the vampire and Buffy's inability to slay. Giles was unhappy to say the least. He loved Buffy as a daughter and wished that she never came in harms way, but she had a job to do. She was needed.
"Alright then, I'll see you in the morning." Spike sighed as he hung up the phone. He walked softly into the bedroom and crawled into the bed next to Buffy, he could tell she wasn't asleep. "You okay, pet?"
She turned to face him, "I thought I was........but now. I don't Spike. I just don't know."
"You will be, it just takes some time." He ran his hand up and down her arm and placed a soft kiss on her forehead, "Just a little time." He murmured again as they both settled under the covers.
**** Daylight peeked around the edges of the bathroom curtain as Buffy showered. She had left Spike sleeping. She felt badly for the vampire he had not been able to rest much either and she knew it was her fault. She stood under the hot shower and let the water soak away the tension in her shoulders. She was one big jumble of nerves and she hated feeling so inadequate.
*** Giles gripped the steering wheel tightly as he made the morning drive to Spike's place. He was glad that Dawn had stayed the night with Tara and Willow. Dawn would be very upset if she had to witness his confrontation with Buffy. He didn't want to sound harsh, but she had to see reason.
"Buffy, you in there?" Spike called as she walked towards the kitchen.
"Yep, hungry? For food?" She smiled at him as she broke eggs into a bowl and mixed them with fork.
He laughed softly, "You can cook?"
"Yes, I can cook. Well .....simple things." She joined his soft laughter
"Okay, I'll have a bite." He sat down at the table as he watched her pour the eggs into the hot skillet. She looked happy now, content almost, he wished things could stay this way. This peacefulness wouldn't last long after Giles arrived.
Buffy took two plates from the cabinet and placed helpings of egg and some toast on each one. "Ta da." She said as she placed the plate in front of him.
He pretended to hesitate as he picked up the fork and tried a bite. She glared at him and he grinned at her. "They are good."
She smiled at him, "Thanks, I guess I can fall back on cooking since the slaying thing didn't work out." The words came out more bitterly then she intended.
"Buffy....." Spike started but was interrupted by a knock on the door.
"Who could that be?" Buffy asked curiously as she stood to answer the door.
"It's Giles." Spike answered her with a sigh.
"Giles? Why?" She stopped and turned to face Spike, "You called him didn't you?"
"Yes, I did. I think you two need to talk."
'Oh, I see you couldn't convince me to go fight the bad anymore so your passing the baton to him." She glared even harder at him before she turned to answer the door.
"Giles." She greeted him coldly.
"Buffy, um.....we need to ........" Giles began cautiously.
"Talk, I know we need to talk." Her expression didn't thaw as she led him to the kitchen table.
"Buffy, Spike called last night. He says you do not intend to return to your slaying duties." Giles spoke authoritively.
"Spike is right." Buffy said defensively.
"Do you realize the implications of your actions?" Giles asked his patience starting to thin.
"Yes, I realize that I can't do it anymore, Giles. I can't do it! Last night I basically ran from a vamp. " Buffy's voice raised slightly.
"It will pass, Buffy. You are the slayer, you must return to your duty." He tried to speak calmly although his voice held an edge.
"No! I said I can't do it."
"You must! What are you going to do live here with Spike forever? You gonna hide here?"
"Maybe!" She cried out as she looked for help from Spike.
"Luv, give Giles a listen." He patted her hand comfortingly.
She pulled her hand away with a jerk, "Why you want me out there risking everything every night again, too?"
"No, luv. I just......." Spike started but Giles took over.
"What about Dawn?" Giles asked.
"I can go home and live with Dawn and not be the slayer!" Buffy stood up and shoved the chair under the table.
"Really? Cause every vamp in Sunnydale is going to come to your place looking for the easy ex slayer kill. And if Dawn gets in the way? This is the most selfish thing you've ever done." Giles stood too.
"He has a point, pet, about Dawn." Spike interjected.
"Oh - thats right it's better to get killed in a cemetary one night when a vamp sneaks in and "has a real good day", right?" She snapped his words back in his face.
"That'e enough, Buffy!" Giles warned, "Nobody wants to see you get killed."
"Buffy have you thought about last night? That vamp escaped his friends may come back here with him? You could be in danger." Spike spoke calmly.
"Then I'll go home." She pouted as she slumped against the counter.
"No, you won't, you are going to stay right here until your ready to leave or to slay or whatever." Spike reached for her and this time she let him touch her pulling into a hug.
He looked at Giles over her head - the Watcher was not happy. "Giles why don't you go now and I'll call you later."
"I'm not sure thats a good idea. We should settle this now." Giles argued.
"We aren't getting anywhere, we're just upsetting her." Spike argued back.
"Fine, I'm leaving. This conversation is far from over, Buffy." Giles said softly as he lay a gentle hand on her back. "I dont' want you hurt, I just want you back." She didn't speak until she heard the door close behind him.
"You agree with him, dont' you?" She asked in a small voice as she pulled away from him, "You don't think I can quit, do you?"
Spike nodded his head, "I'm sorry, kitten. But I just don't see any options."
Spike watched as Buffy went to the refrigerator and removed a soda. For a moment he thought that it was easier taking care of the silent, childlike Buffy then the confused woman sitting in front of him. He wasn't sure how to comfort her, he wanted to tell her to forget the slaying - run away with me and be happy. But he knew that would never work.
Buffy popped the top of the soda can and sat down at the table again. "It's hard, Spike." She said her voice trembling as she took a sip of the soda.
"I know it is Buffy." He pulled out the chair beside her and sat down.
"I'm not sure you understand what I'm saying. I love fighting for the good, I really do. But I'm not sure I can do, I'm scared, really scared. And it seems like it's not worth it to go out risk my life and come home alone. I know Dawn loves me but I need more. And slaying is suredeath on relationships. Is it so wrong just to want to feel safe and secure, to not feel so alone?"
" It's not wrong, Buffy. You deserve much more then that." Suddenly Spike couldn't meet her eyes, "Maybe there is someone who could live with the slaying, maybe even help and be there waiting when you came home." His voice was shy as he met her eyes again. He'd done it now, he had let it slip, no going back.
His words were sweet and what she needed to hear but she wasn't sure she could trust herself to answer him now.
Buffy smiled at him, "You volunteering?" She said the words jokingly but he knew she was serious from the look in her eyes.
"If I was serious....would there ever be a chance?" He asked trying to conceal the hope in his voice.
"Spike you've been so good to me...........I.......well I don't know." She sighed again as she watched his face fall, she never wanted to hurt him. She wanted to say yes, please take care of me, please love me, but she couldn't commit to anything in her present state of mind.
"Oh well that's alright then." He stood again, "I think I'll go do that laundry." His pain evident in his voice and the slump of his strong shoulders.
She watched him walk down the hallway and she fought the urge to cry. "Spike." She called after him.
He halted but didnt' turn around, "Yes."
"I'm going outside, I need to think."
"Be careful." He sighed as he continued down the hallway.
*** Buffy went out the backdoor and was greeted by a small beagle puppy attacking her shoelaces. She laughed as she knelt beside the puppy and began to scratch behnd his ears. "Hi, there."
"Buster........get back here." A voice came from around the corner and a middle aged woman appeared. "I'm sorry, he just wants to explore everything." She explained as she extended her hand, "I'm Cheryl, you neighbor. You must be Buffy. Your husband told me about you - your as lovely as he said you were"."
"He's not.......I mean thank you.I'm Buffy. I'm sorry I haven't been out much." Buffy shook Cheryl's hand. My husband? He said I was lovely?
"Oh, its understandable, Will explained that you had a bad virus kept you inside for a long while. I'm glad you're feeling better." Cheryl smiled at her as she bent to pick up the wiggling puppy.
"Thank you, I 'm glad to be better too."
"Will obviously took good care of you and its very clear he adores you. Just from our few conversations at the curb on trash nights I can tell he really cares for you. You are a lucky woman."
Buffy thought about what she had told her and smiled, "Yes, I guess I am a lucky woman. Thank you, Cheryl."
"For what?" Cheryl grinned at her.
"Reminding me of what I have." Buffy patted Buster's head, "It was nice to meet you." She told her as she put her hand on the door knob.
*** Spike opened the hamper and began to pull out the clothes sorting darks and lights into separate piles. " Stupid Spike, stupid, stupid, stupid. What did you expect? Did you think she would say - Spike thanks for taking care of me, by the way I want you to stay with me forever and ever." He mumbled to himself as he worked.
The washer and dryer were in the bathroom so laundry was done easily. He added detergent and turned on the washer . "She doesn't want me and look what I've turned into! A bleeding nurse and maid!" He mumbled some more as he loaded the white clothes into the machine.
Buffy braced herself for the converstaion with Spike. I can do this, I can do this was her mantra as she walked towards the bathroom. She could hear him mumbling before she reached the door.
"Spike who are you talking too?" She asked with a smile as she entered the room.
"No one, thought you were going outside to think." He replied grouchily.
"I did." She replied leaning agains the dryer.
"Didn't take long." He placed the dark clothes in a empty basket and sat them on top of the dryer.
"I ran into Cheryl from next door."
"What did she tell you?" He gulped out.
"Well, I now know that we are married." She grinned at him her eyes twinkling.
"Well, it...it seemed easier to tell that story." He replied gruffly.
"And she thinks I'm a lucky woman." Buffy said softly as she looked into his blue eyes.
"She does?" Spike asked a shy smile on his face.
"She's right." Buffy pulled him into a hug, resting her head on his chest, "I am a lucky woman."
Spike wasnt' sure what to do so he wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly, wishing the moment would never end. After several minutes he hestatingly spoke, "Uh, pet. Not that I'm not enjoying the moment." He placed a kiss in her hair, "But exactly what does this mean?"
"It means, I haven't thanked you enough for all you've done for me." She smiled up at him hping for now this would be enough.
"Oh.........so it's a thank you." He said with a soft sigh as he released her from the hug.
She could tell it wasn't enough and she truly wanted to make it better for him but she wasn't sure she could make it better for anyone right now. But she needed to know if he meant it. "Yes it is a thank you. But I need to know something? Was your offer serious?" She placed her hand on his cheek, "Do you want to be the one there for me?"
He shook his head silently in affirmation, not having the words to answer her.
"Can you stand beside my decision to not slay? Can you support me in that?" Her hazel eyes bored into his.
He stared at her shock apparent in his eyes,
"Buffy, it's not a secret that I care for you........but I just can't see how........" He didn't finish his sentence.
"You can't - you can't do it, can you?" She lashed out the words.
"Buffy." He called to her as she walked down the hallway away from him.
"Don't worry about it. I'm used to being alone. And I'll be out of your hair by tomorrow, I'm sure Xander will pick me up." She called over her shoulder.
"Buffy - you don't have to leave!" He shouted the words down the hallway. "So this it - if I dont' agree with you there's no chance." He followed her down the hallway again, "No wonder you can't keep a man." He regretted the words as soon as he said them. The look on her face as she slammed the bedroom door told him he had messed up royally. ** Buffy paced the bedroom for 30 minutes before she picked up the phone and dialed Xander's number, he assured her he would be there first thing in the morning. She found Spike in the living room. "I'm leaving in the morning." She told him shortly as she went to pack.
Pulling her duffle bag from the closet she began to remove her clothes from the dresser drawers. She had to smile as she packed the clothes that Spike had chosen for her. He had made sure all of her favorite things were here, very sweet of him. Too bad he couldn't support her when she needed it the most, her expression hardened as she continued to pack her things.
She began to get hungry and wondered absently what Spike had fixed for lunch. She quickly pushed that thought from her mind as she walked towards the kitchen, she was capable of fixing her own lunch. Buffy was surprised to find soup on the stove and sandwiches on a plate. "Thought you might be hungry, might as well use up this food since you'll be gone soon and I don't eat it." He grumbled as he sat a bowl of hot soup on the table.
"Thanks." She mumbled as she sat down at the table. He brought her a sandwich and a glass of milk.
"Whether you believe it or not I care for you, don't want you hurt." He fumbled over the words as he left her alone in the kitchen.
"I know you do, Spike, but it's not enough." She whispered to herself as she watched him leave.
Buffy finished her lunch and washed the dishes. Drying her hands on the dishcloth she peeked into the backyard Buster was running loose again. She smiled at the puppy who was chasing a bird.
She walked through the livingroom where Spike lounged on the couch flipping through the channels with the remote. Finishing up the packing she took her bags to the livingroom and sat them by the door. "So that's it? You're all ready to go then?"
"Yes, I'm all packed. Xander said he would be here early." She sat down in the chair across from him.
He avoided looking at her as he continued to skim the channels. "Did you tell him?" He woulnd't give her the satisfaction of looking at her of letting her know how badly he wanted her to stay with him. He inwardly kicked himself for getting to comfortable playing house with Buffy, he'd known it would end sooner then he wanted it too. But he would not beg!
"Tell him what?" Buffy asked as she picked at her fingernail.
"You know what, Xander may not seem like such the hero who come saves you from the big bad Spike when he finds out you are turning your back on the slaying." Spike shifted on the couch so he could see her better from the corner of his eye.
"I think he'll do his best to support me." Buffy said softly, then she laughed coldly, "And lets face it - you haven't been the big bad for a very long time, Spike."
"You're right there, pet. I was too busy babysitting you to be very bad." He turned off the tv and lay on the couch closing his eyes.
His words stung her as she groped for a witty comeback instead all she could come up with was a soft, "I don't want to do this."
He sat up and faced her, "You don't want to what?"
She gave him a tiny smile, "I don't want to argue with you."
He shook his headand mumbled, "I don't want to argue with you either."
"But I have to start taking care of myself sometime." She reached out and he took her hand.
"I think your rushing yourself." He gave her hand a squeeze.
"I know you do and I know you think that I'm wrong about the slaying, too." She sighed as she let go of his hand.
"I just think you need some more time." He smiled at her, "See I now when push comes to shove you'll do the right thing."
"I'm not so sure about that, Spike. I ran from vamp!" She covered her eyes with her hands and sighed again.
He moved from the couch and knelt by her chair, pulling her into a hug, "You'll be fine. I wish you'd stay here a bit longer, I promise not to harp on you about the slaying." He cut himself off before he began to sound even more pathetically mushy.
"I have to do this sometime and Dawn needs me at home with her."
"Well, you can always come back here if you ever need too, and you can bring the Niblet with you." He muttered as he feigned great interest in the remote.
"Yeah, that would be nice." She smiled at him shyly.
"Want to watch some tv?" He gave her a small smile.
"Yeah, that would be nice." She told him as she moved to sit next to him on the couch.
"Okay, but no Mister Rogers." He grinned as she lightly punched his arm and lay her head on his shoulder.
*** The day passed with the two blondes watching old movies and eating popcorn. Spike volunteered to cook his famous spaghetti for supper and Buffy helped wash up the dishes. She would miss this place, she would miss Spike.
After dinner they took a walk under the moon. Cheryl waved at them over her fence, Buster barked happily as they passed hand in hand. "You sure you won't stay a bit longer, Pet?" Spike asked as they turned around at the end of the block and started home.
"I think I would love to stay a bit longer.But if I let you keep taking care of me, I'll never learn to take care of myself again. Maybe I could come on the weekends and visit and we could see how it goes........." Her voice tapered off embarrassed at the implication of her words.
Spike stopped midstep and turned to her, "Do you mean that?" His face brightened.
She nodded, "I think I do."
"That might be nice. Dawn could come some too. " He grinned all the way back to the beach house.
"I'm going to shower, okay?" Buffy told him when they entered the cottage.
"Okay. I'm going to check all the doors and lock up." He told her as he locked the front door and went towards the kitchen.
** Buffy smiled to herself as the warm water sprayed down her back. She lathered her hair and rinsed it. She then reached for the vanilla body wash that Spike would never admit he liked and poured it on her bath puff. Soon she was drying off in front of the mirror and combing out her hair. She changed quickly into her sleep shirt and went to find Spike.
"Spike!" She called as she entered the living room looking around for him.
"Spike." She called again as she walked into the kitchen. She noticed that the backdoor was open and walked towards it.
**** Spike heard the crahing noise as he started to check the backdoor. Probably taht puppy again. He opened the door and stepped outside, "Okay, Buster. You need to go home." He called out as her rounded the corner to where the trash cans were kept.
"Don't think so, Spike." A gravel voice spoke to him as a large fist began to pummel his face.
"We've come for a slayer." Another voice and another set of fist joined in the beating.
Spike doubled over as the vamps viciously beat him.
"Can't believe you switched sides - gone all soft for the slayer." The gravel voice started again.
Spike could feel the ribs cracking and the blood seeping from above his eye and his lip. His only thought was that he hoped Buffy stayed in the house. He wasn't sure she was up to a fight. He fought to stay concious as the gravel voice told him what they were going to do with the slayer.
*** Buffy stepped outside and immediately heard a faint moan from the side of the house. She walked around to see what was wrong and was stunned to find Spike being beaten by two vamps. She stood frozen to the spot as she watched with horror as the larger vamp held Spike as the other kicked him viciously in the stomach. She called out his name, "Spike!"
Spike already swelling eyes opened to small slits when she called his name. "Go back inside!" He called out hoarsely.
"Slayer - you have decided to come out and play." The vamp dropped Spike and started moving towards her. She could only watch him as he came at her with a leer on his ugly face. Buffy's mind raced she looked back towards the house - could she get there quick enough. NO! Spike was hurt in trouble. She could not leave him. As she looked towards the house she noticed a garden rake propped against the wall. She lunged for it and broke it across her knee before the vamp knew what was happening. Before he could reach her she leaped towards him makeshift stake in hand. She landed almost on top of him as her she came down her stake found its mark, the larger vamp disintegrated in front of her. She stood shocked as the dust settled around her.
The smaller vamp looked at the dust on the ground and turned to run. "No, you don't!" She called after him and she threw the stake with unerring accuracy the screams of the other vamp could be heard as he too turned to dust.
"Spike, let me help you." She sank to her knees beside him and helped him sit up. "How are you?" She asked anxiously.
He managed to grin at her as he spat out a mouth full of blood, "How do I look, luv?"
"You look terrible. I'm so sorry, Spike. I should have been out here with you." She helped him stand and took him back into the house.
"It was worth it." Spike said painfully as he sat down in a kitchen chair.
"What could have been worth getting this beat up for?" She asked as she wet a dishcloth with warm water.
"You - you slayed! You can do it. You did do it." Spike grinned at her again.
"I guess I did." She smiled back at him.
"Guess you just needed the proper motivation." He winked at her.
"Guess so. Don't be so smug." She smiled at him as she washed the cuts on his face.
"I'm not smug, I just like being right." He winced as she cleaned off his busted lip.
"Does it hurt?" She asked sympathetically.
"Just a bit."
"I know what will fix it." She said suggestively as she lay a light kiss on his forehead.
"Oh - what would the cure be?" He raised his eyebrow at her.
"Chicken noodle soup and Mr. Roger's thats how you fixed me!" She laughed at the look on his face.
"Not funny, Slayer." He shook his head at her as he pulled her closer to him. His injured lip placed a very soft kiss on to her lips. She deepened it slightly but pulled back when she could feel him wince at the pain.
"Don't stop." He pulled her back towards him.
"I promise they'll be more when you are healed up. Now lets look at those ribs." She ran her hand through his hair and placed a kiss on the top of his head. When she had his ribs bandaged she helped him into the bed and went back to the kitchen to clean up the first aid mess - she also used that time to make a phone call.
"Took you long enough." Spike groused when she finally crawled into the bed next to him.
"I'm sorry. Didn't want to leave a mess in your kitchen." She gingerly lay her head against his shoulder and placed her hand lightly on his chest so she was sure not to hurt him.
He placed his hand over hers, "I just don't want to waste a moment of our last night here." He whispered to her tiredly.
"I called Xander, he's not going to come tomorrow." She whsipered back to him.
"You're staying?" He couldn't hide the happiness in his voice if he had tried.
"Yes, I'm staying for now anyway. It's only fair. You helped me . Now it's my turn." She kissed him on the cheek, "Now get some rest, I'll be here tomorrow." She smiled as she fell asleep next to him feeling more safe then she could ever remember.
One month later
"You know this would go faster if you two didn't stop every five minutes to kiss and cuddle." Dawn complained good naturedly as she took a box from her sister to put in the truck.
"You know you're glad I'm moving back into town, Little bit." Spike pulled her hair as he walked through the cottage one more time. He looked at each room and smiled as he remembered his time with Buffy here. The kitchen where he had cleaned up more messes then the mother of a two year old, the livingroom where he had been educated about childrens tv programs, the bathroom where he had bathed her and lastly the bedroom. He especially liked the most recent memories that had been made in that room. *** Three weeks ago
Buffy eased into the bed next to Spike trying not to wake him or jostle him too much. He was healing well but she was afraid his ribs were still tender. She very gently ran her hand over the fading bruises on his face and kissed his forehead gently.
"Hmm.." He opened his eyes and smiled at her.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you." She apologized as she settled under the covers.
"It's okay. I've slept enough the last few days." He absently played with a lock of her hair with one hand as the other lightly wandered up and down her arm. The small hairs on her arm raised slightly at the touch and she suddenly had a dozen butterflies in her tummy.
"Uh.... I guess you have but you need to heal, right?" She gulped as she watched his eyes they were dark with longing.
His smiled widened as his fingers continued their journey up and down her arm. "I'm feeling much, much better."
"Oh, thats good." She took a deep breath and sat up in the bed, "It's good because now I can finally do this without worrying I'm hurting you." She told him as she attacked his mouth with hers - two sets of hands explored now and Spike didn't sleep the rest of the night.
They woke up the next morning, safe and secure in each others arms.
The previous night -
"Come here," Spike had growled as Buffy walked by the bed.
"Spike we really have to finish packing." Buffy giggled as he pulled her on to the bed with him, plastering big wet kisses on her face.
"Packing can wait." He argued as his hands roamed over her.
"Dawn is in the other room - trying to sleep!" She warned him with a grin.
"We'll be quiet then." He whispered seductively.
"Do you know how to be quiet?" She whispered back even as her small hands began to ease his shirt up and she peppered small kisses on his chest.
"With the right incentive, I can be." He chuckled softly as he helped her ease his shirt off and she began to unbutton hers. He grinned, "That's pretty good incentive." He whispered even lower as he caught her mouth with his and they began the dance that was entirely their own.
*** He grinned into the room. Yep - very good memories here.
"What you looking at?" Buffy asked him as she walked up the hallway, "You have a goofy grin on your face." She teased him as she peered over his shoulder into the bedroom.
He turned his goofy grin to face her, "Just thinking about all the great memories here." He leaned and kissed her lips softly.
"Uh huh! At it again!" Dawn called as she walked down the hallway. She smiled brightly as Spike pulled her sister even closer to him. She was so happy that Buffy was back and even happier that Spike was going to be around to help her.
The blondes giggled at the younger girls exasperation. "Sorry." Buffy pulled her sister into the hug.
"It's okay. I'm just glad everything is okay again." Dawn pulled back from the embrace, "Is that everything? You guys ready to go now?"
Taking one last look around Spike sighed and took Buffys hand leading her out the front door he locked up one final time. "We're gonna be okay when we leave here right?" She asked anxiously.
"Yes, as long as we're together - we'll be just fine." They walked hand in hand to the truck where Dawn was waiting and drove off to find their happy ending.
The End