Oh my, y'all; here it is. The very last chapter! It's nice and long, but it is the end. Thank you so much for reading all this, anyone who's made it this far. I guess this is my Christmas gift to you, so I hope you like it. There's a little bit more note from me at the end, so for now, I'll hush...

Buffy found Spike pulling his clothes out of the drier, and waited, openly ogling him. When he was dressed, he pulled the robe back on over top, saying defensively that it was "right cozy." When he seemed done, she took his hand and pulled him out to the porch. He followed, looking at her curiously.

"What's this about, love? If you're trying to tell me to get back to my crypt, well I wasn't gonna stay... I mean, unless you wanted me to?"

"What? No, you should stay! But, well, maybe you won't want to—or, well I don't know. There's something we have to talk about though."

"Making me nervous, pet. Spill it out already, yeah?"

Buffy told him what Tara had told her, watching Spike's face become still and expressionless. When she was done she waited anxiously for him to respond. Minutes passed. Finally he cleared his throat, and spoke softly.

"So, you told me this...because you thought I should know? That they were grateful? That it, more or less?"

"What? I mean, yes..."

"Right then, you told me. Did your duty and all. Thanks pet. Let's be getting in then, shall we?" He began to rise. Buffy pulled him back down, peering at his face.

"Spike, what are you—what do you think is going on here, exactly?"

"You told me all about it—cheers! What do you want from me, love? You want me to be happy? I told you how I feel about this...but I've tried to get used to it, to accept it, and things are—well, it's not so bad," he ran his eyes over her deliberately, heating her cheeks, "so I don't really need to be dwelling on the impossible. That's all. So can we just drop it then?"

"Spike. I'm asking you what we should do. I want us to talk about this, decide together if we should do this or not. Do you understand?"

Silence. Spike looked at her as if she were speaking in tongues. She caught a glimpse of his jaw tightening and his face contorted with an unfamiliar expression before he turned away from her. When he brought himself around to face her again, he was controlled once more, but his eyes shone with a kind of wonder.

"That's...Buffy, you don't know what that means to me. That you would say that. But I know you can't do it. I understand, and... well I don't want you to stake me either, or to try. I don't want to fight you, I can't. I couldn't... I just—now especially—I don't want to change things. It's...all right. Really."

"I don't want—I mean I am talking about changing things, but not, not us things. I just think—you're right. I should trust you more, and you have worked really hard and changed a lot, and I think maybe this is something we should talk about. I'm offering to trust you, to trust you to be good, if you tell me that I can."

Spike couldn't hide the tears that welled up in his eyes, this time. He stood angrily, hiding his face and pacing, lighting a cigarette. His head was spinning. He'd been so happy, with Buffy, felt like he had everything he wanted—he'd almost forgotten, for a few minutes here and there, to hate the chip, to wish for his freedom. And now—he was afraid. He admitted it to himself ruefully. Yep, the Big Bad was finally scared of something. But hell, he'd already lost Buffy once, he knew how bad it was—yeah, sod it all, damn right he was afraid of losing her again. But could he really still have her, and do this?

Could he do it? Did he want to? Could she trust him? He could still barely wrap his mind around the fact that he had, basically, agreed that he was "good" now, whatever that meant. Sure, he was playing for their team, but did that change who he was? To do this, it would have to.

He looked down at where her lovely face was raised, watching him trustingly, and felt that his cold heart would break for loving her so much. How could she offer this to him, knowing everything? Knowing what he was? It was too much. Kneeling, he took her face in his hands and kissed her thoroughly, ignoring her squeak of surprise. He pulled away, and waited for her eyes to drift open before speaking.

"I love you, Buffy. No, don't say anything. I just wanted to say it. I need to go, to think about this, okay? Thank you. No one has believed in me like this since...well, for a long time. You are one in a bloody million, and don't forget it. If it's all right with you, still, I'll come back here? Later?"

She nodded, wordless; he handed her the pink robe he'd been wearing, which she hugged to her, and he strode off into the darkness. The pounding of his feet on the pavement made him feel better, but his mind still churned uselessly. Underneath it all, though, he was warmed, exhilarated, by her faith in him. In him!

But did he deserve it? Was he really a good guy now, or was he just, what was it they had said about him, hobbled? He had never wanted to change, he liked things before, he'd been happy. Well, not right then, just before the chip he hadn't, not with Dru dumping him and all that. But before that...

He thought back, for the first time in a long time. Thought about killing, slashing and burning. What Red had said about him, last week—she'd been wrong. He hadn't raped or tortured—not since his first victims at least. Them, he had tortured, those men he'd known as a human. But for the century after that...no. Angelus had tried, god knew, to teach him, but it was the fight he liked. The adrenaline rush of the fight you didn't know you'd win. That was the difference between Angel and him, he thought scornfully—Angel liked to play it safe. To pick on the weak. Whereas he, it was all in the risk, for him, and the longer the odds were against him, the better it was.

But then he sagged. Was he so different, really? He liked the fight, but what about all those girls he'd charmed and enticed to his side over the years, lured into alleys and backrooms and left in a lifeless heap? All those men he'd killed in fights, casually, thoughtlessly? What was he, how was he any better? He couldn't be trusted.

But then... he thought about it again. The girls. The bodies. Drinking from them. About Drusilla, the years with her. Taking care of her, keeping her happy. He walked, and thought.

The sun was already tinting the sky when he slipped through the window to Buffy's room, closing the shades tight behind him. He smiled at the sight of her, peaceful in sleep. He undressed swiftly and slipped under the covers, sliding against her, wrapping his arms around her. She snuggled close, sighing, then opened her eyes blearily.

"Hey. Hi. How are you? Is everything okay?"

"Yeah," he said quietly, tweaking her nose a little. "Everything is fine. We can talk about it when you wake up."

"What, no. I'm, I'm awake now. Really." She blinked and tried to look convincing.

"It can wait, love," he insisted.

"No, come on." She sat up, pulling away. "Please?"

"All right then." He propped himself on one elbow, trying to ignore the glow he felt surrounding him at the sight of her, hair down and gleaming, eyes level and intent on him.

"All right. I was... I know why you asked me to decide, about the chip. I believe you, you trust me. I get it, and it's... I can't tell you what it means to me. That you believe in me, even after everything I've done. And I thought a lot about what I told you, before, about the chip and it being a leash, a punishment. And it's—I'm not saying otherwise. Never. But it's the reason we're here, in this bed, and this is the best thing that's ever happened to me. No, don't—it's okay. I know you don't love me, it's enough that you're with me, like this. But I know, now, what it is to be alive. I thought getting this thing out of my head, going back, would make me happy. But now...

"I thought I was happy, before. I'm dead, I know that—but I didn't know I was letting myself die inside, until I met you. I walked and fed and fought and fucked, like a living thing, I had fun, always—the times me and Dru had, Slayer, you should have seen me in those days! But I was a fool, Buffy. I let myself believe I didn't need the things that make it all worthwhile. This is the only true happiness I've ever known, and next to this, what does it mean to me to kill, even to feast? The thought of it... I don't want to anymore, Slayer. I don't need the chip out, I don't want it. I don't want to go back to being that dead thing. I don't care what I eat, don't care if it's dead. Not as long as I can fight by your side, and with you, and even without you... well, I might just be good after all.

"I never thought... but I guess I don't have the same relish for the kill I once did. Maybe I like taking care of folks a sight better. I'm a right ponce for it, but I guess that's the way it is. I'm just not the same as I was before, and now you're telling me I can be, but I don't think I want to anymore. Even without the chip, I don't think I'd be the same as I was. Working with you lot, this last while—I mean, don't got me wrong, it's been right annoying, but the saving people gig...well, I guess I can see how it gets to be a bit of a habit and all. So I guess you can just tell Ozma to hold onto her little present, and we'll just carry on, yeah? And just so you know—you can count on me. Right?"

Buffy sniffled, wiping her cheeks.

"I know," she said. "I know I can. And that's why we're going to do this thing. The chip goes."

~~~~~~Two Months Later~~~~~

Willow and Dawn were cozily at work doing homework at the dining room table, while Tara cleaned up the dinner remnants. Xander had come over to hang out while Anya stayed late at the Magic Box working on the books, and was watching television and looking settled. In short, everyone except Spike was perfectly relaxed and content. The vampire was ensconced on the porch, smoking cigarettes and drinking beers, waiting anxiously for Buffy to return. It had been two days since Buffy had got on the bus to Los Angeles, brushing off his repeated offers to drive her ("...and spend the whole time we're there trying to keep you and Angel from each others' throats? No thanks, I have business to take care of...") and he was more than ready for her return, scheduled for tonight.

She had kissed him thoroughly as her bus boarded, and reminded him that he needed to keep everyone safe in her absence—he still couldn't get over that. Not just that she would ask him to take care of her nearest and dearest, but that he would leave them with him at all. There was a time when he would have been mortified at the idea that he was to be trusted, tamed and harmless without even the safeguard of the chip, but now it felt like a hard won prize. Really all he was doing was the same thing as he had been for over a year now; but knowing it was his choice, entirely and willingly, made it feel different. Knowing he could walk off this porch, downtown, and snack on whoever he wanted—well, that was good enough. He didn't need to.

It hadn't been so easy, at first; or rather, he had feared it wouldn't be. He had spent many nights questioning Buffy's judgment and fighting to keep her from regretting it; but in the end, her belief in his goodness had made it impossible for him to fuck it up—how could he let her down when she had been so amazing? How could he be the jerk who ruined that trust and faith? Besides, he really had one up on Angel now! Oh, if only she'd let him go down to LA with her, the things he would say to that big broody ponce. Look pa, no soul, and hey—not terrorizing anyone!

In any case, over time he had mostly forgotten the urges and cravings—it wasn't difficult, really, it had been so long since he'd fed from humans anyway, he'd had plenty of time to adjust. And in the process, he'd made a new friend. He glanced through the window, smiling a little at the table where Willow and Dawn sat. The little witch and he weren't the obvious choice for BFFs, and it had been awkward at first, but they'd grown more and more comfortable with one another, and now... well, she'd been a help.

You wouldn't think a young girl with impulse control problems would be able to relate to the problems of a century old reformed mass murderer, but he found her surprisingly sympathetic and, after they got to know each other, easy to talk to. Easier than Buffy in some ways; no one could ever approach Buffy's place in his heart, but it was easier to confide in someone whose opinion he wasn't so worried about, and well, his Slayer could be a little... judgmental. He smiled affectionately, thinking of her getting all self-righteous and agitated. Whereas the witch was too uncertain of her own place on the spectrum of virtue to cast stones, and was willing to forgive him more, perhaps, than she ought.

As for Willow's dilemmas, he liked to think he'd been able to help the witch out some, as well. She had taken for granted her own goodness for so long that she'd had no idea when to question her motives, to put on the brakes. He, on the other hand, had never even considered the possibility that he could tell on his own if something was okay or not, so he'd learned to scrutinize the humans around him for clues at all times, and that turned out to be something he could teach her as a stopgap measure; while together they worked towards true confidence in their internal moral compasses. Spike still had his doubts, but his girls insisted he had one, as true as any human, and it was just a matter of getting it back in use.

All in all, it had been a bit of a revelation; he had been so sure, always, that his soulless state precluded any ability to judge right from wrong that he hadn't even bothered to try; she had been so sure her soul would keep her on track that she hadn't either; but the more time they spent together, the less the difference seemed to exist. Little by little, Spike had begun to cautiously try out just using his own judgment rather than trying to imagine what Buffy would do. And miraculously, it seemed to be working.

Willow, meanwhile, after overcoming her initial self-doubt, had taken to implementing mental techniques to curb herself and think things through with her usual zeal for organization. She now had a rigid series of steps she used make decisions, and no doubt carefully organized journals full of notes on the whole business squirreled away somewhere. So they didn't need each other's support as much as they had; but the pair still made time to head to the Bronze for a just-the-two-of-them evening regularly, drinking beer and pretending to bitch about their respective girlfriends, though neither of them could keep that up for any length of time before that led to the starry eyed sighing portion of the evening. Not that he, Spike, ever did any of that, of course, but that Willow sure was besotted. Well, good for her—Tara was a right catch and deserved a little cherishing.

And the friendship had had other benefits, as well; he didn't care a bit, of course, if the Watcher and the boy accepted him as long as he could count on the girls to tolerate him, but having another person solidly on his side had helped, and he had to admit it was more pleasant to be on good terms with his new—well, they were sort of his new family in a way, weren't they? Gang, in any case. So while there would always be some distance, it was good to have things run smoothly, and easier for Buffy too.

Spike's ears perked up as he picked up a faint sound in the distance. Was that...yes. Those had to be her footsteps, that purposeful little clomping—so cute! He straightened up, waiting, tensed, for the steps to turn, come down the block, bring her back to him. Would she smell like him? Would she be moody, regretful? What if...no. No no no. Just wait for her, and then...

Buffy came down the block with the springy step of the cheerleader she had been. She bounced onto the porch and into Spike's arms, pulling back away before he could give her more than a quick squeeze. Nudging her bags aside, she sat beside him, bouncing with excitement.

"So, it went well then?" he asked, pulling her hand to him.

"Yeah," she said, "it totally did! I don't even know why they wanted to make me meet up with them in person, they fully just gave me everything I said I wanted! And they didn't actually really give me too much trouble about why I didn't want them to come to Sunnydale, I think I threw em off, and I didn't have to mention you at all, so I don't think they have any idea you're here, let alone...well, yeah. So I get a monthly salary and it's totally a way lot, good thing I asked Giles what to ask for, I wouldn't have ever... and anyway, not only that, I get reimbursed for stuff to fight evil with—like weapons, for sure. Or if I need to go out of town or something, or, I was thinking, my cleaning bills and stuff!"

"Well, well," he said, "I'm sitting with a proper Council employee then, is it? Congratulations, love. I'm really happy for you."

"I know, it's... I can't wait to tell Dawn—I can really take care of her now, I can add to her college fund and everything, like Mom would have..." Buffy looked down briefly, but when she looked back up, her happy grin was back. "And get this, I even got them to say that if Faith gets out and is slaying and stuff, they'll give her the same deal—can you believe that? The rogue slayer even? I bet that made old Travers pretty pissed. Hah!"

Spike smiled at her excitement at getting the Watcher's Council to do her bidding for a change, but he was having a hard time fully sharing her joy. He knew she'd been staying with Angel, of course—after all, the wanker apparently lived in a hotel now, it would hardly make sense for her to go stay in, well, some other hotel. So surely that was the only reason she smelled of him—of course she would. But happy as they had been these past months, content though she seemed, he couldn't forget that he had been her second choice, that if Angel were still an option...

He stirred himself, finding the girl in question looking at him, a sympathetic look on her face. She leaned in and snuggled her head onto his shoulder.

"Missed you," she said quietly. "I have other stuff to tell you too, but later, 'kay? I wanna go tell everybody about the money, and take a shower, cause the bus—euww."

"Yeah, I can smell it on you, pet," he smirked, causing her to jump up.

"Oh god why didn't you say something? Gross, gross, yuck..." and she grabbed her stuff and headed in.

Everyone was delighted to hear Buffy's news, but it wasn't much of a surprise really—the trip to LA was really a formality, it had been clear that the Council would say yes, already had. The other news from the big city required a bit more discussion—Angel had a baby? There were some other bits of gossip to touch on, but that one really took the cake. But even so, the household settled before too long.

Spike waited in Buffy's bedroom—which had become their room, really—while she showered, feeling uncomfortably apprehensive. It occurred to him that he would normally be sneaking into the bathroom right about now to offer a hand, but he couldn't seem to do it. What if she didn't want him to? No, he'd wait to hear what it was that she wanted to tell him. Soon enough, she came in, bring a cloud of steamy, flowery smells with her.

"I don't really feel like I'm home, having a whole shower all alone," she said quizzically, "might as well still be in LA."

He felt relieved that she'd showered alone in Los Angeles, then annoyed at himself.

"Wanted to give you a moment to yourself I suppose," he muttered, then, twitching an eyebrow, "Be happy to give you a hand drying off though..."

She smiled at the familiar leer, feeling a charge at his eyes trailing over her. He seemed to straighten a bit at the scent of her arousal, and his hand trailed carelessly across his chest and tight stomach, finding a resting spot at the waist of his jeans where the fingers could drop down to frame his growing bulge. Even as she dropped the towel and drifted towards him, though, he stood and shook his head.

"Wait, love." He grabbed her pink robe and wrapped her in it, tying the belt in front as she stood, unresisting, befuddled.

"You don't want—is everything all right? I thought you said...?" she trailed off, totally lost.

"I want, I want. I do. But you said you had something to tell me, and well, let's just talk first, yeah? I just want to know, first, if... if there's anything I should know," he finished lamely.

She was still standing in the middle of the floor staring blankly at him. "You don't think—Spike seriously? Is this about Angel? Cause you know I wouldn't..."

"Well, I don't know squat, do I?" Spike exclaimed. "I know you'd be with him if you had the choice, don't I? And if he can have a bleedin' child, with Darla, for chrissake, well who knows what other mojo he might have cooked up down there? And even without all that, you haven't seen him, since... we... and look, if this is gonna be some kind of goodbye pity shag, well all right, but I wanna know it first, that's all. All right? So just tell me what you wanted to tell me and let's get on with it."

Buffy had been speechless throughout Spike's increasingly agitated monologue, but when he wound down she snapped to. She crossed quickly to where he had sat back down on the bed and was looking defiantly up at her, and lowered herself to sit on his lap. Cupping his face in her hands she looked at him fondly.

"Ya big dummy, is that what you think? That I want to be with Angel? That I'm just killing time with you?"

"I, no, I mean—well, yeah! And don't get me wrong, you can kill time with me all you want to, I've got plenty to spare, but, let a bloke know, is the thing, right?"

"Spike, I wasn't—it isn't anything like that. I cannot even think how to properly stress the nothing that happened between me and Angel down there just now! I mean, even aside from the bickering, and the fact that he barely even noticed I was there most of the time, being so busy with the baby, and good god is that still weird to say, but anyway, no. No way. Plus I think him and Cordy are kind of a thing, which, ew, but whatever. The point is, I don't even care. And that is not what I was going to say, okay? So will you just relax already?"

"Hmmm. Yeah, okay then..." Spike was taking her at her word and nuzzling his nose into the opening of the robe. "But wait," he said, popping his head back up, "what the hell did you get me all worried for? It had to be something, so out with it, would you? Quit trying to distract me and come clean!"

"Oh well, this wasn't really how I pictured... I thought maybe you'd be happy to see me, and we'd... you know..." her hand trailed suggestively down his front, "and then we'd be all snuggled up with maybe just a candle, or not, and I'd say, I have something to tell you, and then you'd say, yes darling..."

"Darling, huh? Well plenty of time for snuggling later, pet, but maybe I can help with the rest. Nuh! Not that! Just hold on, you..." and he squeezed out from under her, using his superhuman speed to flip her off his lap and into bed, close the curtains, light a candle, turn off the lights and shed his clothes in a flash, returning to slip under the covers beside Buffy.

"Cheers, love, cozy enough? Now let's get this out of the way. Give it to me, then." He looked expectantly at her.

Buffy blushed and stammered a bit more. Finally she buried her face in his muscular chest and began speaking into it, knowing he could hear her just fine.

"I just wanted to... I hadn't seen Angel since right after I came back, you know, like you said, and that time was—well pretty awful, actually. But I was such a mess, it could have just been me, and that whole time—it's all pretty fuzzy, to be honest. So whatever. So I didn't really know what it would be like to see him! I mean, I don't want to be with him, that's totally over. Seriously Spike," looking up briefly to meet his eyes, "it is over. But anyway I was kind of nervous, I didn't really know what it would be like. When I was with Riley—quit growling! When I was with Riley I still... I didn't want to be with Angel, but I, I had feelings.

"But I got down there, and... I really really don't, anymore. So that was something! But it's not only that—I saw him, and we started right in, him acting all old and wise and, well he is way older than me, I'll give him that, but he always acts like I'm just some dumb little girl that doesn't know what's best for myself... and he started in on me, and I just realized... well, I thought I was really in love with him, you know?"

She noticed that Spike's chest had ceased to rise and fall beneath her cheek.

"And I never really questioned that, even when I figured we'd never be together again. But I don't think I was, Spike. I don't think that's love, that it ever was. I was just a dumb teenager and I wanted it to be some big, epic, forever thing... but he never saw me, he doesn't even want to! He just wants me to be, to be this, like—I don't even know. This idea or something! It makes me so mad! And then when he started in on you, us being together, like he knew all about it, I just saw everything—I love you, Spike."

"What?" he raised himself on an elbow, spilling her off him, the shock on his face visible even in the dim light.

She broke into a giggle at his reaction. "Yeah, that's pretty much what I wanted to tell you. I just—the way we are together, the way you—we're friends, and we've hated each other and tried to kill each other and all of it, but I think there was some part of me that always knew you were, I don't know. Like me, or something. And then since I came back—god even before, I just couldn't even see it, but you've been amazing. And the things you've accomplished, the way you've changed and been so strong—it's incredible. I've never known anyone who would—could—do all the things you've done. I love you. That's all."

He was looking at her with such awe and wonder that she lost the urge to laugh entirely. She gazed back at him, suddenly nervous, overwhelmed. How could she be worthy of this adoration? The way he looked at her...

"You never stop amazing me, Buffy," he finally said, his voice a barely audible rumble. "You... I love you. I love you more every sodding day, and you make me so happy I don't even know what to say. I never thought you could love me, and I didn't even, I woulda stayed forever anyway. I would stay with you while you waited around for Angel, while you did whatever you bloody well wanted just to be close by you, but this is... thank you. For everything. I will never give you cause to regret any of this. I promise you that."

"I know," she said simply, and drew him close.

As he fell asleep that night, Spike wondered if he would wake up to find all of this had been a dream. It seemed like too much, too good for even a reformed monster like himself to hope for. But he could smell her scent surrounding him, feel her arms clutching him as if she were afraid that he would slip away, and hear the faint sounds of the rest of the household sleeping around them, reassuringly human and warm. Without asking himself when he had come to find the press of humanity comforting, he slipped off to sleep, content.

~~~~THE END~~~~

Sniff sniff. When I started writing this, I intended it to be about ½ as long. Then I was all, okay it's longer than I thought, but when this story is done, I'm really really going to buckle down and work on other stuff full time! No more fanfic! Now I keep thinking about Spike and Willow and how much I want to write that story... so I might. If that's something you want to see, look for it I guess. Anyway, thank you thank you so much. I hope you had fun- I know I did. Mwah! (That's to you, for reading, for reviewing, for letting me know you like it.)