Disclaimer: I own none of the characters here, I just borrow them for my own amusement. Please don't sue me.

Author's Note: This is the Sixth and Final chapter of Chained To Fate. The title, Love Had Challenged Me To Stay, comes from the song, That Particular Time by Alanis Morrisette.

Summary: Buffy realizes that Spike was right. She hasn't been allowing herself to be happy. Can she take that chance? Will she decide to change her fate? What will her friends think?

Rating: NC-17

Chained to Fate

Love Had Challenged Me To Stay

~My foundation was rocked

My tried and true way to deal, was to vanish

My departures were old

I stood in the room, shaking in my boots

At that particular time, love had challenged me to stay

At that particular moment, I knew not to run away again…~Alanis Morrisette.

Buffy sat in her recliner chair on her balcony. She stared up at the stars and let the tears fall down her cheeks. She was so confused and her heart was completely broken. It was her own fault. In trying to do what she thought was right, she had broken her own heart in the process.

But she wasn't entirely convinced she knew what was right anymore. How could any of this be right if it hurt her so much, she wondered to herself. It had been four days since Spike had walked away from her. She had fought the urge to run after him when he left. She had fought the urge to break down and tell him everything he wanted to hear. Everything she wanted to tell him, but was too afraid. She had remained strong, she told herself. But now she wondered if in fact she had only remained weak. Too weak to face the truth.

When Buffy heard the sliding glass door open, she quickly wiped the tears off her face. She looked over and Dawn walked out, shutting the door behind her.

"It's late, Dawnie. What are you still doing up?" Buffy asked her.

"I couldn't sleep. Looks like you couldn't either." She pointed out softly.

"Yeah. I wasn't tired." Buffy said looking down at her lap.

Dawn walked over and sat down on a planter box in the corner of the patio.

"You've been crying?" Dawn asked, noticing the puffy eyes, despite the darkness.

"It's nothing." Buffy said dismissively.

"You could tell me, you know. You don't have to always be so strong. I can take it." Dawn said seriously.

Buffy looked at her surprised. She always tried to make sure that she shielded Dawn from anything bad if she could help it. She wanted to protect her and keep her happy. She wanted to be strong for Dawn, so that she would feel like Buffy had control of things. To cry or to tell Dawn her secrets, seemed wrong.

"You don't want to hear about my silly problems. It's not important." Buffy said, trying to smile.

"Why do you do that?" Dawn asked.

"Do what?"

"Keep everything to yourself all the time? You act like it's a crime or something to have feelings." Dawn said slightly irritated at her sister for always shutting her out.

"Dawn, I just don't want to burden you. I can handle myself." Buffy explained.

"Yeah, cause you've done such a great job with that lately." Dawn said hurtfully.

Buffy sat up straighter in her chair and looked at Dawn.

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"I just mean, things got all weird for awhile. And no one knew what was happening with you. And you wouldn't tell us, because you wanted to protect us. Or you didn't think we'd understand. How would you know, if you never even bothered to tell us?" Dawn said truthfully.

"I already told you that I was sorry about all that. I'm better now."

"I guess." Dawn said unconvinced.

"You don't think so? I thought that things were okay again?" Buffy asked surprised at Dawn's hostility.

"But you're still sad. And I don't know why, because you won't tell me. Is it something I did? Do you hate having to take care of me? Is it too much for you?" Dawn asked getting teary eyed.

Buffy leaned over and took Dawn's hands.

"No. It's not you. It's never been you. It's me. And I just didn't want to tell you, because I didn't want you to think less of me, Dawn." Buffy said honestly.

"Why would I think less of you? Because you aren't perfect? I already knew that. Trust me."

"I'm glad you realize I'm not perfect. But it's just something you don't need to worry about."

"Well, it's bothering you. So I am worried. How do I know you aren't gonna flip out on us again? Whatever it is that's going on, you can tell me."

Buffy looked at the sincerity in Dawn's eyes. Again, Buffy was hurting someone she loved by shutting them out. She tried to hard to be everything to everyone. Dawn may have known she wasn't perfect, but Buffy was still having a hard time realizing that. She took a deep breath and sat back in her chair again.

"You wanna know why I was crying?" She asked, looking back up at the sky.

"Yes."

"I was crying because I hurt someone. A lot of someone's actually, but a certain someone in particular." Buffy said softly.

"You hurt someone? How?" Dawn asked.

Buffy shifted uncomfortably. She wasn't sure she could even say the words.

"I wouldn't tell them how I felt, and then I made a mess of things." She whispered.

"Spike?" Dawn asked.

"Yeah. He wants me to leave him alone."

"I-I didn't even know you guys were together anymore." Dawn told her.

"We weren't. Not really. It's complicated. I thought we could just be friends, but we can't."

"Why not?"

Buffy looked at her sheepishly.

"Because, we just can't."

The light bulb went off in Dawn's head.

"Oh. It's because of the sex, right? You can't keep your hands off each other?" Dawn asked.

Buffy cringed. She tried to remember that Dawn was nearly sixteen years old. She wasn't a child anymore. But it still bothered her to hear Dawn talk so openly about sex.

"Kind of." Buffy admitted.

"Oh…Well, I still don't get it. If you neither one of you wants to be friends, then why were you even trying? Why not just be together?" Dawn asked simply.

"We can't be together."

"Who says? You guys were already together." Dawn pointed out.

"Yeah, we were. And now we're not. There's a reason for that. And it hasn't changed. He's still a vampire." Buffy said seriously.

"Yeah. So?"

"So? That's kinda huge don't you think?" Buffy asked incredulously.

"Well, it's not like he's a real vampire." Dawn said dismissively.

"Yes, he is Dawn. He's a real vampire. The kind with fangs. The kind that kills people. The kind that I slay every night."

"But Spike's not like that. Not anymore. He's changed." Dawn said with a smile.

"I get that he's changed. But it doesn't change what he is." Buffy told her.

"Buffy, it's not like he's he first vampire you've ever been with." Dawn pointed out softly.

"I'm aware of that, Dawnie. But doesn't that make it even more crazy? I've had three serious relationships in my life. Two of them with vampires."

"Yeah. I mean, it's not exactly a normal thing. I get that. But you're not normal." Dawn said trying to be comforting.

But Buffy looked at her like she'd been kicked in the face.

"You think I'm some kind of freak?" She asked.

"No. Come on. It's just, you're the Slayer, not Mary Jo Smith living on a farm in Ohio. Look at me? I'm not even real. You're a Slayer with a fake sister. And you died last year fighting a Hellgod. And then you got yanked out of Heaven by your best friend, who is a witch who's now addicted to magic. And that's just what happened last year. Does any of that sound normal? Dating a vampire is like the least of your worries." Dawn said honestly.

Buffy stared at her and almost starting laughing. It all sounded so improbable and insane. And it was true. That was the scary part. Dawn always had a way of boiling things down to the simplest form. And most of the time, it was just what she needed to hear.

"Well, I suppose you have a point." Buffy relented.

"I have a huge point." Dawn said matter of factly.

"My friends won't ever understand this. They already got freaked out when they knew I was involved with him before. Xander practically threw a party when I told him we were over." Buffy explained sadly.

"So what if they don't understand? They don't have to be with Spike. You do."

"I know, but it's more complicated than that."

"How?" Dawn asked.

Buffy thought for a moment then shook her head. Dawn made it sound simple, but it still wasn't.

"It doesn't matter. Another relationship with a vampire is still doomed to fail. I know how it ends. So why even go there?" Buffy asked miserably.

"With that kind of attitude, I can see why Spike thinks you can't let yourself be happy." Dawn said shaking her head.

"What? He told you that? When?" Buffy asked with surprise.

"I saw him the other night. He asked how you were, and I told him miserable as always. That's when he said it was your own fault cause you don't wanna be happy." Dawn explained.

"I can't believe he told you that. Why can't he just keep his big mouth shut?" She muttered to herself.

"He was right though." Dawn told her.

"Dawn, you don't understand."

"No, I do understand. You think that being with him is wrong, and it will only lead to pain. Well, that's life. You take chances, and sometimes things end up sucking in the worst way. And other times, they turn out okay. It's a gamble. But if you never take a chance, then you'll never know. You're the one who told me that the hardest thing to do in this world was live in it. How would you even know, when you're too afraid to do it?" Dawn told her seriously.

Buffy just stared at her in awe of her sister's outburst. Buffy had completely underestimated the scope of Dawns understanding. Or just how much she had been paying attention all these long months since Buffy had been back in this world. Dawn claimed that Buffy never paid attention to her, and she was right. Somehow when Buffy wasn't looking, Dawn had grown up and grown wise.

"You think I'm a coward?" Buffy asked her quietly.

"When it comes to end of the world battles, you're the bravest person I've ever seen. But when it comes to everyday life? Yeah, you're a big honkin' fraidy cat." Dawn said with an affectionate grin.

Buffy couldn't help but smile at that. Dawns words held a lot of truth. Dawn looked at the world differently than Buffy did. She didn't see things or people in black and white. She was able to look past that. Her views were simplistic, yet startlingly profound at the same time.

"So what are you suggesting I do?" Buffy asked.

"What do you want to do?"

"Is that a trick question?" Buffy asked with a smirk.

Dawn looked at her sympathetically.

"Do you remember what you said to me that one time I came to you all upset because people at school were giving me hard time cause I didn't fit in? Because people didn't understand me?" Dawn asked.

"No." Buffy muttered.

"Well, you said that I should just ignore anyone who doesn't care enough to understand me. I should live for myself and not worry what other people think of me. I should make myself happy and not rely on other people to make myself feel worthy." Dawn retold Buffy's advice.

"I said all that?" Buffy asked, knowing that she did, but not wanting to heed her own advice.

"You did say it. In fact, you always tell me stuff like that. But apparently you never listen to yourself." Dawn said raising her eyebrow.

"I do. I just don't take myself seriously." Buffy said, trying to be humorous.

"Maybe you should?" Dawn said pointedly.

"So, I should stop worrying about this, and just go for it?" Buffy asked softly.

"Why not? I mean, you're not happy now. So, if being with Spike makes you happy? Then yeah. Maybe it won't last, but at least you'll be happy for as long as it does. That's all that counts." Dawn said seriously.

Buffy smiled at her and pulled her over for a hug. Somehow she already felt better. She knew what she needed to do. She was tired of living a lie. Most people when they found happiness, would cling to it. They would enjoy every moment of it, and fear the time when it would be over. But Buffy just skipped the part of enjoying it, and went straight to the misery of the end. It was time to stop being so fatalistic. It was time to live for herself.

Buffy ambled through the cemetery, with her hands in her pockets. She tried to tell herself that she was just there to patrol, so she wouldn't panic and run home. But she knew there was a deeper reason for being in that particular cemetery, at that particular time. She was trying to get up the nerve to see Spike. Dawn had really simplified things for her the other night. She realized that there was no good reason to torture herself like this. The heart wants what it wants. There doesn't have to be a reason behind it. Love didn't work like that.

It made her think of the time Spike had told her and Angel that love wasn't brains. She had understood what he meant at the time, and she had known he was right. So much so, she had admitted it to Angel. But somehow she had managed to forget it. Or maybe she had just forced it down with all her other feelings? It had been a long time since she had listened to her heart. So long, that she had feared she no longer had a heart. She was so consumed by fear and pain, she thought that it had simply vanished.

But it was still there. She felt it now. And it was racing with anticipation and fear. She was making a huge leap. Falling blindly over a cliff, and hoping that she wouldn't crash into the rocks below. She was terrified that she had simply waited too long to make a choice. The time to jump had passed, and she was still clutching to a tree at the top of the mountain. But finally, she had decided to leap. What lay at the bottom, was a mystery. But she was about to find out.

She took a deep breath and pushed open Spike's door. She walked inside cautiously. She found him lying on his couch watching the television. He looked up when she came into the room. He had known she was coming. He had felt her presence long before the door had opened.

"What are you doing here?" He asked, looking back over at the television.

"I-I was just patrolling—." She started nervously.

"Just passing through, eh? That's my line. And it's not convincing anymore, remember?" He pointed out with a touch of bitterness.

"Right." She said looking down at her feet.

"Did you need something?" He asked uninterested.

"No."

"Well, then why are you here? Surely you've got a telly at your place. I know you didn't come here to watch Fear Factor with me." He said harshly.

She cringed inwardly at his harshness. She knew he had every right to be mad at her. She had played with him one too many times. But this was still hard for her. She was ready to jump, and he was essentially telling her she would crash if she did. But it didn't deter her.

"I-I wanted to talk to you." She said softly.

"About what?"

"About us." She whispered.

"There is no us, remember?" He pointed out.

"I know. But—."

"But what? Hurry up cause I'm missing the part where the people have to eat the donkey brains. It's the best part of this show." He said pointing to the TV set.

She was getting irritated now. He was making things even harder by acting like a jerk. She went over and flipped off his television. She stood in front of it with her arms crossed angrily.

"Okay, telly time is over." She said glaring at him.

"Buffy…" He complained with frustration.

"I have something to say, and you're gonna sit there and pay attention. Got it?" She said firmly.

He looked up at her and smirked.

"Fine. I'm all ears." He told her.

"Good." She said, relaxing her arms to her sides. She shook her head. "You really are annoying sometimes." She muttered.

"That's what you wanted to tell me? I'm annoying?" He asked her.

"No, but I think it needs to be said." She told him with a raised eyebrow.

"Are you getting to some kind of actual point?"

She took a deep breath and let it out. The only way to do this was to just do it.

"I thought about what you said to me the other night. I thought about it a lot." She admitted.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. You were right." She said softly, looking down at her feet.

"Right about what?" He asked, sitting up straight on the couch.

"About me. About my feelings. I always thought that if I never admitted them, they wouldn't be real. I didn't want them to be real, so I made excuses. I told myself that I didn't need you. But whenever you weren't around, it hurt. A lot. So I kept trying to hold onto something. Any reason, other than the truth, to explain why I wanted you around." She told him.

He looked at her seriously.

"Why do you want me around?" He questioned her.

She looked at him, and saw the expectation in his eyes. He had been waiting forever to hear her say these words to him. Three little words that she would have rather died, than to utter. But he was waiting. He needed to hear it. And she needed to say it. But the urge to run out the door was still strong. But if she ran now, she'd always be running. Love had challenged her to stay. And she was never one to back down from a challenge.

"Because… I love you." She whispered softly with tears in her eyes.

It was so painful for her to admit, but at the same time she'd never felt happier than at this moment. Three words that had caused so much grief, had the ability to result in so much happiness. She just had to allow it to happen.

He stood up and walked over to her. He put his hands firmly on her shoulders, and she gazed up at him through her teary eyes.

"I love you so much." He whispered to her.

He was so happy at this moment, he felt like he could cry too. Months and months of pain and suffering had finally culminated in this moment. And it was something he never wanted to forget.

He leaned down and pressed his lips to hers. The lies were all over. There was nothing but truth between them now. The pain was forgotten, and it was time to rebuild what they had lost. What she had been willing to throw away. But she had jumped over the cliff after it. And instead of crashing into the rocks, he had leapt with her, and saved her. They had saved each other. They weren't drowning anymore, they were swimming. The water was murky, but it was warm and safe. They could see the lifeboat now, and even though it seemed small and fragile, it was strong enough for the two of them.

He wrapped his arms around her tightly and held her to him. He just wanted to remember how soft and warm she felt in his arms. She rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes.

"I didn't think you'd ever come back." He told her honestly.

"Me neither." She admitted.

"What made you change your mind?"

She pulled back and looked at him sincerely.

"I missed you."

"Can't live without me, eh?" He asked with a smirk.

"No, I can. Believe me." She said giving him an annoyed look. Then she smiled. "I just don't want to."

He smiled at her and leaned down to kiss her again. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him closer. Both of their legs felt too weak to support them any longer. They sunk to the ground, lost in their embrace. He kissed her neck softly and she squeezed her eyes shut tightly. All of her earlier doubts melted away with the feel of his lips. Something this good, couldn't ever be wrong. She knew that now.

She pulled away from him and sat up on her knees in front of him. He gazed at her longingly. She unbuttoned her jacket and tossed it aside. Her fingers went to the buttons on her blouse, and she started to undo them slowly. He watched her expectantly and then he started to chuckle. She stopped unbuttoning and looked at him.

"Am I doing this wrong?" She asked, feeling a little self conscious at her efforts to be seductive.

"No. Please, continue. I just noticed you're wearing the pink shirt I gave you." He said with a grin.

She looked down and realized the same thing.

"Oh, yeah." She smiled at him.

"I thought you hated it? And here you are carefully unbuttoning it. Would have thought you'd jump at the chance to rip it to shreds." He pointed out.

"No. I didn't want to ruin it. It was the first thing you ever bought for me." She said softly.

He smiled and moved over closer to her. He put his arms around her waist. He kissed her deeply and she forgot about the shirt for a minute. Then he pulled back and looked at her. His fingers went to the remaining buttons and carefully undid them for her. He peeled the blouse over her shoulders and bent to kiss swell of her breasts. He traced his tongue over her smooth skin and she moaned softly. Her fingers gripped the edge of his shirt and lifted it upwards. His mouth broke contact with her skin only long enough to free himself of his shirt. She tossed it aside and he kissed her lips again, his tongue tracing circles around her own.

With one hand, he blindly reached over to the couch and tried to locate one of the pillows. He grabbed one and tossed it onto the ground behind him. He pulled her tightly into his arms and maneuvered her around onto her back, with her head resting on the pillow. He straddled her legs, and ran his hands over her satin covered breasts. He reached behind her and she arched her back to allow him access to the bra clasp. He released it and tossed her bra aside. He bent down and took one of her nipples into his mouth. He sucked it gently, as his tongue ran over the sensitive flesh.

She ran her fingers through his hair and clutched his head to her breast. His mouth released its hold on her nipple and he began kissing his way down her stomach. He undid the button of her jeans and pulled the zipper down. She lifted her hips up and he eased her pants down to her ankles. He pulled her shoes off and removed her pants fully. Then he reached up and pulled her panties off. He placed his hands on the inner part of her thighs and pressed them apart. He could see how much she wanted him already. He was torn between wanting this moment to last forever and the urgency that they'd spent too much time apart already.

He looked into her eyes. She reached out and began undoing his pants. He helped her as he slid them off completely. He lay his body down on top of hers. He needed to feel the warmth of her skin against his. He kissed her lips softly, then buried his face in her hair. He wanted to drink in her scent and remember it forever. She ran her tongue over his shoulder, and kissed it lightly.

"Make love to me." She whispered to him.

It was the first time she had ever considered being with him making love. She had always thought of it crudely before. But this needed to be different. There was no pain in her heart anymore. There was only love. And she wanted him to trust that, and know it fully.

He reached down and guided himself into her warmth slowly. Everything felt different and better somehow. As he began to move rhythmically within her, he looked down into her eyes again. He didn't see what he had always seen before. He didn't see a lost girl grasping at something to make her feel. He also didn't see an animal who only wanted to be hurt, or to cause pain. He saw the woman he had fallen in love with so long ago. The woman that he never thought would love him back. The woman he never dreamed he'd be good enough to deserve.

But they had come together. Not easily, and not without immense pain. They'd earned this. They had earned the right to be happy with each other. It was an amazing thing, he realized. He'd taken a huge risk by letting her go. And she had taken an even bigger risk by coming back to him. He knew now that the old saying was true. If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it's yours. If it doesn't, it never was. Buffy was his now. Truly this time. They'd both been set free, and in the end, they had come back to each other. How could they not, when everything they ever wanted they found in each other.

She held him tightly to her, as they both became consumed by their passion. She cried out softly and buried her face in his shoulder, as she began to shiver with ecstasy. He felt his release overcome him and he collapsed onto her chest. They were both out of breath and completely numbed by the magnitude of their coupling. It wasn't just passion, it was raw emotion. Emotion that had never been allowed to be expressed freely before.

Finally, he lifted himself off of her chest. He started to get off the floor and she grabbed his hand.

"Where are you going?" She asked, already missing the feel of his skin.

"I was getting a blanket. Thought you might be cold." He told her sincerely.

"Oh. Not yet. I'm still a little warm." She said with a satisfied grin.

He went over to the couch anyway and grabbed the quilt that was lying over the back. He also grabbed another pillow and tossed it down next to her. He lay back down and pulled the quilt over them.

"See? Isn't that a little better?" He asked, as she snuggled in closer to him.

"Yeah. You know, maybe we should think about putting a bed up here too." She said thoughtfully.

"Really?"

"Well, we seem to have a hard time making it downstairs half the time. And I've gotta admit, this floor? Not exactly comfortable." She said with a sigh.

"Maybe I could just put some wall to wall carpeting in here? It might be softer. You think one of Xander's friends could get me a deal?" He asked with a smirk.

"I could ask." She said, playfully.

He looked at her and smiled. Then he laid his head down on her chest and draped his arm across her stomach.

"Speaking of Xander…Are you going to tell him about this?" He asked her curiously.

"What? That we're lying naked on your carpet-less floor? I'm thinking no." She said jokingly.

"I didn't mean that. Although, his reaction to that would be fun..." He said thoughtfully. Then he grew serious again. "I just meant about us."

She looked down at him lying on her chest and sighed.

"Do I have to?" She whined.

"Yes. I don't want this to be your dirty little secret this time." He said seriously looking up at her.

"It's not my dirty little secret." She said softly.

"Well, then don't treat it that way. If you're still too ashamed of me to tell your friends—."

"I'm not." She interrupted him, as she sat up and clutched the quilt to her chest.

"So then you'll tell them. Everything." He stated clearly.

She started getting agitated with him. They were having this wonderful getting back together moment. She was lost in the fantasy again, and he was trying to force her back to reality. It bothered her.

"Why do you care? You don't even like them, so why do you care if they know?" She asked him shaking her head.

"Because you care. That's why."

She looked away from him.

"They won't ever understand. You know that. Can't we just keep things separate? You and me in our own little place…" She said, reaching out to touch his face softly.

He removed himself from her touch and sat up. He looked at her.

"No. We aren't going down that road again, Buffy. Your friends are part of your life. And I want to be part of your life. Your whole life. Not just the part you come to when you need a slaying partner, or a good shag. I thought you understood that?" He asked, disappointed and frustrated with her again.

"You can't be part of my whole life, Spike. You're a vampire. You live in the dark. I don't. I won't do that again."

"I'm not asking you to. Don't you get it? Just because I'm a vampire, it doesn't mean I can't have a real life. A life with you." He tried to explain.

"So what now? You wanna get married? You wanna be my house-vampire while I go to work? You gonna cook me dinner and have my slippers waiting for me when I get home?" She asked sarcastically.

"Buffy…" He groaned, shaking his head with aggravation.

"What? I'm just asking. Is that the life you want? Cause that's what you're walking into. My life isn't just being the Slayer. I've got to work, I've got bills to pay, laundry to do, a sister to take care of. Do you think you'd fit into that world?" She asked seriously.

He stood up agitated and went over to pull his pants on. She still didn't get it. Maybe she never would. He turned to face her as she stared up at him.

"Do you think you do?" He asked pointedly.

She lowered her head and refused to look at him. He walked over closer to her.

"You don't fit in there either. Not entirely. But you still live it. And I can too. And you know why? Because I love you. Not just the Slayer, but the woman. Remember the night we sat in your old house eating Chinese food? All we did was talk. That's one of the best nights I've ever had. And it's because it was with you. Was it exciting? No. Was it something a vampire would do? Hell no. But guess what? I don't care." He said heatedly.

She stood up with the quilt wrapped around her and faced him.

"So now what?" She asked him.

"It's up to you. Either you're with me completely, or not at all." He said with conviction.

She stared at him and was surprised at how much he had changed. This wasn't the same person who would do anything just to keep her attentions. She had broken down and admitted her love for him, and yet he still wasn't satisfied. She found his new attitude aggravating and completely annoying. But she respected him now, she had to admit. He wasn't a lovesick fool anymore. But that didn't mean he didn't love her. It just meant that he was tired of being unhappy. And so was she.

She sighed and sat herself back down on the ground. She lay down on the pillows and stared up at the ceiling. He moved into her line of sight and stared down at her. She looked into his eyes and didn't say anything. He waited.

"This is never gonna work." She finally whispered.

"Why not?"

"We can't even have make up sex without getting into a fight." She said miserably.

"We're not fighting, we're discussing. There's a difference." He pointed out. Then he smirked. "Besides, fighting after make up sex, only leads to more make up sex. So that's a good thing."

"That's true." She said with a small smile.

"So? Are we making up?" He asked.

Inside he was screaming at himself to just shut up and take what she was offering again. She had said she loved him tonight. It was something he never dreamed. And he was risking it all just because he was being stubborn. But he couldn't have things return to the way they were before. She still looked at him as something that didn't belong in her life. She may have said she loved him, but she still wouldn't accept him.

She contemplated her options. She had jumped off that cliff, and landed safely below. But it still wasn't enough. She had no idea what to do next. She was on safer ground, but still lost. All she knew is that she hadn't jumped for nothing. She wasn't going to let him drift away from her. She wanted to hold on.

"Get back over here." She said with a smile as she lifted up the quilt in invitation.

He caught a glimpse of her still nude flesh and he smiled.

"So, then things are okay?" He asked cautiously.

"Well, I'm not putting an announcement in the newspaper just yet, but don't worry. I'll tell them." She said sincerely.

He smiled and let out a mental sigh of relief. He had been worried there for a few minutes. But it was worth it. He undid his pants again and tossed them aside. He slipped underneath the quilt with her again.

"I love you." He whispered into her ear.

"I love you too." She whispered back.

He held her tightly to him for a moment, just to make sure that she was really there. That this was all really happening. They both closed their eyes, lost with their own thoughts.

"You really think we can make this work?" She asked softly, her eyes still closed.

"If anyone can, it's us."

And she knew that to be true. A regular person wouldn't last a second with either one of them. They were so much alike, and at the same time vastly different. They had the perfect combination of guts and strength and wit. Sometimes they were so in tune with each other, that they could finish each other's thoughts. But they viewed everything differently. Where she saw despair, he saw hope. She was smart but he was intuitive. Her weaknesses were his strengths, and vice versa. Completely different beings in every way, but complimentary.

She shifted her body around to face him. She smiled at him.

"Are we just gonna lay here, or are we gonna make up already?" She joked with him.

He smirked at her and bent down to kiss her lips. She wrapped her arms and legs around him tightly and rolled him onto his back. She lay on top of him, as they continued to kiss each other. She finally pulled back for air and smiled at him mischievously. He stared up at her longingly, and watched as she slid her body down, and her head disappeared underneath the quilt.

He drew in a sharp breath as he felt her mouth open to take him in. He closed his eyes and relished the sensation of her tongue teasing him beneath the covers.

"Now I know why I like to fight with you all the time. Making up is so much fun." He muttered, lost in bliss.

The next few days passed and Buffy still hadn't told any of her friends about Spike and her getting back together. She wanted to, but she wasn't sure how to do it. She didn't want to call a big meeting and make an announcement. It would seem like some huge spectacle if she did that. But she wasn't sure she wanted to tell them separately either. Then she'd have to explain herself over and over again.

She didn't want to make a big deal over it. It's not like when Xander and Anya got together, they made this huge announcement that they were dating. The same thing with Willow and Tara. That information has just sort of spilled out one day. It's not like Buffy was the only one who kept secrets about her lovers. But she also knew that this was different.

Spike wanted to be in her life. If she didn't come clean with everyone else, it would never happen. She saw the way they treated him at her housewarming party. Even after they knew she invited him, they still treated him like he didn't belong there. It was up to her to make him belong. And if they didn't like it, that was too bad. That's what she kept telling herself over and over. Only she didn't really believe it yet.

Dawn was right when she said she was a coward. This was such a simple thing compared to the life and death decisions she'd been making for the last six years. The decision to leap off a tower to her death, came easier to her than this. Choosing to live life, was a lot harder than choosing to end it. And that thought made her sad inside. How many times was she going to promise herself to be happy, before she'd actually follow through with it?

She had promised Spike that she would tell everyone today. Only she had chickened out and gone shopping alone all afternoon. She was afraid of what he'd say if he found out she was still stalling.

Just then, there was a knock on her door. She was plucked out of her warring thoughts and got up off the sofa. She opened the door and saw Spike standing there looking serious.

"Hey. What are you doing here? I thought we were meeting later?" She asked him.

She moved out of the way, and he walked in the room past her. He turned around.

"We've got a problem." He told her quickly.

She looked at him nervously. She was sure he was going to get mad at her for not making their announcement yet. He must have found out somehow. She tried to play dumb.

"A problem? Really? What problem?" She asked anxiously.

"There's something big going down tonight. At the Bronze. I heard some fellas talking about it at the bar." He explained.

She let out a sigh of relief. She was glad for the reprieve. She didn't want to get in an argument with him right now.

"That's it? That's the problem? Thank God." She said relieved.

He looked at her curiously.

"Thank God? You don't seem too worried. What's wrong with you?" He asked.

"Nothing. I'm fine. Great actually. And yes, I'm totally worried about this. Please tell me more." She said overdoing it.

He just shook his head and wondered if she was drunk or something.

"Do you have a fever?" He asked her, as he reached over and touched her forehead.

She backed away a little and laughed dismissively.

"I'm fine. Really. I'm just a little distracted. Just tell me what's going on." She said, getting herself together.

"Well, I heard that there is a new group of vamps in town. They're planning on storming the Bronze near closing time. Apparently it's gonna be a huge feeding frenzy." He explained.

"Great, Sunnydales all you can eat buffet nightclub." Buffy muttered with a sigh.

"So, what do we do now? There's at least twenty of them from what I gather. I don't know if you and I can take them all alone. Plus keep track of the people in the club." He pointed out.

"No, that's too many. We're gonna need the gang. Let me make some calls." She said, already trying to form a plan in her mind.

She disappeared into the kitchen and Spike sat down on the couch. Just then Dawn came in and plopped down next to him.

"Hey. You taking Buffy out on a date?" She asked with a grin.

"No, Little Bit. Not tonight." He sighed.

"Oh. I thought I heard you say something about the Bronze. Thought you were gonna take her dancing." Dawn said with a shrug.

"No, something more violent than that. Vampire gang's planning to rush the place. Make a feast of it." He explained simply.

"Wonderful. Only in Sunnydale." She said, shaking her head. Then she looked at him. "So, you and Buffy worked things out right? I mean, she talked to you?"

"Yeah. We did. She told you about that?"

"Yeah. And you can thank me later." She said smirking at him.

"For what?"

"For getting her to wake up and smell the hottie."

"The what?" Spike asked completely confused.

"The hottie?" She said, acting like he was an idiot. He stared at her blankly. She groaned. "You, you dork. You're the hottie. I made her realize that she shouldn't throw you away just because she's a big coward."

He smiled at her.

"I'm a hottie?"

"Well, duh. Like you don't know that." She said rolling her eyes.

"Well, that's true. I am very sexy." He said with a smirk.

"And very modest." She said sarcastically.

He laughed at her. Then he smiled sincerely.

"You actually told her to come to me the other night?" He asked, surprised by this development.

"Yeah."

"Why?" He asked.

"Because. I want her to be happy. And I think that you can do that." She explained.

"You do?"

"Well, you'd better, cause otherwise I'm gonna look really stupid here." She said wryly.

"Thanks." He said sincerely.

"I was just trying to help. I'm amazed she even listened to me. She usually never does." Dawn said quietly.

"I can't believe she listened to you either. She never listens to me." Spike said shaking his head with a smile.

"Buffy doesn't listen to anybody. She's completely stubborn. She drives me crazy."

"Me too." He agreed.

"But I still love her."

"Me too."

Just then, Buffy walked back into the room and pulled her jacket on.

"Okay, we're meeting everyone at the Magic Box in half an hour." She announced.

"You wanna bring some weapons, or do you have enough at the shop?" Spike asked, standing up from the couch.

"There are some stakes in my chest over there." She said, pointing to the wooden chest that Xander made for her birthday.

Spike went over and opened it up. Buffy looked at Dawn.

"Dawn, do you think you can spend the night with one of your friends? We'll be out really late. I don't want you here by yourself all night." Buffy told her.

"I can call Janice. Or Angie. I'm sure someone would take pity on me and give me a place to crash."

"Dawnie, you know this doesn't mean I'm trying to pawn you off or get rid of you, right?" Buffy asked, not wanting to upset Dawn. She knew how sensitive she had been lately.

"Relax. It's cool. I know that this is important stuff. I'll be fine." Dawn reassured her.

Buffy smiled and Dawn went to the phone to try and make arrangements for a sleepover. Buffy realized that Dawn had matured a lot over the last few months. She wasn't acting like a spoiled brat anymore. After her outburst at Buffy's birthday party, she had tried to be more understanding of Dawn's needs. It hadn't gone too well at first though. Buffy had more than her share of problems that had distracted her and made things worse. But now things were starting to come together again. Dawn was also more understanding than she had been in the past. Maybe she had done some growing up in the last few months as well. Whatever it was, it was working. Buffy felt like maybe they both had a chance to make this family work after all.

"This enough, you think?" Spike asked her as he showed her the handful of stakes he held.

"Yeah. If we need more, I think we've got some at the shop."

He leaned over and kissed her. Then he pulled back and smiled at her.

"What was that for?" She asked.

"I need a reason?"

"No. I guess not." She smiled.

"You just look so cute when you're all determined and on a mission." He told her.

She moved closer to him and put her arms around his neck.

"Cute, huh?"

"Adorable."

She kissed him hard on the mouth. He dropped the handful of stakes to the ground as he wrapped his arms around her tightly. They were lost in their fiery embrace and didn't realize that Dawn was standing there watching them with her arms folded across her chest.

She cleared her throat loudly.

"Um, you might wanna pick up those stakes. You wouldn't want Spike to fall on one of them. It might ruin the mood." She told them.

Buffy pulled away from Spike quickly and looked at Dawn with embarrassment.

"I-I thought you were still on the phone." She stammered.

"Nope. I'm done."

"We weren't." Spike smirked as he tried to pull Buffy closer to him again. She shoved him away.

"Yes we were." She said, flustered.

She knew that Dawn was aware of what was going on. She had helped it happen. But Buffy didn't feel the need to put on a floor show in front of her little sister.

"Angie said I could stay with her. Her mom's gonna pick me up. So you guys can go if you need to." Dawn told them.

"Alright. Are you sure you're okay alone until she gets here?" Buffy asked.

"Love, the girl is fifteen, not four. I think she'll manage. Right Niblet?" He asked with a smile.

"Right, Spike. And by the way…Niblet? Sounds more like four than fifteen. Just to let you know." She said rolling her eyes.

"What? You don't like that name?" He asked offended.

"Not especially. I mean, Buffy gets to be called 'Love' or 'Pet'. Why do I have to be nicknamed after a type of corn? Why not just call me 'Snow Pea' or 'Celery Stick'?" She asked huffily.

Buffy started giggling and Spike looked at Dawn.

"Alright, Snow Pea. We'll see you later." He smirked at her, as he took Buffy's hand.

"That was a joke." She said with a groan.

"But it's cute, don't you think?" He asked trying to be irritating.

Dawn looked at Buffy.

"What do you see in him?" She teased.

"I have no idea. He's annoying, isn't he?" Buffy agreed with a smirk.

"Very." Dawn said giving Spike a pointed look.

"Oh and you two aren't annoying at all." He said sarcastically.

Buffy sighed and shook her head.

"Just get the stakes. We need to get moving." She told him.

He bent down and picked them up. He handed some to Buffy and they both put them into their jacket pockets.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Dawn." Buffy said, giving her sister a hug.

"Be careful you guys." Dawn said sincerely.

"We will." Buffy told her.

Then she and Spike went to the door. Buffy opened it and turned around.

"Lock it behind me, okay?"

"Buffy…Just go already. I'm fine. Angie will be here in like ten minutes." Dawn said with exasperation.

"Alright, alright." Buffy relented, knowing she was being way too overprotective.

Spike took her arm and led her out. They started walking down the street together. The Magic Box was only a few blocks from her apartment. She had planned it that way when she rented it. Convenience was important. Spike glanced over at Buffy

"So, do you have a plan?" He asked her.

"Not yet. I thought we'd wait and talk to everyone else." She admitted.

"I've got some ideas. Will Tara be there?" He asked.

"Yeah. Her and Willow were just finishing up dinner when I called."

"Good. She's important to my plan." He told her.

"Are you gonna share this plan with me?" She asked raising her eyebrow.

"Yeah." He smiled. "This is what I'm thinking…" He began to explain his plan to her.

Spike had finished telling her his idea as they walked up in front of the store. She nodded her head at him.

"I think that might work. Do you think we have enough time to get it together?" She asked.

"I don't know. We'll find out. It's only eight-thirty now, the club doesn't close until two am. We should be good on time." He shrugged.

"Alright." She said, yanking the door open.

They walked inside together and found everyone there already. Buffy walked over to the table where everyone was sitting and talking amongst themselves.

"Hey. I'm here." Buffy said with a smile.

"And you brought Spike. How nice." Xander said giving Spike a dirty look.

Spike just glared at him unflinching.

"Spike's the one who alerted me to this, Xander." Buffy explained.

"Right." Xander relented, as he broke his stare down with Spike.

"So, what's going on? Tell us the scoop again." Willow interrupted with a small smile.

"Well, apparently a vampire gang is planning on crashing the Bronze tonight at closing time. I guess they've been scoping out the place, and found the clientele to be a tasty treat." Buffy explained.

"If you ask me, it's just lazy." Spike scoffed.

"What?" Xander asked.

"Well, they obviously don't know how to hunt very well. Sealing off a crowded nightclub to feed? It's like shooting goldfish in a bowl."

"Ah, yes, I forgot what an expert you are at the proper way to kill someone." Xander said sarcastically.

"Xander, shut up." Buffy said, shaking her head.

"Um, so what are we going do?" Anya asked curiously.

"Well, I have a plan." Spike told her.

"Oh this should be good." Xander sniped.

"Will you shut up?" Spike said angrily.

"No. No one wants to hear your stupid plan." Xander said, standing up from the table.

Anya grabbed his arm.

"Xander, sit down." She said under her breath.

Buffy glared at Xander. She was getting angry at his unwillingness to get along with Spike. Instead of getting better, things were just getting worse. She was getting fed up.

"I don't want to sit down." He said, staring at Spike.

"Are you gonna beat me up, tough guy?" Spike mocked him.

"Maybe."

"You're such a Nancy boy loser. The only fight you could win is with someone who can't hit back. Yeah, you're a real man." Spike made fun of him.

"At least I am a man. You're nothing but a thing." Xander spat at him.

Buffy was pissed now. She reached into her pockets and grabbed her stakes. She tossed them into the middle of the table roughly and they made a huge racket as they clanged to the floor. Everyone stopped and stared at her.

"Enough! Both of you!" She screamed at them.

They both shrank back at her obvious anger.

"Buff, I'm sorry. It's just—." Xander started.

"No. I don't want to hear it. I am sick to death of your insults. I am sick of your threats to Spike. I'm sick of all of it." She said angrily.

"I just don't get it. Why do you keep trying to drag him into the group? He doesn't belong here. We don't need him or his stupid plans." Xander protested heatedly.

"I need him. And I happen to like his 'stupid' plans." Buffy said full of conviction.

"Buffy this is crazy. I get that you guys had a thing before, but it's over. He doesn't need to be here anymore. You've got us." Xander told her.

"You don't understand. It's not an either or situation." She said shaking her head.

"You still haven't told them that we're back together?" Spike asked, just processing the fact that Xander thought they were over.

"You're what?" Xander asked, incredulously.

"You guys are back together?" Willow asked.

"Good for you." Anya smiled.

Tara just sat back and smiled. She knew that things would work out for them eventually. She just had a feeling.

"I was going to tell them, but the timing wasn't right." Buffy said looking at Spike uncomfortably.

"I'm not sure the timing could ever be right for you to announce you're throwing your life away again." Xander shook his head.

Buffy glared at him.

"Is that what you think? Way to be supportive. Thanks." She said hurt by his words.

"Well, come on. This is insane. You've lost your mind again." Xander told her.

"Xander, be quiet." Anya snapped at him, irritated by his behavior.

"You actually love this guy?" Spike asked Anya disbelieving.

"Well, he's not always this big of a jerk. Sometimes he's nice." She shrugged.

"Anya. It might be nice if you were on my side instead of trading quips with the enemy." Xander complained.

"Well maybe I'd be on your side if you weren't acting like such a pompous ass." Anya said plainly.

"That's just great. Thanks honey." Xander said sarcastically. Then he looked at Willow. "You're on my side, right Will?"

Willow looked mortified to be put on the spot like that. She wasn't sure what she felt or what to say. She didn't want anyone to be mad at her.

"I-I'm on whatever side makes Buffy the happiest." She stammered figuring that was the safest choice to make.

"Thank you Will." Buffy said gratefully.

"I just want you to be happy." Willow admitted softly.

"So do I! Is everyone here on crack or something? Buffy and Spike? Together? Am I the only one who sees the scariness of that?" Xander implored them all.

"It's not scary, it's romantic." Anya said with a smile.

"Romantic? Does anyone remember last time? Buffy got all freaky and distant and scary? She turned into Destructo Girl with her bedroom?" Xander pointed out.

"That wasn't my fault! I told you that." Spike interjected.

"Then who's fault was it?" Xander asked getting into Spike's face again.

Buffy stood between them and pushed them apart.

"It was my fault." She told them.

"Is that what he told you?" Xander asked.

"No, it's the truth. I screwed up my life all by myself, Xander. I didn't need help." She admitted.

"Buffy, you didn't screw it up." Willow said, trying to be a comforting friend.

"Yes, I did. I really screwed up." Buffy said shamefully.

"Well, you got better. You got better because you wised up and dumped Spike's loser ass." Xander told her.

"If you say one more word like that, I will personally pummel you on Spike's behalf." Buffy said through gritted teeth.

Xander backed down and moved away from her. He cared about her so much, but he had a terrible way of showing it. He realized that. He was only protective because he didn't want her to get hurt. In his mind, Spike was evil. He wasn't good enough to even be in the same room as Buffy, much less a part of her life. He hated to see her lower herself like that.

"Buffy, this just isn't like you." Xander said softly as he shook his head.

"No. That's where you're wrong. This is like me, Xander. This is me. You keep saying stuff like I'm insane, or I've lost my mind. And oh, 'Buffy would never do that'. But guess what? Buffy did do that. Buffy freaked out. Buffy made mistakes. Buffy fell in love with Spike." She told him heatedly.

"You're in love with him?" Xander asked.

"Yes."

"Oh god…" Xander groaned.

"Really? I-in love? Complete with the whole 'I love you' thing?" Willow asked awkwardly.

"Yeah, that's generally the idea." Buffy said condescendingly.

"Oh. Well, that's good. Right?" Willow smiled, trying to be supportive.

"Yes, it is good. It's wonderful Buffy." Tara said smiling at her broadly.

Buffy looked at her gratefully. Tara hadn't said a word at all until now. Buffy was glad she had finally spoken up. Spike also looked at her and smiled. Tara was by far his favorite Scooby. She made Buffy feel good about herself even when he couldn't. Plus she had made him feel better about himself too. He was grateful to her for that.

"Spike's not even human." Xander said, refusing to get over this quickly.

"I might not be either." Buffy said softly.

"What?" Xander asked shocked.

"Yeah, what?" Spike asked her.

Everyone else stared at her curiously and completely taken aback by her admission. Everyone except Tara.

"Uh, I-it was inconclusive." Tara chimed in awkwardly.

"Inconclusive? What?" Willow asked Tara. She was hurt that there was something this huge about Buffy that she didn't know about.

"You all know that Spike's chip doesn't work on me anymore. Tara and I never could find a good reason for that. But I think it may mean that I'm more of a Slayer than a human being at this point." Buffy tried to explain.

"Why didn't you tell me this?" Spike asked her softly.

"I didn't think it really mattered." She admitted to him.

"Buffy, that's crazy. Why would you think that?" Willow asked, feeling guilty all over again for the resurrection.

"I just feel it. Things feel different. They have ever since I've gotten back. And then Anya told me a little bit about what Slayers are really like. They're beasts, not people."

"Anya, you called Buffy a beast?" Xander asked upset with her.

"No. I didn't call her that. She asked me about the other Slayers I'd seen and I told her we used to call them Warrior Beasts. Them. Not her." Anya explained defensively.

"You knew other Slayers?" Xander and Spike asked at the same time.

"Well, not personally. But being a demon for a thousand years, you tend to see everything." Anya told them.

"So, anyway, I put two and two together. You guys remember what the First Slayer was like? She didn't exactly appear friendly. Or entirely human for that matter." Buffy told Willow and Xander.

"But you don't look all scary and primal like that." Willow protested.

"I know. But that's still what I am on the inside."

"Fine then. So you're like this super concentrated Slayer. How does that make it okay for you and Spike to be together? Wouldn't that make it that much more wrong?" Xander asked completely confused.

"It doesn't have anything to do with making it right for me and Spike to be together. There probably isn't anything that can make that 'right', except the way he makes me feel." Buffy said softly, looking over at Spike. He smiled back warmly.

"And that's all that matters." Spike said, coming over to her and putting his arm around her. Xander visibly cringed.

"He's evil. He doesn't have a soul. His entire purpose to exist, is to kill things. Do you get that?" Xander asked.

"Yeah, I do get that. That's my purpose for existing too." Buffy told him.

"No, that's not the way it is." Xander protested, shaking his head vigorously.

"Yes, it is. And Spike understands me. Because we're the same." She told him.

"You are not the same. You are about as far from the same as a bunny and a lion." Xander said shaking his head.

"Well, bunnies are quite ferocious and scary, so I don't think that's a good example." Anya pointed out.

Xander just shook his head and ignored her. He looked back at Buffy.

"We are the same. Everyday he struggles with trying to do the right thing. The acceptable thing. He struggles with what people expect of him, or how he is supposed to act. It isn't easy. He wants to slip back into that darkness. It calls to him. It's easier there. But he doesn't. I understand all that, because that's me too." Buffy told him.

"You really understand all that?" Spike asked her, as he pulled her close and smoothed her hair away from her face.

"I do. I mean, all this time you tried to tell me that we weren't so different. I get it now. You weren't trying to tell me I was evil. You were trying to tell me that you could be good." She told him softly.

"I love you." He told her emotionally.

He was so proud of her for standing up for herself tonight. And him too. He loved her more at this moment than ever before. He didn't care if her friends were watching, or judging them. He leaned over and kissed her passionately. She returned his sentiments.

Xander looked away in disgust and everyone else just shifted uncomfortably. It was a highly personal moment, and no one felt that they should really be in the room at this point. Finally they pulled themselves apart, but their gaze remained locked on each other. At this point they didn't even notice anyone else in the room.

"That was beautiful." Anya said genuinely.

Xander turned and glared at her.

"Well, it was. You've never looked at me like that." She said disappointed.

"Yes I have." He said shaking his head.

"Not lately." She shot back.

"Anya, this is so not about us right now." Xander said shaking his head.

"Well maybe it should be." Anya scoffed.

"Guys, stop it. We have a problem remember?" Willow pointed out.

"Yeah. Buffy and Spike making out in the middle of the store." Xander told her.

"No. The vampires? The Bronze? Does anyone even remember why Buffy called us together tonight?" Willow asked, trying to gain control of the very strange situation.

"That's right. Spike? Didn't you say you had a plan?" Tara asked siding with Willow on her attempts to shift the conversation.

Spike finally broke his gaze with Buffy and turned to them.

"Right. I did have a plan." He said, snapping himself back to the reality of the room.

"Let's hear it." Tara said with a smile.

"Well, it will require your help." He told Tara.

"M-my help?"

"Yeah, see we need to put up a barrier around the club. And that requires magic." He explained.

Willow looked away uncomfortably. She knew that this was always her special thing, and she felt upset that she couldn't help out anymore. Tara knew this, and rubbed her arm affectionately.

"I won't do it, if you don't want me to." Tara told Willow.

She shook her head.

"No. You should do it. If it will help." Willow assured her with a smile.

Tara kissed her forehead softly and smiled at her. Then she looked back at Spike.

"You want a barrier to keep them out?" She asked him.

"Yeah. Wouldn't do much good to lock them in with the people, now would it?" Spike asked with a smirk.

"No. I-I'm just not sure I can do that. Not for very long anyway." Tara explained.

"Do you think you could try?" Buffy asked her.

"Yeah. I'll try."

"How long will it need to stay up?" Willow asked curiously.

"Thirty minutes? An hour tops. Just long enough for us to ambush them outside, before they can get into the club." Spike explained.

"We can do that." Willow said nodding her head. Then she corrected herself. "I-I mean Tara can do that. I know a good spell. I can write it down."

"Are you sure?" Buffy asked her.

"Yeah. I think it's okay for me to write it down, as long as I don't actually perform the spell." Willow said, trying to be strong and resist the urge to do the spell herself.

"Alright then. Plan A is a go. Now we need someone on the back entrance of the club, to take care of any crashers who don't wanna use the front door." Spike looked at Xander, who had been sitting silently in the corner of the room. "Harris? You in?" Spike asked.

Xander looked up at him. He was still trying to process everything that had been discussed and revealed tonight. He couldn't get the image out of his head of Buffy and Spike kissing each other. Or hearing her say that she loved him. It was like that horrible spell years ago, when they were engaged. Only it was far worse, because it was real.

"Yeah. I'm in." He said reluctantly.

Despite his disgust and fear at Buffy's choices, he wasn't going to abandon her. And he wasn't going to let innocent people die because he had a wiggins over his friends new love interest.

"Good. Buffy and I will do a quick walk through of the club, see if we can pick up any vampy vibes. Make sure there aren't vampires already in the club. Once it's clear, then we'll head outside to wait for the cavalry. Anya, you stay inside and keep everyone calm. Tara? You get the barrier up." Spike said, commanding orders like he'd been doing this forever.

"What do I do?" Willow asked, feeling left out.

"You help us. You know how to dust a vampire, right?" He asked sarcastically.

"Duh? I've been doing it longer than you have." Willow said shaking her head.

"Well, then, you'll help us thin the herd." He smiled at her.

"Alright then. Everyone know their jobs?" Buffy asked.

Everyone collectively agreed. Buffy looked at the clock.

"It's nine-thirty. We need to get down there by midnight. Is that enough time to get the spell stuff together?" Buffy asked Tara and Willow.

"Yeah. I think so. Is everything here that I need?" Tara asked Willow.

"Yeah. I'll write the ingredients down. If we're missing something, you have time to run home real quick." Willow reassured her.

Willow stood up and got some paper to write things down on. She and Tara busied themselves with that, while Anya went over and counted out the money drawer for the evening. Xander still sat in the corner, not saying anything to anyone. Buffy feared that he hated her now. She turned to Spike.

"Xander is really upset." She whispered to him.

"Yeah, I gathered that. What are you going to do?" He asked her curiously.

"I don't know. Should I say something to him? You think he'll even want to speak to me anymore?" She asked.

"I don't know. I'd just leave him alone if I were you. But then again, I'd be glad if he didn't speak to me anymore." Spike told her.

She sighed. Spike and Xander were never going to get along. It was useless. But they did have to exist together in Buffy's life. She decided to go over and talk to him. She moved slowly, unsure of what she was really going to say that hadn't already been said.

She stood in front of him and he looked up at her.

"Hate me?" She asked quietly.

"No. Hate your boyfriend, but not you." He said looking her in the eye.

"He's really not so bad. You might like him if you gave him a chance." She said with a desperate smile.

He just looked at her blankly.

"Right. That was probably the stupidest thing I've ever said. Of course you wouldn't like him." Buffy said, shifting uncomfortably.

"I just don't understand Buffy. You're so much better than him. You deserve so much more than this." Xander said seriously.

"I'm not better than anyone, Xander."

"Yes you are. You're better than just about every single person I've ever met. You're better than me. And you're sure as hell better than Spike." He told her seriously.

"So what you're saying is that no one would ever be good enough for me? Not even you?" She asked raising her eyebrow.

"That's not what I meant…It's just you're like this hero. You're larger than life." He tried to explain.

"Oh god…Spare me, please. I'm not a hero. Don't put me up on a pedestal like that." She said shaking her head.

"But you are. The things you've done? You've saved the world like a billion times. I think that makes you a hero." He pointed out.

"It just makes me lucky I didn't get killed sooner. That's all. I'm just doing what I have to do. What I'm instinctively drawn to do. It just so happens that the world has gotten in my way and needed saving a few times." She told him.

"You trivialize it so much. It's more important than that."

"Yeah, you're right. It is important. I mean, what I do helps people. It saves people. And occasionally I avert apocalypses. But do you think that's why I really do it? I do it because it's in my blood. Hunting and fighting and killing. That's what drives me. Not saving the world, that's just a perk. It's not like I'm noble or anything." She explained.

"I don't think that's true." He said shaking his head.

"It is true. I mean, I've denied it for so long that I really started to believe I was some kind of superhero. That I could do anything. But I'm not. And I can't. And if everyone sees me as this person who is above all else, how can I ever live up to that? Why do you think I was so afraid to tell you guys about Spike? Why do you think I freaked out and started acting like someone else? I did it because I thought I had to. I wasn't good enough to be the hero anymore, so I had to be the anti-hero." She explained with tears falling down her cheeks.

"Buffy, I didn't mean to make you feel like you had to live up to anything." He said guiltily.

"But you did. And not just you, everyone. Willow needed me to be exactly the way she remembered me, or else she'd feel guilty for bringing me back. If I was wrong somehow, she couldn't deal. I knew that, so I tried to pretend. And you? You looked at me like everything was gonna be alright now cause Buffy's here to save the day. And Dawn wanted this perfect sister slash mom-substitute to look after her. I can't be everything to everyone. The pressure was just too much." She told him sadly.

"So you tried to run away from it all?" He asked her softly.

"I tried. I thought that if I just left all of that stuff behind, that the pain would stop. If I didn't care about anything or anyone, then nothing could touch me. I did a lot of stupid things. Dangerous things. I walked off my job, I stole money to live on. I hurt everyone I cared about."

"And where does Spike fit into this? He was your enabler. He wanted to see you destroy yourself just as long as you were with him. That doesn't make him a good guy." Xander pointed out.

"I know. It doesn't. But I think he was just as confused as I was. But he tried to stop me. He tried to get through to me, and I didn't listen to him either. It wasn't his fault."

"So then why were you with him?"

"He made me feel strong. Better somehow." She whispered.

"How?" Xander asked.

"He gave me something that none of you could. And that was acceptance. He didn't have any expectations of me, so I didn't have to pretend with him. He didn't want me to be a hero, or perfect friend, or a responsible sister. He just wanted me. And at the time, that's all I could handle."

"He just wanted to sleep with you." Xander said.

"I'm the one who started it. Not him." She admitted.

"You started it?"

"Yeah. Does that ruin your image of him corrupting me and seducing me into his evil world with some kind of vampiric thrall?" She asked.

"What do you mean you started it? He started it by stalking around you all lovesick and insane. You were fragile and confused. He knew that. He took advantage."

"I'm the one who ripped his pants off and jumped on him, okay? He didn't take advantage of me. I took advantage of him. I used him, I hurt him and I threw him away when it didn't feel good anymore." She said tearfully.

"So then why are you with him again? Pity? Remorse?"

"No. I broke up with him because I was angry with myself. I hated what I'd become. I hated what I did to him. I was lost and scared and sad. I thought, just like you did, that maybe it was him that was bringing me down. But it wasn't. It was me. If anything he was trying to keep me afloat. Breaking up with him solved nothing except making me miss him. I don't know how or when it happened, but I fell in love with him. I didn't want to. I fought it with every fiber of my being."

"Why'd you stop fighting? Cause that was a good plan." He told her with a small smile.

"No it wasn't. It was a sucky plan, just like all the other ones I had recently. I was tired of fighting. I just wanna live my life. I'm not trying to set any examples here. I just want to be happy. And even if you don't understand it, he makes me happy."

Xander looked at her for a moment. He didn't know what to say anymore. It was clear she wasn't crazy, despite his protests to the contrary. She was actually very calm and level headed about the whole thing. He still hated it. He suspected he always might. But he loved her. He wanted for her what she wanted for herself. He'd just been trying to ignore what it was she really wanted. He wanted to save her. But she didn't need him for that. She never had.

"Buffy, I…I want you to do whatever makes you happy. If this is it? Then I guess I just have to deal with that. But don't sell yourself short either. You may think that just because you don't actively seek out apocalypses to stop them, that you aren't a hero. You're so wrong. That is a hero. You do good without even thinking about it. That's what makes you so special. Don't ever think that you're not. You'll always be my hero. But that doesn't mean you have to live up to something or be perfect. You're already perfect in your own special Buffy way. Even if you have terrible taste in men." He told her sincerely.

She was touched at his sincere words. And she had to laugh at his closing remarks. He'd never let that slide. But it was alright. Buffy knew they'd be able survive this.

"Well, you've had some questionable tastes yourself." She pointed out with a laugh.

"Right, the Inca mummy girl, the Praying Mantis lady, Anya the ex-demon…"

"Actually I was talking about Cordelia. I still don't know what you were thinking there." She said with a grin.

He laughed and pulled her over for a hug. She embraced him tightly.

"So you're gonna be okay with this?" She asked him.

"I'll deal."

"Will you at least try and be nice to him?" Buffy asked, as she pulled out of their hug.

"I'll try."

"Well try hard. I don't want to have to separate you two all the time." She said seriously.

"Alright. I'll play nice. Just be careful."

"I don't have to. I'm okay." She said with a smile.

"Well, I guess I'm just going to have to trust you." He told her.

"I guess so."

A few hours had passed now, and everyone was getting ready to leave soon. Tara and Willow had worked out the spell and got the ingredients together. Willow was glad to be a part of the magic, even if she wasn't performing the spell. She felt like she had control of herself now. And Tara had trusted her enough to allow her to help. It was a good feeling. She still wasn't going to do magic, but it was enough to be back in the thick of things again. She had missed feeling important like this. She hoped one day she'd feel strong enough to use her powers again. This time responsibly and only in cases like this when it was necessary.

Spike and Buffy sat at a table together, going over strategies. They were hoping once the vampires couldn't gain access to the club, some of them might freak out and run away. The ones who were left, they'd be able to take out. Spike reached over the table and took Buffy's hands and held them.

"So, you never told me what Xander said to you." He said to her softly.

"He's alright."

"Really? He still hasn't come near me. Are you sure he's not plotting my dusty demise as we speak?" Spike asked with a small grin.

"I'm pretty sure. He's not ready to throw a party for us or anything. But he's okay. He's probably just staying away from you because I told him he can't be mean anymore. He probably hasn't figured out how to do that yet." She smiled at him.

"Yeah, it took you awhile to figure that one out too."

She just smiled and looked away from him.

"This is gonna turn out okay, right?" Buffy questioned him softly.

"The Bronze thing? Yeah. We'll handle it. Just like we always do." He assured her.

"No, I meant us. This. All of us together." She clarified herself.

"Yeah. It will."

"This is really what you want? I mean, you're happy being a part of this whole 'mission of goodness' thing?" She asked quietly.

He looked at her seriously and nodded his head.

"Yeah. I mean, I hated this at first. I hated that I even wanted to associate with any of you. And after you dumped me? Tara told me that I should find myself again. I should do what came naturally. So I tried. I thought I could be the Big Bad again. That's what I thought I was supposed to be. But when I tried to be bad…well, I failed." He explained quietly.

"You failed? What did you do?" She asked uncomfortably.

"I tried to feed again. But I couldn't do it."

"What? Your chip? Did you get it out?" She asked in a hushed whisper. She was surprised and upset that he didn't tell her.

"No. It's still there. But it doesn't matter anymore. I thought I could have someone else do the killing for me, then I could at least feel like I was a vampire again. I wanted to be as evil as I possibly could, just to prove to myself that I knew who I was. And I did. I figured it out."

"Figured what out?"

"I figured out that this is what comes naturally to me now. Even though you weren't around, I still fought alongside you. When I found someone to help me feed, I ended up dusting him and saving two women from being eaten. One of them was supposed to be my dinner, Buffy. And it sickened me. I had to let them go." He told her, still not entirely comfortable with his new outlook on life.

"It sickened you?" She asked completely surprised.

"It did. I saw their fear and their disgust. And it was for me. They looked at me like I was a monster. And I had to remember that they saw me that way, because that's what I am. But that's not what I feel inside. Not anymore. You said that you have a beast inside you. You said that you may not look like a primal, scary creature, but that's what you are on the inside. Me? Well, I do look like that primal, scary creature. But on the inside? I'm a man." He told her seriously.

She just stared at him shocked and heartened by his words. It was further proof of how similar they were. They were coming from opposite ends of the spectrum, but they were meeting in the middle. He had started out in the darkness, and she had come from the light. Where they met, it was shadowed. Not so bright as to be blinding to the world around them. And not so dark that you felt like you were drowning and lost. It was light enough to find your way, but dark enough that you could still fall off the path if you weren't careful. That's why they needed each other.

She was finally at peace with her thoughts and she leaned over the table and kissed him softly.

"I really love you, you know that?" She said to him with a smile.

"It took you long enough." He said with a smirk.

She just smiled and shook her head. She sank back into her chair. For once, everything felt right. It had taken her a long time, but all was right with her world now. It was a good feeling.

They had all gotten to club, just after midnight. Things appeared completely normal inside. Everyone was dancing and drinking and laughing. Completely oblivious to the danger that was lurking just hours away. They found some tables and positioned themselves around. They were watching the doors and the dance floor for signs of anyone out of place. They had all been doing this long enough now that spotting a vampire was easier than it looked.

But Buffy and Spike had the upper hand. They could sense vampires around them. And so far everyone in the club appeared to be human. Now all they had to do was wait. Buffy got up from the table and Spike followed her lead.

"We're gonna head out back, see if anyone is already milling outside. If this is really going down, I expect some of them will get antsy and arrive early." Buffy told everyone.

She and Spike headed out the back door and looked around. It seemed pretty quiet. She turned to him.

"Are you sure this was reliable information?" She asked him.

"Yeah. I heard it with my own ears. They said tonight. They said closing time would have a whole new meaning when they were finished." He told her.

"That's a really bad pun. These guys sound like idiots." She said shaking her head.

"Well, I told you they were stupid. At least that works in our favor."

"How is it that you manage to get all this information and yet no one ever suspects that you're working both sides? Don't these people know who you are? Every nasty in town seems to know you're with me. Can't they put two and two together?" She asked him curiously.

"Well, as I said, they're not too bright. And the ones that figure it out? Well, they don't seem able to tattle on me, what with them being dead and all." He pointed out.

"So you just kill anyone that figures out you're a mole?"

"Yeah. Plus it makes me look tougher and scarier. The other demons see me take someone out, and they figure they don't wanna mess with me. I make excuses like, 'Oh, he owed me money', or 'I just didn't like the way he smelled'. They're scared of me. They think I'm crazy."

"Well, you are." She joked. "But don't they look down on you for killing other demons?"

"Well, not if it's justified."

"And 'He smelled funny' is justifiable?" She asked with a grin.

"It seems to be." He said with a smirk.

Just then, they saw a group of around five vampires rounding the corner and entering the alley.

"Looks like the guests are starting to arrive." Spike pointed out.

"Okay, time to deploy the troops." Buffy said, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a walkie talkie. "Xander? It's time. Get everyone where they need to be." She spoke into the device.

"Copy, Buffy. I'm sending Tara up to the roof. Willow's going out the front. I'll meet you guys out back." Xander's voice came over the intercom.

"You know, Harris actually had a decent idea with these little gadgets." Spike pointed out.

"Yeah, he had them left over from a few years ago. I was gone, and the gang sort of formed their own little slaying club. Complete with code names and walkie talkies."

"Code names? What was Xander's? Bloody Poof?" Spike joked.

She smacked him on the arm.

"It was Nighthawk."

Spike started chuckling.

"Oh, that's even better." He laughed.

"Pay attention. We've got work to do. They're heading this way." She said, snapping him back to the task at hand.

Buffy shoved the walkie talkie back into her pocket and took out two stakes. Spike did the same. The vampires had seen them standing there, but they had incorrectly assumed them to be ordinary humans. A pre-show snack. They were caught off guard when Buffy and Spike charged at them with fists flying.

Just then, Xander rushed out the back door with his own stakes. He leaped into the fray alongside them.

"I'm on the roof." Tara's voice came through the intercom.

No one had the opportunity to press the button to talk back to her. They were all too busy fighting. So, Buffy looked up at the building.

"Do it now, Tara!" She shouted loudly, hoping that she would hear her.

"O-okay. I-I mean, copy." Tara said awkwardly into the device.

"There are at least ten more coming this way! I need help!" Willow's voice bellowed from everyone's pockets.

Buffy looked at Spike, just as she managed to dust two of the vamps at the same time.

"You and Xander finish up here. I'm going around front." She told him.

Spike merely nodded, as he landed a punch to one of his adversaries.

Buffy started to run. She reached into her pocket and pressed the button.

"I'm on my way Willow."

She rounded the corner and saw Willow struggling with two vampires that had managed to grab her arms. Willow was afraid, but she resisted the urge to magically save herself. But if Buffy hadn't of appeared when she did, Willow may have done it. Buffy ran up and plunged her stakes into both of their backs before they had a chance to react.

Willow didn't have time to thank her, when three more vampires launched themselves in their direction. Willow managed to position her stake in a way that when the vampire tackled her, he fell directly onto the sharp point. He exploded around her and she scrambled to her feet.

Around the back, Xander and Spike were joined with more vampires. It appeared that the back entrance to the club was the preferred entrance. They were faced with at least ten more.

"Looks like the party is a little bigger than I thought." Spike muttered to Xander.

Xander grabbed his walkie talkie.

"Tara? Is the barrier up? I don't think we can keep them out. There's too many of them."

Tara didn't respond right away. She was too involved in what she needed to do. All at once, a blue flash of light lit up the night sky. It swirled around them and engulfed the outside of the building and disappeared.

"Um, it's up." Tara's small voice echoed from the intercom.

Willow and Buffy saw the barrier go up and Willow smiled.

"I knew she could do it." Willow said softly to herself.

Buffy was sidetracked by the light show, and didn't see the three vampires that had run past her and went for the door. They bounced off the barrier and landed at her feet. She smiled down at them.

"Look's like it's closing time. Thank you for your patronage." She told them, as she dusted two of them lightening quick.

The other one scrambled to his feet and took off running.

"How are you guys doing out there? We could use a little back up." Spike shouted into the intercom.

Buffy looked around and saw about four vampires hanging back, wondering what the hell had happened to their brilliant plans. Buffy knew they couldn't get in, so she grabbed Willow's hand and they both took off running for the back alleyway.

They rounded the corner just in time to see Xander get knocked to the ground by a severely obese vampire. He was like a brick wall. Spike saw it too, and shoved his attackers away. They went flying through the air and crashed against the barrier.

Buffy and Spike both leapt through the air and tackled the huge vampire to the ground before he had a chance to do any damage to Xander. They both struggled to keep him down, but he was so large that Buffy ended up being tossed away from him. She smashed into the barrier and as she bounced off she headed straight for another vampire trying to gain entrance. She held out her stake and used her forward momentum to plunge it into his chest. She crashed to the ground amidst the cloud of dust that had filled the air.

Spike had managed to wrestle free from the big one, and noticed that he was after Xander again. Xander was trying to get to his feet after having the wind knocked out of him after the initial blow. The vampire grabbed his shirt and lifted him up in the air. Spike walked up behind him calmly. Xander saw Spike just standing there, doing nothing at first. All at once, Xander feared Spike was going to let him die for being so cruel to him. But that thought was interrupted when Spike jammed his stake into the vampires flabby back. He shrieked and exploded into dust.

Xander went crashing the ground as the hands that were holding him suspended in the air, disappeared. He looked up at Spike.

"You can thank me later." Spike smirked at him.

Xander just gave him a small half smile. A small, silent truce was called between the two of them. They weren't ready to be best of friends, and probably never would be. But there was an understanding there. One that had been absent before. Before Xander could say anything, Spike was gone. He had gone to help Buffy out.

They managed to dust two more of the vampires and stopped for a moment to look around. Everyone had either deserted the place or were dusted. Everyone got themselves together and brushed their clothes off.

"Looks like we solved that problem." Xander smiled broadly.

"Looks like. It was actually kind of fun." Buffy smiled.

"Well, don't go celebrating just yet. I'm gonna go check out the front again." Spike said as he walked away from them.

"Is it over? God! Someone tell me it's over. Get me out of here!" Anya shouted frantically into the radio.

Xander fished his walkie talkie out of his pocket.

"Hun, it's alright. I think it's over." He told her.

"Oh, thank God you're not dead Xander. Now get me out of here!" She told him.

"Relax, we're just making sure it's secure. How are the other people?"

"Screw them. I want out of here. Why did I agree to be locked in here? You guys know I'm claustrophobic. Remember when we couldn't leave Buffy's house? This is worse. I don't even know any of these people." Anya rambled hysterically.

"Calm down. Is everyone panicking like you?" Xander asked her.

"No. I don't even think they realize they're locked in here like a rodent in a cage."

"Okay. Give us five more minutes. Just pretend you're in there having fun, like we always do. The barrier will be down in a minute." Xander reassured her.

Spike walked around the corner.

"I don't see any stragglers. It's all clear." He told them.

"Tara? Nice work. You can take the barrier down." Xander spoke into the radio.

"Okay. Um, give me a minute." She responded.

They all stood around and waited. Nothing appeared to be happening. Finally the blue light engulfed the place again and dissipated in a flash.

"It's down." Tara told them.

"We saw. Thanks. You can head back down." Xander told her.

At that moment, Anya came rushing out the back entrance. She took several deep breaths of fresh air and looked at them.

"That was awful." She said shaking her head.

"An, all you did was stand inside the same nightclub we go to all the time. You didn't even see any vampires." Xander pointed.

"Well, it was still scary. Besides they just announced last call. Soon everyone was going to make a mad dash for the door and I would have been trampled. Probably to death." She said dramatically.

"Well, it all worked out fine. No vampire buffet, and everyone is unhurt, so I say we did good." Buffy smiled.

Tara walked out of the club now and joined the others. Willow went over and hugged her tightly.

"You did great, Baby." Willow smiled at her.

"I couldn't have done it without your help. I'm proud of you Willow. You kept your head, even though we both know you could have done this a lot easier than I did." Tara told her.

"I think you had things under control, even without me." Willow said sincerely.

Tara just kissed her cheek and they intertwined their hands as they walked over to where everyone else was standing.

"I-I think we're gonna go. Unless you still need us?" Tara asked everyone.

"No, we're good. I think we're gonna head out too." Xander said, putting his arm around Anya.

"Thanks for your help. It was nice to have the gang back together again." Buffy told everyone.

"We're always here when you need us, Buff. Nothing will change that." Xander said, looking over at Spike.

"Thanks." Buffy said softly.

"Okay, we're gone." Xander said with a grin as he and Anya took off out of the alley.

Willow walked over to Buffy and gave her a big hug.

"I'm really glad to see you so happy. It's good to have the old Buffy back." Willow told her warmly.

"Thanks Will. But I like to think of it as the new improved Buffy."

"Well, whoever she is. I like her." Willow told her.

"I'll see you guys later, okay?" Buffy told her.

"Goodnight." Willow said as she went and joined Tara.

Tara waved at Buffy and Spike. And they both smiled at her. She had been a friend to both of them through the most trying times they had faced. But she had hung back tonight. Quietly, watching Buffy make her own decisions. That had always been her way. She stated the obvious, and let you form your own opinion from that. She was quiet, yet very strong. Buffy appreciated her more than she could ever express. But Tara didn't need thanks from anyone. The looks on Buffy and Spike's faces, said it all.

Tara smiled at them one last time and her and Willow disappeared around the corner. Spike turned to Buffy.

"Looks like it's just you and me, Love." He told her.

"Yeah. Looks like."

"You wanna head home?"

"Yeah. It's late. I think we've had enough action for one night." She said with a smile.

He put his arm around her and they started walking slowly towards her apartment.

"That was a pretty good plan, you know?" She told him seriously.

"Really?"

"Yeah. I'm amazed that something you dreamt up actually worked." She said sarcastically.

"Hey. I thought you said you liked my stupid plans?" He asked her.

"Well, I liked tonight's plan. But some of your other plans have been less than good. I was just trying to be nice."

"I have had some very good plans in my time. It's just, they usually fail in the execution. That's not my fault. I blame it on the morons I had helping me." He pointed out.

"Ah, I see. So in fact, your plan only worked tonight cause me and my friends kick ass." She grinned.

"Right, I couldn't have done it without you." He said mockingly.

"And don't you forget it."

They made their way up the sidewalk and to her front door. She unlocked it and they went inside. Buffy flipped on the living room light, and lay down on the couch.

"My feet are tired. Remind me not to wear those shoes again. They suck." She said, pulling off the pair of black boots she was wearing.

He sat down at the end of the couch and put her feet in his lap.

"Are those boots new?" He asked her.

"Yeah. I got them today when I was shopping instead of telling my friends about us." She admitted with a sheepish smile.

"Ah, yes. You did chicken out on that one. But you made up for it later. But maybe these boots were trying to punish you for stalling." He teased her.

He began rubbing her feet, trying to soothe away her aches. She closed her eyes and smiled.

"This is nice. Do I get a complimentary foot rub every night? Is that part of the Spike boyfriend package?" She asked him.

"It could be, if you want it to be." He said rubbing his hands a little further up her legs, till he reached her calves.

"Yeah, I think I like this. What else do you do?"

"Well, I am handy in other areas of the body. Not just feet." He said suggestively, working his way up to her thighs.

"Is that included in the upgrade package?"

"No, it's a standard feature. I can show you my upgrade features later." He smirked at her.

She just smiled at him.

"I'm gonna go to bed." She said getting up from the couch.

He watched her get up and was stunned that she was leaving him. He wasn't sure what to say or do next. He figured she must be really tired. She walked over towards the hallway and looked at him.

"Are you coming or not?" She asked him.

He smiled and stood up.

"I wasn't sure I was invited."

"What did you think? I was just gonna go to sleep without checking out your upgrade 'package'?" She asked with her eyes traveling to the area just below his waist.

He walked over to her with a seductive look in his eyes. He pulled her to him.

"I'll even let you take it for a test drive." He said suggestively.

"Oh god." She rolled her eyes and he kissed her passionately.

They broke away and she led him down the short hallway into her room. He had never even been in there before he realized. Since she had moved here, the closest he had gotten to her room was the bathroom. And that was the first night she had moved in. It wasn't lost on him how important it was that she was letting him in her room. She was allowing him to spend the night with her, in her bed. It was something he had never done. Not even when they were together before. It was a huge gesture. And he wasn't sure if she knew it or not.

Her room looked almost the same as it had before at her old house. It was smaller but it still had her stamp on it. He smiled and pulled her close to him. She wrapped her arms around him and looked into his eyes.

"I think that I could get used to this." She murmured to him.

"Used to what?"

"You being here." She whispered.

"That's good. Cause I'll be here a lot. You have cable, right?" He joked.

She laughed.

"Yes. And that's not what I meant. I meant here." She said, placing his hand over her heart. "I can get used to you being here." She said softly.

He kissed her again and they fell back onto the bed together. It wasn't long before their clothes were discarded all over the room. He was lying on top of her, kissing her neck softly. His hand moved between her thighs and began caressing her. She moaned softly and squeezed her eyes shut tightly. His kisses descended down her body, stopping to lick over her nipples that were stiff with passion at his touch.

He sucked them softly, letting his teeth drag over the sensitive tips. She cried out softly. He then trailed his tongue down her stomach, until he reached the point between her legs. She felt his mouth engulf her already throbbing flesh. She gasped when she felt his tongue press inside of her. He was desperate to taste her. To consume her with his love and desire.

He felt her begin to shudder and her legs tightened around his head. He heard her cry out with pleasure. Finally she relaxed her grip and melted into a puddle of bliss. He scooted back up her body and kissed her hungrily. Her tongue traced the outline of his lips.

"You taste so sweet…Can you taste it?" He asked her huskily.

"It's all for you." She whispered back.

"All mine…" He whispered softly, as he kissed her again.

He then felt her warm hands slide down his stomach and grip him tightly. An involuntary shudder escaped him. He groaned loudly as he felt her hands guide him into her body. He wasn't sure he'd ever get over that sensation. She was hot and slick and soft. Being inside her was like being on fire. It made him fully realize that she was truly alive and he was not. But by being inside her, she was giving him life. She was giving him her life.

He lay his body down on top of hers and moved slowly within her. He wanted to feel every inch of her beneath him. She locked her legs around his waist, and pushed him deeper. They both cried out. Every movement he made, sent her spiraling a little closer to edge. She began gasping for air and clutching at his back. His mouth was at her neck and he was sucking at her soft skin. He felt his orgasm building and he thrust into her deeper and harder. He felt her body quaking beneath him, and her muscles tightened around his shaft.

She was gripping his shoulders so tightly, that he felt her nails digging into his flesh. He felt his release overtake him and he buried his face into her neck. She cried out and he felt her begin to shudder again. Finally they both lay exhausted, panting for air.

He rolled off of her and stared at the ceiling. She scooted over to him and lay her head on his chest. She sighed contentedly. He draped his arm across her shoulders, in effort to keep her as close to him as possible. Neither one of them wanted to let each other go. Not again. It had taken them so long to get to this point. They had both made mistakes. And they had both learned a lot of important lessons. The most important lesson of all was learning how to love.

They'd both been selfish before. He only wanted her with him at all costs. She had used him as a crutch and means to escape. They had no clue what a relationship really was. It was give and take and pain and happiness. It wasn't about ownership or domination. It was about trust and understanding. Somehow in the mess they had created before, they managed to find something left in the rubble. Something better. Something real. And something worth fighting for and keeping.

Three months had gone by now, and everything had settled down. Buffy's friends were all used to Spike being in her life. Even Xander had managed to set aside his concerns. Spike and him would never be best friends. But Buffy had caught them both laughing together a few times when they thought no one was looking. It had made her smile, but she had said nothing. She wasn't even sure they were aware of how important it was that they were getting along. She didn't want to point it out. But Buffy knew that Xander had even asked Spike to be in his wedding next month. Xander claimed he did it for Buffy, but she knew better than that.

Willow and Tara were still together and even more in love than ever before. Buffy was so glad that they had worked out their problems and found each other again. Buffy wanted everyone to have what she had now. With Tara's support, Willow had ventured into the world of magic again. She had started small, and with the intention of using it only when necessary. Things were working out well. Willow had gotten over the fear that if she started, she wouldn't be able to stop. She had learned discipline from Tara. They meditated together twice a day, in effort to keep Willow focused and calm. Buffy was so proud of her for overcoming her problems. And she was in awe of Tara for, yet again, being the glue that held everyone's pieces together.

Spike had moved into the apartment with Buffy and Dawn. It hadn't really been a planned decision. But one night when they were laying in bed, Buffy realized he hadn't been back to his place in almost three weeks. She remembered their conversation.

Spike had been nearly asleep and Buffy was curled up next to him. Suddenly the thought struck her.

"Do you realize you haven't been back to your crypt in three weeks?" She had asked him.

"Really? I hadn't noticed." He told her sleepily.

"Are we living together?" She had wondered.

"Do you want to live together?"

"I don't know." She had said with a shrug.

"Let's talk about it in the morning." He mumbled as he rolled over and tried to get back to sleep.

They had never talked about it again. It had just become a fact. One evening they went and cleared out all of his personal things. He didn't have much. Just some CD's and some books. His clothes had already ended up at her place before. He had offered the crypt to his friend Clem, who had jumped at the chance to move in. Especially because it was fully furnished complete with a television. And Spike knew that if they ever needed someplace safe to go to, Clem would let them use it.

Right now, Buffy stood in her kitchen trying to put together a decent dinner. She had gotten home from work early and had promised Dawn that she'd do something other than pick up the phone and order pizza. She was chopping up some carrots for a salad when she heard arguing coming from the other room.

"That is so not fair, Spike. Give it back!" Dawn said loudly.

"Tough. You weren't even watching it." Spike shot back.

"I just got up for a minute." She said putting her hands on her hips and glaring at him.

"Yeah. And now I'm watching something else." He told her.

"God! You are the most annoying person I've ever met!" Dawn said with a groan.

"Yeah, I get that a lot. Especially from your sister." He smirked.

Buffy peeked her head around the corner.

"What are you two bickering about?" She asked with a sigh.

"He started it." "She started it." They both said at the same time.

"Oh god…I swear I live with a bunch of two year olds." Buffy muttered as she shook her head.

"I was watching Friends and Spike changed the channel. Now he won't give me the remote back." Dawn explained.

"She wasn't even in the room when I sat down." Spike said, giving Buffy a pleading look.

"Dawn, you've got a TV in your room. Just go watch your show in there." Buffy said, exasperated with the silliness of their argument.

"I don't like that one. It's too small." Dawn complained.

"Fine. Then Spike will go in your room and watch whatever he wants." Buffy said rationally.

"No! I don't want him in my room." Dawn said shaking her head.

"Why not?" Buffy asked.

"Because, he messes with my stuff." Dawn said, raising her eyebrow at Spike.

He started to laugh.

"It's really not funny." Dawn said giving him a cold look.

"What did you do to her stuff?" Buffy asked Spike accusingly.

"Nothing. She's lying." Spike laughed.

"The last time he was in my room he arranged my stuffed animals in…interesting positions." Dawn said uncomfortably.

"What? You did what to my baby sisters stuffed animals?" Buffy asked, trying to be upset and not laugh.

"It was a joke. I thought she'd laugh." Spike said with a shrug.

"Yeah, well it wasn't funny. I came home with Janice, and we walked in my room and my teddy bears were doing unmentionable things to each other. Now Janice thinks I'm some kind of sick perv." Dawn said huffily.

Buffy couldn't contain her laughter.

"Oh my god…Spike you are so mean." Buffy scolded him through her giggles.

"I didn't know she was bringing one of her mates over. But it was actually funnier that way." Spike said thoughtfully.

Dawn watched Buffy and Spike laughing at her expense and she shook her head.

"I hate you both. You guys suck." Dawn said jokingly.

Spike stopped laughing and looked at her.

"You should talk. As I recall, you got me back pretty good." Spike pointed out with a smirk.

Dawn started smiling.

"Yeah. I did." She said remembering her prank fondly.

"What did you do? Or do I even wanna know?" Buffy groaned.

"Well, after he humiliated me beyond belief in front of Janice, he had it coming. After you left for work last Saturday, I snuck into your room. Spike was still asleep. I stole all his clothes and threw them outside." Dawn said with a grin.

"Yeah, outside. In the sun. Where I couldn't get them." Spike pointed out.

"It was so great! You shoulda seen him. He was so pissed. And the best part? He had to wear your pink robe with the little kittens on it, all day long." Dawn laughed hysterically.

Buffy had to sit down she was laughing so hard. She wiped her eyes and looked at them.

"Why did no one tell me this? I would have come home early if I'd of known Spike was in my fluffy pink kitten robe." Buffy laughed.

"It wasn't funny. People were checking out my clothes on the grass like it was a bloody yard sale." Spike said shaking his head.

"You were watching?" Buffy asked.

"Of course."

"Yeah, he stood on the balcony in the shade all afternoon, threatening to eat anyone who touched his stuff. And he looked real menacing in the kitten robe, I might add." Dawn told them.

"I looked like a bloody poof."

"Now I know why my bathrobe smelled like cigarettes." Buffy said rolling her eyes.

"Yeah, Spike. Next time you wanna wear Buffy's clothes, the least you could do is wash them afterwards." Dawn teased him.

"It was your week to do the clothes." Spike pointed out.

"You could have been nice though and done it yourself." Buffy said with a smile.

"I'm not nice, Love. You know that." He smirked at her. "And I don't know why you girls are ganging up on me. I was the wronged party."

"Poor Spike. It must be such torture for you living here with us." Buffy teased him.

He grabbed her arm and pulled her down onto his lap.

"You're just lucky I love you so much." He said with a grin, as he kissed her.

"Oh, yuck. Do you have to do that?" Dawn asked making a face.

They ignored her and kept kissing. Dawn then noticed that the remote control was now lying on the floor. She reached down and grabbed it. She flipped the channel and sat back in her chair. Spike noticed it and pulled away from Buffy.

"Hey." He said to Dawn.

She shrugged.

"You weren't watching it anyway. You were too busy violating my sister with your lips." She said calmly.

Buffy laughed and took Spike's hand.

"Come on. Help me make dinner."

He got up and followed her into the kitchen, leaving Dawn alone to her small victory. Buffy went back to chopping vegetables for her salad.

"What do you want me to do?" Spike asked.

"You can peel the potatoes." She said pointing over at the sink, where the potatoes were.

He kissed her and went over to start on his task. Buffy glanced over at him and smiled. This was her life now. It was so ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. She never would have imagined that she would end up here. This was her family now. She certainly never thought she'd find this kind of existence with Spike of all people.

In fact, a few years ago, she couldn't possibly have dreamed any of this for herself. Living in a small apartment with her sister and Spike. Of course, a few years ago she and Spike were still trying to kill each other, and Dawn didn't even exist. That fact made all of this even more surreal. It was hard for her to believe that a year ago she was dead. And she had been okay with that.

Now it really hit her how not okay she had been. She had died thinking she was finished, that there was nothing else in life she could do or want. But now she saw how wrong she really had been. If she hadn't of come back, none of this would have happened. The last year had been hell, pure and simple. But it had been hell because that was what she had made of it. Now she had found her way out of that, and back into Heaven. Though, she was still alive, she felt safe and warm and complete again. But she wasn't finished. And the most important part about that was, she didn't want to be.

THE END~

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