Once again, I'd like to thank Science for beta-ing, the ladies of Chatzy for help and inspiration, and Joss Whedon for letting us play with his characters. And a great big thanks to all of you, my wonderful readers and reviewers!
Since we don't actually encounter Edith and Doc Reynolds again, I'll share with you that of course they got married and lived to a ripe old age, with plenty of fat babies. I had the idea for a oneshot (that I'll never write) wherein Buffy, working for the Council and earning a nice paycheck in return, is transcribing old Watcher's diaries. Naturally, she comes across Wyndam-Price's journal and reads their tale of how they joined the fight against evil, and about Doc's accomplishments as a warlock, putting her mind to rest.
And now on to our heroes!
The movie she'd chosen was Back to the Future, of course. Spike sat at her feet, on the floor, Dawn on the other side of her. The others had begged off, uncomfortable with the seemingly sudden closeness between her and Spike. She overheard them talking in the other room, saying something about recovering from hell and giving her space. Spike must have heard too, because he gave her a searching look.
She shrugged. It wasn't that she was disappointed her friends had brought her back. It was easier here, truth be told, even with the bills hanging over her head and the responsibilities she was expected to shoulder. She missed Edith and the doctor, wondered what had happened to them, but her sister was here, as well as the rest of her friends. And having been the recipient of Anne Barrowman's Council paycheck had given her an idea for how to solve the money issues Willow had hesitantly brought up earlier in the day.
Modern woman here, just like Edith, Buffy thought with a fond grin.
She would deal. No problemo.
No, the not telling the Scoobies what had happened was more because she wanted to keep it to herself. She would never be able to convince the others that an unleashed Spike had fallen in love with her, changed for her. Easier to let them believe they'd rescued her from hell.
She'd given them plenty enough to worry about already. After dinner, before the movie, she'd been humming while wiping down the counters, not really paying attention, when Spike had joined in, contributing the words.
Take me back to dear old Blighty…
"You remember that?" she'd asked, surprised.
"Mind like a steel trap, Buffy Anne," he'd said, touching a finger to his temple, and she'd giggled. Actually giggled, like a lovesick teenager. Partly because he'd been so goofily charming, which was not a phrase one normally associated with Spike, and partly at the bewildered looks everybody else had shot them.
And then there was his new nickname for her. Buffy Anne. He still threw out love and pet and Slayer, but Buffy Anne, as awkward as it sounded, seemed to be here to stay. She knew why he called her that.
The others didn't, and it worried them. She wasn't going to be the one to explain it to them, though. She sort of liked sharing this secret with her vampire.
Her thoughts turned back to him as his hand curled around her ankle, squeezing softly. If she gave in to her growing attraction to Spike, it would be easier here too, in a way. He had already resigned himself to giving up evil, and with the chip, she didn't have to worry about him hurting others.
But would it be real? Could she trust him?
Buffy more than appreciated Spike's good qualities. She had found the man in him. But… it didn't matter how much he loved her, or how much she was drawn to him. If she couldn't trust him not to be evil if he ever lost the chip, she couldn't love him back, couldn't be with him the way she wanted to.
Her hesitation went beyond that. To be a man – a good man – meant more than not killing just to make her happy. It meant blood lust, killing lust, not being his primary urge in the first place. It meant being sorry – truly sorry – and making amends for any wrongs he might commit.
She didn't know if Spike had that in him, and Buffy found herself coming back to the same thought, over and over. If things were ever going to be real between them, last beyond the attraction she really couldn't deny she was feeling anymore, his conscience had to come from him, not a desire to please her.
The movie ended, and by unspoken mutual agreement they ended up on the back porch, sitting side-by-side in the darkness. Spike lit a cigarette.
"So? Got your head sorted?" Buffy asked.
He blew out a stream of smoke. "Pretty much."
"I was wondering…" Spike cocked his head questioningly. "That night. You told me you wouldn't kill. If I stayed with you."
"An' you wanna know if I could've stuck to my word." She nodded. "Dunno. Like to think I would've done my best. Know that would've been what it took to keep a woman like you by my side. The Chosen One couldn't settle for anything less, right?" He brought the cigarette to his lips, inhaled. "Do anything for my girl, y'know?"
"So if the chip quit working…"
He took another drag. "Not saying I wouldn't think about it. Wouldn't be worth it, though." He looked sideways at her from under his lashes. Buffy was silent, considering his words, her hands twisting together. Not doing evil wasn't quite the same as being good.
Was it enough?
Eventually he spoke again, interrupting her thoughts, his voice roughened by emotion. "This afternoon. We kissed, Buffy Anne. Not just the magical memory restoration kiss, but a real one. After."
"What's it mean, then? For you and me?"
Once upon a time, Buffy would have said Spike was incapable of love, but he'd proven her wrong. Risked his life for her in one era, offered to give up evil in another. Everything led her to believe he would do his best to be a man she could trust, be a man worth knowing.
Is it enough?
Even at his worst, she'd found the man within. Knowing Spike, he would surprise her again. Find his own way into the light, tame his demon on his own. Become a man she would be proud to call hers. Hell, knowing Spike the way she did now, she expected it.
She gave him an enigmatic smile. "What does it mean? Today, it means I know how I spent my summer vacation. I really was there. With you."
Spike was watching her closely, cigarette forgotten between his fingertips, the glow from the house illuminating his face. "And tomorrow?"
Buffy reached her hand up to her mouth, fingers feathering over her lips as they tingled in remembrance. "And tomorrow?"
She smiled once more, wider now. "Ask me then."
A/N: Anybody who's ever heard me complain about ambiguous endings might be a little surprised that, yes, this is THE END. From the beginning, this story was about Buffy learning in a very tangible way that neither Spike's love for her, nor his path to redemption, are solely due to the chip. This has been accomplished, so the story is now over. She sees Spike in a positive light; what she does with this information is fodder for a different tale (and I've learned my lesson not to drag a story on too long). No, there won't be a sequel, which means you get to choose what happens "tomorrow". I suspect you were expecting some smexytimes at the end, especially due to the rating, and I'm sorry to not provide. I gave it that rating for the rape and graphic violence (I always prefer to rate high when in doubt). Thank you, lovely readers, for joining me on this ride!