This is Ficlet #7, the conclusion of my Cycle Series. Sequel to Armistice Day. Spike/Fred; rated PG-13; set post-Not Fade Away.


For twenty-seven hours, Fred is out like a light.

Willow putters, checking Fred's vitals often and consulting over the phone with some fellow wizards who've pulled off the spell successfully. Faith decides it's safe to go grocery shopping, and returns from the meat packers' with a plastic container of beef blood and hands it to Spike who pops open the Rubbermaid lid and slugs it down without bothering to heat it.

A few minutes into the twenty-eighth hour, she stirs.

"Fred?" Willow asks, peering down at her patient with not a little apprehension. Fred's eyes open to see Willow's face looming over her. She makes a small, breathy sound that might be a "Huh?", and blinks.

Excitement begins to creep into Willow's voice. "Fred, how are you? How many fingers am I holding up?"

Still flat on her back, Fred stares at the girl's hand. "Uh…all of the above?"

"Oh, my god, I think she's back to normal!"

"Owwww…" Fred moans, as she eases herself into a sitting position and rubs the back of her neck. "I feel like sump'um the dogs dragged under the porch." She slides her legs over the side of the bed and looks warily around her. "Has Illyria come yet?"

"Come and gone. Knock wood, she won't be back again. Can we get you anything?" Spike asks gently. He kneels beside her, and places his hand almost shyly on her knee.

"A drink of water, I guess. Yeah, some water. This must be your room, right?" she says to Willow. "I always figured you'd decorate with lots of candles." She inhales a deep breath of air. "They smell nice."

Faith steps forward now. "So, are you still confused about anything, Tex? Besides fashion, I mean?"

Fred considers. "...No. Well, there's the question of what exactly it was that pulled that thing out of me, and what we can do to keep her from boomeranging back. And..and the others. Charles. Angel. Lorne. Weh-" Her voice hitches and for a moment she stares bleakly into space. "We have to try to find them; find out if they're okay." She looks at Spike imploringly. "I remember getting separated from them in the alley. And we had to run; you and Illyria fought and fought, but you finally had to run."

"We had to run," Spike agreed. "We'd have stayed if we could. But there were too many damn monsters; we couldn't see Angel or Charlie anywhere."

Fred nods. "Barely got away ourselves."

Her voice falls low and grieving. "We're the only ones left."

"No, you're not." Willow sits beside Fred and puts her arm around her. "You've got us, and you've got the Council. We'll all help you look for them. You're a Scooby now, okay?"

Fred gives her a watery little smile, and she gives Fred a comforting hug.

Spike silently draws his hand away.

Later that evening, some of Willow's friends from the local coven drop in for a visit, and they congratulate Willow and there's much merry-making. Faith has traded in her orange soda for a Jose Cuervo margarita with lime. Caramel corn and fizzy bottles of pink champagne make the rounds.

The laughter filters out through the windows onto the lawn, where a tiny red glow bobs in the dark. Fred slips quietly from the house, away from the celebration, and spies the red glow. She goes to it.

It's Spike, slouched against a tree; the red glow is the tip of his cigarette. He raises his eyes to her as she approaches, and from habit, starts to say something flip. Quite the party, perhaps. Or Nice night for a widdershin. But the words won't come. They die in his throat and there's a longing so terrible and deep that it makes him feel sick. The cigarette between his fingers starts to tremble.

Fred speaks. "I couldn't find you. I thought you'd left and I started to panic."

"Not gone yet, Love. Motorcycle tank's almost empty."

Her eyes widen with shock. "You are going to leave? Why?"

"You're cured now. That was Red's doin'; she can keep you safer than I can."

"But that doesn't mean you have to go away!"

A tinge of bitterness creeps into his voice. "Why not? Because you're not ready yet for me to not be here?"

Fred's lips move softly as she tries to repeat his words and decipher them. "I'm not…not be…you…okay, that's so garbled even I wouldn't say it. Where'd that come from, Spike? What are you talking about?"

"Nothing. Just stay here, Fred. With the watchers and the witches and the slayers and all the other white hats. You'll be safer."

"I don't want to be safe. I want to be with you." She pauses. "Wait, that didn't come out right."

She takes a breath. "I want to be with you, no matter what."

"But you're not in love with me. There's the rub, Pet. I couldn't stand that again; living so close to a woman I want, woman I love…waiting in desperation for even a few crumbs…" His face twists ruefully. "Said it before: I know I'm love's bitch. But even a bitch has limits. Your heart's already taken, and mine's been broken three times. I don't think it could survive a fourth."

The sadness in Fred's eyes mirrors the pain in his. "I could learn to be in love with you, I think," she says. "I don't think it would be hard." She eases his free hand from his pocket, and slides her thin fingers through his powerful ones. Her voice drops to a whisper. "I'm lonely, too."

Spike's resolve begins to crumble. Does she remember, he wonders, their night of intimacy in the Fae woman's house?

Does it matter?

There's a bit of verse he heard once – doesn't quite recall where, although he thinks it might have been an old X-Files rerun – which says that the heart wants…what the heart wants.

Her hand is still in his, and he leads her by it to the quiet shadows and trees and makes love to her. She goes willingly. Their movements are slow, languid, peaceful; afterwards they linger, and exchange soft kisses of reassurance and affection.

Can he come to love odd, quirky little Fred as much as he loved Buffy?

Doesn't matter. Fred's here, and Fred's now…and the heart wants.