Disclaimer: Nothing in the Buffyverse belongs to me. It's all the property of Joss and Mutant Enemy, I just play.

Author's Note: Wow, it's been a while since I last updated. I revised this chapter several times in preparation for posting. I want to give a shout out to ginar369, Gravenimage, Secret Slayer, nrdhrd3, Magnusrae, withers, Red Reaper88, and HopeFaithandGrace. Thank you so much for taking the time to review and share your thoughts. Another thank you to those who followed or made this story a favorite.

It was strange, the heartbeat.

Spike could hear it within him as he followed Buffy up the stairs toward the suite Giles had booked. He caught himself as he placed a hand on his chest to feel the steady tattoo of it beneath his palm and closed his eyes for a moment to listen. Buffy's was as distinct as ever, just ahead of him, if slightly fainter than before. Something about hers beating in time with his had him grinning like an idiot and he found he didn't care. Spike walked close behind her, inhaling the sweet flower fresh scent of her. He could feel her in every corner she rounded, every stair she climbed.

Strange that none of it had gone away.

It dawned on him that his senses might be out of the ordinary the further they walked. Oh they were duller than they had been, dampened by the humanity. But they were there and they were…too bloody strong to be normal. And then there was that tingle on the back of his neck of the Slayer just ahead. It dawned on him that the feeling was something that should have gone when the heart started beating, but it was so commonplace, so deeply ingrained in him he hadn't taken note.

"So, I think we should go back to Europe. Find a nice beach and a foreign language and just laze. Enjoy the glorious lack of excessive demons and revel in sandy good times. I'm so done with California it is not even funny anymore," Buffy explained as they neared the suite. "Not that every really was, but…"

"Yeah," Spike said, but he was distracted, unsure of what had been lost and what had been retained. Only been human for an hour or so, he mused. It was too unreal.

They reached the suite on the second floor. The open aired hall around them swirled with the sweetness of desert flowers and the chemical scent of chlorine from the nearby pool. Buffy fiddled with the key and pushed open the door.

"Here we are, Chez Stupidly Expensive Hotel Room…thingy," Buffy said, gesturing grandly as she spoke.

"That all you got, love?" Spike asked.

"Eh, too tired to think up a snappy nickname," she replied with a shrug. "Maybe in the morning."

"Fair enough."

The room held a couch and two chairs upholstered in buttery looking cream leather, too damn expensive for their own good. A television sat before them and a kitchenette housed a mini bar. Through the door, Spike could see a bedroom that was equally fancy.

"Not too shabby. Watchers like them posh, I suppose," he said and drew the curtains shut in the living area for morning.

"You don't have to do that, you know," Buffy pointed out, wandering around the room and running her fingers over the fabric of the couch. "Or did you forget that you're no longer flammable?"

"Instinct and what all. I'm chalking it up to a healthy sense of self-preservation," Spike answered, shutting the last of the heavy drapes of the living area with a satisfied smile. "You never know how sunlight will affect a bloke who hasn't seen it in the better part of a hundred-some years."

"Radiating sun burn?" Buffy proposed.

"Yep," Spike replied, "something like that."

He turned from the blinds and inspected the dark room, walking through it and pausing to inspect the contents of the mini bar when warm arms snaked around his middle from behind.

Spike exhaled a shuddering breath as Buffy pressed her lips to the back of his neck. The slight weight of her rested against him, comfortable and loving. Buffy rose ever so slightly on her toes and tucked her chin over his shoulder, feathering kisses over his cheek.

"We really made it, didn't we?" she whispered, pressing the softness of her cheek against his shoulder. "We got through it."

"Couldn't have done without you," Spike answered quietly. "There were only four of us up against all that fire and brimstone," he scoffed and shook his head, "The odds weren't exactly in our favor."

"I did it for you," Buffy replied, pressing her lips to his neck once more, just against his pulse point. She paused and admitted, "Okay, the fate of the world was sort of the big time factor. But you…being there, being real. I can't even start to tell you how much I—"

Buffy stopped herself, the way she always did, and Spike felt the weight of the aborted sentence, treasuring it.


"I missed you," she whispered, her eyes squeezing shut. Even so, Spike felt something hot and wet slide down her cheek and against his skin. Those three little words from her mouth had him feeling more human in that moment than an entire evening of a beating heart could.

He turned in her arms and smoothed her hair back, tucking a loose strand behind her ear. She looked vulnerable for a moment as her hands smoothed along his stomach and stroked his chest. Whatever the pros and cons of humanity may be, Buffy's touch still felt incredible, entirely familiar, only altered in the slightest ways. His heart beat loudly in his ears, a rough rhythm. That was the root of the change. She wrapped her arms around him and relaxed. For a moment, he remained like that, not wanting to speak and spoil it.

"Spike?" Buffy whispered.

"Yeah, love?" Spike replied.

"I wanna try something," she said, her voice still hushed.

Buffy unwound her arms from around his waist and raised her fists. Spike was confused only a moment before she swung her leg up for a high kick. He dodged it just in time and glanced up from his crouch when she grinned widely, an expression that he gladly returned. So that's what this was.

Spike returned the blow with a fury as she dodged him. He was the attacker now and Buffy on the defense, fluidly avoiding his swings. Spike stopped another kick to his head, grasping her ankle. Buffy twisted her leg at the last possible moment before he downed her, and sent him sprawling instead. Spike sprung back up as quickly as he'd fallen and came back strong. Buffy blocked each hit, but on the last strike he got lucky. His foot collided with her stomach. Buffy flew over the low coffee table and rolled. She was up in a moment and sprang back to her feet, running toward him.

"Getting tired?" Buffy asked as they traded blows, dodging and returning.

"Not a bit."

On the contrary, Spike's blood was singing in his veins, his heartbeat urging him on.

"Are you holding back?" Spike asked right before Buffy's right hook collided with his jaw, sending him flying into the wall, making it shudder and leaving a small crack.

"Nope," Buffy replied, grinning.

Spike rubbed the ache in his jaw where she'd hit him and leapt back to his feet, but Buffy was faster. She tackled him hard, sending one of those leather chairs toppling. They fell in a tangle of limbs, but he rolled and caught her again. He struggled against the force of her beneath him, but Buffy pushed him once more so that he was on his back, pinning him down and trapping his hips with her knees. She grasped his wrists above his head, forcing him into submission. Her hair fell around his face in waves and Spike found himself far less opposed to the idea of surrender.

"I win," Buffy said breathlessly, chest heaving.

Spike nodded in agreement, his eyes locked on her lips. "Yeah you do…"

Spike tried to pull her down, to kiss her, but she avoided his mouth. Instead, Buffy braced herself on her elbows, pressing soft kisses along his cheeks, his chin, releasing his arms so that they were free to touch her.

"You're still you," she whispered, stroking his cheek and pressing her lips to his for a kiss. She pulled back and her eyes fluttered open, urging him to look at her. "You really don't fight any differently?"

Spike shook his head. "I'm still me," he murmured.

Buffy gave him a quick, hard kiss. "Good, that's how I like you."

Spike laughed and rolled her over, his mouth hungrily kissing her sensitive skin wherever he could reach before finally settling on her mouth. She pushed at his duster and slid her hands beneath the fabric of his shirt. Spike let one hand drift from her shoulder to her stomach, then further down, lingering on her thigh in torturous light touches just to drive her mad. Buffy's hands came down on his shoulders, gripping them as he finally fumbled with the button of her jeans.

The nearby phone rang, shrill and unwelcome.

Buffy extracted herself from his arms and turned to the phone. "I'll get it," she whispered, giving him a soft kiss.

Spike brought her back for another and mumbled his protest. Buffy seemed to forget the phone as his kisses grew more urgent, his tongue tenderly tracing hers. Spike was refusing to release her mouth and Buffy wasn't putting up a fight. She glanced to the phone and back again, unsure, but continued to touch him.

"Maybe I should…?"

"It can wait…" Spike whispered and traced her cheekbone with his thumb. Buffy nodded and pushed him back down to the floor as the ringing was silenced by the beep of the answering machine.

"Buffy," Giles' voice rang out. "If you're in there, answer the phone. It's, ah, rather important really."

Buffy rolled her eyes and whispered against his lips, "I'll be right back."

Spike grasped his duster and got to his feet. He moved from the floor to the couch reluctantly as Buffy walked to the phone and picked up.

"Hey, Giles, what's up?" she said.

A faint mumbling on the other end answered her as Spike tapped his fingers on the arm of the couch.

"What do you mean the manager got complaints?" Buffy asked. She paused. "Oh, he said…well he's, uh, wrong. Nope, no fighting here. Just wholesome fun and, um…prayer."

Buffy winced as Giles chastised her from the other end. Spike snorted.

"Gotcha, no more fights. We'll be quiet as mice. Mice with very strict parents. Those who sit still and are well-behaved," Buffy said, twirling the phone cord around her wrist and pacing as she listened. "Okay, I'll see you in a few. Yeah, bye, Giles."

Buffy hung up the phone and walked to where Spike sat on the couch. She sat on his lap with a sigh.

"Giles wants to talk to me," Buffy explained.

"I kinda gathered that," Spike replied. "Go on and see him, I'm gonna wander about, buy a pack of smokes somewhere."

Buffy nodded and kissed him. "Okay."

Spike followed her to the door when she stopped him.

"I like this," Buffy said. "You, being all boyfriendy."

"Me too," he whispered.

You don't even know how much I do.

"I would knock, but I pushed and it was open so I thought; 'Hey, Giles won't charge me for breaking and entering', and I went for it," Buffy said from the doorway of Giles' suite.

"Oh, Buffy, hello," Giles replied. He was seated in a desk chair and looked up from a heavy tome on his lap as she entered. "Yes, come in."

Buffy shut the door behind her and studied the piles of paper and books laid out on Giles' desk. "Reading a bedtime story? That one looks kind of big and bulky. I recommend something with pictures."

"Oh, yes, very funny," Giles said in response to the quip. He removed his glasses and cleaned them with his shirttail.

"So, why the late night call?" Buffy said. She frowned when Giles did and crossed her arm. "Seriously, Giles, your face is ten colors of serious. What's with the dire?"

Giles chuckled and thumbed the book's thin pages thoughtfully. "I've just been taking it all in, I suppose. What occurred in Los Angeles, the battle, it's bound to have consequences. Remnants of Wolfram and Hart seeking revenge, demons who may have gotten loose from the, er, Partner's dimension into our own. It's quite a lot to consider really."

"Sounds like it calls for damage control," Buffy commented.

"Oh, yes, quite," he said, his eyes shifted a bit, as if there were something on the tip of his tongue. "Of course, we would need willing volunteers. Those of us with interest in the matter."

"Well, we can gather some girls," Buffy said, still admittedly wigged by that unreadable look on Giles' face. "Slayers gotta slay."

Giles nodded and rubbed his chin, seeming to consider his words before he spoke.

"Is that what's with the home library?" Buffy asked, eyeing the books. "Damage control?"

"No, that's for an, um, it's for a different matter," Giles said, the look vanishing and another, more apprehensive one taking its place. "I've been doing research."

"Nothing new there," Buffy said and gave him an apologetic smile.

"Yes, well, it concerns Spike," Giles said.

"Spike?" Buffy repeated. "What about him?"

"We must understand the seriousness of what has happened to him," Giles explained. "We must be sure that he's well, human, entirely, and…"

"He's human," Buffy said, bristling at the possible implications of his words. Her defenses were up. "He's alive, Giles."

"Yes, Buffy, I understand that, it's only…"

Giles seemed reluctant to go on and threw her a sympathetic glance, as if asking permission to continue. He put his glasses back on, still silent, considering.

"It's only what?" Buffy asked in a quiet, calm voice.

"Spike still had the essence of the demon within him when he shanshued. We have no idea if he's, well, normal, to put it bluntly, or if he's—" Giles stopped. "I'd hoped he would come to England with myself and the other Watchers. He's an anomaly, the only one of his kind now. The vampire who, ah, who became a man."

Buffy felt a small note of panic in her chest.

I won't let you take him away from me.

"No, Giles, I understand what you're trying to say, but…no," Buffy said with a shake of her head. "I need him with me, not with the Council."

"Buffy…" Giles began.

Spike already knows how to live without me. He did it for a year while I was still trying to learn, Buffy thought. The fear of watching Spike leave to play lab rat for the Council felt irrational, she knew somehow that he would never choose it, but it choked her all the same as familiar pain washed over her.

"I love him, Giles," she whispered, a soft confession.

"Buffy, I know you do, you're misunderstanding me," Giles said. "I've come to this conclusion because of the lack of any useful information in these bloody books. We must know what's changed, what's remained the same. This was some sort of mystical gift, the only one that I've ever heard of a vampire achieving and it merits proper study. You could both come with us, we have room enough."

Buffy smiled at her watcher and she knew he was trying to be kind, to be helpful. But at the same time…New council or not, this is on my terms.

"I can tell you what hasn't changed," Buffy said, stopping him before he could speak again. "He fights the same, almost exactly the same. He looks at me and…and I know that he can feel me. Sense me. He can predict what I'm going to do. He's strong, and he's fast, but he's still him. Giles, almost nothing has changed."

"If you're sure you don't want a more thorough study," Giles said.

"I'm sure," Buffy answered.

"And you're happy?" Giles asked and the corners of his mouth turned up slightly.

"Yes, Giles, I'm happy," she said, returning the smile.

"Then that's all that matters, isn't it?" Giles replied. He stood and placed the heavy book on the wooden desk. It creaked in protest beneath the weight. Giles chuckled. "Perhaps a picture book would be most appropriate for the furniture."

"Need a recommendation?" Buffy asked.

"Perhaps you could make me a list," Giles said.

Buffy grinned and turned to leave when Giles called her back.

"Buffy, one more thing," he said, clearing his throat.

"Yeah, Giles, what is it?" she asked.

"I didn't call you in here to discuss Spike's, erm, humanity," Giles said. The look was back, all hopeful and careful, as if struggling not to startle her. "I've just spoken to Willow and Xander and something, well, miraculous has occurred."

Buffy frowned in confusion. "Okay, spill," she said slowly.

"It's about Angel and Cordelia."

The door clicked shut behind her with a gentle click, but it barely registered as Buffy leaned back against it. The solidity felt good behind her, it meant she wouldn't fall. A familiar cigarette smoke scent flitted through the air, jarring her back to reality.

"Buffy, what is it?" Spike asked, putting out a cigarette that had been smoked down to the filter on the marble counter of the kitchenette.

She knew her face still looked shocked by the way it felt, but she could not quite process what Giles had told stood by the door, just looking at Spike as he walked closer.

"Are you okay?" he asked, studying her dazed face.

Buffy nodded and whispered, "There's something I should tell you."

Spike nodded and guided her to the bedroom. Buffy made him sit and took his hands.

I'm probably freaking him out, she thought as he studied her face, but the gentleness he touched her with proved otherwise. Okay, processing, processing... Buffy knew her eyes were shining and her breathing near erratic as she found the words that were choking in her throat.

"I have some really good news."

Buffy glanced to her bedside table, to the alarm clock there. 4:45 stood out in red lurid numbers. Beside it, a shot glass from the mini bar served as a makeshift ashtray, a Marlboro pack lying at its side.

She turned her head to Spike sleeping beside her, his breathing light and peaceful. He'd thrown an arm over her in his sleep and cuddled her close. His soft breath fluttered against her shoulder as he sighed, looking calmer than she'd ever seen him. Buffy smiled and ran her fingers along his forearm. Her fingers brushed over his wrist, pausing to feel his pulse point. He was so warm. Buffy wriggled out from his hold and tentatively pressed her cheek to his back. She could feel the steady heartbeat there.

His heart is beating, she thought, dazed. If a week ago someone had told her this would happen…I would have told them they were crazy and possibly insane.

Buffy kissed the skin of his shoulder, brushing her lips over strong muscle and finely wrought bone. He was real, tangible. Every plane and angle of him exactly was just as she remembered, but even better because he was here and it wasn't some dream. Even after what they had been through, it still made her shiver. Spike wasn't ash at the bottom of the Hellmouth, her dead lover to be another memory of agony in an unfairly painful life, some kind of cruel price for the freedom she had always craved. He was real and he was alive, and pleasant warmth radiated from him like fire. They could do whatever they wanted, be whoever they wanted.

The freedom she'd gained by destroying the Hellmouth broadened in leaps and bounds as her mind swirled with a million images of every possible future, every possible choice.

"Spike," she said and gave him a little shake. He slept on. Buffy rolled her eyes with an affectionate grin and pressed her lips to his spine. "Spike," she whispered over again and kissed him once more, "William…"

Buffy tried out little epithets on her tongue as she kissed down and across his back, her hands kneading his shoulders, smoothing down his sides. She hadn't been able to try these with him. He was always just Spike, once or twice William. Spike had an endless supply of nicknames for her and Buffy felt she should try having the same.

"Sweetheart…" Buffy whispered, waiting a beat to see if the name stuck before kissing the silky hollow beneath his ear. She thought she saw him flutter an eyelid at that one. "Were you thinking about getting up soon? Come on, let's carpe this diem."

She felt the rumble of his laugh and giggled despite her serious thoughts as he rolled over. Buffy threw a leg across his as his hands rose to hold her hips.

"You may have the heart beat thing going for you, but you still sleep like the dead," Buffy said.

"Sleeping well, there's a difference," Spike retorted.

"Got good reason to," Buffy said, resting against his chest, unable to hide her goofy grin. "Angel and Cordy really made it out okay. How is it that I'm still processing this?"

"I told you she could get them out of that scrap," Spike said and Buffy rolled her eyes at his implication, but pressed an affectionate kiss to his throat.

"We should go see them," Buffy said. "Or they could come see us, if we're avoiding the L.A. scene."

He nodded. "Well with her zapping them all over the place they don't have to worry about air fare."

"Visiting us it is," Buffy agreed. "I'm going for the thrifty option. Not that I'm Stingy Girl, but still. I'm practical. Frugal."

The adoring grin he gave her had Buffy thanking whatever had brought him back to her to give her that look again. God, she'd missed it.

She rolled off of Spike and curled on her side, reaching out to touch his face. For a moment she waited like that, her fingers drifting down the curve of a cheekbone, smoothing down his arm, tracing the hard muscle of his chest. Buffy paused with her hand over his heart and felt the steady thump. She leaned in and pressed an open-mouthed kiss over it, feeling his heart quicken slightly.

"How does it feel?" she whispered.

"Different," Spike replied, on hand smoothing through her hair. Buffy sighed and lay quiet for a moment, enjoying the soft touch of his fingers.

"When I talked to Giles, he said that because what made you a vampire was still a part of you when you shanshued, it may never leave," Buffy said with a frown.

"I can feel it, it's there," Spike agreed, "But I also know I'm human, thoroughly so."

"Maybe, but…" Buffy considered for a moment and propped herself up on an elbow to look down at him. "You're like me."

"Come again, pet?" Spike asked, brushing her hair back from her forehead.

"We've both got something in us that makes us stronger than normal people, something that comes from demons," Buffy said. She reached out and caressed the pulse point in his throat and frowned. "I don't really know what that means."

"Dunno either, love," Spike said.

For a moment they were silent. Buffy rested her head on his chest and watched as one minute, two, three passed on the alarm clock. Only when she could see soft light at the base of the heavy curtains of the room did she remember what she had wanted to do.

"Hey," Buffy said and tilted her chin to kiss him. "I want to show you something."

Spike kissed her again, deeper this time as his hands made paths across her naked skin, pausing to touch, to tease. Buffy bit back a moan of encouragement and grinned against his lips with a shake of her head. "After, this is important."

He pouted, lower lip slightly out, pleading eyes, the whole arsenal of adorable begging.

"Nuh-uh," Buffy protested with a slightly smothered giggle as she nipped at his mouth. She stood and pulled on her discarded pants and Spike's black t-shirt.

Spike found his jeans and dressed quickly, running a hand through his mussed hair. "So what's this about then?"

Buffy took his hands in hers and walked backwards toward the curtains. "It's a surprise."

Spike followed obediently as she pushed them back and opened the glass door to their second floor balcony. It faced eastwards; orange light was barely peering over the edge of the rocky hills of the resort's desert landscape.

Spike immediately drew back from the scarce light.

Buffy caught his arm and pulled him forward. "It's not going to hurt you."

"I knew that," he said defensively. She tilted her head and raised an eyebrow. "Okay, you got me there. But it's a habit, you know? Reflexive. Riding a bike type mentality, only this symbolic bike would've turned me into vampire flambé."

Buffy pulled him forward again so that the soft orange light peering over the rocky hills in the distance touched him. Spike flinched and then stared down at his skin when it did not burn, his expression bordering on shocked.

"I am standing in the sodding sunlight," he said in disbelief.

"Looks good on you," Buffy replied.

"Same to you," Spike said. He smoothed his hands up her arms, warmed by the light of the sun. "Shiny Slayer girl. You glow, you're…"

Buffy stuck out her lower lip in protest when he didn't finish. "Got any more adjectives for me, Mr. Poet Guy?"

"More than you could count."

"Tell me some," Buffy said, touching his sun warmed chest, still disbelieving. She glanced up as the sunrise was washing over him. His eyelashes glinted with chinks of light and his hair was even brighter than usual. She had only seen him like this once, and admiring the way he looked in the sunlight hadn't really been top priority in the middle of a fight to the death.

"I'll go first, then," she said when he remained silent, still entranced by the light. Buffy tilted her head back to study him and said, "You are bright white. You will be getting more sun?"

"Dunno, thought you might like my pale and menacing appeal," Spike said with a glib shrug, but the corners of his mouth twitched upwards.

Buffy smiled and ran her hands from his elbows to his wrists, entwining their fingers. "It is kind of appealing."

"Look at you, all golden," Spike said quietly. He turned so that she stood in front of him and swept her hair to one side so that he could place a kiss at the nape of her neck. "Effulgent," he muttered and nuzzled her.

Buffy's immediate urge was to laugh at his bizarre choice of word, but something in his tone stopped her before it could even form in her throat. She glanced down to his hands clasping hers and the way they looked in the light. Buffy felt a smile dawn on her lips as she enjoyed the feeling of being held, of being free, and of watching the sun rise.

Author's Note: Yes, this is the very last chapter. I have a short prequel and a sequel both partly written for this story for anyone who's interested in continuing with this plot-line and seeing how the loose ends are resolved. I also have two other Buffyverse fics in the works and will hopefully get to posting those soon. Thank you all so much for taking the time to read this story, I really appreciate it.