A gazillion thank you's to Amyb who found and fixed all the boo boos in this fic. Written before the comics, so non-comic canon compliant.

Life Goes On -

Chapter One

Buffy walked into the conference room at Council Headquarters and looked around at the faces.

"Whoa! Is there an apocalypse I should know about?" she joked, taking in their solemn expressions.

Giles sighed and took his glasses off to polish them.

Uh oh, polishing the specs – not a good sign.

"Ok, not a joking issue then." she said, giving her own sigh. "So, what's up?"

Silently her former watcher pushed a packet of papers across the table to her. She picked it up with an eye roll and glanced at the cover. Whatever snarky comment she had been about to make about forcing reading material on her was quashed when she saw the LA postmark.

"And this is?"

"Something you need to read before we begin our strategy session," Giles said quietly.

"You can't just tell me about it?"

"I would prefer you get the entire story – as much as we have of it – directly from the source in chronological order," he said. "And you may want to read it in private," he added, gesturing toward the adjacent office.

"Who is this source who did such a good job of keeping things in chronological order?" she asked, still somewhat flippantly.

"Wesley," Giles said. "It is Wesley's record of the events that took place at Wolfram and Hart over their last—in the course of last year."

"Once a Watcher, always a Watcher, I guess. Huh, Giles?"

The older man gave a tight smile that didn't reach his eyes. "I suppose that's true, Buffy. We spend a lot of years learning to observe and to record those observations. Apparently old habits die hard."

"So, Wesley sent this to us?" she asked, turning the packet over in her hands curiously. "Why didn't he just call you?"

"It appears that he was quite busy toward the... lately. And somewhat distracted by personal issues. This is information he obviously felt it would be important for us to have."

Buffy dropped into a chair and pulled what was clearly a journal of some sort out of the envelope. She opened it and started reading. Giles cleared his throat and again suggested that she might want to read it in private. She looked at him in confusion, saying firmly, "Giles, I realize there's probably stuff about Angel in here. Surely you know that I'm okay with whatever he's doing now? That ship sailed a long time ago. I can't imagine what Wesley could possibly have in here that I..."

Her voice trailed off and the way her knuckles whitened indicated that she had caught a glimpse of Spike's name somewhere as she flipped through the notebook. She immediately turned back to the first page and began reading with a speed that reminded him that despite her aversion to book work, she was actually both quite bright and a very good reader.

Wesley's journal entries appeared to begin several months after the defeat of the First Evil. He talked about the meeting in Angel's office, the accidental knock to the floor of the mysterious envelope on Angel's desk and then described how a screaming Spike had emerged from the amulet. He even quoted Spike's first gasping words, asking for Buffy. Her eyes squeezed shut momentarily at this reminder of how she was always his first priority. Then she opened them quickly and continued reading. Giles could see her jaw clench and knew she had read of Angel's offhand "somewhere in Europe" reply to Spike's asking where she was.

Giles had read the account of the events in LA several times already; he found that it was possible to tell where Buffy was in the story by observing her closely. She quickly closed down her face, hiding whatever emotions were being evoked by the ex-watcher's tale, but she couldn't hide her body's responses, and Giles could see the mounting tension in her as she understood that Spike had actually come back in one form or another.

Suddenly she leaped to her feet and headed for the private office behind Giles, mumbling something about needing to read where it was quiet. Since no one in the conference room had so much as breathed heavily while Buffy was reading, he assumed that she had come to something that was going to make it hard for her to hide her emotions from them.

Once in the smaller room, behind closed doors, Buffy dropped the emotional shields she had put up and allowed herself to collapse onto the floor, clutching the journal to her chest and letting the tears flow. All the grief and loss she had been suppressing for the past year, the aching empty place in her life that Spike had filled – emptiness she hadn't known was there until he was gone – she couldn't ignore those feelings any more. As she read Wesley's meticulous account of Fred's efforts to keep Spike from slipping into hell, the jerry-rigged machine she'd created to make him corporeal again and his willingness to give up his restoration to save her life, a more familiar emotion began to emerge.

Suddenly her grief was replaced with a cold anger – anger at everyone at Wolfram and Hart who knew about Spike and who hadn't thought to tell her. She was mentally preparing a stake just for Angel as she thought about his refusal to tell Spike where she was – even though she knew that he knew how to reach her if contact was necessary.

As she continued reading and came to the part where Spike suddenly regained his solidity, she switched her anger to him. He could have called somebody – he could have found Giles fairly easily. He could have asked someone there how to reach the Council. Fred and Willow talked; Wesley knew how to reach Giles; Angel knew how find all of them.

A block of ice settled in her chest as she read about his aborted trip to Europe to find her. Why did he change his mind? Didn't he want me anymore?

When she realized that Andrew had seen and talked to him, she threw a chair against the wall; the small blond man in the outer room leaped to his feet and quickly ran out of the building. He wasn't completely stupid. He had a pretty good idea what was causing her temper tantrum – fortunately for him, as Buffy threw open the door to the conference room and glared around looking for him just seconds after his departure. When she didn't see him, she went back into the smaller room, slamming the door behind her and muttering what she was going to do with his various body parts.

She shuddered as she read of Spike's loss of his hands – those wonderful hands that had soothed her when she needed soothing, that had brought her to ecstasy when she needed release. She smothered the urge to go to Dana's locked-down room and strangle her.

Her emotions continued to roil as she followed the events of the past year. She smiled at Wesley's descriptions of Spike and Angel arguing like children over ridiculous things; she laughed picturing Angel as a puppet; she smiled warmly at his developing relationship with Nina And that pretty much says it all about my cookies, doesn't it? she thought wryly, remembering how much pain that his moving on would have brought her just a few years before. She shook her head at the image of Spike and Angel trying to kill each other over a cup of Mountain Dew.

She read Wesley's account of Spike's explanation for not going to find her. It first made her angry that he thought she would love him better as a dead hero than as a live boyfriend; then, it made her heart ache again as she realized that he really hadn't believed her when she told him that she loved him. He didn't stay away because he didn't love her anymore; he did it because he really believed she couldn't love him. Once again the tears filling her eyes made it impossible to read for several minutes.

Ok, granted I never gave him much reason to think that I could love him before he came back with his soul. I spent a lot of time telling him how impossible it was. But surely those last few months...how could he not have seen how I felt? Those last two nights... Oh, Spike...

She tried to shake off the grief that was once again threatening to paralyze her before she could finish the chronicle. It was obvious that it was leading to something else besides just telling them about Spike's reappearance and she felt a small twinge of fear as events unfolded and became grimmer and grimmer.

She cringed for Wesley as he tried to dispassionately discuss Fred's death and the subsequent emergence of Illyria. His heartbreak and grief bled through the clinical description of her gradual deterioration, and Buffy's eyes welled up again in sympathy for the man who had been her watcher so briefly, what felt like so many years ago.

She unconsciously sucked in her breath when it appeared that Angel was succumbing to the evil influences of Wolfram and Hart, then relaxed as the real story was revealed. Tears of pride prickled her eyes as she discovered that Spike's hand had been the first to go up when Angel asked for volunteers to take the fight to its bitter end. The narrative ended the day before the planned attack on the great evil conspiracy that was clearly supported by the senior partners of the law firm. Wesley had made it very clear that he was not expecting to survive the coming battle, nor had he expected anyone else to do so. He was sending the record to Giles and the Council so that they would know what had happened, so that they could be prepared for the outcome.

For several minutes after she finished reading, Buffy sat immobile, clutching the journal to her chest and trying to sort out and deal with the emotions rolling over her in waves. For the past year she had done her best to subdue any kind of negative emotion; she had pushed all her grief, her fears for the future, her anger at the Powers that Be for making Spike their sacrifice so deep into her psyche that she had been able to pretend they weren't there. The hour spent reading the events of the past year in LA had made continuing that way impossible. In that short space of time she had gone through every bit of pain and fear that she had so successfully hidden from herself for the past year.

She felt exhausted, but exhilarated at the same time. Nothing like a good cry, or two or three, to get the juices flowing. She got up, wiped her eyes, and prepared to face the group in the other room. Since it was supposed to be a strategy session, she assumed that there was a situation to handle. Mentally bracing herself for whatever else she might learn, she reached for the handle and opened the door.

All conversation ceased when she entered the room, and Giles looked at her with his concern evident.

"Are you all right, Buffy?" he asked carefully. Over the past year he had gradually regained much of her respect, as well as the affection that he had always taken for granted. He had tried to apologize for his part in the attempt on Spike's life, but she had refused to discuss it; he had to settle for admitting that he had been wrong about the vampire while leaving his guilt unassuaged.

Wesley's journal had made it clear, beyond any shadow of doubt, exactly how wrong he had been and he found himself wishing that he could apologize to Spike in person for doubting him. He knew that his wish to be able to talk to Spike, however, was nothing compared to what Buffy must have been feeling.

"I'm fine," she answered firmly. She squared her shoulders and looked around the table. "What do we know?"

Everyone let out the breaths they had unconsciously been holding and relaxed back into their chairs, ready to begin the meeting. Giles nodded to one of the few watchers who had escaped the explosion at headquarters and asked him to begin.

"Well," the man began somewhat pompously, "the only things we know for certain are that the Senior Partners of Wolfram and Hart were quite angry and unleashed a horde of demons and various other nightmare creatures from another dimension into Los Angeles. Their target was Angel's group specifically, although we've no reason to believe they were given cause to avoid a more general sort of violence. Apparently Angel's group was able to accomplish all of their objectives on that last day; thus was the Senior Partners takeover of Los Angeles averted. We know that Mr. Wyndham-Pryce lost his life very early on; however, his mission was completed by the entity using Ms Burkle's body. This… being… effectively disposed of their target, then joined the others to face the coming battle."

"It was assumed that all that were left – Mr. Gunn, Illyria, and the two vampires – had all perished, although they had done an amazingly good job of destroying the incoming army of supernatural beings. It appears that the vampire known as Angel was... well, he did not survive his battle with the dragon."

Buffy squeezed her eyes shut briefly in pain, then opened them and nodded at him to go on.

"He did, however, take the dragon with him, meaning that that particular danger was eliminated quickly." Nigel had been briefed on Buffy's relationships with both souled vampires and of course, had studied Wesley's account of the previous year and so he knew of the more recent connection between Buffy and Spike.

As the uncomfortable man hesitated, Buffy looked at him sternly and said, "Go on. What do we know about... the others?" She steeled herself for what she knew was coming.

With a quick glance at Giles, who nodded firmly, Nigel continued in a shaky voice. "Well, we know that Mr. Gunn was apparently already wounded when the final battle began; he did not survive, although there is no way to be certain exactly how long he continued to fight. Our observer could see the other vampire and the blue... entity... fighting from a position in front of the young man, but he was forced to leave the scene at that time and cannot verify that Mr. Gunn was saved. He assumes not, as they were seen later that night fighting in other areas of the city and Mr. Gunn was not with them.

"And Spike and Fr—Illyria?" Buffy was very proud of the steadiness of her voice was as she asked the watcher to break her heart.

Nigel blew out a breath – "We... we don't know. No one has seen the vampire since that night. There are rumors of a woman wearing a blue catsuit—" He paused as everyone in the room looked at him like he'd lost his mind.

"Un, blue catsuit?" Willow put in for the first time. "Not really Fred's style at all."

"Please be assured," he said, suddenly sounding very certain and very much like a member of the Council, "that the entity using Miss Burkle's body is, in no way, actually her. It is from an ancient race of beings that are very nearly gods. As you know from the journal, it was necessary that they take steps to remove much of her – its – power simply to prevent it from destabilizing and taking the entire city with it in the resulting explosion. This being does bear some physical resemblance to the original owner of the body; it has her memories, but it is not, and will never again be her. It can shift at will to assume the form of Miss Burkle, but its typical physical appearance is now its natural state. In addition to our informant's firsthand observation, the correlation of the two sightings seems quite conclusive towards proving this armored shell to be the former god.

"As I was saying," he continued with a glare toward Willow, "there have been stories of a woman wearing blue showing up to confront pockets of demons and destroy them. 'She' doesn't speak to anyone and vanishes as soon as its task is complete. We are assuming this is Illyria, although we don't know why it would continue to fight after everyone else was gone."

Buffy bit her lip before she spoke, telling herself that there was no point in crying over Spike's apparent death when she'd been living with it for over a year. She pushed down the sickening feeling that if she'd known she could have been with him all this time to focus on business.

"So, if Illyria is still fighting demons, there are still problems in LA?"

Giles took over the story, thanking the other man for his information and allowing him to sit down. "Yes, it would appear that even though Angel and his group did an amazing job of taking out the most dangerous of the things let through when the dimensional portal was opened, they were not able to defeat them all before... succumbing..." He could see that Buffy, in spite of her impassive face, was clutching her own upper arms so tightly that he was sure there would be bruises there for days.

"It appears as though Illyria is taking the remainder of the Senior Partner's horde out as she finds them, but I think a contingent of slayers deployed to serve as back up would go a long way toward ridding the world of whatever is left of that horrific army."

"So, when do we leave?" Buffy kept a tight rein on her voice and expressive face as she mentally prepared to return to a place that she knew could only create more unhappy memories for her.

"We're prepared to leave tomorrow. We were actually just waiting for you to get here." Giles studied her face carefully, then turned to Nigel. "Please tell her the rest of it," he ordered. At the same time he gestured to the others in the room to leave and they filed out quickly, glancing back at Buffy and wondering what else was going on.

"The rest of it?" she asked carefully. "What haven't you told me?"

Nigel took a deep breath and said, "The only other place that Illyria has apparently been seen – and only once or twice – is at a hospital where many of the victims of the original assault were taken. It has been seen going in or out of the room housing a comatose man who authorities have not yet been able to identify."

"A man?" Buffy asked meaningfully. "We know it's a man that she's visiting, and not a... a..." She couldn't bring herself to finish the sentence. Shaking herself slightly she said, "It must be Gunn, then".

" The man is white," Nigel said quietly. "And blond, with a scar on his eyebrow."

Buffy felt the room spinning and was surprised to find that Giles was holding her up and guiding her to a chair.

"Buffy," he said gently, "that's all we know. It's a blond man, who could be anybody. Someone Illyria knew from Wolfram and Hart, a friend of Angel's, a friend of Fred's, perhaps..."

Buffy looked up at the man who had been her surrogate father for nearly a decade; he winced at the pain and hope he saw warring in her eyes. "But it could also be... It could be, Giles!"

"We won't know till we see him, will we?" he said as he brushed her hair gently with his hand. "And don't forget, Buffy… this man, whoever he turns out to be, is in a coma. He has obviously been grievously injured."

Buffy ignored him and stood up.

"Where are you going? Are you going to be OK?"

"I'm going to pack," she said without looking at either of them. "I'm getting on a plane tomorrow."

The man lying in the hospital bed seemed to be as unresponsive mentally as he was physically, but that was an illusion. In reality, from time to time he was conscious and able to hear what was going on around him. He couldn't see anything, nor could he let anyone know that he was alert, as he couldn't make any of his voluntary muscles respond to his commands.

The only one who seemed to be aware of his changes in status was Illyria. He knew that she came to see him sometimes. He had no way of knowing how often she came, or if he was always aware when she did, but he could always tell somehow when she was there. When she could sense that he was listening, she would talk to him about the demons she had killed; sometimes her voice would soften, and she almost sounded like Fred when she spoke of Wesley, and some demon he would have liked to study before she killed it.

He already knew that they were the only ones to survive that final battle. Even if she hadn't told him, he would have known that Angel was gone; he could sense the empty space in the small part of him that could feel the presence of members of his vampire "family". He never dwelled on the emptiness where the Master or Darla had been, but he was surprised to find that the loss of his grandsire left a painful hole that he knew would not stop hurting anytime soon.

If he could have, he would have smiled when Illyria described seeing Angel riding the dragon and sawing away at its neck with his sword as it screamed and flew into a burning building. Way to go out in blaze of glory, you great poofter! The slayer would be proud of you.

At the thought of Buffy, the mental smile went away and he wondered where she was and if she had any idea what had happened in the city of her birth. His dreams while he slept were full of images of her – golden hair and skin shimmering in the sun, smiling at him, beckoning him to follow her into the sunshine.

It was several weeks before he realized that the heartbeat he was hearing was his own, and that the rise and fall of his chest was due to a need for oxygen, not just habit.

Bloody hell! I got the Shanshu? I'm a real boy now?

Spike wasn't sure how he felt about that. He had no desire to go back to being William; he feared that the combination of the soul, which had already changed him, and humanity would result in his again becoming the meek, bookish man he had once been.

Eventually he realized that the fear was irrelevant as he was helpless to move or talk anyway. When he was aware of Illyria's presence, Spike tried as hard as he could to move some body part, to do anything to let her know that he still inhabited the inert body in the hospital bed. The frustration of not being able to so much as open his eyes or blink was mounting to the point that he was sure that he would spontaneously combust during one of her visits.

After a particularly grueling attempt to open his eyes during one of her monologues, he was surprised to feel a touch on his arm and to hear her voice reassuring him, "Do not try so hard to do what you cannot. I can tell that you hear me. It is not necessary that you respond."

Astonishment – at both the touch and the attempt at comfort – left him unable to even pay attention to anything else she said and he almost missed it when she mentioned that there appeared to be many new demon fighters in the city.

"They are all young female humans. Could these be the Slayers of which I have been told?"

Even as he mentally screamed to be allowed to stay conscious, he felt himself slipping away; Illyria soon left, knowing instinctively that he was no longer able to hear her. Since Spike wasn't able to answer her, she determined to find one of these humans herself, to learn precisely who or what they were.

Chapter Two

Buffy was impatient. Giles had been insistent that they get the small army of Slayers settled and comfortable with the city before he tried to contact the informants who had seen Illyria and knew which hospital she visited. Upon arrival in the city, they discovered that Angel had left a will and that Buffy was now the owner of the Hyperion; as a result, finding a place for a small army to stay was not the problem they had anticipated. However, after a week of slaying demons, rearranging roommates who wanted to kill each other, and sitting in her room at night staring out the window as though she could see into the buildings in front of her, she told Giles he had two days to find out where Illyria had been seen or she was going to leave the slayers on their own while she started through the city hospital by hospital.

By Sunday morning, she had had all the waiting she could stand and was sitting in the lobby with the phone book in her lap, jotting down the locations of all the hospitals in LA. When Giles saw what she was doing, he sighed and handed her a small piece of paper with St. Luke's Rehabilitation Center and an address on it. Snatching it out of his hand, Buffy started for the door, hesitating when her ex-watcher asked gently, "Do you want me to go with you, Buffy?"

She paused and looked back over her shoulder, resisting the urge to snap at him that she wanted to do this herself, knowing he was only worried about her state of mind if the man turned out not to be who she wanted him to be. "Thank you, Giles. I suppose I could use a little moral support…." She tried not to think about how much she wanted the man to be Spike, or how she would handle the disappointment if it turned out not to be him.

The woman at the front desk was reluctant to give them much information about the patient in Room 321 until Giles explained that they thought he might be a friend of theirs; perhaps even Buffy's fiancé whom they had thought slain in the battle. While Buffy tried to close her mouth, which had gaped open, Giles blithely ignored her and poured on his British charm to cement the idea that they were as close to a family as the patient had in this country.

That changed the nurse's attitude completely; now enthusiastic, she chattered away about how hard they had tried to find out who he was, their efforts hampered by the fact that his fingerprints weren't on file anywhere, that no local dentists could match his teeth – Buffy had to smother a giggle at the idea of an LA dentist finding X-rays of Spike's teeth in his files – and that no one knew who the strange woman who came to visit him was or even how she got into the building.

Eventually she stopped talking and allowed them to go to the elevators. Buffy stood for about thirty seconds; then, patience exhausted, she turned and ran to the stairwell. Telling Giles she would meet him upstairs, she left him in front of the elevator bank. She took the stairs three at a time and was soon opening the door to the third floor and following the signs to Room 321.

Suddenly the woman who had faced down the worst that Hell had to throw at her was frozen with fear. She stared at the door of the room, unable to make her feet carry her forward. As long as I stand out here, there's a 50/50 chance it's Spike in there. As soon as I go in…. Finally, a short, dark-haired girl clad in hospital scrubs who was leaving the room, shook her out of her immobility. She saw Buffy staring at the door and asked her kindly, "Can I help you find someone?"

Buffy just shook her head and moved slowly toward the entrance to the room. She could feel her heart pounding, her palms were sweating and her mouth was dry.

"Are you here to see "El Rubio?" the girl asked curiously. "Do you know him?"

"I... I don't know. Maybe... I hope so..." Buffy clenched her fists and moved into the room and toward the bed. The girl came back in the room with her, watching her anxiously.

"I hope so too. El Rubio needs his people."

Buffy approached the bed and caught her breath with an audible gasp. Lying there, lightly covered with a sheet, was the vampire – no, the man – she'd thought was gone forever. Soft blond curls with honey-colored roots almost an inch long covered his head; though his eyes were closed, there was no mistaking those features – the scar on his eyebrow, those chiseled cheekbones, and the soft full lips she remembered so well were all there. He looked like he was sleeping, but where he had always before looked like a marble statue when he was still, now there was a flush of color to his face and his chest rose and fell in a regular rhythm.

Buffy came to the bedside and reached a shaky hand toward his face. "S-Spike, " she whispered, stepping even closer. She stopped before she actually touched him and glanced at the nurse questioningly.

"Oh, please, Go ahead and touch him. He needs all the touching he can get. The more stimulation, the better for him."

Buffy's hand dropped down; once she made contact with his face she softly traced his cheek and jaw, moving her fingers to his lips and gently touching them with her fingertips. With a strangled cry, she dropped into the nearby chair and put her head on the bed next to his shoulder. If there had been any doubt in the nurse's mind that the girl knew who Spike was, it was gone when she heard the soft sobbing and saw her entwine her fingers with his.

She waited respectfully for a few minutes, then asked tentatively, "Can you tell us his name, Miss? We just call him El Rubio because we don't know who he is."

Buffy raised tear-filled eyes and managed to get out, "William. His name is William..." She was horrified when she realized they were going to expect her to know his last name, and she had no idea what it was.

"His name is William? William...?"

Before Buffy could think of something to say Quick! What's a good excuse for not knowing my boyfriend's last name? she heard Giles' voice as he stepped into the room. "His name is William Pratt. He is Ms Summer's fiancée; we thought he was dead, until we heard just recently that there was a comatose man who could be him."

"Oh! That is so wonderful." The nurse turned to Giles and beamed at him. "We have been so worried about him – not having anyone..." Her voice trailed off and Giles knew she was thinking about Illyria's nocturnal visits.

"Yes, well. Now that we've found him, I'm sure he will have plenty of visitors. May I speak to you out here for a moment? We should discuss..."

As Giles steered the nurse out of the room, Buffy mentally thanked him for giving her some privacy. With no one watching, she began touching Spike again, running her hands over his face, through his curls, up and down his arms, across his chest. She pulled the sheet back to assure herself that he was in one piece and smiled as she saw the hospital gown he was wearing.

Oh, I'm never going to let him live this down. I need to bring a camera tomorrow. He's going to hate that anyone has seen him like this...

She firmly pushed any thoughts that his condition wasn't temporary to the back of her brain. Buffy was in full denial mode about Spike's chances of recovering from a six-month long coma.

When Giles came back into the room after having assured the nurse that he would return with paperwork authenticating Spike's citizenship and whatever else the hospital required in order to allow them to make decisions about his care, he saw that Buffy had moved up onto the bed and was lying curled up next to Spike's inert body, tracing small circles on his chest. Her head was resting on his shoulder and her eyes were shut.

He waited quietly for several minutes, torn between his concern for her emotional well being if Spike stayed unconscious and his relief at not having to deal with her disappointment if it had not been the former vampire in the hospital bed. Finally he touched her gently on the shoulder and asked if she would be all right if he went out for a while.

She opened her eyes and blinked up at him and he noted the loss of the shadows that had hidden in her eyes since they had all fled Sunnydale.

"Sure, Giles. I'll be fine. I'm staying right here until he wakes up." She spoke with such assurance and conviction that he decided he would wait until later to discuss the gloomy prognosis that the nurse had shared with him.

"Okay, Buffy. I'm going to go take care of the necessary paperwork we need to have for him. I presume being identified as his fiancée is acceptable to you?" he asked wryly.

She sat up reluctantly and nodded her head. "That's fine. Whatever it takes for them to let me stay here." She shifted uncomfortably for a minute then asked, "Giles? The name you gave them – is that really Spike's name? And how do you know it?"

"I believe it is, Buffy. The Council had fairly extensive records on William the Bloody – records they were particularly interested in maintaining after he killed the second slayer. And then, when he began helping us..." He cleared his throat and finished, "Of course, all those things were lost when the Council Headquarters was blown up."

"How will you get papers for him?"

"Actually, that should be fairly easy. Wolfram and Hart had full sets of papers for everyone under their employ, and Wesley sent me a copy of Angel's and Spike's; all I have to do is bring them in. He even has medical insurance through Wolfram and Hart."

"Oh," Buffy tried to wrap her mind around the idea of Spike, William the Bloody, being a documented resident of Los Angeles. This is the man who used to live in a crypt?

After Giles had left, Buffy lay back down beside the bed and tried to get used to a warm, breathing Spike. Of course, he'd often breathed when he didn't need to, but to feel the steady rise and fall of his chest and see the pulse beating in his throat was a new experience.

She spent the next week at the hospital – only leaving to go back to the hotel for showers and a change of clothes. She found that even with being unconscious, Spike had accumulated a small admiring group of female hospital employees who came by regularly to check on "El Rubio" as the Mexican-American nurse had named him.

They all insisted they were delighted to find that their favorite patient had not only friends, but also a fiancée to care about him; despite their words, however, Buffy caught the disappointment on the faces of several of the younger women when they were introduced to her. They very quickly learned that touching the patient in 321, even on his tempting cheekbones, was not the thing to do when his girlfriend was around. Those that had become accustomed to pulling the sheets back to admire his less-visible attributes were soon finding something else to do with their time once Buffy walked in on a show and tell scene and almost broke the arm of the girl holding the sheet up.

By the end of the week, the "hospital hos" as Buffy insisted on calling them, were no longer visiting as often and Buffy had made friends with the workers who had legitimate reasons for being with Spike. The physical therapist was willing to teach Buffy how to move Spike's arms and legs to prevent the muscles from atrophying; once she was sure that Buffy had mastered all the proper movements, she turned his daily workout over to her patient's love, confident that he was in good hands.

While she worked his body, Buffy kept up a running monologue, telling him what she'd been doing, what Dawn was involved in, where Willow was; for good measure, she even told him what Xander was doing. She apologized for not knowing what was happening on Passions, as it wasn't on TV in Europe.

After some rancorous discussions with the hospital staff, which Giles was eventually able to smooth over, Buffy received permission to sleep in the room with Spike. It was tacitly understood that no one would mention that the cot provided for her was never slept in as long as she didn't make a big deal of it.

One night, after life had settled into something of a routine, a tingling of her Slayer senses awakened Buffy. Putting an arm across Spike protectively, she opened her eyes and looked around the dimly lit room; her gaze was immediately drawn to a slim blue figure standing beside the bed, looking at her coldly.

Sitting up carefully, and keeping one possessive hand on the man in the bed, she said quietly, "Illyria."

The strange-looking woman cocked her head to the side and asked, "How do you know me? And why do you try to protect my comrade from me? I would not harm him. He was Wesley's friend...and mine." she finished softly.

Buffy smothered the pang of jealousy that shot through her at Illyria's obvious concern for Spike and her doubt about Buffy's right to be in his bed.

"I'm Buffy," she said clearly, waiting to see if that meant anything to the increasingly tense creature in front of her. In case it didn't, she slid cautiously off the bed and took a relaxed but ready stance.

"Buffy." Illyria said the name slowly as though testing it on her tongue. "The vampire said that name often, usually when he was sleeping." She didn't miss the anger in Buffy's eyes and the slight tensing of her body at hearing that Illyria knew what Spike talked about in his sleep.

"You cannot fight me, you know," she said arrogantly. "It is foolish of you to think about harming me. I am a god."

"Been there, done that, got the dead hell-god to show for it," Buffy growled out as she moved around the bed. "You've seen one skanky god wannabe, you've seen them all."

Illyria cocked her head again, then backed up to the side of the room. "Because the vampire-that-isn't seems to value you, I will let you live. For now." She finished speaking and slipped out the door. When Buffy got to the entrance to the room and looked up and down the hall there was nothing to see.

Shaken more than she was willing to admit to herself, she slid back into the bed and curled up beside the immobile man there.

"Can't say I'm crazy about your blue friend," she grumbled as she put her head on his shoulder and wrapped her leg over his. "When you wake up, we're going to have a talk about just how friendly you two are..." She snuggled into him and tried to relax and go back to sleep herself.

She told Giles about Illyria's nocturnal visit, trying to remain detached and not allow her jealousy to affect her description of the god; however, when she referred to the interloper as a "blue skank", he took his glasses off and cleaned them vigorously as he reminded her, " Buffy, lllyria is a very powerful being, and one that appears to be on our side. Please do not allow your... concern... over her relationship with Spike to do anything to alter that arrangement."

Buffy huffed and rolled her eyes, but she agreed to try to be less antagonistic if Illyria visited again. When Giles suggested she offer the assistance of the Slayers to rid LA of the remaining demons, she huffed again but eventually relented.

Chapter Three

As much as Buffy tried to remain positive and hopeful about Spike's condition, it was beginning to wear on her after a while that nothing seemed to change. Every day she woke up next to the warm, breathing and totally unaware body of the man she loved. She dressed, ran down to the cafeteria for breakfast, then spent the morning working his arms and legs as the physical therapist had taught her, talking to him as she worked, "Come on, Spike, move this arm. Got to keep those biceps strong so you can handle a sword again. Sit up, baby, work those abs for me. Don't want to lose that sexy body..."

At noon she went back to the hotel for several hours to shower, change clothes and catch up on what the Slayers were doing each night. Everyone was very understanding about where she was spending her time, but she could tell that they were beginning to wonder how long she was going to keep spending her evenings at the hospital rather than helping them.

I fought demons by myself for seven years, she grumbled to herself, I'm entitled to take a vacation if I want to. Giles assured her that she was perfectly within her rights and that he supported her decision to stay with Spike and leave the slaying to the other girls; years of feeling responsible for the world, however, kept her from feeling anything but guilt.

To assuage that guilt, she decided to go out with the slayers that evening and contribute what she could to the fight. She found that she had missed slaying and actually enjoyed the evening's bloodshed. Slaying put her into an unusually good mood as she walked toward the hospital, waving her "good night" to everyone she saw.

She started chattering to Spike as soon as she entered his room. telling him about the night's fight, where she was sore, how much she had missed it. "I'll be glad when you're up and fighting with me. I miss having you to watch my back..." She was still talking as she pulled her shirt over her head, but froze when she dropped her arms and saw Illyria standing by the bed.

She immediately stopped talking to Spike and stepped towards the blue warrior. She reminded herself of her promise to Giles and tried to keep the anger from her voice as she asked, "Why are you here?"

Illyria ignored her question, instead shocking Buffy by gesturing to Spike and saying, "Don't stop talking to him. He listens."

"Wha?" Buffy whirled to look at Spike, but he appeared the same as always. "No, he's still..."

"He hears you." Illyria said firmly. "Sometimes he hears. He is awake in his head. You should talk to him now." With that, the earth-bound god disappeared from the room.

Buffy approached the bed slowly, reaching out a hand to touch Spike's face. "Is she right? Are you in there? Can you hear me? Did you know I was here? Spike? Spike? Can you hear me?" The idea that he was awake and could actually hear what she was saying took her usually easy stream-of-conscious rambling away and she was left struggling for something important to say to him.

Tears prickled her eyes as she kissed his face and whispered in his ear, "Can you hear me tell you how much I love you? How much I missed you? I'm right here, Spike. I'll be here when you wake up. I promise. I won't leave you. I'm waiting for you."

Spike was sure he was dreaming. He knew that Illyria was there, and he listened to her tell him about that night's demons and the Slayers. He was just absorbing what she was telling him about the blond woman who wouldn't let her near him when Buffy's voice came through and he decided that he wasn't really awake after all. He smiled mentally as she chattered on about her activities that night, picturing her gestures and facial expressions. He wondered briefly why, if he was dreaming, he wasn't having visual images to go with the voice.

Then he heard Illyria speak to Buffy and his heart sped up, as he understood that she was actually there in his room. He remembered bits and pieces of things he'd thought he heard recently. Buffy's voice telling him to move his arms and legs, talking to him about Dawn; her touch on his face and body. With sudden clarity he realized that what he thought were dreams were actual events. She was here. In his room. With him.

If he'd thought that he was frustrated before, trying to speak with Illyria, the white-hot rage that went through him when he tried to speak to Buffy and couldn't even open his lips almost burned his brain out. When he heard her tell him she loved him, tears of frustration and longing filled his eyes and leaked out onto his cheeks.

Buffy's face was pressed to his as she kept up her litany of "I love you"s in his ear; gradually, she noticed that her cheeks were getting wet. Thinking she was crying, she sat up and swiped at her face, only to find that her eyes were dry. The dryness lasted only until she saw the tears on Spike's cheeks and realized where they were coming from.

With a sob of relief, she threw herself on top of him, soaking his chest and clutching his inert body to her. "You hear me! You hear me!" she wept. She cried until she was exhausted, falling asleep wrapped around him even more than usual.

As if the tears had opened some sort of pathway, Spike found that he was able to remain conscious and aware for much longer periods of time. He stayed awake long after Buffy cried herself to sleep, enjoying the feeling of her warm body on his, her breath on his neck and the scent of her hair in his nostrils. When he finally did fall asleep again, it was with a firm determination to find a way to stay awake.

Throughout the following days he was aware for longer and longer periods. As he noticed the routine that had been established, he began to realize how long Buffy had been there with him and how she had been caring for him. The humiliation of having her help the nurses with his bodily functions was tempered by the humbling knowledge that she was willing to do this for him.

The morning he woke up with long forgotten sensations in his lower body, they both cried again. Spike, with frustration that he still responded to her body and couldn't do anything about it; and Buffy with joy that at least one body part was beginning to function. The fact that her body pressed up to his could cause him to get hard gave both of them hope that it was only a question of time before other parts would wake up and be functional.

During that morning's physical therapy, Buffy couldn't resist running her hand gently over his now-soft penis. "They tell me stimulation is good for you," she murmured as she slid her hands under the hospital gown. "What do you think, hmmm?" She continued to rub gently, stroking him the way she knew he liked and was rewarded with a twitch and then a gradual hardening of the part under her hand.

Spike didn't know whether to be grateful for her touch, or angry that she would tease him when he couldn't respond the way he wanted to. You're going to pay for this, Slayer. We're going to have a conversation about this particular "stimulation" When she leaned closer – after a quick glance to be sure there were no nurses ready to enter the room – and pressed her lips to the head of his cock, he gave a gasp. The fact that he was able to do something other than breathe in and out regularly, even if it was involuntary, was such a surprise that he almost didn't notice that she had stopped her ministrations as soon as she heard the gasp.

When the physical therapist came in the room a couple of minutes later, Buffy was still looking at Spike with huge eyes, willing him to make another sound. She tried to explain to the therapist what was going on, without going into intimate details. Fortunately, the therapist was a very understanding and wise woman and she smiled gently at Buffy's flaming cheeks as she asked, "So, what you're saying is, he is responding to certain kinds of stimulation?"

Buffy gratefully nodded her head and looked at the woman eagerly. "Does this mean he's getting better?" The hope in her eyes was almost painful to see and the therapist chose her words carefully.

"I think these are good signs... the tears, the gasp, the... arousal. These are all things we haven't observed before. Certainly we will look for more signs that he's regaining some bodily functions, but you need to understand... these are all involuntary reactions. Until we see some sign that he's able to control his body, we can't be sure he is really waking up."

At Buffy's crestfallen expression, she hastened to add, "But you should certainly continue your... activities. Whatever is evoking these reactions could also stimulate other muscles to react. And as soon as we can identify some voluntary reactions, we'll know he's waking up."

Buffy thought briefly about what Illyria had said about Spike's being awake and aware some of the time and nearly mentioned the god's observations; ultimately, she decided against it. She didn't want to try to explain who or what Illyria was; of course, she also had no idea how Illyria knew when Spike was awake when no one else could tell.

When it was time for her to go to bed, she slid into her normal spot beside Spike in the hospital bed, preparing to sleep curled up into his side as usual. As she rolled her leg over his, she accidentally bumped his penis and thought she felt another twitch. Her breath caught in her throat and she moaned as she pressed her crotch against his thigh. She was rewarded with a definite nudge on her leg from his rapidly hardening cock.

Without actually thinking about what she was doing, Buffy started placing light, open-mouthed kisses on his chest, stopping to suck on his nipples and smiling when they hardened under her lips.

"Do you think this is weird? Am I being a perv? I missed you so much, Spike. I missed this—" She took his cock in her hand and squeezed it gently. "Would you mind if I...?"

Bloody hell! Would I mind? Has the stupid bint forgotten who she's talking to? Oh, yes, baby, like that. Do that again, love. No! No! Don't stop! Once again Spike raged against his inability to communicate as Buffy stopped touching him and got off the bed. He relaxed when he heard her cross the room and close the door to the hall. When she slipped back into the bed and pulled the sheet up over them, he felt his body responding to her nearness as it always had and almost forgot that he had no control over it.

Although he remained outwardly inert, his heart rate increased and his breathing got deeper and faster as Buffy's hands stroked his cock and she rubbed against his thigh. She rolled on top of him and put him between her thighs, squeezing with her powerful muscles and rubbing herself against him, whimpering with the need for more friction.

Ah, that's it, love. Ride me, Buffy, ride me hard. Missed you so much. Love you so much. Come for me, my love. Use me to pleasure yourself.

With a sudden twist, Buffy wrenched off her pajama bottoms and lowered herself on to him. "I'm sorry, Spike. I need to feel you inside me. I have to – please forgive me," she murmured as she slid down on him and clenched around him. "I'm sorry."

Spike was so overwhelmed by the feel of her surrounding him after so long that he barely paid any attention to her murmurs. He put everything he had into trying to move his hips, but could only lie still and feel her as she began slowly sliding up and down his willing cock. Eventually her murmured apologies reached his brain and he groaned inwardly. Don't be sorry, love. Don't be sorry for loving me. I love you, Buffy. Want to be in you; want to be under you; you're making me very happy, love. Don't be sorry. Love you. Want you. Ride me, love. Love me, Buffy. Love me hard.

As Buffy's motions became harder and faster, she could feel Spike's heart beating rapidly and his chest rising and falling at the same rate as her own rapid panting. She tilted her hips so as to rub herself on his pubic bone with every stroke and soon she was gasping and giving the little whimpers that he knew meant she was very close to orgasm. When her powerful internal muscles closed around him tightly as she spasmed, he felt himself release and spurt into her. As he did, his hips rose up to meet hers and he opened his mouth to gasp her name.

Buffy was still shuddering from her climax when her brain began to register that not only had Spike moved; he had spoken. Her head flew up and she stared at his face only to be crushed that it looked just as immobile as before. "Spike? Can you talk to me? Tell me I wasn't imagining. I know I felt you move, and I heard you, didn't I? Please, Spike, please..."

Spike felt something break loose inside him when he heard her pleading. With great effort and concentration, he found that he was able to force his eyes open to meet hers. "'Lo, Love," he croaked in a voice that was rusty from disuse. Tears of joy and gratitude filled her eyes as she stared into the brilliant blue orbs gazing at her as only Spike could.

"Hi," she said softly through her tears. "Welcome back."

He managed a weak smile before his eyes slid closed again and he gave in to exhaustion. He could feel Buffy's hand as she entwined their fingers and he was able to manage a soft squeeze before he fell asleep.

When morning came and the nurses opened the door, they were amazed and thrilled to find their formerly non-responsive patient sleeping on his side with his arms around the woman who had brought such a wonderful change in such a short amount of time. The gasps of amazement from the doorway woke Buffy and she raised her head to give them a dazzling smile.

"Hi!" she greeted them. "Isn't it a wonderful morning?"

When he felt her sit up, Spike stirred and reached his arm around her again, trying to pull her down with him on the bed and mumbling as he did so. Buffy tried to extricate herself without losing the sheet that was hiding the fact that she wasn't wearing her pajama bottoms.

The little dark-haired nurse who had initially taken Buffy into Spike's room, quickly hustled the others out, telling Buffy over her shoulder that she was going to get the doctor. Buffy jumped up and grabbed her pajamas, taking them into the bathroom with her while she threw on some clothes and washed her face.

She came back out to find Spike sitting up and gingerly moving his arms around and flexing his muscles.

"Hey," she said in a scolding tone, "don't be messing with those arms. I've put a lot of work into them these last few weeks."

"Just wanted to be sure they were in working order, love." He smiled, held them out, and lifted one eyebrow at her. She crossed the room without even touching the ground and threw herself into his embrace. When the doctor came into the room he found it hard to tell where one left off and the other began.

He cleared his throat and commented, "I take this to mean you are now awake and know what you're doing?"

Spike looked up and growled, "I'm either awake or dreamin'. Either way, I know what I'm doing!" He buried his face in Buffy's neck again and inhaled her scent like it was oxygen.

Embarrassed, Buffy pushed him back and gave him a quick kiss on the lips. "Behave and let's hear what the doctor has to say about your recovery."

When it became clear that Spike was going to spend the rest of the morning going through multiple tests, Buffy took the opportunity to return to the hotel for clean clothes and to bring Giles up to date. She flew through the door of the hotel and took the stairs up to her room rather than wait for the elevator. After a quick shower and after spending much more time than she had for the past weeks picking out her clothes, she was ready to go looking for Giles. She gave her hair a last good brushing, swiped some gloss on her lips and went out the door.

Chapter Four

She found her former watcher in the dining room and quickly joined him; one look at her beaming face told Giles something important had happened.

"So, he's awake then?" he asked with a gentle smile.

"Awake, alive and he still loves me!"

"You doubted that? After all these years?"

"Well, he did stay away from me all last year. There has to be a reason for that and I just assumed..."

"Buffy, I may not be the expert on William the Bloody that I used to think I was, but I think I know him well enough to say that whatever the reason might be, his no longer loving you would be very unlikely to be it."

Buffy blushed and shrugged, "You know me – all self-involved person. It just never occurred to me that it might not have anything to do with me. That it might have been a…."

"An apocalypse?" Giles asked kindly.

"Uh, yeah. Kinda overlooked that possibility, I guess." She smiled ruefully, then perked up and asked, "So, you want to come back with me to see the wonder boy?"

"If you think he's up for guests, yes I would. A vampire who becomes human – well, I need to know the details, consult the prophecies…." He was clearly going to be in research heaven for quite awhile.

They arrived on the third floor to hear a loud British voice insisting that he "don't need any soddin' wheelchair. Stop treating me like a bleedin' poofter!"

Buffy came around the corner and fixed Spike with a chilling glare. "You do whatever you're told to, mister. Don't you even think about doing anything that might make you sick again!"

Spike's complaining subsided to inaudible grumbles and he shot a returning glare at Buffy. "I'm fine," he growled. "I don't see why they didn't let me walk up here."

"Well, for starters," Buffy grinned at him as he climbed out of the wheelchair and into the bed, "it's possible they didn't want the entire hospital to see your bony, white ass. Cute as it is," she hastened to add when he threw her a thunderous scowl and grabbed the back of his gown.

While he obviously hated to admit it, the testing that he'd been through all morning had exhausted him and she could tell he was actually grateful for the ride back. He leaned back on his pillows and closed his eyes briefly. When Buffy recognized the effort he was making to keep his eyes open, she dropped her teasing and caressed his cheek with her hand.

"You're not going to get your strength back in a day," she whispered. "Quit trying to be a hero and rest. For me? Please?" she added when he frowned and tried to sit up.

"Well, alright, but just because you asked me to..." His voice trailed off as he drifted back into an exhausted sleep.

Buffy looked at the nurse for reassurance when his eyes fell shut and he appeared to be unconscious again. She smiled at the worried girl and said softly, "He's been through a lot in the last few hours. He actually held up much better than anyone expected him to. We were all amazed at how strong he is."

Giles had entered the room in time to hear the nurse's statement and he frowned speculatively at the inert man in the bed.

"You say he was stronger than normal?" he asked her. Buffy rolled her eyes as she saw Giles go into research mode.

Before the nurse could answer him, the doctor entered the room and asked to speak with Buffy. He nodded his head when she asked if Giles could come also and they stepped out into the hall. Gesturing at some chairs in the small lobby, the doctor requested that they sit down and said without preamble, "Mr. Pratt is exceptionally strong for someone who has been comatose and bedridden for as long as he has; it is really unheard of for someone to regain use of his or her muscles as quickly as he seems to have done. Was he some kind of professional athlete or endurance sport enthusiast before he was injured?"

Buffy was extremely grateful that she had asked Giles to come along as she knew she was wearing her "Huh? Wha?" expression again. How do I explain that he was a master vampire with superhuman strength? Fortunately, Giles was quicker on his feet, answering smoothly, "He was an exceptionally strong and fit man. I would guess his ability to regain strength quickly is a tribute to your fine physical therapy department and to Buffy's extra work over the past month." He gazed blandly at the puzzled doctor and smiled an open and honest smile.

Ok, Giles. We will be discussing this new-found ability to lie at the drop of a hat. Must be a Council thing.

The doctor frowned for a moment, but realized he wasn't going to get any more of an explanation from either of them. He eyed the petite woman for a second, remembering the time he had walked into the room when she was giving Spike a bath to see her effortlessly holding the comatose man up with one hand. He hadn't asked about what he'd seen, and she had quickly put both arms around her patient when she saw the doctor watching her. He'd convinced himself that he must not have seen what he thought he saw and didn't pursue it at the time. Now, however, he found himself wishing he could take her to the lab and see how her strength stacked up against what would be expected of a woman her size.

He shook his head at himself and came back to the current situation.

"Normally, I would expect to have someone like Mr. Pratt here in rehab and physical therapy for at least a month before he was allowed to go home. However, his progress since he woke up this morning is amazing and if he has no relapses, I am anticipating-"

The doctor broke off as Buffy interrupted him eagerly, "You mean, he can come home with me? Now?"

Giles cleared his throat and interjected, " I am sure he doesn't not mean now, Buffy. And even if he did, we are not set up to deal with a recovering coma patient at the moment."

The doctor shot him a grateful look and continued, "Yes, you are quite right, thank you. I do think if he continues to progress well, that you could probably take him home by the end of the week. Of course, there will be more physical therapy to do at home and you cannot expect him to be able to return to his normal pursuits..." Here, he paused to see if they were going to share what those normal pursuits might be, then sighed and continued, "for some time. But he will have no trouble with normal daily activities."

After spending more time reviewing the tests he had run on Spike and the results, the doctor sent Giles and Buffy to the physical therapy department for a run-down on what to expect for the next few days. It all took longer than expected and Buffy was literally bouncing up and down with impatience as they walked back to Spike's room. She couldn't wait to get him out of the hospital and away from everyone except her. Giles looked at her in alarm as they approached Spike's room and he thought he heard her actually growl. When they got to the door, he could see why.

Spike's eyes were open again and he was bestowing his unique brand of British charm on a bevy of young, female hospital employees who had heard that he was awake and come to see him. He had one cute redhead fussing with his pillows, another girl smoothing his sheets and a third offering to hold a glass of water for him. Two others were just standing by the bed smiling coyly and trying not to noticeable ogle the now awake and flirting man.

Buffy's arrival sent him immediately into "busted boyfriend" mode as he lowered his eyes and ran a hand across the back of his neck nervously. His abrupt transition from smooth charmer to guilty little boy was the only thing that kept Buffy from testing how strong his nose was. Trying very hard to pretend he hadn't been flirting with the girls, he watched from under lowered eyelashes as Buffy restrained her obvious violent urges.

Giles hid a smile as he got between Buffy and the suddenly subdued girls, attempting to get them out of the room quickly without appearing to be pushing them out the door. Since one look at Buffy's face told them she was not amused at finding her that fiancé's fan club had returned while she was out, and many of them remembered or knew about her violent reaction to his being touched, moving them proved not especially difficult. They exchanged uneasy glances before they began edging toward the door. The bravest offered tiny waves to Spike as they hurried out of the room, but he was smart enough not to acknowledge them at all.

He continued to keep his gaze focused on the bedding, just sneaking an occasional peek at Buffy to see if she was still mad. Her obvious jealousy made his heart sing, but the furious look on her face caused him to hope she remembered that he was now mortal and not physically well.

Standing beside the bed with her hands clenched into fists that she made no attempt to hide, Buffy glared at the ex-vampire and snarled, "What the hell did you think you were doing?"

Spike looked at Giles as if for help, but the older man just grinned and shook his head. He watched Spike stammer out explanations for the girls' continued presence in his room for several minutes before he took pity on him and interrupted to ask, "Buffy, why don't you go get us something to eat while I talk to Spike for a while about... well, about whatever this is about?"

"Uh, no, Watcher. I think Buffy needs to stay here for a while yet. Don't you think?" he asked, rolling his eyes toward the door as a reminder that the ejected females probably hadn't got very far away yet.

Giles took another look at Buffy's tense shoulders and clenched fists and agreed quickly that she probably ought to "stay here and see if Spike needs anything while I go find us some dinner."

After he left the room, there was a tense silence broken only by the sound of Buffy's heavy breathing. Finally, Spike couldn't stand it any longer and he sighed as he patted the bed beside him and ventured, "Buffy? Love? I'm sorry. I was just—"

"I know what you were 'just', " she growled, then found to her surprise that she had tears springing to her eyes. She still stood rigidly beside the bed, refusing to soften her look, even as the tears began to trickle down her face.

"Ah, sweetheart, don't, please. You know all those silly bints put together aren't worth as much to me as one hair on your head. Come on, love. It's not like you to get upset about me flirtin' with other birds. You used to laugh at me for it." Even as he said it, he remembered how angry she had been with him when the First had sent him out killing. At the time he had accused her of being jealous, but then had come to believe that she was only worried that he'd been killing again. Now he wasn't so sure that his first instincts hadn't been correct.

"You used to not have been dead and... not with me... for more than a year." Despite herself, she sniffled and edged closer to his reaching arms. When she felt his warm hands rubbing her upper arms soothingly, she gave up and fell into his embrace, burying her head in his chest. "I just haven't had you for so long... and... and I don't know why you didn't tell me you were back... and maybe you don't love me anymore... and—" Her words choked off as he clutched her so hard she almost couldn't breathe.

"I will always love you. I never stopped loving you and I never will. It's all about you, Buffy, always has been and always will be." He stroked her silky hair and inhaled the scent of her herbal shampoo as he pushed his nose into her neck and began planting light kisses along her throat.

By the time Giles got back to the room, Buffy was snuggled up into his side and they were relaxed and smiling at each other again. He breathed a sign of relief and sat down tiredly.

"Well, Spike, are you ready to talk about what happened to you?"

"Don't bloody well know what happened to me, Rupert. One minute I'm trying to fight all the demons of hell – and losin' badly I might add – and then I'm lying in a bed all warm and breathing but not able to move or talk. Course the only one who could tell when I was awake was Blue..." He paused as he felt Buffy stiffen against his side. "Oh, c'mon, Slayer. Helluva warrior, but not really my type. Still, guess I have her to thank for being here?"

When he paused, Giles nodded his head and told him what they knew of the end of the battle and its aftermath.

Buffy smothered the jealousy that once again threatened to spoil their reunion and listened quietly as Spike answered the questions Giles asked him, filling as best he could the gaps in the Council's information.

When it became obvious that Spike was tiring, Buffy cut Giles off and told him he'd have to wait to finish his "research" until Spike was in better shape. He reluctantly agreed that Spike needed to rest and left them curled up on the bed as he went back to the hotel to make arrangements for Spike's arrival.

Around 3:00 in the morning, Buffy awoke suddenly with her Slayer senses tingling again. Her abrupt movement woke Spike and he too sat up, asking her what was wrong. Before she could answer, Illyria stepped into the room and approached the bed. Buffy struggled to maintain a calm, detached demeanor as Spike's face lit up when he greeted his friend.

"Hey, Blue," he said softly, "Want to thank you for... for everything. I know I wouldn't have made it if—"

"It was... important... to me," she said slowly. "You are a good fighter and... Wesley liked you," she finished quickly. She cocked her head slightly and looked at Buffy, "Is this the one you cry about when you sleep? She is very protective of you. Does she not know what kind of fighter you are?"

Spike smiled and came close to giving the first smirk Buffy had seen since he awoke. "Yeah, she knows, pet. But I think you make her nervous." Buffy huffed in indignation and he hugged her with one arm to show he was kidding.

Illyria studied them for a moment; then said without emotion, "I think you do not need me anymore. You are able to care for yourself, and you have this small person to help you fight. I will leave now."

Spike stretched out a hand and asked her to wait. He let go of Buffy and swung his legs over the edge of the bed so that he was facing the fallen god. "Where will you go?" he asked with concern.

"I do not know," she replied. "But I do not wish to stay here in this place. It is too... There are..." She stopped at a loss to explain.

"Too many memories, luv? Unhappy memories?"

"I do not know. Perhaps. I just know I need to leave. There will be things to kill in other places."

"That there will, Blue. That there will." He reached out again and took her hand, squeezing it gently.

"I wish to lie to you now," she said without looking at him. For just a few seconds, Illyria faded into Fred and, ignoring Buffy's gasp, Spike pulled her down and kissed her cheek. "You take care of yourself, luv." Illyria/Fred nodded, then returned to her normal appearance.

As the other being turned to leave the room, Buffy jumped off the bed and got between her and the door. Their eyes met for a full minute as they wordlessly studied each other. Finally, Buffy said softly, "Thank you," and without replying Illyria nodded once and continued out the door.

Chapter Five

Spike's move into the Hyperion was not without drama as the few Slayers who knew him from Sunnydale pushed to the front to see for themselves that he was not only not dust, but alive. A little overwhelmed, he greeted the ones he remembered by name, nodding to the others. When Buffy turned her back to talk to Giles for a minute, he gave them all one of his trademark smirks and a wink before quickly turning back to her. She frowned suspiciously at the giggles following Spike's introduction to the new slayers, but he just beamed at her innocently. She rolled her eyes and pulled him toward the stairs.

He paused at the bottom of the long staircase, then shrugged and started walking up, taking the stairs two at a time just as he had done when he was a vampire. Giles watched him glide up the stairs effortlessly, a small frown creasing his forehead.

"Whatcha lookin' at Watcherman?" asked one of the newer slayers whose eyes were also following the strange man's progress.

"I'm not at all sure..." Giles answered her without actually looking at her. He turned away and went towards the office where he kept his research materials, a thoughtful look on his face.

While those in the lobby were watching Spike's athletic movement up the staircase, Buffy was frowning at the look on concentration on his face and the circles she could see under his eyes.

"We'll take the elevator from here," she said abruptly as they reached the upper lobby. Without looking at him again, she took his hand and pulled him toward the bank of elevators.

Spike didn't say anything until they were on the elevator and moving upward; once they were alone, he sagged against the side and let out his breath.

"Thanks, pet," he smiled at her. "Guess I'm more knackered than I thought I'd be."

Buffy slipped into his reaching arms and looked up at him with a trace of fear in her eyes.

"You need to take it easy, Spike. Stop trying to show off and just allow yourself to heal and get better. If something happens to you again..." She shuddered and buried her head in his chest.

"Relax, love, I'll be fine. Just got a little carried away with how good I felt and how much progress I've made this week. Little bit of rest, and I'll be rarin' to go again."

"Yeah, about that progress... Did you know the whole hospital staff thinks you're some kind of superman?"

"You sayin' I'm not, Slayer?"

She slapped him lightly on the chest when he raised his eyebrow and smirked at her.

Do you think you still have your vampiric powers?"

"Dunno. I can't go into game face – tried that already, and my hearing is good, I guess, but not what it was. I definitely don't feel like the weak nancy-boy I was before I was turned, though. Wanna try something when we get to the room, just to see..."

The elevator door opened and they walked slowly toward the room that had been set up for Spike's recovery. As he walked in the door and saw the size of the suite, his eyebrows went up.

"All for me?" he asked her in amazement. The set of rooms contained a large open area covered in a well-padded oriental rug and a few comfortable chairs. "Not much furniture, is it?"

Buffy rolled her eyes at him and pointed to the exercise equipment lined up along the wall. "It's not for furniture, you moron. This is your gym. You're – we're – going to work here everyday until you are completely healthy."

"An' where do I sleep?" he asked, looking around the room. "Under the rug?" he asked with a twinkle in his eye as he grabbed her around the waist.

"Maybe later," she promised, leaning into him for a minute, then shaking herself and pushing away, leading him into the adjoining bedroom and watching him admire the large four-poster bed. It had a thick mattress and was made up with crimson sheets and with a black bedspread that was already turned down.

"Now that's more like it!" he said appreciatively as he approached the bed. He sat down and patted the space beside him. "This is much better than that skinny little hospital bed. Care to try it out?"

Buffy looked down uncomfortably for a second, then peered up at him from behind her hair.

"Do you think we... I mean, are you... Maybe we should wait?"

"Wait for what? Anyway, we already have, if I remember correctly. Just cause I couldn't participate doesn't mean I wasn't there, love." He pulled her towards him and down into his lap; she allowed him to cuddle her but continued to look down and refuse to meet his eyes.

"About that..." she started, then stopped. He tipped her face up and was surprised to see her eyes brimming.

"What's wrong, Buffy?" he asked quietly, feeling a large ball of ice form in his chest. "Are you having second thoughts about... us... me?"

"Oh, no! My god, no!" Her eyes flew to his and she began to cry in earnest. "No. No second thoughts. I just – I'm sorry for what I did in the hospital, that's all. I swore to myself if I got you back I'd treat you better and then I—"

She glared at him indignantly when he began laughing and she struggled to pull away from him. Spike just clutched her tighter and buried his face in her neck, kissing his way up from her throat to her face, still laughing, as much from relief as anything else.

"I'm sorry, love. I didn't mean to laugh at you. But c'mon – this is me. You thought I'd be mad at you for shagging me? Forgot who I was so quickly, did you?"

"No, but... you weren't awake and I was just using you... again," she said so softly he almost couldn't hear her. "I used your body and it was too much like before when I..." She started to sniffle again and looked up at him tearfully. "I'm sorry, Spike."

When he realized how serious she was, he stopped laughing and held her face in both hands while he looked into her eyes.

"Buffy, it was nothing like before. That never even crossed my mind. I was awake, and I could feel everything you did, and I could hear everything you said to me. I'm sorry you couldn't hear what I was saying back to you in my mind, because, trust me, love, 'Stop, don't do this' was never a part of it! You have my permission to use my body whenever and however you like – just so you tell me you love me while you're doin' it."

"I do love you, you know," she said softly, staring into the brilliant blue eyes she had never expected to see again. "And I loved you the first time I said it. It broke my heart that you didn't believe me."

"I believed you, sweetheart," he said, stroking her cheek with his thumb. "I just wanted to be sure you got out of there. Wasn't the time for long relationship conversations. I knew you loved me when you started trusting me again; when you let me love you without trying to pretend I didn't. When you believed in me. I died a happy man, Buffy. I promise you. I'm sorry that it hurt you. That was never my intent."

They remained silent for several minutes; Buffy enjoying the feeling of being held in his arms again and Spike losing himself in her scent and the warmth of her body in his arms. His head gradually fell forward and Buffy realized that he was falling asleep sitting up. She got off his lap, gently pushing away his arms, touching his protesting mouth with her fingertips as she pushed him down on the bed and pulled his legs up. She took off his shoes and pulled the bedspread up over his body.

He tried to tell her not to leave, but the exhaustion he'd been trying to hide all day was too much and he fell asleep before he could say anything. Buffy watched him sleep, pushing a stray curl of his forehead and then leaning in to kiss his lips softly. "I love you, Spike. I'll be back soon." She turned off the light and went back downstairs to Giles' office.

The watcher looked up when she came in and plopped into a chair. "How is he?" he asked with genuine concern.

"Not as strong as he thinks he is – or as he would like us to think he is," she added, "but it's still pretty amazing according to the doctors. I was afraid for a while they were going to keep him there just to keep running tests on him."

"Did you talk to him about it?" he inquired.

"Just a little. He says he's not a vamp anymore – no wrinklies, no fangs, no see-in-dark eyes – but that he also feels much stronger than he did when he was human before. I don't know. Maybe... I don't know. What do you think?" She looked at him with genuine curiosity.

"I've consulted all the references I could think of, but I haven't come up with much of anything. As usual, when we're talking about Spike, we're talking about someone entirely unique. The only vampire to be chipped, obviously. The only one without a soul to work with and protect humans. The only one to seek a soul... The list goes on."

"Only one to love a Slayer without a soul," Buffy added in a quiet voice.

"Ummm, actually... he isn't so unique there," Giles mumbled, not looking at her.

"What! This has happened before? When? Who? Why didn't you tell me?" Buffy's voice was rising as she thought of more questions.

"I looked into it when you were... seeing... Angel. I found just enough references to whet my curiosity, but I didn't get the books I needed until fairly recently. It seems as though Wesley left his reference books here when he moved into the Wolfram and Hart offices and he had what I needed."

"So, this has happened before." Buffy didn't know whether to be grateful that it proved that it was possible, or angry that she and Spike were not as unique as she thought they were.

"Well, not precisely this, obviously. But, yes, vampires have fallen in love with slayers before – and vice-versa." Giles paused and polished his glasses. "I can't say that it seems to end very well – ever."

Buffy raised an eyebrow in question. When Giles didn't respond she prodded further, "And that would be because...?"

He squirmed uncomfortably in his chair, then blurted out, "The Council usually kills one or both of them."

"The Council!" She threw up her hands. "Well, no surprise there I guess. I can understand why they would kill the vampires – but why the slayers?"

"Buffy, this is by no means a common occurrence. The records only reflect five or six times in the last several centuries. When you consider how many slayers there would have been over that kind of time frame, you realize how rare it is. And, you are correct; in most cases, the vampire is destroyed and the slayer continues to slay until she is killed."

Buffy was giving him her cough-it-up face and he sighed as he added, "Which generally happened within a very short span of time. One must assume that they were... distracted... and became careless."

"So what about the ones the Council killed?" she asked quietly.

"It was just one, that I have found record of, anyway. There was a slayer very early on that disappeared with her vampire lover and they managed to live together for many years. However, with the slayer still alive and active, no other slayer could be called and the Council decided it was too dangerous to allow that situation to occur again. The next time it happened, they hunted the couple down and killed them both."

"The one who got away and lived with her... lover, why didn't they find her?"

"I believe they expected her to meet an early end as is usually the case with slayers; by the time they realized that she was staying alive longer than usual, they couldn't locate them. This was before the days of surveillance equipment, jet planes, instantaneous communication – all the things that make it hard to disappear nowadays."

"So, she just stopped slaying? And lived happily ever after?" Buffy asked in disbelief. She could not imagine how someone could just decide not to slay anymore.

"No, one must assume that she continued to fight the forces of evil. However, she apparently did it on her own, without Council backup or input. The Council had no idea where she was or what she was doing—"

"And that's just not right!" Buffy said sarcastically, rolling her eyes at him.

"In all fairness, Buffy..." he began.

"Do not use the words 'Council' and 'fairness' in the same sentence to me," she huffed. "So after that, they just killed both the vampires and their own slayers? Just so they could have something they could control. Typical!"

Giles cleared his throat and admitted, "Yes, so it would seem. So you see, you actually were very fortunate. They knew that Angel had a soul and was somehow connected to the Powers That Be, so they didn't interfere there. And I don't believe they knew about Spike until it was too late..."

"Or they would have killed us, too," she said flatly.

"Yes, I suspect so. They would have tried, anyway," he said with a small smile.

Buffy perked up and chirped, "Yeah, Spike and I don't do the whole get-dead-and-stay-there thing very well, do we?"

"No, you don't. For which we are all very grateful."

Buffy smiled back at him, choosing to assume he was including Spike in that gratitude. Good humor re-established, she accompanied Giles to the dining room for the evening meal.

Buffy ate a quick dinner with the other slayers, then fixed a plate for Spike and went back upstairs. She entered the room quietly and set the plate down on a table; then she approached the bed slowly, stopping to admire the peaceful face resting on the pillows.

She slipped off her shoes and slid into the bed beside him, curling into his side and pulling his arm around her waist. A contented sigh came from his lips and he pulled her closer. She initially thought he was still asleep, but the soft lips on her ear lobe soon disabused her of that notion. Turning over carefully, she put her own lips in front of his mouth and gently touched it with her tongue.

"If you want something to nibble on, I've got a better idea..."

"Do you now?" he breathed as he pulled her lower lip into his mouth and bit it gently. "And what would that be?" As he spoke, their mouths melted together and soon they were lost in a kiss that had an underlying tenderness that was new to both of them.

For a long time they were content to lie together indulging in long, deep kisses that left them both more shaken than they cared to admit. As they took a longer break to breathe, Buffy watched his soft blue eyes change and darken with desire, and suddenly the kisses weren't enough for either one of them; hungrily they began pulling on each other's clothing.

Spike tried to have his hands everywhere on her body at once. Where he couldn't put his hands, he was kissing or licking, breathing in her scent and surrounding himself with the essence of Buffy.

"My love, my goddess, I want to feel you. Want to taste you. It's been too long... Need you..."

Buffy's skin felt like it was on fire. Everywhere he touched with his hands or his mouth, he left her skin singing and full of heat. When he slid his fingers into the waistband of her pants, she moaned in need, her whole body throbbing. She was desperate to feel him on her, in her, over her. She kicked frantically as he slid her jeans and underwear down her legs, pushing them off with her feet. With her help, his own pants soon joined hers on the floor.

Spike slid down her body, kissing his way toward his favorite place. Buffy moaned when his mouth found her and gasped his name as his tongue circled her needy flesh. In only a few seconds he brought her to the edge of release and when he bit down gently, she muffled her scream in the pillow, shuddering with the force of her orgasm. His kisses and murmured endearments never stopped while she recovered and regained her ability to speak.

"Your turn," she said as she tried to slide down his body, but Spike stopped her and pulled her up to his chest.

"Not now, love. I need to be in you. Need to feel you all around me, squeezing me, loving me..."

He pushed her knees apart and poised himself at her entrance.

"Tell me you love, Buffy. Say it for me again," he begged.

Buffy looked into the adoring eyes that had made her so uncomfortable before, murmuring softly as she stared back at him, "I love you, Spike. I will always love you."

Trembling, and with tears in his eyes, he slid into her eager body. With matching sighs, they lay still, basking in the sensation of being connected again.

It wasn't long, though, before they began slow, easy movements that gradually built to more urgent and forceful thrusts. Soon they were pounding together, Spike trying to bury himself in her tight warmth, Buffy digging her heels into his back, pulling him in deeper with every thrust. It briefly crossed her mind to worry whether she was hurting her newly human lover, but his enthusiastic participation made that seem unlikely; reassured, she abandoned herself to sensation and need.

When her little gasps turned into keening whimpers and he knew she was reaching her climax, he allowed himself to find his own release, chanting her name over and over as he felt himself filling her. They shuddered together for minutes, aftershocks from the orgasms continuing to pulse through their bodies.

Spike was so still once his breathing had come back to normal, that Buffy began to worry that perhaps she had injured him. When she asked him gently if he was all right, he replied with a smile and a squeeze that he was fine, "Just a bit knackered, love. Been awhile, you know?"

"Yeah," she said softly, "I know. Me too."

She pulled the bedding up over their entwined bodies and drifted off to sleep, wrapped in his arms with her head on his chest.

Chapter Six

During the night, Buffy got up to use the bathroom, which was across the large suite from their bedroom. As she came back, she thought she heard Spike talking to someone and she stopped to grab a shirt off a chair before entering the room. She froze at the sight that greeted her eyes.

Standing near the door and holding a terrified younger slayer by the neck, was a swaying brunette in a long white dress. Her long nails had already pierced the girl's throat and blood was slowly trickling down onto her shirt.

"Stay back, Slayer," she hissed at Buffy. "I'm not here to kill the baby slayers. I just want to take my sweet William with me. Something terrible has happened to him and I need to fix it."

"Dru, pet, nothing terrible has happened to me. I'm just human again, is all. It's alright, though. I don't mind. You don't need to hurt the girl, kitten – it wasn't her fault." Spike tried his best soothing voice on the vampire, hoping she would be more interested in him than the young slayer whose life she was so close to taking.

Buffy glared at the crazy vampire but knew she was too far away to prevent her from killing the girl if she decided to do it. She felt a cold sweat start as she realized that the newly-human Spike was even more vulnerable than the young but strong and well-trained slayer. She knew, without thinking, exactly what Drusilla meant by "fix him."

Buffy ground her teeth in frustration and began to sidle toward Spike only to stop when the vampire hissed again and lifted the girl off the ground, causing her nails to push even more into her flesh.

"Dru. Pet. Princess. Let the girl go and let's you and I talk about this, yeah?"

In a singsong voice Dru began to chant restlessly about "Too many slayers, slayers everywhere. This whole building smells like slayers. Too many slayers. Princess needs to leave here, William. I need to get my Spike and take him away from this awful place."

As she spoke, she was gliding towards the man beside the bed. Spike had a sheet held up in front of him, but, as Dru got closer, he dropped it to his side and took a relaxed but balanced stance.

When Buffy realized that he was planning to fight Dru for the girl, she choked out a strangled "No!" and started toward him again.

Spike held up his hand to stop her and said quietly, "It's OK, love. Leave it."

"But you can't... you're not..." Buffy tried to fight down the panic she was feeling as she saw the vampire getting closer, licking her lips hungrily.

"That's my sweet William. William knows what he wants. He wants to be with his princess, not here with all the nasty slayers. Princess is going to fix him." As she finished speaking, she threw the bleeding girl to one side and pounced on Spike, reaching for his neck with her now prominent fangs.

Buffy screamed and sprinted across the room, knowing in her heart that she would be too late to prevent the bite but vowing to stop the vampire from turning Spike again. To her amazement, Spike had slipped easily out of the way of Dru's fangs and with a flick of his arm sent her spinning across the floor. When she leaped back at him, he caught her in mid-air with his fist and sent her crashing against the wall.

As Buffy reached him and stepped between him and the snarling vampire, she watched as an expression of horror came over Drusilla's face.

"Slayer!" she moaned. "A slayer."

"Uh, actually, there are quite a few of us here, Dru," Buffy growled at her. "You might have considered that before you came in here looking for Spike, you crazy bitch."

The horrified vampire never took her eyes off Spike, ignoring Buffy and the other girl to repeat over and over, "A Slayer. A Slayer. Everything smells like slayers. Too many slayers."

"What are you on about, Dru?" Spike asked angrily. "You know she's the Slayer, has been since long before we ever saw her."

"Not her," the vampire whimpered. "Spike. My Spike is a slayer."

With a loud wail, the psychotic vampire turned and ran to the window; with one last look back at Spike, she uttered another wail and threw herself out the window.

Buffy and Spike ran to the window and looked down, but it was too dark to see if there was a body below. Spike pulled on his pants and boots and picked up a stake.

"You're going after her," Buffy said flatly. It wasn't a question, but rather a statement.

"I'm going to finish this."

"I'm coming with you," she said firmly as she pulled on her jeans. As they left the room, Giles and some of the other girls were running up the hall, responding to the noise.

"Charlene is hurt," Buffy threw over her shoulder. "We're going outside to find Dru."

When they ran out the back door of the hotel, they found a trail of blood leading away from the hotel and into an alley. Buffy tried to step in front of Spike suggesting, "Let me go first. You might not get lucky again."

"Wasn't luck, pet. Knew what I was doing and just did it. Knew I could take her, even as tired and unfit as I am, I knew I was stronger and faster."

Buffy had to admit that there had been no trace of hesitation or weakness in Spike's fight with the deadly vampire, but she still couldn't stop worrying.

"OK, then. We'll go together, but if she touches you..."

He stopped and turned to face her, taking her face in his hands and looking into her eyes. "Do you believe I love you? Do you trust me?"

"Of course, I do," she said in bewilderment. "What has tha-"

"Then let me do this, love. Let me make this decision."

Buffy nodded silently and moved back behind him as he entered the alley. Without vampire eyesight and sense of smell, it was difficult for them to determine in which direction the trail led, but the sound of moaning told them where the injured vampire was hiding.

Buffy drew in her breath sharply when she caught sight of the broken body huddled by the wall; both of Dru's legs were obviously broken, and one arm dangled uselessly at her side while the other clutched her ribs as though trying to hold them together. She raised her battered face to them and, never taking her eyes off Spike's, said clearly, "Let my Spike do it, Slayer. No one but my sweet Spike can slay his dark princess. " She lifted her chin and put her back against the wall, exposing her heart to him.

Buffy could feel Spike trembling beside her and she touched his back softly, just to let him know she supported him whatever he decided.

He approached the apparently lucid vampire and squatted down in front of her.

"Dru," he said softly, "do you have anyone with you? Anyone who can help you?"

She raised a trembling hand to his cheek and instead of answering him, she whispered almost to herself, "My sweet William, my wonderful Spike. He doesn't love me anymore. He loves the Slayer. He loves the Slayer so much, he became like her. Spike the Slayer," she finished with an eerie giggle. "My bad dog is a slayer. Are you going to slay me, sweet William? Are you going to slay your princess? The stars want to know. What will you do, Spike-the-Slayer?" she finished in a singsong voice.

There was a slight noise deeper in the alley and Spike and Buffy both whirled toward it. A pack of five vampires moved slowly toward the two humans, spreading out so as to be able to rush them from several directions. Spike looked them over carefully, then spoke to the one he determined to be the most intelligent minion.

"If you'll take her out of here and out of the country, I'll let you leave. If any of you come back, or let her come back..."

The dark-haired minion frowned and snarled as he tried to decide what to do. He looked at Dru, who was singing to herself as she leaned against the brick wall, and shook his head. "She said we were coming her to get her 'sweet William'. Who the hell are you and why are you giving orders?" he growled.

"I'm William," Spike said coldly, "and I'm givin' orders because I can."

"I don't take orders from you," the minion growled. "She's my sire; you're just another potential minion."

Spike rolled his eyes and gestured at Dru. " I'm runnin' out of patience here. Are you going to take care of her or not?"

"You're not coming with us?"

Buffy's fists were clenched so tightly that she was digging her nails into her own palms; the effort she was making to let Spike handle the situation was about to be too much for her. Every instinct was telling her to dust Dru and the minions, but she had promised to trust him.

"No," he said with a sigh, "I'm not comin' with you. But I – we," he added, with a glance over his shoulder at Buffy, "we won't stop you from taking her. She's going to need blood to heal and you'll need to—"

"I see plenty of nice warm blood right here," the vampire interrupted. "What say we just take yours and your girlfriend's there?" he gestured toward Buffy with his chin, frowning a little in surprise when, instead of shrinking behind Spike in fear, the woman stepped up beside him and smiled.

"Why don't you come and try it?" Buffy offered sweetly as she stretched her neck and rolled her shoulders.

"Buffy, love, please... you promised." Spike gave the minion one more chance to take Dru out without a fight as he touched Buffy's arm gently.

He turned toward the advancing vampire and said in what he hoped was a reasonable tone, "Look, you stupid git, I'm offering you a free pass here. You're standin' beside a building full of slayers – and talking about eatin' the strongest one ever. Am I gettin' through to you at all?"

The minion frowned in concentration, his capacity for independent thought stretched to its limits by the unique situation. He knew his duty was to his sire, who obviously needed his help to escape, but the warm blood he could hear rushing through the veins of the two live bodies in front of him was pulling strongly; adding to his confusion was the fact that the other minions were restlessly waiting for the signal to pounce.

He looked at Dru for guidance, but she was leaning against the wall with her eyes closed, singing to herself. The vampire congratulated himself on finding a perfect compromise as he leapt at Spike and shoved him toward his sire. Even with one arm broken, the older vampire was strong enough to pull Spike into biting range.

"Here he is!" he shouted. "Take what you need from him." As Drusilla abruptly regained her clarity and pulled Spike into her arms, the other vampires rushed Buffy, preventing her from going to Spike's aid.

Frantic with worry and furious at being surprised, Buffy made short work of the first two minions to reach her. She scooped up the stake Spike had dropped, and with one in each hand, she drove the other three attackers back away from the two former lovers on the ground. With a quick flip she was over the minion leader, driving her stake through his back. The sight of his dust joining that of the other two was enough for the remaining fledglings and they turned and ran out of the alley.

Buffy whirled to look for Spike and Drusilla and groaned as she saw the vampire's mouth on Spike's neck. As she took in the scene, she saw that Spike had his hands around Drusilla's face and, while his expression was tender, he was gradually forcing her head back and away from his throat. Dru was nearly feral, her eyes golden and her fangs snapping as she tried to twist away from his grip.

Despite the mad vampire's efforts, however, Spike continued to hold her head in his hands. He forced her to meet his eyes as he said sadly, "I'm sorry, my dark princess." Before either Dru or Buffy could realize what he was about, he twisted the vampire's head until her neck snapped. He held out his hand silently and Buffy passed him a stake; with tears in his eyes, he kissed the dark, lolling head in front of him and drove the stake through her heart.

Buffy took a hesitant step towards him and reached out to touch his head gently, but there was no response from the still figure seated on the ground. As the dust surrounding him drifted away, he moved to lean his back against the wall and dropped his head onto his knees.

Buffy watched his dejected figure for as long as she could stand it, then slid down beside him and leaned her head against the wall. She waited patiently for several minutes, giving him time to absorb what had happened. Finally, the aching in her heart was too much and she pulled him into her arms, murmuring, "I'm so sorry, William. I know how much that hurt."

She held him gently, rubbing small circles on his back and kissing his bowed head. She could feel his tears making her shirt wet, but there was no sobbing and no sign of the anger she expected. After a few minutes, he raised his head to look at her with wet, but accepting eyes.

"It's what we do, yeah?" he said softly. "We kill evil – even when we love it."

She knew he was referring to the time she had been forced to send Angel to hell to save the world.

"Yes, my love," she replied, "It's what we do."

The End