All About Spike - Plain Version

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And Miles To Go
By cousinjean

Wishful thinking about the Season 6 opening, inspired by lots of varied resurrection speculation. Contains spoilers for "The Gift."

Disclaimer: Mutant Enemy owns the characters. The Ancient Greeks own the concept. Only the words are mine.

Archiving: Please ask first so I know where it's going.

Feedback: I wouldn't have put it here if I wasn't a feedback whore.

Big thanks to my beta-readers, Abby & Ehann. Keep picking at those nits, guys.




Angel ignored the knock at the door, hoping whoever it was would go away and leave him to sulk in peace. Not that they would. They never did. Especially not Cordelia, who didnít even give him a chance not to answer before she opened the door and stuck her head in.

"Hey."

"Hey," Angel said, without looking up from his book.

"Since it was such a slow day, Wesley and Gunn went ahead and called it a night and took off. I was just closing the office down."

"Iíll take care of it, Cordy. You go ahead and go."

"Actually, I came in here to ask if you wanted to go with me to Caritas?"

Angel looked up at her. "I thought you hated it when we go to Caritas."

"Only when you sing." She flashed him a bright smile. "But Iíll even endure that if itíll get you out of this hotel for a couple of hours."

"Thanks, but Iíve got a really good book going here, and I was really looking forward to finishing--"

Before he could finish, Cordelia walked in and snatched the book from his hands. "Browningís Sonnets. Oh, yeah, this is riveting stuff. A real page turner. Bet you just canít stand to put it down."

"Actually," Angel began, reaching for the book, but Cordy pulled it away.

She flipped through the pages. "You mean youíd rather sit alone in the dark and read depressing old love poems instead of coming out with me to where the people are to--" She stopped at the inside of the front cover. "Oh," she said, handing the book back to him.

"It was Buffyís. I gave it to her for her 18th birthday."

"Yeah, I know. She brought it to school and showed it to everybody."

"Really?" Cordelia nodded, and Angel smiled. "I was afraid she didnít really like it."

Cordelia sat on the edge of his desk. "Angel, you know, itís been a few months. I mean, I hate to break it to you, but when you died? She didnít sit around in the dark grieving for you for nearly this long, and she was the one who killed you."

"CordeliaÖ"

"Look, Iím sorry, Angel. Buffy was my friend, too--I mean, okay, we werenít exactly blood sisters or anything, but still, I knew her well enough to know that she wouldnít want you to go on like this. Especially not so soon after you were just figuring out how to not be Broody Guy all the time."

"I appreciate what youíre trying to do, Cordy, but I just donít feel--"

Before he could finish, Cordeliaís head lurched forward, and then she stumbled backwards. Immediately Angel moved to catch her and support her while the vision played itself out.

"What do you see?"

"Dawn," Cordelia gasped.

"Dawn? You mean like sunrise?"

"Buffyís sister," she corrected him. "And some kind of fungus demonÖ andÖ oh my God."

"What? What is it?"

"Spikeís there. Spike has Dawn."

Spike. That was a name he hadnít heard in a long time. Angel swallowed. Whatever Spike had planned for Buffyís sister, it couldnít be good. "Where?"

Cordelia concentrated. "Theyíre in an alley. It looks likeÖ itís just off of Sunset." She shook her head. "Thatís the best I can tell you."

"Then thatíll have to do," Angel said, grabbing his coat. "Letís go."

"Should I page the guys?"

"Nah. I donít need them to help me kick Spikeís ass."

"But what about the fungus demon?"

"Should be even easier to take than Spike." He reached the main entrance, and held the door open for her.

"If you say so," Cordelia said, casting him a wary glance on her way out.

***

"I guess fungus demons are especially easy to take when theyíre already dead," Cordelia said as she eyed the demon corpse stuffed behind a trash bin in the alley.

"It makes a slight difference," Angel said. "I guess itís a safe bet that it wasnít working with Spike." He considered this, then added, "unless they just had a disagreement."

"No sign of Spike or Dawn anywhere."

"No, but they couldnít have gotten far."

Cordelia looked worried. "You donít think he might have already hurt her?"

"I donít know," Angel said, "but the sooner we find Spike the better itíll be for Dawn. And if I find heís harmed a hair on her head, I swear, this time Iíll kill him."

"Well," Cordy said, "weíre only a block from Caritas. Maybe the Host can help us get a lead on him."

Angel nodded. "Iíll probably have to sing, you know."

Cordelia grimaced. "Yeah, but itís for a good cause." She patted him on the arm. "Letís go get it over with."

***

As they reached the entrance to the karaoke bar, a male voice could already be heard singing Wind Beneath My Wings.

"Uh oh," Cordy said, "sounds like youíre gonna get to go on after somebody whoís actually good."

"I donít really think it makes much difference," Angel said. He paused in the doorway. "You know, Buffy used to love this song."

"I know," Cordy said. "Come on, letís worry about the sister whoís still alive before itís too late to call her that any more."

Angel walked on ahead of her into the club, stopping abruptly as he came into view of the stage.

Cordelia smacked into the back of him. "Ow!"

"I donít believe it," Angel muttered.

"Me neither," Cordelia said, coming to stand beside him and gaping at the stage. "Who knew he could sing? But, hey! At least weíve got our lead."

"What the hell is he doing here?"

Applause erupted as the blond vampire finished his song. Paying it no heed, he hopped off of the stage and stormed over to the bar.

"Look around," Angel told Cordelia, "see if you can find Dawn. Iím gonna go have a little talk with Spike."

***

"That was beautiful," a green skinned demon said, dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief as Spike approached the bar. "Just absolutely beautiful. The Divine Miss M herself couldnít have given us a more moving rendition, honey. You didnít leave a dry eye in the house."

"Thatís nice," Spike said. "Now, can I use your phone?"

"In a minute," the demon said. "Letís have us a little chat first."

"Look," Spike said, trying to maintain his temper, "you said if I sang, I could use your telephone to ring a taxi. I sang, now cough up the bloody phone!"

"Just hold your horses, Blondie. Sheez, youíre just as impatient as your grandsire, arenít ya?"

Spike narrowed his eyes. "What?"

"Not as GQ, though. Although I must say, Iím adoring the post-modern punk ensemble. Itís a good look for you."

"Look, mate, I donít know what youíre on ab--" Before he could finish, Spike found his face being shoved into the bar and held there by a strong hand on the back of his neck. "Bloody hell!"

"Speak of the devil," he heard the demon say.

"What have you done with her, Spike?" Angelusí voice hovered just above his left ear.

"Wha-- Angel? What are you on about?" He groaned in pain as a punch was landed to his kidneys.

"Do you take me for a fool? Dawn Summers. Where is she?"

"Whatís it to you?"

"If I find out youíve hurt herÖ"

Spike rolled his eyes, already bored with this. He managed to get a good purchase on the bar with his hands, and he shoved himself up and back, cracking Angelís face with the back of his head, causing Angel to stumble back. "Sod off," he said, whirling to face his sire. "You donít have the faintest idea what youíre talking about."

"Cordelia had a vision. She saw you with the girl."

"So?"

"Gentlemen," the demon tried to interrupt.

"So, it wonít do you any good to deny that you have her."

"Whoís denying it? Sheís in the loo."

"What is this, Spike?" Angel asked. "You disappointed you didnít get to kill Buffy yourself, so youíre taking it out on her little sister?"

That did it. Without another thought, Spike landed a right cross to Angelís jaw. Damn, that felt good. Before he had a chance to really savor it, his own head snapped back with the force of a reciprocal blow. Next thing he knew, Angel vamped out and tackled him, and they both crashed onto a nearby table and toppled to the floor.

"Boys!" the green skinned demon shouted, and soon the two vampires were being pried apart by a couple of big bruiser demons.

"This is family business, Lorn," Angel said.

"Yeah, well, allow me to remind you that this is my fine establishment, and it has rules. Rules which you are currently breaking. Not to mention that I just finished the remodeling, and the last thing I need is for you and yours to tear the place up again."

"You donít understand," Angel said. "This is life or death."

"Uh huh, it is, but not little sisterís. Now why donít you both park your cute little black clad tushies at this table and listen to what I have to say to you?"

Spike glared at the demon. "Who the hellís the horned poof?"

"Iím the Host," the demon said, "and right now Iím the best friend youíve got in this place, so letís donít get personal."

"I donít have time for this," Angel said, shaking off his game face.

"Oh yes you do," said the Host, and pointed behind him. "Here comes your little ball of sunshine right now."

Angel and Spike both turned to see Cordelia running towards them, with Dawn in tow. "Angel!" she called, "Donít beat up Spike!"

Dawn ran ahead of her and came to stand by Spike.

"Are you all right?" Angel and Spike asked her simultaneously, prompting Angel to cast a confused glance at Spike.

"Iím fine," she said, then asked Spike, "what about you?"

Spike rubbed his jaw and glared at Angel. "Iíll live."

"Does somebody want to tell me what the hell is going on?" Angel asked.

"Gladly," the Host said. "Your boy here is the little missyís sworn protector."

Spike stared at the Host. "How the bloody hell could you possibly know that?"

"See, itís why I made you sing. Iím psychic, but I can only read your destiny when you sing."

"Neat party trick," Spike said.

"Iím sorry," Angel said, "but Iím having a little trouble with the concept of Spike as anybodyís sworn protector."

"Whyís that?" Spike asked. "Oh, wait, let me guess. ĎCause only blokes with human souls can be counted on to put someone elseís safety above their own, right?"

"Thatís part of it," Angel said. "Then thereís also the fact that the last time I saw you you had me chained up and tortured for hours, trying to get a ring that would help you kill Buffy."

Spike winced at that last part, though he couldnít bring himself to feel too badly about the torture. He felt Dawn looking at him. "It was back before the chip," he explained to her.

Angel looked confused. "Chip?"

"Wow, Angel," Dawn said, "you really havenít kept up, have you? Didnít you and Buffy ever keep in touch about anything after you moved away?"

"Not about Spike."

"Look, suffice it to say, Iím muzzled," Spike said. "I couldnít harm one shiny hair on Dawnís head even if I wanted to. Which I donít."

"Well, what about Cordeliaís vision? She saw you and a fungus demon attacking Dawn."

"Actually, Angel," Cordy said, "what I saw was Dawn being attacked by the demon, and Spike was just there."

"You couldnít have told me that before?"

"Sorry."

Spike sighed. "Yeah, the demon jumped out at her, and I killed it. Then we ducked in here so I could call a cab to get Dawn home safe, but the pay phones were out and your friend here wouldnít let me make a call unless I sang something."

"We heard you," Cordelia said. "You were really good. I never would have pegged you for a Bette Midler fan, though."

Spike rolled his eyes, then looked down at his boots. "Buffy liked that song," he said.

"Hold on," Angel said. "If youíre muzzled, then howíd you kill the demon? And how come you could hit me?"

"The chip only keeps him from being able to harm humans," Dawn said.

"Yeah," Spike said. "Demons are still fair game." He looked at Angel. "And so are you, mate."

"Then why are you protecting her?"

"Ah, the things you do for love," the Host said.

Angel looked at him. "Love?"

"Oh yeah. Your boyís got it real bad. Didnít you hear it when he sang? You didnít have to be psychic to hear the broken heart fueling that little ditty. Weíre talking a hundred percent, unadulterated--and not to mention unrequited--love. Probably the only truly pure thing heís experienced in his whole unlife. You know, I really wish I could meet this little Slayer gal, see what it is about her that makes not one, but two vampires get all twitterpated like this."

Angel blinked. "What do youÖ you mean, heís in love with Buffy?"

Spike looked at the floor. "I think Ďwasí is the correct term, innit, mate?"

"Donít be silly," the Host said. "Okay, yeah, sheís dead, but what youíre feeling is hardly past tense, is it?"

"Right," Spike said. "Bloody lot of good it does me. Now if I could just make that phone call--"

"Itís going to do you more good than you could possibly know," the Host continued. "Or, itíll get you killed, but thatís a minor detail, and my moneyís on the former."

"Lorn, what are you talking about?" Angel said.

"This is what Iíve been trying to tell you. Itís time for William here to go on a little quest."

Spike raised his eyebrows. "A quest?" He laughed. "Look, the only quest Iíll be partaking in tonight is to get Little Bit here home safe and sound before her dad starts to miss her."

"Even if it means you can get your Slayer back?"

Spike stopped laughing. "What?" he and Angel both said.

"Wait a minute," Angel said. "If thereís a way to get Buffy back, why havenít you told me about it? You had toíve sensed that Iíd do anything to make that happen."

"Youíre right, I did. But the Powers didnít reveal the way to me until he sang." The Host looked at Spike. "Even the Powers That Be were moved by your song, sweetie. Thatís why theyíre giving you this chance." He removed a pen from his suit and grabbed a cocktail napkin. "Go to this address to get started."

"And then what?" Spike asked.

"Jump," he said. "What happens after that, I donít know."

"I do," Angel said, eyeing the address on the napkin. "He wonít even survive the first test. Anyway, this wonít work. When I did it for Darla, they couldnít cure her because sheíd already been given her second chance. Buffyís already died and come back once before."

"When?" Spike asked.

"It was before you showed up," Dawn said. "She drowned, and Xander did CPR and revived her. Itís how come there are two Slayers now."

"How long was she gone?" the Host asked.

"About a minute," Angel said.

"Oh, piffle," the Host said. "You can hardly compare a piddly little resuscitation to Darlaís resurrection. As long as there wasnít anything supernatural involved in bringing her back, it wonít count."

"You sure about that?" Spike asked.

The Host nodded, then shrugged. "Pretty sure. Anyway, I wouldnít have been instructed to send you there if there was no chance."

"I guess not." Spike pocketed the napkin.

"This is ridiculous," Angel said. "Heíll never make it through the trials. Let me go. I did it once, I can do it again."

"Once is all you get," the Host said. "Sorry, big guy, but the ladyís already chosen her champion, and youíre not it."

Spike bit back the satisfaction he felt at seeing Angelís face fall. "You mean, Buffyís in on this?"

"So I understand."

Spike shook his head. "Angelís right. He should be the one to do this. Buffy didnít see how badly I bollixed things up in our fight against Glory. If Iíd done my job right then, she never would have had to die."

"And if Iíd jumped into the portal like I was supposed to, she wouldnít have had to die," Dawn said.

"Nibblet, thatís not--"

"Spike, itís not your fault. You tried to keep Doc away from me. You did everything you could, I saw that. I know youíll do whatever it takes to get Buffy back, and if I know it, then she knows it, too."

"Consider this your chance to put things right," the Host said. "Itís not every day a chance like this is given."

Spike looked from the Host, to Angel, and then to Dawn.

"If Buffy didnít have faith in you," Dawn said, "she never would have asked you to protect me in the first place."

Spike nodded. "I guess. All right, Iíll do it." He looked at Angel. "Will you take her home for me?"

"Iím coming with you," Dawn said.

"Oh, no youíre not."

"Yes I am, Spike. Like I said, if anybody here is to blame for Buffy being dead, itís me. Iím coming along, and you canít stop me."

Spike couldnít help but smile at her stubbornness. He put a hand on her shoulder. "You really are part Buffy, arenít you?"

Dawn returned his smile, and squeezed his hand.

"Fine, you can come."

"Weíll all go," Angel said. "My carís nearby, I can drive you to the spot."

"Just as long as you understand," the Host said, "you can all go with him to the starting point, but from there on, heís on his own." He looked pointedly at Angel. "No one will be able to help him."

"I got it," Angel said.

Spike looked at Dawn. "You were supposed to be home by now. What will you tell your dad?"

"She can tell him sheís staying with me," Cordelia offered.

"Thatíll work," Dawn said. "Besides, if I come home with Buffy, I doubt heíll be too upset with me for missing curfew."

"Right, then," Spike said, and started for the exit. "Letís do this."

***

They drove in contemplative silence, with Dawn and Cordelia in the back, and Spike riding shotgun next to Angel. As they came to a stop light, Angel broke the silence.

"You do realize you probably wonít survive?"

"So youíve said. Twice."

"Even if you do, chances are, youíll fail. The deal is, basically, your life for hers."

Spike nodded. "Doesnít seem to me these Powersíll be getting much of a bargain."

Angel remained silent as the light changed and he took off. After a moment he said, "You really do love her."

Spike looked at him. "You have met the girl. Does that really come as such a surprise?"

Angel seemed to think about this. "No, I suppose it doesnít." He glanced at Spike. "Did she, I mean, were the two of you--"

"Not that itís any of your business, but no." He fished his cigarettes and a lighter out of his coat pocket. "Seems this plonker she used to go out with did a pretty thorough job of convincing her a blokeís got to have a pulse to be worth consideration."

"I am not a plonker," Angel said.

"You most certainly are too a plonker," Spike said as he lit up, "but I was talking about the soldier boy."

"Oh," Angel said. "You know, I really didnít like that guy. What the hell did she ever see in him?"

"Got me." He sighed, forcing a lungful of smoke out into the night air. "She didnít love him either, though. Not really. So donít worry, you still corner the market on her heart."

"Then why are you doing this? If you know sheíll never love you, why put yourself out like this? Itís not like you."

"Yeah, thatís what I keep telling myself." Spike shrugged. "Dawn needs her, for one thing. A heartsick vampireís a poor substitute for a big sis. ĎSides, one thing Iíve learned, itís better to have Buffyís contempt than to have no Buffy at all. Anyway, if, like you keep saying, I donít come back from this, itís hardly going to matter how she feels about me, is it?"

Angel glanced sideways at Spike. "Are you sure you havenít picked up a soul since the last time I saw you?"

Spike didnít feel like dignifying that with a response.

"Weíre here," Angel said.

As the car slowed to a stop, Spike looked around at an old, run down playground surrounding a municipal swimming pool that looked like it hadnít been used in years. "Here?"

"Yep," Angel said, getting out of the car and heading to the poolís entrance. Spike, Dawn and Cordy followed as he led them around to the deep end of the pool.

"This is it?" Cordelia asked. "What is he supposed to do here?"

"Like the Host said, jump."

Dawn eyed the bottom of the pool. "But, thereís not any water." She looked up at Spike. "Wonít that hurt?"

"Only if he misses," Angel said.

"Oh, I get it," Spike said with a laugh. "Itís one of those Ďleap of faithí deals. Very creative. Right, then," he said, dropping his spent cigarette on the pavement and grounding it out with his boot. "Nibblet, if I donít make it back, you can have my CD collection."

"Thatís not funny," she said.

"I didnít mean it to be."

"Spike," she said, stepping in front of him, "MaybeÖ maybe you shouldnít do this."

"What happened to that big faith you had in me back at the karaoke place? Donít you want your sis back?"

"Yeah, of course, but--"

"But nothing. Iím going to go get her back."

"But I donít want to lose you," Dawn said, her eyes filling up with tears.

Spike looked at Dawn, and sighed. He took her head in his hands and planted a firm kiss on her forehead.

"Promise me youíll both come back," she demanded.

"I promise Iíll do everything in my power to get Buffy back," he said.

"Thatís not what I said."

"Iím sorry, Little Bit. Itís the best I can do."

Dawn shook her head. Failing to keep her tears in check, she turned and ran toward the exit.

"Dawn!" Spike called, but she didnít stop.

"Cordelia," Angel said.

"Iím on it," she said, and followed after Dawn.

Spike closed his eyes and sighed, then stepped up onto the diving board. "I told Buffy Iíd protect that little girl until the end of the world. If something goes wrong, and neither one of us make it backÖ" He looked at Angel.

"Iíll look after her."

Spike nodded. "So, any advice before I take the plunge?"

"The first test is tougher than it looks. If you get through that, the second oneís pretty straightforward. But that last oneÖ well, letís just say itís a trick question."

"Right. Well, itís been nice knowiní you, mate." Spike walked out to the end of the board.

"You really mean that?"

He looked back at Angel. "For the most part, yeah." He looked back at the empty pool before him. Closing his eyes, he muttered, "Here goes nothing," and stepped off of the boardÖ

Öand landed on solid concrete. Wait, not concrete, he realized, but stone. Just as hard, though, and just as painful. As he stood up he looked around not at the inside of the pool, but at some sort of medieval foyer, lit by torches set in sconces along the wall.

"I would commend you on your show of faith," a cultured British voice said, "but a suicidal vampire jumping into the deep end of an empty pool is hardly proof of anything."

Spike turned around to see a rather stuffy looking, nondescript fellow in what looked like a butlerís uniform. "Whoíre you?"

"I am the Valet. And you, I presume, are William Th--"

"Spike," he said, cutting him off. "Just Spike now. Williamís long dead."

The Valet nodded. "If you say so. Youíre here because--"

"We both know why Iím here," Spike said, "so letís just skip the formalities and get on with it. Something Iím supposed to fight, right? Some torture Iím supposed to endure? Letís have at it."

"Youíd better hope we donít decide to test you on your patience," the Valet said, clearly irritated. "But itís nothing like that. For you we have but one trial."

"But Angel said--"

"Angel should have realized that the trials he endured were designed for him, just as each trial is designed for the individual undergoing it. And even so, Angel should not have been coaching you."

"Right. Well, it was his idea. I mean, he just thought I could use a leg up. This wonít count against me, will it?"

"Considering that his advice will be of no use to you, no, it will not."

"Good," Spike said, relieved. "So, then, what do I need to do?"

"Itís very simple, really. All you have to do is lead the young lady out of here through that passage." As he pointed, a passage at the end of the hall lit up.

Spike looked at him. "Lead her out? Is she here?"

"Not yet, but once you get started, sheíll follow you shortly."

Spike walked over to the passage and peered in. "So, what, is it full of beasties Iíll have to fight off along the way?"

"No. The two of you will be quite alone inside the tunnel."

Spike nodded. "I think I know this story," he said.

"Then you know that she will be unable to speak or communicate with you in any fashion until you exit the tunnel."

"And if I turn around to make sure sheís behind me, itís all over. Buffy stays dead, and, what, I get torn apart by the Furies?"

"No," the Valet said, "Iím afraid youíll simply have to go on living with your failure."

"So what does that prove?" Spike asked.

"You misunderstand. Youíre not here to prove anything," the Valet said. "Youíve nothing left to prove, William. Youíve already shown that you put both hers and her sisterís life above your own, youíve kept your word regarding her sister to the best of your ability, and your valor has never been called into question. Youíve already endured the usual trials. All you have left to do is to show her the way home."

"So then, why all the conditions? Why do it like this at all? Why not just fix it so that sheís alive?"

"These things are not up to me," the Valet said, "which is just as well. The Powers That Be canít just go around restoring the lives of their best warriors. There must be conditions. It is how the balance is maintained."

"I give bugger all about your balance," Spike said. "I just want Buffy back."

"Then perhaps youíd best get started. Youíve a rather long journey ahead of you."

"Right," Spike said. He started to step into the passage, but stopped and turned back to the valet. "I donít suppose I could see her for a minute before we get started?"

"Iím afraid not," the Valet said. "Youíll just have to trust that she is there."

"If I talk to her on the way, will she be able to hear me?"

"Yes."

He nodded. "Good. Thanks." Spike stepped into the passage. He drew in an unnecessary breath, and set forth. There was nowhere to go but forward.

***

The swing set in the remains of the park surrounding the pool had been reduced mostly to just a skeleton frame with lengths of chain hanging from the crossbar, but two of its swings were still intact. Cordelia and Dawn occupied both. They were in full view of the diving board. Dawn had seen Spike jump, and she could see Angel waiting there for him. She had yet to see him come back up.

"Iím sure heíll be fine," Cordelia said.

"Sure," Dawn said.

"Angel did this once, and he got through it fine. And Spike isÖ well, heís Spike. Heís kinda hard to kill. Of course, I never thought Iíd see the day when he would put his carcass on the line for Buffy."

"Itís not the first time," Dawn said. "Heís gone through a lot of changes since you guys moved away."

"Some pretty amazing ones, Iíd say. But, Dawn, if for some reason, he doesnít come back, and Buffy doesnít either, you know youíll always have people to look after you. Angel, and me and Wesley when youíre here with your dad, and the whole gang back in Sunnydale--"

"You donít get it," Dawn said. "Itís not just about whoís going to protect me. I donít even care about that. Spike isnít just my pet watch-vampire. Heís my best friend. And if he doesnít come backÖ" She sniffed and wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeve. "I donít expect you to understand."

Cordelia looked over at Angel. "I think I do," she said. "Hey, have I mentioned yet how much youíve grown up since the last time I saw you?"

Dawn emitted a single, bitter laugh.

"What?" Cordy asked.

"Youíve never seen me before tonight." Cordelia looked confused. "Sure I have. All those times I came over to Buffyís house, and sheíd yell at you to stay out of her room. I even let you try on my lipstick once, remember? It was a great color on you, if I recall."

"Yeah," Dawn said. "I remember." She pushed off and started to swing, fixing her gaze on the spot where sheíd last seen Spike.

***

"You back there, love?" Spike asked after heíd gone about a hundred paces. "I know, you canít answer me. Of course youíre there. You know, Nibbletís waiting for us, back where I first came in. Sheíll be real happy to see you. Angelís there with her. Iím sure heíll be glad to see you, too."

As he walked, the light that had seemed to fill the entire passage when heíd started out began to fade, and soon disappeared altogether. "Ah, bugger," Spike said, peering into the darkness that lay ahead. He could see in the dark just fine, but what about Buffy? How was she supposed to follow him in that?

"Tell you what, pet," he said, "Iíll just keep talking, and you follow the sound of my voice, all right?"

Out of habit he waited for an answer, then remembered he wouldnít get one.

"Right. Anyhow, youíd be right proud of Dawn, the way sheís handled herself through all of this. I mean, donít get me wrong. She was pretty busted up afterÖ afterÖ" He laughed nervously. Even now he had trouble saying it. "Well, you know. We all were. Busted up, I mean. I myself almost gave up. I tried to. I did my best to lay down and die. But Dawn, she wouldnít have it. Regular Florence Nightingale, she was. Practically camped out at my crypt, tending my wounds, talking to me even when I played dead and hoped sheíd go away. Always made sure I fed, even when she had to get Giles and Xander to threaten to hold me down and force blood into me. Heh. I guess I didnít do much to make you too proud of me, did I?" He paused, then said, "Iím kind of glad you canít answer that."

"Anyway, she told me what you said, before. About how we shouldnít be afraid to live, and how we had to take care of each other. Good advice. It was a little hard to take, though, because honestly, the prospect of getting up and going on living without you was the hardest thing Iíve ever had to face."

He heard his voice break, and he paused to steady himself. He didnít want to weep in front of her. There was no reason for it now, anyway, was there? Not if that poncey Valet had been telling the truth.

"But I did it, somehow. I had to, didnít I? I promised you Iíd look after the nibblet, after all." He laughed bitterly. "Hell of a job I did of that back at the construction site, eh? Add that to the list of things Iíve got to try and make up to you girls. Itís getting to be a pretty long list." Spike stopped, and shook his head. "Bloody hell, Iím starting to sound like Angel. See what kind of influence you have on me, love?"

"So anyway, Dawn. Sheís doing good, all things considered. Sheís living with your dad in Los Angeles. Hell of a time they had getting hold of the bloke. Giles was ready to hop on a plane to Europe and go hunt him down and drag him back here, if necessary, but he finally returned his messages, and got back here in time for your funeral. Dawn wasnít too keen on going to live with him, but Social Services told her it was either that or a foster home. She took the news a little better once I promised to drive up and see her on the weekends."

"Iíve actually been thinking about relocating to L.A., myself. Youíd think thatíd be an easy decision, butÖ well, it would entail leaving you behind, for one thing. I donít know that I was quite ready to move on that much. And Iíve been keeping up with the slaying." He grinned. "Thatís funny, innit? William the Bloody Vampire Slayer. Kinda has a nice ring to it, never mind the irony. Needless to say, I havenít exactly gotten back in the good graces of Sunnydaleís demon population." He shrugged. "Not that I consider that a problem anymore."

"But anyway, I ought to be near Dawn. And, really, the Scoobies donít need me for the slaying. They all kept it up, you know. Even Xanderís gotten pretty decent at hand-to-hand combat. He had me teach him some moves. Heíll never be Bruce Lee, but heís a fast learner. And Willow! That girlís downright scary when she wants to be. She doesnít even have to get near a vamp, what with her powers and all. She can just toss a whole bagful of stakes with her mind. She and Tara are still working on that ball of sunshine, too. You can bet, I try to stay on their good side. Those two get much more advanced, theyíll figure out how to turn a vamp to dust just by looking at him." The thought made Spike shudder. "Sheís sure come a long way since that time she put the whammy on us, made us get engaged."

He smiled at the memory of their short-lived engagement. "Remember that, pet? That was a hell of a time, wasnít it? Well, maybe not at the time, but looking backÖ at least, for me. You know, all of this started tonight because I sang Wind Beneath My Wings at that sodding karaoke bar." He shrugged. "Itís not like they had a wide variety of punk rock in their repertoire. And, by the by, if you tell anybody about this, Iíll flat out deny it. But I had to sing something before that bloke with the horns would let me use his phone, and I saw that song, and thought of you. You wanted us to dance to it at our wedding, remember? I guess I gave you a pretty hard time about that after the spell ended, didnít I? Sorry Ďbout that, love. You know, itís really not that bad a song. Anyway, it just seemed appropriate, is all."

He began to hum the chorus as he tried to think of more to say. He wondered how far theyíd gone, and how much farther it would be. He feared that if he kept babbling like this Buffy might turn around and go back of her own accord out of sheer boredom. But he had to keep making noise of some sort. The darkness was stifling, and sheíd have no way to tell he was there otherwise.

He pulled his ciggies from his pocket. He cursed under his breath as he realized he only had one left. With a sigh, he pulled it out with his lips, and wadded up the empty pack. He started to toss it on the ground, but then thought better of it, and put it in his pocket. No telling what the penalty might be for littering in the Powersí territory. He pulled out his lighter and lit up, then held the flame up above his head and marveled at what a tiny dent it made in the darkness.

"Remind me to bring a torch with me the next time I go on a mystical quest, eh, pet?" He shut his lighter and returned it to his pocket. "Anyway," he said, a bit more cheerily than he felt, "I think youíre all caught up on current events. Oh, wait. Did I tell you that Giles moved back to England?" He nodded for emphasis, even though he knew she wouldnít be able to see him. "Yep. The Council had a nice desk job waiting for him back in London. I think it was just too painful for him, hanging around town with nobody to watch over. He, uh, he gave the shop to Xander and Anya. Well, Anya mostly. Sheís got a surprisingly good head for business, considering she was born in the ninth century. Sheís got to be missing something in the way of common sense, though, considering sheís agreed to marry the wanker." He paused. "You didnít know that, either, did you? They got engaged before we set out to stop Glory that night. They held off telling anybody for a while, for proprietyís sake." Spike shook his head. "I guess, if youíre human, life just has to go on, doesnít it?"

"Anyway, Iím sure thatís everything. So, what do you want to talk about now?" He sighed, exhaling a lungful of smoke. "Sure wish you could talk to me, Buffy. I hope weíre not in here much longer. I canít wait to look at you. Besides, Dawnís probably out of her mind with worry." He paused for another drag. "I wonder how sheís holding up."

***

Dawn dragged her feet on the ground to stop her swinging as Angel approached. "Whatís wrong?" she asked him.

"Nothing," he said. "I just thought Iíd wait over here with you guys. Is, um, is that okay with you?"

"Sure," Dawn said. "Whatever." She started rocking the swing from side to side. "What do you suppose heís doing right now?"

"Fighting for his life, most likely," Angel said.

"But, probably doing a really good job of it," Cordelia added, and gave Angel a look. "Right?"

"Uh, right," Angel said. "Iím sure Spikeíll be fine. Heís a real fighter. Heís kicked my ass before, Iím sure he can handle this."

"What does he have to do?" Dawn asked.

"I canít say for certain," Angel said. "His trial might be different from mine."

"What did you have to do?"

"Well," Angel said, leaning against the swing set, "first I had to fight this big, nasty demon, to get through a door."

"That doesnít sound so hard," Dawn said. "Spikeís fought off plenty of big nasty things before. One time, he rescued me from this Ghora demon. It had me cornered, and he pounded on it to get it to leave me alone."

"Really?" Angel looked surprised.

"Yeah. He didnít kill it, but he injured it enough so we could get away. So after you beat the demon, what did you have to do?"

"After that, I had to retrieve a key from a bowl and open another door at the opposite end of the hall."

"That sounds easy," Dawn said.

"The floor and walls of the hall were covered with crosses, and I had to get through it without a shirt or shoes," Angel said. "And the bowl holding the key was filled with holy water."

"Yeesh," Cordelia said. "I always wondered where you got all those burns."

"Spike can handle that," Dawn said. "It canít be as bad as the torture that Glory put him through."

"Glory?" Angel asked. "You mean that goddess that Buffy fought the night sheÖ"

"Yep. I was what she needed to perform her ritual to return to her own dimension, but she didnít know it."

"And Spike did?"

"Yeah."

"And he endured torture to keep that secret?"

Dawn struggled between pride for Spikeís tenacity and guilt for being the reason he went through it all. "Big torture," she said. "That was what finally convinced Buffy she could trust him. And, that he loved her."

Angel shook his head. "Iím sorry. Iím just having a really hard time picturing Spike doing any of these things."

"I guess, a year ago, I would have, too," Dawn said. "So, you got the key. Then what?"

"Then, basically, I had to choose between my life or Darlaís."

"But you didnít die," Dawn pointed out.

"It was a test. When I chose Darlaís life over mine, they spared my life, and said I passed." He looked thoughtful. "That was the part of the trial that I was sure Spike would fail, but now Iím not so sure."

"He wonít," Dawn said. "Heís already laid down his life more than once for Buffy, and for me. Heíll make the right choice, no question." She grinned, her worry fading and being replaced by excitement. "This should all be a piece of cake for him, since heís done it all before. And when he passes all of the tests, theyíll give us back Buffy, right?"

"Thatís how itís supposed to work," Angel said. "But, Dawn, there are no guarantees here."

"Itíll work," Dawn said. "If anybody can beat the system, itís Spike and Buffy." She started to swing again, barely able to contain her excitement. For the first time that night, she let herself believe that sheíd have both of her loved ones back by the end of the night.

***

As Spike woke up, he took careful stock of which direction he was facing before he opened his eyes. After walking for what felt like at least a day, heíd had to stop and rest. He hadnít meant to fall asleep, though. He climbed to his feet, and stretched. He felt hungry, but there was nothing he could do about that. He could go a few days at a time without any blood if he had to, without any ill effects, other than becoming increasingly cranky, and heíd had a few pints before setting out to visit Dawn, so heíd be fine. He wished heíd held on to his last cigarette, though. Then he remembered, even if he had, he wouldnít be able to get to it. Heíd taken off his coat and laid it down for Buffy, so that she wouldnít have to rest on the hard ground. Now he had no way to retrieve it, without turning around.

"Morning, sunshine," he said, then laughed. "I guess itís morning, at least. And you know, even I would be happy to see some sunshine right about now." He sighed. "Well, weíd best be on our way, then. Surely we canít have too much farther to go. I trust youíll bring my coat along," he added as he started walking.

He started to sing as he went. Heíd already told her his life story -- the unabridged version, not the carefully edited account heíd given her that night at the Bronze, since he no longer cared about protecting his image. He was sure heíd have the good sense to be embarrassed about some of what heíd told her when they got back to the land of the living, but until then, it didnít matter. All that mattered was that she be able to find him in the dark.

When heíd run out of things to talk about, he considered reciting some of his old poetry, but then decided that would be cruel punishment, and had started to sing instead. After exhausting his repertoire from the last twenty-five years, heíd gone back to the beginning of the last century and started from there. He was now up to Cole Porter.

Just as he began to fear heíd have to start singing show tunes, a light appeared up ahead.

"Cor," he said. "Look, pet, I think weíre almost there."

As he drew closer, however, he realized it was firelight, not daylight. The Valet stood waiting for him, holding a torch.

"Nope, sorry," Spike said, "itís just Alfred, tidying up the Batcave."

"Iíve been instructed to bring you light, sir," the Valet said.

Spike raised an eyebrow at him. "Now? What about back at the bloody starting line? My throatís raw from all the singing Iíve been doing just to make sure she can keep up with me."

"Yes, and while you certainly have a lovely voice, sir, Iím afraid the Powers are rather tired of hearing it. They bore quite easily, you see."

"Just give me the bloody light," Spike grumped.

As the Valet handed him the torch, he continued, "Iíve also been instructed to inform you that youíve reached the half way point, sir."

"Half way? But weíve been in here for at least a day."

"Actually, youíve been traveling in this tunnel for closer to two weeks."

Spike almost dropped the torch. "TwoÖ are you serious?"

"Quite."

"But, Dawn. She probably thinks weíre not coming back. Sheíd be devastated."

"Probably so," the Valet agreed. "The poor dear, losing her mother, her sister and her guardian in such rapid succession."

"Youíve got to get to her," Spike said. "You have to let her know weíre coming."

"Iím afraid the only way for that to happen is for you to tell her yourself."

"I can do that?"

"Certainly, sir. All you have to do is give up."

"Give up?"

"Just say the word, and you can be back on the surface. The little girl will be overjoyed to have you back, Iím sure. And Iím quite certain you could stand a few helpings of blood."

That sounded good. It occurred to Spike, heíd been without blood for two weeks, and if he kept going like this it would mean another two. He didnít even know if heíd still be able to walk by then. Heíd once seen a vampire whoíd been forced to go a month without any blood. The sight of it still gave him nightmares sometimes.

"If I do, what happens to Buffy?"

"She would remain deceased, of course."

"But, I could come back, right? Iíd just be taking a break."

"No, sorry, no breaks," the Valet said. "If you leave you forfeit, and she stays with us."

"No deal, then," Spike said.

"Are you certain?" the Valet asked. "You wonít receive another offer like this."

"If I donít go back without Buffy," Spike said, "I donít go back at all."

"Very well, sir," the Valet said. "Good journey." Then he was gone.

Spike was pissed. How dare they try to tempt him like that? The very idea that heíd just give up after having come this farÖ they didnít know him very well, did they? Still, he hated the prospect of spending another two weeks in this hole. He supposed it might have been psychosomatic, but now that he knew how long it had been since heíd last eaten, he suddenly felt weak and lightheaded, and incredibly starved. He wondered what this was doing to Buffy? No doubt sheíd be feeling the effects of it, too. Well then, he decided, the sooner they got to the end, the better.

"Letís go, pet," he said, and started off. He was glad to have the light, though he was pissed off enough to want revenge on the Powers That Be. So, they were bored with his singing, eh? Spike grinned wickedly, and then launched into a very loud and off key rendition of "Oklahoma."

***

Cordelia glanced at her watch.

"How longís it been?" Dawn asked her.

"About forty-five minutes."

"It shouldnít be too much longer," Angel said. "The whole thing only took me about half an hour."

The look of elation on DawnĎs face began to fade back into worry. "What if, what if something went wrong?"

"Letís not leap to conclusions," Angel told her.

Just then a flash of light came from the swimming pool. A portal opened up near the diving board, and Spike stepped out. At least, Spikeís platinum blond hair and black clothes came out, but the creature they were covering was barely recognizable, practically a living skeleton. He came out alone, and the portal disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared.

Angel took off running for the poolís entrance, and Dawn and Cordelia followed.

"No," Spikeís voice came from the creature, and it was filled with pure anguish. "Give her to me, you poncey bastard!" he cried. As the three rounded the shower house and entered the pool area, Spike was climbing down into the empty pool. "I did it," he was shouting. "I made it to the end, and I didnít look back, now you give her to me!" He dropped to his knees beside the drain and pounded the concrete with a skeletal fist.

"What did they do to him?" Cordelia asked.

"Heís dried up," Angel said. Heíd seen it happen before, and heíd staked those it had happened to, to put them out of their misery.

Dawn ran past them both and climbed down into the pool with Spike, whose shouts were growing weaker. "Give her back," he sobbed as Dawn reached him. Despite his frightful appearance, she knelt beside him and put her arms around him as he let loose a gut wrenching sob.

Angel didnít know what to do. Seeing Spike like this was disconcerting, to say the least.

"My God," a voice beside him said.

"You can say that again," Cordy said, and nudged Angel to look beside him.

Angel turned to see the source of the voice. "Actually, I think thatís kind of an understatement," he told her.

Buffy looked up at him, and smiled. "Hey, Angel."

He looked her up and down. She was wearing Spikeís coat, but it looked like she had nothing on underneath. Other than that, she looked healthy, alive, and absolutely beautiful. Angel reached out and took her into his arms. "Iím so glad to see you," he said.

"Me too," she said, returning his hug. Then she pulled back, and turned her worried gaze towards the two broken hearts in the pool. She went to one of the side ladders, and climbed down. "Dawn," she called.

Dawn jerked her head up at the sound of her sisterís voice. "Oh my God," she said. "Spike, it worked." She jumped to her feet. "It worked!" She ran to Buffy, and the two sisters embraced. "Oh my God, Buffy," she cried, "I missed you so much!"

"I know," Buffy said, and kissed her cheek. "I missed you, too."

It appeared to take every ounce of energy remaining in him for Spike to lift his head towards the two girls. A rictus grin spread across his face, and Spike started to laugh.

And then he passed out.

***

Warm fingertips brushed across his brow, and smoothed back his hair. He didnít know whose they were, and he didnít care. He knew that when he opened his eyes heíd see that their owner was not who he wanted it to be. Heíd had this dream too many times to be fooled by it now.

But this last dream, that was a new one. Heíd been turned into bloody Orpheus, leading his Eurydice back from the underworld. Or wherever the hell it was that theyíd been keeping her all this time. Except that heíd done it right. Heíd made it all the way out without looking back. And sheíd been there. Heíd brought her back, his Eurydice. HisÖ

"Buffy?" He opened his eyes.

"Hello, cutie," she said.

Spike blinked up at her, not trusting his eyes. She sat next to him on the edge of the bed -- whose bed, he had no idea. It looked like they were in a hotel room, a rather nice one. The unfamiliar surroundings didnít do anything to reassure him that he wasnít dreaming. Neither did the way she was smiling at him. She looked so beautiful. So perfect. He sat up, putting himself within a rather intimate distance from her. She didnít back away, and his heart sank a little. Surely this was only a dream. He closed his eyes, and inhaled. She smelled real enough. His senses registered her body heat, and her heart beat. She felt real.

He opened his eyes, and reached a tentative hand out to touch her hair. "Are youÖ" he began, and stopped to swallow. "Youíre reallyÖ"

"Iím really," she said, taking his hand in her own. "Thanks to you."

Spike completely forgot himself. Grinning with pure joy, even as fresh tears welled up in his eyes, he threw his arms around her and crushed her to him, not caring whether he invaded her personal space. "Buffy," he said with a sigh. As he squeezed her even tighter, burying his face in her hair, he felt her arms wrap around his midsection, returning his hug. Even as he felt he could stay that way with her forever, he felt he might die if he didnít look at her again right then. Releasing his hold on her, he grabbed her shoulders and pushed her back so he could see her face.

"Pet," he began, then faltered. What the hell does one say to the newly resurrected love of oneís life? Everything that went through his mind sounded so stupid. At last he settled on, "How do you feel?"

"Alive," she said, "which is a nice change of pace. What about you?" She sounded truly concerned. "You werenít doing so good after we got back fromÖ where we got back from."

He looked at her in wonder, still not quite believing she was there. How could she be worried about him? How could he possibly be anything but elated to see her? "Iíve never been better, love."

Buffy smiled, and brought a hand up to caress his cheek. "Thank you," she said.

Spike cocked his head to one side. "For what?"

"For coming to get me."

"Any time," he said.

"And for watching out for Dawn, and sticking by the gang."

He shook his head. "Donít make it all sound so bleeding noble." He reached up and covered her hand, which still rested against his cheek, with his own. "It was just me trying to be close to you, is all." He lowered his gaze, suddenly unable to look her in the eye. "That, and trying to make up for the way I welched on my promise to protect--"

"Shh," Buffy said. "Spike, look at me."

He reluctantly raised his eyes to meet hers.

"You did the best you could," she said. "Thatís all I asked. Thatís all any of us can do. What happened, it wasnít your fault. It was my choice. And IÖ Iím sorry."

"Youíre sorry? For what?"

She pulled her hand away from him, and looked down at the bed, tracing the pattern on the comforter with her finger. "You know, I already had this talk with Dawn. I thought it would be easier with you, butÖ" She shook her head.

"Buffy," Spike prompted.

"I took the easy way out," she said, meeting his gaze again.

He shook his head. "But, it was you or Dawn."

Buffy nodded. "Itís easy math, I know. I wanted to save her, and given the same choice again Iíd choose the same way every time. But it wasnít just that. I didnít care that she would have to live with the pain of that choice, or that you, or Willow, or Giles or anybody else would have to live through that kind of grief. I just knew that it would be over. Finally, mercifully, over. So I jumped." She dropped her gaze again, and shrugged. "Looks like you were right about that whole death wish thing."

Spike emitted a single, humorless laugh. "Oh, sure," he said, "the one time I wanted to be wrong, you had to go and let me win an argument. Isnít that just like you?"

Buffy actually laughed at this. A wonderful, melodious sound. Spike reached out and brushed a strand of hair out of her face. "Well," he said, "one thing I was wrong about. It didnít turn out to be such a good day, after all." He leaned forward and brushed his lips against her forehead. "Worst day of my whole bleeding existence," he said, resting his forehead against hers.

A knock at the door caused them both to straighten up, and Spike scooted back on the bed, putting a more respectable distance between them.

"Who is it?" Buffy called.

"Itís me," Dawnís muffled voice said.

"Come in."

"Sleeping Beauty wake up yet?" she asked, poking her head through the door. Upon seeing Spike sitting up, she grinned, and came into the room. "You look a lot better," she told him.

"Thanks," he said. "Right back at you."

"Iím serious," she said. "The other night you really looked like hell."

"Dawn," Buffy said, "language."

Dawn gave Buffy a dramatic eye roll, but then smiled and leaned in to put an arm around her big sister. "It sure didnít take her long to get back into parenting mode," she told Spike.

"Yeah, well, get used to it," Buffy said. "Mom and I had a nice long talk, and she gave me lots of pointers."

Seeing the two sisters together again, Spike couldnít help but smile. He wondered what it was about these Summers girls that had such a profound effect on him. But then something Dawn had said caught his attention. "Wait, you said the other night? How long have I been out?"

"Three days," Dawn said. "You were almost totally dried up, like you hadnít fed in forever. It was gross."

"It took a really long time to get out of that tunnel," Buffy said.

"But Spike wasnít even gone for a whole hour."

Spike shrugged. "Time tends to get a bit wonky when you enter mystical realms."

"I guess," Dawn said. "Anyway, Angel had to keep pumping blood into you until you started to look healthy again."

"Angel? Heís still around?"

"This is actually his hotel," Buffy said.

"Is that right?" Spike looked around the room. "Huh. Shouldíve figured, what with the poncey dťcor and all."

Buffy shot him a look, and he smirked at her. It was beginning to feel like old times. Only much, much better.

"Anyway," Dawn said, "Angel wants to know how youíre doing. And Cordy ordered some pizzas, they should be here soon. Oh, and Wesley told me to tell you that he finally got hold of Giles, and heíll be on the first plane back to Sunnydale in the morning."

"Wow," Buffy said. "Then I guess itís time to head home tomorrow. Talk about impending weirdness. I mean, I thought it was awkward when I got back after that time I ran away from home."

"I bet they throw you a party," Dawn said.

"God, I hope not. Still, I canít wait to see them all. And I guess itís good timing, seeing as how our dadís all gung ho to get on the first plane back to Europe."

"What?" Spike asked, appalled. "Your dadís leaving town, so soon after you got back? From the dead?"

"Well, in his defense, we did kind of downplay the whole Ďback from the deadí part," Buffy said. "Told him Iíd been in the Witness Protection Program. Wesley and Gunn pretended to be FBI agents. It really didnít take much convincing." She sighed. "Still, Iím amazed he even showed up for my funeral. He couldnít even manage that much for our mom."

"Buffy," Dawn said, "he really was upset about you."

Buffy nodded. "I know. Just like I know that if heíd been cut out to be a dad then he never would have bailed on the job in the first place. Sorry, Dawn. Go tell Angel that Spikeís fine. Weíll be down in a minute."

"Okay," she said. She started to go, but then turned back and leaned down to hug Spike. Without even thinking about it, he hugged her back. "Iím so glad you made it back," she said.

"Me too, Nibblet."

Dawn planted a kiss on his cheek, then headed downstairs.

Spike watched her go, and shook his head. "Manís known his daughterís alive for three days, and heís ready to skip town and leave her to parent his youngest? I tell you, if I didnít have this chip in my headÖ"

"Youíd what?" Buffy asked. "Okay, so he wonít be winning any Father of the Year awards, but heís still our dad. And weíve only got the one."

"Yeah, I know," Spike said. "Still, Iíve known vamp sires who make better parents."

"I guess," Buffy said. "Speaking of vamp sires, Angelís waiting." She stood up.

"So?"

"SpikeÖ"

She shot him an exasperated look, and he smiled. God, how heíd missed her. "Yeah, all right," he said, injecting it with more petulance than he felt, and followed her downstairs.

***

"Angel?" Buffy called. He came out of his office. "Where is everybody?" she asked.

"Theyíre all out working a case. Iíll catch up to them later, I just wanted to make sure I said goodbye. Here," he said, handing her a book. Her book, she recognized. The poetry book heíd given her for her birthday.

"Howíd you get this?"

"Willow gave it to me. She thought Iíd like to have it, but now I guess youíd want it back."

Buffy nodded, and opened it to read the inscription. "ĎAlwaysí," she said. She smiled wistfully at Angel. "That sounded a lot more permanent back then."

"Itís still true," he said. "Iíll always be here for you, Buffy. And you know, the next time you have to face something like Glory, I hope youíll remember that Iím available to help."

"Cordelia said you guys were all in another dimension at the time," Buffy said.

"Oh. Yeah. Well, I meant under usual circumstances."

Buffy grinned. "Relax. I canít rely on you to fight all of my apocalypses for me. Besides, I had plenty of help."

Angel shifted uncomfortably. "Help in the form of Spike?"

"As well as the rest of the gang," Buffy said. "I guess this whole me and Spike getting along thing is kind of weird for you, huh?" She wrinkled her brow. "Actually, itís still kind of weird for me. But itís getting less weird."

"Itís, uh, definitely unexpected," Angel said. "I mean, I had my doubts about his motives, but after seeing what he went through for youÖ"

"Thatís actually getting to be status quo with him," Buffy said. "All of the trust and respect youíve seen Dawn and me give him, believe me, heís earned it."

"So where are he and Dawn?"

"At my dadís. Dad left for Spain this afternoon. Dawn wasnít quite finished packing when I left. Theyíll pick me up here after the DeSotoís all loaded and ready to go. Then itíll be home, sweet home."

"So, have you told him yet?" Angel asked.

Buffy looked at him, confused. "Told him what?"

Angel looked pained by what he was about to say, then finally said, "That you love him."

Buffy stared at him in disbelief, then shook her head. "No. I--"

Angel cut her off. "Buffy, you once told me that you canít fool Spike any more than you can fool yourself. Well, you canít fool me, either. I can see it. Iím sure Spike can see it too, but heís probably too afraid to believe it."

Buffy lowered her gaze. "I kind of thought youíd tell me how Spike is no good for me, what with him not having a soul and all."

"Normally I would. I want to, butÖ I canít deny what I see. And, I donít understand how, but the Spike Iíve gotten to know over the past week is not the same Spike I used to know." Angel shook his head. "If his love for you has brought him this far, with him believing it will never be returned, just think how far he might go if he knows that you love him back."

Buffy didnít know what to say. Before she had a chance to say anything, the hotel doors opened, and Spike and Dawn came in.

"The carís all gassed up and loaded," Spike said. "Weíre ready to go when you are."

"Be right there," Buffy said. She looked back at Angel. "Thank you," she said.

"Donít thank me," he said, "just be honest with yourself."

Buffy nodded, then leaned up to kiss his cheek. "See you," she said, then turned towards Spike, who kept his eyes averted from her and Angel. "Iím ready," she announced.

Spike nodded, and opened the door. "Angel," he said with a nod. "Thanks for all your help, mate."

"Any time," Angel said.

"You really mean that?"

Angel shrugged. "For the most part."

The corners of Spikeís mouth quirked up in a slight smile. "Yeah," he said. "See you around. Girls?" He held the door open as Dawn and Buffy exited the hotel. Outside, he opened the back car door for Dawn, then opened the passenger door for Buffy. She started to get in, but then stopped, and looked up at him.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Thereís something Iíve been meaning to tell you," she said.

"Canít it wait till weíre on the road?"

"No, I donít think it can."

"All right," Spike said, leaning against the car. "What is it?"

Buffy took a moment to study his face. This was not the face of the monster whoíd stood outside the Bronze all those years ago and boasted about how he planned to kill her. It looked the same, yet it looked totally different. It held more character, for one thing. Of course, it hadnít gotten any older, but it had definitely gotten wiser. He now had scars around his right eye to balance out the one above his left. The old one heíd received from a Slayer in battle; the new ones, heíd accepted for the sake of a Slayer -- for her sake. This was the face of a man who loved her. It was truly a beautiful face.

"I had a lot of time to think about stuff while I was gone," she said. "Mostly regrets, things I wish Iíd done differently. I actually donít have very many regrets, but I do have a few. One of them is that I didnít take the time to say what I wanted to say to you that last night, at my house."

"But there wasnít anything to say," Spike said. "And there wasnít time--"

"There was," Buffy said. "On both counts. I was just too wrapped up in everything that was happening, and at that moment I still thought Iíd get another chance."

Spike cocked his head, and smiled. "Looks like you did, pet. So go on, say your piece."

"There were actually two things," Buffy said. "The first was that, youíre not a monster. Iím not really sure when it happened, but you havenít been a monster for quite a while now."

Spike had the same disbelieving look on his face that heíd had upon waking up to find her alive. When he spoke, his voice was heavy with emotion. "And the second thing?"

Buffy took his face in her hands and pulled his mouth down to hers. It only took a second for his shock to wear off enough for him to respond, and he wrapped her in his arms. They stayed like that for several seconds, savoring the taste of each other. Confident that heíd gotten the message, she broke it off and looked in his eyes.

"Never say never," she told him.

"Canít you guys wait to start making out until we get home?" Dawn shouted from the back seat.

The spell broken, Buffy grinned, and couldnít help but laugh as she got in the car.

"All the better reason to rush home, then," Spike said with a wink as he shut her door. He went around to the driverís side and got in.

As he started the car, Buffy turned around to look at her extraordinary sister and her, well, whatever Spike was becoming to her. She and her weird little makeshift family were finally going home.

Buffy Summers had never felt more happy to be alive.


End


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