Buffy stepped out onto her back porch, breathing deeply of the night air. The air in Sunnydale was fresh and pure compared to her old home in L.A. If only it weren't for the creatures that inhabited that night air . . .

She shook off the thought. Sunnydale was relatively safe at the moment, as the Antyliok had scared into hiding the demons it hadn't killed outright. That meant Buffy could safely take a night off of patrol. As she was still recovering her strength, the respite was welcome.

Her hands passed over her belly. The sting wound had diminished greatly in the hours after she'd taken the antivenin, and in the day since, it had all but disappeared. If Buffy pressed hard, she still felt the soreness, but overall, she felt one hundred percent better. She turned her eyes up to the stars.

"Hello, Spike," she said without looking down.

The vampire stepped out of the shrubbery. " 'Lo, Summers. Feeling better?"

"Feeling worlds better." She looked at him. "Thank you, Spike. You didn't have to do what you did for me, but . . ." She trailed off, not certain of what she'd wanted to say. "Thank you."

Spike approached, stopping at the foot of the porch stairs. "How're the whelp and the witch?"

"Tara's fine. She called today, said she'd slept about fourteen hours and that every muscle in her body, plus a few she's sure weren't there two days ago, hurts. Xander's about the same. Anya's prognosis for his butt is optimistic, though."

"Never met a wound that suited someone so perfectly," Spike commented. Buffy looked at him levelly. "Not to say both he and Tara weren't gettin' close to bein' impressive down in those tunnels."

"They were impressive," said Buffy firmly. "Everyone was—Tara, Xander, Anya, Willow, Dawn, and you." She looked him in the eye. "I'm very grateful."

Spike cocked his head. "How grateful?"

Buffy didn't take the bait. She just continued to look at him, standing firm. Spike moved up one step, then two, bringing them eye-to-eye.

"I keep replaying your little break-up speech in my mind," he told her. "Every word. I've got it memorized. One thing that occurs to me is—you never said you don't love me, just that you can't. Now, I figure that means either that somehow, you're constitutionally incapable of loving someone like me—and we both know that's not true—or that you think you can't allow yourself to love me."

Buffy still didn't speak. She kept her eyes on Spike's.

After a moment, he continued. "After all this, Slayer, you owe me this much: look me in the eye and tell me why you won't allow yourself to love me. Tell me the truth."

Buffy's eyes flicked back up to the stars, and there was silence. Spike didn't move. They stood in their positions, frozen that way, for what seemed an interminable period of time.

Finally, the Slayer's eyes met Spike's again, and there was moisture in them.

"Tell me I'll never have to kill you, Spike," she said, her voice soft. "Look me in the eye and swear to me it'll never come to that between us."

And Spike could say nothing, because he knew damn well what the truth of the matter was. He knew what the odds were of both of them coming out of their relationship alive. He also recalled what Tara had told him in the tunnels: that while he could live with that fact, Buffy couldn't.

For now.

Silently, he backed away. As he reached the edge of the Summers property, though, he turned back.

"Tara said she took you out for ice cream after you broke up with me," he said. "Tell me, what did you have?"

Buffy's face softened into a rueful smile. "A 'Chocolate Insanity' sundae. That's a scoop of chocolate ice cream on top of a brownie, topped with hot fudge, whipped cream, and a Hershey's Kiss. I ate all of mine and half of Tara's."

Spike grinned smugly. "Good. See you, Slayer."

"Goodbye, Spike," said Buffy. He left, and she returned her eyes to the stars.


Note: All B/S flames shall be used to bake brownies and heat fudge topping. I says 'em like I sees 'em, folks.

Note II: Special thanks to Tanja for help with the Latin. I emphasize, however, that she is not to blame for the woefully cheesy spell Tara uses in the fourth part.

Note III: Please do not look too closely at the timing in this fic, and if you do, recall all the times that the Jossverse has gone from day to night in five seconds and give poor little me a break.