Written by Phoebe


Category: Story, romance, some angst

Rating/Content: Ratings are for language, adult situations, and some sexual content

Pairing: Buffy/Spike

Spoilers: Lessons (seventh season premiere)

Feedback: Yes, please! Constructive criticism is always welcome.

Summary: After ensuring Dawn's safety, Buffy returns to the school to find Spike. Spuffiness ensues.

Author's note: Okay, this fic is probably pure fluff and nothing else. I can't help it. Ever since I watched Lessons I have been longing to give poor Spike a happy ending. It's a sickness, I guess. I just can't stand to think of her leaving him in that basement all alone and crazy…so I sent her back. This would have made a yummy NC-17 fic but…oh well…guess you can't have everything in life.




The hallways of Sunnydale High School were dark and quiet. Buffy's footsteps echoed noisily on the freshly waxed linoleum, making a horse's clip clopping rhythm as she searched for the basement. The entrance was not that hard to find, armed as she was with blueprints of the entire school. She silently blessed Xander as she made her way down the wide cement steps into the labyrinth of corridors and small rooms that made up the basement. In truth, Xander had been rather reluctant to give loan of the blueprints and the key to the front door, claiming that if anyone caught her, the items could be traced straight back to his construction company and, therefore, to him. She eventually wore him down with claims that she needed them to investigate the school further. It was, after all, for Dawn's safety.

What she did not tell him was that she didn't plan to investigate anything or anyone until she found out what a certain British vampire was doing living in the basement of her sister's school. Under normal circumstances she would have been suspicious of him, wondering if he wasn't plotting something, wasn't part of some big demon plan to prevent education among adolescents. These, however, were not normal circumstances.

It had shocked her to see him standing there out of the blue. Had shocked her so much she had forgotten completely about the specters she had been trying to escape. They had stood there, the two of them, frozen and dumb. Staring. For the longest second of her existence, staring and saying nothing. Then she had asked him tentatively if he was real. He had seemed so much like a figment of her imagination—and her imagination had been conjuring him up quite a bit as of late. For a moment, she had thought he was a hallucination. Then he laughed.

Her imagination would never have conjured up this. The wild, disconnected laughter that cut off like a light switch, leaving him staring tenderly at her. He reached out, cupped her cheek in her hand. Buffy, who had once vowed never to let him touch her again, leaned into his palm. She had not known how much she had missed him—how much he meant to her—until that moment.

"Buffy…" he said. His voice was soft, gentle, almost completely lacking Spike's usual cockiness. "Duck…"

She still wasn't sure what he meant by that. One would assume he had been trying to warn her about the impending blow from behind. But why had he sounded so calm, so…affectionate? Should the words not have come out in an anxious cry? It was her first sign that there was something wrong with him.

It was not the last.

She couldn't stay with him. Not then. Dawn was in danger and Buffy's first duty was to protect her sister. Yet the memory of Spike's gaunt, haunted countenance troubled her for the rest of the day. When school was out and she could finally rest assured that Dawn was safe, Buffy made tracks to Xander's apartment to ask him for help. It took her hours to persuade him to give her the key and blueprints, hours more to convince him she did not need him to come along and help. By the time she finally got away, it was well after nightfall.

The basement was very dark and Buffy turned on the flashlight she had brought, alternately aiming the beam of light at the path ahead and the blueprint. She was not sure of the exact location of Spike's room, but she had a general idea, and with the help of the blueprint, it did not take her long to get there. After that, it was merely a matter of remembering which door she had to go through. Even before she reached the heavy steel door she could hear the muffled sound of Spike's voice speaking. He sounded both angry and frightened.

Buffy didn't even think. She leapt forward to slam her shoulder against the door, knocking it open. The door crashed into the wall so noisily even Buffy jumped with surprise, and she had expected it. Spike wheeled around and stared at her, first with shock, then with distress.

"No, no, no, no," he said, crossing the small room quickly. "Not today. Terrible busy. You understand. We are singing, she and I. She loves our songs so I can't disappoint her, now can I?" To Buffy's surprise, he began shoving her out of the room.

She braced herself against the wall, planting her feet firmly to the floor. Whatever his reasoning, she refused to let Spike dismiss her like this. "Who will be disappointed, Spike? Who were you talking to?"

He laughed that strange, quick laugh again. "Just me. Just me and the walls and the secrets and the dead. All dead they are. Can't speak except to me and I don't listen anymore 'cause they never have anything nice to say."

She shook her head in confusion. "But you said—"

"Right. So…on your way then." He grabbed her by the elbow and tried to force her out into the hallway.

"Spike stop!" Buffy moved back into the room and quickly slammed the door behind her. "I came here to talk to you and I plan—" She stopped. Spike's right arm had caught in the beam of her flashlight, revealing something glinting brightly in his hand. She moved closer. It was a knife.

"As you can see…" he mumbled under his breath as she lifted his hand to take the knife. "No time to chat."

The knife, a cheap carving knife with a plastic handle, was wet and sticky with a dark substance Buffy didn't have to look at in light to know was blood. She gazed down at the weapon for a moment then flung it behind her. It struck the cement floor with such force the blade bent. "What did you do?" she demanded.

His deep blue-gray eyes took on a look of panic, a deer-in-the-headlights expression that told her he was trapped. "No…" he said softly. "I…"

Buffy eyes traveled the length of his body with a calm she was far from feeling. She half expected to see his chest sliced to ribbons, but his button-down shirt was still open as it had been before, and there were no wounds besides the old ones she had seen earlier. She was beginning to believe the blood was old and she had caught him just in time. Then she saw his left arm.

The left sleeve of his blue shirt was stained dark purple near the cuff, the discolored area wet and stiff in a way she recognized only too well. She grabbed his hand and lifted it to her so that she could draw back the sleeve and examine his arm. What she saw made her feel ill.

His wrist was like raw hamburger meat. Ribbons of flesh hung from a gaping red wound that stretched from his wrist bone halfway up to his elbow. It was obvious he had hacked at himself repeated with the knife, had been in the process of doing it when she burst in on him. She only marveled that, in all the destruction he had done he had not hit the artery. Being a vampire, it wouldn't have killed him…but it would have made him feel damn weak and sick.

"Why did you do this?" she asked, taking her eyes off the seeping wound to gaze into his face. He steadfastly managed to avoid her eyes.

"Got a knife…" he said softly, almost childishly.

"I can see that," she said. "What for?"

"…to cut the pain." And he laughed so hysterically she felt her heart leap into her throat. Then he was crying, pushing her away from him.

"Go away—go away! I don't want you here! Go!" he pleaded, retreating to a far corner of the room and hunching down to the floor. He hugged his knees and rocked back and forth, whimpering.

Buffy watched him with confusion. This was wrong on so many levels…and she had no idea what to do to bring him back to himself. She approached him slowly, careful not to get close enough to startle or upset him. Then she kneeled down to his level. "Why don't you want me here, Spike?" Her voice was soft and kind.

"I don't deserve to have you here," he told her, not looking up. "Don't deserve it. I'm bad—so bad…"

"Is that why you hurt yourself?" she asked gently.

"Doing penance," he said. "Atone for my sins and be clean. Have to do penance."

"No…not this way you don't." She reached for his hand but he jerked it away as though her touch hurt him.

"Don't you see how bad I am?" he asked, turning his blood-shot tortured eyes on her. Tears were leaking out of his eyes though he didn't make a sound. "There's no good in me!"

Hearing her own words repeated to her make Buffy wince. God, why had she told him that? What had she done to him?

"There is good in you, Spike. There is a lot of good in you…sometimes you just…make bad decisions, that's all."

A vision of the attack in her bathroom, desperate and violent, flashed through her mind.

Apparently, he was having a similarly disturbing vision. He crushed the palms of his hands into his temples and screamed, "YOU WON'T UNDERSTAND! YOU'LL NEVER UNDERSTAND!"

"Understand what?" she asked, bewildered.

"I had a speech all ready for you…it would've made you understand. But I forgot it, every word, and now you will never know…"

"I won't know what, Spike? Tell me so I can understand. Please."

His voice dropped, his eyes clouded as he stared into hers. For a moment she thought he wasn't going to say anything.  Then he said, very softly, "I got you a present, Buffy."

"Yeah?" She inched closer to him, slowly, until she was at his side. "What did you get me?"

"Got you…something old and something new…" He chuckled to himself. "Old…very old…and mine. But newly so."

"What is it?" Buffy slipped her hand onto his shoulder and, when he didn't move away or protest, she rubbed him there gently. His muscle was hard and full of tension knots.

"I got the soul…"

"Sole?" she asked. "The sole what?"

"The sole soul," he replied, that mad glint in his eye again. "My sole soul. All mine. Been tucked away on a shelf he has, all dusty and lonely-like. But I pulled him off again, gave him a right good polish…and now he is shiny as new."

The full meaning on his words dawned on her slowly, bringing with it a single nanoseconds happiness and, following it, a wave of terror. He was not right. He was crazy almost. Was this why? The stress of being assaulted by the guilt of a thousand murders all at once? Angel had said it had nearly driven him mad. Add to this the fact that Spike had the guilt of almost raping her on his conscience, and he was a prime candidate for Belleview. Another thought occurred to her. Perhaps it had not been his heart he had been struggling to cut out. Perhaps it was the soul. Regardless, if he did cut his heart out trying to get to his soul he would die…which was a thought she could not endure.

"So you have a soul now," she whispered. "Why do you say you are bad? You have a soul now…that makes you good, doesn't it?"

He shook his head emphatically. "Makes me the same only—"

"Only what?"

He started to cry again. "Go away, Buffy, please. I won't bother you anymore…I'm trying to be good. Only go away so I won't hurt you anymore."

"Would you hurt me, Spike?" Her hand slid up from his shoulder, finding the soft, bare flesh of the nape of his neck. She massaged him gently, telling him in every way she could she wasn't afraid of him. And she wasn't. For some reason that was beyond reason…she trusted him.

"Would never want to hurt you," he choked hoarsely. "I wanted to wrap you in cotton wool and hide you away in my treasure box. I never meant to hurt you, honest. I never meant to…" He began sobbing, bringing his hands up to his face. As Buffy watched he dug his fingernails into his forehead so hard he drew blood.

"Stop it," she said, grabbing his hands. Instead of pushing them down, she pulled them around her waist so that he was hugging her. She could feel the warmth of his blood seeping from his wrist to stain her shirt, but she didn't care. She wrapped her arms around him. "See? Look…I'm not mad at you at all."

"Should be," he insisted, his shoulders shaking with the force of his sobs. "You should hate me like I hate me…you should punish me harder than I have for what I did…"

"Stop saying that," she scolded. "I'm not going to punish you and I don't want you punishing yourself. What happened between us is in the past. You say you have a soul now…well…that absolves you of any sins you had before. You have a clean slate…not just with me, but also with everyone else. You're a new person." Even as she said it, she wondered if this was true.

He shook his head. "No…"

"Yes." She pushed herself closer to him, hugged him tighter. He lowered his head onto her shoulder, hiding his face in her shirt as she stroked his back.

"Come with me, Spike."

"Where are you going?" Spike asked. Though his face was hidden in the folds of her shirt, Buffy could tell from the sound of his voice he was beginning to calm down. He was crying quietly now, not sobbing, which seemed a marked improvement.

"Home. I'm going to go home. Come with me so I can doctor that wrist." The real reason was that she was sure if left alone he would manage to kill himself one way or another, or else drive himself so insane there was no bringing him back.

"Home…" He spoke the word as reverently as some people would say heaven. Then he frowned, overcome by some unpleasant thought. "But Dawn…"

"It's all right. Dawn will understand." She stroked the mop of platinum-tipped brown curls that still looked so strange to her. Not bad exactly but strange. "So will you come?"

He shook his head slowly. "It'll be mad if I go. I'm supposed to stay here—just here. I was called by it and here I stay. It'll be angry if I leave."

She had no idea what "it" he was referring to, but she had some vague idea it must be connected to the specters that had been released on the school earlier that day. She grasped his chin between her thumb and forefinger, tilting his face up so she could look into his eyes.

"Would you rather stay here in a dank hole with "it" or come with me to my house? The choice is yours…I can't make you leave."

"Would follow you anywhere," he said. He went on in a softer, dreamier tone. "You're warm as the sun and soft as the clouds…gentle as the rain and sweet as death."

She tried to act as though his last analogy had not terrified her.

"So then you'll come?"

He nodded, blue eyes wide. "But it will be so angry…"

Buffy gently disentangled herself from his embrace so that she could climb to her feet. She held out her hand to him and he took her, rising also. "So…let it be angry," she said.

He watched as she unfolded the blue print. "Buffy?"

"Just give me a minute to get my bearings," she told him. She pointed the flashlight at the center of the sheet and frowned. Somehow, the tiny white-lined corridors made a lot less sense if you were going in the opposite direction. Or maybe it was just Spike, leaning over her shoulder and making her nervous.

"I know how to get out," he said eagerly, like a child with the right answer in class. "I know all the hallways and doorways…front ways and sideways." He chortled softly.

Buffy smiled weakly. However, she did not want to burst his bubble, so she said, "Well…good. Then I hereby appoint you navigator. I'll follow wherever you lead."

Her last statement made him snap to attention. Those dark blue-gray eyes locked on hers—hungry, intense. For a breathless moment they stood there, looking at one another. He looked away first, casting his eyes to the floor in a despairing sort of way.

"This way," he muttered, and she fell into step behind him.

She knew what he had hoped for, what he had wanted. And she had wanted to say it. She wanted to say it so badly that the words choked her throat, clouding her eyes with tears. But, like the tears, the words simply wouldn't come.


Dawn sprawled on the living room sofa, watching a black-and-white movie on television. Her hair was wrapped in a red towel and her feet, which were propped up on the arm of the couch, were in the process of being manicured. She was so engrossed in her movie and her toenails she didn't even look up when the front door slammed.

"Hey, Buffy!" she called into the foyer. "Check this out! This movie is so funny! It doesn't even have sound…just these little boxes with words inside."

Buffy paused in the doorway of the living room, holding fast to Spike's hand. This was not so much a show of solidarity as an attempt to keep him by her side; he seemed ready to flee at any moment.


Her soon-to-be-sixteen-year-old sister twisted around, tearing her eyes from the television to roll her eyes at her sibling. "Buffy, give me a break! It was the first day--they didn't give us homework!"

Suddenly her expression changed. The bright brown eyes lost their look of irritation and lit up—briefly—with joy. But it didn't last. Her gaze lingered overlong on his unbleached hair, his gaunt face and sunken eyes…and the hope flickered. Died.

"C'mon, Dawn." Buffy laughed nervously. "Can't you even say hello to us?"

Please, her eyes begged her sister. Please don't let him know that Xander told you. Be kind to him…I know you missed him. Let him know that and forget the rest….

Dawn's eyes moved from Spike to Buffy and then back again. "Hi…" she said finally, fixing a watery smile to her face. "Long time no see…"

Spike didn't answer her. He merely stood beside Buffy, his shoulders slumped and his eyes cast downward. His wounded arm was thrust behind him, concealing it from Dawn's view.

Buffy turned to Spike, spoke to him softly. "I need to ask Dawn for a favor. Girl stuff. Can you wait upstairs for me?"

He nodded without looking up.

Both Summers women watched his ascent in silence. As soon as he was out of sight, Dawn turned on Buffy accusingly. "You didn't tell me he was back!"

"I only found out today," Buffy replied. "And I wanted to talk to him myself first…alone."

"What is he doing here? Are you letting him back into your life after what he did to you?"

"SHUSH!" The word came out a whispered scream. "Lower your voice or he will hear you!"

"But you said—"

"I know what I said. But there is a good explanation for this. I just don't have time to tell you that right now." She saw Dawn's annoyed expression and hurried to add, "I will. I promise. Tonight. Just not now, okay? I need to talk to him first."

Dawn nodded reluctantly. "Okay, I got it." She turned back to the television with determination.


She sighed. "What?"

"I wasn't kidding when I said I needed to ask you for a favor."



When Buffy made her way upstairs a few minutes later, she found Spike in the first room she thought look in: her bedroom. He was sitting on the edge of her bed, staring poker-faced at a collection of stuffed animals that sat in a pile on a chair. He didn't turn away, didn't even blink, when Buffy turned on the light.

"Hi," she said to him, closing the door behind her. "How're you doing?"

"She hates me now." His eyes were fixed on the glittering black eyes of her teddy bears.

"Who hates you? Dawn? She doesn't hate you. She was just…surprised to see you."

"She hates me," he repeated. "You think I didn't see it? You think I couldn't tell from her eyes…blank, accusatory…like theirs." He nodded to indicate the plush toys. "She hates me. Just like them." He pointed a shaking finger at the nearest bear. "STOP LOOKING AT ME THAT WAY! STOP MOCKING ME!"

"Stop it!" Buffy crossed the room quickly, grabbed Spike's face between her hands. "Pull yourself together, Spike! Dawn is downstairs! She doesn't hate you—she's just confused! Do you want to frighten her?"

He pulled out of his hysteria quickly. "I'm sorry," he whispered, turning miserable eyes to hers. "I don't want to scare Dawn. I'm sorry…"

He looked so anguished she immediately regretted yelling at him. She dropped on the bed beside him. "It's all right," she murmured. "I'm not angry…you just...frighten me when you do that."

He hung his head.

An awkward few minutes passed then Buffy cleared her throat and attempted cheerfulness. "I know what's wrong with you."

"What?" His voice was subdued.

"You need to be cleaned up a little. I mean…I know vampires don't sweat or anything…but you have really acquired the most interesting odor while living in the basement."

Spike recognized her attempt to jest and smiled a little. "Yes?"

"Yeah. You smell like…damp cement and…mold. You need a bath."

A spark of recognition flashed in his eyes. He looked at her with interest and something that may have been disappointment. "I don't think so."

"Come on…it will do you a world of good, I'm sure. Make you feel like a new man."

Eventually, he submitted to being pulled to his feet and led to the bathroom like a child. He stood quietly as she pulled out towels, soap, and shampoo from the cabinets; he waited patiently as she ran back to her bedroom for clothing. He listened without comment as she explained that Riley had left the gray sweats and white T-shirt at her house a long while ago and she had stuck them in a box and forgotten about them until now. He smiled vaguely at her Captain Cardboard joke (and these were his good pajamas!). But when she tried to undress him, he balked.

"What the hell are you doing?" he snapped, jerking away angrily as she tried to unbutton his shirt. He refastened the undone buttons very quickly.

"What?" she asked, bewildered. "I was just—"

"I know what you were doing and I'm telling you not to be an idiot! You don't touch someone like me—ever! Don't you get that I am no good? I tried to—and then you go and unbutton my damn shirt! What's wrong with you?"

"I trust you," she said.

Amazingly, this seemed to anger him further.

"Trust me? You should fucking hate me! You should stake me in the heart and be done with it! Trust me! I'm a thing. I'm a monster! I eat little blonde girls for breakfast—or at least I did! Trust me! You must be off your bird!"

The admonishment amused Buffy—not only the words themselves but also the way he said them. He sounded like the old Spike again. She stood there and listened to him rant, arms crossed over her breasts, a slight smile tugging at her lips. Eventually, he wound down enough to notice this.

"Why are you smiling?"

"I'm smiling at you," Buffy answered calmly. "Thinking you are the Big Bad…and you can't even stand the idea that my teddy bears don't like you. I think the town of Sunnydale is safe for now."

Spike gaped at her, mouth open in shock. Here they were, standing in the same bathroom he had tried to drag her down and rape her in…and she was standing there smiling. She wasn't upset at all. She was nuts.

What he didn't know was that inside she was a mass of conflicting emotions. On the one hand, she was amused by his ranting and pleased that he seemed so concerned. But another, uncontrollable, part of her mind was screaming with fear. Visions of them rolling on the floor played behind her mind like a horror movie reel. There were parallels between that moment and this, but seemingly no correlation between the Spike then and the Spike now. That Spike was evil; this Spike had a soul. Or maybe she was rationalizing. Making things feel safer for her. She wasn't afraid of him, the creature that stood before her so distressed, so concerned for her. Yet the other Spike—the one that played lead in her bathroom nightmare—terrified her. The strange thing was she loved them both equally—the mean, abusive Spike and soft, gentle, slightly-messed-up Spike. They were everything to her.

She moved across the room slowly, for her benefit as well as his. She was willing to put their last encounter here behind her, but before she could she would have to prove to both of them that she could trust him.

Spike turned his head to one side as she undid the top button of his shirt. "Don't…" he whispered. But he didn't pull away.

"It's okay," she whispered back. "I trust you not to hurt me."

Her words seemed to hurt him. His eyebrows knit together with anguish and he seemed almost on the verge of drawing back—but he didn't. He stood very still, head turned in profile and not looking at her, as she undid each button of his shirt. He didn't even flinch as she pulled the soiled cuff from his left wrist. The wound had stopped bleeding now and the cotton shirt had adhered to the raw flesh, but his face remained stoic as she peeled it away.

Buffy let the shirt fall to the tiled floor carelessly, and then reached for his belt buckle. Spike seemed slightly upset by this, but he did not possess the strength of mind it took to push her away. He loved her—he couldn't say no.

Still, he wasn't exactly enjoying it. The heart that didn't beat was aching in his chest and he felt torn in about a hundred different directions. He wanted this but he didn't want it. He liked the feeling of her small hands tugging at his clothing…but the guilt he felt pained him so that the pleasure was diminished to nothingness. He wanted to stay with her forever…and he wanted to run away right now and not come back. He loved her. He wanted her to be happy. He knew he couldn't make her so.

Buffy tried to get him to look at her as she undressed him, but he wouldn't. His head was turned to the wall and nothing she said or did could convince him to face her. The only time he spoke was when she led him to the bathtub. When she kicked off her shoes and climbed in with him he asked, "What the hell do you think you're doing now?" His voice was dull, as though it did not really matter anyway.

"What?" she asked softly. "I'm dressed. It's all right."

He glanced at the tight-fitting khaki pants and thin white v-neck blouse she was wearing and refrained from comment. He stood there like mannequin as she twisted the faucet to a comfortable level of heat and then positioned herself behind him as the showerhead spurted to life. The water hit him clean in the face and he closed his eyes to it. One didn't shower a lot as a vampire, and for the first time he wondered why. This felt really nice.

Behind him, out of range of the spray of water, Buffy was reaching for the bar of soap. She leaned forward to wet the bar under the streaming water, and then she worked it into lather by rubbing it in her hands. Her heart was thumping in a strange, fluttery way that frightened her, but her hands remained steady throughout.

Spike opened his eyes when he felt her reach around his shoulders. He thought briefly of Dawn as Buffy spread soap across his forehead and cheeks, down the bridge of his nose to his chin. He wondered where the Little Bit was, and why Big Sis didn't seem too concerned that she might walk in and catch them. Maybe that was the reason for the "talk" downstairs. Maybe Buffy had planned this.

He stared steadfastly at the wall as she soaped his throat and shoulders, down his chest and around to his back. He didn't grow aroused by the small, slippery hands that moved so tenderly over his bare flesh. His arm throbbed and burned as a line of suds trickled into the wound, but he didn't cringe. It was all happening just outside of himself and he couldn't feel it. He watched a film of steam spread across the tiled wall and felt dead.

Buffy massaged the tense muscles of his back, working up a thick mat of suds on his skin as she did so. She could tell it felt good from the way his shoulders slumped, relaxed, but Spike still refused to look at her. She wasn't trying to arouse him and was overall pleased that she hadn't. She definitely was not ready for sex with him yet…if she ever would be. But she wanted to be with him, close. She wanted to touch him. That he was letting her seemed to be a good thing…but it worried her how that he wouldn't turn around. He seemed so…disconnected from what was happening. She wondered if maybe she wasn't just making everything worse for him.

She washed him all over, using her hands and the bar of soap instead of a washcloth, shying away from nothing. Her hair and shirt got wet when she kneeled to soap his legs and feet. She shampooed his hair and wiped the soap out of his eyes. She dropped the bar of soap twice, slipped on it once and had to grab Spike's shoulders to keep from falling. He never turned around, never changed expression, and never looked at anything except the wall. There was a wetness on his cheeks that wasn't water, but she couldn't see it, didn't know.

When Buffy finally turned off the faucet her arms and shirtfront were soaked, her hair dripping. She had gotten careless leaning over and had stuck her head right under the spray. She toweled herself off before pulling Spike out of the shower to do the same to him.

He jerked the towel from her hands irritably, turned his back to her as he began to dry off. His motions were quick and forceful; he seemed so angry she began to be afraid again. Then she saw his shoulders quivering.

"Spike…" She reached for him but he drew away, snuffling.

"Just…give us a minute, will you? Please?"

"Your wrist—"

"I'll fix it up, promise I will. Just please…"

She nodded reluctantly and left.



By the time she returned upstairs, a warm coffee mug clasped in her hands, he had already finished in the bathroom. He was sprawled across her bed, asleep. True to his word, his wrist had been neatly bandaged and taped, and he was now wearing Riley's castoff sweatpants and T-shirt. Both garments hung off his lean frame, much too big. With the clothes and his rumpled blond-tipped brown curls, he looked like a completely different person to her.

It was nearly light outside so she closed the blinds before she took her seat on the bed beside him. He groaned when he felt her weight shift the mattress but didn't wake up.

"Hey…Sleeping Beauty…wake up." She shook his shoulder gently and he opened his eyes.

His eyes, which had always been closed to her, were naked as he struggled out of the arms of sleep. They looked at her with a dreamy kind of affection that made a rush of heat wash over her and for a moment—just a moment—he smiled.

Then he remembered. Closed off again. Looked away.

Buffy cleared her throat uneasily. Clearly, she had done something wrong…but for the life of her, she couldn't figure out what. She thrust the mug at him—"Here"—and stood up.

Spike looked into the mug. Blood. Warmed to just the right temperature, too. He looked back up at Buffy, who had turned her back on him. "Where did you get this?"

"Butcher. Dawn got it." Her tone was as short as her answer. He could tell her feelings were hurt.

He sighed, gazing into the depths of the mug again. "Buffy…"

She turned to face him, red-eyed. "Just…shut up and drink your blood, all right?"

She watched him drain the glass, then silently handed him a tissue to wipe the dribble from his chin. For a moment neither of them spoke.

Then, "I'm not trying to hurt you, Buffy. I'm trying not to hurt you, as a matter of fact. I'm a destroyer…everything I touch turns to death and ashes. I don't want that to happen to you. You're like the sky to me, all encompassing. I don't want you to fall."

His phrasing was a little strange, but Buffy decided it was sane enough to be addressed seriously.

"Why don't you let me decide what is best for me? What makes you an expert when it comes to relationships? You dated on crazy bitch, one slut…and me…a combination of both. I don't think that qualifies you to play Dear Abbey."

"You aren't a crazy bitch slut," he mumbled, missing her point entirely.

"Maybe I am!" she snapped. "I love you, don't I?" She froze, wide-eyed. She hadn't meant to say that.

Spike stared at her, disbelieving. "Don't say that."

"I just did. Can't take it back now."

He shook his head. "Don't say that, Buffy…You don't love me…You said you didn't, couldn't, wouldn't, won't…"

"Maybe I changed my mind."

The hunger in his eyes made her shiver. Not with fear. With the power she had over him. She owned him, Buffy realized. Right down to his spanking new soul, she owned him. Which accounted for the depression, the anger, the need to distance himself. He was hers and it frightened him. He had never been this vulnerable before. He had never loved anyone with his soul before. Not truly loved them. Not until her.

It was an interesting thought.

"You don't just change your mind about something like that." Spike attempted—and failed—to assume the cool, confident demeanor of days past.

Buffy smiled, approached him slowly.

"Oh, no—" He caught the look in her eye and began shaking his head in protest. "No. Don't do this—you'll regret it—"

She slid onto the bed, stretching out close by his side and leaning across his chest to stare into his eyes. "Tell me you love me."

The blue-gray eyes were a mixture of pain, fear, and hope—such hope. But he shook his head again. "Buffy…"

"Tell me," she whispered. She brushed her lips across his bandaged wrist, kissing the dry, harsh material tenderly.

"I should never have come back. I'm going to fuck it all up for you."

"Tell me." Her hands worked themselves into his hair, stroking and petting.

"I'm not good enough for you!"

She slid up, never breaking the stare for one minute as she moved to lie on top of him. Her mouth was a millimeter from his lips; he could feel her breath against him as she whispered, "Tell me."

Spike closed his eyes. His Adam's apple quivered as he drew a shuddering breath, his control just about spent. He nodded in a pained sort of way, whispered, "Yes."

"Yes what?"

"I love you." It came out as a soft groan. He arched his back, leaning forward as if to kiss her, but Buffy drew away just as his lips brushed hers.

She sat up. Looked down on him for just a minute, a small smile tugging at her lips. "Spike?"

"Uh huh…"

"I love you, too."

She gave him just an instant to think about this, an instant for her to see his dazed expression…then she leaned down and kissed him.

His lips were soft, full, and gentle. Very willing. She coaxed them to part, to let her explore him, and he opened his mouth wide for her. His mouth was warm from the blood; there was still a trace of the salty-metallic taste lingering on his tongue. She knew what it was but was not bothered by it. It was a taste she associated with him and therefore welcomed. She kissed him harder.

He groaned, surprised and aroused by her sudden assault on his senses. She was stroking, kissing, rubbing, writhing…all over his body and all over his mind. She made him dizzy. He couldn't think. The pain in his chest was harder now, his soul throbbing like a sore tooth…but he welcomed it. It was her love and he didn't care how much it hurt.

He rolled her over, moved on top of her. Kissed her long and hard.

"Oh, God, Buffy..." Even as he spoke his mouth was moving over her cheekbones…her chin…her throat. "Tell me you love me," he pleaded.

"I love you," she whispered, gasping at his kisses, his touch. She grabbed his hair and held him to her. "I love you, Spike."

"Again," he demanded, nuzzling at the hollow of her throat.

"I love you…"


Her words were like salve on his sore heart. His pain lessened its vice-like grip on his soul. And she kept repeating it, mouthing the words against his flesh until all the hurt of the past year melted away…until nothing else existed at all. There was merely the sound of lips meeting and parting, of buttons and zippers being undone…and the soft, hoarse words, whispered across an ever-increasing expanse of bare skin.



The End

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