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Though I Walk Through the Valley... by randi
Chapter 5
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Though I Walk Through the Valley…
Chapter Five

For the rest of the day, Buffy avoided Spike, instead immersing herself in anything else she could find to do.  Not that it was that hard to avoid him; he was confined to the bed, and still sleeping the last time she could bring herself to check on him. 
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot that she could do other than help train the Potentials.  And considering my state of mind, she thought, I’d probably end up pounding one of them into the dirt.  Literally.
Wherever she went inside the house, she could feel Willow’s eyes on her, full of sadness and sympathy, and of course, that made her even jumpier.  She had no idea where Giles had gotten to after his attempt to apologize, and that was probably a good thing.  I can’t believe he saidthat ran through her mind, along with visions of Spike in what she remembered of Heaven.  They made her gut clench in painful reaction.
Finally, just to get away from Willow’s gaze, she headed down to the cellar.  She’d been more or less avoiding it since… that night.  And how screwed up am I, she thought, flipping on the light, that I stillcan’t think about what happened?  Spike is back, all undead…
And I might have just pulled him out of eternal peace.  Her legs went weak at the thought, and she sank onto the cot.  Someone had been down and righted it – probably Willow or Dawn – since Spike had thrown it that night under the influence of the Prokaryote Stone.  It was made up with clean sheets; when she rested her head on the pillow, there was only the faintest scent of Spike lingering.
For a long while, she simply lay there, staring out at the concrete walls, forcing herself to remember all the things they’d stored down here and had to get rid of after the flood, all of the things that had moved from Los Angeles with her and her mother.  It worked, sort of: thoughts of what she might have done only crowded in every other minute instead of each one.
There was no outside light in the basement; she and Spike had covered the windows months ago so he wouldn’t fry as he slept, so she had no idea what time it was.  Soon enough, though, the clomping of many feet echoed down, telling her that the Potentials’ practice was over for the day, and that it was time to eat some supper and prepare for patrol.
Patrol means things to kill, Buffy thought, but even that couldn’t make her feel any better.  Truth and consequences before killing, I guess.
She sat up, her muscles a little stiff from lying still for so long, and wondered almost automatically if there was any dinner left over.  Her stomach kind of curdled at the very thought of food.  Yeah, she thought, probably not the best idea to eat right now. She laughed, a dark little sound that barely carried in the dank, still air.  I may never eat again.
Slowly, the noise from the kitchen died away, telling her it was safe to prepare another cup of blood without dealing with wrinkled-up noses and disgusted expressions.
When she got upstairs, though, she found Dawn pulling a mug out of the microwave already, and Willow hovering in the doorway to the dining room.  At the creak of the cellar door closing, her sister looked up and smiled.  “Feeling better?” she asked.  “Willow said you were taking a nap.  You still look kinda tired, though,” she added, brows drawing close in a frown.  “Are you all right?”
She forced a smile and gave Willow a grateful look.  “Yeah, Dawnie, I’m fine,” she replied.  “Just didn’t get as much sleep as I needed, I guess.  Thanks for heating up the blood for me.”  She took the mug from Dawn. As Willow stepped aside to let her pass, she raised her eyebrows in silent, desperate question.
Forehead crinkled in worry, Willow shook her head slightly.  I didn’t tell her about that, Willow’s voice whispered directly into her mind, followed by a heartfelt Good luck.
Thanks, Will, she thought back.  Aloud, she said, “Tell Faith I’ll catch up with her later.”  Then, mentally squaring her shoulders, she went to face her fate.
Gotta be strong, no matter what, she told herself firmly.  No running away from this.
Light from the hallway arrowed into the bedroom as she opened the door, and just that small change made Spike stir.  She saw the shadow of his head turn a little.  “Buffy?” he called, and it seemed to her that his voice, though rough from sleep, didn’t sound quite as rusty as it had the night before.  “That you?”
“Yeah,” she replied softly.  Act normal, Buffy.  “Turning on the lights now,” she warned, before flicking on the switch.
When the lamp flared to life, he winced and lifted a hand to shield his eyes briefly. “That bloody well hurts,” he muttered, blinking rapidly.
“Sorry,” she offered, her tone as contrite as she could make it.  He started to hitch himself upright against the pillows, still stacked from the last time she’d brought up blood, and she set the blood down on the nightstand to help him, only to realize that he didn’t need any help.  “You’re already doing lots better,” she said, smiling down at him.  “That’s great.”
“Oh, yeah,” he said tightly.  “Feelin’ lots better.  Ribs are just painful, rather than agonizing.”
“Still, any improvement is of the good, right?”  She sat down on the edge of the bed, trying not to jostle him, and even with all the fears whirling around her head, she couldn’t help but smile when he stretched out an arm to pick up the blood himself.
“Guess so,” he said, and took a long draught of the blood.
For a long while, there was only silence, punctuated by Spike sipping at his mug.  He looked past Buffy’s shoulder, as if staring into the empty mirror on the vanity opposite the bed.  Every second grated on Buffy’s nerves, the weight of the question she didn’t want to ask resting more heavily on her each moment that passed. 
Just do it,Buffy! she ordered herself.  Just ask! Knowing can’t be any worse than this. She took a breath.  “Spike… I have to ask you something, and it’s probably going to sound like I’m all wacko, but I’m not, I swear.”  She stopped, a little surprised at how quickly she’d descended into babble-speak, and stared down at the comforter.
“Spit it out, love,” Spike said softly, setting the empty mug back on the nightstand.  “Not a mind-reader, y’know.”
Nodding, she tried to find the words she needed, and forced herself to meet his curious gaze.  “I know you probably don’t want to talk about it, but… what was it like, where you were?”  Internally, she winced.  Couldn’t you find a better way to ask it than that? she demanded of herself.
He focused on her sharply, studying her in that way he had that she’d always kind of hated and envied at the same time, where it felt he was looking right through every layer of her to see into her secret self.  She resisted the urge to squirm.
Then his eyes narrowed, and she remembered that for all his impulsiveness and pretending, Spike was by no means dumb.  Suddenly, fear blossomed in her chest.  Oh, no, she thought, staring at him and trying to control her breathing,what if he figures out what I’m really asking?
“Want to compare an’ contrast between me an’ Angel again?” he asked, his tone as harsh as she’d ever heard it.
Buffy recoiled, not having expected such an attack.  “No,” she blurted, and felt her face heat at how defensive she sounded to her own ears.  “No,” she repeated in a quieter tone. “Angel… didn’t want to talk about it.  So I stopped asking.”
Spike’s face appeared kind of pinched for a second, as if his soul was jabbing him for his bitter words.   He looked away, off into the far corner of the room.  If he had realized she was asking if he’d been in Heaven, he gave no sign.  “Red,” he said at last.  “Fire everywhere that seemed to burn on nothin’… until you realized it was burnin’ on souls.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.  “It left you wonderin’ if your soul was next.  An’ sometimes it was.”
Hell.  He really was in Hell.  Her heart suddenly twisted, knowing that whatever she had imagined, the reality could only have been worse.  “Spike…”
“There were lots of demons there willin’ to do all kinds of physical torture,” he went on, his voice distant.  “But that was only a warm up for… for the other kind.” He swallowed, and his hand clenched in the sheet.  “The kind that liked to play back all the evil things… all the people…”
Buffy grabbed his hand and held it tightly.  Of course, Spike would see the physical torture as nothing compared to the emotional; hadn’t he already proven that when Glory had taken him?  “I’m sorry, Spike,” she said, and tried to show in her voice how much she meant it – not just for making him relive it for her own selfish curiosity, but that he’d had to go through it at all.  “I’m sorry.  You don’t have to say any more if you don’t want to.”
Immediately he clamped his jaws shut, eyes still closed, and she knew he was experiencing all of Hell’s torment again.  But his hand turned in her grip, and he clutched her hand with enough strength to hurt.
That he was drawing strength from her – and that she wanted him to – made her feel warm and tingly, and chased away some of her lingering guilt.
She took a moment to study him.  He still seemed paler than she remembered, his skin holding only slightly more color than the bandages and tape she’d wound around his chest.  But the wounds that had oozed blood just the night before had closed, though they were still an ugly red.  The shallower cuts were now little more than scratches, and the bruises had already started to fade, so he really was on the mend.  At least physically, she amended.
For the rest of it… well, all I can do is be here for him, the way he tried to be for me.
Slowly, she became aware that Spike’s hold on her hand had slackened, and she blinked herself back to the present.  He took a breath as deep as his damaged ribs would let him and straightened, releasing her hand as he did.  “Came over all queer there for a moment,” he said, and he sounded… embarrassed.  He still hadn’t glanced in her direction.  He cleared his throat, but didn’t say anything more.
Smiling, she brushed her fingers over his hand where it lay on the comforter, not far from her own.  “Maybe you needed to,” she said, and oh boy, that made him look at her in a hurry.  “And it’s all right if you did.  Really,” she said, off his skeptical look.
“Won’t happen again,” he responded firmly.
“It’s okay if it does, you know.”
“It won’t.” And he spoke as if that was the absolute final word on the matter.
She just nodded.  “Okay.”  She stared down at her hand on his, felt the cool skin warm from her touch.  This – her fingers brushing his, barely touching – was so much more than she’d had just a couple days ago that she could barely believe it.  She took a breath and it shuddered a little in her throat.
“You all right, love?” His voice rumbled low as he spoke, and a shiver shot down her spine at the sound.
“I missed you,” she heard herself say, and wondered a little where the words were coming from.  “While you were… I missed you.  It was... it was hard without you here, because I depend on you so much, and I was so alone, and…” And this is it, she realized suddenly.  I can tell him now.
Buffy looked up from their hands and saw the confused expression he wore, his brows drawn close together again.  Now.  “I love you, Spike.”
And then, she saw his face… transform.  Awe, love and a terrible, incandescent hope all crossed his features.  His mouth opened slightly in something like astonishment.
Her heart started beating faster as what that look might mean hit her.  He does still love me! she thought, amazed in her own turn.  They were wrong… he does…
But it was only for a moment, then he regained control of himself, his expression just… closing down in a way that made her chest ache.  “No, you don’t,” he replied quietly, and Buffy asked herself how much it cost him to keep his tone so even and non-accusatory.
She’d known to expect this – the other Buffy in the not-a-dream had told her straight out that her Spike didn’t believe her – but it still hurt.  She’d hoped that hers would.
But why would he? she thought, dim though it was through the pain of his disbelief.  There’s nothing that she didn’t do to her Spike that I haven’t done to mine… and the only thing I’ve done formine, she couldn’t have done. 
She wondered why she wasn’t already screaming in denial.  Maybe ‘cause it hurts too much was her only answer. 
Her eyes were still dry when she let them slide away from his face, but only because of her own indomitable will. What am I gonna do now? she asked herself.  I’ve gotta prove it to him… but how?  I don’t think I can… not right now. 
Instead of any one of the dozens of things she wanted to do, she just nodded, accepting his rejection but not agreeing with him.  “I do,” she said very softly, “but I’m not going to argue with you right now.  Frankly,” and she glanced up again, giving him the ghost of a grin, “I don’t think either of us is up to it.”
The way he looked at her, his face nearly expressionless, made her heart clench with its very familiarity.  She’d seen it too often last year to not recognize it now.  Why are you lying to me? it seemed to ask.  Why are you hurting me?
It was more than she could handle, especially when what she said was the truth this time.
I need to get out of here.
Feeling old, older than her years, older than Spike’s years, she stood.  “Go back to sleep, Spike,” she said, and before she knew what was happening, her fingers had brushed across the sharp edge of his cheekbone once more.  “You’ll feel better soon.”  I hope, she added in her own head.  “We can fight about it then, if you still don’t think I do.”
It took every bit of self-discipline she had to not run to the door, because at that moment, all she wanted was to get away.  But she didn’t, and when she turned to flick the lights off, she saw that Spike had already lain back down, and his eyes were drifting closed.  No matter how his denial of her feelings made her heart ache, seeing him there in her bed still brought a tiny smile to her lips.  He was back, he was here… even if he wasn’t really hers.
Mindful of the sharp vampire ears behind her bedroom door, she resisted the urge to slump back against it and give in to the pain.  Instead, she forced herself to keep walking through the mostly empty house, thankful that Faith had taken the Potentials out on patrol, and into the kitchen.  Moving deliberately – concentrating on every action to keep control – she washed out the bloody mug.  She drew it out as long as she could, but it was finished too soon, and she found herself gripping the edge of the counter, holding each breath for a count of four before releasing it.
“Buff?”  The soft call reached her ear only a moment before the hand, warm and familiar, descended upon her shoulder.
“I’m stupid,” she choked, her throat threatening to close up.
“Say it ain’t so,” Xander replied with a mock gasp, and somehow, she managed something that almost sounded like a laugh.
“Oh, it’s so, Xan.”  She turned around to meet his concerned gaze.  “I just… do things.  I barge in, I fight, I Slay.  I don’t think, I just do.  I never think about consequences.”
Now Xander was holding her gently, engulfing her shoulders with his hands.  “What consequences?” he asked, and she could see curiosity and worry vying in his steady brown eyes.  “What are you… wait.  Is this about bringing Spike back?”
She dropped her head and stared at his chest.  “Kinda.  I just went ahead and did it.  Just like… like you guys did to me.”
He shook his head, realization dawning.  “Hold on, here… are you saying that Bleach Boy…”
“No.  No, he… he said he was in Hell.  But there’s that million and one chance he might have been… there.  And see… that’s what I mean.  I just went right ahead and did it, thinking only about me, what I wanted, how lonely I was.  And I just assumed that would be what he wanted, too.  God, no wonder he didn’t believe me when I…  I’ve been so selfish…”
“Buff.”  His quiet tone drew her eyes upward again, and she was surprised to see him smiling at her.  “I hate to break this to you, but… you’re human.”  He let go of her to hold up one hand when she opened her mouth to protest.  “You’re human, and no matter how much we wish otherwise, humans aren’t perfect.  Hell, we ain’t even close.  So, yeah, maybe bringing Spike back from the dead – er, deader than usual – was selfish.  You also risked everything to bring him back from Hell.  You had to be incredibly unselfish to do that, and incredibly strong.  Not here,” and he squeezed her upper arm, before tapping her chest, right over her heart.  “But here… You’ve got a heart so big that there are times I’m just amazed it fits inside your body.  So, I’m thinkin’ it’s okay to be selfish every once in a while.”  He cracked a lopsided grin.  “Welcome to the human club.  Small joys, insecurities and feet of clay issued at the door.”
Buffy laughed, a watery little giggle.  “I’m a card-carrying member from way back.”
“Good!  Good to know I’m not the only one.”  He hugged her, his smile wide and Xander-like again.  Then, still holding her, he said slowly, “You know… about Spike…”
She tensed.  Nothing good had ever come of a sentence starting with those words.
Before she could open her mouth, however, he said, “The guy just got back from Hell.  He might need a few more days to get his bearings and realize just how he got back.”
Slowly, she pulled away a little and stared up at him.  “Okay, you are clearly a pod person,” she stated, but couldn’t contain her smile at Xander’s wide grin.  “You’ve given yourself away, evil fiend!  Xander wouldn’t say that about Spike.”
Xander’s grin faded but didn’t quite disappear.  “Believe me, Buff – I’m on the verge of freaking out.  But you know something?  People can change.”
Thoughtfully, she nodded.  “Yeah.  Yeah, they can.”  I just hope Spike hasn’t, she thought.  She closed her eyes and rested her head on his chest again, wanting to know that someone cared about her for a little while, before the war and the world crashed down on her again.
Even in a group as inobservant – or maybe just as willfully blind, she thought – as the Scoobies, Dawn knew she wouldn’t win any prizes for noticing when things were off.  But this time, it really didn’t take a genius to add up the clues. 
She’d only been listening… well, okay, straining her ears… to know what was going on in Buffy’s room so she could know if she would need to cover her head with a pillow to block out the noises of groiny-ness.  And if she’d had her ear pressed to the wall that Xander had repaired, that was her own business, and at least none of the Potentials were there to see.
But there hadn’t been anything like that; all she had heard was the sound of Buffy’s voice and Spike’s deeper one, as if they were just talking.  Then Buffy’s door had opened and closed, and she could hear her sister going down the stairs, leaving Spike alone.  For a few seconds, she had debated going into the other room, just to have a few minutes with Spike herself, and maybe apologize for the way she’d acted. 
In the end, however, she’d decided that the Wrath of Buffy for disturbing Spike wasn’t worth the short time she’d probably have.  And besides, she had thought, climbing back to her feet, I knowmy sister.  Now that Spike is back, there’s no way she’s going to be willing to hit the books anymore to research the First or über-vamps or even that preacher guy.  She’ll be back in charge of training the Potentials. I’ll get a chance while Buffy’s outside tomorrow.
She lay in bed a long time, half-listening for Buffy to come back upstairs so she’d know when to cover her ears, but eventually she’d fallen asleep.  Waking up in the morning, she’d been glad she had somehow managed to sleep through the (probably) obnoxiously loud sexathon.
Seeing Buffy emerge from the cellar, sleep-rumpled and bleary-eyed, changed everything.  Dawn was the only one to notice, turning around to grab the cereal after wresting the last clean bowl away from Molly.  But before she could do more than blink and wonder why her sister was wearing the same clothes she’d worn yesterday, Buffy turned away and hurried into the other room.
That told Dawn all she needed to know, and her fingers clenched on the bowl, just as Molly was about to snatch it back.  The feel of the bowl slipping from her grasp pulled her back into the real world, leaving her no time to think about what she’d just witnessed.
Only when she was sitting at the dining room table with her cereal, carefully away from any of the old books, did she have a chance to work it through.  Buffy slept in the basement last night, Dawn thought, staring down at the bright colors bleeding off the sugary rings and swirling through the milk, not with Spike.  Even after her nap or whatever yesterday.  That means she’s trying to avoid him as much as possible.  She just moved Heaven and Earth to get him back, risked her own life, and now she’s staying away from him.  Why would she do that?  She stirred the milk, mushing the cereal together into a soggy mess.  They had a conversation last night, not sex, which… totallythe opposite of what I expected.  So whatever happened, it was part of that conversation.  So either Spike told her he didn’t love her anymore… She snorted softly, clinking her spoon against the edge of the bowl.  Yeah, right!  Or Buffy decided she doesn’t reallylove him and isn’t going to tell him like she said she would.  And knowing my sister’s capacity for denial…
Buffy hurried back through the dining room just as Dawn was slurping the last of the sugary milk from her bowl. Dawn gave her sister the best narrow-eyed glare she had in her repertoire, and felt a bit of evil satisfaction when Buffy flinched and wouldn’t meet her gaze.  Serves you right, she thought darkly. 
Distracted as she was by her sister’s backpedaling – and I thought she was serious this time! she thought disparagingly.  Silly me! – it was hard to concentrate on the books.  She stared out the dining room window, absently tapping her pencil against her notepad, until Willow’s throat-clearing and pointed look sent her blushing back to her research.
It was some time later, when all was quiet in the house again and the only sounds were the crinkling of pages turning and Buffy and Faith’s shouted commands drifting faintly in through the windows, that it finally occurred to Dawn that this was the chance she’d been waiting for.  She’d been oh so right about Buffy not being able to sit still for research now that Spike was un-dusty once more. Training the Potentials is gonna occupy all her attention, at least for a while, she thought, absently tapping her pencil’s eraser against her paper once more.  That means I can at least go up and talk to him, since she was all “let him sleep” yesterday. Decision made, she stood.
“Could you get me some coffee, please, Dawnie?” Willow asked without looking up from her computer screen.  “I need a booster.”
“Me, too?” Xander added, waving his empty cup.
“Sure,” she sighed.  Then the idea struck, and she grinned as she hurried to the kitchen.
Moving quickly, she poured a packet of blood into a coffee cup and set it to heat in the microwave.  Of course, the coffeepot was nearly empty.  With another sigh, she set it up to brew the second – or maybe third – pot of the morning.  Why is it that I’mthe one who always has to do this? she asked herself.  Doesn’t anyone else know how to use this stupid thing?
But by then, Spike’s blood was heated.  Carefully – shouldn’t have filled it so full! – she pulled it out of the microwave.  “Coffee’s brewing,” she caroled, breezing back through the dining room and up the stairs.  Easy, she thought, and managed to stumble halfway up the stairs, nearly spilling the blood all over herself.  That would have been eeww!
Unaccountably, though, her stomach felt full of butterflies, and that made her pause outside Buffy’s bedroom door.  C’mon, Dawn, you can do this, she told herself firmly.  I mean, what’s the threat of a fiery death between friends?
Taking a deep breath, she tapped on the door, then opened it without waiting for him to acknowledge.  “Spike?” she called softly, stepping in.  “Are you awake?”
He already looked about a hundred times better than he had just the other night.  The bruises had mostly faded and turned that ugly yellowish color that meant they were healing.  He still wore bandages over the worst of his wounds, but they were clean, without bloodspots.  Relief washed over her.  He’s going to be okay.
He flinched at the sound of her voice, clearly having been lost in thought, then she thought she saw him start to smile.  “Nib –” Then memory caught up with him, and that little half-smile faded away.  “Dawn,” he said instead, his tone flat, and she knew why he didn’t call her by a nickname anymore, and that just made everything hurt even worse in the region of her heart.  He hitched himself up higher against the pillows, hissing as he did.  “What brings you here?”
Dawn swallowed.  Giles had been right, that morning after Spike had… She and Spike hadn’t had a lot of interaction since the first night he’d shown up at the house.  Even though he’d been all Crazy-Spike that night, he hadn’t forgotten what she’d said, and it was all there between them.  Now, despite wanting the chance to talk to him, she had no idea where to begin.
So she started with the practical.  “Here,” she said, offering him the mug.  “I thought you might be hungry.”
Slowly, he took it, his eyes intent on her face, and she suddenly felt like she was being tested, as if he didn’t feel that he could trust her.  “Thanks,” he said at last and took a sip.  “The sooner I heal, the sooner I can get out of big sis’s bed and back down to the basement where I belong, right?”
It took her a moment to process his words.  “No!” she protested.  “That’s not…” She trailed off as he just watched her over the rim of the cup, one eyebrow arched.  “It’s not,” she repeated, feeling lame. 
“What other reason could the girl who told me she’d set me on fire when I was sleeping have for bringing me blood?”
Her mouth opened but no words came, so she closed it and sank down onto the edge of the bed.  “It could be the opening to an apology,” she finally replied, her tone hushed.
He tilted the mug back and forth, staring into the blood.  “It could be,” he allowed.  “So when I was dusted, you felt bad about what you said and this is your way of making amends.”  He shook his head and handed the cup back to her.  “You don’t need to, pet.  Best if you just forget it.”
Rejection was not a scenario she had anticipated.  Numbly, she accepted the cup and let her hands fall to her lap.  “Why?” she whispered.
“Nothin’ to forgive,” he replied, and she got the sense that he was trying to wish her gone.  “You were just doin’ what you thought you had to, tryin’ to protect your sister.”
She dropped her gaze to the mug, staring into the blood.  She didn’t have a reflection.  “Buffy doesn’t need me to protect her,” she muttered, and twitched her hands so that the blood rippled. It still didn’t give her any answers.
“Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t try, an’ that’s all you did.  Nothin’ to apologize for.”  He paused.  “An’ no need to hang around the invalid vamp. Go on back downstairs, Dawn.”
For some reason, that dismissal, mild though his tone was, made her feel even more guilty.  How can you apologize to someone who doesn’t even want to hear it?  For a moment, she was ready to leave, to go into her own room and just hide for a while.
As she stood up, however, that guilt transmuted into anger, and she tightened her grip on the cup.  “I missed you, you jerk!” she said fiercely, and managed to resist the urge to throw the mug at him, mainly by reminding herself that Buffy really and truly would have a cow if there was blood splashed all over the wall.  “Yeah, I was really angry with you, but that didn’t mean I didn’t care!  So I was doing a little grudge-holding, which totally backfired, by the way, because then you were…” She swallowed, then forced herself to go on.  “You were gone.  Dust.  And I hadn’t told you that I was sorry, or that I forgave you, or… anything.  So, yeah, you’re right, I did feel bad you were gone, but that’s not what this is about.  This is about me caring for you even though you abandoned me.”  She shot him a glare.  “Don’t think I wasn’t confused about that, either.”
Spike’s mouth hung open slightly, and he stared at her with something akin to shock in his eyes.  “Dawn…”
“And in case you haven’t noticed,” she overrode him hotly, “the major role model in my life?  Isn’t exactly the best guide I could have for dealing with negative emotions in a healthy way.  In fact, she’s more like the poster child for sublimating hurt and anger into violence.  Which is probably why I said… what I said.” 
Anger spent, she sagged a little, but kept her eyes locked on his.  “I’m sorry I said I’d light you on fire while you were sleeping,” she added in a quieter tone.  “I was sorry I said it almost right after I did, but I still wanted to be angry with you for… for everything.  It took me a while, but eventually I understood why you left like you did.  It still hurt that you’d just leave me like that, but I could see why.  I’m also sorry for being clueless and wanting to be mad at you.  You don’t have to forgive me,” she finished, “but I needed to say it.”
“Seems to be a lot of that goin’ ‘round,” he muttered, glowering down at the pattern of the comforter as if it was offensive.  Pink and flowery, it probably was.
Dawn frowned.  Once again, this wasn’t quite what she expected.  “What do you mean?”
Spike huffed out a breath.  “I mean you… you an’ the Slayer, sayin’ things you don’t need to say, or that you don’t mean.”  He clenched his fists in the covers.
“But I…” Then she blinked.  This isn’t about me, she thought slowly, observing him as he kept his face turned away, unwilling to meet her gaze.  This is about Buffy, because when isn’tit with Spike? So what did she say that he doesn’t think…
Then it hit her.  Of course!  “Did she tell you?” she asked, not quite able to contain the eagerness in her voice.
“Tell me what?”  Oh, yes, he was definitely being avoid-y.
She sat down again, a little doubtful of her own conclusion already, knowing her sister as she did.  “She was supposed to tell you!  She promised she would…”
A terrible look came over his face, one composed of hurt and anger and a kind of hopelessness that pained her to see.  “Dawn,” he said very calmly, pinning her in place with his eyes.  “Did you tell Buffy to say she loved me?”
Confused, Dawn nodded.  “Of course I did,” she answered.  “But only because…”
“Well, she did,” he interrupted, then looked away again.  “Just like you told her to.”
Well, that was unexpected.  “She did? She did!  That’s great!”  She bounced once on the edge of the bed, quickly remembered why Spike was stuck up here, and forced herself to stop.  About to apologize for jostling him, she opened her mouth… then closed it again.  Something wasn’t right here; Spike still wore that expression of misery, like her confirmation was the very last thing he wanted to hear in the world, and her own elation died away.  “It is great, right?  Spike, why aren’t you all kinds of ecstatic?”
“Because he doesn’t believe her.”
She jumped a little at the sound of Xander’s voice floating in from the doorway.  “Xander! What are you doing here?”
“Just making sure everything’s all right up here.  You were gone for a long time, you know, and the house isn’t really sound-proofed.”  Xander studied Spike, who was studiously ignoring him.  “I’m right, right?  You don’t believe her.”
The muscles in Spike’s cheek jumped as he clenched his jaw and released it.
“But why?” Dawn demanded.  This made absolutely no sense, not in the slightest.  This was Spike.  Spike loved Buffy.  But the way he was acting made her believe that Xander was totally right, which in itself was one of the most confusing things she’d ever experienced.  “Spike, that’s what you’ve wanted for, like, ever…”
“Dawnie, why don’t you go on downstairs and give Will a hand?” Xander said, jumping in before Spike could speak, and laid his hand on her shoulder.  “You’re a lot bigger help at the whole research thing than me,” he continued over her protests, “and I think Spike and I need to have a little chat, mano a mano.”
Dawn’s face settled into its most mulish glare and she planted herself even more firmly on the edge of the bed.
Xander sighed.  “Really, Dawn.  Just talking.  Besides, Buffy would kill me if I dust the Soul Man now and you know it.”  He gave her a deprecating smile.
“Why don’t you both leave?” Spike sniped.  “Gotta be more interestin’ things goin’ on.”
“Are you kidding?” Xander asked in mock astonishment.  “All the cool things are happening here!”
Spike just rolled his eyes.

Frowning, Dawn glanced between them, at Spike’s seeming disinterest and Xander’s earnest smile.  Reluctance in every line of her body, she stood, setting the mug she still held on the bedside table.  “All right,” she said, more than a hint of warning in her tone, “but only because I know Spike’s not chipped anymore.  And if you even try, I will never, ever forgive you.”
Then, before Xander could blink, she dived at Spike, wrapping her arms around him as best she could where he lay propped on the pillows.  “I’m sorry, Spike,” she whispered.  “Even if you don’t believe me, I’m sorry.”
Belatedly – and probably in some kind of shock to boot, Xander thought, amused – Spike lifted an arm to embrace Dawn in return.  “Told you, it’s all right, pet,” he said a little weakly, giving her an awkward pat on the back.
Xander saw her lip trembling as she hurried out the door.  He shut it behind her with a soft ‘click’, then leaned against it, staring at the vampire on the bed.  “So, did they suck out your brain to put your soul back in, or did Hell just fry whatever was left?”
He had the pleasure of watching Spike’s mouth fall open.  “You sent the Nibblet away just so you could insult me?” he asked in disbelief. 
“No, I didn’t.  That was actually a legitimate question.” Xander straightened away from the door.  “See, before, you were all percepto-vamp, pouncing on the least little thing as a sign that Buffy loved you.  But now… she more or less threw herself at you in her own Buffy-way, and I’m thinking that if you weren’t still on the mend from Hell, it’s away you’d be a-running.  Between then and now is a soul and a big whack of your very own afterlife.  Gotta be one or the other.”
Spike snorted and looked away. “Don’t worry yourself about it, Harris,” he said bitterly.  “I know the Slayer didn’t mean it when she said… that.  She only said it because she missed me.  Maybe she thought it was what I needed to hear.  I dunno why she said it.  I just know it wasn’t real.”
“You really are an idiot,” Xander said, shaking his head in wonder.  “Wow, who knew?”
This time, when Spike looked at him, for just a second, he thought he was going to vamp out; brows lowered, eyes glowing in high emotion, mouth contorted in a snarl.  “My leg might be broken,” he growled, “but I can still kick your arse out of here, Doughnut Boy.”
Xander just shrugged.  “Yeah, you probably could, and that would be the reason I’m staying over here, ‘cause at least I’ll have a head start.  Getting back to the question at hand, though, personally I think it’s gotta be Hell.” He feigned thoughtfulness.  “Is it even possible to torture someone’s brains out? Because it sure seems like that’s the case here.”
Vamp baiting, he decided, could just become one of his favorite pastimes.  Dangerous, he thought, watching Spike glower, but oh, so satisfying.  “Or maybe it’s just that you want to be back there.  What, didn’t you get enough torture to make up for everything you did?”
Spike flinched at his words, so small a movement that if he hadn’t been watching him closely, he wouldn’t have seen.  Hell, Xander thought, I didn’t even like sayingthem.  But maybe they gotta be said.
“None of your bloody damn business,” Spike spat, and oh, yeah, hitting close to the bone there.
“But now you’re back among the… well, the un-dusty, anyway,” he went on, as if Spike hadn’t spoken at all.  “Why do you think that is?”
“Apparently, I’m back because even Hell doesn’t have torture to compare to this,” the vampire snarled.
Smiling a little in spite of himself, Xander raised a hand.  “Okay, then how do you think you got back?”
“Got mojoed back.  Doesn’t matter…” Then the import of Xander’s words broke over him, and he simply stared, mouth open slightly.
“I told Buffy that you needed some time to get used to being back,” Xander said, his tone soft.  “But just now, you really needed to have the clue hammer applied.”  He turned to leave.  “You can thank me later.”
“Why are you tellin’ me this, Harris?” Spike’s voice reflected his confusion.
Hand on the doorknob, he paused, glanced over his shoulder.  “’Cause you need to know, Bleach Boy, and…”
“No, I mean why are you tellin’ me?”
Again, he shrugged.  “You didn’t believe Buffy,” he replied.  “You didn’t believe Dawn.  Maybe you won’t believe me, either.  But you and I both know I’ve got no reason to lie about this.” 
Spike opened his mouth as if to retort, but Xander chose that moment to escape.  It’s not that often I get one up on Captain Peroxide, he thought, grinning as he closed the door behind himself.  I’m going to enjoy this one for a longtime.  He started whistling on his way back downstairs.
As soon as Buffy walked into the kitchen, sweaty from practicing with the Potentials, her sister cannoned into her, and only her quick grip on the door frame kept her from falling over.   “Dawn?” she asked anxiously, even as she embraced her sister in return.  “What’s wrong?”
“I’m sorry, Buffy,” Dawn said into her neck.  “I thought you hadn’t told him, I didn’t know he was being all weird…”
Spike.  Her heart lurched, but she still managed to whisper, “It’s all right.”  After a few more moments, she pulled away a little. “So how’s he doing now?”
Dawn took a deep breath, as if she needed to settle herself.  “I don’t know.  He was all weird with me, like Crazy-Spike squared, then Xander said he wanted to talk to him…”
Buffy blinked.  “Xander?”  Even given their conversation the night before, it was still… shocking.  Kind of like realizing the world is turning opposite from what you were always told.
“You rang?” Xander entered the kitchen from the dining room, and rinsed out his coffee cup.  When he glanced up again, he saw Buffy staring at him.  “What?”
“You… wanted to talk to Spike?”
“Well, yeah.”  He grinned.  “Why should I be the only one who didn’t?  Don’t worry, he’s still alive.  Or… y’know, undead.”
“Good,” she replied, a little dazed.
“Go on upstairs,” Xander said gently, prodding her toward the dining room.  “Giles and Andrew have gone to check out a lead on that preacher man.  I’m currently taking bets on whether Giles will leave him there.”
As she passed through into the dining room, Buffy heard Dawn snicker.  “You’re not going to get any takers on that… of course Giles will try to leave him there.”
Going up the stairs, she became aware of something like dread pooling in her stomach.  Come on, Buffy, she told herself.  You’re the Slayer, you can do this.  It’s only the vampire you love and who doesn’t believe you… Okay, maybe not the best pep talk ever.
Her bedroom door was open slightly, and light shone dimly through the crack.  “Spike?” she called softly, pushing the door open wider.  “All right if I come in?”
“It’s your room, Slayer,” Spike answered.  There was a note of emotion she couldn’t quite identify in his voice.  He sat on the edge of the bed, dressed, or nearly so.  Somehow he’d managed to get on his jeans, and was in the midst of pulling on his tee shirt.
“Hey, look at you, all with the clothing,” she said, surprised and pleased all at once.  She stepped in and closed the door.
“Oh, yeah,” he said, his tone dry.  “Real imposin’ figure of a vampire in my bare feet.”
“Still,” she grinned, “this is real progress.  Who brought up the clothes?”
“Red did, a little while ago.”  With a grunt, he pulled the shirt over his head, then grimaced and pressed his hand against the side of his chest.
She wanted to touch, to feel for herself how his ribs were healing, but after last night, she didn’t quite dare, and kept her hands behind her back.  “Still tender?”
He nodded.  “Yeah,” he said tightly, pain evident.  “Not as bad as yesterday.  It was a bitch getting the pants over the split, though.”
“I’ll bet.  Let me take a look.”  She didn’t like the tension between them, tension she knew came from what they’d each said the night before.  We can snark, we can fight, we can have sex… why can’t we just have a conversation? she asked herself as she knelt to take a look at his ankle.
She had barely started to examine it when he spoke again, his tone subdued.  “Got a question for you, Slayer.”
“What?” she responded, distracted.  Was the split tight enough?
“How’d I get out of Hell?”
She froze, just for a second, then glanced up.  He stared at her, his expression curiously solemn in the light of the single lamp.  “You… we got you out,” she said at last, and quickly bent to take care of the splint once more.
“How, Buffy?” he asked again, quietly insistent.
She let go of his foot and dropped her hands to her knees, where they clenched into fists.  “I wanted you back,” she told her hands softly, then took a deep breath and faced him.  “I… I needed you back.  I never realized how much a part of my life you were until you were gone, because you were always here.  Not having you here hurt so much…” She stopped, hearing her voice break a little.  After a moment, she continued, “So I made Willow help me research a way to bring you back.  Xander and Dawn helped, too, and we found this ritual with a sacrifice and trials, and if you passed, these powers would grant your strongest desire.”
“Your strongest desire?” he repeated, staring down at her, and that look of awe was in his eyes again.  Her heart thudded hopefully against her ribs at the sight.
“Yeah,” she said with a nod, smiling up at him.  “So I did, and they did.”
“Couldn’t have been that easy, love,” he said, voice little more than a whisper.  His fingers brushed her face, and she could feel how they trembled against her cheek.
She leaned into his touch, eyes closed.  “In a way, it kind of was.”  The rest – the despair of knowing he was dust, that he was being tormented in Hell – she couldn’t quite bear to talk about right now, not when it felt like he believed.
At that, she opened her eyes.  “So, if I tell you I love you, will you believe it this time?” She held her breath, knowing it was a little childish to do so, but not quite able to stop herself.
In return, she received a smile – not his habitual smirk, but a real smile.  “Yeah, love, I believe you.”
“Good,” she said, and her own smile was wide and bright and real.  She stood, careful not to jar his leg, then bent to kiss him, one hand cupping his cheek, the other twined in the hair at the nape of his neck.
His cool fingers curled around her hand as they broke the kiss, and she just rested her forehead against his in a way that felt more intimate than any sex they’d ever had.
This, she knew without a doubt, was what she was fighting for, and for a little while, the world and the war didn’t matter at all.
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