Buffy's hand paused as she reached for the shower faucet. The towel rack was empty.

She checked the cabinet. No towels there.

She sighed. She supposed it was lucky that she'd noticed before she'd taken her much deserved shower. Standing naked and wet in the middle of a towel-less bathroom wasn't an appealing prospect.

All the girls running around the house meant they were short on supplies. Whatever Buffy tried to do, she found cabinets and fridges picked clean. No milk, no toilet paper, no towels.

Fortunately, after having had to retrieve an old shirt for Willow to dry off with the last time this had happened, Buffy had thought to tuck away a spare towel just for this occasion.

She wrapped the robe close around her and went back to her room. It was probably the only room in the house that didn't resemble a high school slumber party. She'd managed to keep the room all to herself...for now.

Buffy walked to the closet and stood on her toes to reach the high shelf. She hooked a finger onto the towel she'd hid up there and dragged it down.

She turned to resume her attempt at a shower when she noticed a gift jewelry box on the chest of drawers. That had definitely not been there earlier.

Her first thought was that one of the girls had left it. However, a closer inspection revealed a note underneath.

'Happy Birthday'


Spike listened to her move above him. Most of the potentials were sleeping, so the rest of the house was quiet enough to hear Buffy's footsteps.

He felt like an inept teenager doing what he did, but the occasion called for it. Everybody else had forgotten. Though given her history of bad birthdays, it might not be a bad thing to let this one go uncelebrated. He just couldn't bring himself to let it pass, though.

He sat up when he noticed her footsteps coming down to the first floor...into the kitchen...the basement door opened.

Then she was coming down the stairs, the present clutched in her hands. She twirled the box nervously between her palms. Her hair was wet from the shower.

Spike remained seated and waited for her to speak.

Buffy stopped when she reached the bottom of the stairs. She opened the box, revealing the earrings he'd picked out. She looked up at him. "So am I guessing right?"

He nodded.

"Yeah. I figured it wasn't Andrew. He would have gotten me Ewok earrings or something." Did she look disappointed? That wasn't what Spike had hoped for.

"Not something we need to talk about. Just wanted to get you something nice for your birthday." He shrugged.

"They're beautiful."

"Matches the owner."

When had this gotten so hard? Spike had so many things he wanted to tell her. About how the world looked now with a soul. About how she looked now that he had a soul. About how she was the single most significant part of his unlife, and he had just wanted to give her something in return. It had almost been easier when they'd just had sex all the time.

"What are you expecting?" she asked slowly.

It would have been easier for him to make a list of what he wasn't expecting. Sex, her to love him, her to allow him to love her, any chance at a relationship, marriage, kids, family dog. Spike didn't know which answer to give her.

So he opted for humor. "A thank you note and for you to put me on your Christmas card list."

There was a pause as Buffy absorbed the joke. Then she laughed, looking down at the earrings.

"Well, thank you," she said. "They're probably far better than I deserve right now, but..."

"You deserve a lot and more. Don't let the teenies get you down."

"You deserve a lot, too, Spike." She stared at him with that same conviction she'd had when she'd told him she believed in him. His heart would have skipped were it beating. "You've done some amazing things. I just hope someday after all this, we'll both get what we deserve."

She smiled and, on that cryptic note, she went back upstairs.

Spike stayed below.

fin