Disclaimer: I don't own the characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Say it Again

Buffy Summers stared out over the gaping hole that used to be Sunnydale. Rumbles from way down below told her that parts of the city were still falling through. One thing about the gang was that when they averted an apocalypse, they did it in a big way.

Murmurs from the small group remaining floated around behind her, but she didn't notice. Her eyes were transfixed on the dark abyss below. How many of them had died today? How many of them could she not even remember?

Her stomach ached, and the wound in her side burned. Luckily, her Slayer healing had kicked in, and the burning was a sign of healing, not infection. She hoped. Her head was fuzzy. Everything was blurry. All of these months spent training and preparing for this battle had found them here, staring down at what had been their home and what never would be again.

It was nearly sunset. The group had decided to wait out the day and the night, just in case any Hellmouthy activity was to resume. So far, nothing but the sounds of a crumbled city filled the air.

Some had gone back to the bus to rest. Faith was attending to Robin. Dawn and Xander were seeing to some of the more injured new Slayers. Willow stood behind her friend, and she reached out, placing a hand on her shoulder.

"You ok?"

"My home's gone. My house, my mother's grave, everything I own. It's gone, Wil. Everything's I have."

"That's not true," Willow said quietly. "I'm here. Xander's here. And Dawnie…" She looked over the old town with a deep frown creasing her lips. "I lost everything too, Buff. Tara…" Buffy felt her heartstrings pull, and she turned toward her friend. She saw the pain in Willow's eyes too, and she blinked back her own tears. They hugged, holding onto one another for a long while, as the sun made its way out of sight, bathing them in the light blue haze of twilight.

A creak from the bus screeched through the air, and a pair of black boots landed roughly on the pavement. Shaking his coat out, Spike threw off the blanket he'd been huddled under for the last several hours, and he set his sights on the Slayer.

She's crying because of me. Because of what I did. A lump welled in his throat, and he swallowed hard to fight it off.

"Hey." Spike turned at Xander's voice. Fantastic. Bloke's just lost his girl, and he's looking for someone to take it out on. But instead of a fist to the face, all Xander offered Spike was a look he didn't often see coming from those eyes. He wasn't sure what those emotions were behind that stare, but it wasn't the usual disgust.

"Don't suppose you want to blame what happened to Anya on me." Xander was frozen at the sound of her name. She'd been gone mere hours, and it already hurt like Hell. The numbness wore off hours ago, only to be replaced by a dull ache in his chest where his heart was supposed to be. He was sure he'd lost that part of him with her. Sensing no words coming forth from the boy, Spike nodded and turned away. "Right."

"Spike." Spike stopped and looked back at Xander. Another look crossed his face, as if it pained him to say what he was about to. "If you hadn't done what you did…none of us would be here." Xander swallowed hard, however, contemplating the fact that it probably would have been better if he'd died along with Anya, just so he wouldn't have to feel this way. "Dawn's safe. Buffy's safe. Willow. I just…I wanna say thanks." Spike didn't know what to say, but it was probably better that way. Xander turned away and shuffled off to check on some of the more critical patients.

From the corner of her eye, Willow noticed Spike heading their way, and she slowly let go of her friend.

"I'll give you two a minute."

"Huh?" Willow nodded toward Spike, and Buffy's gaze found Spike's.

"Oh." Her mouth went dry, while her eyes became even wetter than before. Willow was gone now, and Spike was still walking toward her. She wasn't sure what to think. How to think, for that matter. Everything that had happened down there was a mix of blur and pain, but the one thing she remembered was what she'd said, and what he'd done in return.

He was going to die. She'd known it. Deep down, she'd needed him to know how she felt before he went. She felt he deserved at least that much after everything. She remembered that much. Her hand on his, her eyes pleading with him not to stay, her lips whispering the words he'd ached to hear for years, the look in his eyes right after, his hand moving up to the trinket in slow motion, pulling it off, tossing it down into the mouth of Hell, and her hand still in his, gripping it tighter, pulling him. Running. Running. Faster. And then nothing.

Her lips trembled at the memory. God, what happens now? She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. She wasn't sure if it was because of the cold or the fear, but maybe it was both.

"You're cold," he stated, sliding his coat off and pulling it around her shoulders before she had the chance to protest. Her eyes met his.

"What about you?"

"Vampire, remember? I'm always cold." Her gaze faltered and settled just below his eyes, on his Adam's Apple that bobbed as he swallowed hard.

"Right," she whispered.

"You doing ok?"

"As well as can be expected given the fact that there's now a giant hole in the world where our town used to be."

"Yeah," Spike said with a slow nod. "Being uprooted from your home isn't easy, I'll bet."

"Not really. Bet you've moved around a lot," Buffy quipped.

"Some," Spike noted, pulling out a pack of cigarettes from his back pocket, lighting one up, and taking a slow drag. Buffy eyed him and decided against making a face and giving him hell for smoking, considering he'd just saved the world and all. "You're sure you're alright?"

"I wish people would stop asking me that. I'm alive, aren't I? Dawn's fine. My friends are fine. You're…" She looked up at him, her gaze catching his. She noticed him suck in a breath he didn't need and hold it for a moment. She knew that avoiding talking about what had happened down there was useless, but she wasn't exactly prepared for it right now. She noticed a burn on the hand which held the cigarette. "What happened?"

"Happened when I pitched the amulet," he pointed out. "S'alright, luv. It's almost healed now." Without thinking, Buffy reached out to examine the burn for herself. His eyes watched hers focus in on the painful area. The way her brow crinkled in concentration made her nose scrunch up a little, and he couldn't help but smile." She noticed his expression change and looked up to see him smiling at her. She couldn't help but smile back. "What?"

"Nothing."

"Smiling? Really? Not something I'd expect to see after a hole the size of a city just opened up in the earth. Even from you."

"Sorry, pet. Can't help but be a little happy I'm not a big pile of ashes." Buffy smiled. Mr. and Mrs. Big Pile of Ashes. She shook the thoughts from her head.

"Yeah, that definitely would be of the bad." She realized they were treading on dangerous waters. But she was too tired to think right now. Spike eyed her, as she bounced on her heels and turned toward the gaping hole again. Her tears had dried, but he could see the sadness in her eyes.

"Buffy?" Buffy snapped her gaze up toward him again in surprise that he'd used her name. "Did I do the right thing?"

"What?"

"Running."

"Are you asking me if I think you should have stayed and died down there with the rest of them?" It sounded a lot crazier coming from her now, but a few years ago, she might have welcomed his death, even in saving the world, because at least one more problem in her life would have been taken care of. But, that Buffy was no longer here. "That might be the dumbest question I've ever heard. And I've heard some…"

"Buffy," Spike repeated, "you…you did want me to come, didn't you? You weren't just…you didn't say what you said because you knew I was gonna die, did you?" Buffy was speechless. Brilliant, mate. Way to broach the subject.

"Spike," Buffy said quietly, closing her eyes, preparing herself for this. Lie to him. It'd be easier. She gritted her teeth and shook her head. No. She'd led her friends and dozens of girls into battle today, lost every possession except for what was on her right now, and had nearly been killed in the process. On top of that, she'd lost friends and would never see them again, and she'd nearly lost the man she loved—the one constant, good or bad, that she'd had in her life in the past year—and was not about to let a few little words have her shaking in her boots.

"You don't have to," Spike blurted out. "I mean, it didn't look good down there. You…you said it, because…because…" He was drawing a blank, and he furrowed his eyebrows, cocking his head to the side. "Why'd you say it?"

"I…" Her voice caught in a whisper, and she turned to face him, planting her feet firmly on the ground in case her nerves decided to make her run for it. "I was such a bitch to you."

"What?" Spike asked, completely caught off guard.

"I was. I used you. After I came back. I used you for sex."

"Didn't mind, pet."

"Yes you did. You minded. I would leave, or I would kick you out when it was over, because I was afraid that if you stayed, or if I stayed, I'd let myself feel things that I wasn't ready to feel." She cleared her throat. "And then we broke up."

"Yeah. Definitely remember that one, pet." He looked away.

"And then…"

"And then...and then I tried to hurt…no…worse…" He shook his head, tossing his cigarette over the edge of the crater. He finally looked into her eyes. "I tried to rape you."

"Yes," Buffy said slowly. "But you didn't."

"Doesn't change the facts, pet. Don't try to make excuses for me."

"I'm not. I'm just saying that it never would have happened. If I hadn't stopped you, you would have."

"How do you know that?"

"Because I know you. I knew you then, Spike. You wouldn't have. I saw it on your face when you were standing there looking at me. I was screaming at you to get out, and you looked like…like…" She shook her head again, turning back toward the abyss. "I saw it then. I saw how crazy we were making each other, and I knew it was for the best that I broke up with you, and…Spike…this isn't an excuse. It might be if it were anyone else, but you didn't have a soul. You do now. And I can't hold a grudge against a man that doesn't exist anymore. That's not you." Spike shook his head as if to protest. "I don't want to hear it, Spike. I'm talking right now."

"Talk way, pet," he whispered uncertainly.

"You got your soul back. You came back. You were…"

"Crazy."

"I was gonna say helpless, but crazy works too." She smiled just a little, enough to show him this was going somewhere good. Despite the pain, despite the heartache, there was good at the end of the tunnel. There had to be. "You have your soul now, and you don't have to live your life according to some piece of plastic the government put in your head. But you live that way, because it's who your soul wants you to be. You held me, Spike. Last night. The night before that. I've never felt…so…safe before." She looked up at him to gauge his reaction. His expression was unreadable. "I felt like I was supposed to be there. And when we were down there," she explained, pointing to the ruins of Sunnydale, "I knew you weren't supposed to stay down there. You weren't supposed to play the hero, because I hadn't had enough time yet. It's selfish, I know, but I didn't want you to die."

"Not selfish, pet. I tore the bloody necklace off, and…"

"Because I said I love you." There. It was out. Again.

"So you said it because…because you wanted me to come up with you. You didn't mean…"

"I said it because I wanted you to come with me, yes." Buffy slowly reached her shaking hand up to place it against his chest. "But I also said it, because I meant it." Spike blinked in shock. Was she saying it again? Was she really? Did she really mean it? "Spike?"

"Say it again."

"What?"

"I need to hear you say it. Say it again." Buffy smiled a little.

"Spike?" She stepped closer to him, as his hand moved to cover hers over his own still heart. "I love you." She watched the smile slowly spread across his face, and he closed his eyes, letting out a sigh of contentment. "This is where you're supposed to say…"

"I love you too." He wasted no time in pulling her into his arms, picking her up so her feet were off the ground, crashing his lips against hers, kissing her hard and deep, wanting to relish every moment, should this really be a dream he might wake from at any minute.

When they finally parted, and her feet were safely back on the ground, he pulled her in close, leaning his forehead against hers. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see prying eyes gawking at them from the school bus, trying to get a better look in the dark.

"We've got an audience." Buffy smiled, glancing toward her friends for just a minute before turning to kiss him softly once more.

"Don't care," she mumbled between kisses. "Let 'em stare. I'm not hiding anymore."