A/N: Thanks for your reviews! This is the penultimate chapter of this story. I'd like to give a shoutout to reviewer Cloongarvin, whose comment inspired me to add another scene to this chapter. I hope everyone enjoys it!


Part 4: In Which Buffy Gets Better (And Talks to Spike Without Shouting)

Buffy woke again less than twenty-four hours later. This time Xander and Dawn were in the room as well. She spared them a glance, but most of her attention was focused on Spike. She still wasn't up to talking in more than monosyllables, or doing more than swallowing a little bit of water. She started doing that eye-winking thing, and once more he kissed her eyes shut. Afterward he gave Xander and Dawn an apologetic glance. Dawn was openly sniffling, but they were tears of joy.

"No, it's okay," she assured him. "We're not mad, it's just so good to see her starting to wake up now." She crawled into bed next to him, so that he was surrounded by both his Summers women. It made him want to purr in contentment. Even Xander nodded, and drifted near enough to pat Spike's shoulder.

"It was all you, man," Xander acknowledged. It was perhaps the first time the other man had ever touched him in less than pure hatred and animosity. Spike tried not to show how much it meant to him. His lip curled.

"Whelp."

"Deadboy junior."

They smiled knowingly at each other.

From that point on, Buffy began to wake at irregular intervals, each time for a little longer. Her condition began to improve rapidly, once more supporting the idea that Spike really was her mate. Her previous recovery had been slow because her Slayer side hadn't been entirely convinced that Spike was back. When she woke and didn't see him, it nearly killed her. But now that she had solid evidence of him every time she opened her eyes, her Slayer side was stirring with a vengeance.

Her healing was back to a Slayer's normal, so her body began to reclaim the youth that had been stolen, especially once she began eating again. She recovered enough to become embarrassed by the way she looked in front of Spike. She asked Willow for a mirror, and the witch handed over a small compact from her purse. Buffy barely glanced into it before shrieking and covering her face with her hands.

Spike had been lounging in a corner of the room while Willow and Buffy were catching up, but now he bounded across the room and landed next to her on the bed, automatically reaching to protect her.

"What is it?" he asked urgently. She flinched and turned away from him. He gripped her wrist, trying to pull her hands away from her face. All he could think was that something had happened, she'd been injured in some way. He didn't smell blood, but what could turn his Slayer into a quivering heap like this?

"Don't look at me!" she yelped. "I'm hideous!"

He paused, not sure he'd heard her correctly. "What was that, luv?"

"I'm ugly! Go away!"

It was such a ridiculous statement that he laughed. He sank back against the bed, one arm still around her despite her protests.

"You're gorgeous, cutie," he said with the complete assurance of someone who spoke the truth.

"No, I'm not," she snapped stubbornly. "I'm all wrinkly and old—"

Abruptly he rolled to her, grabbed her wrists and jerked her hands down. "And you're an absolute dream to me," he snarled in her face.

She glared defiantly at him for a moment, and then her expression turned uncertain. "I am?"

"Completely," he nodded, his hold softening so he wouldn't leave bruises. "I've dreamed about seeing you old since I first fell in love with you. Mind, I thought it'd take longer than this, but it's just a little setback, yeah? You have no idea what a privilege it is to see you grow old like this."

She snorted. "Says the eternally young and beautiful vampire," she groused.

"Yeah, and most people who look like me didn't exactly perform wholesome acts to get where they are," he retorted. "But you humans, you complain so much about growing old, when you don't realize what a privilege it is. I'd rather see you grow old a hundred times than see you die young. Did that once already, can't say I cared for it. So yeah, you're gorgeous to me, with every adorable little wrinkle and magnificent liver spot. Because you earned it. You earned the right to live. These lines and marks you worry about are not ugly; they are trophies because you're still breathing, and I would worship every single one."

Buffy's face went slack as she stared at him. Her hand fisted in his t-shirt, clinging to him as if she didn't know how to let go. He could see the wonder and confusion in her eyes. She couldn't fully understand it, but she knew he meant it.

"Oh my Goddess, you two are so cute!" Willow exclaimed tearfully, startling both of them. They'd forgotten she was in the room with them. Buffy gave an embarrassed laugh, but met his eyes and then buried her face in his chest. He kissed the top of her head.

As the Slayer got better, she was filled with a natural restlessness that matched Spike's. She wanted to get out of the hospital. The doctors wanted her to stay longer to continue with the monitoring and therapy. Spike was able to negotiate a compromise where she would stay for one more week, and then move back to her dorm room. She would still be hooked up to a few machines to keep an eye on her, and she would be required to do physical therapy with both Spike and therapists that would come to her room.

She pouted, but agreed to it. It helped that she tried to rise on her own, and found she could barely sit up without getting dizzy. Not to mention if she tried anything more physical, Spike was easily able to hold her down with one hand. She was furious about it, until she realized that resisting Spike was actually hurting his feelings.

"Do you even want me here, Slayer?" he asked archly, sitting on the edge of her bed, facing outward and ready to rise. "Because I got to say, I'm trying to help you here, and you're just pushing me away. Makes a bloke think he's not wanted around. Mayhaps I should leave and let you get to it on your own."

Her eyes widened, and she reached out to grab his arm. "Stay, please," she begged, tugging at him. He faced her reluctantly.

"Spike… I'm sorry. I know I'm being not-fun Buffy, but I do want you to stay. Please… don't go. Unless you don't want to be here."

Her eyes were wide, and her chin trembled.

"Nowhere else I'd rather be, luv. But a bloke likes to know he's welcome."

"You are," she laced their fingers together. "Believe me, you are. I don't know what I'd do if you weren't here." She tugged at him until he was lying beside her again. She stared at him, running her hand over his face and hair as if trying to memorize him the same way he'd done to her. She didn't say she loved him, but he could see it in her eyes. Feel it in that undefinable bond between them. She, Buffy, had chosen him, and that was enough for now.

While she was frustrated by her weakness and confinement, Spike was able to relieve some of her tension by carrying her outside at night. They sat at a café table, Buffy sitting on Spike's lap with a blanket tucked around them. She relaxed from being able to breathe fresh air. Instead of constantly pushing at her limits, she actually laid back and merely enjoyed the night. She didn't mind sitting in his lap, didn't complain that she actually needed him to carry her and hold her up. She became rather affectionate during this time, laying her head on his shoulder, playing with his hands until it was time for them to go back. Those were some of his favorite nights, right there.

He convinced her to take a little sunshine as well, though at first she resisted him. This time it was about her reluctance to be separated from him, and he was the one that had to reassure her that she was still wanted. She did finally agree to be placed in a wheelchair and taken outside. Xander, Willow and Dawn were all there for her. They were inordinately pleased to see her up and about again. Spike watched from the shadows, carefully avoiding the sunlight, as Buffy sat out there. She blinked at the brightness as first, until she closed her eyes and tilted her face upward. She basked in the warmth, and he thought his heart would burst from seeing her bathed in the light. It was almost worth dusting to go out and meet her.

He was worried when she came back in half an hour later that she wouldn't want to see him again. She belonged in the light, and he was forever barred from it. How was she going to reconcile that in her mind? Apparently, there was no question about it for her. As soon as her wheelchair was in the shade and she saw him, she held her arms out to him. Uncharacteristically, she allowed him to pick her up without complaint, and carry her back to her room. He wouldn't meet her eye as he settled her in bed and tucked the blankets around her. Her pale skin was slightly sunburnt, and he made a note to get lotion to sooth it.

She stopped him with a hand on his face. He stilled.

"It wasn't the same without you there," she said quietly. "Stay with me?"

"Always," he swore fervently, turning his head to kiss her palm. "Forever, luv."

So he took her out at nights, and her friends brought her lunch in the sun. Those small tastes of normal life did wonders for her anxiety, and she made an obvious effort to show her appreciation for all they did for them. He remembered the question she'd asked when she first woke, and wondered if he had lied to her after all about being in Heaven, because he was getting damn-near his own version of it.

Buffy was beginning to walk when she was released with reluctance from the hospital. However, she was only taking a few steps at a time, clinging to the double bars in the therapy room. She flatly refused the wheelchair they brought for her, and insisted on waiting until nightfall so Spike could carry her over. There was a small going away celebration at the hospital, and a welcoming home party in her actual dorm.

Spike was secretly delighted that she refused the wheelchair because it made her feel weak—too right he agreed with her on that one—but didn't mind having him carry her around. It was one of the delicious contrasts about the Slayer that he loved about her. As they crossed campus from the hospital to the dorm building, they were surrounded by an honor guard of Scoobies and Slayers. Still, she made it a point halfway there to whisper in his ear, "You're invited in, Spike. Always."

A shiver ran down his spine at those words. There was no barrier at the door of her room, because she made it so. Buffy sat in pride of place on a recliner in her room, smiling at her friends. They were limiting access to her, but it seemed like almost every Slayer stopped by for a few minutes to see their leader restored to her throne. By this point she looked like she was in her thirties again, and her once-white hair was growing back blond. There was a four inch stretch of hair that was white, though her roots and ends were still blond.

Dawn assured her that it only looked like she'd gone through a rebellious phase. To Spike, the white hair was one more badge of pride. He would never forget what it was like to see his Slayer as an old woman, and the white hair was a trophy of one more thing that she had beaten. He almost wished she could keep a single streak of it to showcase her strength, just as he bore the scar on his eyebrow.

The Scoobies did almost as good a job as him when it came to watching Buffy's energy levels, and though she was happy to be back in her room, they were firm in cutting off the visiting. They said their private goodbyes, promised to pick her up for lunch, and left, shutting the door behind him. No one commented that Spike had stayed behind. No one gave them knowing looks, or giggled behind their hands. That gesture of trust from people who had never wanted him before nearly undid him.

Buffy sagged once they were alone. As he'd suspected, she was hiding how tired she was from everyone else. Only with him was she completely honest. It was a privilege he'd not looked for.

"Right then, ready for bed?" he asked, as if he wasn't affected by being alone with her. It had been different at the hospital. That room was clinical, and stank of disease and chemicals. This was Buffy's room, and other than the recent visitors, smelled of her. He was relieved that there was no scent of another man here. This place was truly her private domain, and she'd invited him in.

"God, yes," she said in relief, stretching her spine. "I love them all, don't get me wrong, but…"

"It's good to be home?"

"Definitely." She nodded. She gripped the arms of her chair and struggled to stand. He moved to help her, but she shook her head. "I want to do it."

And she did. She stood on her own, holding the chair and standing on her own. She swayed for a few seconds. He arched one eyebrow and gave her about half a minute before she collapsed completely.

"Okay, I take it back, a little help here," she changed her mind.

"Gladly," he chuckled. He moved in front of her and held out his arms so she could use them for balance and support. She gave him a playful look, and let herself fall forward so he either had to catch her or let her drop. He caught her, of course. She giggled, pressing her face to his neck and blowing hot air on his skin. He jumped, and again when her warm hands slipped under his t-shirt and stroked along his chest and stomach.

"Have I told you how grateful I am that you're here?" she murmured, rubbing against him.

"Mayhap a little," he played along with her, carrying her to the bed and setting her down. She pouted when he straightened so she couldn't reach him, then grinned as he removed her shirt. He leaned down and wrapped his arms around her, allowing his hands to skim the flesh of her back before finding her bra hook and undoing it. He threw both her shirt and bra into the hamper in the corner. She reclined on the bed, smirking at him in clear invitation. He knew he was smiling back as he held out his hand to her. She took it and tried to pull him down. He was still stronger than her, and pulled her to a sitting position instead. He took her other hand and stretched both arms over her head. He could feel her trembling, see her breath coming faster.

She pulled restlessly at his hold on her wrists. "Want to feel you," she gasped.

"So impatient, Slayer," he murmured, and then with a practiced motion slid a pajama shirt down over her outstretched arms. Not one of those revealing camisoles, but a solid flannel affair. She blinked in surprise, and while she was still confused, took the opportunity to push her back onto the bed. He pulled her pants off, leaving her panties intact, and slipped matching flannel bottoms onto her instead. Her pants flew across the room into the hamper with her other clothes.

She bit her lip, wrapping her arms around herself. "I don't understand," she admitted in a frightened tone. Her eyes fell to his crotch. "You're not—You don't want me?"

He leaned down to her, his face hovering over hers without touching. "More than you know, luv," he breathed lowly. "But I want all of you, when you're coherent and not loopy over getting out of the hospital."

He grabbed her then, in a vampire-quick motion that had her under the blankets and tucked in before she could test his control.

"Goodnight, luv," he said firmly. "Get some rest, I'll be back by the time you wake." He didn't know what he was going to do, other than take a cold shower, but he wanted to be out of the room that smelled like Buffy and away from the willing Slayer before he lost all control over himself. It was all he could do to not take advantage of her in the way she wanted. A voice in the back of his mind was shouting, She chose you as a mate, you wanker! She wants you, go to her now, before she changes her mind! The rest of him was holding back, not wanting to repeat the mistakes of the year she came back.

I love you.

No, you don't. But thanks for saying it.

Okay, yeah, maybe he still had a few issues to work through. Her Slayer side had chosen him, but what about the rest of her? He wanted to make sure she would still respect him in the morning, and that wouldn't happen if he slept with her now. He strode quickly for the door, wrenching his heart with every step.

"Spike?" Her tiny voice stopped him in his tracks. "Please don't go. You promised."

Slowly he turned around, feeling his will crumbling. His soul yearned for her. She looked small, in bed with the covers pulled up to her chin, watching him with frightened eyes.

"That I did, luv." The words were torn from him before he could stop them.

"Stay?" she begged, patting the bed next to her. On top of the covers. Just like in the hospital. Right, he could do that. He approached the bed, irresistibly drawn to her. He laid down next to her, fully clothed and outside the blankets. She reached for him and trailed her hand through his hair.

"Sorry," she snatched her hand back with a blush. "I know you didn't want to be here, and I forced you into this."

He caught her hand and took his time pressing soft kisses to every knuckle and fingertip. Her breath was unsteady by the end of it.

"Wrong you are, luv. Reckon no better place I'd rather be," he assured her, and held her hand under his chin. Her fingers stroked along his jaw. That touch seemed to satisfy both of them, and they were finally able to rest.

Now that Buffy was home, she improved in leaps and bounds. By the end of the first week, she was able to walk across campus. By the end of the second, she was training in the Slayer gym and contemplating taking up her classes again. Spike engaged her in a few light sparring sessions, and that was enough to convince her to hold off a while longer. Still, she was clearly on the mend. Her skin began to take on the golden glow from her time in the sun, and her hair was almost long enough that she contemplated completely cutting off the white section. Spike's horrified splutter was enough to convince her against it.

At night she practiced her Slayer skills against Spike. He was once again caught up in the dance of her, and it was better, more intoxicating than ever. Without her full strength, she was forced to be a more clever fighter, and she was more his equal than before. Through it all, he continued to stay in her dorm. They didn't sleep together, but their bodies were never far from each other in repose. What amazed Spike was even though Buffy was nearly back to normal, she still treated him well.

There was no pending apocalypse, no reason that she would need him… and yet she did. They had spats, of course, but both of them were quicker to apologize, to back off their pride, to forgive each other. And it wasn't just Buffy. The rest of the Scoobies accepted him with an effortlessness that stunned him. Willow became one of his girls like Dawn, and Xander was good for a stag night when the hens were talking. Even Giles began to come around, though he suspected that Buffy had words with him to that effect. She chose… him? Over her Watcher? It made his head spin. He had this crazy feeling that he wasn't meant for such happiness, and it was only time before something came to bollocks it up.

It was several weeks after Buffy came home that she suddenly said, "I'm angry with you, you know."

They were sitting against the headboard of her bed. She was whittling a stake to improve her manual dexterity. He had an arm around her shoulders, holding her against him. He looked down at her, but her attention was focused on her stake. Her tone was casual, so he matched it.

"Is that so, luv? Should I be worried then?" His knee nudged hers.

"What?" She looked up, realized he was referring to stake, and threw both wood and knife across the room. "No, definitely not." Then she paused and seemed to reconsider. "Maybe you should, actually." She shifted to face him. He regretted the loss of contact, until she took his face in her hands and drew him down to her.

"I am absolutely, stunningly, furious with you," she repeated, but it sounded more like she was trying to seduce him. He licked his lips and tried to think of what he could have done to make her both mad and calm at the same time.

"Alright, what did I do?" he asked, matching her tone.

"You left me." Horror flickered in her hazel eyes.

"Right here, luv," he reminded her, raising his hands to cover hers.

She shook her head. "Not now, before. Sunnydale. You left me."

I love you.

No, you don't. But thanks for saying it.

Looked like he wasn't the only one with ghosts that needed to be laid to rest.

He didn't try to give her some trite answer about destiny or having to save the world. That was something this woman understood too well.

"Worst mistake I ever made," he agreed instead.

She seemed surprised by his easy answer, but she wasn't done yet. He'd known this conversation was going to happen sooner or later, and he was grateful there wasn't any shouting yet.

"You didn't believe me," she said plaintively. "I meant it, you know. Still do. And you wouldn't let me save you."

He hesitated a second too long to answer that one, and she read everything he was trying to hide in that silence.

"Spike!" she exclaimed. "I love you. I love you, do you hear me? My Spike, my William, I love you."

"I love you too, pet," he said with a quick smile, trying to mask the pain in his heart. It was everything he wanted to hear, and yet…

"Do you believe me?"

Again, his silence spoke too loud. He closed his eyes. A tear drifted down his cheek. He felt Buffy's warm breath on his face, and then a whisper of a kiss as she drank his tear. His breath sighed out, shaking and disbelieving. This wasn't happening to him. He didn't deserve this.

"Why don't you believe me?" Her tone was more curious than hurt. She was trying to understand him in a way she never had before. It was almost enough to make him believe…

"You didn't save me," he admitted, and flinched, waiting for her anger. He didn't blame her for it, but he knew that was how it sounded.

Her fingernails dug briefly into his skin, barely enough to sting, and then almost immediately she was rubbing little circles over the places she'd caught him. "I wanted to. So badly, I wanted to save you. I had nightmares for months after, trying to save you."

"Why didn't you?" he asked brokenly.

"You didn't believe me!" she repeated. "Do you know how much that hurt? I gave you everything, and you didn't believe. I thought, if you didn't believe, maybe you were happier saving us, dying for us, than trying to live for me. I died when you did. You know that now, with this entire pining thing. I'm nothing without you."

"Sorry," he said. It was inadequate, but he didn't know what to say.

She shook her head. "I'm trying here, Spike, I really am. But you've got to give me something to work with." She gave a wan smile. "Make a bloke feel wanted and all."

He smiled as she copied his words. "I'm trying, luv."

Her hands suddenly tightened painfully on his head, and she didn't let go. "And then what was this about you coming back, and not telling me?"

"Couldn't, at first," he said. "Came back as a ghost, couldn't touch anything, couldn't leave the building."

"That must have been hell for you." Her hands had softened again, and were now stroking his hair. A purr rumbled in his chest, but he tried to hold it back.

She started, then leaned forward and placed her ear over his dead heart. She ran her fingers through his hair, and the feeling of bliss was too much for him. He was purring for her.

"I like that," she said tenderly.

"You have no idea," he choked out, answering her earlier comment.

"Then if not being able to touch anything was hell for you…" she mused speculatively.

"This," he gasped as she continued to play with his hair. "This is heaven."

She giggled. "With me."

"With you. Only you. I love you, Buffy."

"Then believe me."

And he thought, maybe he was beginning to. With visible reluctance she raised her head to look at him. Her fingers stilled, bringing him back from the place he'd been.

"After you could touch, why didn't you come back? Call, at least? I thought you were dead!"

He sighed. "So much time had passed, then. I thought, by now you've moved on. Humans don't grieve for long, not really. I was better off as a dead hero than a living reminder of—" He cut off abruptly.

"What?" she asked gently, directing his face to look at her. "A reminder of what?"

He swallowed hard, bitterness in the back of his throat.

"Rape?" she asked, and he flinched.

"Pain," he rasped. "I caused you so much pain."

"I seem to remember that it was mutual," she said.

"I deserved it, at least. I didn't need that put on you, not then, not ever."

"Spike…" for the first time she released him. He resisted the urge to crawl away. She stopped him by a touch on his hand. Once she was satisfied he wouldn't go, she pulled up her shirt. Automatically he looked away.

"Look at me," she pleaded with him. "Please, look at me."

He did, a brief glance at first, and then a longer look. He frowned, seeing something he'd never noticed before. He'd been carefully not watching her chest when she was bare before him, and now he saw what he'd missed. He touched a faint mark on the upper right of her chest, and another on the lower left.

"They'll fade," she said bluntly, lowering her shirt now that she'd made her point. "Slayer healing and all. It's just with everything else going on, they haven't disappeared yet. It hurts to come back to life, Spike." She met his eyes, conveying a silent message.

He quirked his eyebrow. "Are you saying I was your defibrillator?"

"God, you were good," she smirked, and they shared a brief smile at some of their memories. She grabbed his hand, sobering. "But yes, I am."

"Doesn't make it right," he pointed out.

"Maybe not, but I forgave you. Have you? Forgiven me or yourself?"

"Yourself, of course, a long time ago. Me? I don't know, luv, that kind of thing…"

"Like a great big bolt to the chest?"

"Don't make light of it!" he snarled.

"I'm not." She placed her hand on his cheek and held him there. "Believe me, I'm not. But what I'm trying to say is, I choose you, more than anything else. I want you do choose me too."

"I have," he assured her.

"Then believe me."

"I think I'm starting to." Against his better judgement than he was not worthy of her, he was. But then his blood never flowed in the direction of his brain. She smiled and sighed in relief.

"Does this mean you're not mad at me anymore?" he asked hopefully. This was the best Buffy tantrum that he'd ever seen, but he was ready for it to be over. His heart felt like it had been raked over hot coals, and he wanted some time for it to heal before they did this again.

"Oh no," her expression turned stern. "I got one more thing that I'm way pissed about." Her voice was almost a whisper by the end, but for the first time, her eyes actually looked angry. He began to feel nervous.

"What's that then?" he tried for flippant. Her expression turned furious, but with an effort she kept her voice calm. She was trying, he realized. For him, she was trying not to let this devolve into a shouting match where nothing got resolved. But this last bit was really getting to her, whatever it was.

"I've been reading up more on this pining thing, since Giles explained it to me."

"Ah. That," he said uncomfortably. He was hoping this was one crime of which he was relatively innocent. It wasn't his choice that caused her to pine; it was hers. She could hardly blame him for that, could she?

"Yes, that!" she snapped. "Now let me get this right, when demons love each other, or a Slayer and a demon or vampire, since I'm apparently demon enough to qualify, it makes this bond between them."

"Uh, yes," he said cautiously.

"And when they are separated from each other, they start to pine. They get weaker, lose their powers, don't feel like living anymore. It's pretty much a permanent bond."

"For the most part," he hedged, "But if they agree to a mutual separation, it lessens the affects, and the bond will fade in time."

"I don't want this to fade. I will never be okay if you're away from me. Do you get that?"

"Buffy, I'm sorry I stayed away, if I had known how it would affect you I wouldn't have done it—"

"I'm not talking about me," she waved her hand dismissively. "What happened to me was my own fault, I get that. I chose you, you didn't believe, and we've already been over the whole death thing. No, my point is, the pining is mutual."

He nodded, not sure what she was getting at.

"You idiot!" she burst out for the first time that night. She hit him, but it was his shoulder instead of his face and only enough to rock him back a couple inches, so he knew she hadn't done it to hurt him. She jumped off the bed and strode to the other side of the room, which was admittedly was only about six feet away. She stood facing away from him, her arms holding herself, shoulders hunched.

He got up and approached her slowly. She didn't move. He put his hands on her arms. She leaned back against him. He rested his chin on her shoulder.

"I don't understand," he sighed, rubbing her arms.

"You idiot," she repeated, without venom this time. She turned in his arms and hugged him. She nuzzled her face into his shirt. "You were going to die," her voice broke. "Do you know what would happen to me if you died?"

"I know," he said. "I saw it. You're still getting better from it."

She shook her head. "No, I don't mean that. I mean… I mourned you, Spike. I was devastated that you were gone. I've never felt that kind of pain before. What would have happened if you really died again? I'd never see you again." She was shaking, fisting her hands in the back of his shirt. A feeling of warmth began to spread through him, because suddenly, he understood.

He bent his head and began kissing the top of her head. "Buffy," he murmured between words, "Slayer, luv."

She tilted her face up, and he kissed her cheeks, her eyes, her nose, everywhere he could reach.

"Spike?" she asked hazily, eyes closed as she leaned into him and basked in his attention.

"You love me," he said against her skin, wonder making him feel light as air, Buffy keeping him anchored.

"I do," she insisted, then paused as she realized what he'd said. She looked up at him, touching his face. "You believe me." Her entire expression lit up. That was what she was trying to tell him. If he had died from the pining, she would suffer. Not from the pining, not because her Slayer side had chosen him. Because she, Buffy, had chosen him. Because she loved him, and it would hurt her if anything happened to him.

"I believe you," he said. "I love you so much, Buffy."

"I love you," she repeated it over and over, running her hands over his chest and head. It was his turn to bask, and he started purring again.

She giggled. "I love it when you do that."

Without warning he pulled her hard against him, and gave her the first proper kiss they'd shared since coming together.

"Um," she said breathlessly, as he continued to nibble along her jaw. "I love that too."

With a growl, he picked her up and carried her to bed.

They didn't sleep together. After a few deep kisses, they pulled back and simple cuddled together. They'd done the sex before, but holding each other tenderly was something they'd barely begun to explore back in Sunnydale. It was good to take things slow for once. This time they were building a life together, not merely scratching an itch or trying to feel again.