And Then She Knew by Addie Logan

ReviewsRating: PG

Summary: Spike does something different – faster and more clever – and everything changes. (Goes AU during "The Gift")

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"I have feelings for you. I think. I…I don't know. God, I don't even know what I'm saying, but I… I think there's feelings. Non friendly feelings. Wait, no, that didn't come out right. They're…more than friendly. They're…" A deep breath. "I'm babbling. I should just stop. Forget I said anything."

Spike stopped short in the doorway, holding his breath like it made a difference. She expected him to forget that? How could he? He'd waited so long for a crumb and now…

He turned slowly, watching her as she fiddled with the edge of a throw pillow from her seat on the couch, her eyes trained on the living room floor. "Buffy…"

It was the simple sound of her name that pulled her eyes up slightly, allowing her to turn a nervous gaze on him. He called her that so rarely. Always a pet name or an insult. Almost never just “Buffy.” "I think I feel something," she began again, her voice soft. "But I can't do anything about it."

"Why?" He didn't like how desperate, how needy, he sounded, but he couldn't help it. Not in a moment like this one…

Her head lifted, her eyes more certain. "Because I could lose you, and I can't do that, Spike. Not now. You're the only reason I made it through these past few months—the reason why I can keep going on. And if we take this further, and it doesn't work, then what will I do? How…how will I keep it together? I can't risk it. I'd…I'd lose too much."

Hesitantly, Spike moved towards her, stopping right before he reached the sofa. "You wouldn't lose me. Even if we didn't work out, you wouldn't lose me. It's like you said tonight, luv. We're family now."

Buffy's gaze flickered away. "Even family can leave, Spike."

"Not me. I don't leave. You of all people should know that by now."

She glanced up, unable to keep from smiling in response to his smirk, even with all she saw playing in his eyes. Hope, love, fear, pain… If eyes were supposed to be windows to the soul, then how could she see so much in his? "I can't. I'm sorry, I know that's not what you want to hear, but I can't. I just thought you should know that I… That I feel something. Can that be enough?"

She looked so vulnerable to him in that moment. So much of him wanted to yell that no, that wasn't enough. If there were feelings, well, they should bloody act on them. But he couldn't. Not now, not after all they'd been through.

He knelt down in front of the couch and took her hands in his, gently running his thumbs over her soft skin. "Buffy, I would give anything to be with you—except this thing we have. So if that's all I get, well, it's the best thing you could ever give me." He smiled at her, a sweet, boyish grin tinged with just enough heartache to make her ache, too.

"Thank you," she replied, her voice barely above a whisper.

Spike brushed a kiss across her forehead before he stood, making his way back to the doorway. He stopped before he left the room, not daring to look at her again as he said the one thing he couldn't stop himself from saying.

"You do know I love you."

"I do."

"Then that's enough."

Buffy watched him until he disappeared from her sight and then listened as he made his way down to his room in the basement.

It was more than just "feelings." She knew that, even if she was too afraid to put voice to the words. She'd realized it tonight, watching him as he sat snugly between herself and her sister. The word "family" had come out of her mouth before she'd realized she was saying it, but the look on his face alone had been enough to make it worth it.

And then she'd known.

Without any uncertainty, she knew.

But the question still remained.

How in the world had she ended up falling in love with Spike?

*** *** ***

"You're not coming to the hospital, are you?"

Buffy stopped short outside her door, her hand tightening around the warm rag she was carrying, squeezing drips of water onto the floor. "I'm sorry, Wills, I can't right now. He needs me."

Willow looked at her in surprise, gaping for a moment before she finally said, "Xander needs all of us, Buffy."

"Xander has doctors and nurses to take care of him. Spike only has me."

"You're choosing Spike over Xander?!" Willow asked, her voice full of disbelief. "I can't believe…"

"I'm not, Willow!" Buffy hissed, cutting the redhead off. "But Spike's in bad shape, okay? And seeing as he got that way saving my sister—oh, and the world—I think that should probably do something to help him."

"Xander's in bad shape, Buffy."

Buffy winced. "I know. And I'll be there to see him, I will. But right now, what good could I even do? Willow, I can't just sit around that hospital, waiting to see if…" She stopped, her words choking her.

Willow immediately softened, the specter of Joyce suddenly present even if Buffy hadn’t been able to say the name. "Oh, Buffy. I'm sorry. I didn't think about…"

"No, it's okay. You just go and call me the moment you know anything, all right?"

"I will." Willow leaned in and gave Buffy a hug, avoiding the rag in the process.

Buffy hugged her for a moment before pulling back. "I should get in there to him."

For a second, Willow looked at Buffy oddly, but it quickly passed. "Yeah. Go clean him up. He's probably bleeding all over your bed."

With no response but a nod, Buffy walked into her bedroom, shutting the door behind her.

At the sight of Spike now, Buffy stopped, her throat constricting. Even in the dim light of the moon filtering in through the blinds, she could see the injuries marring his pale skin. And to think of what he’d done to receive those…

She’d certainly never thought of Spike as a hero before. Far from it. Yet tonight, what else could she think of him as? He’d saved the world.

Though even more importantly to Buffy, he’d saved her sister.

Most of the injuries he was sporting now had been received in a fight he’d had with a demon calling himself “Doc.” Doc had apparently been a worshipper of Glory’s and had planned to kill Dawn in order to allow Glory to return to her home dimension—only Spike had managed to stop him. Buffy had watched as Spike wrestled with the demon, sustaining numerous stab wounds from Doc’s knife before they’d both tumbled over the side of Glory’s tower.

Doc had not survived the fall.

Spike had been unconscious ever since, the severe loss of blood and the stress of the past few days apparently more than he could handle.

Still, he was better off than Xander, and the thought alone made Buffy wince. Perhaps Willow was right, and she should be at the hospital with her friend, but she couldn’t bring herself to go there now. She was needed here more. Xander would be in surgery for a while in an attempt to mend the damage done when he’d been hit by a falling I-beam. And after that, well, the doctors didn’t know when he’d wake up.

If he’d wake up.

Spike needed someone to tend to his wounds, and Dawn… Well, Dawn needed rest, and that wasn’t something she could get in a hospital waiting room. Her sister was relatively unscathed physically from her ordeal, but Buffy knew the injuries that extended past the physical were usually the hardest to recover from.

Buffy approached the bed, sitting down on the edge and turning towards Spike. She’d removed his duster, shirt, and boots when she’d brought him into the room, allowing her easier access to his multiple stab wounds. She wiped his chest with the rag, clearing off the excess blood before she began the task of covering each of them with gauze.

She was just finishing with the last wound when Spike groaned, his body shifting before his eyelids fluttered and he looked at her with an unfocused gaze. “Buffy?” he asked, his voice weak and scratchy.

“Yeah, Spike, it’s me,” she replied as she smoothed down the last bit of tape.

Suddenly, his hand shot up to grab her arm, making Buffy gasp. “Dawn…where…where is she…?”

His concern for Dawn now, even when he was like this, made tears well up in Buffy’s eyes, but she fought them back, telling herself she was just reacting that way because of her own exhaustion. “Dawn’s fine. She’s asleep in her room,” Buffy assured him as she gently pried his hand away. She held onto it a little longer than was necessary before placing it back on the bed. “You saved her.”

“Promised you I’d keep her safe,” Spike replied. He tried to smile, though it turned into a wince, and he shifted uncomfortably against the pillows.

“You need blood,” Buffy said. “I think you should take some of mine.”

Spike coughed, then winced again. “I think I’m concussed, pet.”

Buffy smiled softly, her hand reaching out almost on its own accord to stroke the sharp angle of his bruise-marred cheekbone. “No. Well, yeah, you probably are, but I think you heard me right. You’re in bad shape, and I don’t think I can get butcher’s blood at this hour. Besides, mine would do you more good anyway.”

Spike shook his head, though the movement was weak. “Can’t.”

“Why, the chip? I was thinking I’d do the hurting part. Cut my arm or something. You can drink from then, right.”

His head shook again. “No, not the chip.” Spike’s hand moved up, trembling, and he placed it uneasily on her leg. “You need it yourself, Buffy. You’re hurt, too.”

“You’re worse off.”

Spike opened his mouth to protest further, but when Buffy put her finger against his lips, all he did was sigh. “I didn’t just decide this on a whim. I thought about it when I was getting you in here. You got hurt like this because you were helping me, so I’m going to help you, okay?”

“You can’t…”

“Look, Spike, either you drink from me here like this, or I go to the hospital, take a nurse hostage, and insist she draw my blood right there. Which is it gonna be?”

“Buffy, I can’t, I…”

Buffy sighed heavily. “So it’s the hostage route then? Okay, but just so you know, I’m sending that nurse to deal with you when this is all over.”

In spite of his pain, Spike couldn’t help but chuckle. “Just let me sleep, luv. The butcher will be open later.”

“Has anyone ever told you you’re a very stubborn vampire? And I’m also going to go with that earlier concussion comment, because you’re turning down free Slayer’s blood.”

“Luv, I can’t. I just…” Spike stopped, wincing when he tried to move and pulled one of his wounds.

A look of determination Spike was more than familiar with settling over the Slayer’s features, she stood and marched to her closet, zipping open a large leather bag and pulling out a knife. Quickly, she sliced open her arm, then held it out for Spike to see.

“Look, I cut myself. You going to make that be for nothing?”

Spike sputtered. “Buffy! Bloody hell, why are you…”

Buffy dropped the knife back into the bag and returned to the bed, thrusting her arm at Spike. “Drink, dammit.”

He was going to keep resisting, but he was too weak, too tired, and the smell of her blood was too strong. He pulled her arm to his mouth, latching on with a snarl and drawing her blood into his mouth.

Whether it was from a desire not to hurt her or his injured state, Buffy didn’t know, but Spike seemed to be drinking slowly, and Buffy found herself reaching up with her free hand to run her fingers through his hair reassuringly. It was a strange experience, Spike so different from those who had fed from her before. With both Angel and the Master it had been violent, yet this now was far removed from either of those, and what she’d experienced with Dracula as well.

With a start, Buffy realized she felt safe. She’d offered her open vein to a vampire, and yet she had no doubt she’d come out of this unharmed. She hadn’t felt that any of the times before, not even with Angel.

Maybe that was the part that did scare her

She must’ve made some sort of noise, because he looked up sharply, golden eyes locking with hers. Buffy moved her fingers through his hair again, reassuring him she was all right, and he sighed against her skin before resuming his feeding.

When he did stop, Buffy felt less weak than she’d expected to, the exhaustion she was feeling more from the events of the past few days than blood loss. She knew Spike could probably use more than he’d taken, but what she had given him was bound to help some, and she decided she’d let it be enough for tonight. Even with Slayer’s blood flowing through him now, Spike’s eyelids were drooping, a testament to the toll the battle had taken.

For her. He’d fought like that—with everything he had—for her.

It didn’t make sense. Spike was evil, soulless, and yet he was willing to stand up and fight like…a Champion?

Buffy shook her head. That couldn’t be the right word. There had to be some sort of selfish motivation behind it. He had to be doing it because he thought it could get him somewhere with her.

Only he’d been willing to die tonight. Buffy knew that, because she’d seen the same look in his eyes that had been in hers. He’d put her and Dawn’s life above his own existence, been willing to be the one who didn’t make it as long as they did.

How could that be anything but selfless love?

She didn’t know, and Buffy reasoned it was because she was too tired and nothing was making sense. Spike had already fallen back asleep, and she got up to bandage the wound on her arm before turning her attention back to the bed.

There was an empty bed in the house—one Buffy still didn’t like to admit would stay empty—and a couch downstairs. But she was so tired, and her legs didn’t want to take her that far. Besides, it was her bed. What difference did it make if she slept in it, even if he was there? She’d just take the other side, and they’d both be above the covers anyway.

Weary and aching, Buffy staggered to the bed, falling asleep within moments.

By the time she woke, the sun had already risen and set again, and Spike was gone.

*** *** ***

Buffy didn’t remember life being so hard. Not the everyday stuff anyway. Sure, she’d had the stress of slaying and the angst that was her love life, but bills? Groceries? They’d taken care of themselves.

Or so it had seemed when her mother was alive.

Now her shoulders bore not only the weight of the world, but the weight of living

The burden of it too heavy, Buffy let her shoulders slump as she buried her face in her hands and cried.

She didn’t know how he got in the house, but she didn’t have to question whose hands where on her when she felt them against her skin.

Buffy turned, pushed her face against his chest and clutched his arms. He was firm and his muscles felt strong, and for a moment, she let herself give in, feel like she didn’t have to carry that onerous weight on her own.

Yet she didn’t let herself indulge for long. Instead, she pulled away after a moment, ready to wipe her eyes and brush the incident off with a quip. She was the Slayer. The Slayer was strong. The Slayer didn’t show weakness, especially to vampires.

But when he reached up and wiped her tears away for her, his cool thumb caressing her skin, anything she had been about to say died in her throat.

“What’s wrong, luv?” he asked, not bothering to hide his concern. It seemed like it had been so long since someone had looked at her like that and not had the moment ruined by the taint of pity.

He looked at her like it was okay to warrant someone’s concern. That being someone who needed a shoulder to lean on now and then was okay.

Something about the moment brought a flash of clarity. Spike wasn’t here looking for the Slayer. If he had been – if that was all he could ever see in her – then they wouldn’t have whatever it was they had. He wouldn’t have been on that tower, fighting for her sister’s life.

That night had made her realize he had meant it – had known the feeling behind the words – when he told her he loved her. Now, she realized who he loved.

Buffy.

The way he looked at her, with warmth in eyes that should be nothing but dead, told her it was okay to be the girl sometimes.

“I can’t do this,” she admitted softly, looking down at her trembling hands. “I can’t be Mom.”

“You don’t have to be like your mum, sweetheart.”

“Yes, yes I do,” Buffy replied. She looked up again, fear in her wide, red-rimmed eyes. “Someone has to take care of Dawn. Someone has to make sure she has a home, and food, and clothes, and that she gets to school, and…”

Spike’s strong hands came up again, stroking her hair this time, framing her face and keeping her from retreating into herself again. “Yeah, and you can do that as you, Buffy.”

“I can’t, Spike! I…” She pulled away from him and picked a blank piece of paper up off the table. “I was trying to make a grocery list, but all I could do was stare at this blank sheet. I kept thinking about what I’d need to make meals, only I realized I don’t know what to make without a recipe, and Mom never left any. She had them all in her head, and I never asked. Expect for Thanksgiving, and I can’t make turkey every night. And I can’t order pizza all the time either, since that’s expensive and not very healthy. And then there’s not just dinner… There’s breakfast and lunch, and I have to make sure Dawn eats a good breakfast and I make her a lunch because she has to go to summer school since she got behind when Mom got sick, and I don’t…”

“Whoa. Sweetheart, breathe. That’s the first step, yeah? Just gotta breathe…”

Buffy looked at him from the corner of her eye. “This coming from a dead man.”

Spike replied with a smirk. “I may be that, but I still take the time out for a deep breath now and then. So come on, with me on three…” He met her eyes, coaxed her to take a deep breath.

That she let out with a barrage of giggles at the look on his face. Spike smiled, his goal accomplished. He pulled one of the chairs around to the head of the dining room table to sit beside Buffy. “Now let’s take a look at that list of yours.”

“It’s not a list. It’s a blank piece of paper.”

Spike shot her a look. “Yeah, and that’s how lists start, luv. Now, you said you need stuff for breakfast.”

“I need more than that…”

“I know, but we’re going to start at the beginning.” Spike smiled at her, ran a comforting hand down her back, and Buffy started to feel like maybe this wasn’t too big for her to handle after all.

*** *** ***

It seemed natural to start patrolling with Spike. He’d helped her with Glory after all.

And it was nice, knowing someone really had her back.

It didn’t seem weird that the person she most trusted in a fight was her former nemesis.

It didn’t seem weird that that “former” had crept into her thinking.

Still, when he came for patrol, he met her on the porch. She still didn’t know how he’d gotten in that one day, and she’d never asked. He hadn’t come in uninvited again, hadn’t crossed the threshold into her home. Instead, he stayed in what was his realm. The dark, the violent.

He was there for the fight.

It took two weeks for that to change.

Spike stood on the porch, waiting for Buffy, when he heard a high pitched wailing inside the house. He winced, then knocked on the door. A moment later, it flung open, and Buffy was standing there, looking flustered and harried.

She grabbed his hand and pulled him inside. “Dawn’s in the dining room. Make sure she’s actually doing her history project.”

“Yeah, of course. But what’s that sound? And…that smell?”

“I burned dinner,” Buffy replied before turning around and running off.

Spike checked on Dawn as Buffy asked him to, and found her busily preparing a set of history flashcards. Satisfied she was doing her homework – and had received the cursory teenage eyeroll – Spike went into the kitchen to check on Buffy.

She was leaning against the kitchen island, and even with her head down, he knew she was crying.

“Sweetheart?”

“Go back in the dining room, Spike.”

“Dawn’s fine. She’s doing her homework.”

She raised her head and pushed her hair out of her face. “It’s already a week late. I got a call today. She’s not doing her work for summer school. Do you know I had to pay for her to go to summer school? I could’ve just made her take the year over, but, I wanted to give her a second shot, and she’s blowing it. She should be grateful she even gets to go to school. I never thought I’d say this, but I’d love to be studying right now. God, I’d love to be doing a million other things right now. But instead I’m facing mortgage payments I soon won’t be able to make and I burned the last thing we had to eat in the house, so…” She trailed off, putting her head back down.

“Where are your friends?”

He didn’t expect the bitter laugh as her head came back up. “You know, that’s a damn good question. I’ve barely heard a word from them since Glory except for them to call and whine that I never hang out at the Bronze anymore. What am I supposed to do? Leave Dawn here alone all night? It’s bad enough that I have to leave her to patrol, but to go party with my friends? I can’t do that.”

She paused for a moment, wiped her eyes. “Willow and I had an argument, I think. I don’t even know. She got all frustrated with me because I’m not planning to go back to school in the fall. Like I don’t want to? But our bank account is depleting, which means I’m going to have to get a job so Dawn can be taken care of.” She sniffed, then pulled herself up straight. “She has to be my priority now.”

“Didn’t know you wanted to go back to school like that, luv.”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m not going to be able to. Besides, I’m a Slayer. I’m probably not long for this world anyway.”

For a moment, Spike said nothing. The thought of Buffy dead had once been his fondest daydream. Now it was his darkest nightmare. He couldn’t let her have that deathwish. He couldn’t allow her to let go. That’s what brought Slayers to their end.

He knew that better than anyone.

“Let me help you.”

Buffy sighed. “No offense, Spike, but I don’t really think there’s anything you can do. I mean, the help on patrol has been great, but you aren’t exactly one for the life skills.”

“Yeah, yeah, Spike’s dead. We’ve gone over this, Buffy. But heartbeat or not, I’ve been around a long time.” He leaned in, touched her hand, and for a moment, he was sure she was going to pull away.

She didn’t, so he squeezed her hand and kept talking. “I’m here for you, Buffy. You don’t have to be alone in this, yeah? If you want to go back to school, then I’ll find something to get your bills paid.”

Now, she did move away from him. “I’m not paying my bills with stolen money.”

Spike rolled his eyes skyward, but kept his irritation at her comment in check. “I wasn’t talking stolen money, Buffy. There’s places around here, don’t really look too closely at your paperwork. I can tend bar, work as a bouncer at some place with a demon problem.”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “If it’s so easy for you to get a job, why don’t you have one?”

He arched an eyebrow. “Didn’t have a reason to. No reason to work when I can just take what I want.”

“Then why do it now? Why are you even here, talking about this? This is insane, Spike. You have to know that.”

He shrugged. “Maybe.” Then, he was walking around the island, standing in front of her, so close she could practically feel the energy pulsing off of him. “I have a reason now, Buffy. I love you. That’s all the reason in the world.”

When Spike came to meet her for patrol the next night, he told her about his new job.

*** *** ***

She hadn’t been in the Bronze since before they’d stopped Glory. She wouldn’t be in there now if she wasn’t supposed to meet Spike to get Dawn’s math textbook from him after she’d left it at his crypt earlier that afternoon.

Turns out Dawn would do her homework if Spike told her to do it. Buffy didn’t love the idea of her sister spending her afternoons in a crypt, but if it got her homework done, she didn’t care.

The sight of him scanning the crowd for trouble made her smile. He’d told her he’d taken the job as a bouncer at the Bronze because it would make her job easier if he was there to pick off the vampires who came to feed on teenagers. Ever since then, he’d done nothing but complain about having to spend so much time in the bloody place, but he showed up, did his job, and kept the vamp population down for her in the process.

The bills were paid and there was food in the fridge.

And on the nights he wasn’t working, he still patrolled with her.

He grinned as soon as he saw her, and Buffy pretended her heart didn’t flutter a little.

“Book’s stashed behind the bar,” he told her, motioning for someone else to watch his post for a moment as he led her over to retrieve it.

“Thanks for getting it back so quickly,” Buffy said as he handed her the textbook. “Dawn would’ve gotten in trouble if she hadn’t had it.”

“Plus her homework’s folded up in the front,” Spike pointed out. “Bit worked hard on that. Be a shame if she couldn’t turn it in.”

“Thank you. It means a lot to me that you’re helping to make sure she gets her work done. I don’t know what I’d do if…”

“Buffy?”

The voice of her best friend shouldn’t make her blood run cold. Slowly, Buffy turned, suppressing a wince when she saw Willow and Xander, with Tara and Anya hanging behind.

It wasn’t until that moment she realized she was angry with them.

“I thought you said you couldn’t go Bronzing anymore?” Willow said, hurt in her voice as Xander stood beside her and eyed Spike suspiciously.

“I’m can’t.” Buffy held up the book. “Dawn left this at Spike’s. I was getting it back from him.”

“You’re not…here with Spike?” Willow asked. “Because when I saw you two together, I really started to worry that you had totally lost it, but then…”

“What the hell was Dawn doing at Spike’s?” Xander asked, cutting Willow off before she could work up a good ramble.

Buffy sucked in a breath. “Spike helps Dawn with her homework after school.”

“And you let this happen?”

Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “Oh, don’t you dare judge me right now, Xander Harris. Dawn wasn’t doing her work. If she’s with Spike, she does. And honestly, I don’t care as long as it gets done.”

“Are you sure Dawn isn’t pulling the wool over your eyes, Buffy?” Willow said, trying every bit to sound like the concerned friend. “I mean, it’s summer. She can’t possibly have homework.”

“I can’t… I can’t deal with this,” Buffy said, holding up her hands. She stormed out of the Bronze, refusing to let them see her about to cry.

Spike was right behind her. He chased her into the street, and when he grabbed her, she let him spin her around and pull her against him.

He smelled good. Strong and masculine. She closed her eyes, and for a moment, she could forget.

“I’m sorry they’re such bloody wankers.”

Buffy pulled up, laughing a little through her tears. “Yeah, me, too. I didn’t realize tonight that they’ve hurt me. I thought… I thought they were really my friends. Thick and thin. I mean, we’ve face the apocalypse together – more than once. But now, with Mom gone and me having so many adult responsibilities thrust on me, it’s like, everything’s changed for me. And it hasn’t for them, and they haven’t taken the time to look and see what’s going on with me. I’m just being withdrawn and antisocial. Whenever they call, it’s just to ask what’s wrong with me.”

Spike ran his thumb over his cheek. “Always told you they were idiots.”

She laughed again, though Spike could hear the trace of pain in the sound. “Hey, I need to get home to Dawn. Make sure she gets in bed like she should. But could you, maybe…come by after work? I think I’m going to need someone to talk to.”

“Yeah, of course. Anything you need.”

“Thank you.” She smiled at him, genuine and warm. It was the kind of Buffy-smile Spike had always dreamed of being on the receiving end of. “You’ve been a real friend, Spike.”

He nodded. “I’m happy I can be, luv.”

The kiss she brushed against his cheek was so fleeting, Spike almost didn’t realize it had happened.

That night was the first night he slept on her couch.

*** *** ***

Spike spent a week on the couch before Buffy took it upon herself to fix up the basement for him. After all, he was contributing to the household expenses – he might as well be living there. And she liked the idea of Dawn coming straight home after school instead of wandering around a cemetery.

So Spike moving into the Summers’ basement was simply for the sake of practicality.

Her friends didn’t see it that way.

After she’d sold her mother’s Jeep in order to have enough for her to actually go back to school, Spike’s DeSoto had replaced it in the driveway. After passing the house three days in a row and realizing the DeSoto hadn’t moved, Willow and Xander had staged another one of their interventions.

This one had ended with Buffy screaming at them that they were the ones who weren’t there for her, not the other way around.  Giles had argued like letting Dawn die was an option, and they’d sat there, not saying a word of protest until Buffy herself had pushed back against Giles. But Spike had vowed to protect her until the end of the world. And he had. He had. Buffy had no doubt in her mind that the only reason they’d seen the other side of that battle was because Spike had been there, because Spike had been able to stop Doc in time for Dawn to be saved.

She’d let her friends know that, too.

What none of them had known at the time was that Dawn had come home from school through the backdoor and had heard the whole thing.

When Willow and Xander had finally left, it had taken Spike a while to get his girls to stop crying.

*** *** ***

“Can you actually get reception down here?” Buffy asked, fiddling with the antenna on top of Spike’s television.

“Yeah, I can.” Spike eyed her warily. “What are you doing here?”

Buffy pulled her hand away from the antenna and crossed her arms over her chest. “What, I can’t come down into my own basement?”

“You can if you want, but you normally don’t,” Spike replied. “Not unless you’re doing the laundry. So what brings you down into the lair of the Big Bad?”

“Big Bads don’t live in the Slayer’s basement, helping her little sister with her homework and bringing said Slayer ice cream on his way home from work when she calls and tells him she wants some,” Buffy pointed out.

“See, now I know there’s something on your mind,” Spike replied. “You’re trying to make me defensive, which means you’re looking for an argument to distract you from something.”

Buffy opened her mouth to retort, but quickly snapped it shut. Somewhere along the line, he’d gotten way too good at figuring her out.

Instead, she dropped her hands to her sides and wandered across the room to sit on the currently unoccupied end of his cot. “I’m nervous.”

“’Bout what, luv?”

“Starting classes again tomorrow.”

“What for? ‘Fraid none of the other kids are gonna want to sit with you at lunch?”

Buffy gave him a dirty look. “No. I’m more worried that I’m not going to be able to do it at all this time. I feel like I’m in such a different mindset now than I was last year. I’ve lost so much, and I had to grow up, and now how am I going to be a college kid?”

“You’re not,” Spike replied, earning him a worried look from Buffy. Quickly, he moved to explain himself. “You’re going to be a woman going back to school so she can get a degree and make a better life for her family. People do it all the time, Buffy. You’re not going to be living in a dorm, partying with demon-hunting frat boys this time. Things will be just like they are now, only you’ll have somewhere to be in the day, and now you and Dawn will both be doing homework in the evenings.”

She looked at him for a moment, before asking, “How’d you get so good with knowing what to say?”

Spike shrugged. “Dunno. Guess I’ve just had a lot of years to practice. Besides, I know I manage to stick my foot in my mouth plenty of times anyway. Could be just a lucky shot in the dark this time.”

Buffy giggled, and when Spike held out his arms, she’d moved into them, resting her head on his shoulder and letting him stroke her hair.

Ever since Glory’s tower, every time Spike touched her, it was chaste. He offered her comfort and support, and never tried to take anything else. He never mentioned loving her anymore, not since that last time in her kitchen.

She wondered sometimes if his feelings for her had changed into something else, but one look into his eyes was all it ever took to let her know they hadn’t.

Buffy told herself she was grateful he’d decided to respect her boundaries, grateful that he understood all she looked at him as these days was a friend, and that she didn’t want him to push for more. This was more than she’d ever expected to happen between them, but it was still all they ever could have.

She spent the afternoon curled up against him on the cot, watching a television that did indeed manage to get reception.

*** *** ***

“We don’t need those.”

“Why not?”

“Because they’re disgusting.”

“You don’t have to eat them.”

“I don’t like even seeing them in the fridge!”

“So close your eyes when you open the bloody door!”

“That’s so not even plausible, Spike.”

“We can hide them behind the milk.”

“Then I’ll be afraid to touch the milk!”

“Oh for crying out loud, they aren’t gonna attack you.”

“Are you sure? This is the…” Buffy stopped short when she realized her exchange with Spike had a witness in the form of an elderly woman standing only a few feet away. When she noticed she’d been caught staring, the woman blushed slightly.

“Sorry to be nosy, but I couldn’t help but notice how much the two of you remind me of my husband and me when we were first starting out. We used to fight over the silliest things, but our friends always said you could still look at us and see how much we were in love. We made it sixty-eight years before he died.” She stepped closer and patted Buffy’s hand. “I know you two will make it, too. I have a feeling about these things.”

The woman threw a wink at the dumbfounded Slayer and vampire and walked away.

Neither of them said another word as Buffy put the jar of pickled pigs’ feet into the shopping cart.

*** *** ***

“They’re having Parent Teacher Night at school next Thursday,” Dawn announced at the dinner table. It was spaghetti night, and the girls had long since stopped commenting on the fact Spike poured blood over the noodles.

“Thursday night?” Buffy replied with a frown. “But that’s the night I have my later classes. What time is it?”

“It starts at six,” Dawn said.

“Crap. I’m in class until six.”

“I’ll go,” Spike said with a shrug. “Take notes and report back.”

Buffy raised her eyebrow. “I don’t know. The last time you went to one of these things, it was a disaster.”

Buffy almost would’ve sworn she’d seen him blush. “I promise I won’t try to kill anyone this time.”

“You guys could always just skip it all together,” Dawn suggested.

“No,” Buffy and Spike replied in unison. Dawn thought they sounded eerily like parents.

“I can skip my class.”

“I can handle this, Buffy,” Spike insisted. “I’m not working that night, and there’s no reason for you to skip class when I’m available.”

“I should be there. I’m…”

“Buffy, I’m not going to be all offended if Spike has to go in your place,” Dawn said, rolling her eyes. “Geez. He’ll probably be less of a spaz than you about it anyway.”

Buffy’s eyes darted between the two of them, but she grew visibly calmer the moment Spike’s hand rested on top of hers. “This is something I can do, sweetheart. Really, it’s nothing to stress over.”

“Fine. But I want a full report.”

“’Course.”

Neither of them noticed the way Dawn’s eyes centered on their hands.

*** *** ***

Buffy was setting the table for dinner when Spike and Dawn came in from Parent-Teacher Night. “No one died, my teachers like me, and no one had to hit Spike in the head with an axe!” Dawn announced loudly the second she walked in through the door.

“Good to know!” Buffy called back as she set out the forks.

A few moments later, Spike appeared in the doorway of the dining room, Dawn following closely behind him. “Went well. Niblet’s keeping up with her assignments, doing fine on tests, staying awake in class, and all that stuff. Didn’t get any complaints.”

Buffy looked up, surprised to see that while Spike was wearing his customary black jeans, he’d actually bothered to button up and tuck in one of his overshirts. He’d…dressed up. Well, for him anyway. Tried to look respectable when he was representing the Summers family.

“There weren’t any questions about what you were doing there with some guy, were there?” Buffy asked her sister. “No one thought it was too weird?”

“Nah, I took care of that ahead of time,” Dawn replied with a shrug. “I told everyone my brother-in-law was coming.”

Buffy dropped the knives.

*** *** ***

There was a time in her life that Buffy knew she would’ve been attracted to the man sitting on the other end of her couch. She probably would’ve been flirting right now, then analyzing everything he said and did for clues as to whether or not he was interested.

But not now. Her focus was on the project they’d been paired together in for school.

His bulky frame, dark hair, and brown eyes did nothing for her.

The only time her heart skipped was when she heard Spike come in through the door. She blamed it on being startled by the sound.

Spike stood in the doorway to the living room, eyeing the strange man on the couch warily as he balanced a bag of groceries on his hip.

“I thought you’d gone to work,” Buffy said.

“Don’t work tonight. Tomorrow.” He nodded his head towards the bag. “We needed a few things. There wasn’t any milk for Dawn’s cereal tomorrow. Who’s this guy?”

“This is Brian. We’re working on a project for class. Brian, this is my roommate, Spike.”

Before Brian could get out all of, “Nice to meet you,” Spike was gone.

“Is your boyfriend the jealous type or something?” Brian asked.

“Oh, he’s not my boyfriend,” Buffy said quickly. She heard something slam in the kitchen and winced. “Can you give me a minute?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Buffy found Spike leaning against the island, gripping the edge white-knuckled. “Buffy, not now, okay?”

Buffy frowned. “Spike, what’s wrong?”

“Just go out there and have your little study date.”

Study date? Buffy frowned harder, her brow wrinkling. Was he jealous? And why did she feel such a need to correct him? “It’s not any kind of ‘date,’ Spike,” she told him. “We were paired together by the professor. I’m not interested in him.”

“Why not? Looks like your type. Big hunk of nothing-behind-the-ears.”

Buffy put her hands on her hips. “Spike, that isn’t fair to me or to Brian. You don’t even know him.”

Spike snorted. “I’m oh so sorry then. I’m sure he’s a real winner.”

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

He turned towards her, and Buffy could tell he was about to yell. But suddenly, he seemed to deflate, and he didn’t. “I’m sorry, Buffy. I know…I know you don’t love me. But I still love you. And I know one of these days you’re going to meet some bloke you can actually see yourself settling down with, and then that’ll be it for me.”

“Spike…”

He held up his hand, silencing her. “I’m not asking for more, Buffy. Just being in your life, being there for you when you need someone, that’s better than what I ever thought I’d get. But sometimes, being so close to you and not getting to have you? Gets to be a bit much.”

Her eyes were wide, on the verge of being filled with tears. “I wouldn’t turn my back on you. I need you in my life, Spike.”

“You say that now, but…”

“I mean it. And Brian and I really aren’t…”

“I know,” he said, though his tone didn’t convince her. “I’m going out for a bit.”

Her voice, small and almost pleading, made him stop at the door. “You’re coming back, right?”

“Always, luv. Always.”

Buffy shuddered with the closing door.

The next morning he was in the kitchen, pouring a bowl of cereal for Dawn, and neither of them mentioned Brian or the night before.

*** *** ***

It took Buffy by surprise when she ran into Tara at the campus bookstore. She supposed it shouldn’t, since she knew Tara was a UC Sunnydale student, too, but it did all the same.

They’d agreed to eat lunch together, and Buffy found herself feeling strangely nervous on the way to the dining hall.

They made small talk in the line, then brought their food outside to one of the picnic tables. Almost as soon as they sat down, Tara spoke.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch.”

“It’s okay. I haven’t been either. I guess I’ve had a falling out with Willow, and…”

“Willow and I aren’t together anymore.”

Buffy had been reaching for her bottled water, but her hand dropped when Tara said that. “What? But you two…”

“Weren’t working out,” Tara finished for her. “We were having a lot of problems, and I just… I needed a break.”

“Oh.”

Tara smiled. “But I’m okay. Really. Tell me about you, Buffy. What exciting things has the Slayer been up to recently?”

Buffy wasn’t sure if her life could really qualify as “exciting” these days, but she answered the question all the same, filling Tara in on what she’d missed.

“So when did you and Spike get together?”

Buffy choked, her eyes bugging. “Huh?”

“You mean you two aren’t?” Tara blushed slightly. “The way you were just talking about him, it sounded like he was your boyfriend.”

“Spike is not my boyfriend,” Buffy said, a little too quickly. “He’s my roommate. He’s just being a friend and helping me out. That’s all.”

“Last time I checked in with you, he wasn’t even your friend.”

“Yeah, well, I guess when you reach your lowest point, you learn who your true friends are.”

Tara looked down, though Buffy caught the shame in her eyes. “I didn’t mean you,” Buffy clarified. “I meant, well, I meant them. Willow and Xander were supposed to be my two best friends in the world, and they didn’t even notice my life was in handbasket, headed someplace hot. And Giles…” Buffy gave a short bark of laughter. “We’ve barely said a word to each other since his little ‘we gotta kill your sister’ speech.”

“I’m still sorry, Buffy. I shouldn’t have disappeared from your life.”

“Don’t sweat it. Sounds like you’ve been having your own problems.”

“Things have been better,” Tara admitted.

“Why don’t you come over for dinner some night? I know Dawn would love it, and I’d be happy to have you there, too.”

“You wouldn’t mind?”

“Not at all. It would be great to have a guest over. Maybe it would convince Dawn and Spike to be on their best behavior and the meal wouldn’t dissolve into them throwing napkins back and forth for once.”

Tara giggled. “I’d like that.”

Buffy smiled and meant it.

*** *** ***

“I saw Tara today at school,” Buffy said to her sister after convincing her to help fold the laundry that evening after Spike had gone to work. “She said she’d come over at have dinner with us sometime.”

Dawn looked up, a smile on her face. “Really? That would be so cool. I’ve missed her.”

Buffy nodded. “It was nice talking to her today.” She paused and cleared her throat. “She broke up with Willow.”

Dawn stopped folding. “Really? Wow. Why?”

“I don’t know. She didn’t seem like she wanted to talk about it.”

“So what did you guys talk about then?” Dawn asked, her fingers running along the edge of a towel.

“Filled her in on what we’ve been up to,” Buffy replied. “Weird thing though, was she thought Spike was my boyfriend.”

“Because he is your boyfriend.”

“Why do people keep thinking that?” Buffy asked. “And geez, you of all people should know he isn’t, seeing as you live with us.”

“That’s exactly why I know he is,” Dawn retorted. “I see you two. You’re always all flirty and snuggly. Besides, when’s the last time either one of you even thought about dating someone else?”

“That’s not… We’re not…” Buffy lowered her voice, as if she could only admit things of this nature to her little sister in a whisper. “We’re not sleeping together.”

Dawn rolled her eyes. “Yeah, and so aren’t a lot of old married couples.”

“Did you just actually compare Spike and me to an old married couple?”

“You sure fight like one.”

The only response Dawn got was a sock on her head.

*** *** ***

“You look like a damn happy vamp,” Buffy said, glancing up from the television screen to see Spike, one arm around her, the other around Dawn, and a smile on his face.

“Why shouldn’t I be?” Spike asked. “This is a damn good place to be.”

Buffy poked him in the chest. “So you’d rather spend a night in watching television with your family than creating mayhem? You’ve gone soft.”

It took both Spike and Dawn staring at her for Buffy to realize what she’d said.

“Family?” Spike asked, his voice soft, quiet.

Buffy squirmed against him. “Well…that’s what we are now, isn’t it?”

Spike’s hand ran down the back of her hair. “Yeah, we are.”

No one said anything else about it, and Buffy settled back against Spike. Her eyes were back on the television, but her mind was nowhere near it.

It hit her like the train she should’ve heard coming.

She was in love with Spike.

*** *** ***

"You do know I love you."

"I do."

"Then that's enough."

Spike went towards the basement, leaving Buffy alone in the living room. When she heard the door shut, she sat down on the couch, her hands trembling. She’d just done the right thing, hadn’t she? Taking what they had to another level would only mess things up in the end, wouldn’t it? Besides, this whole being in love with Spike thing was so new…

Only everyone had seen it way before she had. Even little old ladies in the supermarket.

“I couldn’t help but notice how much the two of you remind me of my husband and me when we were first starting out.”

“I told everyone my brother-in-law was coming.”

“Is your boyfriend the jealous type or something?”

“So when did you and Spike get together?”

“Because he is your boyfriend.”

Buffy swallowed hard, her hand going to her mouth as she realized she’d managed to remain blind to what everyone else around her could see.

Spike loved her. And as a bizarre a turn of events as it seemed, she loved him, too.

He’d really come through for her, more than any other guy she’d ever known. More than the ones she’d actually let wear the title of her “boyfriend.” He’d given her everything he could, fought against his very nature to be by her side in life and in battle.

And she’d relegated him to the basement…

Suddenly, she felt…guilty. Spike had done nothing but love her for months now, and she’d taken it for granted. She’d let her own fear and past relationships drive a wedge between them.

She hadn’t sent him away because she didn’t want to ruin what they had.

She’d sent him away because she was afraid.

Afraid to love.

Well, it was too late now to keep from falling now. She was already there.

Buffy stood up, her mouth set in determination. She’d claimed she was living the life of an adult now.

It was time to prove it.

She went down to the basement, taking Spike by surprise as she stopped beside his cot and blurted out, “I love you.”

He sat up, coughing. “Say again?”

“I love you. I want to be with you.” She crossed her arms over her chest and said – as much for herself as for him – “I’m the Slayer. I’m not afraid.”

He was staring at her, slackjawed. What she’d said earlier in the living room had seemed like he had to be dreaming, but this? He would’ve pinched himself if he weren’t frozen to the spot.

“Spike?” Buffy said, her voice losing some of its confidence. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”

“I…are you serious?”

“Of course I’m serious.” She bit her lip. “You do want to be with me, don’t you?”

He tilted his head and looked at her like she was an idiot. “Of course I do. Bloody stupid question that.”

“I love you, Spike.” Those words were easier every time she said them, though the next ones she said came a little harder. “But more importantly, I trust you. I don’t know if I could’ve made it through everything without you here, supporting me every step of the way.” She sighed, ran her hand through her hair. “I used to think I understood stuff like the meaning of a soul, good and evil. I thought being the Slayer gave me some sort of insight to that. But then I met you, and you threw everything out of whack. Even…even before you loved me. I saw how you looked at Drusilla. I saw you let an entire warehouse of people go just to spare her, and…well, it blew me away.”

“Buffy…”

“No, let me finish, okay? I was ready to die that day, on Glory’s tower. I thought that was it, my final fight. I had that deathwish, and I was ready to blow out the candles. And when I didn’t, I was lost. I almost forgot how to live completely. And no one was there. Not my friends. Not my Watcher.” She swallowed and met Spike’s eyes. “No one but you. You made me want to live more than I ever had wanted to before. All of the sudden, I had a future. A real future. Where I could make my own decisions and be myself. Where I could really be happy.”

She smiled. It was shy and warm, and what Spike felt in his chest was better than any heartbeat.

“You make me happy. And I don’t care about anything else. I don’t.”

“I’m still me, luv. I’m never gonna be a knight in shining armor.”

“I know. I’ve had those. They aren’t as good as the brochure says. I think I’d rather have me one of them antiheroes.”

She winked at him and Spike couldn’t help but chuckle.

Buffy held out her hand. “Come to bed, Spike. It’s where you belong.”

The love she saw in his eyes almost made her knees buckle.

But then his hand was in hers and she was strong again.

*** *** ***

This is a one-shot. No more chapters, no sequels.

Please review. My muse could use the food…

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