Really, she could have just left him tied up in the bed. There was no reason for her to remove his cotton shackles, and risk him turning loose on her family and friends. But for some reason, Buffy just couldn't have them coming in here. The idea of Tara and Willow and Dawn visiting this room was almost blasphemous in her mind, but Buffy still could not understand why she felt that way. Maybe it had to do with the fact that it just seemed like a very personal place now. Even though he'd been out of his mind since his return, she and Spike had shared some very unique experiences in this room, and to have other people intrude on that would just be… wrong. Then again, maybe in the far recesses of her mind, Buffy just didn't want anyone else to see Spike shirtless. Either way, she knew what she thought, and nothing was going to tell her otherwise.

So of course, Buffy now stood near the head of the bed, hands poised over the knots she'd made around Spike's wrists, assuring herself that she was making a one hundred percent okay decision. "Here goes nothing," Buffy muttered to herself, looking at Spike, and knowing just from the look in his eyes that he wouldn't try anything to hurt her.

One shackle was loosened and removed. Seconds later, both of his wrists were free. Within two minutes, all four of Spike's limbs had re-acquired their freedom of movement, having had it stolen from them over a week ago. His chest was covered by the soft fabric of an old pyjama t-shirt, the faded logo indistinguishable.

Buffy sat beside him, knowing that even if she knew what to say in order to prepare him for the experience of meeting her companions, he wouldn't be able to understand it. Instead, the Slayer found herself doing something she could have never expected. Her hand crept across the few inches of mattress that separated them, and she ever so gently twined her fingers with his.

Not understanding the action, Spike gave her a surprised look when he felt her flesh touch his.

Buffy smiled, feeling somewhat like she was dealing with a five-foot-ten infant. "I just want you to know, Spike," her other hand reached over to stroke the back of his now upturned hand. "That you're safe inside this house. I'm not going to hurt you, and I won't let anyone else hurt you."

Attempting to solidify her point in his mind somehow, she gave his hand a tight squeeze, enough to demonstrate her strength without hurting him.

This seemed to get through to Spike, and he nodded. "I trust you," his eyes said, the little squeeze he gave back a sign of the faith he had in the girl.

"Shall we then?" Buffy smiled cheerfully. She stood up, hand still locked with Spike's as he began following her toward the bedroom door. "Oh! And, I invite you in" she said, remembering at the last second the barrier Tara and Willow had installed around the walls of her mother's bedroom. The last thing she wanted right now was for him to slam into some strange, invisible barrier.

Spike walked cautiously alongside her, eyeing every object suspiciously, always looking back to his leader for any signal that danger might be ahead. She gave him only smiles and encouraging tugs on his arm, however, and so he followed.

"It's okay. Remember, no one's going to hurt you, okay?" the Slayer said as she continued leading Spike down the stairs, taking them one at a time, both feet planting upon the wooden treads before continuing to the next one.

Willow, in the living room, heard the soft pads of feet on the stairs. She looked toward them, and back to her two comrades. "Is that Buffy?" Willow frowned.

"I think so," Dawn said, her face wrinkling also. "Is she talking to herself?"

Unable to even comprehend the notion that the Slayer would perhaps be followed by their peroxide prisoner, the two witches could do nothing but nod with the same concerned expressions.

"I knew it," the teenager said with a wry laugh, getting up from her seat and starting toward the stairs. "I tried telling everyone, but they would never believe me. My sister is a schizoph…" she trailed off then, the final two syllables of her sentence turning into a sort of gasping, gulping noise.

All three people froze then. Spike stopped dead in his tracks, every muscle in his body tensing for an attack that was far from headed his way. Buffy halted her motions in accordance with the vampire, and Dawn was simply stunned motionless.

Tara looked at her lover when the brunette's ranting march toward the stairs came to an abrupt finish. "Dawn?" the blonde witch asked, "are you okay?"

Unable to take her eyes off the vampire, the former Key just waved a rubbery arm in the air, motioning for her two friends to join her in the foyer. A little frightened, but intrigued nonetheless, the pair of girls followed the command. When they caught sight of what Dawn was staring at, they too became frozen in time, unable to believe that their eyes weren't fooling them.

"H-hey guys," Buffy smiled, being the first to tear through the blanket of silence hanging heavily in the air. "Um… Spike had a bit of a breakthrough, and… lost memories with the being dead… good idea to, y'know, re-introduce him to everyone," she smiled, the scattered message making some form of sense in her friends' minds.

"Wow…" Dawn breathed, wondering if she hadn't actually woken up yet. Maybe she was still tucked in her bed, and just dreaming this. "Willow…"

Not affected by the spectacle before her to the point where her senses were numbed, the redheaded girl turned in response to Dawn's voice. "Yeah?"

"Pinch me…"

"No, you're not dreaming, Dawn," Tara offered softly. "Spike really is standing at the top of the stairs with your sister."

"Okay," the brunette teenager squeaked. "Just… wanted to make sure. I think I'll go sit down now," she said, not wanting to topple over in the event that her knees gave out. Dawn's limbs wouldn't obey though, so she remained welded to her spot in the front hallway. This was the first time she'd gotten a good look at Spike since he… and, well, she wasn't going to walk away from it that easily.

"I guess I should have said something before coming down," Buffy gave a dry, nervous laugh. "Guess it's too late for that though" she said quietly, feeling strangely uncomfortable with her friends and family staring at her that way.

Noticing that Spike appeared equally agitated at his current location, Tara pressed a soft hand to each of her comrade's shoulders. "We'll um, go wait for you in the living room, Buffy. Let Spike come down the stairs," she gave her characteristic shy grin before ushering both women into the other room. It took a bit of effort to get Dawn moving, as if the girl's feet were being weighed down by bags of cement. But eventually she followed, stumbling away in a daze and flopping down into one of the couches.

Meeting a pair of wide eyes when she turned around, the Slayer offered her most supportive smile to a freaked-out vampire. "It's okay, Spike. You know them. Dawn and Willow and Tara. You even heard them saying your name, didn't you?"

Blank fright was all she got in return.

A little smile flickered between her cheeks as she remembered just how useless her talking was. Reasserting her grip on his hand, Buffy started her legs moving again, trailing slowly down the stairs with her vampire in tow.

Hours seemed to pass by before the pair were ready to enter the room where both witches and the tiny Summers were waiting. "Hey guys," Buffy smiled flatly, wondering how it looked for her to be holding the bleached blonde's hand, but knowing she couldn't let go of it. "Um, just so you know, I haven't gone completely insane. Spike made a bit of a breakthrough this morning, and now I'm thinking that I could use your help," she said weakly, the last part directed more toward her friends. "And, Dawn, could you maybe save your tackling of Spike until he's a little more comfortable around you?"

Damn her sister's fun-spoiling telepathic mind. "Kay," she said with a little more acceptance than she liked. But she stayed planted in her seat nonetheless, eyes still locked onto her surrogate big brother.

"What did you need our help with, Buff?" Willow inquired, eyes not able to decide which of the blonde subjects to lock on.

"Well… to be honest, I'm not even sure it's possible…"

¤+¤

"Whoa," Willow said with sky-high eyebrows. "You're right, that… does sound impossible."

Not even realising that she did it, Buffy stroked the back of Spike's upturned hand, disappointed that her remedy for his situation was nothing more than a figment of her imagination. "I know. I just thought maybe it was worth a shot," she shrugged her shoulders, unable to do so without her upper arms rubbing against Spike's.

They were seated side-by-side on the couch, fingers still intertwined. Buffy was relaxed as she spoke to her friends, every now and then one of her digits stroking back and forth along his flesh. It was strange that the Slayer would be so laid-back though, what with Spike nestled up against her, clinging to her for protection as his gaze flitted like a hummingbird over each of the three other girls.

"No, Buffy… it sounds impossible," Willow asserted, re-stressing one of her words.

"But it isn't," Tara added thinking along the same path as her lover.

"You mean you can actually do it?" Buffy sat up a bit, accidentally signalling the vampire to follow suit. "It's okay, Spike…" she said patiently to him, pressing the undead creature back into his slouched position.

"Well, I think so. When we say that it's possible, we mean it in the sense that there is a spell that would work, it just depends on whether we're actually capable of doing it or not," Willow said factually, not wanting to get her best friend's hopes up.

"What we could do is basically a form of guided meditation, with some hypnotisation mixed in. For example, I would connect to Spike's consciousness, become sort of a conduit, and then Willow would lead us through his mind and hopefully unlock his lost memories," Tara explained, simplifying the process as best she could.

"Of course, the dangerous part is that if performed incorrectly, we could all end up as human vegetables," Willow said with the laugh she always used when attempting to look on the bright side of a bad situation.

"Oh…" the bubble of excitement that had inflated within the Slayer popped, and she sat back with Spike.

"But, when you think about it… being your friend is dangerous enough as it is. Master vampires, huge reptiles, countless Hell beasts… a spell like this is practically a walk in the park. Not to mention the fact that we didn't bring Spike back just so we could wait forever before he finally got all of his memory back," Willow smiled. "So, what are we waiting for?"

"Willow… I couldn't ask you to" Buffy protested, even though the selfish part of her was jumping for joy at her friend's acceptance of the task.

"Shh!" the redhead silenced her. "I will hear no more of your blabbering. Besides… I have full faith that Tara can manage to not screw this up," she said, looking to her partner playfully. "Just one question though… what do you think Giles is gonna say about all of this?"

¤+¤

"You really are insane, aren't you?" Rupert Giles blurted out, removing his glasses instantly. "Good Lord, Buffy… sometimes I wonder if maybe you've had a few too many knocks to the head. I mean, of all your ludicrous plans, this one is by far the most… reckless and, and, and downright silly!" he rambled, father-like eyes boring into hers.

"Yeah, 'cause you know, going head-to-head with Glory was one of my most intellectually brilliant moments," she said sarcastically, hands crossed before her in full defensive mode.

"This is hardly the same scenario. You had no choice but to fight Glory. But there is nothing that says you need to be putting Willow and Tara in danger for the sake of Spike," Giles insisted, arms flailing wildly as he pointed in the witches' supposed direction.

"Well what else am I supposed to do, Giles? Just wait for him to get his memory back? That could take months… We didn't bring Spike back so that we could-"

"Why exactly did you bring him back, Buffy?" Rupert interrupted, thoughtful gaze upon her.

"What?" Buffy hiccupped, eyebrow cocking at his strange question.

"It's not as if we need him. True, as an ally he is very helpful, but we've handled many battles without his help before," he pointed out. "So why bring him back?"

Eyes hooded, the Slayer stared at her feet for a moment, contemplating whether she should make an attempt at supporting the lie he already saw through. "I owed him, Giles," her lips moved unexpectedly, accompanied by a voice. Well, it was worth a shot. Maybe she'd fool herself in the process. "I mean, yeah, he freaked me out with the infatuation thing, but it doesn't take away from the fact that he saved the world. He promised to protect Dawn until the end of the world, but he did even more than that. I… I couldn't just let him rot in Hell," Buffy said quietly, gathering the courage to look her Watcher in the eye.

Giles took this information in stride, closing his eyes and setting his glasses back upon the bridge of his nose. "Are you sure that's the only reason he's alive again?" he asked quietly, kindly.

"I'm sure," Buffy insisted, her voice almost desperate. "God, why does doing something for someone else have to be such a big thing? Spike has saved our asses so many times, who's to say we might not need him again?" danger glinted in her eyes, the fiery blonde girl not understanding what it meant to back down from a challenge.

"Look, Buffy" Rupert whispered, hooded eyes lifting. "I'm not disappointed that… Well… If you saw fit to bring him back, I won't argue. But you've been spending an awful lot of time with him, and I just want to make sure that-"

"I'm not falling in love with him or something demented like that?" the Slayer cut him off, lop-sided grin accompanying her cocked eye. "Giles, he just got out of Hell. I don't know about you, but it seems to me like someone would need an awful lot of help recuperating after that. All I've been doing is making sure that Spike gets his strength back. Nothing. Else."

Giles searched his Slayer's eyes for a hint of a lie, some tiny piece of evidence that she was covering something up. He found nothing. "All right. But as far as Willow and Tara doing this spell goes, I'm completely against it. Spike will just have to deal with getting his memory back the same way Angel did."

Buffy clenched her jaw, mind suddenly filled with voices. Giles was right; how could she even think of putting Tara and Willow in danger? Screw it; they'd do the spell anyway. Angel. "Fine," she blurted out. "I'll go tell Willow and Tara then…" she said monotonously. "Are you coming inside?" her thumb jerked toward the front door, voice lifting a bit as the conversation steered toward more neutral ground.

"No, no I think not. I'm expecting a call from a Watcher stationed in Greece who may have some information about our obscure demon clan," Giles replied politely, wishing their meeting didn't have to end off on such an awkward note.

"Wait, isn't it like, 2 am over there by now?" Buffy asked with a quirky grin.

"Yes, but if you haven't noticed yet, we Watchers keep rather odd hours. Duty comes before sleep and food and all other luxuries enjoyed by the average human being. It's in the handbook," Giles said with a touch of his subtle humour, maintaining an almost serious face.

Buffy just smiled. "Well, good luck with that then. I'll see you tomorrow, Giles."

"Good night, Buffy."

"Crap," the Slayer whispered under her breath when all that was left of her Watcher was a pair of glowing taillights. Turning around, she headed back inside, door opening and… almost slamming into Willow and Tara. "Hey guys," Buffy said with a wry grin, eyeing her friends suspiciously.

"So, what happened?" Tara asked in a hopeful yet pessimistic tone.

"Yeah… we tried listening through the door, but discovered that two inches of wood isn't the best acoustic material," Willow said with a chipper laugh.

Buffy just smiled at her friends' quirkyness. "Well, Giles is definitely a no-go on it. He's not down with the whole putting-you-in-danger thing," she said, trying to look okay with the decision. But on the inside, she'd collapsed with disappointment.

"Oh, so… it's on to Plan B then?" Willow quipped, glancing at Tara.

"Plan B," the blonde agreed, and both of them turned to Buffy.

"Plan B?" she said blankly, eyebrows cocked in question.

"Plan B" the redhead confirmed. "We don't tell Giles, but do it anyway."

"Don't… Giles anyway tell do?" Buffy stuttered, glancing between her friends, still confused with this sudden development.

"Yep! We've already got everything set up in your room" Willow grinned, eyes glittering with pride over her craftiness. "I… hope you don't mind."

"Wh… Um… no, not at all… I just… are you guys sure you wanna go through with this? I mean, Giles seemed pretty wigged out by the danger factor."

"Buffy, you're talking to the girl who pulled you out of a coma. I'm sure we can handle unlocking a few doors in Spike's mind," she countered, dismissing any reason for worry.

"Yeah… hey, wait a second. Why is doing this more dangerous than what you did with me? I mean, isn't it pretty much the same thing?" Buffy said, pouncing upon the idea. She still didn't get why doing that to her had been such an immediate decision, whereas in Spike's case, Giles didn't even want to consider it.

"Well, tapping into the minds of demons is a little different. Humans' life forces are projected… kind of like a halo of light surrounding your body, so it's easy to tap into. With vampires, you actually have to dig into their consciousnesses, and in this case some of their essence even takes up shop in the conduit's mind. So, if the spell is interrupted or performed incorrectly…" Tara trailed off from her already long-winded speech.

"Kablooey," Willow finished off so her friend wasn't left hanging.

Buffy just stared at her informants for a moment, again trying not to tip the scales between being excited that they were willing to go through with it, and being frightened out of her wits. "So… all the more reason not to do it then, right?"

"Right, but… Look Buffy… We want to do this, okay? Not for Spike, and not entirely for you… But just because we know that more sooner than later, we're gonna need his muscle around here," the red haired girl said in a calm, matter-of-fact way.

"But Willow I couldn't live with myself if-"

"Bottom line is," she cut the Slayer off politely. "It only takes three people to do this spell. Tara, Spike, and me. If you wanna be there for it, all the more power to ya. If you don't, then you don't. Either way it's gonna happen."

It didn't take long for the warrior's mind to analyse the proposal. "Well in that case… I'd say it's better to have a Slayer present than not, so…" Buffy crossed her arms, looked between each of her comrades, and smiled. "When do we start?"

¤+¤

"Hey there" Buffy addressed Spike as she slipped into the bedroom, wearing a friendly but narrow smile. A warm mug of blood was clasped between her hands. "We're almost ready to start. Willow and Tara said that you should probably eat something beforehand though. To get your strength up."

The vampire's response was as she expected it to be. A blank stare. Though it was an improvement, considering the fact that only days ago he'd closely resembled one of the hundreds of snarling beasts she'd annihilated over her slaying years.

Circling the chair that had become her makeshift bed, the blonde girl plopped herself down instead onto the mattress, hips just a few centimetres away from her companion's. "I'm not sure if it'll be enough, but this is all the pig's blood we've got left" she apologized, looking down into the container as if wishing for more liquid to appear. "It's not really one of those things I'm used to putting on the shopping list," she laughed softly, looking up.

A little gasp sputtered through her lips.

While she'd been staring down into his dinner, Spike had managed to inch his way closer to her. Black denim itched against the cotton fabric of her track pants. Striking features hovered before hers, brilliant sapphire eyes drilling into her surprised emerald ones. "Um, Spike?" she said, voice wrinkled. "It's about the oxygen thing… You wouldn't mind maybe movin' back a bit so I could get some, would you?"

No answer. Not a smidgen of evidence that he'd even heard what she'd said. Instead he just continued to stare at her, entire body motionless. It was then that she noticed something had changed in him. That light behind his eyes was no longer blank and uncomprehending… it was… hungry.

Little alarm bells began ringing in her mind, Slayer senses not enjoying everything about this situation. She would have tried moving away, but for some reason the rest of her body would not obey any such commands. Her hips were glued in place with an adhesive more powerful than anything her instincts could come up with to combat it. "Spike?" her voice scratched, wishing for perhaps the first time in her life that the vampire could speak, and explain just what was going through his mind.

For once though, there was almost nothing going through his mind. Nothing except the idea that he was hungry, and somehow this creature was the cure for that affliction. Nostrils flared as he drank in her scent, mind intoxicated by the flowery musk that assaulted him. The steady beat of a drum echoed between his ears, and something beneath her skin was pulsating in time with it.

His eyes locked upon one throbbing region on her neck. It was an invisible line trailing from her ear and disappearing where her shoulder began. That was it. That was his target.

"Are you okay?" Buffy choked again, becoming even more nervous as that glint behind his eyes transformed into a raging inferno.

Spike responded to her question not with words, but with one swift movement and a hungry growl. He tackled her to the bed, knocking the mug of pig's blood from her hand, the crimson liquid spilling out onto the floor. Buffy squealed as her head hit the mattress, his legs instantly straddling her and one hand pinning her right shoulder down.

"Spike, what the… what the Hell are you doing?" she barked, emerald eyes angry as they bore into his skin.

At that moment he transformed into his vampire visage. His satin flesh remoulded into smooth ripples like ones on an ocean floor. Harmless human teeth became deadly razors, his sapphire blue eyes attaining a yellow glow.

He smiled.

Without providing her a single moment to fight back, his lips descended onto her neck. They gave her jugular an open-mouthed kiss, tongue lolling out and sliding along her crystal clear skin. He suckled for a moment before his pointed canines descended upon her, Buffy letting out a little yelp as his fangs penetrated her for the first time.

"Oh! Spike, ow… Spike" she attempted to protest. Her hands came up, but instead of fighting him off, they pressed harmlessly into his chest, entire body having instantly gone weak as he began to drain the life force from her.

When the first drop of her blood struck his tongue, the vampire became lost in his lust. He growled, clasping her firmly against him, and began taking long, deep gulps. The fluid washed down his throat and raced straight to his central nervous system, its aphrodisiac effects instantly drowning him.

Buffy mewled, a sound that started out as a scream in her head but was transformed by his pleasured growl. She tried instead to get a grip around his biceps, but again her hands just squeezed rather than pushed. "Spike…" she whispered huskily, a last desperate attempt to protest his invasion of her personal space. Eyes rolling back in her head, she began to succumb to the black haze of pleasured pain that surrounded her.

Spike grunted, pelvis dipping down and into hers. The Slayer mewled, fighting furiously to maintain a grip on reality, but losing with every second that ticked by. Her body remembered what it was like to be wrapped in the ravenous embrace of a vampire, and after a two-year gap between occurrences, it was starving for another taste.

Holding her tightly, he continued to suckle at the chalice of her neck. Crimson nectar washed onto his tongue and dove down his throat, electrifying every muscle and nerve ending that it came in contact with. Nothing had ever felt or tasted so good; the Slayer's petite body pressed beneath his own, the liquid sugar of her life force diffusing through his system. It was blissful euphoria, the kind that stripped the world away until it was just him and her and their perfect embrace.

"Spike," she choked out, a desperate attempt to catch his attention, though the fact that he didn't know his own name made it seem rather futile. Shiny stars exploded in front of her eyes when his pelvis rocked against hers again, a little shiver running down her spine as a cool puff of air wafted over her shoulder blade. Consumed by his scent and touch and strength, she felt as if she were struggling to reach the ocean's surface with cement blocks tied to her ankles.

A deep growl rumbled through his chest as he continued siphoning fluid from her veins. Its aphrodisiac effects were already tapping on the front door of his psyche, though his animalistic mind didn't know what to make of it. He simply went with the flow, hips undulating every now and then, hand coming up to press against and stroke the soft flesh of her stomach.

A knock to the bedroom door shattered everything. Spike's feral instincts magnified the sound to a forceful blow, and his body stopped every motion. His hold on her neck having finally disappeared, Buffy was snapped back to consciousness. Dizzy emerald eyes wandered back and forth across the bedroom before managing to focus in on the shoulder in front of her.

"Buffy?" Tara's meek voice appeared. "Are you almost ready to start?"

Her mind shaken, the Slayer cleared her throat of any straining, making her best attempt at sounding casual. "Uh, yeah, just… give us five more minutes?" she requested, wondering for a moment how long she'd already been in here.

"Okay. We're just waiting for you downstairs" the blonde girl replied. "See you soon."

"Yup" Buffy called through the door. She waited until Tara's feet had trod down eight stairs before making a single move.

"Oh my God," she muttered, discomfort and a slight hint of shame drenching her voice. Spike was still a little stunned, and she took that moment to scurry out from beneath him, climbing off the bed and retreating to the other side of the room. "Oh God, oh God what's wrong with me?" she raged, mind unable to grasp any solid, coherent thoughts. I just laid there, she thought with astonishment. Two fingers prodded the gouge on her throat, glad when upon return they were only dabbed with blood rather than soaked.

Feeling a little wobbly due to the blood loss, she decided to sit down and save herself the concussion. Looking across the room at the subject of her internal ranting, she saw that he seemed to be just as confused as her. Hair dishevelled, he was just staring at her like some lost little boy. The fact that he'd returned to his human visage only made him look that much more disoriented.

Rubbing her forehead, Buffy leaned back in the chair and attempted to collect her thoughts. She felt like… well, to be honest she wasn't sure how she was feeling. Her mind was reeling with disgust at her lack of willpower, but at the same time she couldn't ignore the little tingles of pleasure running through her system. And they weren't the ones she had grown accustomed to experiencing after being in that kind of intimate contact with anyone. They were… different. Excited, maybe? She couldn't tell. Frankly, she didn't want to think on it, either, and thus began searching for new topics to ponder.

It was then that the Slayer remembered Tara's request, and realised that she was slowly eating away her five-minute window. "Okay. Okay, emotional trauma will be put on hold for a moment. Right now, Spike, I have to get you downstairs," she pointed at him, and it was when her shoulder lifted that she felt the sticky dampness of drying blood. Looking down, she could see only a fraction of the aftermath of Spike's hungry fangs, but knew that her neck was probably a mess. "Dammit," she whispered, noticing too that there was a smear of the same red fluid on his lips.

So much to clean, only two and a half minutes in which to do it.

It was a miracle, but Buffy managed to destroy all of the evidence in time for the couple to float down the stairs where the other three women were waiting. She had thrown on a deep green turtle neck and ran a comb through her somewhat messy hair. Taking Spike into the bathroom, she did the same to his blond locks and wiped away the streaks of blood on his lips. She ignored her fingertips' electric responses to coming in contact with his epidermis.

"You changed your shirt" Willow stated as they came into view, a little frown creasing her forehead.

"Yeah, Mr. Clumsy over here spilled blood all over it. I haven't read anything about it in fashion magazines, but I'm pretty sure that pig's blood and cotton don't get along very well," she said with a mildly amused roll of her eyes.

Willow nodded, she and Dawn finding the explanation logical, dismissing the issue from their minds at the same moment. Tara, on the other hand, knew that there was a different story behind the change in wardrobe. Her psychic senses were tapping her on the shoulder, suggesting there was something out of the ordinary going on behind the scenes.

The nature of Buffy's aura had been altered somehow. Deep purple sparks of dissipating lust rolled off her, along with tiny grey wisps that signified the presence of innocent lies. Something had obviously happened in the bedroom that Buffy didn't want the rest of the gang to know about.

Tara needed to only look at Spike for the explanation. Crimson waves of electricity were seeping from his pores. A symbol of power, both mental and physical; a sign that he'd recently ingested something a little more potent that the blood of a swine. Say, for example, the life force of a Slayer.

Tara could understand why Buffy wouldn't want such information exposed. What the Slayer didn't realise though was that a strong connection to Spike would only benefit their spell. Clearing her throat, the shy girl didn't hesitate to voice her thoughts. "Willow… I think it would be a good idea if maybe Buffy took my place as the conduit."

"Huh?"

"What?" Buffy said, mouth gaping, the sound causing Spike to flinch where he was standing behind her. "Me?"

"What makes you say that?" Willow asked, intrigued.

"Well, she's the only one here who's had more than five minutes of contact with Spike since he's gotten back. Buffy is much closer to him right now than any of us are, she cares just as much about getting his memories back as I do, if not more; and, it's probably going to take a lot of strength to dig through his mind" she explained, not even hinting that she knew something had occurred between Buffy and the vampire.

"Makes sense" the redhead admitted, mulling over the idea for a moment before turning to her best friend. "What do you think, Buffy?"

She remained silent, contemplating the proposal. Just five minutes ago she'd been trapped in the icy embrace of her sworn enemy, his lips locked around her neck as he drank from her, and now they wanted her to get closer to him? She supposed she didn't have much of a choice. "I think Tara's right" she kept her voice smooth, not wanting to let on that she'd have any reason to be nervous of the proposal. "If there's anything we can do to boost our chances of this whole thing going smoothly, we should jump on the opportunity. I'm your girl. Just tell me how and when," she agreed, knowing that sooner or later she was going to regret this.

¤+¤

They looked like some sort of human jigsaw puzzle. Willow was sitting in the middle of the floor with her legs crossed facing Buffy's bedroom door, a broken diamond of brilliant sapphire sand poured around her, all four corners missing on the shape. Extending from a space where a vertex should have been was a line of emerald powder, at the end of which was the same structure that surrounded Willow, but it was a crimson square. In the middle of it sat Buffy. Her right hand rested against Spike's forehead, who was lying down on the floor beside her, a yellow outline traced around his body.

"Okay, Buffy… we're about to start" Willow said with a deep breath. "Now, remember, you aren't actually in any danger. No matter how real some of the memories seem, you just have to tell yourself they're just that. Memories. Images. So just keep moving on, and listen to my instructions, and everything should be fine."

Buffy nodded. "Check. No need to get all wigged out at the sight of brimstone," she smiled, taking a quick glance at Spike, who was rather calm.

The Slayer was still in shock at what she'd allowed herself to do with the Bleached Wonder. Bathing him had been one thing; admitting that it felt good when he'd accidentally thrust into her in a fit of panic was nothing big, but this? She felt so… wrong. She had almost enjoyed having Spike on top of her, fangs buried in her throat, hips rocking against hers every now and then. Her neck was even still throbbing with pleasured pain in remembrance of his invasion.

Buffy couldn't even tell if the minor waves of dizziness still hitting her were from the blood loss, or from her disgustingly happy thoughts.

"Any other questions?" the witch interrupted her best friend's daze, raising her eyebrows. When Buffy shook her head, she nodded. "Okay. Tara, you and Dawn had better leave now," she instructed.

"Right. Don't want you guys turning into carrots and broccoli if one of us sneezes or coughs" Dawn said, worry tinting her casual words.

"We'll be all right Dawn" Buffy assured her sister, able to see those hints of concern.

"Right" the teenager agreed shortly. "Well, good luck anyway" she said, following Tara out of the bedroom.

When their footsteps diminished, Willow turned to her best friend, an almost excited look plastered to her face. "You ready?" she asked with a dangerous smile, always loving a good challenge when it came to working with magic.

The Slayer nodded, sitting up straight and flicking her head to the side, tossing away a stray lock of hair. She took one look at Spike, and pushed away the typhoon of emotional confusion that threatened to level her consciousness. Then, she glanced at Willow, focusing all of her energy on the red-haired Wicca. "Let's do this."