A/N: The first chapter or two will be remarkably similar to the series, though I've changed it around- what is said, when and where, etc. But it is still technically AU after Bargaining, as long as you keep in mind that the first few chapters are just setting everything else up. :-)

Fumbling Towards Ecstasy

Lovesbitch25

Chapter One: Hold On

"Hold on, Hold on to yourself; for this is gonna hurt like hell

Hold on, Hold on to yourself; you know that only time can tell

What is it in me that refuses to believe this isn't easier than the real thing?"

Those solemn hazel eyes could slay him, staring up at him with so much pain and confusion. Her mangled hands lay trembling and pale in his, and he imagined that through them he could hear everything going on within her; her racing heart, the pumping of blood as it surged through her newly reanimated body, every little atom fizzing with electricity. Meeting her gaze, he tried to smile and gently squeezed them.

"Know what it's like, pet." His voice was hoarse, barely a whisper. She seemed startled by this, looking down at their joined hands. But she didn't pull away. That made all the difference, that she didn't reject him and pull away.

Her breath came in ragged gasps, her lungs burning as she tried to scream and found she had no voice. Dark, so dark she couldn't see her nose or her hands as she reached up and scrambled at the satin lining. She ripped and drove her fists through the wood, feeling the shards tear at her knuckles, ripping into the soft skin of her palms. Her entire body was high-strung with panic when the first clod of dirt fell across her face, and she tried to cry out as she pushed herself upwards, through the ragged opening into the soft soil. Dirt, everywhere, in her eyes, mouth, nose. Surrounded by all that cool, moist soil, her lungs burned and she kept clawing up, up, up…

"To crawl out of your own grave..."

She met his eyes then, so soft and blue, searching hers for an answer. "Yes… that's… that's what I had to do." She felt herself blush, her eyes water. Her body was quivering again and she felt sick. Leaning over, she vomited across the floor.

"Dawn? Dawn?!" Willow burst through the door - Xander, Tara and Anya quick behind her - and turned to see Spike in the living room. With Buffy. Safe, clean, not-crazy-looking Buffy. "Buffy! You're okay; we were worried, after you ran off…" She hurried across to the Slayer, who looked up, unblinkingly. Spike stood up quickly, turning to leave before looking back at Buffy; she smiled at him – a sad, quiet smile that Willow nearly missed except that she couldn't look away from her.

A loud galumphing on the stairs announced Dawn's arrival, superseded by the loud banging of the back door as Spike left. Xander and Tara had come to sit next to Buffy, one on either side, hugging her, petting her like a sick child as she sat motionless.

Willow put forth her brightest smile, set at 110 watts - full glare-on happy - as she hugged Buffy around her thin shoulders.

"We're so glad you're back Buffy, so glad."

In her room that night, Buffy lay in bed, eyes open. Despite the total absence of light, the suffocating silence and heaviness of a house fast asleep, her eyes wouldn't close. She feared she might not wake up, or if she did that she wouldn't be here, in her bed. But in the box.

"Is this hell?"

She wasn't fully convinced that it wasn't. Maybe these weren't her friends. Maybe that wasn't her sister, and this wasn't her home, or her Sunnydale. Maybe she'd fall asleep, only to wake up suffocating in a tiny satin-lined box again. Maybe that was her hell.

Giving up altogether on sleep, and too spooked to even lie quietly with her eyes shut, she swung her legs off the bed and walked silently to the closet. She bent down to retrieve an old pair of tennis shoes, caked in grime and slipped them on. The bedroom window was slightly ajar, and she wrestled it upwards before climbing out onto the steep roof.

A bottle of Jack was his current distraction. He was a little drunk, watching the candlelight turn the bottle into startling shades of amber as he swilled it from a glass. His mind was full of disquiet, penetrating thoughts, and recurring memories. Buffy, jumping off of Glory's tower; the look she'd given him that night, the one that had made him feel alive, like a man. And her quietness tonight. How she'd sat there and let him take her hands in his, tell her those things. Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. He was full of her, couldn't push her from his mind. He smelt her, felt her as if she were right next to him…

"Spike?"

He nearly jumped from the armchair, swinging around to face… her. Buffy, in her schoolgirl pajamas and tennis shoes. He'd nearly chucked his bottle at her, before he'd recognized her. At once his posture relaxed, and he watched her impassive face intently.

"Couldn't sleep," she said, by way of excuse. "Figured you wouldn't be asleep either. What with the no sun and all."

"No rest for the wicked." He smiled, gently, offering her his deserted armchair. She curled up into it, watching him intently, face partially hidden by her long blond tresses. He sat himself across from her, on the overturned crate that served as a coffee table. Was almost tempted to take her hands again, remembering the semblance of sitting face to face with her like this in her own living room. She seemed to remember it too, looking at her bandaged knuckles.

"Dawn, she fixed me," she offered, showing him the gauzy bandages. They sat for a few more minutes in silence, each simply absorbing the presence of the other. Spike looked up at her, a question forming slowly on his lips.

"What was it like? Where you were?" he asked finally, eyes looking straightforward into hers. She cringed a bit, lowering her eyes. Her lips parted, as if she were about to answer, then shut again.

"It… it was… I don't know." She shook her head, in confusion, and he smelt the saltiness of the tears welling up in her eyes. He reached out for her hands, taking them in his own. With brazen confidence, he kissed her knuckles, looking up into her eyes.

"One hundred and forty-seven days you were gone. Think I told you, yeh? I missed you, so much, every day. And at night… I saved you every night. Relived it, in my dreams and waking. A million things I could've done differently. And now you're back. Can't help thinking there's some good in it, can I? Even though… not sure you're so happy to be here yet." He cocked his head, looking up questioningly into her eyes. She blushed, darted her eyes to the side. Softly withdrew her hands, gathering them close to herself. "S'okay. Don't have to share it with me. Just… if you need anything, Buffy, anything at all…" He reached out to tip her chin back to him. She didn't refuse, him, but met his gaze with trembling lip and watery eyes. "I won't fail you again."

"So now you're sleepin' peaceful, begin to pray

You'll be strong tomorrow and will see another day

Ad we will praise it and love the light that brings a smile across your face"