Chapter 17: Love

"At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet."
- Plato

Buffy was sitting on the steps of the front porch when Spike got back to Sunnydale at almost three in the morning two days later, utterly exhausted. She was still wearing jeans as if she had yet to go to bed, and her face was drawn and worried as she approached him. "Since I don't see Warren anywhere, should I assume you killed him?" she asked tightly.

All he could do was nod.

She closed her eyes, bracing her hand on the porch railing. "Spike… I don't know what to say. God, I wouldn't have let you go alone if I realized that's what you were planning. I get that you were trying to do the right thing, but we can't be above human law. It isn't right. "

"Meant to just bring him to you," he told her, trying to make her understand. "Had the ropes all ready. But he was on top of a girl, his hand around her neck, when I walked in. She was turning blue and her whole face was wet with tears. Think the goal was for her to die just as he… you know. Anyway, I broke his neck, quick-like, almost painless. Not that he deserved it."

Spike remembered the bolt of white-hot rage that had shot through him when he saw Warren, how he was across the room before he realized what he was doing. The only thought in his mind had been to get to the girl before Warren could take her life, just like he'd already done to Katrina.

Just like he'd tried to do to Buffy.

"Oh." The Slayer turned away from him, and he gave her time to process this. Her brow was furrowed like she was thinking furiously. "I think… I understand, then," she said after a few minutes. "I still don't approve of it. But I understand why you did it."

He didn't try to tell her that it shouldn't make any difference if he'd come upon the scum in the act of the crime or not. What should the timing matter? But it mattered to Buffy. He did these things so she didn't have to. Spike didn't mind; it was the way things should be. She was the shining hero, he was just hoping for a tiny slice of redemption.

He didn't tell her he was sorry for doing it, though, because he wasn't. All the reason he needed was in the fact that killing Warren hadn't even given Spike more than a dull headache; it was almost as if the boy had already sacrificed most of his humanity to dark spells and evil acts.

"The girl's okay?" Buffy asked.

He shrugged. "Probably. Dropped her off at the hospital right after." She'd been incredibly shaken, obviously, and still dazed from oxygen deprivation, but he'd made her understand that the boy was dead, that he couldn't ever hurt her again.

Buffy closed her eyes, ran her hand through her hair. "Okay. Okay. I shouldn't be happy that a human – Warren – is dead, but I am. Or, relieved, at least."

"It's okay to feel that way, love. I'm the one to blame. Just one more death to weigh on my soul."

She grabbed his wrist with both of her hands, so tiny yet so strong. "No, Spike," she said fiercely. "Intent matters. Please believe that. You killed Warren because he was hurting an innocent person. Maybe it wasn't the best thing to do, but becoming a good person isn't a straight path." She looked up at him intently. "The only thing you can do is get up again and do better each time you fall."

He blinked, touched that she cared that much about his feelings. "That's almost poetic, love," he teased her, and she blushed. "But I think I get what you're saying."

"I'll leave the poetry to you, William," she shot back, and he grinned. She punched him on the shoulder, hard, and he staggered back. "That's for trying to protect me." Then, to his shock, she slipped her hand in his. "Come on inside, we've got to let everyone know we're safe now. I missed you," she added, almost shyly.

He looked down at her warmly. "Missed you too, love," he murmured.

Just then, Dawn came jogging out of the house. "Buffy! Come on, Anya says she wants witnesses." She jumped when she saw him there, too. "Spike!" she squeaked in surprise, and then her eyes trailed down to where Buffy's fingers were still interlaced with his, and an expression of impish amusement combined with sheer delight took over her face.

"Anya came over to talk to Xander a little before you got here," Buffy explained. "I guess she's decided what she wants to do with him."

"Here's hoping love conquers all, eh, pet?" he said. Buffy smiled.

"Come on, you guys," Dawn said impatiently, bouncing on her feet. He and Buffy shared an amused look and followed the skipping girl back inside.

Anya was the in living room, standing on the coffee table like it was a stage. Xander stood in front of her on the floor, looking up at her with vulnerable eyes, when they walked in. Buffy pulled away from him gently to sit next to Red and Tara, who were on the couch, looking intent and nervous.

"I have thought through this very carefully," Anya said loudly and clearly, though her voice shook a little. "I have created many diagrams, charts and lists to make my decision, and I wanted this to be public so you can't plead ignorance later, Alexander LaVelle Harris."

Spike snorted. LaVelle? Xander just kept looking up at her like he was either about to start crying or faint, but he remained silent.

"So. Here is what I have determined." She cleared her throat. "First. You still love me. Your past actions seem incompatible with this being true, but your recent actions and words have convinced me. Second, as much as I might prefer otherwise, I still love you, though I have attempted – and failed - to stop. Third, it is important to the success of any relationship that we remain open and honest with each other, which you were with me, even though it hurt me very much. Fourth, you have consistently demonstrated a commitment and desire to continue a romantic relationship with me in some form, and I can't say that idea is unappealing to me. Therefore..."

She took a deep breath, and Xander actually leaned forward, as if to hear the words that much sooner.

"Therefore, I will allow you to…woo me again, if you agree to certain conditions."

Xander nodded eagerly. "Anything you want, Ahn."

She pursed her lips, staring down at him. "First, should you ever propose an engagement to me again, you will do so only with a complete and well thought out commitment to marrying and living happily ever after with me. Anything short of death or mortal disability will not prevent it. Second, you will commit to doing your best to make us work. I'm not saying you have to promise never to break up with me, but I won't accept anything less than a full effort. Do not let your fear drive us apart again." Her voice got weak toward the end, tears streaming down her face.

Xander stood up, and Spike saw that his eyes were wet, too. "Oh, sweetheart," he said hoarsely. "I love you so, so much. And I promise all that and more, with all my heart." He held out his arms to her, and she jumped into them. He staggered for a moment under her weight, but regained his balance, and she wrapped her arms and legs around him tightly.

It really was rather sweet, Spike had to admit reluctantly. Somehow, they had gotten through all the misunderstandings and hurt feelings. It was almost... inspiring.

Then the two lovebirds had to ruin it all by snogging each other thoroughly. He grimaced and looked away. He had his limits, after all.

To give himself something to do, he glanced over at the girls. He saw with amazement that Buffy, his fierce, battle-hardened slayer who had lived through death twice, was crying along with the witches and the Bit, squeezing their hands and smiling tearfully at the embracing couple.

Women. Even if he lived for a millennium, he would never understand them.

Later that night, after an impromptu party thrown in celebration of both not having to worry about the Trio anymore and of Xander and Anya's reconciliation, he and Buffy sat on the couch downstairs, sipping some disgusting American beers that Xander had picked up from the convenience store.

Less than half an hour ago, Xander and Anya had left together for their apartment, after practically having clothed sex in the kitchen. Red and Tara were almost as bad, and had excused themselves soon after with little pretense as to what they would be doing in their bedroom. When Dawn saw that only left her, Spike and Buffy, she had made an extremely unconvincing excuse about needing to do homework in her bedroom (on a Saturday night, mind), and managed to mention twice that her music would be turned up very loudly, before bolting up the stairs.

"Everything alright, love?" he asked Buffy, who was curled up on the other end of the couch, the tips of her bare toes just brushing his thigh. The credits rolled for the teen movie that Dawn had put in, but neither of them made a move to get up.

"" Abruptly, Buffy set down her beer and stood up, looking like she was steeling herself to say something awful. His poor dead heart skipped a beat.

"I swore, after Angel, I'd never fall for another vampire," she said finally, as if to herself. He almost dropped his beer from suddenly numb fingers, wondering if he'd heard right.

She still wasn't looking at him. "It didn't seem like that hard of a promise to make, at the time." She laughed wryly. "How many ensouled vampires are wandering the earth, after all?"

"Angel used to tell me he loved my innocence, my pure heart..." She looked straight at Spike then, eyes unflinching. "But it's been six years and twice dead, and my soul's a little dingy now. I'm jaded and pessimistic and I'm not sixteen anymore."

She took a deep breath, and knelt down in front of him, hesitating a moment before taking his hand in hers. He let her, feeling only a kind of numb incredulity. "I told Angel once that when he kissed me, I wanted to die," she whispered. "But now, when I kiss you, I want to live."

It was as if he caught a glimpse of eternity and fate, the meaning of his life and unlife and all of it, and they all intersected at this one shared moment in his life and Buffy's, the stuttering heartbeat after Buffy's words, when he really heard what she was saying.

Then warmth, shock, and delight washed over him like a warm spring rain, and he met Buffy's eyes. She smiled tremulously, a mix of fear and determination in her eyes.

He smiled back, unable to do anything but grin like an idiot, and something in his expression made her face just light up. A hundred conversations passed between them in a breath, and then she was in his lap, wrapping her legs around him and squeezing him so hard he couldn't breathe even if he'd needed to. If his soul had been cursed like Angel's, it would have fluttered away right about then.

After long minutes, she pulled back slightly, and he looked down at her, at green eyes he had never been so close to, silky, bouncy hair that always smelled like roses and apples and soft red lips that were suddenly on his, tiny but strong hands that were suddenly pulling him down, getting all of his skin closer to hers, closer, closer.

She was like heaven, if heaven was warm and wet and soft and lovely. He'd have to ask her sometime.

When they parted so they could both take in air, she grabbed the back of his head to prevent him from pulling away farther, and they stared into each other's eyes. Somehow it was more raw, more intimate than even kissing had been.

He knew he'd never been able to keep what he felt for her hidden, but it was something awe-inspiring to see the same expression reflected back at him. "Spike…" she said softly, and it was enough.

"I'm yours…" he whispered back, in case she didn't know it already. "Till the end of the world."

She looked up at him seriously. "I can't promise 'forever' to anything," she said. "But I do promise to give you my whole heart."

"That's more than enough," he assured her, leaning down to kiss her again, in an attempt to keep another stupid smile off his face. Well, also because he loved her so much it hurt and she was the most gorgeous thing he'd ever seen.

When they pulled apart this time, she buried her face in his neck. "This is gonna be hard," she said against his throat. "Really hard. You know that, right? We're gonna get resistance from almost everyone."

He laughed, running his fingers through her hair, reveling in the fact that he could do things like that now. "Pet, I'd have done anything for you before I knew there could ever be a chance that you'd love me back. Now, there's nothing in heaven or hell that could keep me from you."

"I get bossy sometimes," she warned him. "I have a hero…um, heroine complex and I can be really bitchy and self-centered."

He laughed again and scooped her up, setting down on the edge of the couch with her in his lap, with her giggling and squirming around until she was comfortable. "If there is anything in this world I know, it's you, love. I understand with perfect clarity exactly who you are." He pressed his lips to her forehead. "You're a hell of a woman, Buffy. You're the one."

Her eyes glittering with tears, she reached out to him, pulling him to her. She was beyond words, but the expression in her face reflected the same depth of emotion he felt for her. As he carried her to her bedroom and they fell into that perfect pattern that men and women had been following since the beginning of time, he thought of his quest for redemption, and how it hadn't ended and probably never would while he walked the earth. It was for her, sure, but - he finally realized- it was also for him.

And, above all, it was for the greatest cause on earth.