"Look What Love Gave Us."
by iyaorisha


Timing: After "Grave" (AU S7)

Pairings: Buffy/Spike (also Xander/Anya, Willow/Tara, Buffy/Angel, Spike/Drusilla, Spike/Angel)

Summary: Newly ensouled Spike returns to Sunnydale.

Rating/Warnings: NC-17 eventually. Violence, language, F/M, F/F (implied), M/M flashback, S&M, bloodplay, rape flashback, and torture.

Spoilers: None if you've seen S6. References to FFL, the trade novel "Pretty Maids All in a Row", and my fanfic "Relating to a Psychopath."

Feedback: Brutal honesty is best (I enjoy floggings, I really do), but warm fuzzies are accepted as well. You can post a review here or email me at
fanfic_by_iyaorisha@yahoo.com

 

INDEX

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4


***

Chapter 1


Buffy stared in amazement at the terra cotta slab before her. She had heard of such things before of course, but never expected to see one in her own kitchen. She was going to have to wait until Willow got home from her therapy session to figure out what to do with it.

Just then Dawn came bounding in. "Cool, a pizza stone. Now we can have real pizza at home. I'm glad you're sick of Doublemeat specials too." She paused. Her sister was staring at the stone as if it was covered with hieroglyphics. "Buff, are you okay?"

"I didn't buy this, Dawn. It was on the front porch when I came home." Buffy gestured at a pile of wrapping paper in the trashcan.

"Oh, how cute. The wrapping paper has mushrooms, black olives, and green peppers on it." Dawn prattled. "Looks delish. Can we have those toppings on our pizza tonight?"

Buffy wrinkled her nose. "I don't know how to make a pizza, Dawn. Aren't you curious that someone left a present on our porch."

Dawn shrugged. "So you have a secret admirer. Janice knows how to make pizza. Can she come over?" The teen ran for the phone.

Buffy sat down and stared at the pizza stone. A secret admirer, she mused.

Dawn put one hand over the receiver. "Did you look for a note?"

"Duh!" Buffy said, slapping herself on the forehead. She fished around in the trashcan until she came up with a small tomato-shaped notecard. "That's funny." She held it up for Dawn to see. "It's just a recipe for pizza for extra garlic. And it's unsigned."

Dawn rolled her eyes. "Ugh, extra garlic. Figures you'd have a weirdo for a secret admirer."

***
The next day, it was a box of luxury-sized bath soaps flecked black with vanilla beans. Buffy inhaled the sweet scent before she put them in the linen closet.

The morning after that, she opened a real oyster shell to find the most wonderful pair of dangly earrings: quarter sized moons made of mother-of-pearl, each hung with a waterfall of tiny silver stars. The day after that, a matching bracelet arrived. Buffy regretted that they were too delicate to wear to the Doublemeat or while on patrol. She tucked the jewelry away, dreaming of a candlelit dinner with her admirer.

On three consecutive days, a single long-stemmed red rose greeted Buffy. When the blooms wilted, she gathered the fallen petals in a bowl on her nightstand. Their faint perfume soothed her when she crawled into bed at sunrise each morning.

There were presents every morning. The secret admirer seemed to have eclectic tastes. In addition to the traditional jewelry, flowers, and candy, he sent an antique hairbrush and hand mirror backed with tortoiseshell; two Japanese fighting fish in separate bowls; a basket of herbal teas and a teapot painted to look like a very fat calico cat curled up for a nap; and a foot spa packed with an assortment of nail polishes and pedicure tools.

One day, there was a bottle of perfume that Xander complained smelled a little like Creamsicles, but Buffy and Dawn both loved it. "You're just jealous that you didn't think of doing something like this for Anya." The younger Summers accused.

"How are things with Anya?" Buffy asked.

Xander shrugged. "We're talking. She let me fix that broken railing finally. And then we had coffee." He tried to look hopeful. "I think she's stopped trying to find people to curse me."

Buffy laughed and went to put the perfume away. When she left the room, Willow turned to Xander. "And you?" the ex-witch prodded.

Xander looked puzzled. "Me what?"

"Well, forgiveness is a two way street. Have you forgiven Anya for her...indiscretion?" Willow lowered her voice in deference to Dawn. The teen stared at her indignantly. "I know all about it, people! You know, you'd think being witness to two near apocalypses would earn me some respect."

"Sorry, Dawnie." Willow apologized. "But seriously, Xander. Things won't move ahead unless you let go of what happened with Spike."

Buffy paused in the hallway at the mention of the blond vampire. His name was seldom spoken in the house by anyone except Dawn.

Unaware the Slayer was listening, Xander began to enumerate the things that he planned to do to Spike if the vampire came back to Sunnydale. It took him five minutes. "And, I've got a big pile of seasoned firewood, just waiting to be turned into Spike-stickers," he finished.

Dawn stood up angrily. "How can you joke about that?"

Xander looked up at her. "I'm not joking, Dawnie." Indeed, the construction worker's face was completely devoid of humor and his voice was hard and flat. "Spike slept with the woman I love and tried to rape your sister. It's a good thing that he ran like a coward when he did. If that soul-less asshole shows his face in Sunnydale, he's dust."

The teen whirled and ran out of the room. Dawn couldn't even see her sister through her tears. She ran upstairs and threw herself on her bed sobbing. Spike had been gone a little over a month. Was she the only one worried about him? Buffy had been reluctant to go to his crypt or stop by Clem's for news. Even the floppy-eared demon didn't seem overly concerned about his friend.

Dawn missed Spike so much. He made her laugh with stories of the tricks that he had played on Angelus when he was a fledgling. And when she was scared, he kept her safe. More than all that, he was the only one who consistently treated her like a normal person and not a little kid or a bothersome responsibility.

Sometimes, when Buffy looked at his duster hanging in their hall closet, a weird expression crossed her sister's face. The Slayer looked like she was struggling to remember something or maybe to not remember. Then she would notice Dawn staring and look away with something like shame in her eyes. They never talked about it.

Meanwhile, downstairs the older Summers was indeed staring at the duster. She knew that she should get rid of it. Sometimes the long black leather coat seemed the embodiment of Spike himself. She hated how it made her feel, alternating between being glad he was gone and hoping he was okay. Buffy sighed. Spike had been gone for four or five weeks. In the past year, he'd disappeared for days at a time, usually to pester Angel in L.A. He'd even left Sunnydale for a long period of time before, but that had been with Drusilla. Angel had told her once that Spike couldn't stay on his own for very long. He had a pathological craving for companionship and a sense of belonging.

Giles agreed that Spike was odd in that sense. Most vampires, especially master vampires were not sociable creatures by nature. They guarded their territories ferociously and unflinchingly destroyed any fledgling or feral who unwittingly crossed the borders. It was true that older vampires tended to form covens, but most tolerated the presence of Childer and minions solely for the security of greater numbers. Real attachments between Sire and Childe or between lovers was rare or at least seldom observed by The Watchers' Council. Giles believed that the vampiric line of the Order of Aurelius was probably singular in its tendency to form such long lasting bonds. When one looked at it that way, the most shocking thing about Angelus, Darla, Drusilla, and Spike's little "family" was not their dysfunctional behavior toward each other, but the fact the quartet *had* functioned as a unit for so long.

Buffy remembered how desperate Spike had been to win Dru back from Angelus three years ago. When his lover left him yet again, and Spike returned to Sunnydale, he taken up with the fledgling Harmony. After he was chipped and Harm too, left him, Spike had sought out yet other companions, both demonic creatures and humans. Most of these interactions had ended badly, but Spike had persisted until he won Clem's friendship and Dawn's adoration. And, Buffy admitted, an honorary membership in the Scoobies. Not to mention, a temporary fling with the Slayer.

When Spike left Sunnydale six weeks ago, he did so alone. Or so it seemed. She wasn't sure what worried her more: How Spike would make it on his own or who he'd taken up with?

***
The gifts continued to come. Once, there was a pair of concert tickets to see Big Bad Voodoo Daddy at the Hollywood Bowl. Buffy gave the tickets to Xander, who nervously asked Anya out. To everyone's surprise, the vengeance demon accepted. When Xander called Buffy the next afternoon to thank her, he described the evening as subdued but enjoyable.

It gave the Slayer a lot of pleasure to share her gifts with her friends. She gave Dawn, Willow, and Xander massages with the scented oil that came. Sent the basket of biscotti and expresso beans to the Magic Box for Giles and Anya.

One morning, there was a gift bag containing a video of "Shadow of the Vampire", two packages of microwave popcorn, and boxes of movie candy like Mike & Ike's, Junior Mints and Gummi Bears. The note said "Hilarious movie. Enjoy!" The Scoobies did, howling with laughter at Willem Dafoe's Nosferatu. But Giles was a bit troubled by the choice of movie. "Has your secret admirer sent you anything else related to Slaying?" he asked as the credits rolled.

"Don't be silly, Giles." Buffy laughed. "It's just a movie." She shook the last Junior Mint out of the box and popped it into her mouth.

"Nonetheless, I think you'd better let me take a look at these presents. Perhaps they're not so innocuous." Giles frowned. "Even if there's nothing magickal about them, doesn't mean the sender doesn't mean any harm. Have you forgotten that Angelus left you gifts as well."

***

Buffy was growing frustrated. Some nights, she patrolled for hours before she came across a vampire. Other varieties of demons were becoming similarly scarce. Once she came across a nest of at least six vampires, but when she and the Scoobies returned the next night to dust them, the place was deserted.

She began to fight her nightly boredom by trying to solve the identity of her secret admirer. The notes were never signed. Nor were there any clues. The Slayer began rising earlier in hopes of spying her secret admirer, but he always managed to evade her. She found herself looking extra hard at every single guy she knew.

"I think that it's Chuck from work." Buffy announced at dinner when she showed off the latest gift: a clunky silver bracelet adorned with a big oval of turquoise. "He told me once that his sister worked for a jeweler. I figure my secret admirer has connections. Either that or he's seriously loaded."

"How do you know it's a he?" Willow asked with mild annoyance. "It could be a she."

"Or an it!" Xander offered. "Some demon with a Slayer fetish. Wouldn't be the first time."

Buffy stuck out her tongue at Xander. "Sorry, but I'm pretty sure it's a guy, a human guy. Look at the handwriting." She held out the latest note. "See, it's kinda messy."

"Maybe it's a left-handed girl." Willow suggested. "What guy would write 'I am in awe of your inner beauty'."

Xander nodded. "It's a girl."

As the gift's continued to come, trying to guess who was sending them became one of their favorite pastimes. One Sunday morning, a basket of bagels with lox and all the trimmings was delivered by van. Buffy grilled the driver, but he didn't know who had ordered it. When she called the deli later, the clerk informed her that it was against store policy to reveal payment details for gift orders. Willow hacked into the shop's computer that night, only to find that the basket had been paid for with cash. That would prove to be the case with any gift that was remotely traceable.

"I don't think he wants to be known." Buffy sounded a little sad.

"Maybe he or she is shy." Willow suggested. Her eyes grew a little misty in memory of Tara.

"Or disfigured." Anya added helpfully. Xander nodded, "I'm thinking maladjusted geek turned 'Stalker'." That didn't stop him from helping himself to a third bagel.

Willow looked worried. "What does Giles think?"

Buffy shrugged, "He says there's nothing magickal about any of the gifts. He's still worried. But I think it's just your garden variety secret admirer. Perfectly ordinary."

Dawn was indignant. "There's nothing ordinary about this. I think it's romantic." The teen rested her chin on her hand, dreamily.

"Hey!" Buffy pushed her sister playfully. "I thought you said he was probably a weirdo."

"Have you ever had a normal guy like you?" Dawn teased back.

Although Buffy laughed, she realized it was too close to the truth. In six years, one normal guy had liked her and she him. But Scott was the aberration in the panoply of weirdos she'd been involved with. A vampire with a guilt-ridden soul. A manipulative Don Juan. A living G.I. Joe doll. And another vampire, this one neutered by a government-implanted chip.

At the thought of the last, Buffy made up her mind to pay a visit to Clem.

***

"I know you're in there, Clem. We can hear the TV." Dawn yelled.

Buffy regretted for the nth time that she had let slip where she was going. Once her little sister knew she was going to talk to Spike's friend, Dawn had insisted on tagging along. Now, they stood in a dim and smelly hallway in a skanky boardinghouse waiting for the floppy eared demon to answer his door.

She sighed and decided it was time to reason with Clem. "Clem, this is Buffy. If you don't answer your door in three seconds, I'm going to kick it down. One, two..."

The door opened a crack and Clem peered out. "Good afternoon, Buffy. Dawn. Sorry it took me so long. I was...indisposed." He gave a wan smile. "How can I help you?"

"I want to ask you some questions about Spike."

Dawn nodded. "Have you heard anything from him, Clem."

Clem hesitated. His ears quivered so much that Buffy grew suspicious. "Aren't you going to invite us in Clem. Normally, you're so hospitable."

"Um...sure, just wait a minute, DAWN and BUFFY." The door clicked shut again.

"Why is he yelling?" Dawn asked. Buffy shrugged. She couldn't figure out why the floppy eared demon was acting so strangely.

Through the door, the sisters could hear scurrying sounds and a couple really loud thuds. Occasionally, Clem continued to call out that he was delighted that they dropped by. Buffy was ready to break the door down when it opened again. Clem smiled and motioned them in.

The demon's room was small. A set of bunkbeds against one wall and a card table left little room to stand, so Dawn and Buffy perched on the unmade lower bunk while Clem fetched canned soda from a dorm sized refrigerator. He handed Dawn a bowl of chips from the card table and sat down uneasily on a folding chair.

"So you want to know where Spike is?" Clem said loudly. "Well, you came to the WRONG place. I haven't seen hide nor hair of him in almost two months."

Buffy stared at the card table. There were two glistening water rings on the green fake leather, but only one glass. The Slayer narrowed her eyes. "Who was in here with you, Clem? Who did you have to get rid of before you let us in?"

Clem seemed to shrink. "Just a lady friend. She was shy." He replied in a jittery voice.

Dawn giggled, but Buffy stood up. "Where is she now?"

"Uh, she went out the window. I guess she's halfway home by now. You know those Ying demons, they can really move when they want to." Clem babbled. "So I guess you'll be going now. Since I don't have any news about Spike."

Before Buffy or Dawn could protest, Clem jumped up and opened the door. Wordlessly, the girls left. Outside the boarding house, the Summers sisters looked at each other. "That was weird." They both said it at the same time, prompting them to burst into laughter.

"I mean, imagine Clem with a girlfriend." Dawn said between giggles. Buffy nodded, then sobered. "I don't know, Dawnie. He said she was a Ying demon, but my Slayer sense said a vampire had been in the room."

Dawn's eyes widened. "Do you think it was Spike?" The teen wheeled and would have headed back up the stairs if Buffy hadn't grabbed her arm.

"No." Buffy was surprised by how disappointed her own voice sounded. "Not Spike. I mean, why would he hide from us?"

The younger sister reached out and touched Buffy's cheek. "Because he's ashamed of hurting you."

For a few seconds, Buffy's vision blurred. Then she blinked and shook her head. "No, it wasn't Spike, sweetie. Just some other vampire friend of Clem's. Too shy to meet the Slayer," she quipped. "That's why the lower bunk bed was so rumpled. Whoever it was grabbed a blanket and jumped out the window. See the pansies are trampled."

Dawn was crestfallen as she examined the crushed flowers. "If Clem doesn't know where Spike is, I guess nobody does."

"I guess not, Dawnie. Oh, don't cry." Buffy hugged her little sister. "I'm sure he's okay. Sunnydale just got old for him. He's probably stirring up trouble somewhere. He'll get his ass kicked and come home."

"Do you really think so?" Dawn sniffed.

"Sure. C'mon. Let's go home."

***

The gifts continued to come every day, but after the third week they changed to mere trinkets or something her admirer might have found-a small bouquet of wildflowers, once an unusual stone. So it was a big shock when Buffy found a little blue box from a well known jeweler propped against the front door.

Buffy held her breath as she tugged on the white satin ribbon and pulled off the lid to reveal a small gold cross embedded with tiny pearls. Buffy sat down heavily, the box lid still clutched in one hand. She stared at the pendant wordlessly for several minutes. She finally got up the courage to take it out of the box when her sister came back into the room.

"Wow!" Dawn squealed with delight. She stroked the cross with one finger.

"Yeah, and now I know for sure it's not Chuck." Buffy said, placing the necklace back into the box. "He could never afford something like this on his wages from the Doublemeat. Besides, he'd never buy a cross. He's an atheist."

"Ok. Who then?"

"I don't know, Dawn." Buffy stared at the cross. "But I think Giles is right. However, it is, he knows I'm the Slayer."

Dawn looked frightened.

"No, Dawnie. I think it's a good thing. I mean a cross is a weapon for a Slayer. He wants to keep me safe, don't you see."

***
Although she knew she should let Giles check it out first, Buffy wore the cross when she went on patrol that evening. Its not insubstantial weight between her breasts was comforting. Two stakings and her work for the night was done. Giles, too, thought that Sunnydale's vamp population had gotten scarce of late. They didn't wonder too much about it. Life around the Hellmouth had its own rhythms. Just as evil ebbed, it eventually flowed. Soon enough, some Big Bad would arrive in town and she'd long for a quiet night.

Still, it felt weird to go home before the sun was up. She decided to take a third stroll through the cemetery on the off chance that a fledgling had risen. That killed about fifteen minutes. It also brought her within spitting distance of Spike's crypt. She sat on a headstone and stared at it for a while. When had she been here last? Six weeks ago, maybe? It had been daytime, a Saturday afternoon when Dawn had insisted on stopping by yet again to see if the bleached blond vampire had returned to Sunnydale.

He hadn't and no one knew where he was. Not Willy or Clem. Buffy had even taken to interrogating vampires before she staked them. It was a waste of time, most were new to Sunnydale these days. But Buffy did it anyway. Anything to make Dawn stop crying.

After the visit to Clem, she'd wasted more time fruitless searching before she had convinced her little sister that Spike was gone for good. "He can't be." Dawn had protested one last time. "He didn't take his duster. He loved that coat. He wouldn't just leave it behind. Without any explanation or saying goodbye." She sobbed. "To me, I mean, not to the duster."

"I know what you mean, honey." Buffy whispered, as she stroked Dawn's hair. She made up her mind to move the duster from the hall closet to the storage cabinet in the basement. Out of sight, out of mind. For Dawn's sake. And her own.

Now, it was a half an hour until daylight. The Slayer took a deep breath and entered the crypt. The place still had a charred smell from being firebombed when she and Riley discovered the clutch of Suvolte demon eggs. Spike had tried to fix it up, but it was never decent again. Now, most of the things he'd left behind were gone. Even his little microwave. A carved walking stick that she had never seen before leaned against the refrigerator door. Spike didn't own a walking stick.

Buffy took a deep breath as she realized that some other creature had taken up residence in the crypt. Probably a vampire, judging from the continued lack of mirrors. She didn't know why it hurt so badly. It was hardly a surprise that another demon had moved in. Spike had been gone at least two months. He wasn't coming back. He was probably dead.

Buffy resolved to come back the following night and get rid of whoever was living in the crypt. Then she'd seal off the place, maybe blow it up.

***
The next morning's surprise gift was a slim square package. Inside was a CD jewel case. Her secret admirer had made a mix disc!

When she popped the disc into her walkman, Chad Kroeger's distinctive voice filled her ears. She smiled. It was the theme song from the new Spider-man movie. She and Dawn loved the movie; they had seen it three times already.

"Someone told me
Love would all save us
But, how can that be
Look what love gave us"

Buffy smiled. Two months ago, she had the same cynical view. Then Xander stopped Willow from destroying the planet with three simple words. Whatever pain love brought, it also held the means to heal.

"And they say
That a hero could save us
I'm not gonna stand here and wait
I'll hold onto the wings of the eagles
Watch as we all fly away"

She hummed along.

"Now that the world isn't ending
It's love that I'm sending to you
It isn't the love of a hero
And that's why I fear it won't do."

The words were sung so ruefully that she longed to find her admirer and tell him she didn't need a hero. A good man would do. One who wouldn't go evil if they slept together or make her the butt of campus jokes the next day. One who wouldn't give succor to her enemies or try to force himself on her. Could her secret admirer be such a man?

***

Buffy rushed through patrol the next evening. It was even deader than the night before. One stupid fledgling who practically staked himself in his eagerness to jump her. She brushed his dust off her clothes and headed for Spike's crypt.

She slipped in once she was sure it was empty. Maybe the vampire she'd Slain earlier was the new tenant. No one else had been nearby.

The main room of the crypt looked cold without the furnishings that Spike had when he lived there. Those she and Riley hadn't destroyed must have been tossed out by the latest resident. Only his chair and small television remained. She ran her hand along the top of the TV set, smiling despite herself at Spike's addiction to daytime soap operas. Maybe she should take it home for Dawnie when she torched the place. She knew Joyce wouldn't have liked for the teen to have a TV in her room, but it might be a healthier momento than the duster.

It took less than ten minutes to set the charges. She had just started spooling the wire when her Slayer sense prickled. She knew without turning around that the new occupant of the crypt was back. Buffy slid a stake from the inner pocket of the jacket. She whirled instinctively and thrust the stake into the midsection of the creature rushing toward her.

The vampire staggered back in shock, revealing Spike's anguished face! "Buffy?" he moaned and fell to the ground.

 

Chapter 2

For several heart beats Buffy was frozen. Then she realized that Spike hadn't turned to dust. That spurred her to action. She ran to him and knelt at his side. The stake was still embedded in his side, thankfully at least 2 inches from where she had intended to plant it. Cool blood was seeping out and beginning to soak through his shirt, deepening the carmine fabric to burgundy.

Buffy tucked the pearl cross inside her top before she carefully lifted Spike. She cradled his white-blond head against her chest with one arm while her other hand frantically tried to open his shirt to see the damage. It looked like the stake had lodged in his ribcage. Spike was lucky that she had been off balance when she staked him. It was a miracle that the stake hadn't been driven into his heart when he hit the ground.

She vaguely remembered from Health class the admonition to never pull something out of puncture wound in the chest. Something about the object plugging a hole that might otherwise hemorrhage. With humans the warning made sense. But with a vampire, a stake lodged in the chest might hit the heart if it was jarred accidentally. It had to come out.

Buffy wrapped her hand around the stake gingerly. One false move and Spike was dust. Praying, she took a deep breath and pulled upward on the stake. It slid out with a horrible sucking sound. She gagged when she saw the almost fist sized hole left in its wake. At first, she could see in as deep as her index finger and then more blood began seeping in.

Buffy knew vampires couldn't die from blood loss, but it made recovery more difficult. She needed to stop the bleeding. She ripped wide strips from the hem of her skirt and stuffed them in the hole, but they quickly became soaked and useless. She scrabbled for her backpack, but there was nothing but weapons: stakes, a large cross, a vial of holy water. Not even a little first aid kit, like Giles had urged her to carry.

It was a crazy idea, but she was desperate. As carefully as she could, Buffy dribbled holy water on the skin around the wound. As the skin began to burn, she pressed the edges together as hard as she could. As she suspected, the holy water cauterized the wound. The repair looked hideous, but at least, he wasn't losing any more blood.

He still seemed unconscious. Still she spoke in a reassuring tone of voice. "You're going to be okay, Spike. I'll be right back with help."

She ran.

***

The phone was ringing, but Xander Harris didn't want to answer it. He was dreaming about Anya, a good dream, not the one where she turned him into an inside-out howler monkey and made him skip rope with his own entrails. Or the one where she screwed a legion of bleached blond vampires.

No this was a good dream. They were taking a boat out to Catalina Island. The day was not too hot but sunny, with a strong breeze. Perfect sailing weather. They had a picnic lunch in a wicker basket. Half of a cold roasted chicken, a salad of tender crisp baby field greens with balsamic vinaigrette, fresh rolls and butter, and new strawberries. Even a chilled bottle of Chardonnay. Anya was wearing a wide brimmed straw hat. He bent down to kiss her and she let go of the hat so that the wind skimmed it away over the blue, blue water. But she didn't mind.

He knew it was just a dream. In real life, he and Anya weren't kissing again yet and if they were, she'd be peeved at the loss of the hat. It looked expensive. That's why he ignored the phone. Or tried to. Eventually Dream!Anya heard it ringing, too. She asked him why he didn't get it.

"Because you'll go away." He tried to kiss her again, but she leaned away and pointed to the phone.

Xander shook his head. "No, it's probably just Buffy calling to say that something is trying to end the world again. I'd rather go sailing with you."

Dream!Anya smiled. "That's sweet, but you really should answer the phone if you think it's Buffy. She might need you."

"Don't you need me?" He didn't mean to sound so desperate.

"I'm just a dream." She shrugged, "I don't have needs. I'm just a reflection of what you need. But then, that was always part of the problem," Dream!Anya said sadly and suddenly, Xander was awake.

The phone was still ringing. He answered it in as nasty a voice as he could muster given the heaviness of his heart. It *was* Buffy.

"Xander, I need you to come quickly with your car. The cemetery. Oh and bring a board if you can find one."

"What's going on?"

"I staked Spike by accident, but I missed." Her voice faltered. "He's hurt bad. And Giles is already on his way. But his car won't start so he's on foot. We need you so that we can get Spike back to my house."

Xander let the receiver dangle as his mind processed the information. Spike was back. Buffy had staked him, but he hadn't died. Now, despite everything, she was trying to help him and wanted Xander to chip in too. The words that came out of his mouth next surprised him."Sorry, Buff, I can't."

"Oh, no. Is something wrong with your car too?"

"No. It's just I can't. I mean I won't."

He could hear her shocked intake of breath.

"What do you mean you won't? I need your help, Xander." She pleaded.

"Helping you save Spike isn't really helping you, Buffy. I won't do it." His voice and resolve grew stronger. "I'm sorry, but I won't do it."

He waited for Buffy to say something that would change his mind, maybe yell. Instead, her voice was soft and way too calm. "I'm sorry you feel that way Xander and I'm sorry I disturbed you. Goodnight."

Xander listened to the phone click off and then he just sat with the receiver next to his ear until the snippy automated female voice told him to hang up and try again if he would like to make a call. Which he did.

"Hello?" The voice sounded even angrier than his did when he answered his own phone five minutes earlier. He realized that maybe it wasn't a good idea to wake a vengeance demon at 4:30 in the morning.

"It's me, Anya. I wanted to know if you would go sailing with me tomorrow."

"Xander?"

"I had a dream that we went sailing."

"Xander, have you been drinking?"

He laughed "No. In my dream, we had a picnic lunch and you wore a beautiful hat."

She didn't say anything.

"Please say you'll go sailing with me tomorrow. You don't have to wear a hat."

Anya sighed. "I can't go sailing tomorrow. I have to do inventory. Even with Giles' help, it'll take all day."

"Okay. Will you go sailing with me on Sunday?" He closed his eyes, prayed she'd say yes.

"Yes. I'll go sailing with you on Sunday."

Xander couldn't tell if she was exasperated or not. "Thank you, Anya."

"Can I go back to sleep now?" she pleaded.

"Yes. Goodnight. Oh, and Anya? Giles won't be in tomorrow to help with the inventory."

"Why not? He's the one who suggested it."

"He'll be helping Buffy nurse Spike back to health."

There was a slight pause. "So, he's back." She said it lightly.

"Yes."

"And something got him?"

"Buffy got him. I guess it was mistaken identity or something. Anyway, she needs Giles to watch up the hole she left in his chest." Xander tried to sound nonchalant.

"She called and asked you to help too, didn't she?" Anya asked softly.

"Yes."

"You didn't go." There was wonder in Anya's voice.

"No." Xander found that he was smiling "No, I didn't."

Another pause. "Is that why you called? To let me know that you didn't go running when Buffy needed you?"

He figured honesty was best. "Yes and no. Mostly, I called because in my dream you said you didn't need me, but I still wanted to be with you anyway."

More silence, then "Thank you for calling Xander Harris. I'll expect you early on Sunday."

"Seven AM, Anya. And I'll bring a picnic lunch. Goodnight."

"Goodnight." He almost laid the phone back in the cradle when he heard her call out, "Wait, Xander!"

"Yes?"

"What kind of hat was I wearing in your dream?"

He took a deep breath. "A wide brimmed straw hat, like something Audrey Hepburn would wear. It had a black and white polka dot ribbon that matched your swimsuit. And when I kissed you, you didn't care that the wind blew it away."

Xander swore he could *hear* her smiling as she hung up the phone.


***

In the end, Buffy lugged Spike in a fireman's carry to a bar two blocks from the cemetery where Giles called a cab. The driver didn't ask any questions about the blood spattered pale man passed out between his dad and girlfriend. That was pure vanilla compared to what he saw most nights in Sunnydale.

Buffy and Giles carried Spike into her house. They tried not to jostle the injured vampire too much and took additional care to be as quiet as possible. Buffy was terrified that they would wake Willow or worse Dawn. She didn't think she could handle a hysterical teen as well as a wounded Spike.

At first, they put him on the sofa, but the light in the living room was too poor. So they carried Spike upstairs and laid him on her bed. The vampire remained unconscious while they cut off the remains of his shirt and sponged the dried blood from his chest. Then Buffy held her gooseneck desk lamp close so that Giles could examine the damage done by the stake.

The wound remained sealed, so there was no need for stitches. But the puckered edges were raw and ugly looking. None of the burns from stray drops of holy water had healed either. The dime sized sear marks were an angry red against Spike's alabaster preternatural skin. Though both doubted that vampires were susceptible to infections, Giles and Buffy worked together to treat the injuries with a triple antibiotic salve. Then, they bandaged Spike's chest with fresh gauze and tape.

At length, Giles said, "The holy water was a clever idea. Without it, the blood loss would be much worse."

"I hear a 'but' coming." Buffy said.

Giles took off his glasses and examined the lenses looking hard for some speck to polish away.

"Giles, just tell me."

"Well, Spike should have awakened by now. And it appears that he's not healing."

Buffy nodded. She had hurt Spike often enough to know that he should show more signs of recovery.

Giles continued. "I think the blood loss is more extensive than expected for even as great a wound as you inflicted. Judging from the blood on his clothing and on the floor of the crypt, I estimate he lost 4 or 5 pints. Enough to kill a human, but hardly so much for a master vampire like Spike." He paused. "It's been a half an hour. He should be awake and his usual insufferable self by now.

"So, why isn't he?" She glanced anxiously at the vampire.

Giles hesitated. "Buffy, I suspect that Spike has no more than one and a half pints of blood left in his body."

"How is that possible? You just said that he probably lost no more than 5 pints." Buffy frowned with the effort to remember high school biology. "He's on the slight side, but he would still carry about 10 pints. If he lost 4 or 5 pints, that should leave 5 pints."

"Yes, but he may have been low on blood to begin with." Giles grimaced. "I think he was starving."

Buffy looked at Spike wonderingly. He did look much thinner than usual; his cheekbones not just pronounced but jutting. Why was Spike starving? Even with the chip in, he'd always been resourceful about getting blood, cigarettes, and alcohol. He had no problems with stealing if he lacked funds. Obviously something had kept him from taking the time or effort to get blood. But what?

She turned back to Giles. "Is it possible that he was being chased by something. That he didn't have an opportunity to feed?"

"Anything is possible. It might explain why he came back to Sunnydale after all this time away." He sounded worried.

They both stared at Spike for several minutes. He looked dead, really dead. So white and unmoving against the brightly patterned comforter on Buffy's bed.

"Giles, he won't begin to heal until he has blood, right?"

Her Watcher nodded.

"And he certainly can't answer any questions if he's unconscious. We need to get some blood into him."

"Of course. However, none of the slaughterhouses or blood banks will be open for at least another couple hours."

She paused, not sure she wanted to go where she was headed. "There's blood right here, Giles."

"What? Buffy, why are you keeping blood in the house? Has Angel been visiting?" He stopped and looked at her with something like shock. "Were you hoping Spike would return?"

"No. No." Buffy blushed. "I mean I have blood, Giles. Right here running through my veins."

"Absolutely not, Buffy." Giles sputtered. He stood up. "Spike won't die. He can wait until one of the butchers opens."

Buffy shook her head. "And what if something nasty is out there right now tracking him?

The Watcher didn't answer and she knew that she had him. "He needs blood. Any blood will do, but human would be better. You *know* that Slayer blood will heal him faster than anything other than the blood of another vampire." She didn't have to say why they knew this.

"Perhaps we should call Angel, he could be here in an hour." Giles said hopefully.

Buffy was shocked. Giles never volunteered to call Angel when there was trouble. If he was suggesting that, the Watcher was desperate for an alternative.

"No. I'm not sure he'll come, there's too much between him and Spike." She was grateful that Giles nodded in agreement. Buffy took another deep breath. "We'll give him a pint. It won't hurt me. I've given that much at campus blood drives."

Giles pinched the bridge of his nose. He wished that he had a good reason to say no, but he knew that Buffy was right. If something was following Spike, they needed to know.

"I won't let him feed from you," he said finally.

Buffy made a face. "Ugh, of course not."

They got a glass from the kitchen and Giles sterilized a scalpel. The first cut hurt a bit, but then she distracted herself by watching her life force draining into one of Dawn's Mickey Mouse tumblers. When the glass was full, Giles pressed a gauze bandage onto her wrist and told her to leave the room. "I don't think it'll be good for you to see this."

She nodded, the thought made her nauseous. "I think I'll lie down on the couch. I'm not woozy, just tired."

Giles shut the door . Buffy finished bandaging her wrist and went downstairs wearily. Her last thoughts were of the black leather duster she could see hanging in her hall closet.

***

When Buffy woke up, sunlight was streaming in her living room window. For a moment, it was pretty, then she remembered she had a convalescent vampire in the house. She sat up and tugged on the heavy drapes.

"You're awake."

Buffy turned to see her best friend curled up in the easy chair. The redheaded ex-witch looked deeply worried.

"Willow." Buffy stretched. "Do you know what's going on?

The redhead nodded. "Giles told me when I woke up at seven."

"Seven! What time is it now?!"

Willow shrugged. "Nine. Nine-thirty, maybe."

Buffy threw off the afghan and started looking for her shoes. "I've gotta go get blood."

"Uh, uh. Already taken care of. Giles said to let you sleep so I was first in line at the slaughterhouse this morning." Willow's lips curved in a mischievous smile. "It's interesting the kinda folks you meet buying pork byproducts at the crack of dawn."

Buffy could only imagine.

"Anyway, I bought two gallons of pigs' blood. They're in the fridge." Willow made a face at the thought. "I hope that's enough. I don't want to go back there anytime soon."

Buffy sat down again and put her head in her hands. "Has Spike woken up yet?"

Willow winced. "I'm sorry. You missed it. Spike was awake for about a half an hour after Giles gave him your blood." The ex-witch shivered at the thought. "Then he fell asleep again. He's still really weak. By the way, how are you feeling, Buffy?"

The Slayer stood up again. "I'll be fine as soon as I know what's going on."

"You can't *really* expect to get straight answers from Spike." Xander said as he closed the front door behind him.

"What are you doing here?" Buffy was surprised at her cold her voice sounded. "I mean, I thought that you said you couldn't help."

"I'm not here to help. I'm here to make sure that you don't get hurt." Xander pulled a stake out of his back pocket.

"You're not going to stake Spike." Buffy said warningly. She moved between her friend and the stairs.

"I will. I swear I will, if he so much as looks at you wrong." His voice trembled with emotion, but the hand holding the stake was rock steady.

Buffy put her hand on Xander's arm, gently. "I can handle him myself."

Xander shook his head and laughed bitterly. "No, you can't. I wish you could, but evidently you have a soft spot where certain vampires are concerned."

They glared at each other.

Willow glanced back and forth between her two closest friends. They might not come to blows, but someone was going to get hurt if she let this continue. The ex-witch cleared her throat, "Um, guys. There's something that you both should know. And there's no easy way to say this. Spike has a soul."

 

Chapter 3

Willow knew that she botched the telling of it. She had attempted to answer two sets of questions at once with third hand information that sounded dubious to her own ears. In the end, Buffy freaked completely and took the stairs three at a time to get the story from the source.

"Ah, you're awake." Giles put down his journal and pen. He was seated in a chair outside Buffy's room. The Watcher looked weary and rumpled. It was obvious he'd spent the night sitting up with Spike.

Buffy narrowed her eyes at him. "I should have been awake four hours ago when you discovered that Spike has a soul."

"Now, Buffy, you needed your rest. As it turns out, Spike's recent, um...diet, was a personal choice." A wry smile crossed the Englishman's face. "Since there wasn't anything pursuing him, I decided to let you sleep. Now go have some breakfast. " Giles picked up his journal again.

"I can't. I need to know what's going on." She put her hand on the doorknob to her room.

Giles put his hand on her arm to stop her. "Buffy, Spike's asleep again. I've been giving him some herbs with the pigs' blood to help him sleep. I estimate that he'll awaken in about two hours for another feeding. Go have breakfast and a shower, perhaps a run. I'll tell you when you can see him."

Buffy clenched her fists in frustration, but there was nothing to do. She was halfway down the stairs before she remembered. "Dawn!"

Giles put a finger to his lips. "She's still asleep. I suspect that she missed her curfew last night."

For once, Buffy was glad that her little sis had been disobedient. Otherwise, Dawn would be awake and in an uproar right now. She adored Spike and had been deeply crushed by his disappearance. Buffy didn't know how she was going to explain what was going on.

She didn't understand it herself.

***

In the kitchen, Willow tried to reason with Xander.

He'd sworn to dust Spike, but she never thought that he was serious. Just venting. But, he had shown up this morning armed. Not just the one stake either, but an axe and several daggers. And it seemed that he thought they were not enough.

The construction worker had brought an armful of two-by-fours with him and was rapidly turning them into a pile of very sharp stakes. He kept whittling while the ex-witch spelled out good reasons why he should go home or at least stop cloning Mr. Pointy. Willow didn't know what was more disturbing, this unwavering focus on stake production or the uncharacteristic silence that accompanied it.

She was relieved when Buffy came back downstairs.

***
It was close to ten when Dawn woke up. She groaned when she saw the time on the alarm clock. No doubt Buffy was awake by now and suspicious. Dawn never slept late, even on weekends and school holidays.

The teen sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. Then, she stretched long and hard, as she thought about her secret. Last night had been worth whatever punishment her big sis would dole out. Dawn had been the last in her circle of friends to do it. The peer pressure had been anything but subtle. Eventually, she got sick of the teasing. And, to be honest, she was curious. Janice was right, it *did* feel like flying. Only sort of out of control. But in a good way. She couldn't wait to do it again, despite the soreness this morning.

"Time to face the music." She said to herself and bounded out of bed. When she yanked open the door, she was shocked to come face to face with Giles.

"Um, morning Giles." she sputtered, thinking Buffy must be truly pissed if she called in Giles to read the riot act. "About last night..."

"Later, Dawn. I have some news for you," he paused. "But first, you have to promise not to scream."

On later reflection, Giles realized that those were not the most reassuring words to say to a teenage girl who had lost her mother, sister, and a beloved friend in the space of a year. He shouldn't have been surprised when Dawn went slammed past him and went tearing downstairs, shrieking Buffy's name.

Amazingly, the cause of all the tumult continued to sleep through it all.

***

A breakfast burrito and two bowls of cereal later, Buffy stood under the shower killing time. She had lathered, rinsed, and repeated twice and Spike *still* wouldn't awaken for another half an hour. Meanwhile, outside the bathroom door were the four people that she loved most in the world -each with his or her own opinion about the bleached vampire's story.

Was it true? Could he really have earned a soul in a contest of strength and bravery? If so, what did it mean? Spike was no Angel. She smiled at the pun. Would the soul change how he saw himself and his place in the world? Did he feel remorse for the things he'd done?

With that thought, Buffy's reverie turned to anxiety and the bathroom metamorphosed from sanctuary to snare. It was here Spike had cornered her while she was still achingly battered from the fight with Warren. His timing could not have been worse. Otherwise, she might have reacted differently when he badgered her to say she loved him. Instead, she had tried to get across to Spike once and for all that she could never love him. In torment and desperate, he had turned to the only thing that ever broke down her barrier -his touch. When she didn't respond and tried to fend him off, it was like he snapped. To her horror, he dragged her to the floor and attempted to force himself on her.

She had stopped him, mercifully. And the bruises had faded within hours, one of the benefits of being the Slayer. Then Warren had shot her and Tara, unleashing the dark power in Willow. Buffy, Xander, and Anya had struggled to save the evil Trio from Evil!Willow. Giles returned from England with borrowed magicks to help them and almost died for his efforts. The very world had been brought to the edge of devastation. And when they stepped back from the brink, there was so much to be done in rebuilding their lives. So Buffy hadn't thought about the attack very much.

Still, now and then, the memory would resurface. Buffy would think about Spike's hands on her, clawing at her clothing and bare flesh. When that happened, she felt sick to her stomach and her heart beat too fast. These flashbacks usually happened in the bathroom when she was running a bath. Because of this, she mostly took showers now.

Buffy pushed the memories away, shut off the water, and toweled dry. Swaddled in her bathrobe, she began drying her hair. She almost didn't hear the knock on the door over the whine of the dryer. "I'll be out in a minute."

"It's me, Buff," Willow said. "Can I come in?"

"Sure." She unlocked the door and leaned against the edge of the sink.

The redhead slipped in and sat on the edge of the tub. "Giles wanted me to tell you that Spike's awake." She held out a hand to stop Buffy from darting from the room. "You can't go in yet. Giles is feeding him." Willow snickered. "He's like a big ole vampire baby that has to be fed every two hours."

Buffy smiled. It *was* a funny image. "It's nice there's some humor in this."

Willow nodded. "The rest is kinda overwhelming. Spike being back. You almost killing him. Xander out there ready to kill him. Spike having a soul." The ex-witch paused. "That was the first time you'd seen him since...what he tried to do to you. Wasn't it?"

Buffy nodded. She didn't trust her voice.

"How are you handling this?" Willow asked softly.

Buffy shook her head. "I don't know that I am handling it." She sighed. "Will, I went to his crypt last night because I had finally accepted that he wasn't coming back. I figured he was dead and it looked like some other vampire was using the place. I went there to dust whoever it was. Only it was Spike." Her voice wavered and for a terrible moment she thought she would cry.

Willow didn't know what to say. Spike had been basically a taboo topic with Buffy the whole summer. She stood up and put her arms around her friend. "It's going to be okay, Buffy. Whatever is going on, we're here for you. You don't have to do anything you don't want to. Do you want me to go tell Giles that you don't want to see Spike?"

Buffy shook her head. "No, thanks Will, but I need to know what's going on. And I think that I better hear it from Spike myself." She gave the ex-witch an extra tight squeeze and opened the door.

***

"You can go in." Giles said. "He'll be groggy. In fact, I suspect that he'll be out again soon; but right now he's awake."

Buffy hesitated and Dawn stepped into the breach. "If she doesn't want to see him, can I go in?" the younger Summers pleaded.

"No!" Buffy spoke more gruffly than she intended. "I mean, I'm going in. I just don't know what to say." She gave a weak smile. 'Sorry I tried to dust you.' seems a little insufficient."

"It's a start." Willow chirruped.

"And who knows, maybe he'll be inspired to say "Sorry I tried to rape you." Xander said sarcastically.

Buffy glowered at her friend. He squared his shoulders, calling on all his love and loyalty to help him meet her stare evenly. "Soul or no soul. I won't let him hurt you again."

"Xan, please... I know that you're worried." She paused, looking at all four of the concerned faces. "You're all worried. I don't know, maybe you do have reason to be. I just know that I have to handle this myself. And the sooner the better." She took a deep breath and stepped into her bedroom before she lost her nerve.

***
The room was very dark and it took about thirty seconds for her eyes to adjust. Even so, she couldn't stop staring at the white figure on her bed. Spike looked much less drawn, but he was still even paler than the gauze bandages wound around his torso. She made a mental note to double the blood order, maybe triple it.

"Buffy?" His voice was so faint that she almost missed the call.

"Yes, Spike. I'm here."

"Good."

She came to sit on the edge of the bed. Even the shift caused by her slight weight made him wince and she apologized. But he didn't answer. Had the herbs put him under again? No, his eyes were still open, but they had a glazed look like a human with a fever.

"I thought you'd finally done me in, Slayer. Now I find you've saved me to torment at your leisure." Spike's voice was weak, but held flickers of his old self. "You ruined my favorite shirt, you know."

"Why did you come back?" Buffy tried to make her voice as cold as possible.

"I live here." He smiled.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "You don't *live* anywhere, Spike. You aren't *alive*."

He laughed softly. "True enough. Let's say I was homesick, then. I missed old Sunnyhell when I was in Africa. I might have felt differently if I had known that you'd be waiting for me with a stake."

She flushed. "I wasn't."

"Then, why were you there?"

Buffy stood up angrily, sure he was baiting her. "Wait a minute. You need to answer a few questions yourself. What's this B.S. about having a soul?"

Spike grinned. "So the Watcher told you."

She hated that cocky grin. "I want you to tell me."

"Later, Slayer. It's a long story and I'm sleepy again. Giles should lay off whatever he's putting in the blood." He yawned and blinked his eyes. "Thank you, Buffy. Thank you for helping me. You gave me your own blood."

She nodded, unsure of what to say.

"I don't deserve it. Not after what I did to you. But I'm...grateful nonetheless." Spike paused. "And I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Buffy. I want you to know that. I know you can't forgive me, but I'm so sorry I tried to force you... rape you. I was...insane that night, I think. It doesn't excuse what I did. But I never wanted to hurt you, not really. You know that, don't you." His voice began to crack. "Buffy, I'd do anything to go back in time and undo it."

"Spike, shut up."

To her amazement he did.

"You can't go back and undo it. Not anymore than I can undo almost dusting you. I am sorry for that, but it's done. So, maybe it's better that we don't apologize." She sighed. "Giles thinks that you'll be better in a day or so. You can stay here until then."

"And then?" Spike said drowsily.

"After that, whatever you do is your own business." Buffy said as she left.

***
Spike lay in the darkness. He was sleepy, but not ready to surrender to the drugging effect of the herbs. There was too much to think about.

When he had first regained consciousness, it had been to the unparalleled taste of a Slayer's blood. He went game face in reflex to the first drop on his tongue. A somewhat familiar voice told him that he mustn't bite or the blood would be lost and Spike struggled against instinct as he drank. He was sure he was dreaming, where else but in a dream would there be Slayer blood in a glass.

But then, the powerful blood cleared his head and Spike opened his eyes to find himself laid out on Buffy's bed. Giles had propped him in a not-quite sitting position and was coaxing him to swallow the last of the blood. "Come on, there's still half a glass."

"Buffy?" he croaked.

"She's downstairs asleep. That's her blood you're drinking." The Watcher's disapproval was evident.

"I know." Spike restored his human face and turned his head from the glass, prompting a raised eyebrow from Giles. "I don't want anymore."

Giles set the glass down on the nightstand. "You lost a lot of blood. Do you remember being staked?"

Spike nodded and winced when his wound throbbed at the motion. "I can't believe she missed. Bloody luck that it was me and something truly nasty. You'd better step up the girl's training, Giles."

The Watcher wasn't quite sure how to respond to that. So he decided it was time to get to business. "I have reason to believe, Spike, that something happened to you even before Buffy staked you."

Spike's eyes widened. "You mean you can tell, man."

"It was fairly obvious."

The vampire was truly aghast. "Does Buffy know?" he asked with clear dread.

"I shared my suspicions with her. That's why she insisted on giving you some of her blood."

Spike rolled his eyes. "Of course, she'd figure I merited more than that swill they sell at the butcher's. Well, I don't want anymore of it." He pushed the glass a few inches further away from himself. It was a fine, dramatic show of his pride, the vampire thought. He was pleased to see Giles' surprise at his continued refusal and only hoped the man didn't notice the unbidden yellow sparks danced through his irises at the sight of Buffy's blood.

Giles scowled. "You won't heal unless you have blood, Spike. It's obvious you haven't been getting enough blood for a long time. Why? Is something after you?"

"What?! Of course not, you stupid git. I thought you understood." Spike gave Giles a disgusted look.

"Understood what?" Giles frowned.

The vampire was truly losing patience now. "It really has changed me. I don't hunt. I don't even steal. Well, not often." He amended with a guilty look. "So, it's been a little hard to get blood without any dosh."

Giles looked puzzled. "Are you saying the chip keeps you from stealing now."

"Are you daft, man? Not the sodding chip, *the soul*!" Spike bellowed. When he recovered from the pain of such forceful yelling, he realized that Giles was staring at him with disbelief. "What?"

"My God." Giles breathed. He took off his glasses and peered close at the vampire. "A soul?!"

Spike tried to cover his panic with disgust. "You said you could tell!"

Giles just sat in stunned silence. Two ensouled vampires. What would the Council make of this? "When did this happen? How?"

"I won it in a bloody contest of valor." The vampire said proudly. "Two months ago, in Africa." His bravado returned as he recounted the battles fought at the behest of the demon. Occasionally, he forgot he was injured and attempted to reenact a particularly daring move.

And so he told the tale to the astounded Watcher. In the end, Giles made him tell it twice to check for inconsistencies. He would have made Spike tell it a third time so that notes and a tape-recording could be made, only the vampire was exhausted and told him to sod off. Still marveling, Giles had assented to let him rest.

Spike closed his eyes and pretended to doze. The Watcher took forever to pull the heavy drapes shut in anticipation of the rising sun. Once Giles left, the vampire struggled to sit up. He had been tired, but more than that, he had really wanted to be alone to think. Buffy had given him her blood. And she had done it in ignorance of his soul.

The incomparable taste of Slayer blood still lingered in his mouth. Licking his lips sent zings of pleasure through him, making his eyes flicker gold with his demon. Spike could smell what was left in the glass on the table; the perfume of Buffy's blood was so strong and alluring that it drowned out every other scent in the room. He made the mistake of staring at the glass. It took every fiber of his will not to change, not to grab the glass and swallow every drop of her essence. The half glass remaining would more than satisfy this unbearable thirst. It would heal him faster and more completely than gallons of pigs' blood. But he wouldn't do it.

Spike hadn't drunk human blood since Drusilla had killed for him during her brief return to Sunnydale. And it had been nearly three decades since he had savored the blood of a Slayer. He closed his eyes. God, there was nothing like it, richer and more vivifying than the life essence of any creature save another vampire.

When he had swallowed Buffy's blood, his whole body became suffused with some of her power and vitality. Even now, the scant amount he drank was at work healing the wound in his chest. And it sharpened his senses to an almost painful acuity that he lay in *her* bed, the sheets and pillows fragrant with the musky vanilla scent of her skin.

Drinking a Slayer's blood counted among the most sensual experiences of Spike's unlife. And that was saying a lot, given his history with Angelus, Darla, and his dark princess, Drusilla. Slayer blood trumped nearly all.

Like all humans, each girl had tasted different due to diet and personal habits. The blood of both the Chinese Slayer and Nikki had been slightly bitter with the adrenaline flowing through their veins at the time of the kill, but Buffy's was sweet, like honey. Fear being one of Spike's favorite spices, that wasn't the reason this Slayer's blood had tasted so wonderful to him. She had given it freely, though she still believed him to be soulless and evil. He could taste that in her blood, that willingness -no, desire to see him healed despite it all.

Perhaps there still was a chance she might love him.

When Spike woke again later, he knew Giles was surprised that he had left the rest of Buffy's blood untouched, cold and congealed now in the glass. "I told you I didn't want it." The vampire said archly, though he was secretly relieved when Giles took the tumbler out.

Spike then shocked the Watcher further with the news that he had been back in Sunnyhell for a month. That he knew from Clem that Warren had shot Buffy and killed Tara, plunging Willow into a grief-fueled rage that threatened to destroy the world. That he had been secretly picking off vampires and demons in the hope that it made life easier for Buffy.

"Any thing else?" the flabbergasted Giles had asked. And Spike had been tempted to tell him, but the herbs in the pigs' blood he'd drunk made him sleepy. Besides, he wanted to tell Buffy himself.

However, when she finally came after he woke the third time, the words he practiced for two months vanished. Spike expected her to be angry that he'd disappeared just when she needed him post. He knew she'd doubt his story and his sincere regret for the things he'd done, well some of the things at least.. Spike was ready for that, but not for her to be so cold and dismissive. It was obvious that she hated him -which he admittedly deserved. But, why then had she bothered to save him? He pondered it until the soporifics in the pigs' blood dragged him under into a dreamless sleep.

***

When she left her bedroom, Buffy walked right past her sister and friends without a word. They had sense enough not to ask how the conversation had gone, though Xander's eyes had narrowed and he started whittling yet another stake. She went downstairs and was grateful that no one, but Dawn followed.

The teen watched Buffy pull on her running shoes and search for her Discman. By the time her sister had located the device under a sofa pillow, Dawn figured that it was now or never. "Uh, Buffy?"

"Not now, Dawn. I'll hear your excuses about breaking curfew later. I got go for a run to clear my head."

"Um, it's not about my curfew. Though I'll have you know that I was home by one, only an hour late." The look on her sister's face told Dawn that Buffy wasn't buying it.

"What *is* it then, Dawn?"

"Well, um... you know those gifts you've been getting from your secret admirer?"

Buffy threw a bottle of water and her towel into her little running bag. "Take whatever it is that you want to borrow and just try not to break it or stain it or lose it like most of the stuff you borrow from me."

Dawn shook her head. "No, its not about borrowing anything. Even though I wouldn't mind another spritz of the Creamsicle perfume. It's yummy." She smiled.

Exasperated, Buffy stood up and looked squarely at Dawn. "Just tell me what it is."

"No need to get all huffy." Dawn pouted. "I was going to tell you that there wasn't a gift today."

Buffy shrugged. "So he gave up, whoever he was. Or he ran out of money. The cross alone..."

"Or," Dawn drew the word out dramatically, "he couldn't leave a gift because he's upstairs recuperating in your bed."

The look on her sister's face was priceless.

"No." Buffy said. "Impossible."

"Giles says he's been back for a month. The gifts have been coming for a month." Dawn giggled.

"No." Buffy repeated. "It's not Spike."

"And remember that nest of vampires over on East Avenue that suddenly disappeared." Dawn paused dramatically. "Well, Xander was going all buggy over you being alone with Spike. Giles told him that he wasn't the only one looking out for you 'cause Spike cleaned that nest of vamps out so you wouldn't have to. And he got rid of a whole bunch of other nasties that you didn't even get to see." Dawn was grinning hugely now.

Buffy was pacing now. All a sudden, it seemed that everywhere she looked was some object that had mysteriously appeared on her front porch. The vanilla scented candles on the mantle. The seagrass basket beside the door. The mix disc in her Discman. Even the cross she still wore from last night were a gift from the secret admirer. It couldn't be.

"No. No! NO!" She stamped her foot in a pretty good unconscious imitation of one of Dawn's own temper tantrums.

 

Chapter 4

 

By sundown, Spike had recovered enough that Giles discontinued bed rest. At the vampire's request, he also stopped putting the tranquilizing herbs in the pigs' blood. No longer drowsy, Spike sipped at a mug of blood while he retold the story of his quest. "Mind you," he began, "I wasn't looking for a soul."

"No one would believe that." Xander sneered as he checked the point on yet another stake.

To his credit, Spike ignored the comment and continued his tale. Despite herself, Buffy was little impressed by his new self-control. Spike might be subdued because of his injuries, but it did take a lot to let Xander's constant snarky comments slide. And there had been a number of times, when the old Spike would have provoked Xander into testing out one of those brand new stakes.

Earlier, once it was apparent that Spike did not require round the clock nursing, Xander demanded that the vampire move back to his crypt. To Buffy's surprise, Spike agreed.

"It's time for me to leave." He said simply. "Thank you again for everything."

"No, don't leave Spike. Please." Dawn begged. She looked at Buffy and Giles. "You said he wouldn't get better without enough blood. How's he gonna get blood?"

Spike shushed her. "I'll be fine, nibblet."

"No, you won't!" The teen stood up angrily. "Buffy, you can't make him go. How's he going to survive? He won't hunt. He won't steal."

Xander scoffed. "Oh, come on, don't tell me you're buying that 'I'm a noble vampire now' routine, Dawnie. He just want to stay so he can be around Buffy." The construction worker pretended to ignore the scathing looks he got from three sets of eyes.

"I'll manage." Spike told Dawn. "It's really better this way." He started to reach up and ruffle her hair, but the pain in his ribs made him think better of it. Dawn's eyes filled with tears.

"If you make him go, I'm going too." She warned Buffy.

"No." Buffy and Spike both said it at the same time. This prompted the vampire to look for something wooden to knock on, but all he found within arms reach were Xander's stakes. The whelp grinned at him evilly and kept whittling.

Willow took a deep breath. "I'll bring him blood everyday until we figure something out. I promise, Dawnie."

"Thanks, Red." Spike said softly. "But I won't trouble you." He gave Willow a frank look that made her feel he wanted to say more. She glanced away before he could.

"Next, he'll be saying 'I won't stay where I'm not wanted'." Xander mocked the vampire's accent.

Giles put his head in his hands, trying not to think too hard about his quiet flat in England. Around the corner from a lovely pub, it was; and the patrons of the said establishment were paragons of that most British virtue -reserve. No sniping about how anyone was going to get blood. He supposed that he was going to have to do it.

Meanwhile, Spike was trying to calm Dawn. The younger Summers alternated tearful accusations to her sister with increasingly wild threats of stealing blood from hospitals if the vampire wasn't allowed to stay.

Buffy didn't know what to say. It would be an undeniable relief to have him out of the house, to have him out of her bed. Still, she hated to see Dawn like this. And it would be difficult for Spike to get blood. And he was weak enough that she wondered if he could fight off any vampires or other demons who intruded into his territory.

"Buffy, look at him." Dawn pointed to Spike. "He's changed. He's good. I know you can see it."

Buffy looked at Spike. The vampire met her stare. For a moment, it felt to the Slayer like no one else was in the room. She had forgotten that his eyes were that blue. Or how beautifully shaped his mouth was when in human form and untwisted by a smirk. Angel had been handsome, but Spike was the truly angelic looking one. How ironic that his face and form hid a demon.

Less than twenty four hours ago, she had plunged the wooden blade into his chest and somehow missed. Probably because she had been thinking about him, starting to grieve that he was gone, confused at her own sense of loss.

"Buffy, say something!" Dawn pleaded.

She dropped her stare. "Don't forget to take your duster with you when you go."

Spike stood up from the kitchen table and left the room. He was moving too slowly and carefully for her like, so Buffy followed him. She saw the effort it took to pull on his duster. But she was also relieved that it would be gone from her closet, where it had hung all summer as a reminder of the bleached vampire. When Spike left, she would go upstairs and strip the bed, put on fresh sheets that didn't smell like him.

Dawn was shrieking now. "The sun is still up! Why are you trying to kill him?"

Xander grinned as he tossed the sofa afghan to the vampire. There was a brief moment, as Spike peered through the numerous holes in the knitted blanket, when it seemed that his shoulders sagged. Buffy longed for him to flick Xander off, do something other than just leave quietly.

She saw the vampire's discomfort as Giles insisted Xander loan him his car to drive Spike back to the cemetery. She watched him accept from Willow the 2 liter soft drink bottle of blood with what seemed like sincere thanks. Heard him promise Dawn that she could visit. Knew the internal struggle he was going through to ignore Xander's parting shots.

She hardened her heart to it all. Resolved to remain unmoved. But, when Spike groaned involuntarily when a sobbing Dawn hugged him goodbye, Buffy made up her mind. "Wait, Spike should stay another day."

Dawn exploded into cheers and embraced the vampire so hard that tears came to his eyes.

Xander stopped caressing his latest stake. "Don't do this, Buffy."

"Xan, if my 90 pound little sister can put a hurting on Spike, he's too vulnerable to be out on his own and absolutely no threat to me."

"Am not." Spike protested. "The too vulnerable part, I mean."

In response, Buffy walked over and pushed the vampire gently. With the heavy bottle of blood in one arm and a hysterical Dawn hanging on the other, Spike was off balance and staggered a bit. He flashed her a dirty look, which she ignored.

"You're staying until Giles says you're well enough to go." Buffy said firmly. "By then, we'll have worked out some system to see that you get enough blood. Angel must know what to do." Suddenly, she felt very tired. Slaying was easy compared to this.

"Can you make dinner, Willow? I need a nap."

"Sure. Veggie lasagna okay? I don't think I could eat any meat after that trip to the butcher." Willow blanched a little at the memory.

"Anything, Will. Thank you." Buffy turned to Dawn, Xander, and Spike. Until that moment, she wasn't aware that she could channel her mother's voice. "Don't make me come downstairs."

As she went upstairs, Buffy could hear Willow issuing directions to chop vegetables and threatening dire consequences for anyone who got wood shavings or pigs' blood in the bechamel sauce. She had slipped into her bed before she remembered her resolve to change the sheets. The scent of tobacco and whiskey enveloped her and increased the ache in her heart.

***

Over dinner, Buffy struggled to remain convinced that she had made the right decision. It was going to be uncomfortable now that the vampire was awake most of the time. He was already beginning to annoy her, telling Dawn inappropriate stories about his life before he was chipped.

"It *was* you that day at Clem's. Wasn't it?" she interrupted.

Spike grinned. "He wanted me to come clean. All the banging you heard was a tussle for the blanket. I would have gone out the window without it if he had won."

Buffy was kicking herself for not listening to Dawn. "Why did you hide?"

The vampire dropped his eyes. Fiddled with his mug of blood. "I knew you didn't want to see me."

Well, she couldn't refute that. Still, "We thought something bad had happened to you."

"Yeah," Xander said "Why didn't it?"

Willow tried to intervene. "You disappeared, Spike. You should have called or something."

The bleached vampire snorted. "What? You didn't get my postcard 'Hi, everyone. How are things back in good old Sunnyhell. Africa is bloody sunny this time of year. Wish you were here. P.S. I'm bringing home a soul?'". He cackled and leaned back in his chair to drain his mug of blood

"Spike." Giles said in a warning tone that might have carried more weight if it hadn't sounded like he was in the throes of a really bad migraine.

"What? Can't a vampire go on a quest without having to check in every few hours?" Spike was starting to get annoyed. No one had asked him to account for his whereabouts since he was a fledgling. "As you can see I'm fine, other than the hole in my chest." He reached for the pigs' blood.

Buffy grabbed the pitcher and glared at him. "You were gone for two months, Spike. TWO MONTHS. Dawn was worried sick. We looked for everywhere.

Now, Spike looked aggrieved. He set down his mug. "I'm sorry, little bit. I didn't get a chance, what with all the demons trying to rip my head off." Dawn smiled. She had forgiven him already of course.

Spike refilled his mug. "Come on, Dawn. Let's watch cartoons." They got up and left the table. Xander followed them, a half finished stake in hand. After a minute, Willow stood up, too. "I guess I'd better go with them. Keep Xander from accidentally falling on Spike."

Buffy smiled gratefully. "Thanks, Will. I'd take care of the leftovers and dishes." She meant to get up right away, but it was so nice just sitting at the table pretending her life was normal.

"Buffy?"

She looked up from her barely touched plate of lasagna to see Giles peering at her worriedly. "I don't want you to patrol tonight." He held up a hand to silence her protests. "Last night, you missed. There's some thanks for that, I suppose, but you did miss and under other circumstances, it would be tragic."

She nodded.

Giles continued "We'll have extra training sessions tomorrow after you've had a good night's sleep and a chance to recover from the shock."

Buffy smiled. "It is a shock, isn't it?"

They sat silently for several minutes. Then Buffy couldn't wait any longer. "Have you told the Council?"

Giles shook his head. "I'm not sure I should." He took off his glasses and rubbed a hand over his eyes. "I'm afraid that a report wouldn't satisfy their curiosity."

Buffy could hear the bleached vampire teasing her little sister. It was amazing how close those two had become since her death. Soul or no soul, Dawnie adored Spike. And, Buffy had to admit that, whatever her feelings about Spike, he seemed to deserve the place he had won in Dawn's heart. She couldn't let the Council capture him and make him a preternatural guinea pig.

She ran her fingers through her hair. "What are we going to do Giles? He can't stay here indefinitely. Xander is ready to kill him and I...I don't know if I can take it either."

Giles hated to hear his Slayer so desperate. "I'll figure something out. Perhaps, he can stay with Angel."

Buffy shook her head. "Even with both of them ensouled, I don't think it would work. Besides, I tried to reach Angel when I woke up from my nap. There was no answer at the hotel. None at all. Not Angel, not Cordy, not Wesley. Or the other two, Gunn and Fred. I'm afraid something is going on in L.A."

They were silent for a few minutes. The only sounds in the house were from the TV where Dawn and Spike avidly watched the cartoon network and the scrape of Xander's carving knife against wood. He had enough stakes now to dust a legion of vampires.

"I'll sleep on the couch tonight." Giles said wearily. "I'm too old to spend another night in a chair."

"Where will I sleep?" Buffy frowned.

"Why, in your bed?" Giles couldn't help but laugh at her horrified expression. "I believe a cot in the basement will suffice for your house guest."

***

Dawn made up the cot with fresh sheets, a cotton blanket, and two pillows from her own bed. Everything was pink and trimmed with lace. Spike lay among these frilly bedclothes examining the sock monkey that the younger Summers had left for him.

Buffy knocked on the basement door. "Can I come down?"

"It's your basement." Spike hid the sock monkey under his pillow as the Slayer came down the stairs. She held a large thermos in one hand.

"Here's a nightcap. Giles said you'd probably get hungry in the middle of the night." She set down the thermos on the folding chair that Dawn had left as a nightstand. "I'm sorry that we're throwing off your rhythms."

"Don't." his voice was soft.

"Don't what?" She picked up the thermos again and sat on the chair.

"Don't be sorry."

Their eyes locked again for a moment and then Buffy looked away. She stared at the thermos of pigs' blood, the bit of lace coming loose on the blanket, even the tail of the sock monkey sticking out from under the bottom pillow. Anything, but his blue eyes so full of something.

"Buffy," Spike started.

"Don't..."

"Don't what? Didn't we just go through this?" He said lightly.

"Spike, did you leave those gifts?"

He didn't say anything for a beat and she knew. "Were you starving because you bought those things?"

Spike still didn't answer.

"We'll have to return whatever can be returned." She said firmly.

"Bullocks!"

"No argument. You'll need the money." Buffy insisted.

Spike was silent, but Buffy knew from the look in his eyes that she was going to have a hard time getting him to 'fess up where he bought the gifts. She decided to let it go for now.

"Look, you can't do give me gifts or anything like that anymore."

"I didn't think they would change your mind. I didn't even do it as a way of saying sorry." He looked away. "I just wanted to make you happy." Now he faced her again, his eyes so vulnerable it made her chest ache. "They did make you happy, didn't they?"

Despite herself, Buffy smiled. "Yes, but...I can't accept anymore."

He nodded, eyes bright. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Buffy."

She was at the bottom step when she remembered. "Um, I know that you like to sleep, um..."

Spike raised a scarred eyebrow. "What?"

" I know you like to sleep naked," There she'd said it. "But, with Dawnie and Willow in the house..."

Spike threw back the sheet and blanket, revealing that he was garbed in one of Joyce's flowered flannel nightgowns.

She was too stunned to say anything.

"Don't laugh, Slayer." He pulled the covers back up to his chin "It was your sister's idea. Bossy brat when she wants to be. She gave me 'slippy socks' too. " He poked out and wagged a foot adorned with fuschia terry cloth.

Buffy did laugh then. Dawn was going to treat Spike like a baby until he was well enough to leave.

Spike gave her a dirty look and then sniffed. "You'd think that a soul would come with one of the few perks of being human?"

"What's that?"

"Body heat. You wouldn't happen to have an extra blanket would you?" He shivered.

"I guess you *are* cold, if you'd wear a flannel nightgown and slippy socks. I'll find something." Buffy got up and began hunting around in the storage cabinet near the back wall.

"That quilt on your bed was cozy." The vampire said hopefully.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "The comforter's staying on my bed. And you're staying down here." She dug in a cardboard box until she felt something scratchy. "Here's a camping blanket for you." She tossed it to him.

Spike sat up and unfolded the 5 by 7 rectangle of boiled wool. He sniffed it and made a face. "Smells like mothballs."

"Good. That means there aren't any holes in it. It should keep you warm. And it smells better than cigarettes and Jack Daniels." She blushed at the reference to her own bed.

The vampire didn't seem to notice. He was too busy muttering something about "sodding indignities". Then he complained that the blanket was rough and scratchy. Just when Buffy was about to relent and let Spike have the comforter, he spread out the camping blanket. Once it was on the bed, he pulled it up to his chin and seemed grateful for the added warmth.

Buffy smoothed down a corner of the bedcovers and then, impulsively sat on the edge of the cot. "Tell me, is it the soul that has made you so patient with Xander all of a sudden?"

"No." Spike fished under the pillows and yanked out the sock monkey.

She took the stuffed animal from him. "What then?"

"I'm not daft. Wanker had about eighty stakes." He said it so unabashedly that Buffy couldn't help but giggle. Soon her giggles turned to full laughter and Spike joined her.

Their shared mirth drifted upstairs just as Xander was leaving with his duffle bag of stakes. Willow saw the pain flit across his face and hugged her friend extra hard. "It's going to be okay, Xander."

"No, no it's not Will. Spike's weak right now, but eventually he'll heal. And when he does, soul or no soul, he'll hurt her."

Willow wished that she disagreed.

.