Title: To Feel Alive

Note: This story takes place after 'Wrecked' in season 6. I started it ages ago, but only recently had a chance to finish. Now with all of the fun of the season finale, I'm anxiously awaiting season 7!!

Disclaimer: I, of course, am writing this only for my own enjoyment. No infringement on Joss Whedon or ME is intended.

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Slowly, she began to come to, even though she hadn't the energy to open her eyes just yet. Her nose wrinkled in disgust as she took in a deep breath.

//What is that smell?!// she wondered. Then she remembered.

It all came back to her, and she sat bolt upright in bed. Looking towards her window where early morning light was streaming in, she saw the source of the stench. Several strands of garlic were still hanging around the room as part of her lame attempt to keep Spike away. She glanced at her clock… 7:43. It had worked. It was morning, and there was no sign of him or that he had been there.

"Good," she said out loud, but deep inside part of her was just the least little bit disappointed. She had been counting on him showing up so that she could turn him away with her deadly garlic… Who was she kidding?

She shook her head to rid it of such thoughts and realized that the wooden cross she had kept watch with was still clutched in her hand.

//You're ridiculous!// she scolded herself.

He hadn't come, and that was what she had wanted… right? That's why she had hung the garlic and held the cross. She'd been ready for him… ready to turn him away, or maybe even stake him if need be. No way would he have gotten into her room… into her bed.

Yeah, right. If he had shown, she knew that she wouldn't be strong enough to resist him for long. Ever since their 'confrontation' the other night, her body had been yearning for him just like he had promised. Unbidden images of her night with the bleached-blonde vamp flashed in her mind. The look of disbelief on his face when she first kissed him… the masculine scent of him and his leather coat… the feel of his hands… everywhere.

Buffy shook her head again. She refused to admit how good it had felt. She just wouldn't. No way… no how.

Jumping out of bed, she went into the bathroom to clean up. Looking into the mirror, she couldn't help but laugh at the imprint of the cross on her cheek. She must have slept on it all night. How pathetic!

The first cold spurt of the shower jolted her out of her inner turmoil for only a few seconds. Soon enough her mind was back on Spike. This "new" life of hers was even harder than the "old" one. At least then her relationship with Spike had been simple--- black and white. He was the black. She was the white. Now it was all blended together like a … yucky gray.

Despite his frequent asinine remarks, which she had come to regard as an innate part of his irritating personality, his actions over the past several months had shown that he was capable of sincere concern and kindness. So her argument that his lack of a soul meant a lack of anything remotely good was quickly crumbling to pieces, and that's what scared her.

Thinking back over the last year or so, Buffy could see how Spike had time and time again shown his feelings for her. He had kept Dawn safe from Glory almost at the expense of his life, saved her and her friends by driving his dilapidated RV out into the desert while crazy medieval knights chased them. He had been so kind to her since she returned from the dead… always there to talk to. Why, he was the first one to hear the truth about where exactly she had been spending her after life, and he had kept it secret just like she asked. When she almost danced herself to death, he had been there to stop her… to convince her to keep living… while the rest of her 'friends' just stood and watched in disbelief.

Somewhere along the line, he had gone from 'creepy stalker guy' to something… different. Buffy wasn't sure what that meant exactly, but things had definitely changed, despite her refusal to admit it to him. It just wasn't time to admit it to him, and maybe it never would be.

As she dried her hair, she didn't notice that someone else had entered the room until she felt a tap on her shoulder. The hair dryer slipped out of her hands and crashed on the floor. Then she turned to see Dawn standing in the doorway.

With a hand over her heart trying to slow it down below the rate of a hummingbird, Buffy took several deep breaths.

"Sorry," Dawn offered with a sincerely apologetic look. "Didn't mean to scare you, but you didn't answer the first ten times I called."

"It's okay," Buffy said between breaths, "just don't EVER do that again."

Dawn gave a quick nod before moving out of Buffy's way. "Why do you have garlic hanging all over the place? Is it some kind of new potpourri you're trying out or something?"

Buffy's eyes darted to the window. //Oops! I forgot about that stuff!//, she thought. She needed to think fast, but today, Dawn was faster.

"Isn't that supposed to keep vamps away? Were you trying to keep some evil vamp out of here?"

"Yes--- no--- um, yes." Buffy's mind was in no shape to deal with a nosy little sister this morning. Too much other stuff was swimming around in her head. Dawn gave her big sister a thoroughly confused look.

"I don't think you answered my question, but that's okay. Whatever floats your boat. Anyhow, I just came to thank you for coming after me last night. You were great!" Dawn threw her uninjured arm around Buffy and squeezed her tight. Ever since her return from the dead, Dawn had been quick to express her love for Buffy afraid she might be taken away again.

"You're welcome, Dawn," Buffy mumbled through a mouthful of hair, trying to spit it out without offending the younger girl. Finally, Dawn pulled back.

"Yeah, I'm still kind of freaked out about the whole demon thing, and I'm not so hot on Willow right now, but you and Spike… you guys are great! You know, he stayed right with me through the x-ray and shots and everything? He said he wasn't going to leave me alone with any 'bloody' doctors."

Dawn's eyes lit up when she talked about Spike. It wasn't so much of a crush type of thing anymore; rather the girl seemed to almost look up to him as a big brother, protector figure. //How weird is that?// Buffy thought. A vampire looking out for the Slayer's sister. If that didn't go against the grain of nature she didn't know what did.

"Yeah, Spike's great," Buffy muttered, part of her being sarcastic while the other recalled that crazy little thing he did with his tongue the other night.

"He even loaned me his coat to keep me warm when we left. I guess I should return it to him soon."

Buffy's ears perked up. "You have his coat? Here?"

"Yeah, it's in my room. It's so cool and… leathery." Dawn's face broke out in another one of those goofy grins so typical of teenage girls in awe of older men.

A sudden war broke out inside Buffy at that exact moment.

//Take him the coat…. Don't take him the coat… take him the coat…//

She knew she shouldn't. That she was a complete idiot for even considering it. That it could only lead to an awkward confrontation which would then move into an argument and perhaps some physical fighting and then… possibly…even…NO!! She wouldn't do it.

"I'll do it. I'll take it to him," Buffy's mouth blurted out before her mind could stop her. "Um, I'm going out anyway to get some, uh, some… apples. Yeah, apples… so I'll take Spike his coat."

That confused look was back on Dawn's face. "Okay… just let me go get it then."

Buffy watched her sister leave the room before spinning around and pounding her hand on the wall. It only left a small dent, so hopefully no one else would notice.

"What are you doing? WHAT are you doing?!" Buffy demanded of herself.

"This is wrong. This is not good. You shouldn't be doing this."

"Doing what?--- talking to yourself, because I agree one hundred percent. It's kind of weird." Dawn was back with Spike's duster in her arms and studying Buffy from a distance.

Trying desperately to wipe the cat-that-ate-the-canary look off of her face, Buffy played it cool. "Oh, just… nothing. Hey, is that the coat?" Then she reached out, took the duster from Dawn, and pushed past her into the hallway.

"I'll be back soon," she called over her shoulder as she trotted down the stairs and out the front door, all the while hoping that she would survive the trip.

Once she cleared the house, Buffy stopped for a moment. Pulling Spike's coat up to her nose, she breathed in its scent and sighed. It was so 'him'. Without realizing it, she began rubbing the edge between her fingers enjoying the soft, broken-in feel of it and remembering how it had felt up against her bare skin.

"Whoa!" she suddenly said. "You've got to stop this!" Then she started walking again, her feet knowing the way to his crypt without her brain having to do a thing.

As she neared his graveyard she tried to order her mind to think practically and logically.

'I am a vampire slayer. He is a vampire. I kill vamps and he kills people… well, not really anymore… he just kills demons, and he's pretty good at it, too. No, no, no! Back on track.

'He has no soul and therefore cannot feel or love… even though I've seen him do both and felt it firsthand the other night quite a few times…

'This is not working! I simply cannot love him… He's… Spike. He's done all kinds of awful stuff, like wanting to kill me and … and my friends… even though that was a long time ago before the chip. Lately he's just done all kinds of nice things which makes me wonder… is it all because of the chip? Is some little piece of plastic and metal the only reason he's acted the way he has for so long? Or could he really have changed?'

The possibilities whirled in Buffy's head. Spike was indeed different from the man he was even just a year ago. After all of their 'disagreements' over the years, he could have left town and gone on to continue his reign of vampiric terror someplace else. But he had chosen to stay in Sunnydale… chosen to now work beside her and her friends… chosen to protect Dawn and attempt to woo Buffy. But why?

Was it all just some master plan to eventually kill her?… to make her the third notch on his 'slayers killed' belt? They'd both had plenty of chances to kill each other over the years, but neither had ever gone through with it. The other night when she had let herself be so vulnerable in his arms, he could have easily ended her life. With his 'rocks back'—as he put it—she was now his only possible human prey, so why hadn't he done it?

Could it really be because he loved her?

That thought stopped her in her tracks. He had said it countless times, but only now did she think he might actually mean what he said. The nervousness expanded in the pit of her stomach. She just didn't know what she thought of his declaration.

Maybe I'll just leave the coat on his crypt step and leave. He'll find it eventually.

But she couldn't. Something kept her going toward his crypt… toward him. Before she knew it his door loomed right in front of her. Part of her kept saying that it was just a quick errand… step inside, drop off the coat, leave immediately. However, deep down in her very soul she knew that if she walked into Spike's crypt now, she wouldn't be coming out anytime soon. The whole scene practically played itself out in her mind. He'd look at her with those blue eyes that pierced right through her defenses and then slowly start to saunter over to her with that way too sexy gait of his… the one that was like a wild cat on the prowl. The whole way across the room, he'd have his mouth pursed in that cocky little smirk that made her want to kiss his lips off. And despite her lame attempt to appear uninterested in his advances, she'd soon end up in the same position as the other night--- which wasn't all bad, she decided.

Funny that someone who wasn't even living was the only one who could make her feel alive.

Buffy took one final glance down at the doorstep and fleetingly considered for the last time whether to drop the coat and run away as fast as she could. Instead, she steeled herself for whatever was about to come her way by straightening her back and thrusting her chin into the air.

'I can do this,' she convinced herself as she raised her leg and kicked open the door as usual. It clanked open and Buffy took one step inside. Spike was already standing in front of her, that arrogant smugness all too evident on his lean, handsome face.

"Slayer," he stated huskily, a mischievous gleam in his eyes.

Buffy hesitated for a moment. Maybe she was making a big mistake. Her eyes were locked with his and she almost forgot why she had come. Then it came back to her… his coat. She clumsily thrust it toward him.

"Y-your coat," she stammered in a whisper. "I brought your coat back."

The corner of Spike's mouth tugged up into a bigger grin as his eyes moved from her face to his coat and back again. Slowly, he walked behind her and pushed the door closed. Buffy jumped as the door shut with a loud clang. Instantly she knew what was about to happen… and her body tingled in anticipation.

For the next few hours, she would 'feel' and know, if only for this brief time, that she was truly alive again.