Sorry that it has been forever since I have last updated this story. I was suffering from a pretty intense case of writer's block and then life got way too busy for me to actually do anything fun. I'm still not one hundred percent happy with this chapter, but I figured that I had better post it and move the story along. School and work is looking even busier next semester, so I don't know when I will be able to update again. But rest assured that I have not and do not intend to abandon this story. I'm just waiting for the PTB (namely my professors and boss) to let me have time to write. Thank you so much for your patience and again, I apologize for my seriously sucky updating.

New York 2007

"This way, I think," Rae said, peering into the darkness. The April moon was only half full, and provided some light, but not nearly enough. Luckily, Rae knew these paths well. She had paid for a membership at the Bronx Botanical Gardens and would often go for her daily run through its forest. It was convenient, right across the street from campus. And, it gave her the illusion that she wasn't in the middle of eight million people, which was probably what she loved most about it. During the hours she spent in the park, she felt herself slip back into the wilderness that had been the setting of her childhood. It was an escape that she adored, longed for, craved, and she immerged from the garden forest invigorated and refreshed if a bit sweaty and smelly.

She shivered as she pulled her dark wool coat closer around her. It was the last night of the evening orchids shows, late April, and although the days had been unseasonably warm, the nights still held on to the last remnants of winter.

Spike hadn't been thrilled about attending the orchid show. He had said that it was likely to full of old sods and foogies. Wasn't exactly his scene. Didn't care much for flowers. Seemed a bit too much like something that pouncy William would have been a bit too chuffed about. But he had seen how much it had meant to Rae and had given in pretty easily. It seemed like he always gave in pretty easily it when it came to women. A right soft spot, he had.

They had meandered through the conservatory for a while, having a couple of drinks, before slipping away. The conservatory had been crowded, close, and a bit too warm, full of couples marveling at the towering displays of orchids that filled the room. Although he never would have admitted it aloud, he understood why so many couples had turned out for this and not just ones smelling of mothballs either. There was something damned seductive about all of those orchids, so clearly resembling the petals of a vagina, all around you. Place was practically a living aphrodisiac, pulsating with sex. The five martinis he had downed hadn't hurt either. There would be a number of very happy blokes by night's end. He would bet good kittens on that.

Still, he didn't quite understand why Rae fancied the place so much.

"I always thought this wouldn't be such a bad place to die," she had said dreamily as they had strolled pasted the displays.

"What now, luv?" he asked, a bit taken back by the conversation's sudden turn toward morbidity.

She laughed. "When I was an undergrad, my friends and I, we used to get high and play board games. Lame, I know," she said before he could interrupt her. "But whenever we played Clue, I always made Colonel Mustard or Miss Scarlet, Professor Plum, whoever had killed Mr. Black, do it in the conservatory. I thought that would be a little less sad, for him to die there, you know. At least he got to die somewhere beautiful. Not like the billiards rooms." She wrinkled her nose. "Of course it also meant that I didn't win very often. Way too predicable. Even if my opponents were totally stoned."

He shook his head, looking down at her affectionately. Odd bird, she was. Still he got her point. Full of life and sex this place was. Better to die somewhere where things came back to life every year, than in the filth of a dark back alley. It probably would be a little less sad, although no less brutal. "Don't know that a few flowers could really do that much to dress it up when a candlestick or a wrench comes clobbering down on your head."

"No, never the wrench. Or the lead pipe. I never really got why that was ever an option. I mean what kind of mansion just has lead pipes lying around just waiting for someone to use it as a murder weapon. Candlesticks, sure. Knives and Revolvers? Maybe it was premeditated. But nobody premeditates with a lead pipe."

"Right then, so it was the weapon of choice that bothered you, not the fact that the same bloke was constantly being done in?"

She shrugged. "It's only a game. Still," she said looking around, "I think there should be points for style."

"Trust me, luv," he said. "Points go to the offer, not the offed. Been both, after all."

They weren't supposed to start wandering through the gardens, which usually were not open after sunset. But with Spike's vamp-vision it was easy to find the paths, and Rae knew the place well.

They wandered past the azaleas that were just beginning to bloom, pink and purple and white faintly illuminated by the moonlight, and they made their way to the lilacs, each breeze wafting their heavy, heavenly scent.

Rae stepped off the path, the heel of her stiletto sinking into the soft soil. She kicked off her shoes and walked over to one of the bushes, burying her face in a bunch of flowers. "God, I love this smell," she said, and she moved from bush to bush, wrapping herself in the scent.

Spike stood and watched her. She seemed different here. More alive and more real. Somehow less constrained, as if something in the scent of those little star shaped flowers had released something inside of her. He scoffed at himself. A bit of moonlight and a bunch of flowers and the bleeding romantic in him was just bursting to emerge. If he didn't watch out, he would start speaking in bad verse. Ode to the fair, floral maid or some rubbish.

"It reminds me of my mother," she said, as she walked back to where he was standing on the path. Some of the scent of the lilacs had clung to her, mixing with the sweet smell of her blood that he often found so overwhelming. "When the lilacs bloomed we would sit under them for hours, reading, talking, dreaming. It was odd, I guess, but it was always one of my favorite memories of her. You know, she would talk to each bush like she knew it personally. Sometimes she could be so weird, but I never realized that until much later. Most people, I guess, don't spend much time chatting with vegetation."

Spike shrugged. He was used to her sudden outbursts of manic pixie. Kept things interesting. The way her moods shifted. It was better if he just went with it. Less whiplash. "We've all got our quirks, I suppose."

"You're especially quirky."

"Well, yeah. Vampire. What's your excuse?"

She grinned. "Home schooled by hippie mom trumps vampire anytime."

They moved toward the rose garden. Rae had told him that it was a bit early for roses; they would need another few weeks before their blooms were really ready. But there were a few early buds, the plants' response to the unseasonably warm weather they had been having.

Rae stopped in front of a small white rose, glowing silver in the moonlight. She bent her head to inhale the rose's sweet musk, and then she recoiled quickly. A single drop of blood beaded on her fingertip, the result of the flower's thrown.

Instinctively she had flinched, her finger flying to her lips. Then she had paused, the drop of blood dark in the moonlight. She then, slowly, extended the finger toward Spike.

"Rae, I shouldn't…" he started to say, but he parted his lips as she slipped her finger between them and the rest of his protests were forgotten.

Her blood was the sweetest he had tasted. Like melons and honey suckle and mangos and sunshine and peaches and ripeness and life. He closed his eyes. He could feel the cartilage in his face shift. But he didn't care. All he cared about was savoring the sweetness of her blood.

He could still remember the taste of Buffy's blood from when he had licked it from the cut on her upper arm. It was one of the memories that the First had cruelly restored to him. One of the memories that had haunted him. Buffy's blood had been sweet, but with hints of darkness to it, like blackberries and currents and figs. It had been spicy too, nutmeg and clove. Rae's blood was pure sweetness and light. He had never tasted anything like it. It was intoxicating. Slayer blood is an aphrodisiac; Rhea's blood was fucking vampire Viagra. Not that he needed Viagra, of course. He was less than two centuries old. But still. It had made him hard in an instant.

He had grabbed hold of her roughly, pushing up the skirt of her dress. "Rae," he had moaned into her hair, her shoulder. He could her the blood pounding beneath her skin. He didn't know what had come over him, but he knew that he needed to be inside of her.

His kiss was fierce and hard and he could taste more of her blood in his mouth. He pulled away from her, afraid that he had hurt her, afraid of himself, of his desire for her, of his desire to ignore his fear and take her and have her.

He repeated her name, the sound of it changed by his fangs, his yellow eyes reflected in hers. She nodded, consenting to be what he wanted, needed, in that moment. She unbuttoned her coat and pushed her hair over her shoulder and offered him her neck.

His fangs slid into her flesh, and she was surprised by their gentleness, by the pleasure that she felt from their penetration. She felt herself shiver as he drew away, his cold tongue licking the wounds in her neck. She had trusted that he would not harm her, but she had been afraid that it would hurt. It hadn't. She felt the wetness pooling between her legs.

And then he was on top of her and inside of her and he could feel the sun on his skin. He opened his eyes and the world was bright. Too bright. It hurt to look. The colors all around him were vibrant and real in a way that they hadn't been in over a century.

"Do you see the sun, Rae?" he asked, but her response was quiet and far away, echoing around his head. But it didn't make sense because she had said that there was no sun, just the moon. But the moon's light was reflected and could never be so bright. He saw two crimson stars on her neck and ran his tongue along them, her pleasure contracting around his cock.

His hands gripped the grass and he could feel each blade and the tangle of roots that held them all in place. And he felt his fingers extend into the soil and they too were like roots holding him in place and connecting him to soil and the grass and the earth to the woman he was fucking. And he could hear the insects around them, their buzzing merging with his groans and Rae's moans, and he was connected to them too. And when he came into Rae, he felt himself connected to the world in a way that he hadn't since his death and even before that. In that moment, everything made sense to him in a way that it never had.

"Well," he had said afterward, still reeling, "that was something."

On the walk home he had leaned heavily on Rae, his body somehow not responding to the commands he gave it and he felt flushed and confused and ashamed but full of life.

New York 2009

"Well," Giles prompted. "Have you?"

Spike swallowed audibly. "Don't tell Buffy."

There was a beat of silence. "I presume that is a 'yes' then."

For some reason his mouth felt dry. "You've figured me out, Sherlock. Caught me, you have. Ever the scoundrel. You can put the soul back in the vampire, but you can't take the vampire out of the soul. It's a package deal."

"Was it consensual?"

"Of course," he growled. "I wouldn't… couldn't… Soul now, remember Rupes. Guilt helps to curb the appetite, you know. Can't see to give up smoking though. Nasty habit."

"I figured that she had consented. But I must be sure," the Watcher responded dryly. "And I take it you have not yet informed Buffy of this?"

The question hung in the air.

"Timing never seemed right."

"You know that the knowledge of this will probably be very upsetting to her."

"Which is precisely why I asked you to keep your bleeding mouth shut."

"She deserves to know."

"And I plan to tell her."

"I rather think you should."

"And I rather thing you should butt the hell out, Rupert. Sure you're dying to let her know that you were right all along, but I'd prefer it if you left that honor to me. Especially if I can figure a place to tell her with nothing pointy and wooden readily available. I've answered your bloody questions. Are we quite done, then?"

"How many times?"

"Gonna need a bit more to go on than that."

"Did you drink from her?"

"Not many. Ten maybe. Fifteen tops. Didn't exactly notch a blood bag after each score." After that first time he had been afraid. He had scared himself. The way he had lost control. Lost his humanity. Lost himself in a way that was exciting and invigorating but terribly dangerous. He had felt like he was a part of the world again, but he could have killed her and the demon inside of him almost had. Had it not been tethered by his soul it would have. But the taste of her had lingered in his mouth for days and the memory of feeling the sun on his skin had haunted him longer than that and he had bitten her and drunk from her again.

Although he had been going for moderation, small silver scars still dotted her breasts and inner thighs.

"Never made a real habit of it."

Giles exhaled. "I'm afraid that you may have been rather lucky that you did not. Tell me, what was it like? Her blood?"

"Let me guess, it's for research?"

"Precisely."

"I'm going to want some proof of that."

"I'll be sure to fax you my dissertation."

"Sex and the Single Vampire: A scientific inquiry. Sounds tawdry."

"Need I remind you that you are wasting time?"

"Apparently." He took a long drag on his cigarette. "Her blood was sweet."

"And?"

"And it made me feel a bit shedded."

"Shedded how?"

"I don't know. It was like Woodstock. Seeing things that weren't there. Feeling things that weren't real. Bit of a Kumbaya note to the whole experience."

"And that didn't strike you as odd?"

"Been a while since I had a drink, you know. Didn't know what the effects would be when I'd been off the juice for as long as I had. Plus, bird's been on her share of benders. Figured it might be residual."

"Well, Spike," Giles said curtly after a few moments of silence, "the information you gave has been most…enlightening."

"Glad to hear it got you off."

He grinned at Giles' exasperated sigh. "I'll ring Buffy after I've referenced a few more volumes in the archive."

"Thrilling. Be all pins and needles till then," Spike said, before hanging up the phone. He lingered on the step for a few more minutes. He should have told Buffy. He knew it. He wasn't a complete berk. But then things had been going well, and he had not wanted to cause another row. There had been a few times when he had been on the verge of telling her, but then he was afraid of sabbing everything with her. Of course, he had been doing it all along anyway, hadn't he? Each day he had waited had made matters worse.

He ground the end of his cigarette into the stoop. He would tell her the next chance he got. And then he would deal with her wrath. Hell had no fury like a slayer feeling scorned. That he knew first hand. He would just hope that she had gotten attached enough to him during the past few months that she wouldn't be feeling overly dust happy.

He headed inside.

Giles took off his glasses and rested his head between the palms of his hands. Spike had confirmed his worst fears. Poor Buffy. She was strong, there was no doubting that. But this was going to be a test. And he just hoped that she could pass it without letting it break her completely.

She would need more than fists for this one. This one would require her heart.

The only thing left was to tell her and let the thing begin.

"What did Giles want to know?" Buff asked as Spike climbed the stairs to the living room and Rae paused the episode of Veronica Mars they were watching. He sat down on the couch next to Buffy.

"Just anything I could tell him, really."

"Did he have any clue what we're dealing with?"

"Seemed to. But he wasn't about to start sharing with the likes of me. Was more about the questioning and the hmmming and ahhhing without being overly forthcoming. Typical Watcher rubbish."

"But he seems to have an idea? Of what I am, I mean?"

"Said he needed to check out a few books. Which means he'll bury himself under a pile of parchment before we're likely to hear from him." The phone rang. Giles. "Or he'll be calling back within a matter of minutes."

Buffy answered, putting it on speakerphone. "Giles?"

"Buffy."

"Uh-oh. That sounds like ultimate-evil-rising-end-of-the-world-impossible-odds Giles voice."

"I'm afraid it might actually be a bit worse than that."

"Worse? You know I hate it when you get to be all bad-newsy."

"Yes, well, I rather hate to be the bearer."

"So, what's the deal?"

"Well the good news is that I believe that I have determined what the young lady is."

"And the bad?"

"Is that I am anticipating that you are not going to be very happy about it."

"Spit it out, Rupes," Spike interjected. "You've made with the gloom and the forboding. What is the bird?" Buffy shot him a disapproving look.

"I knew we are dealing with something supernatural here, Giles, which usually doesn't mean hugs and puppies and good times for Buffy."

"What we are dealing with is a nymph."