The Great Advantage of Being Alive by Enigmaticblue

ReviewsRating: PG-13

Summary: What if the Initiative had found a way to transform Spike into a human, rather than giving him a chip?

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Chapter 14: The Great Advantage of Being Alive

Chapter Notes: I really did give serious thought about rewriting “Restless,” but then I had to face facts. I have no clue what half that symbolism meant, and I’m not even going to presume to try and “improve” the gang’s dreams. Suffice it to say they have them and that Spike and Riley play slightly different roles in everyone’s dreams but Buffy’s. You all can use your own imaginations as to who might fill those spots. And as this is last chapter, let me know if a sequel is something you might want to see eventually.


“I wanna tell you/I wanna tell you just how I feel/I will show you/I will show you my love is real/Nobody’s ever gonna love you like I am/You never can deny that/Nobody’s ever gonna hold you like I am/I’ll love you ‘til I die/Until the day I die/I said “forever”/I said “forever” and I mean it/I made a promise/And I intend to always keep it/Forever is so far beyond the reach of my mind/So I’ll give all/I have, my heart, my love, my life.” ~Third Day, "’Til the Day I Die"

Spike was out in the kitchen getting drinks when Joyce came to talk to him. “How are you, Spike?”

He smiled at her. “’m doin’ alright. Sorry ‘bout skippin’ out on you like that earlier.”

“Don’t worry about it, and don’t even think about coming in early tomorrow,” she replied warmly. “It’s simply nice to know that someone is looking out for my daughter.”

“It’s my pleasure,” Spike said, a mischievious look in his eye.

Joyce laughed lightly and pulled him in for a quick kiss on the cheek. “Take the spare room bed tonight if you feel like it, William.”

“Thanks, Joyce.” He wandered out into the living room, glass of soda in hand. Buffy saw him and smiled, waving him over to the couch. Spike plopped down next to her, snaking his arm behind and pulling her in to rest against his chest. “Can’t believe you lot do this after every major battle,” he said.

Willow smiled over at him. “Well, we’re usually too wired to sleep.”

Spike shook his head. “You’ll have to excuse me when I drop off right away then,” he said. “’cause I don’t think it’s goin’ to take me all that long to get there.”

“That’s okay,” Buffy said comfortingly, patting his hand. “We’ll tuck you in.”

Giles snorted. “I won’t. Spike’s on his own.”

“Yeah, we’ll see how long you last old man,” Spike jeered.

Xander rolled his eyes. “Okay, guys? Anybody want to pick a movie?”

Spike watched as Harris plugged some damn thing into the VCR. He wasn’t sure who had been in charge of picking the movies, but none of the titles sounded all that interesting. Of course, it wasn’t like he was at all interested in staying up and watching the film. The feel of Buffy against his chest, friends surrounding him: Spike felt a sense of satisfaction like he hadn’t felt for a very long time. He slept.

And dreamt.

~~~~~

Spike stood in the hallway of a Victorian house that he had faint memories of. The scents that wafted past his nose evoked stronger emotions than the familiar hallway. “What—”

He looked around wildly, not understanding. He pinched himself, thinking it was a dream, but he did not wake. Then his eyebrows shot up as he realized what it was he was wearing. Tweed. Spike hadn’t worn tweed since—“Bloody hell.”

“William! Such language!” His mother, Anne, stood looking at him.

Spike stared at her. She was alive, though he could hear her painful breathing. She was still dying, but she was as she had been when they had both been alive—the first time. He blinked, and she raised her own eyebrows, obviously waiting for an apology. “Sorry, mum. I, uh, stubbed my toe.”

Her disapproving frown gave way to a slight smile. “Even so. You will not win over any hearts by using such words. It is unbecoming a gentleman.”

“Right. Sorry ‘bout that, mum,” he apologized again.

Anne looked at her son strangely. “Are you sure you’re quite alright? You’re talking rather strangely tonight, William.” Her eyes narrowed in suspicion. “You haven’t been drinking, have you?”

Spike remembered himself, remembered the way words had felt in his mouth once upon a time. “No, of course not, mother. I’m just—tired, you know.”

“Well, then you should go to bed, shouldn’t you?” Anne came over to him and gave him a warm hug. “Will you go to the party tomorrow night? I believe Cecily shall be there.”

Spike suddenly realized where he was, or rather, when he was. The night before the party, the night before he became a vampire. Two days before he sired his own mother. He swallowed hard. Seeing her there, it felt almost as though a spell had been cast over him. The part of him that was William did not want to meet a demon in the street. He wanted to stay with his mother, take care of her, as he should have done in the first place. “I don’t believe so,” he replied. “I do not see a need to attend the party tomorrow night. I feel it would better serve my time to stay here with you.”

Anne frowned, concerned. “You should not hide yourself away, William. You have so much to offer a young woman.”

William shook his head. “Perhaps. The right woman, at least. Cecily has better prospects than I could ever offer her.”

Anne looked at her son in surprise. “William, your prospects are good enough. And your sentiment—”

“Will not speak to her, I’m afraid,” he said smoothly. “I should have realized it long ago.” William tried to sound cheerful. “In any case, I’m sure I shall find a good woman someday. Until then, I already have a woman in my life.”

“Who—oh…” Anne smiled, and laughed a little as he kissed her cheek. “Well then, sleep well, William.”

~~~~~

A young, human William woke the next morning in the same bed he had fallen asleep upon. The part of himself that was still strongly connected to the memories of the demon was strangely quiet. He rose, washed, and dressed in the same manner he had so long ago. He spent his day quietly, just as he always had, taking care of his mother and reading.

It was odd, but he didn’t feel any sense of frustration or anger, stuck in a life he’d long outgrown. Instead, he accepted his fate quietly, and the piece of him that would always love violence and mayhem, that would always be brash and impulsive, slept on. He watched Anne fade away, as the days went by. He found himself marrying a woman for whom he had a strong affection, but no love. William had long since given up on both love and poetry. Though the memories of being a vampire and of Sunnydale were dim and increasingly dream-like, there was still the knowledge that his poetry was horrific, and there was only one woman he truly loved now.

It was William who nursed his sick mother and watched her die. William, who lay with his wife and did not love her. William, who doted on a young daughter with his eyes and her mother’s gentle spirit.

In the end, it was William who died of the same illness that had taken his mother when he was barely over thirty.

He died, and found himself standing in a dilapidated old house, the main hall blackened with soot. He was dressed in the clothes he had worn as a demon, complete with duster, and he heard a voice call out behind him.

“Do you understand now?” Spike turned to see Tara standing there, looking at him with a mixture of sympathy and sadness.

Spike shook his head. “Understand what?” he demanded. “Is this a dream? Because it feels bloody real.”

“It is and it is not,” Tara replied, though Spike knew it wasn’t really Tara. “It is what might have been, had you not been turned.”

Spike looked at her, and then around him. “So this is a soddin’ It’s a Wonderful Life? I bloody well hated that movie when it first came out. Didn’t need to live it.”

“Didn’t you?” she asked gently. “Given a choice, didn’t you choose to remain a human?”

Spike looked disgruntled. “Bloody lot of good that did me. Even knowin’ what I did, didn’t do anythin’ of any importance. I was just another poncy bugger. Just another waste of space ‘gentleman’ like any of those other wankers that made my life hell.”

Tara smiled at him. “And your daughter that would have been? Would it help you to know that watching you sicken and die made such an impression upon her that she became a nurse? That she served the soldiers of the Great War and was known as an angel to those she helped?”

Spike swallowed hard. Seeing the dream of what might have been, even if he had never loved the woman named Margaret who became his wife…His daughter had been beautiful. “Yeah. She was somethin’ wasn’t she?” He paused. “Wait just a bleedin’ minute. You’re sayin’ me not bein’ a vampire made no difference at all? That bein’ a member of the evil dead was better?”

“Look around you,” Tara said. Spike did as instructed, realizing that he was in the old Crawford mansion, and that it was much the worse for wear.

“What happened here?”

Tara pointed out the door, and Spike went to stand in the doorway, looking out on Hell. “You were not here. Angelus opened Acathla.” When Spike shook his head, Tara continued. “Spike was not here, but Angel and Buffy still had their perfect moment. Drusilla came to find her ‘daddy,’ and the Slayer was left to fight both of them herself.”

Spike spun to face her. “What about Buffy? Did she make it?” The look in Tara’s eyes told him all he needed to know. He shook his head and then looked away. “I don’t understand,” he confessed. “How is it that I could do more good as a vampire than as a human?”

“It is not being a human or being a vampire that matters. It is knowing who you are.”

Something that echoed in her voice caused Spike to look at her in wonder. “And who are you?”

“I am a voice that was loosed.” Something of power flickered in her eyes. “The others dream because they were caught up in the spell. It opened them to the power of the First Slayer. You dream because you must to understand your place.”

“My place?” Spike demanded. “What the hell are you on about? ‘m an ex-vampire. I was no bloody good as a human, an’ I was a bleedin’ terror as a monster. Where does that leave me now?”

“Did you not understand?” The thing that looked like Tara asked. “You are needed as you are.”

Spike turned and found himself standing between—himself. “Will you choose?” William asked.

“You gonna pick one of us, mate?” Vampire-Spike asked him.

Spike turned from one to another. Tara looked over at him. “What will you choose? Who are you?”

Spike thought about growing up in his mother’s home, thought about the bloody awful poetry he had written, thought about Drusilla and all she had given him. He thought about the fact that he only truly lived after he was dead, and that he never would have known his Slayer had he not crawled out of his own grave.

The truth was that he never would be the man that he was without William the human, or Spike the demon. In the end, it was an easy answer.

“I am William Brighton,” he answered her. “I am William the Bloody, the Scourge of Europe. I am Spike, the Slayer of Slayers.” Spike laughed. “I am William Giles, and I’m bloody well in love with the girl I’d planned on killin’.”

“Was it worth it, William?” Spike turned to see his mother standing there. He had no idea if it was just an apparition, or if, somehow, it was really her spirit. “Yeah, mum, I think it was.” Spike considered it a bit longer, and then said with more surety, thinking of a certain blonde girl. “I think it was all worth it, in the end.”

~~~~~

Spike woke on the couch, next to Buffy, startled out of his dream by the sound of choking. He sat, paralyzed by his dream and its import for a moment, realizing that he finally understood. He’d known he needed to be both; he hadn’t quite realized that he was both yet. That it would not have been better if he had never been a vampire. After all, as evil as he had been, Spike was a little different than any other vampire. Had William never been turned, there would have been another to take his place. Perhaps it had been destiny that had led Drusilla to choose him that night. On the other hand, perhaps he had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Or the right place at the right time.

Spike looked over at Buffy tenderly, his eyes widening as he saw her struggle. Remembering what dream-Tara had told him, his eyes flew to the others, and he could see Giles twitching, Xander gasping, and Willow struggling as though someone were choking her.

“Buffy!” he called, trying to shake her out of it, but there was no response. Spike went to the others in turn, but whatever had them in its clutches was too strong. He came back to sit next to the Slayer on the couch, watching her and waiting for her to wake up.

When she came to, she did so suddenly—immediately. Buffy’s eyes opened to look straight into Spike’s worried blue ones. “Spike.”

“Buffy.” He sounded infinitely relieved. “I couldn’t wake you up. The others—”

Buffy turned to look at her friends, who were also waking. “I think they’re okay.”

They sat around the dining room table, wearing similar expressions of disbelief. “The First Slayer,” Willow finally said, for all of them. “Wow.”

“Not big with the socialization,” Xander commented.

“Or the floss,” Willow added.

Giles shook his head. “Somehow, our joining with Buffy and—and invoking the essence of her power was an affront to that power.”

“An’ you didn’t think of that before you did the spell?” Spike asked, still a little disturbed to think that he might have lost Buffy while she was dreaming. Not to mention the fact that he was still a little shaken by his own dreams.

“I did warn that there could be dire consequences,” Giles replied, slightly disgruntled.

Buffy looked over at him. “Yeah, but you say that when we chew too fast.”

Spike looked up at the rustling sound to see Joyce looking at them sleepily, in her bathrobe. “I’m guessing I missed something,” she said.

“The First Slayer tried to kill us in our sleep,” Willow explained.

“Oh.” Joyce looked around at the group. “Do you all want some hot chocolate?”

There were five affirmatives at once, and Spike rose immediately. “I’ll give you a hand, Joyce.”

“Thank you, William,” she said. Spike looked over at Xander with curiosity as he passed, noticing that Harris was blushing furiously. He caught the younger man’s eye and quirked an eyebrow, but Xander looked away immediately turning an even deeper shade of red. “Did the—First Slayer?—try to kill you too?”

Spike looked over at Joyce, who was beginning to heat the milk on the stove. “No. No, I wasn’t involved in the spell. Had a different dream, I guess. Dreamed I was back home. With my mum.”

Joyce was silent, waiting patiently for him to finish. “She would have died anyway, you know,” Spike finally stated. “When—when it happened, she didn’t have all that long. I would have been with her to the end.”

“Then it wasn’t all that different, was it?” Joyce asked quietly. “You were still with her at the end.”

Spike stared at her, suddenly intent. “You know how I feel ‘bout you, yeah? I mean, you know how I feel ‘bout your daughter, but it’s more than just you bein’ her mum. ‘s more than Giles bein’ who he is, an’ the others bein’ her friends.”

“I know.” Joyce put a tender hand to his cheek. “You have made a place for yourself here. I’m very proud of you, Spike.”

“’s who I am.” He drew her into an embrace, kissing her cheek fondly, much as he had embraced his own mother. Spike was a man who needed others, even if he had finally defined himself on his own terms.

For twenty years, he’d chased across Europe as part of its Scourge. They had been a family, of sorts, he and Drusilla and Angelus and Darla. Then Angel had been cursed with his soul, and Darla had left soon after the Boxer Rebellion, and it had been he and Dru. She had been his black goddess, his sun, and the center of his universe.

But losing Drusilla meant losing his identity, and what had he been after she left him? A poor monster with a yen for Slayer’s blood, defining his existence by his hunt for Buffy. In the end, it was meaningless, still an attempt to describe himself in relation to another.

Now—now Spike knew who he was, by himself, on his own. He knew at least one of the possible futures he might have had if Dru hadn’t found him that night. Maybe it didn’t make any difference, that he had died. But it made a difference that he had existed.

He was William. He was Spike. Knowing that, he had something to offer to those around him, even if it was only himself. Knowing that, he could remain connected without losing himself in them. “You were right, y’know,” he said, finally pulling back.

“About what?” she asked, smiling at him, looking just a little misty-eyed.

He returned the smile, dimples showing. “’bout it getting easier. It does.”

~~~~~

The others went home after their hot chocolate, but Spike decided to take Joyce up on her offer and stay in the guest bedroom. He followed Buffy up the stairs, and noted when she paused. “Everythin’ alright, pet?”

Buffy looked back at him. Spike was giving her that look, the one that said he would listen to her until the world ended and would love every minute. “Yeah. I think so. It was—just the dream, you know?”

“You want to talk about it?” he asked.

Buffy shook her head. “No. Well, maybe. I—I heard you telling mom you had a dream too. You want to share?”

“I show you mine, you show me yours?” Spike asked with some amusement. He hesitated. “Yeah, sure, luv.”

Spike wandered into Buffy’s bedroom as she washed her face and got ready for bed. It was odd to be here even now, looking at the life of the Slayer from the inside. It was still a position that stunned him. He was holding onto Mr. Gordo, and sitting on the bed when Buffy came back to the room, already in her pajamas. “You want something to sleep in?” she offered. “I could probably—”

“Don’t need anything,” he replied, tilting his head with a smile. “But thanks.”

Buffy saw he had Mr. Gordo in his hands, and sadness flickered in her eyes, almost too fast for Spike to see it. “Luv?”

“Angel,” she said, sitting next to him and leaning her head on his shoulder. “Long time ago. I came home, and he was waiting for me and holding Mr. Gordo. Before he went evil.”

“Things change,” he observed. “Almost too fast to keep up, sometimes.” Spike put the stuffed pig back on the bed and put an arm around her. “So. The rest of your dream?”

Buffy told him about it, including the part with Riley calling her a killer and the part where the thing that looked like Tara told her that she didn’t know what was to come. “She said I didn’t even know what I was.”

By this point, they were both lying down. Spike’s head had somehow ended up in the crook of Buffy’s arm, and she was playing with his hair. It lay curly and still mussed from the after-battle clean up, and she wound the strands over and through her fingers. His eyes were closed, and for a moment Buffy thought he was asleep, until he spoke. “None of us ever know what we are, luv.”

She gave a little huff. “Okay, cryptic-guy.”

He laughed, and she could feel him shift against her. “Can I tell you what I dreamed? Might help.”

“Okay.” He told her, sparing no details, and sparing William not at all. When he had finished, Buffy said quietly, “So what you’re saying is that even though you weren’t you, you still loved me?”

“As confusin’ as that might sound, yeah.” Spike sighed. “’s taken me this long just to start to figure out what I am now, Slayer. To find some sort of balance between the man an’ the demon. Didn’t really like either one of them on their own.”

Buffy’s hand stilled as she considered her words. “You mean, finding a balance between being me and being the Slayer.”

Spike shook his head as best he could in his position. “No, that’s what I’m sayin’, luv. You are the Slayer, just like I’m Spike an’ William both. ‘s not about balance. ‘s about findin’ a place inside yourself you can live in.”

“What if I can’t?” Buffy asked. “Tonight, that spell—I felt the power. She said—she said the Slayer is always alone. I mean, I know I’m not alone. I have my friends and you and mom and Giles, but…”

Spike twisted so that he was face to face with her, his eyes dark with passion. “Buffy, luv, we’re each of us alone. An’ I hate to say it, but in your little group, you’re each of you gonna feel more alone than most sometimes.” When her face fell, he touched her cheek, asking gently for her eyes to meet his gaze. “’s why you lot lost your way. Goin’ through different things, it’s easy to forget ‘bout everybody else, an’ that they’re changin’ too. It’s when you come together again, you know you’re stronger for it. An’ you’ll always come back together.”

“How do you know that?” Buffy asked him. “Things change. Maybe someday we won’t.”

“Maybe.” Spike looked away, his face troubled. “I’ve fought two other Slayers, pet. An’ I killed the both of them. ‘m not proud of it, not now, but I know a little bit about Slayers because of it. None of ‘em last as long as you have. None of ‘em lasted as long as you will. You’re different, Buffy. Unique. We all see it. You’ll find a place you fit, you feel comfortable, an’ you’ll know it when you do.”

He looked so sad just then, that Buffy grabbed his hand, wanting to offer comfort for whatever reason that he needed it. “Then why the long face, Spike?”

“Because there might not be a place for me when you do.”

It was this part of him that startled her. The part of Spike that was so obviously William, so insecure. And yet, maybe it was still Spike, and half of who he had been was only a mask. She loved him. Buffy stared at him, stunned by his words and her own realization. She had fallen hard for him, and she hadn’t even noticed. And now she loved him, but she wasn’t quite ready to say it. “You didn’t include yourself in the part of the group that always comes back together no matter what.”

“Buffy—” Spike frowned. “You lot have a history.”

“And we don’t?” she asked, amused. “You said you wouldn’t leave unless I asked you to. Here’s fair warning from me. I’m not going to ask you to.”

“Then I suppose you’re stuck with me, Miss Summers,” Spike said gallantly. “I fear for the safety of your heart.”

He was silly and noble and beautiful all at once, and Buffy felt her heart turn over in her chest. “I think someone might have already stolen it,” she replied. “Some bleach-blonde guy with blue eyes and killer abs.”

“So you only want me for my body?” he asked facetiously.

Buffy laughed. “There’s a lot more to you than just a pretty face, Spike.” She stopped. His eyes were so deep she might drown in them. “Layers and layers.”

“There’s so much to you, luv,” he whispered to her. “You’ll find out what that First Slayer was on about and make her eat your dust. An’ then we’ll outlaw apocalypses an’ live happily ever after.”

Buffy smiled. Maybe Spike was right, because she saw herself so clearly in his eyes. Having him around, she might actually find that place he was talking about. One of these days. It certainly gave her one more reason to keep him around. “Sounds good to me,” she said, and pillowing her head on his chest, she slept deeply and with no dreams.

~~~~~

Giles strode into the gallery the next afternoon, taking a deep breath. He and Joyce had discovered a number of similarities in recent months, besides their children. They also had a taste, or at least could remember, the same music. They liked fine things, and she really made a rather decent cup of cocoa. There was no reason to continue in a strained manner. It was ridiculous.

“Rupert.” Joyce came out of the back room to greet him warmly. “I know you knew Spike was  coming in later this afternoon. Did you come back to take a look at the rest of the gallery?”

He smiled, a little stiffly. “Uh, yes, as a matter of fact.” Giles hesitated, wondering if he was turning into a complete nutter. “Although, I was wondering if you might like to have dinner sometime. With me, that is.”

Joyce gazed at him for a long moment, her expression enigmatic. “You know,” she finally said, “I think I would like that very much.”

~~~~~

“Hey there.” Buffy turned to find Spike standing casually in the door of her bedroom. She had moved back home for the summer, and was starting to unpack and put her things away. It looked as though he’d just gotten done at the gallery, since he was wearing gray slacks and a crimson shirt.

She smiled, coming over to give him a quick “hello” kiss. “Hey yourself,” she replied. “Not that I mind, but what are you doing here?”

Spike pulled her in and held her to him. “Your mum invited me home for dinner,” he replied. “Benefits of workin’ for your girl’s parental figure.”

Buffy wrapped her arms around his waist. “Well, I’m glad you could come then. It’s going to be way too boring this summer with you working and me not in school.” She paused. “I can’t believe I actually said that I would be bored while not in school.”

Spike felt her forehead, as though checking for a fever. “Well, don’t think you’re running a temperature, luv, but it’s hard to say.”

Swatting his hand away, she sighed. “It’s just that you’re busy all day, and I’m less busy, and it would be really nice to spend my not-busy time with you.”

“Good thing I left my nights open then,” he commented, with a suggestive tilt of his head.

She looked at him inquisitively. “What happened to the ‘moving things slow’ philosophy?”

“Nothin’.” Spike pulled back and gave her a serious look. “You up for dinner with me tomorrow night? An’ before you say anythin’ I got the next day off too.”

Buffy realized what he was saying without really saying. “Okay. Sure, I’m up for dinner. Where are we going?”

“Somewhere nice,” Spike said, still looking serious. “Got something I wanted to tell you.”

She wanted to ask what that was, but didn’t. Spike didn’t seem like he was in a sharing mood, and even though her curiosity was killing her, she’d respect his reservation. He had said something about wanting their first time to be special. Buffy happened to like special.

“Okay,” she agreed. “Tomorrow night then.”

~~~~~

Buffy dressed carefully for their date. It was the first time they’d been able to actually make plans and then follow through on them. It was certainly the first time she’d been able to go out to a nice restaurant for a while.

The red dress she chose was a heart-stopper, and she was looking forward to watching Spike’s jaw drop. He came to the door to pick her up, two bouquets of roses in his hands: one red, one yellow. “For you,” he said, handing her the red roses. When Joyce appeared at the door behind her daughter, Spike handed her the yellow roses.

“Spike, how thoughtful,” Joyce said, smiling. “I’ll just put these in water.” She took both bouquets and disappeared back into the kitchen.

Spike turned his eyes to Buffy, who was looking drop-dead gorgeous in her dress, the low-cut front and fitted bodice showing off her figure to good effect. The uneven hem fluttered around her calves, giving him tantalizing glimpses of lean legs. He gave her a slow once-over, and then murmured in a low voice, “You look beautiful, Buffy.”

A purely feminine smile of appreciation curled Buffy’s lips as she said, “So do you.” He was wearing black on black: black pants, dress shirt, and silk tie. Spike looked both dangerous and completely yummy. Buffy rather hoped that he might be her dessert.

Joyce came back to see them both out. “Have fun tonight, you two.”

“Don’t wait up for us, Mom,” Buffy said.

“I’ll see you on Monday,” Spike said, holding a gallant arm out for the Slayer. Buffy let him escort her out, and she almost didn’t recognize the Desoto, which had been freshly washed and cleaned, the paint removed from the windows.

Neither said much as Spike drove to the restaurant. Buffy let her hand rest comfortably in his, and while she was terribly curious about what Spike had planned, she was also content to simply be with him. After all the drama and activity of recent weeks, she was just happy to take a break from it all.

Not since she’d been with Angel, long ago, had she been so comfortable just being with a man. Even being with Riley had felt like she was putting on a front. With Spike, there was no pretending, no need to be anything other than Buffy. He already knew her, and Buffy thought she might be getting to know him as well.

“So where are we going?” she asked, after they’d driven for about 15 minutes.

He glanced over at her, his blonde hair startlingly visible in the light from street lamps. “Place I know ‘bout halfway to L.A. Decent food. I think you’ll like it.”

The silence stretched out for a while. “When are you going to tell me what this evening’s all about?”

“After we get to the restaurant,” he replied briefly.

Buffy raised an eyebrow as she looked at him. “And if I die of curiosity before then?”

“You’re the Slayer. You’ll survive,” Spike said with a smile.

She rolled her eyes. “You know, that’s really frustrating.”

“’s called anticipation. Makes getting there even sweeter.”

Buffy sighed. He really wasn’t giving out information. “Either that, or whatever you’ve got to say has you so nervous you’re postponing it.”

Something flickered over his face, and Buffy realized that she’d inadvertantly hit the nail on the head. “Okay,” she said slowly. “Good nervous or bad nervous?”

“That would depend on you, luv,” he replied with a rueful smile. “But I’m hopin’ for good.”

They drove the rest of the way to the restaurant in silence, Spike not wanting to say anything and Buffy too busy trying to figure out what it was he was going to tell her. Under different circumstances, she might have expected a marriage proposal, but they hadn’t been dating that long. She knew he had a clean bill of health, so it couldn’t be that he was sick.

She was still pondering when Spike pulled the car up in front of a restaurant on the outskirts of a small town halfway between Los Angeles and Sunnydale. “Here we are,” he announced unnecessarily, and then came around to her side of the car to open her door for her.

“You know, you’re really starting to scare me,” Buffy told him as she took his hand to let him help her out of the car. “I mean, I’ve seen you be polite before, but you’re on your best behavior.”

Spike shrugged, and somehow the familiar movement comforted her. “’s a date, yeah? ‘m supposed to be on my best behavior.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Well, not that I don’t appreciate the chivalry, but I’ve seen you with demon goo all over you, I’ve seen you with the flu, and I’ve seen you up to your neck in my mom’s filing system. Normally on first dates you’re just getting to know someone. I think we’re probably past that point.”

Spike’s shoulders lost a little of their tension. “S’pose so.” He glanced over there, his face full of a self-deprecating amusement. “This is a bit different for me, Buffy. I’ve never actually dated anybody before.”

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, the dual bouquets were worth major points.” They walked into the restaurant, and Buffy’s eyes widened. “Okay, you know, you have points for about six months right now.”

The restaurant was beautiful, sophisticated and stunning, and the maitre’d who met was completely deferential. “May I help you?”

“Reservations for William Giles,” Spike said, his voice slipping into the smooth tones of his childhood. Buffy glanced over at him with surprise, but didn’t say anything.

“Of course. Follow me, please.” They followed the short, portly man through the restaurant, back to an out of the way corner table. “Your waiter will be with you shortly,” he informed them, before he left them with the menus.

They looked over their choices in silence, until Buffy finally lost patience. “Okay. Spike, what is—”

The waiter showed up just then. “My name is Jeff, and I’ll be serving you this evening…”

Buffy resisted the urge to growl, and instead managed to smile sweetly. She asked for water and let Spike order the special for both of them. Once Jeff had again left them alone, Buffy gave her boyfriend her most serious “Slayer” look. “Spill.”

Spike looked a little sheepish. “I was thinkin’ maybe we could make it through dinner first.”

“Do you really want to be so nervous you can’t eat?” she asked.

He sighed. “No. S’pose not.” Spike reached into the pocket of his pants and pulled out a small box, handing it to her across the table. “Thing is—” Spike cleared his throat and continued. “Thing is, ‘s hard for me to be with a girl an’ not mean for it to last forever. ‘m not built that way, Buffy.” Spike fiddled with his napkin. “Wanted to do somethin’ to show you how I felt—let you know I’m not goin’ anywhere.”

Buffy opened the box, and her eyes widened as she saw what it contained. “’s not meant to be an engagement ring,” he explained. “Not yet, anyway. It’s—I guess it’s a promise ring. My promise that ‘m not goin’ to leave you.”

With wide eyes, Buffy pulled the ring out of its padding. It was simple, a gold and silver strand entwined to form one band. Feeling a little foolish, Spike explained, “It’s a symbol of your life an’ mine comin’ together.” At Buffy’s continued silence, Spike continued stammering nervously. “You don’t have to wear it on any particular finger or anything. I mean, you don’t have to wear it at all, if you don’t want. I’d like for you to keep it, but—”

Buffy cut off his nervous rambling with one finger laid across his lips. Then, slowly, deliberately, she slid the ring on her left hand. “That’s where you wear a promise ring, you big doof,” she said gently. And then, even more softly, “I love you, Spike. What you’ve managed to do in the last year, the ways you’ve changed, it’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.”

Spike blinked, stunned, unable to say anything at all. He had wondered, right up until that moment, if Buffy really loved him, if she really wanted to be with him, or if he was just the pit stop on the way to something better. Her words, and the way she wore his ring, put all his fears to rest.

Not to mention the fact that they lit a fire deep inside him. “You sure you’re hungry?” Spike asked abruptly.

Buffy smiled, and then rolled her eyes, knowing exactly what he was talking about. “I’m starving. And we’ve waited this long. We can wait a while longer.”

It was true enough, and now that the painful part of the evening was over for Spike, he let himself relax and enjoy Buffy’s company. They told stories, each one of them trying to outdo the other with tall tales. They told tales of past hurts, each wanting to cry or rage on the other’s behalf. They loved each other with their words, their secrets, building up the intimacy of the evening with everything they said.

By the time they left the restaurant, neither one of them was completely sure they could wait to get back to Spike’s apartment, but he had promised both Buffy and himself that it was going to be special. Buffy kept their hands entwined on the way back, teasing him by massaging his palm and fingers, until he thought he might go mad with desire.

Their lips were already dueling before they even got to his door, and Spike fumbled for the key while trying to concentrate on the kiss. He got them inside, then locked the door behind them, pulling back to take a deep breath and take another long look at Buffy. “You’re beautiful,” he said reverently.

“So are you,” she replied, smiling, and went with him willingly back to the bedroom. Spike shakily lit the candles he’d placed around the room for just this occasion, and turned back to look at her.

Buffy met his eyes, and saw in their depths that he knew her. Spike saw her, and she loved him for it. “I love you, Spike.”

He reached for her, his fears falling away like old rags. In her words and in her eyes he saw the truth. The great advantage of being alive had everything to do with this one, perfect moment, and Spike wouldn’t give it up for the whole world.

the great advantage of being alive

(instead of undying)is not so much

that mind no more can disprove than prove

what heart may feel and soul may touch

—the great(my darling)happens to be

that love are in we,that love are in we

and here is a secret they never will share

for whom create is less than have

or one times one than when times where—

that we are in love,that we are in love:

with us they’ve nothing times nothing to do

(for love are in we am in I are in you)

this world(as timorous itsters all

to call their cowardice quite agree)

shall never discover our touch and feel

—for love are in we are in love are in we;

for you are and I am and we are(above

and under all possible worlds)in love

a billion brains may coax undeath

from fancied fact and spaceless time—

but by the sizeless truth of a dream

whose sleep is the sky and the earth and the sea.

For love are in you am in I are in we

~e.e. cummings


The End.

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