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.

 

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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.

 

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