Title: The Truth of It

Rating: PG-13

Author: Blue Chance

Disclaimer: I don't own the characters, but they're not doing much these days so I didn't think anyone would mind if I played with them for a bit.

Summary: Set in the canonical future, Spike finds Buffy in Europe and has a lot to say… and he's going to make her listen. Told mainly from Spike's POV.

Author's Note: [7/9/11, I wrote about 5 versions of the ending and uploaded the wrong one to begin with. Oops. Here is the correct, much longer, version of the chapter, "The Truth of It". The first scene isn't any different but most of what follows is. Sorry for the occasional dumbness of me.] So here it is… the final chapter. The only chapter where I can say there is some "spuffy", but it's not fluff. That would go against everything I've written so far. This chapter is not quite as dark as the others, but I am happy to say that it brought tears to my eyes as I wrote it. Maybe that's because I'm so happy to get out of Spike's head that I could cry, or maybe it's because I haven't slept in a hundred years. I like to think it's because I wrote something profound. You, Dear Reader, please be the judge. For my part, I am proud and very happy with how this came out.

Also, if you'd like to hear the beautiful "Buffy" music that inspired the whole first scene, and the last two vignettes of this chapter, please visit: www . youtube .com/watch?v=WWTwb2b8xeQ

And: www . youtube .com/watch?v=PAyvQFCdNbQ

And, just as a note, "Nothing and Everything" by Red, and the chorus of "Make This Go On Forever" by Snow Patrol have kind of inspired me from the beginning with this story. I'm not a fan of either band, or either singers for that matter... but when I'd get blocked, I'd listen to these. If you get a chance, and if you care to, have a listen.

I think it'll help to set the tone. Also, I like thinking my story has a soundtrack..

Thanks: Thank you so much to anyone who's read and enjoyed this story. Thanks again to everyone who reviewed previous chapters, and to Bohlwinkel, Just A Girl With A Keyboard, and rhain572 who reviewed the last chapter. You guys gave me a reason to keep going even when I (gasp) didn't want to anymore. I loved reading what you had to say, and I hope you'll let me know what you think about the way this story ends. I hope I didn't let you down.

The Truth of It…

Chapter IX: The Truth of It

"All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on."

Havelock Ellis

*1*

Buffy could hear as Spike shifted in the dirt – maybe coming up on his knees. He didn't say anything, and he didn't seem to move away from where he was.

"You talked. I listened." Buffy said. "Now it's time for you to listen to me."

"You could barely lift your hand." He said quietly. " You don't have the strength to run yourself through."

"Want to place bets?" She said, pressing the stake against her skin.

"Okay, Love." He started, almost interrupting her. "I'm listening."

He sounded scared. Good.

"You claim to know me so well." She began. "Then you know when I say there are only two ways I'll leave this crypt and neither of them is as a vampire, I mean it."

"I believe you." He said, and then was quiet. There was no need to ask or state what was already clear, what the two ways were.

Alive, or dead.

Buffy went on.

"I can't fight you. We both know I can't, and I don't know what you've been injecting me with, so I don't know when I'll get my strength back… but if you come near me, you can be sure that I'll use whatever strength you haven't taken from me to see to it that I'm dead before you can get this stake out of my hand."

Harsh. She knew it was harsh… but she needed him to know she was serious.

"Buffy, you can't-"

"I can't wake up as a vampire with a heart full of wood."

"Don't…" He had said that very forcefully, and then stopped before saying anymore. He seemed to try and collect himself for a few moments before starting again. "Don't talk like that." He finished more calmly, like a man trying to talk a suicidal friend off a ledge.

"You know I won't let you do this to me."

"I'm not doing this to you, Buffy." His voice was strained, and she could tell he was holding back tears. "I'm doing this for you."

"You're doing this for you." Buffy ground out.

"I love you!" He cried out. "You expect me to turn my back on that? You except me to live without you?"

"I don't expect anything from you. But you know what you can expect from me."

"Even if I let you go, you're too weak to get far on your own. You'll need me if you plan on getting out of this cemetery alive."

"I don't need you for anything."

"How do you plan on getting home?"

"I don't plan on getting home. I don't plan on making it out of this cemetery. I only plan on not living to see a sunrise that I can't."

"Please, Buffy, listen to me."

"I'm done listening to you, Spike! And I'm done talking. You tell me now. Are you going to let me go, or are you going to watch me die?"

"It's not what you think." He argued. "You don't have to be afraid. You don't have to hate what I am."

"It's who I am to hate what you are!" Buffy yelled with a passion that that belied how sick and weak she really felt. "Every part of me hates every part of what you are."

"Buffy…"

"No!" She interrupted him, painfully wrenching herself back up so that she was sitting up against the wall again. "You've spent hours trying to convince me that souls don't count, that heart's all that matters… but all you've done is prove to me what evil really is. It's selfish and it's blind, and all it wants is to hurt."

"No. I don't want to hurt you."

"But you do, and you are! What do you think this is? You think this is fun? You think this is some great big party where Buffy's not just the special guest, she's the snack bar, too?"

"I just wanted to talk to you… to try to explain. I wanted you to understand what I am so you're not afraid. You don't have to be afraid of this."

"Not afraid? Have you been listening to yourself? When we first met, you wanted to kill me to show me how much you loved me. That's not just scary, that's sick. Now you tell me not to be afraid?"

"You'll be forever."

"I don't want to be forever!" She said, and her voice cracked a little. "I didn't even want to be right now, but I didn't have a choice. It took me a long time to fix myself and to put all the pieces back together, and you're trying to take it away from me."

"I'm trying to give you what you deserve."

"You said yourself you didn't know what I deserve."

"Didn't. Do now."

"I deserve to die?"

"You deserve to live."

"You don't live. You exist, remember?"

"Better than not existing."

"I'm nothing like you. I'd rather starve than live off of scraps."

"You'll feel differently about this. You'll feel differently about everything."

"Because I won't be me."

"Bloody hell." Spike cried out in frustration. "You will be you. Nothing can change you, Buffy. I've seen you at all hours of your life, including the darkest, and you always come out better than you were before. Nothing can beat you. The demon is only part of us, but it's like the soul… it's not who we are."

"Tell that to the bride and groom. Tell that to the little girl."

"Can't. They're dead. I can only tell you."

"And they're dead, why? Because you chose to be your inner demon on those days?"

"They're dead because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I was meaner, stronger, and hungry." He said in a thick, raw voice. Just like she'd said earlier: his brand of honesty was never that much fun for her.

"From where I'm sitting with two holes bleeding down my neck, it looks like that's all this is, too."

"Except I didn't love them."

"And you don't love me."

"I know the setting's right for it, but we're not going to start in on that song and dance." His voice was deep and threatening in a way that he'd only spoken to her with a handful of times, including before he'd fallen in love with her. "Fact is, I do love you and always have. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't love you… and I won't let you go."

He wouldn't let her go.

What did that mean? That he'd rather watch her shove a stake through her heart than let her leave? Or maybe he thought that he could stop her.

God, then she couldn't give him a chance to stop her.

He said he wouldn't let her go, and she believed him… there was nothing more for her to do but make good on her threat. She wasn't going to die a hero, and she wasn't going to die fighting, but at least she would die Buffy.

She closed her eyes took a deep breath and prepared herself for the pain. She knew it would be intense, but she promised herself it'd be over almost before it started. Her heart would stop immediately, and then her blood would stop flowing to her nerve endings. She'd pass out, and then it'd be over. Everything would be over.

She pulled her hand slightly away from her body so that she could plunge it back.

"I was going to let him kill me!" Spike exclaimed suddenly, brokenly, and she could hear him move abruptly closer to her. She opened her eyes and looked in his direction.

"What?" She asked.

"Xander." He said, and Buffy was somehow able to note the fact that he had called the man "Xander" and not one of his more usual terms of endearing insult. She slowly dropped her hand down to her lap, waiting for him to continue. "When he found me at the Magic Box that night after I'd been… after I'd been with Anya."

"Spike, what—"

"Before things got really bad, I mean… before they got worse, I did feel."

Buffy was getting angry.

"Feel what?"

"Remorse."

"And what does that mean to me?"

"You think we change so much when we're turned." He paused, maybe to try and reign in his emotions. As it was, it didn't seem like he was having an easy time talking. "Truth is, not much changes. We're freer. Emptier, yeah. I won't lie to you. Something's missing in me… but not as much as you think. Angel, he was a piece of art. Darla's art. The Master's art. They made him, and then he made me. Certain things are not inherent, they're learned."

"Been a few hours, Spike. I'm getting awfully tired of waiting for you to get to the point."

"The point?" He asked, almost sobbed. "The point is that my heart was broken that night. Anya's heart was broken. The boy's heart was broken, and hell if I couldn't take it. I gave up. I knew, I knew, he was going to kill me, Buffy… and I didn't care. I didn't have a soul, had no bloody idea of getting one either, and at that moment I felt so bleeding sorry for all of us, that I didn't care if he killed me. I wanted it to be over. The killing. The violence. The hate. Me."

A beat. Buffy said nothing.

"There were still bits of the man in me. I pushed him away for over a century, but he was still there. I was still there."

"Was he still there when you tried to rape me the next night?"

"Yes." He answered without hesitation.

Buffy felt herself go cold at his answer. She hadn't expected that. Even if it was true, she hadn't expected him to admit it.

"What?"

"I wasn't talking just to hear my own voice when I told you we're always every bit of ourselves all at once. The man's here. The demon's here. Maybe the soul or whatever the bloody hell you want to call it isn't here, but it doesn't make a difference. It might serve as a moderator, a filter, I don't know… but we choose what we are and we can fight our nature. The only thing that bit of burning light ever taught me was that I didn't need it."

"And the first little girl you killed? What does the man in you think of that?"

Spike scoffed, but it wasn't in humor.

"Not a damned thing." He answered. "Why should he? We're all a product of what surrounds us, and I can't regret choices of circumstance. What I did with Anya that night, and what I did to you, that was me. I did those things because I was miserable, and desperate… but there was no one else urging me on. No lunatic paramour begging me to hurt the girl a little more, and no unhinged grandsire forcing me to compete with him."

Buffy didn't know what to make of what he was saying to her. She wasn't even convinced that he understood the torrent of words spilling from his mouth. All she knew was that she was dizzy and tired. She just wanted to go home… back to Ireland. Back to Dawn. Back to where all this kind of tragedy was in the past, and her and Spike were…

Something. Her and Spike were something.

But not this.

"And now?" She asked. "How about now?"

He didn't answer her right away. Silence spanned out over the dank and thick air, and Buffy felt like choking on it.

"Man's here." He answered quietly.

"And what does he feel?"

A beat.

"Broken."

"What? Now that you see I'd rather stake myself than—"

"No." He interrupted her. "Because I don't want to do this to you."

Tears stung at the corner of her eyes.

"Then don't."

"And because the lunatic and grandsire aren't here now either." He went on, ignoring what she'd said. "I know this is wrong. I know it so much it's killing me… but the truth is, it doesn't take evil to be selfish. Men can be selfish, too – are, in fact, most of the time."

"Most men don't go around killing for laughs."

"You're right. Most don't." He said pointedly, and there was more Spike in his voice than William now, though he still sounded distinctly on the edge. "Have you ever actually met a saint, Love?"

"What?" She asked uncertainly. "No."

"No." Spike repeated. "And you know why? They have to wait until a bloke's been dead for five years to even consider making him one. That's because it'd be damned hard to prove anyone's a saint otherwise."

"Believe it or not, good people do exist."

"Good people exist." He agreed with her. "Perfect people don't."

"Well, great." Buffy said warily, leaning her head back against the dirt wall. "Now that we have that all sorted out, let's make me a vampire."

Silence again. A long and pronounced silence that seemed, on the whole, fittingly funerary.

But when Spike spoke again, she was startled for two reasons. One, she hadn't realized that her eyes had been closed. Two, he was closer now; right beside her… and she hadn't even heard him move.

"Buffy…" He said, and she could feel his caressing hand moving up the length of her leg. She tightened her grip on the stake in her hand and didn't move.

"Don't." She said.

He didn't seem to be touching her suggestively. It was tender, consoling.

"Spike…"

"Shhh…" He whispered, putting his hand over hers that held the piece of wood. She swallowed. She could feel his lips against her ear when he spoke again. "I can hear your heart pounding, Love. You don't have to be afraid. Not of me."

Buffy moved her head away from him.

She wasn't sure if she could do it now, not with him so close. He'd be able to stop her.

"I've never been afraid of you." She managed to say.

He was quiet for a moment, running a thumb over the back of her hand. She clutched tightly at the stake… she wouldn't let him take it from her.

"You said you believed in me once." He was still whispering. "Believe in me now."

A tear, slow and hot, fell down Buffy's cheek.

"I did." She said, unable to hide the emotion from her voice. "But I can't believe in this."

One cold finger ran up her cheek, wiping away her tear.

"That's the funny thing about the truth, Pet." He was holding her cheek now. "It's true whether or not you believe it."

She said nothing. She didn't have the words just then to argue with him, or to articulate the pain she was feeling. She couldn't, wouldn't, explain to him that he was doing so much more to her now than he could have realized. Being here with him, his hand trying to comfort her, wiping away her tears… whispering to her.

He was breaking her heart.

"Just rest here with me." He said, moving his arm across her shoulder and gently pulling her in to his chest. She didn't fight it. She didn't want to fight anymore, and as he smoothed his hand over her hair, she just wanted to close her eyes and do what he asked.

Rest.

She closed her eyes against him, and she didn't realize he was moving the stake out of her hand until he'd already done it.

"I'm sorry, Buffy." He said in to her hair.

Words came from her mouth, but she only vaguely noticed that she was speaking. She may have said something along the lines of, "I know", but she couldn't be sure. Not anymore.

And it was only the gentle shaking of Spike's chest underneath her cheek that alerted her to the fact that he was crying.

"I do believe in you." Buffy said softly, the words drifting through her as though from a dream. "My Spike loves me more than I'll ever understand… and I know he wouldn't do this to me. My Spike would let me go."

There was a short silence.

"… Your Spike." The vampire said almost inaudibly.

"You showed me what you could be. What you are." She said, feeling herself begin to fade in to darkness. "I believe in you, Spike. Prove me right…"

The cold and dark were absolute now. She felt a part of it as though it were in her skin. Spike's slow hand running through her hair was a part of her, too. She knew she was falling now, deep and slowly, irrecoverably, in to the abyss Spike had decided not to tell Dawn about when she'd come asking for answers about death.

"Rest now, Buffy." He whispered, and then with a voice heavy with the truth of what it spoke, "I love you."

She was almost gone now. She could feel her last moments of consciousness slipping away from her. Her mind wandered slowly through thoughts of her sister and of her friends.

Willow… the shy sixteen-year-old red head had become something so amazing, so powerful. So unique to a world where "unique" was beginning to become a thing of the past.

Xander - her rock. A man who had no business being as brave and true as he was, but was nonetheless. Always, always, there to laugh in the face of annihilation. Always there to pick up the pieces and make them whole again.

And Dawnie.

Dawn. Beautiful, incredible, Dawn…

She couldn't think anymore.

"I love…" She said, almost too quiet for her own ears.

The next word, whatever it was going to be, didn't come, but as the darkness rushed in to take the place of Willow, Xander, and Dawn in her mind – one word did roll softly around in the quiet and cold. One word that she didn't understand, but didn't deny either. One word as the world slipped away from her.

You.

*2*

When all your friends mutinied and decided to throw their lot in with the other not so pleasant slayer, you were alone in the world.

But I found you.

*3*

I'm not a young man. I'll always carry the face of a boy named William who died in his late twenties, but the years still tick away. Time doesn't stop just because we do. We are forever pictures of ourselves at a time when we were beautiful. Looking at me, looking at any of us, it's easy to forget how old we really are.

My best mate from school died in 1916. He had been my age. I suppose I might have died around that same time. It's a weird thought, even for me, that I went on existing past my own lifetime. I lived to see the world around me change in to something completely different from the one I had been born in to. Women stopped wearing corsets and heavy skirts, and men stopped holding doors open for them. At first no one owned a car, then everyone did. The word "charming" lost it's place and it's meaning. The world sped up.

Can't say I cared. Can't say any of it really mattered to me… but in all the time I've had to roam the planet, all the time to see things and experience things, I also can't say I haven't been lucky. I got to witness the rebirth of society several times over. I got to set the world on fire with the woman I loved more than I could ever express in words.

I've seen some ugly things, some of which delighted me to no end… but I've also seen some of the most beautiful things a man can see. Moonlight over Rome before cars and noise distracted the senses. Paris in the fall when the air smelled like life. I saw a world that now only exists in pictures and history books.

I've had some incredible nights.

But in all that time, even now, I can still say the best night in my life was the first night you let me rest beside you and hold you to me.

*4*

I was ready to die for you when I did. Not for the world. Wasn't my world, anyway. Hadn't been for a while.

*5*

When I came back, nothing made sense. The one thing I'd known, that I'd been certain, I'd ever done right for you, and it had been taken from me. Spent weeks and weeks knocking about with no sense of touch or taste or smell. It was like I was played with, laughed at. Mine was the best death I'd ever seen, and really, I'd seen some pretty great ones.

I had been a villain, a fool, a slave to love, and then a hero.

When I came back, I was nothing. I was afraid you would think I was nothing. That insecurity followed me, haunted me, through out the better part of a year. Even when I was willing to die to save the world again in that alley with Angel, even after.

Especially after. When you finally found out I was alive.

*6*

Hadn't known how to get in touch. That's what you said.

*7*

I searched for years for one small sign that you had loved me. I waited around, even though I wasn't around, for you to realize that we had something beyond what anyone else around you had. That I knew you. That we knew each other.

You didn't realize it.

I think, maybe, I'd even accepted it. Even though it hurt.

*8*

Then the man in black with a satin top hat found me as I was leaving a sidewalk café in London with a bird I'd met the night before. Pretty girl with long brown hair who reminded me of Dawn except without the bright eyes. They were blue, I think, but dull.

"Pardon me, Madam," He'd said to the girl on a bow. "But would you mind if I spoke with your gentleman escort for just a few moments?"

I gave him the once over and a cocked eyebrow. Hadn't really seen anything like him since the very early 1900s.

"Push off, Mate." I responded before the girl could say anything.

He looked at me, still in a bow, then stood up straight.

"Well, that wasn't very polite, William." He said.

Then I must have been knocked over the head with something, because there was a very sharp pain in my skull before everything went black.

*9*

I woke up in chains.

*10*

"I can smell your soul." The man had said from the darkness, and I couldn't see him… but the space around us was filled with his scent. I knew he wasn't human, but I wasn't sure what exactly he was. "It's old. Smells of… strawberries."

"Lovely." I responded to him sarcastically.

"You're not like the other, are you?"

I scoffed, assuming he meant Angel.

"Not hardly."

"No, not hardly." He agreed. "Not at all. You're not haunted like he is. Not exactly."

"What can I say, Topper?" I asked. "Sulking's never really been my style."

"Oh, but you are haunted." I could hear him coming closer to me. "That much I could see. I saw it in your eyes same as I saw your soul."

"Yeah, deep ocean of secrets." I said, pulling against my chains.

"Want to tell me what haunts you, William?"

"That name doesn't mean a lot to me." I answered him. "Don't know why people always think it punctuates their point."

"Well, if you won't tell me…"

He ripped open my shirt and I could here my buttons go flying.

"Hey!" I said angrily. "I'm not in to—"

Then his hand was on my chest… and I screamed.

*11*

I could feel my retinas light on fire in the back of my head, and my heart and chest suddenly felt like they were being squeezed in a vice grip. I knew this pain. Every time the soul had ever made it's presence known to me, it'd felt like that.

Nothing but pain.

And then I saw it. Their faces. The blood. The screaming. I could smell the fear. I could taste the agony. Salty tears and blood all over my tongue. Mothers begging me to just let their children go. Husbands crying out in horror as their wives' necks were snapped like twigs right in front of them. Men calling out to God.

And you. Your voice was there, begging me.

Please, Spike, don't do this! Please, Spike, don't do this! Please, Spike, don't do this! Please, Spike, don't…

The faces were gone. The pain and heat dissipated.

"I see." The man said as I hung there panting uselessly in front of him.

"What the bloody hell did you just—"

"You really are not like the other. His soul doesn't scream like yours does, and it's not as a part of his being as yours is. Not as easy to separate."

"Went to hell and back for it." I ground out.

"Interesting, though, that out of all the voices your soul carries with it, that the voice of Buffy rises above every one of them."

If my blood could have gone colder, it would have.

"How do you know B-"

"Don't flatter yourself, Spike." He laughed at me again. "You thought this was about you?"

Well, yeah. But also, not really. It was always about you.

"You can't use me to hurt her."

"No, not now, I suppose." He said, but didn't sound disappointed, which set me on edge. "But you have hurt her in the past. You were certainly able to hurt her in the past."

"Too bad that was the past."

"Shouldn't torture yourself over it, either. Desperation and love can drive a man to do terrible, terrible things." He didn't seem to be speaking to me anymore. I pulled at my chains.

"I don't torture myself… but I get out of these chains, and they won't even be able to use dental records to identify you." I growled.

He paused before speaking.

"Say hello to Buffy for me." He said quietly, but somehow with all the force of ominous implication.

*12*

Then, simply, I was here, in my crypt. A weight on my chest was gone, and it didn't take me more than seconds to realize what had happened and where I was.

And I felt you almost instantly.

*13*

"Spike?" You had asked after staking a nameless fledgling. You didn't know what had just happened. You didn't even realize where we were. You didn't notice your hair being shorter or darker. You couldn't see how young you looked.

"Hello, Buffy." I said, a slow smile on my face. You had no reason to expect anything from me. You even seemed happy to see me. My cold blood was rolling in my veins, urging me forward. This was my chance to have you. To finally and completely have you.

"Ireland?" You asked me. I hadn't stepped foot in that country while you'd been there. I looked around, vaguely wondering how you hadn't noticed the difference between Ireland and my cemetery.

"I could ask you the same." I said. Really, I could have. I never did understand you settling in any country of Europe. California was in your blood.

"Well, you know." You shrugged. "Matches my eyes."

I had to smile at that.

"Spike, My God…" You started, words seeming to fail you.

If God was just something that created other things, then yeah.

"Maybe a little of both tonight, Love." I responded.

I saw the change in you immediately – but my instincts were quicker than yours. You tried to step back, but it was too late.

"Wh—"

I had you in my arms against my chest and there was no thought before I plunged my teeth in to your flesh.

Finally, tasting you.

It was everything I'd always imagined. Beauty and power and a taste that human tongues would never know.

*14*

I drank just enough. Just enough to damage you.

*15*

By the time you'd woken up, I'd already been out and about in Sunnydale to find just the right mixture of drugs to fill you with to make sure you could barely carry your own weight let alone pull out of your chains or take me in a fight.

It hurt to do it to you. I had tears in my eyes as a pulled the blade across my wrist and as I tipped your head back to let my blood drip in to your mouth. It did hurt me. But I was used to pain.

Every time you'd go back out, I'd drink a little more. Slowly taking your life from you.

*16*

I couldn't just turn you without trying to explain that it's not all harsh and ugly. I wanted you to understand that we are capable of so much more. I didn't want you to be afraid.

Even though I was.

*17*

I'd lived through your death. I'd lived through a life without you. I couldn't stand the thought of it. I just wanted you to be mine.

I look at your face, and I ache. How can I live without you?

I just want you to be mine.

*18*

But you called me yours. And you're right, Buffy. I am yours. Until the end of the world.

*19*

The voices were far away.

Muffled.

Sounded like someone was drowning.

Someone calling her for help.

No, not for help. Just…

Just calling.

Calling her away from the darkness.

But all there was, was darkness.

They were calling her name. They weren't here in the darkness with her. They were somewhere else. Somewhere outside of wherever she was. Somewhere trying to reach her, trying to pull her back to them. Pull her out.

Buffy opened her eyes, and at first the brightness was too overwhelming to adjust to. It felt like she'd been asleep for years.

The voices were still talking, still calling to her – but they were closer now. Coming in to focus. There were forms in the light that were coming in to focus, too. She wasn't alone here.

"Buffy…"

It was Dawn.

Buffy blinked her eyes several times and swallowed the dry lump in her throat.

"Buffy!"

Willow.

"Thank God."

Xander.

All there.

"Wh…" She tried to speak, but found that it hurt to talk. She cleared her throat painfully. "What's…?"

"It's okay, Buffy." Xander said, coming in to view. He looked so tired, and so young. "You're safe."

The brightness of the light that flooded her eyes began to recede, and Buffy was able to take in her surroundings.

She lay in a bed. In a hospital room.

She tried to sit up, but now Dawn and Willow were there easing her back down with words and gentle hands.

Dawn's arms were around her the next moment.

"You're awake." She said, tears in her voice. She stood up straight, looking like every bit the radiant girl she was, though she appeared to be just as worn out as Xander. "Stop scaring me like this."

Buffy reached up weakly to caress her sister's cheek. She was young, too. There was something so beautiful about seeing her this way again, that she could feel the tears begin to sting in her eyes.

"Dawn…" She said. "You're a teenager."

Dawn glanced at Willow, and Buffy dropped her hand back to her side.

"We know." Willow said gravely. Buffy looked at her. "We know you're not supposed to be here."

Buffy closed her eyes as relief washed over her. Good. That would save a whole lot of time and explaining that she didn't think she had the will for just now. She was only mildly curious as to how and why they figured it out, but she'd save that question for a time not now.

"Can you reverse this?" She asked, then opened her eyes and looked at her friend. The witch took a deep breath.

"The magic, whatever it is, it's weak. I don't think it was meant to last very long. A couple days, maybe. I think it will just… you know, wear off."

A couple of days. Just long enough for her to be killed.

Buffy nodded, letting everything sink in.

"Is Buffy 2.0 in my place?" She asked. "Or am I 2.0?" She looked at Xander who shrugged slightly.

Willow Smiled a small, weary smile.

"These kinds of things usually require a swap." Willow said. " A matter for matter deal. Or, in this case, a Buffy for Buffy."

Buffy looked back to the young witch.

This Willow who hadn't lost the love of her life. This Willow who hadn't tried to end the world.

"Will," She started. "I have to tell—"

Willow held out her hands.

"Buffy, no." She said. "Time's a tricky thing even when you're not taking fun joyride's through it."

"But me just being here changes things."

"I don't think so." Willow answered.

"She was telling us about this back at the house." Dawn said, sounding bored. "Time isn't linear, blah, blah, blah."

"Well, when you say it like that…" Willow said, a look of insulted nerdy pride on her face. Buffy shook her head.

"Linear-what-now?" She asked.

"The only way time travel could be possible, even with magic, is if time progresses in a loop, not in a straight line." Her friend explained. "Which means when this spell wears off, none of us here should have any memory of it at all. Otherwise, you would remember your little trip to the future." She paused. "You don't, do you?"

Buffy shook her head. No, she didn't. That was the worst thing about all of this then. Being sent back and not being able to change any of what happened.

"Don't worry about any of that now." Xander said.

"Yeah," Dawn agreed. "You should rest."

Rest.

"How… how did you find me?" Buffy asked.

"Spike." Willow answered. Buffy nearly started at the name, and the rush of hot adrenaline that ran through her at the mention of him made her heart beat a little faster. Dark memories of everything she'd just been through making her go cold.

"We had just done a locater spell." The redhead continued.

"It pointed to the cemetery and we were about to take in the full cavalry," Xander interrupted. "But Spike was there when we opened the door."

"Buffy, you were so pale and…"

Dawn couldn't finish her sentence.

Buffy managed to sit up a bit.

"Wait." She said. "Spike? Spike brought me home?"

It didn't make any kind of sense.

"He said he found you outside his crypt, unconscious." Dawn said. "He… he was pretty broken up. He just left you with us and ran away. Like, ran away."

Buffy didn't know what to feel or think. He'd spent hours and hours telling her he needed her, that he wouldn't let her go. He'd taken her back to her friends?

"Buffy…" Xander started with that look that she knew so well to mean he was about to address an elephant in the room. "Did Spike… did Spike have something to with this?"

Buffy looked to Xander suddenly. Of course he would assume Spike did this. Xander wouldn't even begin to trust Spike for another year or so. Anyway, he wasn't wrong.

"Xander, Buffy doesn't want to—"

"No." Buffy cut Willow off. "Spike didn't have anything to do with this." Three pairs of eyes rested on her. "I… don't know what it was. I didn't know what had happened and something came at me. I wasn't prepared to fight… what with the time traveling and all."

"He saved you." Dawn said with a strange hint of pride in her eyes. Dawn had loved Spike like a brother. Buffy had almost forgotten that. Her gaze found it's way to her sister's face.

A beat.

"Yeah." She said as she touched her fingers to the bandage at her neck. "I guess so."

Saved her? Maybe. From himself.

But he had done something else for certain. He'd proven her right.

*20*

6 Months Later

Newry, Ireland

Present Day

Dawn and Buffy stood together on the balcony that led out from Buffy's room in the cold night air, the wind blowing her hair back slightly. Behind her, in her bedroom, various boxes marked with black sharpie took up most of the space. It was time to move on from this place. Time to go back home, to America. To California. Dawn would stay in Ireland and head up the slayer base here. She was ready for that.

Dawn took a deep breath.

"I can't believe we're not going to be living together anymore." She said. Buffy looked at her 24-year-old sister and smiled. It had been nice to see her as a kid again when she'd been catapulted backward in time. It had been nice to see all of them like that. One good thing to come from all that pain.

"We'll still see each other." She answered.

"I know, but… still." The two girls looked out over the city. "Are you scared? You know, that the time traveling thing could happen again?"

Buffy thought about it. Whatever had been behind the whole thing was still out there and was definitely still a threat because it wanted her dead and the slayer army gone and was obviously willing to go to great lengths to see to it… but she had her friends. She had Dawn. The slayers were strong and getting stronger. They'd be able to beat it back, whatever it was.

"No." She answered honestly. "Fear is of the past."

Dawn half laughed, half rolled her eyes.

"Buffy…" She started after a few moments. "What's going to happen if you see Spike?"

In six months, Buffy had heard nothing of Spike. Not a letter or a phone call. No groveling apologies. No gestures of love. She didn't know what to think or how to feel at first. She still didn't.

Really, she didn't even know if he was alive.

"I don't know." She answered.

"Do you hate him?"

Dawn hadn't pushed her to talk about it in the whole time since she'd been back, and she'd only revealed a few details. No need to spell it all out. It hadn't been pretty. She didn't think anyone would want to hear just how much it hurt to hang helplessly from iron chains or just how close she'd come to staking herself. She didn't want to go over how hard it was seeing Spike that way again, how much pain it caused her. She didn't even think she could explain it if she tried.

"It was…" Buffy paused, then looked at her sister who was already looking at her. "Complicated. He had all this weird insight that made the kind of un-sense that he's so good at making."

"His un-sense always made sense to me."

Buffy paused.

"He talked a lot about you." She said. Dawn looked confused.

"Really?" She asked. "Why?"

"You were the only constant, other than the tirade of philosophy and death and pain." The older sister answered. "Even without the soul, I think he really did feel for you."

Dawn nodded, then looked back out from the balcony.

"I always knew he did." She answered.

"I didn't."

"You do now?" Dawn asked and looked back at her.

Buffy took a deep breath.

"I don't know." She answered. "He was everything evil that I remembered, but at the same time he wasn't."

"And he let you go."

"Hard to give him points for that, all things considered."

"I'm on board with the angry." Dawn started. "I don't know if I can forgive him for what he did to you… but letting you go must have been the hardest thing he's ever had to do."

Buffy looked away from her sister, then out at the view again.

"I'm going to go for a walk." She looked at her sister. "You going to be o—"

"Buffy?" Dawn interrupted her with an incredulous smirk. "24 now. Going to be leading a whole branch of an army. I think I can hold down the fort while you go for a walk."

Buffy smiled slightly.

"I'll be back."

*21*

Buffy walked slowly down the quiet street. This city was known for it's nightlife, but where her and Dawn lived was peaceful and silent most of the time. It reminded her of home, Sunnydale, when there was nothing to fight and the world wasn't ending… home had been comfortable and warm.

Buffy hugged herself tightly, a cold breeze washing over her. Everything was so different now… and soon, they'd be different again. Nothing stayed the same. Their world and their lives were constantly in flux and change was so constant that it was often hard to tell that anything was different until it had been for a long time.

"Buffy."

It was so surreal, so sudden, that Buffy wasn't sure if the voice behind her was just her imagination. She creased her forehead and turned around.

He stood a few feet away from her, his head at a tilt – the moonlight bathing him in soft blue-white.

"Spike." She said quietly, her heart racing. A beat. "Are you real?"

He smiled almost undiscernibly.

"Every time, Pet." He answered. This was eerily familiar, and Buffy took a step back – her hand going instinctively to the stake in her waste band, though she didn't take it out.

"You look…" He started, and then took a deep breath. "Good."

Buffy laughed shortly.

"Yeah. Having all my blood works for me." She responded, taking another step back. "What happened to you?"

He looked down.

"Had to deal with getting the soul back again." He said, and then looked back up. "Had to deal with what I did to you."

Buffy was silent for a moment, realizing just how cold it was outside and wishing that her arms and neck weren't so exposed. She shivered slightly.

"What are you doing here?"

"Wanted to make sure you were all right." He answered.

"You came to check on me?" She asked. Then looked confused. "After six months?"

"I didn't really think my presence would be all too welcomed." He responded, taking a step so that his body was at a slant to hers. "I did try to kill you, after all."

"Wasn't the first time."

Spike shrugged slightly with his eyes as though to say, "Well, yeah, you got me there".

"I feel that 'sorry' would be humorously redundant at this point, but… I am. I thought I was better than that, stronger. Guess I don't know myself any more than I ever did. Never thought I'd tried to turn you."

Buffy swallowed.

"Tell me why."

Spike laughed.

"I spent the better part of 2 days telling you why."

"No." Buffy said, shaking her head slightly. "Tell me why you let me go."

Spike paused before answering, straightening his head.

"Because you called me yours."

Buffy thought back. Had she called him hers?

Yes, she had.

"Your Spike could never hurt you." He continued. "You believed in me. I…" His voice broke and he trailed off.

Now Buffy took a step forward, forgetting her stake.

"You proved me right." She said. Spike's head tilted again, and something in his eyes spoke of gratitude. "You didn't just let me go. You… let me go."

Let her go. The kind of letting go that meant forever. He had wanted her to be by his side for the eternity that he would exist, but he'd given that up. They stood in silence for a long moment.

"All that stuff about not needing the soul," Spike started finally. "I don't—"

"You were still able to make the right decision without one." Buffy interrupted. "I… I don't know what a soul is." She took another step forward. "But I know what you are."

"What's that?" He asked quietly.

A beat.

"A good man."

It only took a second or two for his eyes to glass over with tears.

"I'll never forget what you did to me in that crypt." She continued. "Or the things you told me. I can't forget it… but you came face to face with everything bad inside you, and there was nothing there to tell you no, but you still did the right thing. I don't know what that means. I don't know why you're so different, but I know I won't forget that either."

She took a final step forward so that she was standing right in front of him. He looked… not scared, but a little uncomfortable. Almost like he thought that Buffy was fragile and just being close to her could hurt her.

She placed a hand on his cheek. He seemed startled at first, but then he moved his face in to the caress.

"I do love you." She said simply as though it were the most natural thing in the world, and then took her hand down. He closed his eyes and swallowed, then opened them back up again. The blue was bright with tears. "It's not… what you want. It can't be what you want."

"Buffy, you don't have—"

"But it is real." She asserted. "I've seen the best and the worst of you, and I know you now. Better than I did before. I've seen that there's good in you even when there shouldn't be, and if that's not a reason to love someone… there's no reason to love anyone."

He leaned in then and kissed her. There was nothing wild or desperate about the way his lips moved over hers. There was no dangerous passion in the way his hands cupped her face. There was no thought in Buffy's mind to move away.

It was just a kiss between two people who understood each other better than anyone else ever would. Two people who had been to the end of the world, to hell, together and back. Two people who loved each other, but who would never be together and knew it. It was sad, in it's own way… but it was comforting, too.

Buffy pulled away first and took a few steps back.

"So, this thing that hit you on the head in London." She said, beginning to walk. "Any idea what he was?"

Spike was visibly recovering from what had just taken place, though he didn't ask her about her admission of love – only the second she'd ever given him, or the kiss. He came in to step with her.

"No… but when we find him I think it will be fun to string him up and fill his face with candy before we bash it in."

"Ooh, like a piñata?I hope we find him near my birthday, then." She smiled, and so did Spike a little. The two were silent for a long few moments. Buffy took a deep breath, looking around. "This place really is beautiful." She said.

"Yeah." Spike agreed, though he was only looking at her. "Beautiful."

*22*

I've lived a long time, and been dead for most of it. You can call it living though, because I fell in love with a girl, with you, Buffy, and you brought everything that was ever good inside me back to life.

I've been walking in darkness for so long, I can hardly remember the feel of the sun on my face, but you carry summer with you even when it rains. I can remember your touch on my face, and it feels brighter and warmer than the brightest and warmest day ever did before there were no more bright or warm days. Before there were no more days at all.

I was a monster, but you made me a man.

You were my soul even when I didn't have one. Even if I can't spend my eternity with you, I'll always remember you. I'll always love you.

And, maybe, I'll always hate you a little for that, too.

And that's just the truth of it.

The End

Final Note: Thanks for reading my story.

Grrr! Argh!