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!

 





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