Okay everyone. This is it. Eight months, 49 chapters and 270 pages later it's all done. Thanks for all the wonderful comments and suggestions.
It will be going up on my fic page at http://www.wordsmiths.net/Botta very soon!
Take care and safe travels all.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them again, his vision was blurry, but he could make out the distinct image of Dawn looking down at him. The teen's face came into better focus a few moments later, and Dawn gasped when she saw his eyes were open.
"Buffy! Buffy, Spike's awake!" Dawn called, practically leaping up from her seat on the edge of the couch and running for her sister.
While he waited for Buffy to arrive on the scene, he took the opportunity to take stock of his surroundings. He was indeed on the Summers' couch, and he did appear to be badly wounded. However, he wasn't in any serious pain. In fact, he was quite numb.
'Wiccas worked some powerful mojo on me if they're blockin' the kind of injuries Joyce said I had.'
Buffy came into view, hands damp from the kitchen, and William stirred inside him at the sight of her.
:: How shall I compare thee to a Summer's Day?
Thou are more lovely and more temperate.:: his soul mentally whispered.
::No! No sonnets! No bloody Shakespeare!::
"Well, Sleeping-Not-So-Beauty finally awakens. Took you long enough. It's only been five days," the Slayer told him, coming to sit beside him on the edge of the couch.
'Five days?' he thought, and his face must have given him away.
"You heard me. Five days. Willow was planning to go in and drag you out if you didn't wake up soon."
She shrugged and went on, "I suppose a good part of that was the knockout drugs we've been giving you, but still, you've been dead weight on the couch. We were considering just tossing some cushions over you and substituting you as furniture so we could watch Heraldo."
He heard himself laugh and felt his lips move; Buffy's nose crinkled up and she shied a little bit.
"Okay, your burns are even grosser when you try to smile," she said.
He creased his brow, wondering how bad it really was if the sight of him disturbed even the Slayer.
"I'd bring you a mirror, but well, there's the no reflection thing, and I am so not wasting any film on you just so you can see how gross and oozing you are. Acid burns and you, not a good combination."
He managed a tiny shrug and the movement dislodged something near his face. Buffy immediately moved to pick it up, and he saw that it was a plastic tube that he hadn't noticed was resting against his mouth.
"We've been tube feeding you," she explained, holding up the reddened plastic.
He nodded that he understood.
"It was easier. We didn't have to wake you, and I doubt that you could have sat up to feed yourself anyway. Just think, though, you look 200% better today than you did five days ago."
He moved his limbs experimentally and found that he could move, albeit he felt as if he was swimming through tar to do so. He tried to sit up, but Buffy put a firm hand on his chest and pushed him back down.
"Oh no. You're not getting up until you get the go ahead from Dr. Willow," she told him.
He settled back against the couch cushions and looked up her. She looked tired and worn, but she was *alive*; she was alive. She smelled of sunlight and vanilla and all the scents he associated with her, and he was just so *happy.*
::Surprised by joy- impatient as the wind,:: William supplied.
::Wordsworth now? What happened to Shakespeare?::
::O, never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seem'd my flame to qualify.::
::Hrumph. Pansy. Bloody Sonnet 108::
::But you knew it, didn't you?::
He growled mentally and sought to shove the soul back into his box so he could look at Buffy undisturbed. It didn't work.
::She walks in Beauty like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies
And all that's best of dark and bright,
Meet in her aspect and her eyes.::
::ARGH! SHUT UP!::
::But we always loved Byron.::
::Bollocks! If the wanker hadn't already been dead by the time Dru Sired me, I would have made it an immoral imperative to eat him.::
"Are you in pain?" Buffy asked suddenly, probably misreading the looks on his face as he argued with his soul.
He shook his head, and a moment later he was surprised when Buffy took his hand. He gave her a confused look, but she lowered her eyes.
"Willow and Giles, they told me everything," she admitted softly. "I admit, it was a little hard to swallow at first. Y'know the whole coming back in time to save me from dying thing seemed a bit far fetched."
She gave a mirthless laugh. "Then Giles showed me a journal you'd written in and it detailed everything, even stuff I know you couldn't know about because I never told you about it."
He squeezed her hand comfortingly.
"They also told me you have a soul. Tara confirmed it and you wrote about it in your journal." She paused as if gathering her thoughts and the hand that held his tightened slightly. "This is really hard," she finally said. "I mean, Angel loved me. I know he loved me, and I loved him more than anything in the world, but I can't imagine him doing for me what you have done."
She swallowed hard and he saw the tell-tale glimmer of tears brimming her eyes, and he wished desperately to be able to speak.
"B… Bu-ff…" he croaked through his ruined lips.
"Don't try to talk. You'll only open your burns and go all gross and oozy again. God I wish I knew how Mom got all the blood out of everything all the time."
At the memory of Joyce, she hung her head.
"Mom. You really tried to save Mom." She looked at him, tears falling. "I'm sorry you couldn't."
He lifted one hand to cup her cheek, using his thumb to brush a tear away, and tried to tell her everything in his heart with his eyes alone.
"You did so much and I beat you down for it every chance I could. Even in the other timeline, it was obvious that I used and beat you just to make myself feel better. But instead of dumping me like anyone else would, you just let me. You stayed and suffered through everything I did to you."
::Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds;
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O, no! It is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks upon tempests and is never shaken.
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error, and upon me prov'd,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.:: William recited.
He sent nothing in response to the Sonnet. In truth it cut far too close to the heart of things and he couldn't face it, not with Buffy opening to him in ways he never thought he would ever see her open.
"And when we'd both been pushed way past our limits and both did horrible, unforgivable things to each other, you went to earn back your soul. You went *looking* for someone to give you a *soul,*" she emphasized.
"Do you think Angelus would have gone to get a soul for me? Angel without his soul hated me and tried to kill me and all my friends. But you…"
She trailed off, and he once again cursed his inability to speak.
"What you did for me, and for Dawn… That…" she continued then stopped again.
He squeezed her hand again.
"Look, I don't know what's going to happen now, and my guess is neither do you," she finally said. "I guess it's up to us now to make a different future. Hopefully one that isn't as screwed up as the one you lived through."
He gave her a nod and what he hoped was a look of encouragement.
"I do know that I will stop using you as my convenient punching bag, and I'll try not to automatically assume the worst of you. Anything else that happens between us will have to happen on its own. That's all I can promise you."
It was more than he ever hoped to hear from her lips and he almost started to cry again.
"Don't start crying. You'll move your jaw and crack open your burns again. And I'd kiss you on the cheek right now, but you smell *really* gross."
He let himself laugh silently at her attempt to break the heaviness that had settled around them.
"I'm gonna go get the others. Dawn and Willow wanted to see you right away, but I made them promise to wait in the kitchen until I'd had a chance to talk to you by myself. I'd better go tell them the coast is clear before they batter down the door. You up to seeing visitors?"
He nodded, and she smiled at him.
"Okay. I'll go let in the hoarde."
She released his hand and stood, but their fingers lingered together, pulling apart at the last possible moment as she headed for the kitchen door.
::How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...:: William began, but he cut him off with his own verse.
::And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.::
There was stunned silence across the link between them, then William sent, ::I'm not familiar with that one.::
::Dylan Thomas. He was after your time. Blighter could write circles around your pathetic Elizabeth Barrett Browning.::
::And exactly how would you know that if you had 'no use for that worthless drivel' as you so eloquently put it?::
He didn't answer. There was no sense in rising to his soul's bait. They were stuck with each other after all, and he needed to maintain some semblance of his former 'bad' self.
And then Dawn was bounding in, and she was reaching out to touch a part of him that wasn't injured, her hands gentle and tender. Willow and Tara followed, his wiccas who believed in him and had given him their faith and strength. Two more who made up his little family, the ones who chose him and in turn were chosen by him to be closer to him than any blood kin had ever been.
Buffy came again at last, standing with one shoulder against the doorframe, giving the others time to fuss and jostle over him. She was watching them scrabble and jockey for position next to him, and he saw her face crack into a wide smile as she laughed.
Her laughter was music and the sight of her a miracle he could not have hoped to witness. Their eyes met, and in spite of all his wounds and burns, he felt more whole than he had ever felt in all his long years. He had finally come home.
'And death shall have no dominion. Bloody damn right.'