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Chirality by yutamiyu [R]

1. I by yutamiyu

2. II by yutamiyu

3. III by yutamiyu

4. IV by yutamiyu

5. V by yutamiyu

6. VI by yutamiyu

7. VII by yutamiyu

8. VIII by yutamiyu

9. IX by yutamiyu

10. X by yutamiyu

11. XI by yutamiyu

12. XII by yutamiyu

13. XIII by yutamiyu

14. XIV by yutamiyu

15. XV by yutamiyu

16. XVI by yutamiyu

17. XVII by yutamiyu

I by yutamiyu
Author's Notes:
A note about the title: an object is considered "chiral" if it differs from its own mirror image. This is my first Buffyverse fic, so comments and constructive criticisms are both much sought after and greatly appreciated.

Disclaimer: The characters herein are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant enemy. They are being used for entertainment purposes out of love and admiration, and not for the sake of profit. No copyright infringement is intended. 

1 

For all her previous years of experience, she thought that she’d learned to keep a better hold on her weapons.

Her excuse, however, as she felt the hammer fly out of her grasp and tangle into chains hanging from the tier above her head, was that nothing she had fought previously had the strength of a hell god. That beneath well-styled curly hair and mini-dresses and Prada shoes lay the strength of three slayers, at the very least. And the Dagon sphere had only done so much to weaken her. So really, she thought, no one could blame her for losing her weapon when on the receiving end of Glory’s punch.

‘But,’ her mind quipped as she attempted unsuccessfully to dart around Glory and recover her weapon, ‘her status has nothing to do with your current lack of improvisational skills.’

And it was true. Everything she’d done in the past – patrols, training, Apocalypse-averting – had shown that Buffy Summers was easily able to improvise to get the job done, even in the tightest of situations. And yet she and Glory remained at a stand-still; while neither was landing any deciding blows, Buffy was unable to slip past the hell god and regain the upper hand.

But she was also burning up Glory’s valuable time. And that had to count for something.

------------------

//Spike. Can you hear me?//

The voice, while sounding like something he would expect to hear on an older radio, or on the other end of a telephone line, was still clear in his mind; and in a brief moment of insanity, he considered that the source was the tiny engine near where the group had barricaded themselves.

“Yeh,” he murmured. “Loud and clear.”

He could feel the whelp’s eyes on him like he’d lost his mind. Maybe he had. He hadn’t had much of a stellar history with vampires who’d heard voices. Drusilla hadn’t been the picture of perfect mental health, after all.

//There’s someone up there with Dawn.//

He knew. He’d sensed it, just before Red’s voice reverberated in his mind. And although he didn’t know who was atop the tower with Dawn, he was certain it wasn’t Buffy. Which meant that the nibblet was still in danger.

He knew. He just didn’t think Willow did, as well.

“Yeh,” he replied, aware of the increasingly confused looks he was receiving. “Can’t tell who.”

//Get up there.//

‘Yeh,’ he thought. ‘An’ this sodding chip will suddenly decide that barreling through a mob of angry brick-wielding pulsers is for the greater good an’ let me pass.’

//Go.// Her voice became more insistent. //Now. GO.//

Pushing himself to his feet, Spike charged towards the crowd, bracing himself for the inevitable migraine, when he felt the surge of energy mere milliseconds before the crowd parted, allowing him safe passage up the ramps of the tower.

‘Nice one, Red,’ he mused as he continued to spiral his way up the tower.

------------------

He didn’t get very far.

In fact, he didn’t know exactly how high up he was. Spike’s progress skidded to a halt when he came across Buffy in an effective stalemate with Glory. His quick eyes darted around and he was immediately presented with three facts.

The Slayer was weaponless.

He couldn’t get to Dawn, not with Glory blocking his path.

But Buffy could.

“Buffy!” he yelled, lunging forward to grab Glory’s hair, landing a few punches as the hell god turned around in surprise. “Go help Dawn!”

Buffy hesitated, watching as Glory recovered and threw a punch directly into Spike’s gut. He felt something tear, and his nostrils flared at the scent of his own blood. He winced, slid a protective arm across his bleeding stomach, and yelled again. “GO!”

The sound of Buffy’s ascending footsteps echoed around him, and Spike threw another punch at Glory before she could follow.

“Don’ think so, sweetheart,” he growled. “Your fight’s with me now.”

Glory grunted in exasperation and grabbed the vampire by the lapels of his duster, sending him flying over her head and across the deck, crashing into the tangle of chains holding the hammer, causing it to plummet to the ground.

“Brilliant,” he groaned, but quickly shot out an arm in a desperate attempt to stop a pursuing Glory from climbing further up the tower. His hand managed to find purchase in the fabric of her ritual robe, and holding on with all his might, Spike released his grip on the chain, the both of them descending to the ground below.

------------------

‘Someone’s with Dawn.’

She could sense it, the closer she came to the peak of the shaky tower. And she knew now why Spike had been so insistent on her leaving. Dawn was still in trouble. It was possible for Glory to go through the ritual without letting the Key’s blood herself.

The thought made Buffy shudder, even as she ran. She’d missed it. She was so convinced that the ritual required Glory to let Dawn’s blood that she’d blinded herself to the possibility that someone else could do it for her.

This someone else looked so unlike any demon she’d ever faced that she briefly wondered if her demon sensor had been knocked out of alignment, courtesy of Glory.

“Who are you?” she asked, her body poised for a fight. He turned to face her, and she took a slow step forward. ‘Distract him,’ she thought. ‘Keep him away from Dawn.’

“On second thought,” she added, taking a quicker, more confident step forward, “I really don’t care. All I care about is that you’re about to do something evil with my little sister. And that really doesn’t fly in my book.”

The strange man-thing standing before her grinned, tightening his grip on the knife at his side. “The Slayer,” he mused, and something in his eyes twinkled. “This is a treat. Certainly a night to remember. Not only do I get to help Her Magnificence Glory, but I get to do it in front of the Slayer.”

Buffy gritted her teeth and clenched her fists together tightly. “Stay away from my sister,” she warned.

The demon raised the knife point to his lips and tapped the tip against them thoughtfully as he closed the distance between them. His mouth quirked into a smile, and he replied, “I’m afraid I can’t do that. Tonight’s a very important night.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Buffy countered. “I’ve heard the story, and I’m really not all that interested in converting to the Cult of Saint Crazy. Maybe you should try again next year.”

She didn’t know what happened. All she knew was the presence of the man behind her, the bite of the knife slicing through the sensitive flesh at her side, Dawn’s screams that she was unable to answer.

“That’s too bad,” he said softly, tangling his fingers into her hair. “I didn’t really plan on you being around next year.” And with those words, he smashed her head into one of the metal beams, dropping her as she slumped unconscious onto the ramp.

------------------

Both vampire and hell god scrambled to their feet soon after their rough impact on the concrete below. Spike’s eyes darted around in a vain attempt to locate the fallen weapon; without it, he wasn’t sure he had a chance in hell at even touching the beast before him. Not when her violent attention was so focused on him.

‘Don’ have to kill her,’ his mind quipped as his wounded stomach made itself known again. ‘Jus’ have to distract her for a while. Wonder jus’ how much of a beatin’ I can take.’

Glory’s lips quirked into a knowing grin, swiping at the blood around her nose with a less-than-delicate crooked knuckle. “You lost your hammer, sweetheart,” she taunted. “What’re you gonna hit me with now?”

In retrospect, Spike figured he should be more thankful for small favors. Either that, or the usually useless band of humans that the slayer insisted on keeping around her. For no sooner had the words left Glory’s lips than a wrecking ball crashed through the wall next to him, smashing into Glory and sending her flying back a good distance away from him.

“Well,” he replied, raising an eyebrow. “Tha’s a pretty good start.”

She wasn’t down for the count, but the whelp had unknowingly bought Spike all the time he needed. Wandering eyes found the hammer, and he jogged over to it, wrapping his fingers around the handle.

And groaned. He’d forgotten the damn thing was too heavy for him to lift.

“Could use a li’l help here, Red,” he called, frustrated. “Need to pick this bloody thing up.”

The tingling in his arms came as a surprise. He hadn’t really thought the witch would hear him, but as the sensation subsided as quickly as it appeared, he tried lifting the hammer again.

It was lighter than air.

Grinning, Spike swung the hammer to rest on his shoulder, stalking towards the hell god currently struggling to get back on her feet.

“Here, kitty,” he coaxed, closing the distance between them. With every step, blood dripped out of his open, forgotten wound.

Her feet finding solid purchase on the ground beneath her, Glory pushed her curls out of her face and dusted off her robe. Her gaze locked with Spike’s as he approached her, and she readied herself for another round.

Spike hefted the hammer back into his arms and swung, injury momentarily forgotten, taking an almost perverse pleasure in the feel of it connecting with Glory’s jaw. She stumbled back, but held strong; Spike smirked as he realized that she still thought she could beat him.

Not bloody likely.

A second blow, and another, and another, slowly backing Glory away from the tower. With every strike, blood covered the hammer, and somewhere in the back of his mind he realized that not all of it was hers. He was almost disappointed that the hell god was going down so easily.

‘Almost,’ he thought wryly as he prepared for another strike.

He twisted too much at the waist at the next blow, and cried out in pain as the hammer once again made contact with Glory’s face. Shifting the hammer to one hand, he snaked the other down to cover his wound, a misguided attempt to keep his remaining blood inside his body. His neglect had taken its toll, and he was hurting.

“You’re immortal,” Glory tried, gasping to regain her breath. “You should understand my pain.”

Spike shrugged a shoulder, wincing as the action pulled at the injury. “Maybe,” he replied. “But all things considered, I’d rather cause it.”

“You can’t kill me.”

Spike brought his hand back up to the hammer, wrapping a blood-covered palm around the hilt. “I can have fun trying,” he noted, and swung an uppercut to Glory’s jaw.

She was down. Glory was down, and that was all that mattered. Moving as quickly as he could, he straddled Glory and cast the hammer aside, landing blow after blow with his fists. When he felt the protest from his injury, he sat back, assessing the damage he’d caused. He watched as the hell god’s face shifted to that of her human host.

Spike growled in frustration. He wasn’t certain that he could hurt Ben, and he wasn’t entirely keen on trying. Not when he was injured. Not when he could hear Dawn’s screams from the top of the tower and could smell Buffy’s blood, even from such a distance. Not when he caught sight of the Slayer’s Watcher walking towards him, intention burning in his eyes.

Pushing himself to his feet, Spike ran to the tower and forced himself to begin a quick ascent. His wound protested, but he gritted his teeth and continued. Work through the hurt now, take the time to heal later. Later, when this was over and both his girls were safe at home.

His girls.

When he was nearly at the pinnacle, he realized that the only blood that assaulted his senses was that of Buffy, with barely traces of his own. He had no idea when, but his own injury had already begun to heal, enough that the pain was a bit less with each step he took.

Rallying, Spike rushed to the top tier, scanning the scene before him. An unconscious, bleeding slayer at his feet. Dawn still a bound captive, the faint scent of her blood hanging in the air surrounding him. And a demon he’d taken for dead.

“Doesn’ a fella stay dead when you kill ‘m?

Doc spun around and grinned, rocking on the balls of his feet. “You’re too late, you know,” he stated knowingly. “The ritual is already underway. Her Magnificence is going to win.”

“Ref’s already called that one, mate,” he replied. “Look’s like the match went to the vampire.”

Fury began to burn in Doc’s normally-dancing eyes. “You cannot beat Glorificius,” he countered, as light flashed in the behind him and the sky began to tear. “The ritual has already started.”

In three quick steps, Spike had Doc’s head clamped tightly between tensed palms. “Then ‘m just gonna have to stop it,” he observed, before snapping the demon’s neck and pushing the body off the side of the tower.

“Spike.”

Dawn’s call drew his attention away from the fledgling portal gaining strength to further rip through the sky. Quiet tears ran down her cheeks, but she – so much like her sister – made every attempt to keep from breaking, only the slightest of trembles noticeable in her voice.

“It’s too late,” she said, and twisted at her ties. “Let me down. I have to jump. I have to stop it.”

“Can’t do that, Nibblet,” he replied, crouching near the unconscious slayer. “Made a promise to your big sis. Don’ want her to be mad at me for breakin’ it.”

Spike’s brow furrowed in concern as he ran a chill hand down the side of her face before clasping her shoulder to shake gently, as though simply rousing her from sleep. He didn’t know how long she’d been out, but the scent of her blood was no longer as overpowering to him as it once was; the wound at her side was healing. She would be fine, whenever she woke up.

Letting a crooked finger run lightly over her lips, Spike allowed a resigned smile to tug at his.

He would miss her.

Wrapping one arm around her torso, he snaked his hand under her top and pushed it up enough to reveal her healing wound. Uncaring of the automatic reflex of his emerging fangs, Spike ran his tongue up the trail of blood clinging to her side before settling at the source and beginning to drink. When he tasted his first mouthful of her most coveted blood, it was all Spike could do to hold back a pleasured moan. Finally overcome after the first few pulls, he allowed his fangs to graze the length of her injury before setting back to his task in earnest.

He drank from her for ages of stolen time, while around him the portal continued to expand and flow.

His ears perked momentarily at the sound of Dawn’s horrified, outraged screams, but he dismissed them just as quickly, instead focusing the entirety of his attention on Buffy’s heartbeat.

Her heartbeat, and the faint sound of her own moan as she struggled to regain consciousness. She wasn’t entirely there yet, but she soon would be.

He was running out of time.

Spike drew away and ran his hand down the length of her hair. As he felt the muscles in his face shift back to his human persona, he briefly tangled the soft ends in his fingers. “’m sorry, pet,” he whispered, and forced himself to his feet.

Dawn’s eyes were filled with anger, and she glared at him as he approached.

“What did you do to her?” she screamed, struggling in a vain attempt to hurt him. “What did you do to Buffy?”

“Did what had to be done,” he murmured, making quick work of her bonds. “’m not gonna apologize.”

And he would not. There simply wasn't enough time.

Although aware of her own injuries from the ritual, Spike all but dragged the girl over to the recovering slayer, holding her arms tightly, and forcing her to look into his eyes. He was met with nothing but seething resentment, and he felt a twinge of guilt run through his system.

“Listen to me, Bit,” he said, his voice low and commanding. “Big sis is gonna be fine, yeh? But it’s up to you to get her back down to her Watcher an’ the rest. Tell her I figured it out. An’ tell her I kept my promise.” He let go of her arms and drew away, quirking his lips into an ironic grin. “’m gonna save the world, Bit.”

Before she could reply, before she could even think of the words, Spike turned and ran across the platform, leaping from the tower into the growing storm below.




------------------

A/N: Please bear with me! All will be explained in due course. Although I've seen many fics regarding an alternate S6 timeline, I don't recall ever seeing one where Spike closes the portal rather than Buffy/Dawn. I found the idea fascinating, and hope you all will ride this one out with me.


Reviews inspire the muse and nourish the soul. If you are so inclined, please leave one.

II by yutamiyu

She’d walked the path a hundred times over, yet as she made her way to Spike’s crypt, she couldn’t remember ever walking towards it feeling…relief.

Anger, certainly, and annoyance; both in spades. She’d even been nervous once or twice – escorting her mother and sister into his protection, thinking for a split-second that he would see right through her Buffybot façade – but she’d never felt even a semblance of relief while walking towards Spike’s domain.

She usually felt it when she left.

She would think on that later, when all was over with and Glory was gone. Only then would she allow herself to ruminate on the ever-changing thing she was in with her once mortal enemy.

And now effectively friend. Ally. She could admit that, at least.

Buffy squinted at the sun’s rays and idly wished she’d brought her sunglasses. For now, she would have to settle for cupping a hand above her eyes and walking through the cemetery gates.

She knocked, waited for a response, knocked again when she was given none. She gently pushed the door open, poking her head in and calling his name. Her eyes found his form as he took a step forward, the demon receding to reveal the face of the man.

“What are you doin’ here, Slayer?”

The tone of his voice held no accusation. Rather, his words were infused with curiosity and confusion, plain and simple. She supposed that it was warranted. After all, she was voluntarily at his crypt with fists down and stake absent.

Buffy stepped into the crypt, closing the door behind her and walking over to perch on the arm of his easy chair.

“How are you doing?” she asked hesitantly, tilting a chin in his direction.

“ ‘m healin’,” he replied tersely, drawing a cigarette from the pack in his duster and lighting it. “You need somethin’, Slayer?”

Again, warranted, but she couldn’t help but flinch. “I just wanted to talk,” she tried.

Spike’s scoff echoed loudly in the crypt. “‘s that right?” he replied, taking a drag from his smoke and leaning against the wall. “And here I thought I’d been granted a temporary reprieve on accoun’ of my injuries.” He blew out the remaining smoke from his lungs. “All right, then,” he continued, spreading his arms, cigarette dangling from his lips. “Jus’ get it over with.”

‘And that’s three for Spike,’ she thought, shaking her head at his words. “There will be no fighting,” she said, relaxing her posture as she sat. “I didn’t mean it that way.”

He stared at her for several moments, as though she’d completely lost her mind, but she could see in his eyes the moment he accepted her words at face value.

“Oh,” he said simply, dropping his arms and resuming his smoke. “Then what’s on your mind, Slayer?”

Buffy laced her fingers together and let them fall in front of her as she leaned forward to rest her arms on the top of her thighs.

This was difficult. The words were difficult. She’d known, walking to his crypt, that to actually speak to him would be difficult, but she figured that the Powers, or whatever seemed to have her back, would somehow magically provide her with all the right words. Instead, she was sitting in a dark crypt laced with the scent of tobacco smoke and something that was irrefutably Spike, at a complete loss for words.

“I told you,” she started slowly, “that I would never forget what you did for me and Dawn.”

Spike’s eyebrow rose as he took another drag from his cigarette. “You did,” he confirmed. “Told me it was real.”

Buffy nodded, gaining more confidence in her words. “It was,” she replied. “It still is. And I think that maybe…maybe I should give you the chance to do that. To be real.”

The eyebrow remained. “You lost me there, pet,” he said, pressing his cigarette butt to the ground with the toe of his boot.

“You’ve…been changing,” she continued, finding a sudden fascination in her hands. “Slowly, but…you’re changing, and I think maybe it’s time to acknowledge that. By trusting you…by having faith in you.”

She never saw the awe and disbelief mixed with distant hope storm through his eyes. Instead, she heard his boots against the concrete floor as he walked to sit on one of the granite tombs spread throughout the crypt.

“You sure you’re not the soddin’ bot?”

A reluctant grin tugged at her lips and she raised her eyes, seeing the smirk on his face. She was grateful; Spike had made this much easier for her, simply by lightening the mood.

“I mean it,” she said, ignoring his remark. “These last few…it’s been…hard,” she managed, the vague nature of her words the only thing keeping her from breaking down. “And you’ve always been there, whether I’ve wanted you there or not. And I think…I think you’re going to stick around.”

“You
know,” he interjected, his voice low and insistent.

“You’re right,” she amended. “I do know. So if you’re here, and you’re with us, then we need to start letting you in.”

“Never said I was a bloody Scooby,” he retorted, though they both knew his words held little conviction.

For her part, she ignored his statement, but added quietly, “I never actually thanked you. For what you did. It’s good to know…it’s good to know that I can count on you to keep her safe. Dawnie…she’s having a hard time with all of this.”

It was easier to talk to him when she wasn’t talking about herself. And Spike, with his often-infuriating powers of perception seemed to sense this. He pushed off from his seat and took several steps towards her. “Bit?”

Buffy shook her head and kept her gaze glued on the ground. Moving her eyes, she could just make out the tips of his boots. “She’s insisting that she’s not real. Not human. And maybe she’s not, Spike, but she’s human enough. The monks made her from me; she shares my blood.” She finally looked up at the vampire before her. “I told her that, a while back,” she continued, her lips quirking into a smile at the memory. “Her blood isn’t just this mystical thing. It’s Summers’ blood, above anything else. I can’t…I can’t let anything happen to her. I won’t.”

“’m not about to give her up either,” he offered. “She’s kinda grown on me, the irritatin’ chit.”

Buffy’s lips tugged into a smile and she looked up to meet his eyes. “I know,” she replied. “And she needs your help. Your strength. Dawn, she…she needs you.”

He was crossing a line. He knew it, just as he knew he shouldn’t have spoken the words before they’d even finished leaving his mouth. But he had to know.

“An’ you?”

This time, Buffy did not avert her eyes. Rather, she held the vampire’s gaze for what seemed like ages. She knew. She knew exactly what Spike was asking, but she simply didn’t have an answer. Not one that she could verbalize, at any rate. She only had feelings, instincts.

She would tell him later. When everything was over and Dawn was safe. Another item to add to her list of contemplations about Spike. For the moment, she took the safe route.

“Dawn needs me, too.”

His shoulders slumped minutely in dejection. But it was enough. Buffy had seen it, and it tore at her insides. And while she had called a ceasefire on hurting Spike physically, it seemed that she could do more damage to him with her words – or the complete lack thereof – than with her fists.

Spike, in a desperate attempt to appear nonchalant, crossed to the mini fridge, intent on pouring himself a mug of blood, heavily laced with something alcoholic. “Glad we’re on the same page, then,” he said over his shoulder. “Guess that means you can bugger off. Sure there’s somewhere else you’d rather be, yeh?”

Her feet were quicker than her awareness, and in a blink she found herself standing behind him. She tried to ignore the tense way he held his frame at her proximity, and instead told the middle of his chest in a quiet voice, “I know what you meant. I just...” She fell quiet. Words had failed her once again.

Spike’s finger was chill against her skin as it crooked under her chin to force her to meet his eyes. “’s all right,” he said, his voice just as soft. He blinked, and dropped his hand, and turned back to rummage through the open fridge. His voice was louder when he continued; an almost forced casualness. “We’ll figure this all out after we beat Glory, yeh?” He turned around, holding up a full bottle of Jack Daniels. “Gonna be one hell of a celebration, pet. An’ if you’re nice enough, I’ll even teach you how to drink properly.”

Despite herself, Buffy shook her head and smiled. “We’ll see, Spike,” she replied, her eyes moving from his face to the bottle and back again. “I haven’t had much luck with alcohol. Bad experience with beer.” Her face scrunched up in remembrance. “Beer bad.”

Spike scoffed as he turned to the fridge, exchanging the booze for a bag of blood. “You jus’ have to try the good stuff,” he countered, before holding up the bag. “Joinin’ me for breakfast?”

“Pass,” she replied. “Blood’s not really part of my balanced diet. But by all means, you enjoy yourself.”

She turned then, and walked across the crypt and out the door, closing it firmly behind her. Something had been set in motion, adding on to the blend of seemingly mundane instances that always managed to irrevocably alter the thing that was she and Spike. That once again, words laced with worlds of underlying meaning had been spoken, throwing her fragile-but-working definition of this thing into a state of complete upheaval, forcing reconstruction.

She took one step away from the crypt. Two. Three. And despite the chaos in her mind, there it was again, that feeling. Relief.


------------------

She was pulled into consciousness, but Buffy still refused to open her eyes. She felt fatigued, and just wanted to drift back into sleep. A half-hearted attempt to move her arm proved the action difficult, and she groaned in frustration.

“Buffy?”

Dawn’s voice. She forced one eye to open, then the other. An unfamiliar ceiling blurred in and out of view, and mere moments passed before she felt her hand being squeezed in encouragement. She rolled her head to the side, her eyes taking in the sight of her very alive and well younger sister.

“Dawnie,” she tried, and her voice rasped from the effort. How long had it been, that her voice was harsh from disuse?

The teenager turned to grab something unseen from the table next to the bed, and suddenly Buffy felt Dawn’s hand behind her neck, inclining her head, coaxing her to drink the water at her lips. Her sips began slow, but soon became greedy as she finished the glass.

Buffy’s head dropped back to the pillow and she turned to face her sister. “Are you okay?” she asked, her voice still harsh, but quickly getting better.

Dawn smiled. “I’m fine,” she replied. “The doctors bandaged me up and kept me overnight, but they said I was good to go this morning. I was just waiting for you to wake up, lazybones.”

Her teasing words belied the tone she couldn’t quite keep out of her voice. She had been frightened. For herself, for Buffy.

“Where is everyone?” Buffy almost feared the answer. Going into the battle, her main priority had been keeping Dawn safe, trusting that everyone else would be able to fend for themselves. Before the battle, she hadn’t given consideration to the fact that they might not all have made it.

“Everyone’s fine,” Dawn assured her, her eyes glued momentarily to the hospital bedspread. Then, “Giles told me to call when you woke up. Said he’d take us home.”

Feeling a bit stronger, Buffy managed to move her limbs in an attempt to assess her body. Finally, she asked, “What happened? Why am I here?”

Dawn flinched. “You…” A pause, then, “You lost a lot of blood. You needed a few transfusions. But you’re okay now.”

Buffy’s brow furrowed. “I don’t remember being injured that badly,” she replied. “That demon-thing stabbed me, but it should have healed by now. How did I lose so much blood?” Her gaze locked with her sister’s, she added, “Is there something you’re not telling me?”

Dawn jumped to her feet, clasping her hands together in front of her. “I’m going to go get the doctor, okay? Let him know that you’re awake, and maybe he’ll let us go home. I know you don’t like hospitals.” And before Buffy had a chance to argue, the teenager was out the door.

Buffy sighed, and rolled her head on the pillow to stare up at the ceiling. Something wasn’t adding up. Something was tugging at her mind, a whisper of a memory, a presence, a voice offering words her fatigued mind could not translate. Something had happened on top of the tower, and despite the obvious fact that Dawn did not want to acknowledge it, she refused to let it go.




A/N: I'm sorry for the complete lack of updates on this archive!  I've been remiss in posting here, and I apologize!  I'll definitely be adding new chapters as they are written.  Hope you all keep up with this! 

Reviews inspire the muse and nourish the soul. If you are so inclined, please leave one!

III by yutamiyu
The ride back to Revello Drive was wholly silent; Dawn was too preoccupied with her position latched onto Buffy’s side to offer any words, and Giles seemed lost in his own thoughts. Buffy couldn’t blame him; she was still trying to figure out what Dawn – and now it seemed Giles as well – was keeping from her.

The feeling of something prodding gently at her memory had still not faded, and Buffy worked furiously in the silence to remember it. She knew, by her own vague recollection as well as Dawn’s steadfast avoidance of the topic, that something had happened once she’d fallen unconscious…but what?

It wasn’t until the three had walked through the front door and had taken seats while Dawn fetched drinks from the kitchen that Buffy broke the silence, determined to quell the insistent questions bouncing around in her mind. “Where is everyone?”

Giles shifted in his chair and cleared his throat. “Xander and Anya have been sequestered in his flat since the evening of the battle, most likely doing things I’d rather not think about. Willow and Tara have been helping me do inventory in the shop. We were all there when you and Dawn were admitted into the hospital, until the doctors assured us that you would both be fine. We all just needed to regroup.”

Buffy nodded, picking idly under her thumbnail. Her brow furrowed, and she abandoned her ministrations. Xander and Anya. Willow and Tara.

“And Spike?” she asked.

Giles took off his glasses and began to clean them with the edge of his shirt; never a good sign. If she’d learned nothing else from her Watcher over five years, it was that.

“Spike,” he said, concentrating intently on an invisible speck of dust on the lens, working furiously to remove it. “Yes. Well. It seems that Spike…well, it would appear that he sacrificed himself to close the portal.”

Buffy was quiet for several moments before laughing off her tension and shaking her head. “Nice try, Giles. Come on. This is Spike we’re talking about. It’s suicide. We both know he wouldn’t--”

Another memory, at the forefront of her mind, crystal-clear and potent. Her sister, talk of a friend out for vengeance, an underground cave, his quiet words.

“I’d do it. Right person. Person I loved. I’d do it.”

Oh god.


Buffy shook her head again in attempt to clear away the memory. She didn’t want to acknowledge it at the moment – didn’t want to admit that maybe she should have seen it coming. Instead, she asked, “How did he manage to…do that?”

“He jumped.”

Dawn’s voice sounded from the doorway, a tray of drinks clutched tightly in her white-knuckled grasp. She walked heavily towards where they sat, dropping the drinks on the coffee table between them before settling onto the couch in a huff. “And I’m glad he’s gone.”

Buffy’s eyes widened and she sat forward. “Dawn!” she exclaimed. “Don’t…don’t say that.”

The teenager scoffed. “Why? It’s good that he’s gone, right? You didn’t really like him, right? Aren’t you glad that he’s not going to follow you around anymore?”

‘No,’ she thought immediately. ‘No, I’m not.’ But she wasn’t about to say anything.

“You liked him,” Buffy countered. “I know you did. Why are you acting like this?”

Dawn folded her arms across her chest and glared at her sister. “He took advantage of you.” At Buffy’s raised eyebrow, she continued, “When you were unconscious and bleeding, and I was still tied up…after he killed that demon that hurt you…he drank your blood. He drank your blood and then let me go and then jumped into the portal.”

Buffy’s eyes rose to meet those of her Watcher. “Why would he do that?” she asked.

Dawn snorted in disdain. “Isn’t it obvious?” she replied. “He’s still the same stupid jerk. I thought maybe he’d changed, but he just wanted to get a taste of you before he died.” Her tone shifted from anger to worry. “He took so much, Buffy. For a while I thought he wanted claim his third slayer before he went.”

Buffy’s brow furrowed again as she looked to her lap and pondered over her sister’s words. Spike had changed. That much she knew. As obsessive as Spike had been about her in the past, and despite who he’d been before he’d known her, scavenging on her unconscious and wounded form just didn’t seem his style.

No. Something was missing. Something was wrong here, and she was determined to find the answer.

“No,” she finally said, softly. “There has to be a reason.” She looked up at her Watcher. “Giles, there has to be a reason. Can’t we figure it out?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know, Buffy,” he replied, awkwardly pushing his glasses back onto his face. “It’s certainly unprecedented; a vampire martyring himself to save the humans around him. Usually vampires harbor delusions of grandeur gained by world destruction.”

No. No, that wasn’t right either, if she believed the words Spike had uttered so many years ago. “It’s just tough guy talk.” And she did believe him; had actually believed him that night, almost immediately after he’d said them. And he’d done nothing since to convince her that he’d been lying.

“Then let’s assume that Spike was different,” she said, her voice quiet but strong. She felt a twinge in her stomach as she stumbled across a seemingly mundane realization. Was. She’d automatically said was, hadn’t stumbled over is. Hadn’t she used is mere moments before? Why had she changed so quickly?

Buffy shook her head, and continued to speak. “Let’s assume that Spike…was different,” she repeated, having a bit more difficulty with the word than before. “Let’s assume that he really wanted to save the world. Why did his jumping close the portal?”

The Watcher frowned. “I’m afraid I don’t know, Buffy.”

Buffy rose and began to pace the length of the living room. “You said it yourself, Giles,” she said, although she wasn’t sure if she was actually addressing him or just thinking aloud. “You said in the Magic Box that it had to be Dawn’s blood that closed the portal, right?” She stopped pacing and stared at her Watcher, who nodded in affirmation. “And he didn’t drink from you, right?” she asked, turning her attention to her sister. At Dawn’s denial, she resumed pacing again. “So why did he drink my blood, thinking it would close the portal?”

She paced a little longer, and froze. Conversations scattered over time merged together and she knew, clearer than anything.

Cigarette smoke coiling in the air around her, acrid yet somehow oddly comforting, and the words falling form her mouth. “The monks made her from me; she shares my blood.”

Spike perched on a stair in the Magic Box, sniping at Xander. “Of course it’s her blood.”

An achingly soft expression hidden behind desperately nonchalant eyes. “I always knew I’d go down fighting.”

He’d known. His words to her hadn’t just been an attempt to lighten the mood. He’d known that he wasn’t going to make it back.

Something tugged at her stomach, and despite her realization, Buffy managed to turn her attention to her sister. “Dawnie,” she said, her voice strained from her racing thoughts. “Dawnie, please. Did he say anything to you? Before he…before he jumped?”

The teenager’s lips pouted in a moue of reluctance. “Yeah,” she admitted. “He said that he’d figured something out. And something about keeping a promise.”

“I’m counting on you to keep her safe.”

Oh god.


Buffy turned wide eyes to her Watcher, who looked at her in confusion. “Giles,” she said softly, “I need you to watch out for Dawnie. There’s…there’s something I have to do.” And before she could be questioned any further than the inquiry in his gaze, Buffy walked out the door and into the waiting sunlight.

------------------

Her body navigated her through the streets of Sunnydale without any coherent knowledge as to her destination. Her mind was too busy desperately trying to integrate and analyze her newly-gained information.

It fit. She couldn’t deny that what Spike had done fit his personality. For all his bravado, since the day she’d met him, somewhere in the back of her mind Buffy had always known that Spike would die in a blaze of glory. He was simply not the type of vampire to meet a dusty end by catching fire in the forgotten sunlight, or losing at the hands of another vampire – hell, she didn’t really think he’d lose to a slayer. After all, she had certainly tried so many times, and had never actually accomplished the feat. Spike had been destined for greatness, perhaps, and maybe saving the world had been his purpose.

Buffy huffed the tiniest chuckle of disbelief at the thought, and idly kicked at a pebble in the middle of the sidewalk. If Spike had ever heard those words, he would have vehemently denied them, then done everything he could to reassure himself that he was still the Big Bad, that he could go toe-to-toe with the Powers That Be and spit in their face.

Had, she thought. Would have. Past tense. Again, she’d moved to the words with ease. Why was the concept bothering her so?

Looking up, Buffy was only mildly surprised to realize that her feet had directed her to the site of their battle against Glory.

The tower still stood on an unsteady foundation, the unhinged metal platforms protesting with each passing breeze. Buffy craned her neck backwards to peer up at the top of the tower. Cupping a hand over her brow to shield her eyes from the bright sunlight, she took a few hesitant steps closer.

Images flashed in front of her mind’s eye and Buffy was back in the battle on the apex of the tower, the demon that stabbed her standing between her and Dawn, only this time…this time she managed to do something. Shove him off of the tower and remove her sister from the bindings while the portal continued to claw through the sky as it grew.

The portal. How would she have closed it?

It was all about blood. Giles had said it. Dawn’s blood. It was Dawn’s blood that opened the portal, and only Dawn’s blood would close it. But Spike hadn’t touched Dawn; Dawn hadn’t been the one undergoing overnight transfusions in the hospital.

Dawn had said that Spike had figured something out. But what had he figured out?

Buffy kicked absentmindedly at a chunk of broken brick lying in the dust and walked closer to the base of the tower. Her eyes tracked over their once-battlefield before resting on something crumpled amidst a pile of stone and brick. Buffy’s breath hitched as she recognized the object.

Spike’s duster carried a few more battle wounds thanks to the fight with Glory – and the fall, though she repressed the thought as much as possible – but for the amount of abuse it must have suffered during the battle, it was in surprisingly good shape.

Crouching to pick it up, Buffy idly ran her thumbs across the black leather lapels, her gaze traveling the length of the duster. The duster – and its wearer – had evidently enjoyed the raging battle, as its surface was covered with splatters of blood. She wondered how much of it had been his. She remembered watching Spike when they’d met briefly on the tower, drawing Glory’s attacks away from her. Remembered his arm snaking across his body to hide what she knew had to be an open wound. If she closed her eyes and concentrated, she imagined she could pick up the scent of it, even amidst the dirt and sweat and iron predominant in the fight.

Buffy’s brow furrowed as she stood. It was almost enough to freak her out, her sudden infatuation with blood. The thought was always at the forefront of her mind, screaming to be heard and begging to be realized.

Giles’ texts said that Dawn’s blood closed the portal. Spike had instead taken blood from Buffy, and had managed to close the portal anyway.

Her words to the martyred vampire, a seeming lifetime ago. “The monks made her from me; she shares my blood.”

Something within her clicked into place, and her mind was notably silent.

Buffy clenched the duster tightly against her form. Stupid, stupid vampire. She wanted to scream at his impetuousness, rage that the decision hadn’t been his to make. Instead, all she found she could do was swipe at the tears beginning to form. She would not cry. Not for Spike. Crying for Spike meant giving him up completely, and she wasn’t quite ready for that yet.

She promptly ignored the question in the back of her mind as to whether or not she ever would be. Instead, she took off for Revello Drive in a full-run, anxious to talk to her Watcher.


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A/N: Thank you to everyone who has kept up with this story so far. I do respond to every review I get. After all, if you take the time to leave them, I’m going to take the time to reciprocate in kind to show my appreciation.

Reviews inspire the muse and nourish the soul. If you are so inclined, please leave one.
IV by yutamiyu
“Giles!”

The Watcher stood from his seat to greet his Slayer. Her face was red and he could detect a trace of sweat on her brow. She was out of breath – why had she been running? His brow furrowed as he recognized the object she had draped over her arm.

“Where did you go?” he asked, his gaze unmoving from the black leather duster.

Buffy shook her head and in an unconscious movement of her arm shifted the duster closer to her. “I went back to the tower,” she replied with a wave of her free hand. “But that’s not important. I figured it out, Giles. About Spike.”

Giles needlessly adjusted the position of his glasses and looked up at his slayer. “And?”

“I don’t know how, or even when, but Spike figured out that Dawn’s blood wasn’t the only blood that could close the portal.”

The Watcher tilted his head in understanding. “Yours would as well.”

Buffy nodded in confirmation. “I told him myself. The monks made Dawn from me. We share the same blood. Maybe my blood wouldn’t have opened the portal – I think that’s some sort of Dawn-only mojo – but my blood could close it. That’s why he…” drank from me “…did what he did.”

Giles swiped a hand across the back of his neck. “That’s purely speculation, Buffy. Even if what you’re saying is true, we had no concrete evidence that it would work. As much as it pains me to suggest it, why wouldn’t Spike take Dawn’s blood instead to ensure that the portal would be closed?”

“Probably because I was already wounded and bleeding,” she replied simply. “Spike’s chip. It wouldn’t let him bite Dawn.”

“He wouldn’t have to have bitten me,” a bitter voice sounded from the stairwell.

Buffy and Giles turned to see Dawn perched at the bottom of the stairs, the look on her face indicating that she had heard the entire conversation – and apparently still had not changed her opinion of Spike. Buffy shifted unconsciously, draping the duster over the arm of the couch and concealing it behind her back.

“He didn’t need to bite me,” Dawn continued. “I was already bleeding, remember? That demon guy cut me with his knife to open the portal. He could have taken blood from either of us, and he chose to take blood from you.”

“Dawnie, Spike would never hurt you--”

The teenager scoffed. “Yeah. Right.”

Buffy felt her fingers move behind her, grasping for the leather, for some sort of grounding contact. “No,” she replied, and there was a force in her voice that hadn’t been there since she’d woken up in the hospital. “Don’t say that, Dawn. Spike adored you. You know he did.”

“He was just being nice to me to get close to you.”

Outraged, Buffy took a few steps towards her sister, standing in the threshold between the living room and the entryway. “You know that’s not true,” she insisted, before pausing and shaking her head. “Maybe it was a little true. But what happened, Dawn? Have you forgotten what he was like with you this past year? Remember when he helped you sneak into the Magic Box? You think that would have made me happy? He did it for you, Dawn. Spike has always protected you. He wasn’t about to hurt you to close the portal. Not when there was another way to do it.”

Something had managed to get through, because both Buffy and Giles could see the minute slump in the teenager’s shoulders – she hadn’t abandoned her anger at the vampire, but she seemed to be willing to try. “I was bleeding, too,” she reiterated. “He didn’t have to bite either of us. So why did he choose you?”

Buffy bit her lip as she contemplated her sister’s question. It was true. Spike had gambled on the assumption that her blood would close the portal, ignoring the fact that to drink from Dawn was guaranteed to achieve the task.

“My wound was deeper than yours,” she replied slowly. It wasn’t the best explanation, but it was the only one she had. “And I was unconscious. Dawnie, vampire bites…they hurt. And maybe it would have hurt, even though he didn’t bite us. But he didn’t hurt me; I didn’t feel anything.” She closed the distance between herself and the teenager and placed a gentle hand on her arm. “Don’t you see, Dawn? Spike wouldn’t hurt you. He wouldn’t hurt either of us.”

Buffy drew back when Dawn shot to her feet and ran up the stairs and into her room, slamming the door behind her. Calling after her sister, she was stopped by Giles’ firm hand on her arm.

“Let her be,” he said calmly. “She needs to be alone for a while.”

Buffy sighed, but relented to her Watcher’s advice. Without thinking, she muttered, “I don’t know how to do this. Mom would know what to do.”

Giles flinched. “Yes, well,” he stammered, and cleared his throat, crossing to the couch. “Am I correct in my assumption that this is in fact Spike’s?”

Buffy raised her head at the mention of the vampire’s name, and nodded. “I found it in the rubble at the tower.”

“Why on earth did you go back there?”

Buffy shook her head. “I needed to work some stuff out. I…when I left, I realized that Spike knew what he was going to do before he even went into battle.” She lifted her hand to rest on the duster, absentmindedly stroking it softly. The movement did not go unnoticed by her Watcher.

Adjusting his glasses, Giles opened his mouth to reprimand her, to tell her to let go of the jacket, that Spike was just another vampire to add to her ever-growing list of those she’d helped remove from the world. Instead, what emerged from his lips was, “Why would Spike do such a thing?”

Buffy’s fingers halted their motion on the leather, as though she was suddenly aware of what she was doing, and was ashamed for it. She was pensive for a moment before offering, “Because I think he knew I would have jumped.”

A hand shot out to grab her shoulder. “Buffy--”

She shook her head, forcing the words to catch in the Watcher’s throat. “I don’t want to hear it, Giles,” she said tiredly. “I don’t need a lecture. I would have jumped, if it came down to that. You know it. Spike knew it, too.” She scrubbed a hand over her eyes and forced herself to continue, her still-disjointed theories connecting in her head mere milliseconds before leaving her lips. “I told him…before we went to fight Glory, I told Spike that I was counting on him to protect Dawn. I think he’d already figured out about the blood thing by then. And I think he knew, or thought, that the best way to protect Dawn was to have me around.” Her fingernails dug into the hard leather of the duster draped over the arm of the couch. “So he took me and Dawnie out of the equation, taking enough of my blood to close the portal.”

Gazing at his slayer in silence, Giles took in Buffy’s paling features, the tautness in her hunched shoulders, and – most alarmingly – the sadness and – guilt? – that flashed across her eyes as her discourse reached its end. Releasing her arm, he paused before saying, “Buffy, you’ve…just been released from the hospital, and all of this is more than you should have to deal with. You look exhausted – go upstairs and get some rest.” He was almost loathe to bring up the next, but trudged ahead. “You shouldn’t patrol alone tonight. I’ll go with you. We’ll…we’ll all meet at the Magic Box right before sundown.”

Buffy nodded absentmindedly, her body autonomous as she walked her Watcher to the door and locked it behind him. Walking towards the stairs, she jerked to a halt as a flash of black caught the corner of her eye. Spike’s duster, abandoned and weeping from its perch on her couch. Snatching it up, she brought it with her as she walked up the stairs and into her room.

------------------

The reaction of the others after hearing of Spike’s jump hadn’t been exactly as Buffy had suspected, but she was surprised by none of them.

Tara had been silent and pensive, her expressive eyes declaring that she was mourning the vampire. Willow had attempted the same, and accomplished it to a lesser extent. Anya, in her own sensitive way, had uttered something about it being a waste of a well-sculpted body.

But Xander. She should have known his words were coming, given his attitude towards the vampire, but knowing didn’t stop the words from stinging any less.

“Good,” he’d said. “About time he did something useful.”

Seething silently, Buffy stalked into the training room, grabbing a crossbow and a few stakes from the wall before crossing back into the foyer, heading for the entrance of the magic shop, calling over her shoulder that she was going patrolling and she did not want company. Pausing as her fingers touched the door handle, she breathed deeply, turned around and, calmly, asked the two witches to keep an eye on Dawn. She left before anyone could raise an objection to her sudden actions.

But she had to get away. She just couldn’t understand how no one else could see that Spike had changed. After all, she herself had been the least reluctant to acknowledge it, maybe second only to Xander; if she could admit that the vampire had changed his ways for the better, why couldn’t everyone else?

And what hurt, perhaps more than Xander’s words in the Magic Box, was how Dawn was acting. She hadn’t left her room since their conversation earlier in the day, and had seemed willing to accept that Spike’s actions really were for the greater good. But how could she turn so against him so suddenly; how could she be so quick to assume that Spike would simply revert back to his evil ways once given even a semblance of a chance?

Buffy would admit it to no one, but she had started to develop a trust – albeit a begrudging one – for the vampire earlier than she had ever admitted. The Adam saga had been a fiasco, certainly made worse by Spike’s role as willing turncoat, but his slow-to-emerge true nature had come through in the thick of it when he’d protected the rest of them as the group had performed their ritual. It had been then, after the heat of battle, when everything had settled down and Sunnydale had gone back to its relatively normal state, that she had begun to trust the vampire. That knowledge, which had scared her for so long, had somehow become comforting in the past few months. It had driven her to take her mother and sister to his crypt during her pursuit of Glory, and had still been very much present – though oddly overlooked – when Spike had fallen captive to the hellgod.

She had almost forgotten that the demon population of Sunnydale tended to lay low after every thwarted apocalypse. And she normally reveled in the downtime; it gave her a chance to be just Buffy, something which had become more and more rare with each passing year. But tonight…tonight she had been hoping to at least take down a fledgling or two.

Sighing, Buffy let the crossbow drop heavily to her side, knocking against her thigh as she trudged home.

------------------

Dawn was still in her room when she returned home, only acknowledging Buffy’s tentative knock with a “Leave me alone.” Willow and Tara had left almost immediately after she’d walked through the door, with a promise to meet for coffee within the next few days.

Placing the crossbow and stakes on her desk chair – she’d have to return them to the training room the next day – Buffy changed into a pair of pajamas and crossed into her bathroom, brushing her hair and teeth, readying herself for bed. It was still early, but both her body and mind were exhausted from the respective tolls taken on them the past few days.

It wasn’t until she moved to turn down the covers that she noticed that Spike’s duster was still on the foot of her bed, unmoved from where she’d placed it earlier that day. She did not notice the slight trembling of her hands as she picked it up, lightly running her thumbs over the lapels.

In a moment she would later blame on fatigue, she lifted the duster to her nose and breathed in tentatively. Leather. And smoke. And Spike. She felt a relief she could not describe, and feared to understand, that he hadn’t been lost to her completely. If she had nothing else, she still had this.

She didn’t know how long she had been standing in her room, clad in her sushi pajamas, holding Spike’s duster close to her. Her body suddenly jerked, pulled back to reality, and, ashamed, she walked quickly to her closet, draping the duster over a hanger and placing it in the back of her closet.

Buffy switched off the lights and climbed into bed, hoping she would fall asleep quickly. She didn’t want to think about what she’d just done. In fact, she didn’t want to think at all.



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A/N: Thank you to everyone who has been reading this fic; I'm glad you all are enjoying it! I'm certainly having fun writing it, so it's a win-win all around. :)

Reviews inspire the muse and nourish the soul. If you are so inclined, please leave one!
V by yutamiyu

Tara was at the Magic Box when Buffy arrived late the next morning with crossbow and stakes tucked safely in the oversized bag slung over her shoulder.

“Morning, Tara,” the slayer greeted, a bright smile on her face, before walking into the training room and shifting the bag to the ground, preparing to replace the weapons she’d taken the previous evening.

Tara’s brow furrowed as she followed her friend into the training room, closing the door behind her and leaning against it, arms folded tightly across her chest.

“B-Buffy,” she said, “Are you all r-right?”

The smile never faltered as Buffy diverted her attention away from hanging weapons and turned to face her friend. “Right as rain, Tara,” she replied. “How are you doing?”

If Buffy noticed the confusion and disappointment that flashed across Tara’s eyes, she did not acknowledge it. Instead, the witch offered, “You can t-talk to me, B-Buffy.”

A pause. Brief, almost unnoticeable, but it was enough.

“I’m fine, Tara,” Buffy insisted, huffing out a small laugh. “There’s not much to talk about; things are pretty quiet around here.” She placed her hands on her hips. “And come to think of it, it’s really quiet in here, too. Where is everyone?”

Tara wringed her hands together in front of her body, betraying her nervousness. “They’re out patrolling,” she responded.

Buffy raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “Patrolling?”

“W-well,” the witch responded, “more like t-tracking. W-when the portal opened, some demons got loose, a-and they didn’t disappear when…it closed.”

It was fairly evident to both women that the phrase when Spike jumped in had been carefully omitted. Their eyes met briefly, and in Buffy’s was a gratitude that she would never speak. The wound was too new to mention in any sort of casual manner exactly what Spike had done. And in that moment, Tara knew, beyond her own understanding, that when the time came, Buffy would speak to her. But talking was best left for later, especially with the promise of hell demons stalking throughout Sunnydale.

“They went without me?” Buffy asked, somewhat incredulous. “But I’m the Slayer. Slaying is kind of my gig, you know?”

A smile touched briefly on Tara’s lips before she continued. “M-Maybe they thought you just needed a b-break,” she offered. When Buffy’s eyes darkened slightly – their tacit agreement suddenly at risk – the witch quickly added, “I-I mean, you just stopped an apocalypse yesterday.”

An uncomfortable moment, and suddenly Buffy turned back to the wall of weapons, unnecessarily fiddling with each, ensuring they were properly aligned. Remembering the forgotten weapons in the bag she’d brought, Buffy turned back around to grab the crossbow, pausing just long enough to run her fingers over it.

“Yeah,” she finally replied, and her voice was quiet. “Yeah, I suppose so.” She hung up the crossbow and stakes before recovering her bag, slinging it over her shoulder. Clearing her throat, she asked, “Did they say when they were going to be back?”

Tara shook her head. “I think before n-nightfall,” she replied. “You sh-should come back before then. I know they w-want to see you.”

Buffy nodded. “Yeah,” she agreed. “Yeah, I’ll do that.” Her quick smile to the witch was tight and forced, and she made her way quickly to the door of the training room. “Guess I’ll see you later, then.” And before Tara could even open her mouth to answer, Buffy had bolted out of the Magic Box and was halfway down the block.

------------------

The knock on her door was soft, the accompanying voice calling her name even more so. When Dawn ignored the request for entry, another knock sounded, this time more forceful and insistent. And her sister’s voice again, a little more stern than she would have thought.

“Come on, Dawnie,” Buffy said. “I’m the Slayer. It’s not like it would be hard for me to break down this door.”

Groaning, as though her movement was the greatest inconvenience in the entirety of human existence, Dawn rolled off of her bed and padded to the door, unlocking and opening it a crack, settling back onto her bed before Buffy had walked a step into the room.

Pulling the chair from her sister’s desk, Buffy sat, her elbows resting on her thighs and fingers laced together, hands hanging loosely between her parted knees. She drew a deep breath, sighed it out, and dove in, hoping that this time something could stick.

“Dawnie,” she began, her voice low, “I think we need to talk.”

“I don’t want to talk about Spike.”

She opened her mouth to respond, but something in the tone of Dawn’s voice lent her pause. A simple, barely-noticeable waver, a slight break on the vampire’s name. The contempt that had laced the teenager’s words only a day before was now replaced with nothing more than trepidation. And Buffy realized that her Watcher had been right; Dawn simply needed time.

Nodding, Buffy continued. “Dawn…we never really got to talk about what’s going to happen now that…mom’s gone,” she finished quietly. “I…after mom died--” The words stuck in her throat a little less every time she said them -- “Giles helped me file paperwork to become your legal guardian.”

The subject had never actually come up between the two sisters, but Dawn did not seem surprised. Instead, she simply nodded her acceptance. “So, you’ll be like my new mom?”

Buffy blinked in surprise before shaking her head. “I don’t want to be.” Before the teenager could retort, she continued, “I’m still your sister, Dawn, and that’s never going to change. But now…things are going to be a little different. And I know it’s going to be kind of weird.” Her lips quirked into a small smile. “I know you never really listened to me as a sister, but sometimes I really need you to listen to me as a mom. I want…I want us to stay together as a family, okay?”

Again, Dawn nodded, but still did not move from the bed. Instead, Buffy rose, placing the chair back at the desk. “I have to patrol tonight,” she said, “but Willow and Tara are coming over to stay with you.” On an impulse, she walked to her sister and ran a hand down the length of her hair. “Is that okay? Or would you rather go to Xander and Anya’s?”

Dawn shook her head in reply, sending Buffy’s hand back to her side. “It’s okay,” she said. Then, more hesitantly, “But…are you okay to patrol?”

Buffy grinned. “I’ve had a lot worse, Dawnie. I’ll be fine.”

A smile began to form on the teenager’s lips, but retreated just as quickly. At least it was a start. Buffy crossed to the door and opened it, pausing only when Dawn’s voice sounded quietly from the bed behind her.

“Buffy…I don’t hate him.”

Her eyes locked on the empty hallway in front of her, Buffy replied just as quietly, “I don’t either,” before leaving her sister’s bedroom, readying to change from the role of sister to that of Slayer.

------------------

Rolling her neck in an attempt to loosen the tightened muscles there, Buffy huffed out a sigh as she began to walk home. She hadn’t expected to find much in the way of Sunnydale’s fanged population, and her sweeps of the local cemeteries had therefore been brief and ceremonial. She had, however, managed to slay the demon her Watcher had been tracking throughout most of the day – but not before it had taken her on a sprint through the greater part of Sunnydale.

She hadn’t realized exactly how far across town she’d ended up until the pounding bassline of an unfamiliar song filled her ears, and Buffy raised her head to find that her walk back home had taken her by the Bronze.

The door had been left propped open, and she could see the teenagers of Sunnydale dancing inside, oblivious, as always, to any goings on in the outside world. Walking into the Bronze meant leaving everything at the door, dancing a catharsis under flashing lights and the ever-present smell of alcohol. She could see her smiling, laughing peers, and Buffy suddenly wanted to do nothing more than enter the club and dance the night away.

Taking a few steps towards the open doorway, she paused with a frown. Two things were stopping her from entering the club. First and foremost was Dawn. Her sister as a concept. She didn’t know when it had happened, precisely, but somewhere along the line, Buffy had acknowledged and accepted exactly what it meant to be the Slayer. The people dancing, blissfully ignorant of her nightly efforts to protect them, were becoming less and less her peers and more and more her wards. That she was now the sole guardian of her little sister left even less room for spontaneity. Dawn was expecting her home; she would not stray tonight.

The other, which she was less ready to admit, was that the Bronze held too many memories – too many shadows from her past. Angel still lurked in some dark corner of the club, always waiting for his moment to enter, while she could always find Riley near the bar, nursing a beer while playing a game of pool. And if she listened closely enough, she could hear Spike’s clapping echoing in the alleyway.

Shaking her head, Buffy picked up speed, walking past the Bronze and towards her house on Revello Drive. She forced her mind onto the mundane to keep her thoughts in strict control, running over the lyrics of pop songs she hadn’t heard in years, doing simple arithmetic, even playing an admittedly very easy game of I-Spy.

And they had worked, for the most part, until she’d reached her front porch. Once she reached her porch, she felt the dust of some nameless, forgotten vampire swirling around her, and Spike’s accompanying voice declaring lowly, He won’t get a chance to tattle on us now.

Trudging forward, her hands trembling slightly as she pulled out her key to unlock the door, Buffy pushed the door open and stepped over the threshold into the entryway, her lips parting to whisper in tandem with Spike’s echoing voice, “Presto. No barrier.”

She was broken from her reverie by Willow’s voice calling her name from the kitchen. Buffy locked the door and went to meet her friend, hoping that Spike would not follow her there, and wishing he would.

------------------

Dawn was asleep – she’d checked personally, cracking the door enough to poke her head inside the teenager’s room – and Willow and Tara had left minutes before, after reminding Buffy of their impending coffee date.

Pulling on her sushi pajamas, Buffy sighed as she sat on the bed, lost amidst her tangled thoughts and worries. Her talk with Dawn earlier in the evening had gone surprisingly well, better than she had originally hoped, yet the words she’d said had worried her. She’d asked Dawn to listen to her as a mother; and simply put, Buffy just was not ready to step into the role of mother figure for her little sister. She felt that at twenty years of age she was still a child herself.

She had no choice in the matter – Dawn was much too important – but she had help. She was quite sure of that. Giles, certainly, as well as the rest of the Scooby gang. Aside from their group of six, however, there was no one else to help with Dawn; especially worrisome was the knowledge that Buffy was in fact the only one strong enough to protect her sister from the worst that Sunnydale had to offer.

There had been another, but he had jumped to save a world that had not shown him his share of kindness. She could admit that now.

Buffy crossed her room to her closet and rummaged through the hangers, finding the leather duster draped in the back. Pulling it out, she clutched it tightly to her form and allowed Spike’s scent to surround her. For several minutes she stood, unmoving, fingers clinging into hard, worn leather,

She had tried, and she would certainly continue to do so. This morning she had tried her hardest to stay as normal as possible, as though Glory and her aftermath had never occurred; that the events of several days ago had been nothing more than a routine patrol. Tara had noticed instantly, and she hadn’t been around the others long enough to field their reactions.

She had tried, and would continue to do so, because Buffy didn’t know if she could do anything else. She felt strangely disjointed since their battle with Glory, and the only thing she could do was to pretend that everything was as it had always been – was normal – while clinging desperately to the hope that maybe someday they would be again.

Hanging up the duster, Buffy felt something inside begin to ache.


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A/N: I wrote and posted a one-shot, entitled “Recalibration.” If you have a minute and are interested in S6 canon Spike and Buffy, then check it out.

Reviews inspire the muse and nourish the soul. If you are so inclined, please leave one.

VI by yutamiyu
She was flying.

No, that wasn’t quite it. Flying implied a measure of control, the ability to move where one pleased. Flying was not the correct word – Buffy Summers was floating.

She was surrounded by the dark, to the point where she did not know if her eyes were open or shut. Idly flexing her limbs in an attempt to gain momentum, Buffy gazed around the abyss as best she could in a vain attempt to identify her location, to see something. Anything.

In the distance, finally, was a tiny pinprick of light. Buffy’s eyes immediately locked onto the anomaly in her environment and stared with a level of obsession she did not know she possessed. Her persistence paid off, as the speck of light suddenly exploded, tearing the darkness apart, leaving Buffy floating in Sunnydale’s evening sky.

A burning nova of blurred light blinded her, and Buffy instinctively squinted her eyes shut, raising an arm to help block out the light. After allowing her sight to adjust, she ventured a cautious look at the source of luminance. It faded clearly into view, and the light was no longer painful for her to look at, but was no less brilliant than when it had been little more than a blur.

Buffy was staring directly at the dimensional portal Glory had managed to open.

She opened her lips to cry out in dismay, and was quickly halted when she realized she had no voice. Resisting the urge to fall into a complete panic, Buffy instead allowed herself to fall into Slayer-mode, looking around for – and failing to see – Glory, to try to figure out exactly how an open and active portal could have appeared.

Another blur appeared before her eyes, and Buffy found herself floating just above the top of the tower, looking down at a bound Dawn and the knife-wielding demon who had bested her. A few feet away, Buffy looked upon her unconscious and bleeding body.

Forgetting herself for a moment, she attempted to wrest a scream from her throat, frustration rising when she remembered she had no voice. Instead, she watched helplessly as the demon scored shallow cuts into her sister’s skin.

Heard Spike’s voice. “Doesn’ a fella stay dead when you kill ‘m?”

Concerned eyes darting between her still-captive sister and the suddenly-appearing Spike, Buffy watched as the two men exchanged heated words before the vampire snapped the neck of the demon, shoving the body aside as though it had been little more than an afterthought. Her feelings ran the gamut, from fear at the sight of exactly how the portal had been birthed, to anxiety as she witnessed the first of many demons birthed from within it, to confusion at the fact that Spike had yet to untie her sister.

And pangs of something she could not identify, as she watched him run a hand down her cheek, attempt to wake her, and caress her lips with a crooked finger. Pangs of something unknown as she watched him lower his mouth to feed. Pain as she heard his whispered apology.

She watched, aching, as Spike untied Dawn and pulled her to relative safety, forcing her to listen to his words. His words, clearer than anything she’d ever heard, despite the noise she knew would have been surrounding them.

“Listen to me, Bit. Big sis is gonna be fine, yeh? But it’s up to you to get her back down to her Watcher an’ the rest. Tell her I figured it out. An’ tell her I kept my promise.”

Buffy watched, the pangs in her chest suddenly turning into gasps of surprise – then fear – as Spike’s form began to change in front of her. Watched as his hair began to grow, becoming a darker shade of blonde, before the muscles of his face began to tighten and twitch, shifting until Buffy found she was looking at her own face.

“Dawn,” the figure standing in front of her sister continued, and Buffy was horrified to realize that both the face and voice were her own, “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me.”

She watched, her open mouth loosing silent, useless screams, as her double ran across the platform and jumped into the raging portal.

------------------

She screamed once again, and this time, it worked.

Shooting upright in her bed, Buffy simply sat with her arms wrapped around her knees, eyes wide as she desperately tried to catch her breath. Swallowing convulsively a few times, she felt her heart begin to calm, and she ran a shaking hand through her hair and across the back of her neck.

Briefly closing her eyes, Buffy forced out a laugh in a further attempt to calm down. Her eyes wandered around her room, as though checking to ensure that everything was in order, that nothing had changed since she’d gone to bed hours before. Finally settling her gaze on the alarm clock near her bed, Buffy watched as the numbers clicked over to 6:32.

She scrubbed a hand over her eyes and sighed, debating whether she could actually get back to sleep. Finally deciding against it, she threw her legs over the side of the bed and rose, switching on the lights before walking quietly down the hallway – checking, as always, to make sure Dawn was safely tucked in bed – to take a shower.

The water sluicing over her body helped her tensed muscles to relax, but did little to ease her troubled mind. Her body ran of its own accord, readying her for the day as she attempted to make sense of her disjointed thoughts.

She hadn’t the slightest idea how to qualify her dream. It certainly couldn’t have been a Slayer dream; the event she’d dreamed had taken place in the past. But at the same time, it had been so real that she didn’t know how it could have been anything but. She dreamed the events at the pinnacle of the tower that she had been unable to see in person, but once the threat to Dawn had vanished, it had taken a decidedly strange and horrendous turn.

But the matter of qualification was immediately shoved aside upon the arrival of the matter of interpretation. In her experience, Slayer dreams were prophetic, warning her of dangers to come. Yet she’d dreamed of the past – or, at least, mostly. She knew – had even admitted to Giles, soon after she’d returned home from the hospital – that she would have jumped to close the portal, if the need had arisen. Was that, then, the reasoning behind her dream? To reaffirm her commitment to her sister?

Buffy’s brow furrowed and she frowned, unaware that she was ducking her head under the spray to wash the shampoo from her hair. It didn’t make sense. She knew she would have jumped. She knew that she was committed to raising her sister. It rendered the dream purposeless. And why had the timeline in the dream altered when it had? Why had she still been knocked unconscious by the knife-wielding demon, leaving Spike to save the day – and the girl – only to have his grand finale be performed by herself instead?

A knock on the door broke her from her reverie, and Buffy soon heard her name being called tentatively. Dawn was awake. Buffy poked her head out from behind the shower curtain and pasted on a smile, affirming that she’d simply woken up early and had decided to take her time getting ready.

The passing of a half an hour saw both girls dressed and downstairs eating breakfast; Dawn chatting about last-minute back-to-school shopping after Buffy returned from work, and Buffy hanging onto her sister’s every word, determined to keep any thoughts of her dream as far from her mind as possible.

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Buffy attempted to stifle a yawn, jolted back into shop-mode as the bell hanging above the door jingled, alerting her to the entrance of a customer.

“Welcome to the Magic Box,” she parroted, hoping her voice didn’t sound as unenthused as she felt. “Your one-stop shop for all things mystic and fantastic.” She resisted the urge to groan; she wasn’t entirely sure how Anya had convinced Giles that the standard greeting had been a good one.

The summer months had seen a number of lifestyle changes that Buffy had had no choice but to attempt to implement into her daily life. There was, first and foremost, Dawn, who was doing well and looking forward to going back to school in a matter of weeks. She still was not ready to be a mother, still feeling as a child herself, but Buffy had taken the first tentative steps towards being a legal guardian to her little sister.

She’d gotten a job, working at the Magic Box. The check Giles had written for her weeks after her return from the hospital had been sequestered into a bank account, clearly labeled For Emergencies Only. And so Buffy had gone on a job hunt, and when she’d returned from unsuccessful interview after unsuccessful interview, her Watcher had simply put a hand on her shoulder before declaring, “You start at the shop on Monday.”

Anya’s first reaction, of course, had been to throw a hissy-fit about how the hiring of another employee would decrease the shop’s total revenue, given that it was paying out more money before the books could be balanced. Giles had cleaned his lenses, and sighed heavily, and Anya had smiled brightly and shoved a broom into the Slayer’s hands, telling her to begin earning her keep.

Classes at UC Sunnydale began in two weeks, and Willow was using her day to move her things into Tara’s room, as Buffy had decided not to return to the university. It had not been an easy decision on her part – despite her acceptance of what being a slayer meant, Buffy still, and probably always would, yearn to have at least a semblance of normalcy in her life. She had enjoyed college, and even though she had displayed little more than aversion towards the subject of schoolwork, she actually had liked the classes she’d taken during her brief stint as a college undergraduate.

She felt static. Her education would go no further, and she was fairly certain that with only a high school diploma she couldn’t get much better than working at the Magic Box. At least there her employers understood if she was late for work because she was chasing demons until dawn. She couldn’t complain too much about her salary. Despite the fact that she knew she should be happy that she was able to hold a job she knew she would be secure in – which helped so much when the social workers came to check on Dawn – Buffy couldn’t help but feel static at the current path her life was traveling.

And above everything else, she had her guilty secret. Nearly every night, she pulled Spike’s leather duster from its space in the back of her closet and allowed his scent to surround her, to calm her. Every night she hung it up in the back of her closet, she swore it would be the last, and yet it did not occur to her not to pull the duster back out the next evening.

Looking up in the direction of the customer she had greeted, Buffy’s smile became genuine when she saw that the person who had entered the shop was Tara. Her smile faded, however, when she saw the nervous expression on the witch’s face. Ushering her friend away from the middle of the store, she frowned and asked, “Tara, what’s wrong?”

Tara shifted. “Buffy, I’ve been th-thinking,” she started, her voice quiet and unsure. “I’m w-worried about you. It’s been three months, and you haven’t talked to anyone about what happened.”

Buffy shook her head, idly reorganizing knickknacks on the counter near the register. “I’m fine, Tara. Really. I’m completely recovered, and we got the demons that escaped when the portal was opened. Dawn and I are doing great.”

The witch sighed. “I g-guess, but…what about the other thing?”

“Other thing?”

If it was possible for Tara’s voice to be even quieter and more nervous, it happened with her next statement. “I w-was thinking that maybe we should get a gravestone for Spike.”

Buffy’s brow furrowed and she crossed her arms, gripping at her upper arms against the sudden chill in the room. “A gravestone?”

“Oh, yes!” Anya exclaimed, nodding eagerly as she walked towards the two. “It’s a quaint symbolic human custom traditionally exhibited during the mourning process.”

Looking between the two women, Buffy shook her head and murmured, “No. No gravestone,” before crossing to the door of the shop, walking outside into the bright midday sunshine.

Neither Anya nor Tara moved to stop her.

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The passage of the summer months had not only shown Buffy shouldering a parenting role, but had also pushed her to take a more active role in her slaying. Now, instead of waiting for Giles to approach her with possible leads on vampiric activity, she usually spent her lunch hour morbidly perusing the newspapers and obituaries, looking for evidence of death by vampire attack.

Such a hit this evening had brought her to one of Sunnydale’s graveyards, and Buffy leaned against a crypt wall as she stared at a freshly-lain grave, waiting for the newly-dead to rise again. She was, of course, painfully aware that the crypt which provided her support had until mere weeks ago had been occupied by a bleached-blonde British vampire.

Her fingers flexing idly around the stake, Buffy allowed her mind to wander back to the Magic Box earlier that day. Now that she’d distanced herself from the situation, she allowed herself to feel a tinge of shame at her behavior. But Tara’s question had thrown her, and Anya’s always-poorly-timed off-color remark, while admittedly expected, had proven to be too much too soon.

Her actions weren’t out of any disrespect for Spike; she knew it, and she was certain Anya and Tara did as well. She simply didn’t know how to explain that to erect a gravestone for Spike would mean giving him up completely? That she’d learned to live with the cognitive disconnect that mentally, she knew he was gone, but emotionally, to see his headstone would cause her to break? That its very existence would somehow make her possession of his duster seem sordid and disrespectful and something of which she should be ashamed?

No. As much as she could admit that he deserved it, Buffy could not handle seeing Spike’s headstone whenever she patrolled; at least, not yet. Perhaps not ever, she ruminated.

Buffy pressed her back further against the crypt wall, allowing herself to take some measure of comfort from its solid presence. She could not admit it – to herself, or to anyone else – because she simply was not aware, but despite it all, she somehow knew, as well as she knew her own name, that she probably loved him. Instead, she sat and watched the gravesite, waiting for the wrong vampire to rise from the ground.


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A/N: Wow. I got this chapter finished a lot sooner than I'd expected! I'm still a little iffy about the last scene, as it's not quite how I'd envisioned it, but I think it works well enough.

If anyone's keeping parallel track of the timeline of canon S6 and my little S6 world, then you know some fun stuff is going to happen soon. And that's all I'm going to say. :)

Reviews inspire the muse and nourish the soul. If you are so inclined, please leave one.
VII by yutamiyu

The early weeks of September always wrought many changes in Sunnydale. The last of the summer tourists finally trickled out of town, while the rest of the locals bustled around trying to reclaim stolen beaches, or flocked to the shopping malls to take advantage of new fall inventory or last-minute back-to-school shopping. Unofficially, the early weeks of September also saw a return of activity from the resident demon population.

Buffy sighed and rolled her head as she shrugged her shoulders in an attempt to loosen muscles tightened by long days working at the Magic Box and even longer nights of patrolling. As she walked quietly through the graveyard, trusty stake in hand, she wasn’t entirely certain if the return to nightly patrols was a good thing or simply an annoyance added to her already-busy schedule.

Semi-frequent summer patrols meant she had a few nights a week of free time, often spent with her sister. But nightly, active patrols meant she had less time to think.

To make matters seemingly worse, she’d lost another member of her motley crew. Sometime in late August – the days seemed to blur together lately, and she was never entirely certain of a precise date anymore – her Watcher had sat her down on the couch in her living room and discussed the current state of affairs.

Buffy had to give him begrudging credit – Giles certainly had presented an ever-eloquent and infuriatingly-sensible argument. He had told her that, after being in touch numerous times with the Watchers Council centralized in England that he would be of better use across the pond, attempting to reorganize the structure and politics of the arcane group. He’d also said something about the possibility of potential slayers, but at that point in time, Buffy had effectively checked-out of the conversation.

Giles – her Watcher, the one who had stuck around – was leaving.

Just like Merrick. Dad. Angel. Riley. They’d all left.

Her mind would never include a certain peroxide vampire in her list while she still had something left.

The night Giles had informed her of his imminent departure was the first night Buffy had taken the beaten leather duster to her bed. Drawing it from the closet like a sacred object, Buffy had allowed herself to slip her arms through the sleeves, pulling the lapels of the too-long duster around her – a habit she’d begun to indulge a few weeks prior. However, Giles’ news had broken an unrealized thread somewhere within her being, and after allowing herself a weak moment, alone, surrounded by the trace of Spike she still had left, she’d slept with the duster draped over her blankets.

The following morning, she’d moved to hang the duster back up in her closet and noticed that his smell wasn’t as prominent as it once had been. She was losing Spike. He would desert her as well, leaving her with only an anonymous, worn and beaten leather duster.

Upon this realization, she finally crumbled and spoke to Tara of her musings and fears she’d developed since the passing of Glory, and admitted – in an entirely roundabout way – her suspicions that she loved the martyred vampire. Tara had simply smiled supportively and offered a friendly ear.

At the farewell party the small group had thrown for the departing Watcher, Giles had pulled his slayer aside in a final attempt to talk business that she had wanted to avoid. Ownership of the shop went primarily to the ex-vengeance demon, but Buffy retained a small amount. Giles had furthermore insisted that Anya add his salary to Buffy’s paycheck – a decree which earned her a glare from the ex-demon at every payday – adding that such actions would certainly keep the social workers away from Dawn, as long as Buffy held up her own responsibilities.

She had tried, and she knew she would always continue to do so. But she had recently begun to feel the strain. Which was why she was almost relieved when Sunnydale began to show signs of increasing lesser-demon activity; for the few hours that she patrolled in the role of Slayer, she didn’t have to think about the messy life-stuff awaiting her at home, or work. All she had to do was concentrate on saving the town. Simple.

------------------

As she walked back towards Revello Drive, Buffy wryly thought, not for the first time, that she should keep a slaying scoreboard somewhere in her room, allowing her to tally the number of her victories in comparison to Sunnydale’s resident evil. The few fledglings she’d taken down over the evening – that she’d held back on slaying immediately, simply so she could revel in the fight -- had provided just enough exercise and stress-relief that she had successfully been able to take her mind off of the looming responsibilities awaiting her upon her return home.

The only other thing that could provide such solace rested on a hanger in the back of her closet.

Locking the front door behind her, Buffy trudged up the staircase and into her room, throwing open the closet door and rustling around her clothing, pulling out the familiar duster. She held it tightly against her small frame and closed her eyes, feeling her muscles begin to relax at the mere anticipation of being surrounded by the calm that only this action seemed to provide.

She felt nothing.

Her eyes flying open in realization, Buffy pulled the duster directly under her nose and inhaled deeply. She smelled nothing other than laundry detergent and the floral of her shampoo. Leaning into the closet, she attempted to chase out his scent from there, to no avail.

As she held it between trembling fingers, she realized that the duster had never felt so cold.

Crying out in dismay, Buffy wadded the duster into a haphazard ball and threw it back into her closet before flying down the stairs and out the front door – barely sparing a thought to pull it shut behind her – before she began to sprint across town towards the only place she had left.

Despite the fact that she’d steadfastly avoided it since the battle with Glory, Buffy did not hesitate to burst through the door as though she’d been there only yesterday. She did pause at the steps as she realized that it was dark – none of the trustworthy candles had been lit. She fumbled around awkwardly in her pockets, knowing somewhere in the back of her mind that she had no matches – never carried them – but irrationality dictated that she check, regardless.

The moon poured a small amount of light through the door, but she had been in the small crypt enough to know the hazards to watch out for – she skimmed a palm over the top of the television, feeling her flesh pass through a thin layer of dust – as she headed for her goal: the trapdoor.

Crouching, and feeling around on the ground for the small chain, Buffy finally located it and pulled it with her as she stood before taking her time descending the ladder. Gone was the moonlight, and she found herself cast into pitch darkness as she leaned against the ladder, biting at her lower lip. However, she didn’t need light, and most of her was thankful that she did not have it.

The crypt felt empty. Abandoned. Cold and unwelcoming, as it had never been before. Spike was truly gone.

Somewhere in the recesses of her mind was a list of men which had all summer, until this point, eluded revision. On it, she added Spike, the name of the one who was supposed to have stayed.

As she felt the first tear – denied for so long – slide down her cheek, Buffy made no attempt to stop it.

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A descent, and wide eyes and complete silence and scars, both visible and hidden beneath the surface. A hesitant touch, and nothing. The shattering of glass against stone and the faint aroma of a night devoted to drinking that had been halted before it began. Aimless wandering, white and lost, and fuzzy, static mind-noises fading back into melodic sense. Wood and brick splintering and crumbling in an explosion of dust. A warm catharsis of light and sound just out of reach of the dark and silence and cold. The smell of sweat and dueling leather and the feel of trickling blood sliding to land on cold concrete. Fear, and pain, and a firm and unwelcome knowledge of an altered – and unalterable – world. Filth, and fire and pain and tears and a warmth like nothing else had ever been.

He was born to never remember these things, these images of a future in the making, or perhaps a harbinger of worse times long past, though he would forever be burdened by the weight of them.

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The night continued and slowly the streets of Sunnydale became quiet. The last of the late-night clubbers had gone home, and the forest’s nocturnal creatures readied to rest, sated after their evening’s activities. It was in this moment of silence that a brilliant light flashed in downtown Sunnydale.

The rickety tower groaned in complaint as it tried to hold up against the violent winds that trailed after the light, but the metal could not withstand such force and began to break and tumble to the ground, beam by beam, landing amidst the stone and brick and dust.

The silence returned, and for several moments there was nothing but the still of the late evening, before a hand pushed its way through the debris and flailed, trying to find solid purchase on the ground below. Once anchored, the hand was soon joined by another, and two arms, hoisting a pale and blonde body into the moonlight.

Silently, he surveyed his surroundings in confusion, running long fingers over one of the collapsed metal beams before staring up into the sky, as though expecting the tower to rematerialize, leaving him with something familiar. As it was, his mind was nothing more than a blurred fog, though he somehow inherently knew it would return in time.

For now, however, his hands wandered amidst the wreckage, searching for something he did not know. His fingers settled upon a tarp, and while he frowned, knowing somehow that it was not the desired object, he wrapped it around his naked form and carefully pushed himself to his feet. He swayed, and caught himself, and took a cautious step, pausing in assessment before taking another.

Left foot, then right. Walking. If nothing else, he could do this.

He shuffled through the fallen debris and padded onto the street, his eyes flickering around at every streetlamp, his body tensing with every sporadic sound of a city settling in on itself. Drawing the tarp more tightly around his body, he dared to quicken his pace, his feet headed for a destination his mind did not know.

His nose soon picked up the sharp aroma of iron, and he felt the muscles of his face move. Everything in front of him blurred slightly before sharpening, clearer than anything he’d ever seen. Raising one hand to his eyes, he skated his touch over his brow, disconcerted by the ridges he found there. His exploration continued down his nose to trace the length of his lips before pricking his finger on an elongated tooth. In his mind’s eye, he could see the red welling up from the tiny injury, and he swallowed convulsively in an attempt to wet his throat while waiting for the blood to flow. Instead, he watched as the wound quickly healed itself over.

Shaking his head and continuing to push forward, he felt the muscles of his face relax, though he felt oddly familiar churnings of hunger pangs deep within his stomach.

He kept walking, for a seeming eternity, blue eyes taking in all of his surroundings but processing nothing. The place was known to him, yet he hadn’t the slightest idea where he was. There had been light, and an impending tempest; he knew that much. And, closing his eyes, he could remember a woman, faceless, with long, flowing, colorless hair. Yes, there had been a woman, he was sure of that, but she had not awoken with him.

His brow furrowed as he tried desperately to regain himself as he walked, yet he was presented with nothing more. He would not find out tonight, and he resigned himself to the path his feet had set for him.

His wanderings brought him to a house he knew, yet could not remember, and the uncertainty and apprehension which had coiled in his stomach began to loosen as he caught sight of it. Frowning at the closed door, he looked around before settling on a large tree next to the house. Abandoning the tarp, he scaled the tree and slipped into the unlocked window that greeted him at the top.

The room was strange, but the scent was familiar, and there was still a light on next to the bed he found. There was an open closet next to him, and his nose picked up on a barely-there trace of blood. Reaching into the closet, he came back with a bundle of black leather, which he slipped into without so much as a question.

Exhaustion flowed over him in heavy waves, and he stumbled back into the corner opposite the bed, sliding down the wall and wrapping his arms around his drawn-in legs. He rested his head on his forearms and allowed his eyes to slip shut.

Completely lost, yet somehow knowing he was safe, Spike allowed himself to sleep.


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A/N: ::grin:: As if there was any doubt? I actually really like the way it turned out here. I’m sorry to bombard you all with back-story these past two chapters, but the stage needed to be set so we could get to this point.

And before anyone asks…it’s not amnesia. I’m not that horrid. Just…remember what Buffy was like when she first came back.

::bounces with excitement:: Someone made a banner for Chirality! To be more specific, Mandi made this beautiful and awesome banner! I will envy her Photoshop skills until the end of days, I really will. ::hugs:: Thank you so much!

Reviews inspire the muse and nourish the soul. And I really love them. If you are so inclined, please leave one!

VIII by yutamiyu

Buffy crossed her arms over her chest as she walked slowly back towards Revello Drive, her head lowered, eyes staring at every shuffle of her feet, penetrating through the sidewalk as though the answer to everything lay beneath the concrete.

 

Although the days were still warm, evenings in September often brought colder nights, and Buffy felt the chill most sharply on the dried tear tracks that had skated down her cheeks. At the crypt, and after she’d left it, she’d never bothered to wipe away the evidence of her mourning; and though her tears had long since dried, her hands still did not raise in attempt to restore her face to some sort of normalcy.

 

It wasn’t fair. Buffy actually huffed a pained laugh at the thought; fair was nowhere near the sentiment she wanted. Fair had nothing to do with it. Spike’s complete abandonment – his body, his scent – it wasn’t right. She was used to the men who loved her leaving, but Spike was supposed to be different. He had more than proven that when he loved, he stayed. Over a century of living with Drusilla had shown her that, but it was the two years he’d stayed with her in Sunnydale after he’d gotten the chip – much to her annoyance and, later, relief – which had solidified her belief. It did not make sense that Spike was gone.

 

She didn’t want to believe it. Since the night of the battle, Buffy had kept a closely-guarded spark of hope buried deep inside of her that Spike – in all his rebellious, anti-authoritative glory – would have found a way back. She knew him, now, knew that he would have fought tooth and nail to be resurrected. If there was any way back into the world, she knew that Spike would have found it.

 

As long as she had some small part of him to cling onto, Buffy had allowed that hope to live. But the jacket of a dead slayer was not enough. Not without his scent clinging onto the lapels, reminding her that he had until recently filled the jacket.

 

Buffy kicked idly at a fallen leaf on the sidewalk and sniffed, looking up to find that while she had been lost in her own world, she’d made the entire walk back home. Which was just as well; she wasn’t entirely sure what time it was, or exactly how long she’d spent cloaked in the darkness of what had once been Spike’s crypt, but years spent tracking demons under cover of night had allowed Buffy to fine-tune her admittedly already-primitive internal clock, and she knew that it was nearing dawn.

 

She stopped halfway up the path to the front door when something caught her eye – a large lump at the base of the tree outside her window. Buffy walked through the grass and crouched to pick up the object, running it through her fingers, feeling the rough texture. A tarp? Where on earth…?

 

Buffy shot to her feet and dashed into her house, locking the door behind her – and somewhere in the back of her mind chastising herself for not having locked the door before she ran to the graveyard. Her slayer-senses were tingling, but she felt no danger. In fact, the sensation was achingly familiar, though her mind couldn’t quite place it.

 

Still, a foreign slayer-tingle had never truly been of the good, and Buffy was on full alert as she silently made her way up the stairs, wishing in retrospect that she had a stake tucked away somewhere on her person. Maybe she was getting sloppy.

 

When she reached the landing, she realized that whatever this presence was had camped out in her room. She furrowed her brow in thought as her hand reached for the doorknob, turning it slowly so as not to make a sound. Whatever this thing was, she wanted to have the upper hand in the situation, and years of experience had taught her that the element of surprise was an invaluable tool.

 

Buffy pushed the door open with her toe, wincing at the slight creak it made in protest, and slipped into the room. The lamp on her bedside table was still on, as she’d left it, and her first diagnostic sweep of the room revealed nothing. Tentatively, she took a few steps in, and a black lump cornered near her closet caught her eye, and she turned her body and attention towards it.

 

A black lump, and a shock of platinum, huddled at the wall. And suddenly, she remembered the nature of this specific feeling. What alerted her slayer-senses enough to inform her that the presence wasn’t human – vampire, she realized, now that she was closer -- but not enough to warrant a threat.

 

No, her mind protested, outraged. This can’t be. I’m losing it.

 

Trembling, she slowly crossed the room and kneeled down next to the figure, ducking her head to try to catch a glimpse of the sleeping profile. As she moved closer, she breathed in a heartbreakingly familiar scent, one she knew more intimately than she cared to admit to anyone around her.

 

Spike.

 

She shook her head in a desperate attempt to disperse any fantasies, and awkwardly rose back to her feet. She’d been hurt enough. Whoever this vampire was, wrapped in a black leather duster, it wasn’t Spike. Spike had jumped into a raging portal months ago, and had died saving the world.

 

But she still didn’t feel this vampire to be a threat. And he still smelled of Spike.

 

The vampire before her stirred, and she suddenly found her gaze locked with a pair of blue eyes laced with confusion. The vampire hesitantly pushed himself to his feet, his eyes never leaving hers, and he pulled the duster close around himself, as much of a protective measure as an attempt to cover his nudity.

 

They stood, in a frozen moment, his eyes begging desperately for recognition, for acknowledgement, for something. Buffy simply stared, and in a moment she knew, with a clarity that defied explanation, that the vampire in front of her was the genuine article.

 

Her lips parted and her voice was quiet and rough, but she managed to utter his name. “Spike?”

 

Buffy watched as the uncertainty swimming in his eyes lifted, and understanding settled in. And she found herself on the receiving end of a look that had become so familiar – such an ingrained part of how she defined Spike – a look of adoration that she didn’t realize exactly how much she’d missed until she’d seen it again.

 

With a soft cry, Buffy threw herself into the vampire’s arms, unnoticing of the duster which fell back open as his arms rose to awkwardly embrace her. She could feel tears pricking at the back of her eyes and she immediately clamped down on the urge to release them; she had already cried once for Spike, and she did not want to do it again.

 

Not now that he was back.

 

Pulling back enough to stare into his eyes again, Buffy smiled, despite herself, and though she made no move to leave his embrace, asked, “Are you hungry? Or…did you want to get cleaned up?” She raised a hand to swipe at a trace of dirt she hadn’t before noticed that marked his cheek. Suddenly feeling a bit awkward, she tried, “I’m sure you want to get…dressed.”

 

She had expected a leer. Perhaps an eyebrow raised in suggestion. Instead, she was presented with troubled eyes and a grimace, as he released her and pulled the duster around himself again. Buffy’s mouth parted, closed, parted again as she struggled to find the words.

 

“Why don’t you take a shower,” she managed, motioning absentmindedly towards her bedroom door, “and I’ll go downstairs and fix you something to eat.” Suddenly uncomfortable under his gaze, she passed him to dig through her closet. “I don’t really have any guy’s clothes here, but I think I have a pair of sweatpants that might fit you.” Rummaging around, she finally pulled a pair of sweats out, offering them to him. “It’s…it’s not much,” she said, “but tomorrow I’ll go out and find you some clothes.”

 

If you’re still here, she thought. If I haven’t completely lost my mind, and you’re not just a figment of my imagination.

 

She all but pushed Spike, sweats still clenched between his fingers, towards the bathroom. “Dawn’s not here,” she said, “so you don’t have to worry about waking her up.” Realizing the context of the last time the vampire had seen her younger sister, Buffy quickly added, “She’s over at Janice’s for the night. She’s not…um…you know.” Again, she felt awkward around him, something she had never felt, even in the immediate aftermath of Willow’s spell.

 

She tried not to notice that he still hadn’t said a single word to her.

 

“So...I’m going to go downstairs and see if I can’t fix you some blood,” she said, suddenly desperate to have some space from him, when for so long space had been the last thing she’d wanted. “And…you come down when you’re…ready.”

 

Buffy darted down the stairs, trying to ignore the fact that the awkward feeling did not disperse with distance.

 

------------------

 

Spike let the hot water sluice down his back as he hung his head down in fatigue, bracing one palm on the shower wall in front of him. He watched as dust and dirt dripped into the tub basin, mix with clean water and fall down the drain.

 

He had awoken confused and lost, and seeing Buffy had brought him back to himself. His memories had come rushing back, and he could define himself once more, at least for the most part. He knew, though he wasn’t quite sure how, that something about him was irrevocably different, that he’d come back wrong.

 

His brow furrowed, and Spike scrubbed his free hand over his face.

 

He’d come back.

 

Logically, it made no sense. He’d jumped to save Dawn, to save Buffy, to save the world, and it had worked – he died knowing he’d succeeded at his aim. And after being rendered to dust in the tempest of the protesting portal, there had been nothing. No dimension – hell or otherwise – that he’d been able to discern; there’d simply been nothing. Like floating. He’d jumped to his death and had woken again underneath the rubble, clawing his way to the top.

 

Shaking his head to dismiss the memory, as well as the inevitable headache that resulted from too much thinking, Spike straightened and reached blindly for whatever shampoo he could find, uncaring at the moment whether he smelled particularly girly or not. It was as he massaged the suds into his scalp that the possible reason to his disorientation occurred to him.

 

He wasn’t entirely sure he was still in possession of the Initiative’s chip.

 

That he had woken up naked – and had later found his duster on the floor of Buffy’s closet – provided at least some indication that his possessions had not died with him; did the same rule apply to the chip the military had hardwired into his brain? When he’d died, had all man-made possessions fallen helplessly to the concrete below?

 

Was he now free to wreak havoc once again, no longer inhibited by a silicon conscience?

 

------------------

 

Buffy bustled around the kitchen needlessly, searching every cabinet she could find for blood she knew she didn’t have. Her actions were irrational, and she certainly knew it – she’d never kept blood at home even when Spike had been around – but she had no other outlet for her nervous energy.

 

The sound of the shower running upstairs had done little to satisfy her nerves; either her hallucination ran much more deeply than she’d originally thought, or Spike really was back. Pulling a mug from one of the cupboards, Buffy paused and chuckled, shaking her head, feeling her nerves begin to calm.

 

She wasn’t crazy. Spike was back. Hallucinations didn’t tend to be solid when they held her.

 

Accepting that Spike had truly returned broke the levee of a thousand unanswered questions that had arisen since the day she’d awoken in the hospital just after the battle. She clamped down on them as best she could, sensing that she had time now, time she’d not been afforded after their final confrontation with Glory. She would let Spike speak for himself – if he spoke to her at all.

 

Buffy poked through one of the drawers by the sink in search of a knife – as she had none at hand, Spike would receive her own blood. She was fairly certain that the chip would be set off if he drank from her directly – no matter how freely she gave her permission – so she would have to let it drip into the mug.

 

Sitting in one of the chairs surrounding the island, Buffy slid the knife across the inside of her forearm, watching the blood trickle down into the empty mug, and let her mind wander. It amazed her that at this point a year ago she would have balked at the idea of giving Spike her blood – directly from the source or by means of a self-inflicted wound. There was a trust that was required for such actions, and a year ago, Spike simply did not have it. She wasn’t entirely sure that he’d completely had it in the few weeks before the battle when they had both tacitly acknowledged that their mutual rapport had been changing to something new. A year ago, she would have let him go hungry until she had the chance to pick up some pig’s blood. And now she was sitting in her kitchen, watching blood spill from her arm into the slowly-filling mug, marveling at what changes had to have been wrought between them – and in her – to allow her to do such a thing.

 

Maybe it’s that whole love thing, her mind said, sardonically.

 

Buffy bit her lip at the thought, and pressed the knife a bit deeper into her flesh, encouraging the blood to flow. She had suspected it earlier in the summer, had all but admitted it during her conversations with Tara, but at this moment, sitting in her kitchen just before dawn, she knew. She knew she loved him, and now that he was back, he needed to know.

 

She needed to tell him, and the prospect frightened her. Spike had died loving her, but did he still?

 

The sound of the shower upstairs being turned off dragged her back to herself. Spike was coming downstairs, and she didn’t want him to see her with a knife to her flesh. She knew that he could tell the difference between pig’s blood and human blood – and the difference between human blood and slayer’s blood – but she wanted him to get at least one good swallow before he rejected her outright. If he came into the room and saw her bleeding into the mug, she was fairly certain he would refuse her.

 

She cleaned up quickly, washing off the knife blade before sticking it into the dishwasher, and tugging her shirt sleeve down over already-healing flesh. She would simply have to be careful. The mug sat, unattended, in the middle of the island. For her part, Buffy leaned against the sink in desperate nonchalance as Spike entered the kitchen, hair wet and clothed in barely-fitting sweatpants that were too big on her.

 

She smiled awkwardly as he padded across the floor, sitting in at the seat she had occupied not moments before. He did not move to take the mug; rather, his troubled eyes locked onto hers, and his mouth opened and closed in frustration. He wanted to speak, but he didn’t know how to phrase his thoughts.

 

It’s a start, she thought, shifting. Earlier he didn’t try to speak at all.

 

Buffy gestured to the half-full mug on the island, saying needlessly, “That’s all the blood I had. I hope it’s...enough. I’ll go out tomorrow and get some more when I get your clothes.” She fidgeted when he didn’t move, and gestured again. “There it is. So…drink up. It’s yummy.”

 

Spike’s mouth opened in a sigh, and when his voice emerged, it was the sweetest thing she’d heard since as long as she could remember, despite the fact that it was rough from disuse and she had to strain to hear his words.

 

“Buffy,” he said, “why am I back?”


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A/N: Thank you to everyone who has kept up with my little story. I do so love the reviews you leave (and they really do help the muse!); if you’re so inclined, please leave one!

IX by yutamiyu

 

They sat in silence in their respective places, eyes locked, for what seemed to Buffy a heart-wrenching eternity. She finally regained control of her senses – and her voice – and managed to respond to his question with one of her own.

 

“What?”

 

She flinched at the stupidity of her response, but the vampire had thrown her. She had not expected his question, and to be perfectly honest, she had assumed that his return had been by his own actions.

 

For his part, Spike sighed and looked away from her, staring at – or through – the coffee mug sitting before him. “I died,” he said, and his voice was low and cold. “I died, an’ that was supposed to be it. An’ the next thing I know, I’m wakin’ up under the wreck of that Glory bint’s tower an’ walkin’ over here.” His index finger jutted away from his body to push on the handle of the coffee mug, turning it in place ever so slightly. “I thought maybe Red did some sorta hocus pocus or somethin’.”

 

Buffy bit at her bottom lip. “I’m sorry, Spike,” she finally managed hesitantly. “I didn’t…I didn’t think about something like that. A resurrection spell, I mean. I didn’t…I didn’t ask Willow to do anything like that.” A pause, then, “And she didn’t mention anything like that, either.”

 

There were words between them, unspoken, but both heard them clearly. And she wouldn’t have looked into it on her own anyway. Not for him. Not Spike.

 

“I thought,” she continued awkwardly, “…I thought that you had something to do with it. With coming back. Like maybe you…fought your way back?” She shifted uncomfortably. “I guess I haven’t really thought it out. You’re just…you’re back. That’s all I know.”

 

Spike huffed out an ironic laugh, and curled his fingers around the handle of the mug. “Yeh,” he said, “I guess I’m back. Came back wrong, but I guess I’m mostly here.”

 

Buffy’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Wrong?”

 

He lifted the mug and let the blood inside swirl in circles before putting it back onto the table, reclaiming his fingers from their place around the handle. The tone of his voice became noticeably less cold, now laced with uncertainty. It frightened her; in the years that she had known him, Buffy had never known Spike to sound uncertain.

 

“You should know somethin’, Slayer,” he said quietly. “I don’ think that chip came back with me.” When she didn’t answer immediately – when he didn’t find himself on the business end of her stake – he continued quickly, “I mean, my duster an’ my kit didn’t come with me when I jumped, an’ I’m not rightly sure that chip did, either. Can’t say I’m torn up ‘bout it, ‘cause I’m not, but it doesn’t mean I’m gonna go tearin’ up the streets of Sunnyhell. Find I don’ particularly want to.”

 

He seemed to have run out of words, and they both sat in silence for the second time that evening. Finally, not entirely sure what she was going to say, but knowing she had to say something, Buffy spoke.

 

“Spike,” she started, “it doesn’t matter if you don’t have your chip anymore.”

 

The words were meant to placate, to assure him that she wasn’t about to stake him – not when he’d come back – but as soon as they’d left her mouth, Buffy was surprised to realize that they were the absolute truth. For so long she’d used the chip as a convenient explanation for the vampire’s behavior, steadfastly refusing to acknowledge that perhaps he’d actually changed rather than simply adapting to his new situation. His death had afforded her the time, distance, and maturity she’d needed to look at the matter objectively and admit that Spike was simply not the same vampire she’d known years ago. He had changed his behavior, begging for her to notice, and she finally had, accepting him with open arms.

 

Elated at her realization, she pushed away from her perch at the sink and walked the few steps forward to face him on the other side of the island.

 

“Look at me,” she said softly, and continued when his wary eyes finally met hers. “Before the battle, I told you that we – that I – was going to start having faith in you. To start trusting you.” At his hesitant nod, she added, “I think that…well, I think that this falls under the category of ‘faith.’ I know you’ve changed, Spike, and I don’t think all of that had to do with the chip. And I think you’ve changed enough that you won’t do that kind of stuff anymore.” A smile tugged at her lips, and she said, “I’m not about to stake you, so all I can do is trust that you’re not going to go out and make a smorgasbord out of the people of Sunnydale.”

 

Spike’s eyes widened as he accepted the truth behind her words, and Buffy placed her hand on top of his, trying to ignore the warm flush that crept up her neck as she added, “So I wouldn’t call your sudden lack of chip coming back wrong. I’d just say that you came back Spike.”

 

He held her eyes a moment longer before dropping his gaze to their hands and slowly turning his under hers, his sight locked on the two of them resting palm to palm.

 

“Don’t think that’s what’s wrong,” he said, and the tone of his voice had gone from uncertainty to exhaustion. “Jus’ thought you needed to know.” His fingers twitched under hers in an accidental caress too deliberate to be anything but. “I don’t rightly know what’s wrong,” he continued, “but I know somethin’s not right.” He shook his head in frustration at his lack of words. “Don’t know how to explain it. I jus’…I jus’ feel it.”

 

Buffy nodded, unaware of her index finger running soothingly across his wrist as she contemplated his words. The motions stopped when she began to speak. “Maybe we could have Willow do a spell?” When he looked up at her with a grimace, she added, “I mean, some sort of…diagnosing spell? Go in there and see what’s wrong, try and fix it…like she did with me?”

 

“I dunno, Buffy,” he replied. “Don’t much care for magic an’ the like. Always consequences.”

 

Biting at her lip, Buffy tried another tactic. “Could you at least talk to her about it? She’s done it before, and it worked out fine.” Removing her hand from the top of Spike’s, she twirled in a small circle in front of him, grinning. “I’m living proof.” Nodding decisively, she added, “I know she can help you, Spike. I promise she’s not going to screw it up. She’s really good, you know.”

 

Seeing her beatific and hopeful face, Spike couldn’t help but feel his lips tug into a smile, and he shook his head in defeat. “All right,” he conceded, “give Red a call an’ we’ll see how much of a mistake I’ve jus’ made.”

 

Buffy shook her head in turn, but the smile didn’t fade from her lips. “It’s way too early,” she replied, and after a moment her lips tugged into a contemplative frown. “Or late,” she amended, before shrugging. “One of the two. She’s still in bed, and I don’t really want to deal with grumpy and tired Willow. Probably not good for the whole magic thing, either. And besides,” she added pointedly, “you still haven’t had your dinner. Or...breakfast. Or whatever you want to call it.”

 

And just like that, their easy camaraderie was broken, and Buffy felt awkward around him again. For some reason, she found she couldn’t be in the same room with the vampire while he drank from a mug half-full of her blood.

 

“So,” she managed, already walking away from him and towards the door, “you just go ahead and have your…whatever meal it is, and I’m going to go close the curtains in the living room. So you don’t go all dusty.” She slipped out of the kitchen before he could say anything in protest.

 

------------------

 

Spike watched in confusion as Buffy hurried out of the kitchen. He hadn’t the slightest idea what had transpired in the past few minutes that would have changed her behavior so dramatically. In the span of little time at all, she had gone from laid back – and touching him; that certainly had not gone unnoticed – to nervous and fidgety.

 

And she was nervous. Spike knew it wasn’t because he’d told her that the chip was no longer hardwired into his brain – there had been no doubt in his mind that she would have staked him on the spot if she’d thought he would be a danger to her or anyone else around her. And it wasn’t because of his unannounced – and unexpected – return; she had seen genuinely happy that he was back, which was in and of itself a surprise to him. No, there was something else bothering her, and he wanted to know what.

 

His stomach rumbled in a reminder that it had not been fed since he’d woken up beneath the rubble, and Spike picked up the mug, mocking a salute towards the sky before tilting his head back and letting the blood flow down his throat in one large gulp.

 

And he knew why Buffy had suddenly been so nervous around him.

 

Eyes wide in a combination of fury and awe, Spike dropped the mug back onto the island, pushing himself out of his chair and storming into the adjacent living room, eyes searching for Buffy and finding her pulling away from one of the windows, having just closed the last set of curtains.

 

Her gaze found his and she tilted her head in inquiry as he rushed towards her. “Spike?”

 

An arm shot out to grab hers, pushing the sleeve up and encountering nothing but smooth, unmarred flesh. Undeterred, Spike grabbed her other arm and repeated the action, finding the almost-healed scar she’d inflicted on the underside of her forearm earlier that night. He stared at it for several long seconds, transfixed, before running his thumb over the scar’s length in a light and hesitant touch.

 

“Tell me why, Buffy,” he demanded, his voice strong and insistent. “Why did you do this?”

 

Buffy squirmed, but made no move to free her arm from his grasp. “I didn’t have any blood in the house,” she replied lamely, hoping he would accept her answer, and knowing he wouldn’t.

 

“I could’ve waited,” he replied, his gaze finding hers and locking. “You didn’t need to do this…why did you do it?”

 

Buffy drew a breath, realizing that Spike had inadvertently given her an in. She could confess the love that had been screaming to be verbalized since its actualization earlier that evening. The situation was not how she imagined – she had wanted him to say the words to her again, and she would respond in kind – but Buffy could settle, and improvise.

 

“Because,” she replied, “I--” Love you. Want you. Need you. “–thought you deserved it.” She flinched at her cowardice, and the action did not go unnoticed by the vampire still holding onto her arm. Quickly backpedaling to explain, she added, “Spike, you…died. For Dawn. For me. To stop an apocalypse, although I don’t really think you’re going to ‘fess up to that one. And now you’re back, and you were…you were so strange upstairs, and you think there’s something wrong with you now, and maybe I thought my blood could help.” A pause, then, “It’s the least I can do. I just…well, not like it’s a huge thing anymore, but I kinda thought that your chip wouldn’t…y’know, let you bite me. But now that you’re all without the chip…” She faltered, and shrugged nervously.

 

“Don’t like it when you get hurt,” Spike murmured quietly, releasing her arm and letting it fall back to her side. “But I…thanks,” he managed awkwardly.

 

The two stood in an uncomfortable silence before Buffy ventured, “The sun’s up, and I have some errands and stuff to do…I’m sure you’re tired, right?”

 

Spike ran a hand across the back of his neck and let it drop back down. “Could use a kip, actually,” he confessed. “Don’ suppose you’d let me use that couch of yours. Promise not to mess it up.”

 

Buffy contemplated, and shook her head. “Not going to put you on a couch,” she responded firmly, pushing him towards the stairs. “Go upstairs and…use my room.”

 

Spike spun around quickly, causing her to start in alarm. Awe and confusion warred in his eyes and he said, “Couch is good enough for me, pet.”

 

Buffy nearly fainted. Pet. Pet. Never thought I’d be so happy to hear him call me that again. Shaking off the swoonage – and forcing herself back into serious-mode – she replied, “Spike, you’ve just come back. The only sleep you’ve gotten was sitting against my wall, which can’t be comfortable…and forgive me if maybe I want to make sure you’re comfortable your first night back.” The confession splashed red across her neck – and thankfully didn’t reach her cheeks – but she prayed that he would not notice, regardless. She pushed him towards the stairs again, this time more insistently. “Go. It’s okay, really. It’s not like I’m using it…errands, remember?”

 

He tilted a finger under her chin to make sure she looked at him, and asked, “You’re sure?”

 

She nodded – an awkward movement with his finger still under her chin – and she saw his answering acceptance in his eyes. Spike pulled back from her and began to walk up the stairs; Buffy’s voice stopped him as he reached the landing.

 

“Spike?”

 

He turned to face her across the valley of stairs.

 

Buffy’s voice became quieter, almost embarrassed. “I…I don’t know what it was like…where you were,” she said, “but for what it’s worth…I’m really glad you’re back. I…I missed you.”

 

Shock dueled with astonishment in his eyes, and Spike simply stood in the hallway, stunned. Finally, he pulled back to himself and replied, “Missed you too, pet.”

 

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A/N: I got this chapter written REALLY quickly. I’m still not entirely sure how. More plot coming up in the next chapter, involving Willow and her diagnostic spell.

 

Reviews? Love them, and they inspire the muse. If you are so inclined, please leave one!

X by yutamiyu

Willow sighed as she hung up the phone resting on the hall table and leaned against the wall, staring at her feet, her eyes narrowed in thought.

 

Buffy’s phone call had been entirely unexpected, given that it was just shy of eight in the morning; unless there was an apocalypse looming overhead, Buffy had always made it a point never to call before ten. Buffy’s excited voice had been too quick for her to make out any words, and Willow had barely been able to interject with a “hang on a second,” to allow her to punch the hold button and slip out of bed into the hallway, wanting Tara to still get a few hours of sleep.

 

The phone conversation in the hallway had been brief but unnerving. Spike had returned to Sunnydale. Spike, who was supposed to be very much with the dead and gone, had come back, and was currently residing in the Summers’ home. Spike was back, and apparently he’d come back wrong.

 

She’d done the spell before, of course; she hadn’t forgotten her foray into Buffy’s mind some months before. The theory was the same – and so was the practice – but Willow held a bit of apprehension at the thought of actually performing the spell. According to Buffy, Spike was far from the catatonic state that Buffy had been in when she’d first performed the spell; Spike could consciously choose to harm her while she was in his mind.

 

Pausing in thought, Willow shook her head with a huff of disbelief. Knee-jerk reaction. It wasn’t going to happen. If Buffy had thought for an instant that Spike would do something like that, she wouldn’t have suggested the spell. And even if Spike had somehow convinced Buffy otherwise, there was still the chip. That could still count for something if she wasn’t actually in her body. And somehow, Willow had known this, for before she’d hung up the phone she’d told Buffy to bring Spike to the Magic Box after it had closed so that she could perform the spell.

 

And leaning against the wall in the hallway of the apartment she shared with Tara, Willow’s mind raced with the possibility of other spells.

 

It hadn’t occurred to her that the dead – even the undead – could be raised. Years of knowing Buffy had proven to Willow that her world view needed to be shifted to live in the shades of gray, but her view on death had consistently stayed in the realm of black and white. A person died, or a vampire dusted, and that was simply it. There was no coming back.

 

Willow blinked and pursed her lips momentarily as a distant memory prodded at her mind. Angel. Angel had been an exception; Buffy had sent him to hell, and he’d come back. They had always written Angel off as the exception to the rule – the Powers That Be had some sort of plans for him, and had restored him after his death.

 

Willow shifted in place. It obviously hadn’t occurred to Buffy that the Powers might have had plans for Spike as well, but it seemed to her that the idea held little merit. Angel was a cursed vampire on the path of redemption, and Spike was just…Spike.

 

So she hadn’t thought of the idea of raising Spike after he’d jumped. But it annoyed her in retrospect that she hadn’t at least considered the idea. She had scores of magic books at her disposal, and probably could have found a spell if she’d only known to look. Perhaps they would have been in the more complex spell books she’d seen shelved in some dusty corner of the Magic Box, but she might have found them eventually. And despite the fact that she had no idea exactly how much power one would have to possess in order to raise the dead – maybe even more so to raise the undead – she knew undeniably that she would have been able to pull it off. And the idea excited her.

 

She was surprised by the sudden realization that she was angry at the Powers. Not for bringing Spike back, but for not giving her the chance to do it herself.

 

She hadn’t felt her magic power surge in months, and she was beginning to feel antsy that she wasn’t progressing as she thought she should. Resurrecting a vampire would have achieved that aspiration nicely.

 

Pushing away from the wall, Willow walked down the hallway and slid back into bed, pulling Tara into her arms and pressing a light kiss to her forehead, knowing that she would not find sleep again this morning, but trying regardless.

 

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Sunlight poured through the open door as Buffy simply stood, gazing at the sight of the undisturbed upper level of the crypt.

 

Well, she thought wryly, stepping through the door, for the most part. Her eyes fell on the path her fingers had traced through the dust that had collected on top of the television – had it really only been last night?

 

Buffy was somewhat amazed at the changes the mere passing of a night could produce. Mere hours ago, she’d sat in the lower level, crying for a man she’d thought lost to her, in a crypt that had felt harsh and unwelcoming, abandoned. Those feelings had fled from the sunlight, and the crypt felt like it could be inviting once again, once surfaces were cleaned and candles were lit. There was hope here, and she hadn’t realized just how long it had been missing.

 

Buffy shifted the strap of the empty duffel off of her shoulder and let the bag fall to the ground, reaching around in her pockets for the lighter she’d bought earlier that morning. As she looked around for a suitably large candle to light, Buffy allowed her mind to wander over the events of the morning.

 

She’d stayed away longer than she’d needed to. All she’d planned on doing was to run to the butcher to load up on blood for her vampire houseguest, but she’d been waylaid by the supermarket next to the butcher, and had bought half a cart of unnecessary food; impulse buys to help dissuade the underlying nervousness that pervaded every last one of her actions.

 

As a last minute scramble for normalcy – relatively speaking – she’d awkwardly asked the clerk for a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, pointing towards the familiar box of Spike’s brand. The girl had raised an eyebrow and looked her over before shrugging and pulling the box down from the shelf before grabbing a lighter from the small display at the side of the register and adding both to the tab. The pack of cigarettes had found a home in Buffy’s left jeans pocket; the lighter in her right.

 

Buffy had returned back to Revello Drive loaded with unnecessary groceries – and if she’d ventured to look at what she’d actually purchased, she would not have been surprised to find a vast array of junk food – and more than enough blood to get Spike through the week. The blood had gone directly into the fridge; the bags of groceries had found a temporary home on the counter before Buffy crept upstairs and into her room.

 

Her purpose had started out innocently enough – she needed a bag for the clothes she was going to retrieve from the crypt. That mission had altered, slightly, when her eyes fell upon Spike sprawled across the mattress, sheets riding low on his hips, one arm flung over the side of the bed, loosing needless deep breaths every now and again. Buffy leaned against the doorframe, watching him sleep, a part of her amazed at just how tired he must have been given that her presence had yet to wake him – she’d always known Spike’s senses to be top-notch.

 

Maybe I just don’t register as a threat.

 

The thought thrilled her; aside from a few touches downstairs, Spike had yet to actually confirm that he’d come back from wherever he’d been still in love with her. That she didn’t know for sure that he would reciprocate in kind made her extremely wary to tell him of her own feelings – but at this moment, seeing him spread out across her bed like he’d always been there, Buffy tapped into some previously unknown fount of courage deep inside of her, and found that she could – and would – tell him.

 

Tonight, she decided, creeping across to her closet for the small duffel bag she kept there. Before Willow casts her diagnostic spell. I’ll tell him tonight.

 

She hadn’t been able to resist running a feather-light touch across his cheek before leaving her room, nor had she been able to stop herself from tucking an errant curl away from his face.

 

As she’d walked out of the house into the bright sunlight and headed towards Spike’s crypt, she had been washed over with a relieved feeling – as though a weight had been lifted, but no words had actually been said. This was right, she’d realized. Telling him sooner, rather than later, and for some unknown reason to her it was important that he knew as soon as possible.

 

Buffy shifted her thumb off of the lighter and tucked it back into her pocket, picking up the large pillar candle from its dusty ledge and grasping it carefully in one hand, walking back across the crypt to the abandoned duffel bag and hooking her fingers under the carrying straps. She crossed to the open trapdoor – she hadn’t realized she’d left it open the night before in her haste to leave the cold and desolate crypt – and dropped the empty bag to the ground below, somehow managing to climb carefully down the ladder with only one free hand.

 

She did not know the layout of the lower level of Spike’s crypt as well as she knew the top portion – she hadn’t particularly cared to learn the lay of the land the only time she’d been down here, chained up by a love-struck and ranting Spike – and the first several minutes was spent walking around aimlessly, lighting candles as she stumbled upon them. Should have brought a flashlight, she chided herself, but continued to light candles, regardless.

 

By the time she’d decided that she’d lit enough candles – and was surprised to find even more that she’d passed by – a low light had been cast on the entirety of the area, and she was able to walk around and pluck up the clothes that had been scattered around the room. She was surprised to find that the entirety of Spike’s wardrobe – from what she could discern – fit into the small duffel she’d brought with her. Three pairs of jeans and a small assortment of shirts, as well as a spare pair of boots she’d found shoved underneath the bed. It would simply have to do.

 

Shirtless is a good option, too, her mind supplied, and Buffy forced herself to forget about the half-clothed vampire currently laying in her bed. There would be time enough for that later, after she’d confessed her feelings and after Willow had cast her spell. Fantasies could merge into reality, and that suited her just fine. It wasn’t long until dark, and she could wait.

 

Buffy blew out the candles in the lower level of the crypt, cloaking it in darkness before she hefted the duffel back over her shoulder and climbed up the ladder, intent on going home and keeping herself busy in the vain hope of keeping the image of the sleeping vampire out of her mind.

 

------------------

 

They walked together in the early evening, side-by-side, quietly but not entirely uncomfortably. Buffy found herself wringing her hands together nervously more than once, and had to fight to keep her arms down at her side, swinging with every step she took; stilted, but not entirely awkward. She counted it as a small victory.

 

A small part of her had also expected Spike to recognize her fidgeting and to grasp one of her hands in his, to tell her that everything was going to be okay. But he did not. She had ventured several gazes up at his face, and it was evident that the vampire was lost in his own thoughts.

 

He hadn’t said a word, and he didn’t have to. It was more than obvious to Buffy that he was nervous about the spell. And somehow, she could almost hear the monologue rushing through his mind. He was worried about what changes could be wrought after the results of Willow’s spell were made known.

 

After all, they still didn’t know exactly why he’d come back.

 

Biting at her bottom lip, Buffy slipped her hand into his, squeezing when it tensed in surprise. She glanced over at his confused face, and whispered, “It’s going to be okay.”

 

They continued walking, hand in hand, and she nearly cried out in joy when he squeezed her hand in response, tightening his grip around her hand.

 

For all her newfound courage, however, when they’d actually reached the door of the Magic Box, Buffy found herself struggling for words. When they stopped just outside of the door, she met his confused gaze with averted eyes and the light caress of her thumb across the back of his hand.

 

“Spike,” she began hesitantly, and breathed deeply, preparing herself for whatever might happen. “I…there’s something I need you to know before we go inside.” She squeezed at his fingers, wishing in vain that he could read between the lines, could offer her exactly what she needed to make this easier. “I…I told myself that I would…tell you. Before we went inside. To…try and prove to you that no matter what Willow says, if you really have come back wrong…that it doesn’t matter.”

 

A rush of bravery charged in from she did not know where, and she pulled him forward, rising up on her toes to press her lips to his. Her hand still clasped firmly to his, she ran the other down his cheek, around his neck, let it tangle in the fine hairs at his neck. He wrapped a hesitant and slack arm around her back, providing little more than a barrier in case she happened to fall.

 

It lacked the passion, the force that she’d always associated with Spike. But she couldn’t back down, not when she’d come this far. Maneuvering their kiss to an end, Buffy retreated enough to whisper against his lips, “I love you, Spike.”

 

She pulled back to look into his eyes, to gauge exactly what effect her confession had on him. To give him the opportunity to see the veracity in her own eyes, to see the smile tugging at her lips.

 

She had expected to see the awe. The underlying lust. And in this he did not disappoint her.

 

But she hadn’t expected to see the pain.

 

“No, Buffy,” he replied, his voice tight and harsh, pulling his hand from hers. “You don’t.”

 

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A/N: Please don’t hate me.

 

I need to give credit where credit is due. A huge thanks to Holly for helping me hash out the Willow scene, of which I’m still not particularly fond, and to Mandi, who made another beautiful banner that I don’t think I’ll reveal until after the next chapter or two.

 

I adore the reviews you all leave, and it really does feed the muse. If you’re so inclined, please leave one!

XI by yutamiyu
She could still recall the feeling of bitter tears drying on hardened cheeks as she thrust the sword through Angel’s body. Could still remember the ache of a tortured heart abandoned one too many times. Could easily summon the grief felt for a mother too early dead and buried.

But to be denied by the man who was supposed to love her, Buffy had never felt such despair.

Spike patted down the pockets of his duster, searching for the familiar weight of his cigarettes with no real hope of finding any – it had apparently been a while, from what he could gather, but he couldn’t remember having any in the duster before going into battle – and his brow furrowed in confusion when he pulled out an unopened pack and a cheap lighter. His eyes not leaving the form of the stunned slayer standing before him, he smacked the pack of cigarettes against the heel of his hand a few times before pulling off the cellophane wrapper and tossing it carelessly onto the ground, drawing out a cigarette from the middle and lighting it.

It was when he noisily blew out the smoke from his first puff that she seemed to come back to herself, and eyes hazed over with shock filled instead with confusion and hurt.

“I thought…I thought you would be happy,” she said quietly. Then, louder, almost defiantly, “I thought you loved me.”

Spike tucked the lighter and cigarettes back into his pocket before inhaling another cloud of smoke and sighing it out. “I do love you, Buffy,” he replied. “That hasn’t changed. Not even durin’ my stint of bein’ actually dead instead of jus’ undead.”

Buffy watched him silently as he finished half of the cigarette before finally venturing, “Then why don’t you think I love you?”

Spike did not respond, choosing instead to take another long, slow drag off of his cigarette before dropping the rest to the ground and stubbing out the ember with the toe of his boot and blowing the smoke into the air above his head.

He didn’t want to answer her. Didn’t want to subject himself to that kind of vulnerability, didn’t want to give her the power to crush him thoroughly. But then, he reminded himself wryly, that had already happened when he’d fallen in love with her, and when he’d let her know it. And, ironically, part of the reason was because he didn’t want to hurt her. Which, if her posture and the catch in her voice was any indication, he was already doing a pretty piss-poor job of avoiding. So he spoke.

“I want to,” he finally replied, his eyes fixated on the few wisps of smoke creeping from the cigarette butt on the pavement. “God, Buffy, you have no idea how much. But I’ve been through this before, with Dru, and I don’t…want it to happen again.” He shifted in place, gaze still locked on the cigarette butt. “With Dru, it was…I thought I loved her. An’ I think I did, in the very beginnin’. But after a while I think it was jus’ gratitude for sirin’ me, for givin’ me more of a life while dead than I ever had alive.” The side of his mouth drew into a self-deprecating smirk. “An’ I know she never really loved me to begin with,” he added, as more of an aside, “an’ I jus’ don’t want to go through that again.”

Buffy took a hesitant step towards him. “I don’t understand,” she replied, the words tightening in her throat. “You think I’m like Drusilla?” Another step. “Spike, I…do you think I’m just going to use you? I’m not like that.”

He finally looked up at her, and for the span of a heartbeat Buffy considered it to be a small victory. When she saw nothing but resignation in his eyes, she quickly changed her opinion, wishing he’d never looked up at all.

“Not sayin’ that, pet,” he responded. “Sayin’ you’re like me. Confusin’ gratitude with love. An’ I can’t…I can’t be that way. Not with you, Buffy…I can’t pretend you love me when you don’t, an’ I can’t let you think you love me when you don’t. I jus’…I can’t.”

This was a Spike she had never seen. For all of his posturing, for all of his cocky smirks and pet names and well-timed quips, she had never seen him like this. Even after Glory had nearly killed him, and he’d been vulnerable and recuperating in his crypt, he’d always been self-assured. That whatever he was doing, he was within his self-given right to do so, convinced so utterly that his way was the best – and only – way to go. This Spike – who presented himself as something other than invulnerable when it was clear that he was anything but – was a Spike she did not know, and a Spike she wasn’t certain how to handle, to approach.

Not entirely certain what she was going to say, but knowing she had to say something, anything, Buffy opened her mouth in an effort to refute his claims when she was stopped by the sound of approaching footfalls and the sight of brilliant red flashing in the streetlamp down the block. She wasn’t certain if Willow had the worst timing in the world or the most impeccable.

“Spike,” she managed, “this conversation isn’t over. We’re not done here.” It wasn’t a threat, simply a statement of fact. She would try again, using the same words, hoping that maybe the next time they would take. Reaching her hand out to squeeze his own in reassurance, she forced herself to stop just as her touch ghosted his. Now was not the time for idle touches, and not only because they had a spell to perform.

------------------

As she idly fluttered about the training room of the Magic Box, pushing gym mats and sparring dummies against the wall, Willow spent the majority of her mental resources wishing she was somewhere else. Namely, out of the line of fire.

When she’d approached Buffy and the recently-back-to-unlife Spike, she’d known immediately that she’d walked into something awkward. Buffy’s eyes had been – and were still – a disconcerting mixture of anger, disappointment and hurt. Spike had been perhaps more unnerving – he was quieter than she’d ever known him to be. Willow had arrived, smiled, stammered awkwardly that she was glad he’d returned, and hugged him, and through all of it he hadn’t said a word. Not one; not even a grunt of acknowledgement.

The situation did not change once they’d entered the Magic Box and she explained the spell she was going to use. Matters had not been helped much by the fact that Willow continued to channel her awkward and stammering high-school self.

“At first,” she said, “I thought I’d use the same spell I used on Buffy, a-and kind of slip inside your mind, you know?” Her eyes darted between the slayer and vampire, both of whom were unresponsive. “But then I realized that…you know, you’re all here. Buffy was kind of all with the not-being-there mentally. So I’m going to start off with a kind of scan,” she continued.

Buffy was the first of two to exhibit any kind of responsiveness – Willow would have put her money on Spike – as she asked, “You mean, you’re going to read his aura? Because I thought that was kind of Tara’s thing.”

Willow shook her head as she crouched and dropped to her knees, one hand bracing herself as she pulled a large piece of chalk from the bag at her side and began to draw an elaborate pentagram on the floor.

“Not exactly like that,” she replied as she drew. “I-I mean, yeah, it’s kind of like that, but more of a…magical x-ray,” she tried, scrunching up her nose as she tried to think of a proper analogy. “If there’s something wrong, the spell will kind of point it out to me.” Willow paused, shrugged, and nodded emphatically. “Like an x-ray.” Her brow furrowed as she tucked the chalk back into her bag. “Or, I guess it’s more like an MRI,” she mused.

Buffy shook her head. “Whatever it is. So, how does this work, exactly?”

Willow pushed herself to her feet and brushed the chalk powder from her hands. “It’s really simple. Basically, he just stands there and…well, I’ll look kind of weird, but I just stare at him, and the spell works itself.” She paused, and added, “I’d be chanting the spell in my head, you know.”

Buffy lifted her chin towards the pentagram that covered the majority of the uncovered space on the training room floor. “What’s this for?” she asked. It wasn’t as though she didn’t trust her friend; Buffy was simply taking no chances with Spike. Not after he’d come back. Not after she told him she loved him.

Willow used the tip of her shoe to toe the small canvas bag to the side in an attempt to cover her nervousness. “It’s…it’s just in case,” she replied.

The corners of Buffy’s mouth pulled into a small frown. “‘Just in case’?” she asked. “Wills, is this spell dangerous?”

Willow offered her palms in supplication, fervently denying Buffy’s claim before adding, “It’s just…well…” She paused, and her eyes darted to the still-unresponsive vampire, who seemed to be staring directly through the chalk pentagram on the floor. “We don’t know why he’s back, right?” At Buffy’s nod, she continued, “If it’s something really bad, like apocalypse-y, then the symbols will help. Think of it as like…” She sought another analogy. “Um…something hospital-y.”

Buffy shook her head again. “I get it, Willow,” she replied. Then, habitually lowering her voice despite knowing that Spike’s vampire hearing would pick up every word, she added, “I just don’t want anything bad to happen, you know?”

Willow smiled – albeit a bit uneasily – at her friend. “I know,” she responded. “Don’t worry. This spell’s a piece of cake compared to others I’ve done.” Her eyes brightened. “Like, there was this one I tried about a month ago--”

“Great, Willow,” Buffy interrupted. “You can tell me about it later. Right now…?”

“Oh!” the witch exclaimed, a bit flustered. “Right.” She walked over to Spike, who was still contemplating forces unknown lying beyond the chalk pentagram, and asked, “Are you ready?”

He jerked into awareness, his eyes darting between her and Buffy and back again, before finally nodding. “Ready as I’ll ever be, Red.” He spread his arms – in confusion, perhaps, or possibly surrender – and asked, “What do you need me to do?”

Willow’s lips – which had quirked into a small smile when he’d called her “Red” again – quickly pulled into a moue of concentration as her eyes scanned the training room. Finally settling on something, she pointed and answered, “I need you to stand against that wall.”

While in retrospect the diagnostic scan had probably taken no longer than two or three minutes, they were the longest minutes of Buffy’s life – and, if pressed, Spike would have answered the same. While he had always enjoyed being the center of attention, especially where women were concerned, there was something incredibly disconcerting about standing motionless against a cold wall while a red-haired witch ran critical and too-focused eyes over his body.

However, the relief he felt when Willow looked up into his eyes was short-lived as he saw the panic in her wide-eyed gaze before she took a hesitant step back and turned on her heel to march into the main area of the Magic Box.

Sparing a quick glance at Spike, Buffy jogged after her friend, trailing at the witch’s heels as she gathered various candles and herbs from the shelves, shoving them into the slayer’s arms and murmuring to herself.

“Birch bark,” Willow said absently, and dropped a small bundle into Buffy’s arms. “And maybe belladonna could help…and it can’t be possible, right?” A pause, and Willow moved to another shelf. “Lavender, surely…”

Buffy coughed in attempt to get her friend’s attention; it did not work. Worried, and still clutching onto the assortment of items in her arms as though Spike’s very existence depended on it – and with the way Willow was acting, who was to say that it didn’t? – she opened her mouth to demand what Willow’s spell had found.

Spike beat her to it. Storming out of the training room and towards the witch, seemingly every bit the Spike he’d been before he’d jumped from the tower, Spike grabbed Willow roughly by the shoulders and spun her to face him.

“Tell me what you saw, Red,” he demanded, and his voice was a low growl, covering his inherent worry.

Willow’s lips tugged into a hesitant smile, then a confused pout, and back again, as though she wasn’t entirely certain what the correct emotion would be in a situation such as Spike’s.

“Well,” she responded, swallowing against her suddenly-dry throat, “for starters, you came back with a soul.”

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A/N: Yep. Some of you already guessed it. But did this come as a surprise to anyone? Sorry for the delay in posting, but I was working on a fluffy one-shot called “Of Love, Balloons, and Birthday Cake” (which is up on the archive, if you haven’t read it, yet!) and am actually outlining another one-shot at the moment.

I’m actually kind of disappointed with this chapter, and can only promise (and hope) that the next one will be better.

Thank you to all of my wonderful readers. I do love your reviews, and they really do inspire the muse, so if you are so inclined I do hope you leave one!
XII by yutamiyu
Author's Notes:
The fallout, a redux with Spike and Buffy, and Willow's journey into Spike's mind.
In retrospect, the fallout had been better than she’d expected.

Buffy’s reaction had been predictable. She’d gaped a few moments before stammering out, “Spike…has a soul?”

Spike’s response had been unexpected. Willow had expected him to explode in an angered fury, taking out half of the shop before storming through the door and hiding under the cloak of night. Instead, he had reverted to his state before the spell, quiet and distant, and had walked wordlessly back into the training room, pushing the door closed behind him with the toe of his boot.

And so Willow found herself surprisingly torn between wanting to talk to Buffy and wanting to talk to Spike. It was decided for her when Buffy managed to regain control of herself enough to speak coherently.

“Willow…are you sure?”

Fussing around with another shelf full of magic ingredients, looking for anything that would facilitate the spell she had in mind, and much more composed than she’d been minutes earlier, Willow replied, “I’m sure, Buffy. I saw it.” Picking up the lavender she’d sought earlier and placing it in Buffy’s arms, she breathed, “It was…it was beautiful.” Willow closed her eyes in remembrance. “It was beautiful,” she reaffirmed, “and it was warm. Bright.”

Buffy shifted the supplies in her arms, and the noise prompted the red-haired girl to open her eyes again. Spike had a soul? Had he been cursed in whatever hell dimension he’d been in – how long had he even been gone? Longer than it had been in this dimension? Exactly how much had been inflicted upon such a man?

“Willow,” she said lowly, “what else did you find?”

The witch sighed and crossed to one of the bookshelves, searching intently for a specific tome. “I’m not exactly sure,” she confessed, “but there’s some sort of magic power in him.” For the briefest of instances, Willow’s eyes adopted a far-away look and her body flinched in a shiver. Coming back to herself, she added, “It’s strong, Buffy. I don’t know how strong exactly, but…it shouldn’t be there.” Continuing her perusal of the shelves, she said, “I lied about the symbols I drew on the floor. I didn’t want to worry you. I sensed the power almost immediately, and I just wanted to be…prepared. Just in case something…happened.” She followed up quickly with, “But nothing did.”

Buffy’s brow furrowed in thought as she idly ran a fingertip along the rough surface of the lavender. “Wills,” she started slowly, “is Spike’s soul like Angel’s? Maybe that power is what’s keeping the soul in.”

Willow shook her head and pulled the sought-after book off of the shelf, clutching it to her chest. “It’s not the same,” she replied. “Spike’s soul is…well, anchored, I guess is the word. Angel’s was always kind of unstable, because that was part of the curse. Spike’s soul is solid…like he’d never lost it at all.”

Buffy set the load in her arms onto the table and rested her hands on her hips. Silent in contemplation, she finally parted her lips and said, “But that doesn’t make sense. We know he didn’t have a soul before he…before, so how could he come back with one if it wasn’t a curse?”

Willow bit at her bottom lip and her fingers clutched the book a bit tighter as she offered, “Maybe he got it himself.”

Buffy frowned at the suggestion. “He voluntarily got a soul while he was suffering in a hell dimension? That doesn’t really fit.”

Willow’s answer was quiet and low. “Maybe…maybe he wasn’t in Hell.”

The two girls stood silently, regarding each other for the span of several long moments. Finally, Buffy shifted nervously and picked up the ingredients on the table, cocking her head towards the training room and saying, “He’s been in there for a while…we should probably get moving.”

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He wasn’t entirely attentive when Willow digressed into the magical theory that supported what she wanted to do. The only thing in his mind was a haphazard mantra of came back wrong came back wrong.

His mind was stuck on the soul. He came back with a soul, like fucking Angel, and what angered him wasn’t so much the actual presence of the soul, but rather the fact that he didn’t know how it had gotten there. He was fairly certain that Buffy had a theory, if the troubled glances she sent his way when she thought he wasn’t looking were any indication.

He came back with a soul, but he also came back with – if he understood Red correctly – some sort of magical force built in. It was no secret that Spike thoroughly disliked magic, and he agreed completely with Willow’s suggestion to remove it from his system. Willow used some sort of medical analogy to describe the process, but he’d checked out again at that point, opting instead to light a cigarette and puff slowly, trying to organize his thoughts. Surprisingly, Buffy had not voiced a single word of complaint, instead pushing the door open wide and cracking one of the windows.

“Spike?”

Willow’s voice pulled him from himself and he turned his attention back to her, dropping the long-dead cigarette butt to the ground. Shoving his hands inside the pockets of his duster, Spike allowed his eyes to flit briefly over to Buffy – who was staring at him worriedly, biting inattentively at the corner of her thumbnail – before meeting the witch’s once again, and he nodded.

“Do what you have to, Red. Don’ particularly like usin’ magic to begin with, but I don’ want any mojo bouncin’ round in my noggin.” He shook his head briefly in remembrance of a chip implanted an entire lifetime ago. “So the way I see it, it’s the lesser of two evils.”

“Thanks ever so,” Willow muttered as her mouth quirked briefly into a wry grin. The moment quickly passed, and Willow turned away from the vampire to fuss around with the ingredients she’d gathered in the shop, placing them at various points on the chalk symbols on the floor and absentmindedly mumbling instructions and reminders to herself.

Spike’s gaze slid once again to the surprisingly-docile slayer on the opposite end of the room, and he watched silently as her own gaze, filled with guilt at having been caught staring, fell quickly to the floor, attempting to take an interest in the chalk scribblings she found there. Loosing a small sigh, Spike pushed off from the wall and walked over to her, hoping – even in the midst of his own crisis – to try and alleviate some of the pain he could feel radiating from her tiny form.

That practice certainly hadn’t died with him.

“It’s gonna be all right, you know,” he said quietly as he stood in front of her. “An’ weren’t you the one tryin’ to convince me this mornin’ that Red’s a crack-shot witch?” Her eyes still refused to move from the floor, and he added, “Way I see it, Willow’s jus’ gonna light a few herbs, chant some Latin nonsense an’ provide me with a clean bill of health so I can go back to my crypt and cozy down until tomorrow night.”

She did look at him, then, and flinched when his words registered. She opened her mouth to speak, and paused before she could; given the train wreck of a conversation they’d had outside of the Magic Box, she would have to choose her own words very carefully. The last thing she wanted now was to drive him away.

So Buffy reverted to a universally tried-and-true standard: bribery.

“Maybe you should just stay at my place until tomorrow,” she replied, trying desperately to appear nonchalant, and ruining it completely by following up with one long ramble. “I mean, I know for a fact that your crypt’s still empty, because I kept an eye on it all this summer, but there can’t be any blood left over in it, and even if there was, it’s probably bad by now, and I just picked up a whole bunch of blood for you when I went out this morning and it’s just sitting in my fridge and you’re the only one who drinks it and you wouldn’t want it to just go to waste, would you?”

Nice one, Buffy, her mind chided. Show him how psychotic you can be. That’s the way to keep him around. Taking a deep breath to gather herself back together, she tried again.

“I have blood,” she repeated, “and Mom’s…the guest room is open, and I know that Dawn would really want to see you.” If her eyes were overtly pleading with him to agree with her, she didn’t care.

Allowing himself one more indulgent look at the slayer before him, Spike finally nodded. “All right, Buffy. I’ll stay the night, if you’re sure.”

Buffy nodded in turn. “I am.” She smiled at him, and some of the hurt he’d seen in her eyes was gone.

A long silence stretched between the two, broken only by the sound of Willow clearing her throat. Waiting until both sets of eyes were on her, Willow announced formally, “It’s time.”

------------------

Spike’s mind was a hallway filled with unmarked doors.

The hallway stretched on farther than she could see, and Willow let her fingertips trail lightly against one of the doors as she walked towards the slowly-growing source of power. For every handful of steps she took, the hallway stretched on even farther, and more than once Willow stopped walking and turned the knob of a random door, hoping to break the seemingly endless cycle of hallway.

After two or three times unsuccessfully trying the unmarked doors, Willow simply continued to walk, hoping the answer would present itself. The doors were filled with images, such as she seemed to remember being in the old Bugs Bunny cartoons she used to watch with Xander on Saturday mornings when they were much younger, except the images played out in front of her like a movie, depicting some part of Spike’s past. She never stared at the images for very long; while the academic in Willow was always curious, no matter what the situation, a majority of her felt it would be a violation of both Spike’s trust and mind if she were to watch his memories play out in front of her.

Willow blinked and stopped in her tracks. Trust, she mused. Trusting Spike. When exactly did that happen?

Shaking the thoughts from her head, Willow looked ahead of her with a sigh and continued to walk aimlessly towards the source of power. Rolling her neck to relieve it from a particularly insistent crick -- how long exactly had she been walking, that her joints had started to stiffen? -- Willow’s eyes fell upon one of the doors and noticed a name engraved in elegant capital letters on a placard placed in the center.

DRUSILLA.

Sliding her surprised gaze to the opposite end of the hallway, Willow’s eyes fell upon the door proclaiming to house Spike’s memories of ANGELUS – and on the placard, with some sort of crude writing implement, the word “poofter” had been scratched in as an aside, and Willow’s lips twitched into a small smile – and as she continued to walk slowly down the hallway, eyes darting from side to side, reading the names on the doors – many she didn’t recognize, but among them she’d located the rooms Spike had set aside for each member of the Scooby gang.

It was fascinating to her, and yet a puzzle. A seeming contradiction in terms, that Spike’s mind could be so organized that he had rooms dedicated to specific people, yet the simultaneous presence of so many unlabeled doors was indicative of nothing more than a disorganized mind. Or maybe that wasn’t it at all; perhaps Spike was opening his mind to her more willingly. Maybe he could sense that she was getting nowhere with her foray into his mind, and that she needed some help.

All she knew was, as she looked down the once-there span of hallway in front of her, that the heavily-padlocked blue door hadn’t been there the moment before.

Willow allowed her hand to hover just over the surface of the door, and she closed her eyes as the raw energy exuding from it washed over her body, and she shuddered involuntarily. This was it, the source of power she’d detected in Spike’s mind. And what power! Such energy could certainly be dangerous and destructive, which was why she had every intention of removing it from Spike’s mind.

But such energy, if properly channeled, could be liberating.

Willow shook her head and reached for the heavy lock hanging from the door’s handle, flinching as it burned her fingertips on contact. Cradling her injured hand against her chest, Willow sank to the floor as she closed her eyes and concentrated, pleading with her mind to conjure up any spell or incantation that would aid in her quest to break through the barriers set on the blue door.

Time held no meaning for the witch inhabiting the mind of the vampire. It could have taken seconds, minutes, hours. Years. All she knew was the sudden rush of energy surging across her person and down the hallway, and the sight of the now-opened door, its contents – seemingly nothing more than pinprick rays of light – bouncing around each other as though still in a completely-confined space.

This was the moment. Reaching out and syncing with her own body, Willow felt the weight of the jar being held by her physical self moments before it appeared in her hands. Holding the jar in front of the open door, she began to chant, watching wide-eyed as the light began to dart into its new container. Prison.

To never be released again.

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A/N: ::hides:: I’m sorry! I’m so sorry it’s taken so long for an update; if any of you read my livejournal, then you’ll know that everything in my life kind of blew up at once (stupid real life) and I had to get back on track. I also am going in for a root canal tomorrow (ick) and wanted you all to have this chapter before I got pumped full of painkillers for who knows how long. I hope you all are still staying with the story, despite the fact that it’s been a while since I’ve updated (I told you all; I’m NEVER abandoning this story!), and I hope you’re still enjoying it…we’re just getting started!

And you all are AMAZING – Chirality has won *two* awards! Chirality has won “Best WIP” from Spark and Burn, and “Best Episode Stealer” from Love’s Last Glimpse! Thank you to whoever nominated me, and again, a huge than you to all of my readers! And look at my pretty banners :)

As always, I love each and every review I receive. Show me some love while I’m recovering from surgery?




XIII by yutamiyu

Spike’s ears were still ringing from the shrieking of his name that only a teenager – and quite possibly only the Bit – could produce. Before he could even open his mouth to reproach her, to make her understand the effects of her voice on his sensitive vampire hearing, he found himself embraced in a grip that could easily rival the slayer’s.

 

Dawn buried her face in the leather of his duster, but Spike could still make out the muffled, “I missed you. So much.”

 

A warmth spread over Spike that he hadn’t felt in quite some time, not since long before his jump from the tower. Both of his girls were safe and sound and alive, and he felt stirrings of contentment welling in his chest. It was a testament to just how much he’d truly sloughed off the “Big Bad” image that he welcomed the feeling rather than scoffing at its existence.

 

Dawn’s teary eyes took his mind off of the fact that someone had royally screwed with him before returning him to Sunnydale. And as with Buffy, Spike felt the need to solve Dawn’s problems before his own, and with a jerk of his head towards his intended destination, grabbled the teenager’s hand and began to walk towards the kitchen.

 

“Think I need a smoke, Nibblet,” he murmured as he opened the back door and stepped out on the porch, sparing a quick glance at Buffy before turning his eyes back to her sister. “Want to join me?”

 

Dawn’s gaze flicked over to her sister before she wiped the drying tears from her eyes and nodded in affirmation, stepping outside and closing the door behind her. In the silence of the night that surrounded them, she could hear both the light snick of Spike’s lighter as well as Buffy clanging around in the kitchen for something.

 

Spike inhaled deeply and blew the smoke into the air above him before fixing his eyes on the teenager. “Everything all right, Bit?”

 

Dawn blinked in confusion. Standing before her was a vampire who had been dead -- dead-dead – for several months, newly-resurrected, yet standing in front of her, puffing on a cigarette and asking if she was all right, as though absolutely nothing had happened to him.

 

“I’m fine,” she answered a bit hastily. “I’m…are you? Okay, I mean.” She winced; it certainly wasn’t the best way to address the matter.

 

Spike drew another puff of cigarette smoke into his lungs. “Bit confusin’,” he confessed, “not really knowin’ why I’m back.” He blew the smoke back out, trying to use the rhythm to calm himself. Internally, he was apprehensive and completely confused by his own reappearance, but he wanted to show nothing but calm collectiveness in front of his Bit. “But don’t worry ‘bout it. We’ve got Red on the case, an’ I’m sure the other Scoobies’ll work on it once they know I’m…back.”

 

Spike ignored the wry if they know that floated in the back of his mind. Buffy wouldn’t do that to him.

 

With a minute shake of his head, Spike continued, “But I don’t like to see my Nibblet in tears. Want to know if you’re okay.”

 

Dawn’s lips pulled into a small smile. Spike had returned and was acting like nothing had happened…and she couldn’t be happier about it. It amazed her just how much comfort she could find in “the same-old Spike.”

 

“Yeah,” she replied. “I’m fine. Really. I just…I missed you, and when Buffy called upstairs…I just didn’t expect to see you. I’m so glad you’re back.”

 

As quickly as her smile had appeared on her lips, it was gone, replaced with a furrowed, troubled brow as she thought back on the things she had said about Spike just following his sacrifice.

 

“He jumped. And I’m glad he’s gone.”

 

“He was just being nice to me to get close to you.”

 

She felt guilty. Horrid. How could she have said such things about the vampire who had refused to let her jump into the storming portal, who had saved her life? Who had been at her side when she found out that she was a mystical key, who had done nothing but protect her for as long as she could remember? Certainly, for most of their relationship, Spike had been nothing but the protector. the cool guy to look up to, the guy who could fight demons effortlessly, who could get her out of trouble quicker than she could get into it; but somewhere near the end…he had started to become her friend.

 

And in some sort of twisted teenaged logic, or perhaps in a moment of clarity, she felt the need to confess to him. If only to relieve her burden.

 

She shuffled, and kicked at one of the wooden boards of the porch. “Actually, Spike,” she started, staring down at the toe of her shoe, “I think I owe you an apology.”

 

Spike’s eyes narrowed briefly. “What’s that, Nibblet?”

 

Dawn looked back up in his direction, but could not meet his eyes. “Right after…after you jumped, and Buffy woke up and wanted to know where you were…I was…” She sighed. She didn’t know how to explain what she was feeling – what she had been feeling at the time. “I said some bad things about you,” she tried. “I was…I was angry at you.”

 

“‘s okay, Bit,” he replied. “I understand. I left you.”

 

Dawn’s brow wrinkled with disgust. “That’s not it,” she insisted, and her voice suddenly became quieter. “I was angry at you because I thought you were trying to kill my sister. You just…you drank a lot of her blood, and at the time I didn’t know why, and it hurt to think that maybe you weren’t…”

 

“Dawn,” he interjected, and the force behind his voice compelled her to meet his steady gaze. “I understand,” he repeated, and as the teenager looked into his eyes, she realized that he really did. And he had forgiven her instantly, because in his mind there had been nothing to forgive.

 

Taking one large step to close the distance between them, Dawn plucked the remainder of the cigarette out of Spike’s hand and flicked it into the yard, wrapping her arms around the vampire’s waist and hugging him tightly. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I won’t doubt you again.”

 

His chest rumbled with his chuckle, and as one of his arms wrapped around her and the other rested on the top of her head, he said dryly, “I‘d like to see that one in writing.” Pushing her away from him so he could look down into her eyes, he added, “Think we can convince your big sis to sign it as well?”

 

Dawn grinned up at him. “I don’t know,” she replied. “She’s pretty stubborn.”

 

“Yeah,” he agreed, more than a touch of fondness in his voice. Then, after a moment of silence, he added quietly, “Bit…after I…did what I did…was she okay? I didn’t…did I…” He ran a frustrated hand through his hair. He wasn’t sure how to talk about this – or even if he really wanted to.

 

After an instant of confusion, Dawn’s eyes widened in understanding. “She was fine,” she assured him. “She…had to spend the night in a hospital, had to get some blood put into her…but she was out the next morning!” she added quickly as she saw the vampire wince in guilt. “It wasn’t just because of the blood,” she said. “Glory and that creepy old guy hurt her.”

 

“Doesn’ make it much better,” Spike noted.

 

“Maybe not,” Dawn replied. “But she doesn’t hold it against you. And neither do I.” Biting at her lower lip in contemplation, Dawn finally asked, “Why did you bite Buffy? Instead of me?”

 

Spike sighed, and let go of Dawn’s arms. “’s complicated, Bit,” he replied, and stepped towards the kitchen door. “Think we’ve left Slayer on her own a bit too long,” he said, his hand closing around the doorknob. “Don’t wanna know what kind of trouble she’s gotten herself into alone in that kitchen.”

 

------------------

 

Buffy tried not to listen to the muffled voices sounding from the back porch as she sat at the kitchen counter, absentmindedly cradling a cup of rapidly-cooling hot chocolate. The conversation outside was not one she should be privy to, as much as she wanted to believe otherwise, and she consciously made the effort to keep herself from straining to hear what the vampire and her younger sister were talking about.

 

The walk home from the Magic Box had been awkward – an undesirable tradition between the slayer and the recently-restored vampire, it seemed. The silence between them was unbearable to her, and although she had her hands thrust deeply in her pockets so Spike would not catch sight of them shaking, she fidgeted with them the entire way home, waggling her fingers before curling them up into tight, balled fists.

 

She had been almost relieved when Dawn had barreled down the stairs and directly into Spike’s arms, and even more so when Spike had dragged Dawn out onto the porch; for the first time since she’d found him in her room, Buffy had been given the opportunity to try and work out the knot of discomfiture that had lay inside of her since the moment she saw him in her bedroom, which had only tightened after his insistence that she did not actually love him. That what she felt was nothing more than misguided gratitude for saving her life, and that of her sister, and consequently saving the world.

 

What bothered her, she realized as she used a neglected fingernail to pick at a tiny crack in the table, was that Spike had been right.

 

She loved him now; she was as certain of that as she was of her own name. But back when she’d first begun to have feelings for the vampire – mostly after his death, but she would now admit the presence, albeit slight, of these feelings before the battle with Glory – they had been acknowledged based on little more than gratitude; the vampire had taken a beating to protect her sister, and had quite literally saved the world from Hell. She had never before known the vampire – or any, really, for she wasn’t entirely certain that Angel would have done the same thing, if given the chance – to be so selfless, and it stood to reason that the tender feelings that emerged for him right after his death resulted from his sacrifice and her realization of her misunderstanding of him.

 

But feelings born from gratitude always faded, and by the time she had finally gone to Tara to speak of her troubles, later in the summer, Buffy had been mostly certain that what she felt for Spike was real, was love; her actions in the kitchen the night before had solidified it for her.

 

She just had to make Spike believe that what she felt was real.

 

Buffy supposed it was some sort of poetic justice; Spike had spent close to a year trying to get her to accept his feelings for her, and she had turned him away time and time again, always hiding behind the excuse that soulless creatures were incapable of love. Even now, she was convinced that telling Spike she loved him before Willow cast her spell had been the right thing to do, no matter if he had believed her or not; Buffy had accepted him and his feelings, lack-of-soul and all, and reciprocated in kind.

 

Now that he had a soul, were things any different?

 

Buffy sighed and stared into the mug before her, catching the faintest outline of her reflection in the chocolate depths, and swirled the contents around as her image blurred and swirled along. Making the chocolate had been little more than a nervous habit; she had no intention of drinking it, and the thought alone – as well as the sound of Spike and Dawn heading back into the kitchen – made the nerves in her stomach tighten all the more.

 

------------------

 

Spike groaned and cracked the muscles in his neck as he drew his shirt over his head, dropping it lazily on the floor next to the bed. It was strange being in Joyce’s old room, despite the fact that this was the first time he’d ever entered. Her smell, while faded, was still strongly present in the room, leading him to believe that this was a room that Buffy and Dawn had not entered often after Joyce had died. That Buffy was allowing him to use the room at all was surprising to him, and he had tried more than once to convince her that he was fine on the couch, or in the basement. Buffy, however, would hear nothing of it, and Spike had eventually admitted defeat and trudged up the stairs.

 

He sat on the edge of the bed and rested his elbows on his thighs, dropping his head between his hands and sighing deeply. He still hadn’t come close to processing the events of the evening, despite the airs he had put on for Dawn, and while both the soul and the magic Willow had found within him were certainly points of contention for him – not to mention the fact that he’d somehow been restored to Earth – all he wanted to do was collapse into sleep and lose himself for a few precious hours.

 

His plans were interrupted, however, by the hesitant knock at his door. It was Buffy, of course; he’d smelled her lingering presence in the hallway long before she’d managed the courage to approach the door. A pause, another hesitant but louder knock, and Buffy turned the knob and pushed the door open, taking a few small steps into the room, worried eyes cast towards him and picking at the skin surrounding her thumbnail.

 

“Where were you?”

 

Spike raised his head and stared at the pajama-dressed slayer before him. This was the conversation he had been dreading since his return – to both have as well as acknowledge to himself – simply because he didn’t have any answers, and generally speaking, that never fared well with Buffy.

 

“Don’ rightly know, pet,” he responded softly. “One minute I’m jumpin’ into that portal, an’ the next I’m wakin’ up in the aftermath.”

 

“I think you’re lying,” Buffy replied. Before Spike had the chance to retort, she amended, “Not lying. But I think that maybe there’s something that you’re not telling me.”

 

Shame and defensiveness warred in his body, and his response of “Like what?” held tinges of both in its tone.

 

Buffy’s hands tangled in the extra fabric of her pajamas as she asked, “Were you in Heaven?”

 

He hadn’t been expecting that. In quick retrospect, Spike wasn’t entirely certain what he had been expecting, but he was sure it hadn’t been that.

 

“’m a vampire, Slayer,” he replied. “Not a lot of room for us upstairs. Goes with the whole ‘ruled by a demon’ bit.” As he watched her shift uncomfortably, he added, “Why?”

 

Buffy’s lips pulled into a frown, trying to draw something logical from the jumbled thoughts in her mind. Finally, she said, “It’s just…when I sent Angel to Hell, he had his soul. And when he came back, he still had his soul, but he was…feral, I guess. You weren’t. And you…died…without a soul, and came back with one.” She paused, her frown deepening, and added, “I guess I didn’t work it all out yet, but…I just kind of thought that maybe you weren’t in Hell. That maybe…maybe you were expelled from Heaven.”

 

“Because I’m a vampire.” It was not a question.

 

Buffy’s eyes trailed to the ground and she shrugged sheepishly. From his position on the bed, Spike watched as she seemed to withdraw into herself, her shoulders hunching closer to her neck. Sighing, he pushed himself off of the bed and stood before her, crooking a finger under her chin to force her to look at him again before resting both hands on her tightened shoulders.

 

“Wasn’t in Heaven, pet,” he replied. “Wasn’t in Hell, either. I don’ know much about that time, but I know that much of it is true. I can…I can jus’ feel it, right down to my bones. Other than that…I really have no bloody clue. Wish I did; all this not knowin’ is more than a bit unsettlin’.” He paused, and let his thumb trail lightly across one shoulder. “Red’s got that jar full of mojo from my head, yeah? Maybe there’s some answers there. But there’s not a whole lot we can do right now. Let’s just get some sleep an’ we’ll call her tomorrow before the sun goes down.”

 

Buffy nodded, some of the stiffness leaving her shoulders, and Spike reluctantly let his hands slip from her person. Turning, she walked towards the doorway, but was somehow unable to leave, standing instead inside of the doorframe, hesitant and unmoving.

 

The air between them was still tense and unsettled, and Spike knew immediately why it was present. He didn’t want to talk about it; not at the moment. He really, truly did not want to. But the worry was still in Buffy’s eyes, laced with a tinge of hurt, and he could deny her nothing.

 

“Did you want to finish talking about…earlier this evening?” he offered, knowing she would understand the vague reference. He simply could not string together the words “when you said you loved me” without feeling a painful ache in his chest. It hurt enough to know that she did not, and would not, love him; it did not help at all to consciously remind himself.

 

Buffy turned in the doorway and caught his eyes with hers, and for a frozen moment the rest of the world dissolved around them. Walking forward, Buffy reached out a hand and grabbed Spike’s lightly, giving it a gentle squeeze as she shook her head.

 

“It’s not the right time,” she replied. “I do love you, Spike, even though I know you don’t believe me. And that’s…that’s okay right now. You have a lot going on, and I want to help. I’m going to help you find out why you have your soul, and why that magic stuff was in your head, and why you’re back.” A tender smile graced her lips and she added, “My feelings aren’t going to change, and I’m not about to go anywhere. Not now.” She released his hand and took a step backwards to the door. “So we’re going to figure all of this out, and then I’m going to try to figure out a way to convince you that I really do love you.”

 

She hesitated, staring at him with her lips parted, as though debating saying something else. Finally, she closed her mouth and nodded in finality, wished him a good night, and turned and left the room, shutting the door behind her.

 

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A/N: I still feel kind of guilty that I didn’t update this story for five whole weeks. So you all get a longer chapter! Like I said before, we’re just getting started with this puppy, so start to keep your eyes out for how I’m going to change S6!

 

Thank you to everyone who wished me luck on my epic, three-day root canal. It was…well, it took three days. So it was definitely not fun. But I’m back, and off of the funky painkillers, and ready to keep working on this story!

 

I do so love your reviews. Please take a moment and leave one!

XIV by yutamiyu

Forehead buried in his hands and body trembling, Spike sat in tangled sheets, his eyes squeezed shut in a vain attempt to banish the images burned into his mind.

 

He wasn’t entirely certain that it was common for vampires to dream, but he did, and often; a throwback to his days as William, perhaps.  But in over a century of living, he had never been as disturbed by any dream as he had this particular one composed of little more than disjointed fragments.

 

He had been back at the tower.  Glory – or Ben – lay dead on the concrete below, and before him was Dawn, trussed up and bleeding, the open portal raging behind her.  She cried for her sister, and suddenly Spike found himself above the fray, helpless and gazing down as Buffy spoke a few words to the untied teenager before turning and launching herself from the tower and into the storm.  Screams from one woman and tears from another – two different kinds of pain – before the screams were suddenly silenced, followed moments later by the sickening sound of Buffy’s body landing harshly on concrete.

 

The portal closed, and re-expanded in the air before him, dragging him inside and depositing him into a world devoid of light.  A disembodied voice, unfamiliar and yet somehow irrefutably known to him, and quiet snippets of a conversation he knew had taken place, but did not remember.  A burning in his mind, and something being locked away.

 

Spike dragged his hands down his face, letting them drop loudly to his lap as he huffed out a shaky breath and stared at – and beyond -- the closed curtains in front of him.  He remembered now.  At least, partially.

 

It was supposed to be Buffy.

 

That was what the voice had said.  The Powers – he assumed – had told him that Buffy was the one who was supposed to have jumped.  That his intervention had diverted actions that were supposed to take place in the future that now never would.  But they had sent him back, regardless; once again, a step closer to being more like fucking Angel.

 

Buffy would have died, leaving him behind, soulless and grieving, but ostensibly still existing, because he’d been sent back.  Instead, he had died, leaving Buffy alive on apparently stolen time, and then returned with a soul.  Logic declared that at some point in the future – wrought from her sacrifice instead of his – he had gotten his soul.

 

He just didn’t know why.

 

It was heady stuff, realizing that one action to have such consequences; that not only had he altered his apparent destiny, and not only Buffy’s – whose life he was trying to save – but quite possibly the rest of the people surrounding her.  The burning in his head in the dream, the feeling of sudden loss of <i>something</i>…that had to be the magic that Willow had removed from his mind.  He needed her to start researching what it was; what had been so important that the Powers had opted to lock it away deep in the recesses of his mind rather than simply eliminating it completely?

 

And Buffy.  While he was somewhat relieved that he knew the origins of his newly-acquired soul and recently-removed mind block – at least partially – how was he supposed to explain it all to Buffy?  He wasn’t even sure that he could manage to explain it to her, as twisted and confused as the sudden onslaught of information was; how could he possibly expect her to calmly accept that he had unknowingly changed her future?

 

He wasn’t even entirely certain how he’d changed the future; neither the Powers nor his dream had seen fit to let him in on that information.  Had he changed it for the better, or for the worst?  But he had also come back with his soul; had he changed it at all?

 

Was Buffy supposed to have stayed dead?

 

It made no sense to him.  Certainly the life of a slayer was more important than that of one of the monsters she was destined to destroy?  What was so important about him that he was supposed to remain on Earth, complete with a soul?  Christ, was he really expected to follow in the footsteps of his grandsire?  He wanted nothing of it; it was bad enough that he shared blood with the wanker.

 

That still left him with the question of Buffy.  Was she supposed to have stayed dead?  Surely the Powers That Be would have found a way to kill her between his death and resurrection some months later, if the purpose was to call a new slayer.  If Angelus’ rantings in the abandoned mansion years ago had been true, she had already died once and been returned.  Perhaps that was meant to have happened again.  Did that event somehow lead to the acquisition of his soul?

 

It gave him a headache to think about it.  Juggling possibilities and tangents of time were better suited for the Watcher; Spike was more of an action guy rather than a thinker.  Perhaps later he could ask Red about it; she was pretty smart.

 

Lying back in bed, Spike closed his eyes and attempted to go back to sleep.  But that image, that sight, the one he knew would remain burned in his mind for the rest of his eternity, was presented.  Buffy’s lifeless body lying amidst the wreckage of the battle’s aftermath.  And it frightened him.

 

She was alive now, he certainly knew that; could hear her breathing in her room down the hall, could hear the slow and steady beating of her heart.  But somehow, it wasn’t enough, and before his troubled mind could catch up with him, Spike’s body was down the hallway and sneaking into Buffy’s room.

 

Silently, he crept to her window and pulled the curtains closed, pausing as she reacted in her sleep to the slight noise before drifting off again.  He stared at her for several moments – even sleeping, she was full of <i>life</i> -- before slumping against the wall and sliding to the floor, much as he had the previous evening.

 

Comforted by the sound of Buffy’s beating heart, he slept.

 

------------------

 

When she woke, she was certain that she was not alone.

 

Lying still in her bed, Buffy stretched her senses in an attempt to locate the presence in her room – and silently thanked Giles for being persistent with her Slayer training – before quickly realizing that what she felt weren’t simply vampire-tingles.  They were Spike-tingles.

 

Sitting up, Buffy looked around her room before locating his sleeping form slumped against her wall, his posture almost identical to how she’d found him the night before…only a little more clothed.  She pushed down on the feeling of disappointment at the fact and decided instead to concentrate on the issue of his presence in her bedroom.

 

But as she rose from her bed and walked to stand in front of him, intent on waking him, Buffy found that she could do neither.  She hadn’t the heart to wake him – daylight hours were, after all, vampire bedtime hours, and a quick glance at the clock revealed it much too early to ask him to wake up – and as she stared at his sleeping form, she realized that she didn’t particularly want to know why he was in her bedroom.  Perhaps it was remnants of the silly and romantic young girl she had once been, but the fact that he was in her bedroom was enough.  That he would sleep in the same room as the Slayer – though admittedly not in the same bed – showed a trust that touched her, and further solidified in her mind that Spike, Slayer-of-Slayers, did in fact love her.

 

It warmed her inside, and it was a feeling she relished above all others.

 

Dropping quietly to her knees, Buffy carefully moved Spike’s arms enough that she could nestle against his side; she was rewarded for her efforts a moment later when his arms tightened around her and drew her further against his body as he murmured her name in his sleep.  Biting at her lower lip to keep her grin from surfacing, Buffy rested her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes.

 

She wanted to love him.  She wanted him to allow her to love him.  But for now, this was all she had, and at that moment, she wanted nothing more.  She would deal with tomorrow whenever it came.

 

------------------

 

Willow pushed the heavy book away from her and leaned back in her chair, rubbing at her tired eyes and sighing.  She had been reading for – she glanced upwards at the clock mounted on the wall – nearly five hours, and she was no closer to finding out the source of the powerful magic implanted in Spike’s mind than when she had started.

 

Scrubbing a tired hand over her face, Willow stared at the jar sitting near the edge of her desk.  After Buffy and Spike had left the Magic Box, she had stayed behind to run several diagnostic spells on the power sealed away in the jar, attempting to discern its origins in order to find out how best to destroy it.  She simply did not want to risk backlash from a magic of this caliber.

 

So when her diagnostic spells had failed, Willow had put an extra protective ward on the already-warded jar, having decided to err on the side of caution.  An action she now recognized as foolish and driven entirely by paranoia.  The paranoia and skittishness she had felt earlier in the evening had since subsided, and she allowed herself to think that the wards she had previously placed on the jar were enough.  And that just perhaps the final ward she’d placed on the jar was somehow interfering with her diagnostic spells.

 

That had to be the answer; she’d used a different type of ward at the end than she had before she’d entered Spike’s mind.  She simply could not think of another reason; she was too powerful a witch to fail spell-casting.

 

Rising from her desk, Willow padded quietly over to the trunk at the foot of the bed which held her magic supplies.  Sparing a glance at her sleeping girlfriend, she grabbed a few choice items out of the trunk and closed it, snatching the jar off of the desk before sneaking out of the room and down the hall into the bathroom, placing the items on the ground and locking the door behind her.

 

Willow closed her eyes and drew a deep breath, readying herself to cast the ward-releasing spell.

 

------------------

 

“Willow?”

 

Willow started, dropping the rest of the recently-used candles back into the trunk.  Closing the lid, she rose to her feet and met the inquisitive gaze of her lover, who reached over and switched on their bedside lamp.

 

“Sorry I woke you, sweetie,” Willow said quietly.  “Go back to sleep; I’m coming to bed now.”

 

“What are you doing?”

 

Willow shifted.  “Just finished some reading.  Let’s go to bed.”

 

Tara’s brow furrowed; Willow’s aura was blurring, and the energy of the room had changed since before she’d gone to bed.   Rising, she asked, “You cast a spell, didn’t you?”

 

Willow sighed.  “Just a small one.  It’s no big deal.”

 

Tara’s eyes darted from her girlfriend to the jar resting on the floor by the trunk.  Walking over to it, she picked it up and cradled it in her hands, at once overwhelmed by the force she felt emanating from it.  Holding it up and away from her, she said, “You did something w-with this.  What did you do?”

 

Willow snatched the jar from Tara’s hands and crossed the room, placing it back on the desk.  “It’s really nothing, Tara,” she replied.  “I just took off a ward that I had put on it.”

 

Tara’s lips pulled into a frown.  “Willow, there’s a lot of power in that jar.  Is it really w-wise to remove the wards?”

 

“I didn’t remove all of them,” she replied.  “Just one of them.  It’s really no big deal.”  Sidling up to her lover, Willow ran her hands up and down the blonde’s arms, trying to soothe – and distract – her.   Pressing her lips to Tara’s and gently pushing her towards the bed, Willow whispered, “Let’s go to bed, baby.”

 

Tara broke away from the kiss and forced Willow to look into her eyes.  “Willow, there’s so much power there--”

 

Her words were cut off by another kiss.  “It’s just the wards, sweetie,” Willow replied, drawing her shirt over her head and reaching for the nightgown she kept near the bed.  “Let’s just go to sleep, okay?”

 

Sighing, Tara nodded.  Willow wouldn’t talk about it this evening; she would make sure the subject was addressed the next day.  She didn’t like it, but Willow was being unreasonable, and dealing with a stubborn and unreasonable Willow was next to impossible.  She climbed into bed and switched off the light, certain that Willow would follow.

 

Dropping the remainder of her clothing to the floor and pushing her head through her nightgown, Willow let her mind wander.  She didn’t want Tara to address the subject of the jar, or her magic, and she didn’t particularly like fighting with her, either.

 

She would have to remember to buy some Lethe’s bramble from the Magic Box tomorrow afternoon.

 

Sliding under the covers, Willow drew Tara close to her body, closing her eyes and surrendering to sleep.  Across the room, the jar on her desk began to whisper and glow.

 

------------------

A/N: I’m sorry this is so late, everyone.  I’ve been swamped with exams, thesis work, and a would-be stalker.  Now that I’m done with school (yay!), and all I have to do is thesis work (and I’m well underway with that), expect regular updates throughout the summer (remember when I was updating once every few days?).  My writing time has also been divided between this story and my two Art Before Fic challenge stories, so expect those to start posting soon, as well.

 

I know I’ve left you all without an update for a while, but maybe you could find it in your hearts to review?  I love them all!

 

XV by yutamiyu

Spike sighed out a cloud of smoke as he shifted in place and tried not to listen to the voices above him.  It was a half-hearted exercise at best; he had always been nosy, especially when he knew that he was the topic of conversation.  However, out of respect for Buffy, who had wanted to ease the Scoobies into the realization that Spike was back among the undead, he continued to puff on his cigarette, attempting to distract his senses by randomly picking up and replacing various knick-knacks situated on old storage shelves while letting his mind wander.

 

It was a noble attempt on his part, which ultimately ended less than twenty seconds after he made the first conscious effort to occupy himself.  While he was no longer listening to the conversation taking place above him, his mind wandered to the potential responses of those gathered upstairs.

 

Red’s was easy; he’d seen her the previous evening.  While she’d been surprised, and reserved at first, by the end of the evening, despite everything that had been revealed, she had seemed genuinely happy to see him.  The other bird would be much of the same – she and Willow always seemed to be of the same mindset.   Anya would welcome him back with open arms and undoubtedly a suggestion of many orgasms to help ease himself back into the routine of being undead.  And his Bit couldn’t be happier.

 

He was even fairly certain how the two sources of questionable testosterone would react.  The Watcher – if he ever decided to show his self-righteous arse; a quick breath of air had revealed to Spike that the Watcher’s scent had faded notably from the building – would undoubtedly polish his glasses, stammer an awkward-but-unmeant welcome back to the world of the living – so to speak – before beginning to chronicle what would quickly be blown out of proportion into the opus of the resurrected vampire.

 

The whelp would cry bloody murder and demand that he be staked.

 

And if given the choice between the two, Spike didn’t know which he’d prefer.  Each seemed a mercy from the promise of the other.

 

And still, standing idly in the darkened basement of the Magic Box, he could not help but allow an increasingly-lesser part of him pipe up with doubt at Buffy’s actions.  <i>If she tells them.  If.  Maybe she’s decided it’s better they don’t know; maybe you’ll screw everything up.</i>

 

And another.  <i>But she says she loves you.</i>

 

Dropping the smoldering cigarette end down onto the concrete floor, Spike paused at the thought, the toe of his boot hovering in midair above the dying embers.

 

If Buffy did tell her friends that he was back -- <i>when,</i> she told them – how much exactly would she tell them?  Would she stop with the telling of his return, or would she inform them that they should get used to his presence in her life in a non-slayer-related capacity?

 

And even if she did tell them that she loved him…would she be speaking the truth?

 

Spike grunted and thrust his hands into the pockets of his duster, wrapping his fingers around the pack of cigarettes there.  This should have been simple.  For too long he’d yearned for the day that Buffy would return his love, and when the time finally arrived, he had dissuaded her with words designed to protect his own heart.  Not for the first time, he berated himself for saying anything at all; but ultimately, he knew the decision he’d made to be the correct one.  He simply loved her too much to let her erroneously believe herself in love with him, especially when all he’d ever gotten from her was disdain.

 

But Christ, he’d woken up this morning, and she’d been in his arms, and he’d never known such a feeling, and had immediately found that he never wanted to be without it again. 

 

He had meant to leave before she woke to find him sleeping in her room – again – but for whatever reason, his internal clock had failed to rouse him.  And perhaps for the same inexplicable reason, he had woken in the morning – a practice virtually unheard of in vampires – to find himself with a generous armful of sleeping Buffy, her heartbeat slow and content, her lips drawn into a barely-there smile of satisfaction.

 

And he’d watched her.  It could have been seconds, or minutes, or even days; time had simply ceased to exist, and the world knew only the two of them, cuddled together on her bedroom floor.  And in that time, he’d allowed himself to believe that she loved him – truly loved him, unconditionally – and was genuinely happy for the first time in he knew not how long.

 

He didn’t want to give it up.  Didn’t want to give <i>her</i> up, wanted to tell her when she awoke that he was more than willing to give the two of them a try.  But for all he’d once strutted around as the Big Bad who lorded over Sunnydale, both his decision and its supporting courage abandoned him when he felt her begin to stir in his arms.  And so Spike, the no-longer-neutered vampire, fell victim to one of the oldest clichés in the book.

 

He feigned sleep.  Not entirely a difficult trick for a man who didn’t need to worry about a racing heartbeat giving him away.

 

She had been so tender with him; that had struck him the most.  Upon waking, Buffy had gently slid out of his arms in a careful attempt not to wake him, and he felt her eyes burning trails on his skin wherever they landed.  A moment or two, followed by the soft pressure of her lips on his forehead.  Her lips were quickly withdrawn, and he was greeted instead by the light caress of her finger over his lips: an indirect kiss.

 

And in that moment, he wanted nothing more than to open his eyes and gaze into hers, to find the truth she apparently wanted so desperately for him to believe.  But he’d lost his moment when she just as quickly rose to her feet and walked out of her room; he heard her shower running seconds later.

 

In all, the situation between him and Buffy was an unnecessary mess.  He had known the previous evening – or, if he wanted to be completely honest with himself, the instant she’d told him that she loved him – that he would be open and receptive to anything she wanted with him, had known that Buffy would be nothing like Drusilla, but it had been his previous experience with his former dark angel which had him now erring on the side of caution.

 

And if his unexpectedly-cautious stance on their relationship – such as it was – hadn’t mucked things up enough, that despite it all she wanted to be with him, regardless…he now knew that he had inadvertently meddled hugely in her future.  Would her learning of what he knew change things between them?

 

Because she had to know.  There was no question about that in his mind.  He just didn’t want to tell her.

 

Spike’s ears perked at a round of gasps and Xander’s sputtered, “<i>What?!</i>” broke him from his reverie, and he idly cracked his knuckles, beginning to ascend the staircase that would lead him to the main floor of the shop, readying himself for the certain barrage of questions from Buffy’s friends.

 

------------------

 

It was strange, but they had split up into pairs.  Upon seeing Spike emerge from the cellar, Xander had balled his fists and clenched his jaw, glaring angrily at the vampire before storming into the training room, Anya hot on his heels.  Tara had been the one to approach Spike, her fingers unconsciously skimming the stem of the bramble tucked into the buttonhole of her blouse as she crossed over to him.  And Buffy, keeping one eye on the training room door, had pulled Willow to the side.

 

“Did you find out anything about the stuff you pulled from Spike’s head?” she asked quietly, hoping that Spike was too engrossed in his conversation with Tara to overhear.

 

Willow bit at the inside of her cheek as she debated what to tell her friend.  It wasn’t that she didn’t want to know why such powerful magic was in Spike’s head, per se; she just didn’t want to lose it.  It was difficult for her to explain, especially given the fact that barely twenty-four hours had passed since she’d entered Spike’s mind, but since she’d bottled the magic she’d found there, Willow had begun to feel more powerful, more confident, and upon testing her theory, found that she was able to cast spells with more ease, as though her body was magic itself, and her spells simply an extension of her will.  She just didn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize her newfound magic power.

 

“No,” she replied.  “I didn’t…I don’t think I can.”

 

Buffy’s lips pulled into a pout.  “Why not?”

 

“Because the magic is gone,” Willow lied.  “I woke up this morning, and checked the jar to make sure that the wards were still holding up, and I couldn’t feel it anymore.  It just…dissipated, I guess.”

 

Buffy’s pout turned into a contemplative frown, and with brows drawn, she asked, “Can that really happen?  I mean, I always thought magic was like energy, and energy can’t just disappear…isn’t that one of those property things?”

 

Willow’s lip twitched as she snapped quietly, “I think I would know more about it than you!”  Pausing as she took in Buffy’s surprised, widened eyes and hands raised in supplication, Willow sighed and offered in apologetic response, “My theory is that whatever it was needed to be in Spike to sustain itself…kind of like a host.  Stuck in the jar, there was no host, and it eventually…um, died.”

 

“Died?” Buffy asked cautiously, not wanting to risk another outburst from Willow.  “So it was like some sort of parasite?”

 

Willow shrugged.  “I don’t know,” she replied.  “Like I said…it’s just gone.  I’m sorry, Buffy.”

 

The blonde sighed, her eyes traveling briefly to Spike’s still-occupied form.  “He won’t like that,” she said, her voice carrying a hint of remorse.  Then, “I mean, he’ll probably be happy that it’s gone; he hates magic – no offense – but I think he was kind of hoping that his answers would be there.  And I was kind of hoping that I’d have some to give him.”

 

Willow felt a pang of guilt, and opened her mouth to confess her lie, but the promise of magic power coursing through her veins made her clamp down on that instinct, and instead she offered another quiet, “Sorry.”

 

Buffy sighed.  “Yeah,” she said.  “I’m sorry, too.”

 

------------------

 

Spike’s fingers twitched around the pack of cigarettes in his pocket, and for an instant, he considered lighting one up inside the magic shop, any potential contamination of ingredients be damned – it wouldn’t be the first time, after all – but ultimately decided against it, opting instead to duck outside the front door for his smoke; it was dark, after all, and not many people frequented their little corner of Sunnydale after business hours.

 

He’d gotten halfway through his cigarette before his eyes settled on the black van parked not a block away.  Brow furrowed, Spike stared at the van as he took another puff of his cigarette.  There were no heartbeats coming from the vicinity of the van; the only ones near belonged to the Scoobies inside the Magic Box.  Yet he found that he could not simply dismiss the mystery van parked down the street.

 

Stubbing out his cigarette before poking his head through the entrance of the shop, Spike called, “Slayer?”

 

Seconds later, Buffy had joined him.  “What’s up?”

 

Gaze locked on the van, Spike tilted his chin in its direction, asking, “Did the whelp get a new car?”

 

Buffy’s brow wrinkled in confusion.  “You mean Xander?” she asked in response.  “No, he didn’t.  He usually parks in the alleyway next to the shop…something about it being safer.  I’m not so sure I buy it.”  She blinked as she realized that Spike had yet to look away from the van.  “Why?  Something wrong?”

 

“Not sure,” he replied, and his voice held traces of desperation and annoyance.  “I jus’…it’s daft, but I…I know this car,” he said, before shaking his head in self-deprecation.  “’s probably nothing,” he added.  “Maybe I jus’ need some sleep.”

 

Buffy bit at her bottom lip.  “You could stay in the guest room again,” she offered.  “It’s closer than the cemetery, and there’s still blood in the fridge.”  She tried to lighten her tone.  “Still a pretty sweet set up, all things considered.  Maybe…”  Her voice became noticeably quieter.  “Maybe you should just…stay.”

 

Spike was silent.  The right thing to do would be to go back to his crypt; blood was easy enough to come by in Sunnydale; it wasn’t coincidence that the butchers were all open later than one would expect.  Or he could always buy some of the horridly overpriced stuff at Willy’s.  The right thing to do would be to leave the Summers’ house, to give Buffy the distance between them that she would need to help her figure out that she wasn’t actually in love with him.

 

But he was still selfish.  He wanted her to love him; he always had.  And after this morning…maybe it wasn’t <i>entirely</i> about gratitude.  Buffy was asking him to stay, and he wasn’t about to turn her down.

 

And if nothing else, if he dreamed of her again…she would be near him.  Her sleeping form could provide him comfort yet again.  He just had to remember to wake up before her.

 

“All right,” he conceded, nodding his head.  He hesitated, his bottom lip twitching slightly as he seemed to deliberate an important decision.  One he apparently reached quickly, as Buffy soon felt his fingers wrap around hers and squeeze lightly.  “I’ll stay.”

 

Their moment was soon broken by the sound of Anya’s voice, calling them to come back into the shop for, as she put it, “something of the greatest and utmost importance.”  Although it had immediately become clear to her, upon entering and seeing a clearly discomforted Xander staring at Spike, as well as the suspiciously-absent Willow and Tara, that perhaps she was not an integral part of the important event.

 

And the van itched at her mind.  Normally, she would have paid it little attention – and to be honest, she didn’t think much about it at this moment, either -- but it bothered Spike, and Buffy had quickly learned that if Spike was bothered by something, it was best to check it out.

 

But when she doubled back outside to make note of the license plate, the van had disappeared.

 

------------------

A/N: I know that by now I probably sound like a broken record, but I am so sorry for the lack of updates…I blame my thesis.  It is quite literally kicking my ass.  But good news: it’s due in the middle of August, so once that happens, I promise many more updates.  But that’s not to say, of course, that I won’t be updating between now and then!  I promise at least one more…and hope that it will be more like three or four.

 

That said…some of you all could help me with my thesis!  I need about fifteen British readers and ten American ones to fill out a completely confidential and anonymous survey on fame desire.  It takes about 15 minutes, and would be conducted via email.  If you think you would like to do this, please contact me – my email address is on my userinfo page.

If you have thirty seconds and are so inclined…please leave a review!  They really do inspire my desperately-thirsty muse!

XVI by yutamiyu
Author's Notes:
Also, I think hollydb wrote something very similar to something I have Anya say in this chapter.  It was an inadvertent similarity, of which she is aware, and we both think it just too Anya-like not to keep it in the text.
Upon seeing Xander standing awkwardly next to his obviously-excited girlfriend, Spike immediately felt the urge to rush by – bumping the whelp off-balance as he did so – but managed to bite down on it when he felt Buffy beginning to approach from behind him. And, oddly enough, when she walked back out the door not seconds later, Spike found himself still standing in front of the whelp and his brightly-smiling girlfriend, waiting for one or the other to break the silence.

It was, of course, the ever-forward Anya, who kicked at her boyfriend’s foot and announced, “Xander has something important to tell you.”

Sparing a scowl at the ex-demon, Xander clenched the fingers of his right hand and said, “I don’t like you.”

Spike raised an eyebrow at the statement, and replied, “Never really thought you did. That what you lot had to say?”

Spurred on by Anya’s glare, Xander sighed. “However,” he spat, before continuing through gritted teeth, “it was…good…what you did back then.” Regaining some of his own, Xander unclenched his jaw and added, “Guess all that stalking you did of Buffy really paid off in the end. You got to play hero.”

Spike’s other eyebrow rose at the statement, as Anya’s foot connected firmly with Xander’s shin. Wincing, the boy looked at his lover in time to catch her glare magnifying in intensity, flinched, and sighed, turning back to the vampire before him.

“What I mean is…thanks,” he managed before looking back at his smiling-once-again girlfriend, searching for validation of her pleased approval.

Spike placed an uncertain hand on the boy’s shoulder and replied, “Know that was hard for you, mate. But I don’ want to be best friends and do the manly bondin’ an’ all that. I’m right flattered you think of me like that, though.” His lips tugged into a smirk. “Always had my suspicions ‘bout you.”

Xander’s eyes were rapidly approaching the point of flaming in anger, while Anya, obviously excited to provide information, decided to take lead of the conversation. “I told Xander that I would withhold all orgasms in the foreseeable future if he continued to refuse to speak to you,” she said, nodding emphatically. “And furthermore tried to solicit his cooperation by offering the incentive of orgasms by means of oral copulation.” Anya’s smile widened with her obvious delight. “It seems to have worked well. I shall have to remember this technique for future negotiations.”

Biting back his chuckle, Spike awkwardly patted Xander’s shoulder. “You’ve got yourself a live one there,” he said, his senses jumping to attention as he felt Buffy approaching the front door of the Magic Box – where had she gone? – and added, “You an’ me, ‘s…well, there’s no love lost, yeah, but it’s good to know you’re not gonna stake me.”

Xander’s body slowly began to unclench. “Never say never, Evil Dead.”

Spike removed his hand, watching in quiet amazement as the boy shifted into something he’d never been around the vampire before. For the first time in the history of knowing him, Xander Harris was at ease around William the Bloody. And all it took was for Lazarus to play an encore performance combined with the ever-intimidating threat of blue balls.

They had something new. An understanding. A fragile truce. Which was leagues away from what they’d had before Spike had jumped.

Of course, it simply wouldn’t do for word to get out that the Big Bad was forming the first tentative bonds of friendship with a boy who was in effect a glorified bricklayer. And somehow, Spike knew that the boy’s thoughts ran in a similar vein.

“Regardless,” Spike replied, “I don’ think it’s gonna happen. At leas’, as demon-girl there says, in the foreseeable future.”

Anya tugged impatiently on Xander’s sleeve, pulling him towards the back exit of the shop. “That means the orgasm embargo has been lifted,” she informed him excitedly. “Which means that we need to return home as soon as possible, and now that Buffy is back, we can go home now, right?”

Spike turned to acknowledge Buffy walking up to stand by his side. “I couldn’t find the van,” she informed him.

Xander’s ears perked even as he fought a losing battle to stay in the shop. “Van?” he asked loudly. “What van?” At his voice, Willow and Tara ceased their chatter in the corner to focus their attention on the slayer, and Anya, sighing, begrudgingly listened as well.

“Spike saw a van parked outside of the shop,” Buffy explained, her eyes darting around the room to make sure everyone present was listening. “One of those vans you always see used for super-secret surveillance in every cop movie.” At this, Xander nodded in perfect understanding. The rest, however, needed further description. “It was black, with this…thing. On the side. Like a big silver circle.”

At her side, Spike murmured something under his breath, his eyes trained on the ground and his toe kicking at some invisible object he spotted.

Placing her hand lightly on his arm, Buffy turned towards the vampire. “What was that?”

“It was the sodding Death Star,” he repeated, his gaze suddenly darting to meet hers, defying her to poke fun at him.

She did not. Her lips simply parted, expelled an, “Oh,” and she continued with their impromptu meeting, her hand slipping off of his arm. His bereft skin complained loudly at her absence.

“Okay,” Buffy continued, “so we have a black van with a giant Death Star painted on the side. Spike thinks it’s important enough to keep an eye on, and I agree with him. So everyone just…keep a look out for it, okay?”

With nods of agreement and a quick glance at the clock, the Scoobies parted ways for the night.

------------------

“For God’s sake, Andrew,” Warren huffed as the three boys walked the few blocks back to the van, “if you couldn’t keep hold of him, you shouldn’t have brought him.”

Andrew clutched the small action figure to his chest, stroking a finger across the plastic helmet. “But Boba Fett is…like…a sort of figurehead,” he breathed reverently. “He’s a model of success for what we’re trying to do.”

Warren sighed and held up a hand in exasperation, not even bothering to stop to face the two lackeys behind him. “Get your facts straight, dorkwad,” he replied. “It is clearly Han Solo who is the better choice for figurehead. Boba Fett just did it for the money. Solo…he did it for the glory.”

“Han Solo did it for the money, too,” Jonathan piped up from his position next to Andrew. “In the original Star Wars, he explicitly stated to Princess Leia that--”

“I know what he said,” Warren interrupted, “but he ended up doing it for the glory.”

“But he took the money,” Andrew insisted. “When he met Luke Skywalker just before the Rebel assault on the Death Star--”

“Yeah!” Jonathan added. “He had to pay off Jabba the Hutt!” He added in a low and reverent voice, “Lord Jabba Desilijic Tiure.” His lips pulled into a small grin, clearly pleased at his knowledge of all things Star Wars.

Warren stopped walking just long enough to turn on his heel and snatch the action figure away from Andrew. “The point,” he said through gritted teeth, “is that Andrew here picked the wrong guy. Han Solo eventually did it for the glory. Which is what we’re doing.” He began walking towards the van again. “End of discussion.”

The silence lasted for all of five seconds before Andrew offered, “Do you think that Alec Guinness or Ewan McGregor made the better Obi-Wan?”

“Oh my God,” Warren hissed, rolling his eyes, “we are not having this discussion again! Look,” he continued, pointing, “there’s the van. Let’s just get back in and continue our surveillance of the Slayer. Okay?”

The Trio climbed into the back of the van; almost immediately, the tiny space was filled with the sound of Warren’s palm hitting the wall, and his subsequent shout of frustration.

“Jonathan! I thought I told you to record what we were missing!”

“I did!” the small boy replied nervously. Then, quieter, “I thought I did.”

“Well,” he replied, “you didn’t. There is clearly a reason why you are not the leader of this group.”

Jonathan pouted before opening his mouth to defend himself, but Warren’s whisper forced him into silence.

“The Slayer keeps looking at the window,” he said, fishing a pair of car keys out of his pocket and climbing into the driver’s seat. “I think she’s gonna come outside.” His words were, however, ignored by his two subordinates, who had gleefully picked up the abandoned Obi-Wan debate. And so with a quick flick of his wrist and pressure to the gas pedal, Warren Mears started the engine and navigated the dark surveillance van away from the vicinity of the Magic Box and into the camouflage of night.

------------------

Her dreams were filled with static images and muffled sounds and emotions she did not fully comprehend.

Darkness, and fear, and the desperate scratching of something against something. Buffy, downtrodden, an empty vessel of the woman she once was. The acrid smell of whiskey, or tequila, and the pungent aroma of sweat and demons packed into an unventilated bar. The choking presence of plaster dust filling her lungs while her body was filled with a heat – and chill – that she had never known. Anger and confusion and rage, and remorseless blood covering her hands in a darkened alleyway. The scent of familiar shampoo and body-wash and the cold tile of the bathroom, and an expression of terror that she had never before displayed.

Her world shifted around her and she was assaulted once more with a perplexing miasma of sensatory information.

Depression, and an overwhelming feeling of worthlessness before being overtaken by awe and psalms of praise to a God long since abandoned. Uncertainty, and Spike slowly approaching the Summers’ porch. The smell of cigarette smoke and the texture of cards between his fingers; the burn of alcohol flowing down his throat. A warmth surrounding his body – a warmth he was somehow desperate to acknowledge as valid, and an underlying knowledge of its falsity. Pain, the taste of his own blood on his tongue and the swelling of a black eye throbbing on his face. Desperation and rage and a sick determination before being washed over completely with a horror he had never known.

Green eyes flew open as Willow shot up in bed, gasping for air as she clutched a trembling hand to her chest. Looking frantically around the dark room, Willow’s gaze finally fell upon her stirring lover, still blissfully unaware of the tumultuous thoughts buzzing around her girlfriend’s mind.

“Willow?”

Her breath hitched as she attempted to calm herself before answering. “Y-yeah, baby?”

Tara’s brow furrowed in concern, and she pushed herself up onto her elbow, scooting closer to the other witch. “Are you okay?” she whispered.

Willow paused. Was she? The dreams had seemed so real, had felt so real, that Willow risked a glance down at her hands to see if the blood was still there. When she was presented with nothing more than her own familiar skin, she allowed her shoulders to relax, and sighed out a deep breath.

“Yeah, baby,” she said, folding Tara into her arms and lying back in bed. “Just a bad dream.”

Unnoticed in its resting place under Willow’s desk, the jar continued to glow.
XVII by yutamiyu

It was in the basement where he found her, and for several moments he simply stood atop the stairs, listening to the sounds of her labor. A few grunts of exertion, the unmistakable rattle of chains, a muttered curse and the sound of dead weight dropping onto concrete.

Her voice. “You can come down, Spike,” she offered, resigned. “Guess the surprise is ruined.”

“Not yet, Slayer,” he replied, making his way down the stairs. “Haven’t quite sussed out what you’re doin’.” His boots made purchase on the floor and he took in the scene before him. A metal chain hung tauntingly from the ceiling and near it lay an abandoned cloth-bound mass – a punching bag, he realized. And Buffy, strands of hair beginning to rebel from her ponytail, looking for all the world like she had just finished a workout.

She was radiant to him.

“What’s all this, then?” he asked.

Buffy kicked at the punching bag in annoyance. “You would think that Slayer strength would make this easy,” she grumbled, and bent to pick up the bag again.

Spike quickly moved to pick up the other end. “Sometimes even Slayers need help,” he noted, reaching above his head to hook the bag onto the awaiting chain. “So why the extra hardware? Outgrown the magic shop?”

Buffy tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “It’s for you, actually. I thought…you know, for daytime. Or…whenever.” She drew a small key out of her pocket. “And this…it’s for the training room at the Magic Box. Although I’m pretty sure that if you really wanted to get in there, no one could stop you. You’re kind of sneaky and vampirey like that.” She shifted under his gaze, and her hair rebelled once again. Spike was quick on the uptake, slipping the lock back behind her ear and brushing his fingers against her cheek in the process. Her quick intake of breath shot fire across his skin.

“Thank you, Buffy,” he replied. “‘S wonderful. ‘Course, I think I’d like it a lot better if there were some carefully-chosen pictures taped onto it.”

Buffy’s lips pulled into a smile. “I’m not so sure that vampires photograph, so you’ll probably have to use your imagination. Although now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure I could dig up a sheet of paper and some markers.”

Despite himself, Spike snorted in amusement. “You know me too well, pet.”

“Yeah,” she replied, risking their moment by linking her fingers with his. “I do.”

He did not pull away. She marked it as a significant victory when he squeezed her fingers in acknowledgment and pulled her towards the stairs, settling her down next to him, fingers still laced together.

“Buffy,” he started, and bit at his lower lip in an attempt to gather his thoughts. “Think I need to tell you somethin’, love.”

Love. Love. Please, Spike.

She ran the thumb of her trapped hand across the back of his: she would continue to give him nothing but encouragement. “What is it?”

“Somethin’ you need to know. About that night.” His grip on her fingers tightened as his memories were forced back to the battle with Glory, and were he but to look at her, Spike would see that Buffy was back there with him. The stroking of her thumb was unwavering.

“What about it?”

“‘S about when I jumped.” Spike finally looked into her eyes, and lost his nerve. How could he tell the healthy, breathing beauty before him that she was meant to have died?

And her eyes, warm and trusting, waiting patiently for him to reveal his secrets, to allow her to share his burden. He needed to tell her something, and something honest…she could not yet know of her fated death. Not tonight; he simply did not have the strength. His gaze slipped back to the floor, but he did not relinquish the hold he had on her fingers.

“…Drank your blood,” he continued. “Not Bit’s. And Nibblet asked me why when I saw her, an’ I’ve been waitin’ for you to. I figure you have a right to know.”

Buffy’s thumb abandoned its path as she brought her free arm across her body to cradle his hand between both of hers. “Did you want me to ask?”

Spike shook his head. “No,” he replied, “but ‘s somethin’ you need to know, before…before you really try to…help me.” He tapped a finger against his temple.

“I can’t imagine what would be so awful that I would abandon you,” she replied.

You just don’ know, love. You would do better to run.

“Drank your blood,” he said, “because ‘m selfish. Bit’s blood was guaranteed to work, should’ve taken it from her. But…I jus’ once wanted to taste. You. An’ I figured…end of the world. Goin’ to Hell anyway.” He lowered his head in disgust. “‘M such a prat.”

Spike twisted to pull his hand away; Buffy would not allow him. Instead, she awkwardly moved to link her arm through his, recapturing his hand in both of hers, squeezing once again in reassurance and support.

“The way I see it,” she replied, “I have no reason to be angry with you. I freely bled for you the day you came back so you could eat. And I know I would do it again if you asked. So who’s to say that I would not have done it back then? You did what you needed to, and I have no right to blame you.” She paused, then, “And if you need the words…then I forgive you.”

Spike choked a quiet sound she had never heard before, and it touched her to no end. He lifted her hands and pressed his trembling lips against them. “Don’ deserve you,” he murmured.

Buffy pulled herself up enough to lay her benediction against his forehead. “Yes, you do,” she replied quietly. “We both know it.”

They sat together in silence, intertwined on the basement steps. Buffy had no idea how much time had passed, but was finally drawn from their tacit shared reverie when Spike pulled away to look into her eyes.

“You…really do love me,” he offered hesitantly, unwilling to give life to the question. He instead sought the truth in her gaze, her words, her touch. In this, she did not disappoint.

“I do,” she replied. “I really do. And I told you before…I will be here until you’re ready to believe me. I can wait. You did.”

Something in Spike’s frame began to uncoil, and he started to relax. “Know that,” he said, tapping on his chest. “Here. I do. I jus’ have to convince my mind. An’…” He shook his head, taking the coward’s route once again.

Buffy nodded, and let her lips brush lightly against his cheek. “I know you’ll tell me when you’re ready,” she replied. “That applies to everything.”

Of course she knew that something was wrong, he chided himself. Quite possibly she knew that he was keeping something from her. He was by no means being discreet about the thoughts that plagued his mind. He just did not want to tell her. He refused to be the one to hurt her.

“‘S somethin’ else, pet,” he tried, anxious to get his mind out of the territory it enjoyed frequenting…territory he wanted nothing to do with. “That van…the one with the Death Star? I don’ know why, I just know ‘ve seen that van before… ‘s like a picture in my mind, but fuzzy…” Spike’s brow furrowed as he searched for the words to explain himself. “‘S kind of like forest for the trees, yeah?”

“We’ll figure it out,” Buffy replied, her lips quirking into a grin. “We always do. Sometimes it’s right before the big climax, but…we always figure it out in time.” Her words jolted her into remembrance, and she checked her watch, rising to her feet and offering him a hand up.

“I’m having lunch with Willow,” she explained, “and then it’s off to work for Buffy.” He did not miss the apologetic tone in her voice.

Spike allowed her to pull him to his feet, and nodded. “Didn’ mean to keep you.”

Buffy shrugged. “I am far from minding,” she replied, smiling. “Come by the Magic Box when it’s dark…I could use someone to walk me home, what with the mean monsters parading around the streets of Sunnydale.”

Spike’s chuckle carried her up the stairs and out of the front door.

------------------

She should have remembered to wear cover-up.

Buffy had immediately noticed the dark circles under Willow’s eyes, and had begun to interrogate her friend before she’d even had a chance to sit down and pick up the menu. The standard excuse of “not enough sleep” did not seem to fly with the Slayer, and after much hemming and hawing, Willow had finally admitted to having bad dreams.

“They don’t mean anything, you know. You’re the one with the prophetic dreams, Buffy. It’s probably just something from the ultra-nutritious dorm food, you know?”

It had, of course, been a lie. Her dreams were just as vague as they’d ever been, but she didn’t want to let them go. She was certain that some meaning lay tangled in the midst of the obscurity, and Willow was determined to follow it through to the end.

She just didn’t know why.

All she knew, she reflected as she locked the dorm room door behind her, was that something seriously strange was going on with the jar.

Willow dropped to her knees and pulled at the corner of one of the baseboards of her desk. The board came off in her hands to reveal a small makeshift cubbyhole, in which she kept the jar of magical energy she had pulled from Spike’s mind nearly two weeks before.

She ran her fingertip over the jar’s design, noting a few hairline fractures and some surface chipping. She would have to be more careful with it.

Sparing a glance at her watch, Willow tucked her treasure back into its hiding place and crossed over to the bed she shared with Tara, falling on the mattress and closing her eyes. The dreams were taking a toll on her, but she craved the knowledge they surely contained more than anything she could remember. A nap snuck in during the time before the Scooby meeting seemed to be just what she needed.

There was a disjoint, one that had never been present in her dreams. She was not simply the battered vampire lying bleeding before the Slayer: a part of her remained as Willow. And while the majority of the body she inhabited felt resigned, almost as though the abuse was something expected, the consciousness that was still pure Willow blanched in horror at the sight of Buffy beating the no-longer-enemy Spike into a bloody mess against the cold pavement.

“There’s nothing good or clean in you. That’s why you can’t understand!”

She knew nothing of the words, or their context, but they chiseled themselves into her psyche, and she was certain she would not soon forget the harsh tone and the desperate, crazed look in her friend’s eyes.

“You’re dead inside! You can’t feel anything real!”

There was something else said, of that Willow was certain. She was more focused on the pain coursing through her body; she was sure that Spike, in his years of existence, had grown a high threshold for pain, but this was something Willow had never before felt – and never wanted to again.

She did, however, hear the words forced through the lips of the body she somehow currently jointly inhabited.

“You always hurt the one you love, pet.”


Upon awakening, when she realized that her best friend had been the source of Spike’s injuries – something she knew, deep in the core of her being, to be true – Willow ran to the bathroom and promptly vomited until her throat burned and her eyes watered.

And perhaps, if she had thought to listen, she would have heard the whispering emanating from somewhere in her room.

------------------

The Magic Box was filled with the sounds of Anya shuttling around, taking inventory of the store’s stock and muttering to herself, followed by a visibly bored and reluctant Buffy. Tara and Xander were sitting at one of the tables, making idle chit-chat, and Willow was wandering around the upper level, poring through the antique magic books.

Spike entered soon after sundown, and if anyone noticed that Buffy had abandoned her in-store duties to lean against the counter next to Spike rather than sit in one of the empty chairs, they had the good grace to stay quiet.

Anya, having been coerced by Xander to forsake her inventory, now prodded her fiancé between the shoulder blades, cocking her head towards the rest of the Scoobies.

“Go on, Xander,” she said, “tell them why you are interrupting my inventory so they can leave and I can continue to calculate my store’s financial status in peace.”

Xander cleared his throat and stood, bouncing on the balls of his feet with his hands in his pocket – a combination of excitement and nerves.

“I have some information on that van that Spike saw last week,” he began. “It showed up near the construction site I’m working at. I think maybe they were spying…Seriously, that Death Star just screams stealthy professional.” He shook his head. “Anyway, I saw two guys get into the van with lunch or something…one of them was that short guy from high school – can’t really remember his name, but I’m going to dig up the old yearbook and figure it out. The other guy looked a lot like Tucker Wells…remember him? That guy who ruined prom?”

Buffy nodded. “Oh, yeah. Didn’t he have a brother?”

Xander shrugged. “Anyway…that’s what I’ve got. Keep an eye out, guys.”

As Buffy asked Xander to go into more detail about “Shorty,” Spike felt someone tugging at his duster – Willow, he realized as he turned around to a shock of red hair. She beckoned him up to a secluded corner.

“What’s up, Red?” he asked, his eyes raking over her form. She looked considerably worse than the week before – her posture was tight and uncertain, her face exhibiting signs of extreme fatigue. She spoke to him in between glances at Buffy.

“I…um…need to ask you something. A question,” she explained.

Spike’s brow furrowed. “Shoot,” he replied.

“Those bruises you had a few weeks before that fight with Glory...you know, when we found where she was hiding out? Those bruises were from Glory, right? Like, when she kidnapped you? It wasn’t…wasn’t anyone else who beat you up?”

Spike frowned. “‘Course it was Glory,” he replied. “Believe me. I was there.” His eyes narrowed. “What makes you think it was someone else?”

Willow shook her head and chuckled; there was no humor in the sound. “It’s nothing,” she said, waving her hand. “Just a weird dream, I suppose. Yeah. I don’t know why I even thought it…thanks…”

Spike watched as, distracted, Willow walked to one of the bookshelves and began to scan the titles. For his part, the vampire sidled up to the Slayer and leaned close to her ear, murmuring lowly, “Think we need to talk about Red, Slayer.”

Buffy’s wide eyes and somber nod surprised him; clearly, she had noticed something about the distracted witch as well.

Spike made his way out the back of the store and into the alley, lighting a cigarette and inhaling deeply, allowing the smoke to flow slowly from his dead lungs. Halfway through, he began to pace up and down the alley – and that was when he spied the van across the street, suddenly peeling away from the curb and around the corner, headed for locations unknown.

Bugger.

------------------

“Hey, Anya,” Xander said excitedly, leaning on the counter and bouncing on the balls of his feet. Something was clutched in his hand, and his eyes were shining.

“Xander,” she replied, not looking up from her calculator and paperwork, “I informed you several minutes ago that I would tell you when I have finished. It would be helpful if you were to sit quietly and not attempt to distract me.”

“Yeah, Ahn. I was, but then I found this neat thing under the table.” He unclenched his fist and allowed the silver locket to tumble from it, the chain hooked around his wrist. “It looks really cool…what is it?”

Anya pushed herself away from the desk and walked over to her fiancé. When she saw him fumbling with the pendant in an attempt to open it, she rushed over and snatched it from his hands.

“Anya,” he whined, rubbing the red lines the chain had left on his wrist. “That really hurt. What did you do that for?”

“This amulet is dangerous,” she proclaimed, making certain that it was intact. “I don’t even remember ordering it… Well, I’m definitely not selling it.”

Xander frowned. “Come on, Ahn,” he tried, pulling a scrap of paper out of his pocket. “These instructions say that it’s just for temporary singing…that’s fun, right?”

Anya snatched the paper from him as well, wrapping it around the amulet. “Sure, Xander,” she agreed. “It’s all fun and singing until you dance yourself to death.”

Xander’s eyes reflected the fear that six years of monster hunting had not thoroughly managed to erase. “Death-death?”

Anya nodded. “Quite a nasty piece of work, actually,” she replied. “Can’t remember the demon’s name, though. I just remember that it was something really stupid.” Locking the bundle away in the shop’s safe, she grabbed her fiance’s arm and proclaimed, “I would like to go home and enjoy several orgasms now. You also did not fight with Spike tonight, so I have a contractual agreement to fulfill with you.” She switched off the lights and dragged him out of the shop.

Her mission would prove successful: Xander forgot all about the necklace.

------------------

It was not the best of situations she was in when he walked into her room – clad in sushi pajamas, her face red from recent scrubbing, her hair tied into a rushed, sloppy ponytail. Her pajama legs were hiked above her knees, and she was rubbing lotion into her skin.

Spike hesitated at the doorway, taking in the image of her, committing as much to memory as possible – the smell of the lotion, the intricate coloring of her pajamas, the way he imagined her lotioned skin would feel against his. This was the Buffy he loved most: defenses down, taking the time to just be a girl. She had to know that he was staring at her, yet she did not stop her evening ritual; instead, she saw it to completion and rolled her pajama legs down before looking at him expectantly.

“You noticed something was up with Willow, too, didn’t you?” she asked.

Spike nodded and leaned against the doorframe. “Yeah,” he acknowledged. “She looked--”

“Awful, right?” Buffy interrupted. “She looks like she hasn’t slept in days. And she seems really…distracted. That’s really not like her. I mean, yeah, she used to be kind of distracted, but she was always there, you know? She just seems kind of…checked out lately.”

Spike nodded. “She asked me ‘bout the beatin’ I took from Glory,” he said. “Asked me if I was certain that Glory was the one who did it.”

Buffy’s brow furrowed in confusion. “That’s weird,” she replied. “I mean, she was there when we found you. She saw it herself. Well, the aftermath, I mean.”

“What d’you think is wrong?”

Buffy shook her head. “I have no idea. I’ll try to find out…I’m going to talk to Tara tomorrow after work. Maybe she knows something.”

Spike bit at his bottom lip in contemplation; a habit he’d been exhibiting frequently since his return, Buffy realized idly. “Didn’ think of that,” he muttered to himself, and pushed away from the doorframe. “G’night, Slayer.”

Buffy frowned. “You okay, Spike?”

The vampire nodded. “‘m fine,” he replied. “Jus’ feelin’ a bit peckish, and though I’d nip downstairs for some of the butcher’s finest.”

Her earlier words floated through his head, unbidden. I would do it again, if you asked.

Spike bit back his groan by darting his tongue out to lick his lips. “Plus you need to sleep,” he managed, despite the images bouncing around in his mind. Buffy would despise him if she knew what he was thinking…right?

“Okay,” she replied, barely stifling a yawn and burying herself under her sheets and blanket. “Night, Spike.”

It hurt, lying to her. He also wasn’t entirely certain that she wasn’t aware of his deceit, which made him want to fall to his knees and confess all the more – to lay prostrate before her and beg for her forgiveness, plead with her for her favor. She would find out eventually – hell, he would tell her – and she would hate him for lying, but perhaps she could see beyond to his reasoning.

He was starting to believe that she loved him. And he did not want to present her with a broken man. Spike needed to find Spike again; something had been left in the ruins of the tower that night so long ago, and he needed to reclaim it before he could offer himself to her.

As usual, with Spike it was all or nothing. In the wake of an unlife torn asunder at the source, that, at least, had not changed.

“G’night, Slayer,” he said, switching off the lights and closing the door.

------------------

A/N: ...I'm sorry! I'm out of the woodwork now, and back to working on this story.

Please be careful with my muse...she's very fragile at the moment. Clearly, as this chapter took me nearly a year.

Again, I'm so sorry. :-/


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