"I think she'll be so pissed that we'll have to live the whole melodrama over again," Dawn pouted. "There'll be screaming and crying and then stuff I'll never be old enough to hear. I'm glad I'll be eighteen soon and can just move to a dorm. I'm not sure I can handle another round of Manic!Buffy Mania."

"Maybe I should have just told her when I found out." Andrew looked distraught. His hero, the Vampyre Paladin Extraordinaire, had required silence from him at terrible personal cost. Andrew was afraid that after the Slayer finished punishing her lost love she would be back to extract payment from him at last.

"Well, duh," Dawn glared daggers at the tweed clad nerd. "What part of 'Buffy hates being kept clueless' did you miss over the past three years?" She leveled a rather chilling smirk at the pale lad. "I so want to watch while she pulls your spleen out through your ear. It might make up for your constant talk about stupid sci-fi crap every time you're in the same room with me."

Andrew squirmed in a way that made Giles want to point him to the loo. "I rather doubt Buffy will be violent, at least not toward Andrew. The boy was merely keeping a secret as requested. Spike was the one too cowardly to present himself to Buffy."

"She might be a teensy bit put-out with you too once she hears the whole story," Willow speculated. "You don't expect Spike to keep quiet about how you knew he was back even before Andy did, do you? That is, unless she just makes Spike dusty and he doesn't get the chance." Her brow furrowed in worry.

"Ah, dusty Spike, the stuff dreams are made of," Xander muttered, stepping back a bit when it looked like Dawn was going to smack him. "Just kidding. The Pale Avenger gets some cred for his torch imitation in the Hellmouth."

"We still are unsure of the status of his soul," Giles worried. "The whole reason I withheld his return was that issue. Angel said that Spike was acting much as he did when he first arrived in Sunnydale. Naturally, I didn't take Angel's word as gospel; I'm not a complete fool. Still, all indications were that Spike was an enigma. He was allied with Wolfram and Hart after all. What was I to think?"

"Yeah, hindsight and the whole twenty-twenty thing," Xander nodded. "Buffy might get it when she cools down."

"Our Prima Slayer was seriously fuming when she found out," Andrew noted. "I don't think I've ever seen anyone stay perfectly still yet seem to be screaming and jumping up and down in one place that way."

"Got that right," Dawn agreed. "I had Vi lock up the weapons cabinet just in case."

"I don't understand why the coven couldn't have found out about Spike's soul." Willow looked perplexed. The Devon coven had become an integral part of the new Council. It was a rare answer that someone in the group could not ferret out. "I would have tried, but seems I was kept in the dark too." She glared at Giles.

"There was some mystical shield over that place of evil. None of the members were able to get any readings on Spike or Angel, in spite of repeated efforts." Giles sighed deeply. "I greatly fear what Buffy might be walking into. All we really know is that somehow Spike, Angel and a rather powerful demon of unknown origins survived that disaster in Los Angeles. The coven has not been able to tell anything further about them or the incident that destroyed a large section of the city near the Wolfram and Hart building. I have a horrible suspicion that Buffy might be faced with Angelus and William the Bloody. In that case, being angry might save her life."

"Won't do much for them though," Xander pointed out. "We'd better be prepared for damage control when she gets back. We all remember how it was when she had to kill Angel the first time."

"Geez, you guys are quick to think Spike's soul is as removable as Angel's!" Dawn snorted. "Read my lips: different vampires and different ways of getting souled up. Spike fought for his, wanted it. It wasn't some curse like Angel's. There's no reason to think he'd come back without his soul any more than Buffy would have come back without hers when she returned from death."

Willow paled. "Goddess! I never even thought about that possibility!" Giles patted her shoulder in comfort. "I really could have messed everything up with that ritual."

"Do ya think?" Dawn chided then sighed in weariness. "All water under the bridge and so not the point. I mean no one's ever even checked to see if those monks thought to give ME a soul when they zapped me into a human body. You guys really are single-minded about souls and vampires."

"He seemed like a soul man when I saw him in L.A.," Andrew said somberly. "He was all about helping us find the fragile slayer and helping others in need like the true hero he is."
"Why didn't he come for Buffy then?" Dawn teared up, thinking of how close they had once been before ugly events had forced her to side against Spike to show solidarity to her sister.

Xander was quiet and thoughtful. He had actually matured a great deal the past two years since the closing of the Hellmouth. He had spent a great deal of his solitude in Africa, deep in thought. Losing Anya had made him rethink many of his previous positions. "Maybe he was tired of always being the one doing the chasing."

She saw him just a heartbeat before he stiffened, aware of her presence as profoundly as he had been of his returned soul in that cave years before.

His eyes closed in anticipation. What would it be? Yet another broken nose? Or would his golden girl prove the worth of her last words to him as Sunnydale was crumbling around them and he flamed into history?

She took in the sight of him, taking his measure. But how could one measure Spike really? Smaller in stature than he always appeared to be, he still exhibited those compact muscles that could bring down opponents far larger than himself. That whole dark bad-boy look was firmly in place, but the duster looked newer, with fewer battle scars marring its shine and flow. He looked older somehow, improbable in a vampire yet still there. Those lost years were etched on his face. She wondered briefly if the time apart showed as much on her countenance. She felt ancient and newly born at the same time.

In a moment, he could see it. Never would he be able to put into words just what the "tell" was, how he knew, but know he did. There would be nothing broken, not this time and certainly not anyone's heart. His girl had come home and this time she really was his girl. He gulped and opened his arms in welcome.

She moved as quickly as any creature of the night and leapt upon him unabashedly. The force knocked him to the ground, Slayer wrapped around his body, lips hungrily devouring his, tongues clashing, dancing, rejoicing, as hands reacquainted themselves with long remembered and much missed bodies.

They didn't speak any other language but the universal one of touch, taste, sight, smell…primal and perfect. This was the way they had always communicated best. No mixed messages, no wrong words.

There in each other's embrace, they began to build the only true home either had ever had or wished for and suddenly the world was right once more.

~fin