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!





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