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.”

 

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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.

 

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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!





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