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Chapter 19

~~~~~~~~~~~ Willow ~~~~~~~~~~~

Willow turned from hugging Buffy, knowing that her blonde friend still blamed herself for coming to town and bringing the white horse of Death on her heels. She had forgotten that she had never spoken of Jesse at length with Spike and wanted to tell him what a great friend the other boy had been. She knew he barely tolerated Xander, but he and Jesse-- who was a little more serious and knew how to think things through before acting-- would have gotten along a lot better.

A movement behind Spike caught her attention, and Willow found herself moving forward even as she knew she wouldn’t make it in time. The tall vampire, barely discernable against the black night, drew his arm back and polished wood gleamed in the moonlight. She screamed for Spike as she tried to focus her erratic energy on the moving wood, but it was still swirling and the wood was too fast. Then the point of the stake protruded from Spike’s chest as his eyes focused on hers, and he was gone.

She barely heard Angel’s roar as the dark vampire pushed his way past her and the scattered trail of dust that had been his childe. She knew he would find the vamp-- demon... *coward* who had literally stabbed Spike in the back. Willow shook her head at the stray thought of there being no honor amongst some vampires. Spike and Angel, as well as a few of the older master vampires she had fought alongside Buffy and the others, seemed to have a... code of sorts that prevented such cowardly acts.

"Spike?" Willow gasped as she sank to her knees among the ashes. "Oh Goddess."

Buffy wrapped her arms around the other girl and tried to lift her away from the scene, but Willow shook her off.

Tears slid down Willow’s face and the image of Angel moving back into the circle of stunned friends was nothing more than a blurred shadow moving among the gray of the world.

"Willow," Xander’s voice was soft as he softly laid his hands on her shoulders. "Come on, Wills."

"H-He’s go-" Willow’s voice caught in her throat and she sobbed into the hands that she had recently sunk into the grass in front of her, covering them in the ashes of the vampire that she lov– Oh Goddess...

"I love him." The whisper was an anchor, making everything more real, and Willow clung to the words desperately as the world slid out of focus when ash smeared in her eyes.

Curling into herself among the grass and ash left untouched by the nearly nonexistent night breeze, she batted away the hands she felt trying to lift her off the ground. Her vision was still marred, and she could feel the itching of the flakes as they ground and broke against her skin. Her skin ran with tears, leaving tracks in the blackened flesh of her cheeks and where they splashed down her shirt and along the forearms she sobbed into before wrapping them around her waist and wailing into the ground.

Somehow, lying there in the residue that had been Spike, Willow felt closer to him then she ever had. This was Spike. This was the man she loved-- with all his faults and oddities-- with all she knew how to love. The parts of her that had mourned Tara had been eaten up or burned away by the mere presence of the man whose remains she now bathed in as if she were ill and his ashes were the fount at Lourdes.

"Willow." It was Angel’s voice now, low and raw from his own pain. "We need to get inside."

"I love him, Angel." Willow slid her face to the side so that she no longer breathed the dust in and out as she spoke. "I didn’t know..."

"I loved him, too, Little One." Angel brushed gray, matted hair from her eyes. "He was a pain in the ass, but he was my childe-- my William-- before he added the whole ‘Bloody’ or turned into Spike."

"But you knew that- *he* knew that, really." Willow choked on a sob and wrapped her arms around bent knees. "He didn’t know that I loved him."

She wanted to scream. Spike had died, turned to ash in front of her eyes, without knowing that she was falling in love with him. How could she just leave him-- what was left of the man she loved-- out here to be walked on? The thought of some other vampire tracking through his dust was just too much for the redhead and a scream ripped its way out of her chest as she threw herself into Angel’s waiting arms.

"We can’t leave him." Willow shook her head as she spoke into the firm chest against her nose. Coughing, gagging sobs wracked her small body, but Willow fought them to speak to the only one who might understand what she was feeling. "I can’t."

Angel’s voice, softer now, spoke against her ear. "We have to, Willow, we can’t stay out here. Vampires go to ash, spread to the wind; it’s what we do when we die. Now, it’s not safe for you out here when it’s dark."

*When it’s dark.* The words echoed in her ear and Willow raised her face up to see Angel’s form outlined against the light of a distant lamp. "When darkness falls on every side."

"What?" Willow heard the confusion in the vampire’s voice as the lights all around were snuffed out as if by a giant breath. "Willow?"

Pushing Angel away, Willow moved to stand in the center of the smudgy circle. "When darkness falls on every side, when hatred stains the hurting heart, to you we call, most powerful Guide, to kindle now the precious spark."

As Willow spoke, a pinprick of light floated off her lip and she realized that it was a speck of ash floating in front of her as if asking for direction. Holding her hand out in front of her as if warding off something rather than calling, focusing the energy she still felt humming inside herself, Willow continued the spell.

"Lift high the lantern’s living light, that mercy’s song may on us fall." Specks of light floated from the surrounding brush to join the first floating in front of her hand. Whole streaks slid from her face and arms while so many flew from her lips that it looked as if she were spitting fire. "Wayshower in uncharted night, shed your dear light upon us all!"

There was a thunderclap just as Willow finished, a bolt of lightening shooting from the ground to the heavens throwing everyone but Willow back off the path.

Willow blinked, taking in the platinum hair and stunned blue eyes before her. The world became fuzzy, and she felt large hands grasp her arms as she stumbled.

"Red?"

Chapter 20

~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Spike ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Spike yanked the barely coherent girl into his arms and cradled her to his chest as he sunk to his knees in the grass. How had he gotten from the darkness back into the soft twilight? There had been a pain, and he had known that he had been staked. The sight of Willow screaming and reaching for him was the last thing he had seen before there was a shriek and he knew oblivion.

Small hands clutching at his chest brought his senses back to the present. Soft sniffling came from Willow as she seemed to try and burrow into him. Burying his nose in her hair, he let the soft scent of vanilla and Willow wash over him as blood-tinged tears seeped into her darker tresses.

"Oh, Willow," Spike sighed.

The small redhead snapped to life. Her arms came up from her sides to wrap around his body with surprising strength. Willow stretched to cry into his neck and shoulder as she placed hard, desperate kisses along his skin and now-dampened shirt.

"I love you, Spike." Willow’s words were as soft as her arms were hard, and Spike barely heard them through her crying and the slowly fading ring in his ears. "I tried not to, Goddess knows it’s too soon, but I couldn’t help it."

Spike, for the first time in a *very* long time, was speechless. Did he really just hear what he thought he had? Could his witch... his Red... his-sun-his-moon-his-stars be confessing her love for a demon? A monster? ... Him?

Running long fingers through Willow’s hair, Spike gently tugged until she was nose to nose with him. "Care to repeat that, luv?"

Spike’s vision was filled by absinthe eyes as Willow’s fingers sunk into the curly hair at the sides of his face and brought him closer. Her lips brushed his as she whispered. "I love you, Spike. I love you more than anything or anyone else I’ve ever known. I didn’t know I could feel like this about anyone. I’d leave Sunnydale for you. I’d die for you. I’d *give up magic* for you. Just never leave me like that again."

Spike drew in an unneeded, trembling breath, his lips still a millimeter away from those of the woman he loved. "Death cannot stop true love. The most it can do is delay it for a while."

Willow’s soft giggle was cut off as Spike sealed his lips over hers. Feeling the girl push herself into the line of his body, Spike groaned and tightened the arms he had wrapped around her waist. The whisper of Willow’s tongue over his lower lip had him growling and sinking his fingers into her hair as he tangled his tongue with hers and started wondering why he had put so many bloody sodding pins in her red curls.

Spike tried to pour his feelings into the kiss. No one and nothing was as important as the girl in his arms. He was torn between dragging Willow off to try and figure out how he came to be among the unliving after being staked, and dragging her off to explore more of the warm body pressed against him.

Willow gave a soft whimper of pure enjoyment and Spike’s demon responded. A purring growl that somehow managed to be both soft enjoyment and predatory lust sounded from the back of his throat. Spike pulled back from the kiss enough to assure both the human and demon sides of himself that Willow would in no way be harmed as his true face slid into view.

Spike felt another hand buried in his hair a split second before he was ripped away from Willow. Using the momentum, Spike rolled backwards until he planted his feet. Without thinking, he lashed out with the back of his left hand.

Xander gave a small ‘oof’ as he spun and landed on his back beside Buffy’s legs. A heartbeat later, Spike grinned.

No pain. Not even a twinge of the electricity he had grown used to surging through his body to cause intense migraines. With a whoop of pure joy, Spike swept a slightly stunned Willow into his arms and began a reel to music only he heard before he stopped and faced the others.

"Let’s do that again!"

"No," Xander scooted back away from the vampire and went to stand behind Angel and Buffy. "Let’s just not."

"Aw, hold still." Spike grinned and popped his neck. "I just wanna punch you."

"Don’t whine, Spike." Willow wrapped her arms around his waist, holding him to her in a way that let Spike know that she was going to try to hold him back from the boy that made his fangs itch. "It’s not very becoming."

"You hit me!" Xander held a hand to his reddened cheek.

Giles turned to the younger man and shook his head. "That’s been established and noted."

"How did he hit me?"

Spike grinned at Xander while he let himself relax into the arms surrounding his waist. "I’m not an expert on the subject or anything, but I’m bettin’ it’s got something to do with Red and her mojo."

Giles nodded, his eyes unfocused as his mind worked. "I wonder if the chip went to dust as you did, or if it was simply left intact. When Willow reformed your body, it is entirely possible that the chip -- not being part of your natural body -- was just left out of the entire thing."

"So, Spike is an outside kitty again?" Anya had taken to rubbing Xander’s cheek, but her eyes were all for the scene taking place in front of them.

Giles sighed and slipped his glasses from his nose to polish them. "It would appear so."

"I just want to know where you went before Willow brought you back." There was an odd gruffness to Angel’s voice, and he was shifting from foot to foot.

"Alright there, Poof?"

Angel nodded. "You?"

Spike nodded in return. He thought about telling everyone the clichd story of a long tunnel and a white light, but decided against it in favor of the truth. It was getting late and the truth would be easier.

"I don’t know where I was." Spike brought Willow into his arms to rest her back against his chest and sat his chin on her shoulder as he spoke. "I was here, then there was a pain and I knew I was dusted. Everything went black before a million stars blinked into life before my eyes and there was a searing pain all over my body. Next thing I know, I’m catching Red."

Giles and Wesley were both lost in the telling, slowly coming to life as he finished. Spike wondered idly if they would be getting into a fight over who got to put that in their diary. Even though Wesley wasn’t technically a Watcher any longer, he had to be keeping one. It was part of the training, as far as the vampire could tell.

Slinging an arm over Willow’s shoulders, he slowly began to lead her along the path from the park. He knew the others would follow soon enough, and he didn’t really want to have the conversation he could see forming in his sire’s eyes.

It had been eighty years since the poofy bastard had left him alone with his insane sister and a grandsire to whom it mattered not whether they lived or died. Darla had been a bitch in every sense of the word, and Spike hated him as much for leaving the blonde whore alive when he left as he did for Angel’s actual desertion. Taking care of Dru was hard enough without that woman getting into every little thing they did and belittling him at every turn, reinforcing his sire’s superiority to his sister-lover.

"Spike," Angel’s voice was soft on the breeze. "We need to talk."

"No, we don’t." Spike brought Willow closer to his side, letting his arm slide down to wrap around her waist.

"Childe," the word was growled in just the way it had been before the curse stole Angelus away from his family.

Spike used to love hearing that tone in his sire’s voice. It meant he had pushed one too many buttons or gone just a little too far in their merrymaking. After a lifetime of dealing with a father who never wanted a ‘weakling’ for a son and constant insults from his peers and the woman he loved more than anything else, that tone meant someone was paying attention to *him*. That his sire was displeased didn’t bother the vampire in the least. He’d take a beating or a tongue lashing from Angelus any day. It only meant that his sire cared.

However, the tall vampire behind him was Angel. Not Angelus.

Angel had pushed him and Dru away as soon as he had been found out by Darla. Angel had ignored attempt after attempt to contact him, to bring him back to his childer, soul or no soul. Angel hadn’t so much as lifted a finger when he’d learned of Spike and Dru’s narrow escape in Prague. Spike had had to come to the very mouth of hell and nearly get killed by the slayer -- something Angel also did nothing about aside from siding with the little superhuman bitch -- to retrieve the blood of their sire. Something that should have been given freely and openly.

No... Spike owed the man behind him nothing more than to return the treatment he had been given. And ignoring the souled mockery of his sire was something Spike excelled at.

Chapter 21

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Willow ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Willow sat curled against Spike’s side sipping at the heavily creamed and sugared tea Giles had pressed into her grasp. Her hands were shaking, and Willow began to wonder if there was something to the whole spiking tea thing. Looking about the room, she spotted the bottle sitting at the front of the top shelf of her father’s cabinet.

"Spike?" Her voice shook worse than her hands. "Could I have some brandy?"

"Luv?" Spike’s arms tightened around her, bringing her body closer to him.

"I think I might need it." Letting out a rattled breath, Willow held out her cup to receive the amber liquid Anya offered before anyone else could comment on the rather un-Willow-like request.

Anya steadied Willow’s hands and poured a healthy dose of the alcohol into the cup as she spoke. "It’s just shock from all that happened and all that energy you used up. Keep drinking the tea, and maybe a little of this, and you should be okay in an hour or so. Unless Spike wants to give you lots of orgasms. That helps too. Maybe it’s the extra blood flow?"

Willow burst out laughing as everyone else tried to shush the ex-demon. Under normal circumstances, she would have been blushing so deeply that her skin matched her hair, but nothing about that night could really be classified as ‘normal’. Even for her unusual life. The laughter turned into uncontrollable giggles as Willow tried to get a handle on her emotions, deciding that Anya may very well be right, and it was shock setting in.

"So what do we do now?" Xander’s voice sounded tinny and muffled.

Giles stirred more sugar into his tea as he spoke. "We try and find something strong enough to pierce that skin of solid rock over the hot spot Willow found."

"I meant about the Fangless Wonder being able to run with the big dogs again."

Willow, resting as she was against Spike’s side, felt the growl before it came to the attention of the rest of the room. Settling further into the line of his side, she sipped at her tea as she tried to soothe him silently. "What about Spike?"

"And why are you sitting in his lap?! Shouldn’t he be tied up, or-- better yet-- staked again by now? I mean, hello, chipless again!" Buffy, having refused any tea, fondled a long stake as she addressed the room as a whole.

Willow felt the color drain from her face. She wasn’t serious, was she? She had already lost Spike once that night. She couldn’t bear to lose him a second time. Xander and Spike had never gotten along, but she didn’t think Buffy really had the ability for cold-blooded murder in her.

"No one’s staking Spike." The soft, stern voice that came from her mouth surprised even her. It almost sounded like a more grown up version of her high school ‘teacher voice’.

"I’m too tired, weird, and shaky to have this fight right now." Shaking her head, Willow set her nearly drained cup on the coffee table with a soft ‘thunk’. "I love you all and appreciate where you’re coming from with this, but I love Spike too."

"How can you even *say* that?" Gunn stood from his chair to stand in front of the low wood-and-glass table. "He isn’t a good person, Willow. He isn’t even a person at all! He’s a soulless demon who I liked better as a scattered pile of dust!"

"Get out." Willow fought the fuzzy darkness that swirled abound the edges of her vision as she lurched from the couch. "Someone get him the *hell* out of my house!"

Angel and Wesley quickly grabbed their young friend and pulled him back from the table and the irate woman behind it. Angel whispered a few words to Gunn that left Spike chuckling, but Willow couldn’t hear what was being said.

"There’s nothing funny about this, Spike." Willow’s voice, soft when she spoke to Spike, hardened as she looked over the rest of her friends. "I’ve already lost him once tonight, and I don’t plan on doing it again.

"I want you all to leave." Seeing Giles move to protest, Willow held up her hand. "I really highly doubt that anything that can get inside the house is going to come calling tonight, not after I’ve found Gonulundo’s weak spot. He’ll expect us to be planning, which you all can do. Just not here."

"He has humans working for him, too." Fred spoke softly, and Willow was reminded of herself not so very long ago. Though, she seriously doubted she would ever understand half of the scientific data the other girl had floating around in her head.

"I’ll set wards and barriers tied to the house itself so I don’t have to sustain it. I’m too tired for anything else."

Buffy made to protest again, but Spike growled low in his throat. "Just bloody well leave already! Red needs to get cleaned up and get some rest."

"Willow, this really isn’t a good idea." Angel spoke even as he retrieved coats for everyone and slid his own over the wide expanse of his shoulders. "You shouldn’t be alone, and you shouldn’t be with him."

Willow smiled softly at the concern in the vampire’s voice. She knew he was just trying to look out for her, even as he tried to come to terms with Spike not being as horrid without his soul as Angelus had been. "I won’t be alone, Angel, and that’s all *because* of him."

Angel frowned a bit, but made his goodbyes with the rest of the group as they slowly made their way out the door.

 

Chapter 22

~~~~~~~~~~~~ Spike ~~~~~~~~~~

Spike watched as a misty blue line traced its way along the ground. Beginning at the rosebush beside the driveway, it slithered its way through the slightly too long grass. Encircling the oak tree at the far side of the lawn, it shot in a straight line past the side of the house. A moment later, it crossed over the cement to join itself at the rosebush with a slight crackling.

‘So that’s what a barrier spell looks like.’ Spike blinked a few times as he followed the popping energy with his eyes. It stretched from the ground to just over the tops of the trees and the roof of the house, the color growing more and more pale until it was nearly invisible to even his enhanced sight. The black night sky was only a shade lighter when the energy came together in a dome over their heads. ‘Bloody hell.’

"So, pet," he shook off his amazement and turned to grin at his little redhead as she wiped at the faint traces of sweat from her forehead. "This mean I don’t have to sleep with those damn clothes on anymore?"

Willow flushed a deep pink and tried to hide behind the curtain of her hair. "Uh... well. I only just realized how much I love you, Spike, and I’ve never been the girl who just goes all jumping in with both feet. Buffy was always the one who was all with the seizing the day and Faith just seized whoever was there. I’m not real sure about Cordelia, but she spent hours agonizing over shoes, and they just go on her feet, so I don’t think she was a both feet kind of girl either. Not that I don’t want to go all seizing the day-- would night be better?-- but I’m just not sure if--"

"Not a problem, Red." Spike was beginning to worry that the girl would pass out due to lack of oxygen if he didn’t interrupt her. Besides, he knew it was too soon for her to be thinking about them going to bed together to do anything more than they already had.

Leading her back into the house, Spike leaned down and kissed the soft line of her jaw just under her ear. "We can take as long as you want, just as long as I get to sleep with my arms wrapped around you."

Willow rubbed the back of her head against his shoulder before moving to turn off the lights and collect the remnants of the gang’s late-night meeting. Spike took a moment to appreciate the firm curves of her body as she moved about the room. Her legs were long for a small woman, and her hair was snaking its way down her back in twists and curls from where she had removed the pins and shaken it loose. He could almost feel the play of her muscles under her skin and the way her hair would fall around her on the bed or form a curtain between them and the rest of the world.

Shaking the fog from his head and reigning in his lust, Spike moved to help Willow scoop up the last few cups and saucers. He just nodded at her soft thanks and followed her into the kitchen. Grinning, he set his load in the sink before taking Willow’s and placing them in as well.

Wrapping his arms around her waist, Spike drew her into the hard line of his body. "So, pet, how long *have* you been falling for me?"

Willow’s face was tinged a light pink as she seemed to fight to look into his eyes. "I don’t know. It seems like forever. Like before Tara. Maybe even before Oz. So many things have happened over the last few years, Spike, that it’s starting to become difficult to decide if some of them were good or bad."

Spike led Willow to the couch, bringing her to rest in his lap as he retrieved a comb and set to work on properly untangling her hair. "Like what, luv?"

"Well, like you." Willow gave a slight jerk as Spike hit a tiny knot. "Ow."

"Sorry pet. What about me?"

"Well, you coming to town and nearly killing Angel wasn’t good, but it brought me and Oz closer what with using his van to steal army weapons. Though, the whole Oz thing had its good and bad points that I’m just now able to think about without getting all pouty.

"Anyway, you coming back for that spell sparked a lot of bad things, but your reaction to me-- even though you *were* drunk, and despite the whole bottle in face thing-- made me realize that I really was pretty. That Oz wasn’t the only male type creature who found me attractive at all." Willow followed the soft press of Spike’s hand and turned her head slightly as she spoke. "It was the same thing when you tried to bite me that night in the dorm room. I felt like I wasn’t worth anything after Oz left, but you reminded me that other men found me nice to look at. Even if there was a huge ick factor with you wanting to eat me and all."

Spike chuckled and dropped the comb on the coffee table. "Oh, I still wanna *eat* you, luv."

Willow’s light blush was in direct contrast to the soft giggle that met his ears as she snuggled into his chest and began playing with a few threads that were working their way loose from a worn spot in his shirt. Spike fought back a groan and the need to kiss her senseless. Instead, he ran long fingers into her hair and cupped her cheek in his palm as he held her to him.

"Spike?"

"Hmmm?"

"Did you mean what you said about Gonolundo?"

"Generally mean most things I say, pet. That’s why I say them." Spike began running his fingers through Willow’s hair in an attempt to quell the trembling he felt through his shirt.

"But that stuff about him killing me if he can’t have me. Are you sure about all of that?"

"If I let my demon take over and was able to ignore all that I’ve learned while living amongst you and those ruddy friends of yours, that’s what I’d do. If I couldn’t convince you that you really loved me, friends be damned, I’d cut you away from them any way I could. Once I had you alone, I’d begin breaking down the ideals of friendship and love you share with them, making you love me before I turned you. If that failed, I’d just turn you and let the Sire-Childe bond do the job for me."

Willow gulped and trembled visibly. "You would?"

"If I was only thinking of myself and not of you, luv." Spike held the girl tighter and slowly began rocking her small body in his lap. "But, I’m love’s bitch and I can’t do anything to hurt you, even without that soddin’ chip."

Willow relaxed in his arms. "Oh. Well, good."

Willow grew silent again, trusting in the strength of Spike’s arms as he rocked her gently and smoothed the hair away from her face. It was a long moment before she spoke again, and Spike had to strain to hear.

"I don’t want to die, Spike."

"Oh, luv." Wrapping his arm around her tighter, Spike moved her face to his so he could see the fear shining with the unshed tears in her eyes. "I’m here. I’ve got you, and I’m not letting you go anytime soon."

Kissing Willow softly, Spike couldn’t help the possessive growl that seeped up from his chest. He could smell her fear, taste the arousal in her kiss, and the combination was intoxicating. She was his and he wanted nothing more than to lay with her, take her, and prove it to them both before marking her and letting every demon who came within a mile of her know that she belonged to a master. To Spike.

Drawing an unneeded breath to steady his resolve to take things at whatever pace Willow dictated, Spike cradled her in his arms once again. "The way I figure it, I was brought back for a reason. Since it all happened through you and your feelings for me, I also figure that the reason I was brought back was to love you. Being a vampire, that takes on a whole new meaning, Red. If anyone’s going to be killing you, it’s going to be me and you won’t be dead for long.

"I was brought back to love you for eternity, pet. From now until the very ending of the world, I’m yours and you’re mine. I’m not about to let that go so some ugly demon can get his rocks off."

"You were brought back for me?" Willow sounded pleased, if uncertain.

"For the rest of my unending life, Willow." Spike leaned forward to kiss the beauty in his arms only to groan when she pulled away and stood from the couch.

Holding her hand out to him, Willow smiled through a new set of tears. "Let’s go to bed Spike. I’ve changed my mind on the whole clothes thing."

Spike felt his eyebrows shoot up in question. "Why’s that, pet?"

"Life can be short Spike. I think I want to see what it’s like to be a both feet kind of girl. Who better to try that with than the man I love, who came back from the dead to love me forever?"

Deciding that arguing would be stupid on many different levels, Spike scooped the redhead up in his arms and kissed her deeply as he moved up the stairs to their bedroom.

 

Chapter 23

~~~~~~~~ Willow ~~~~~~~~

Willow didn’t stop kissing Spike even as she fumbled for- and eventually turned- the knob to their bedroom door. She giggled when Spike’s long fingers slid over the jeans covering her left thigh as she stretched her arm out to push the light wood open.

‘Our room.’ Willow moaned at the thought as much as she moaned at the feel of Spike’s teeth nibbling at her lower lip. She had despaired that she never got to share the room with Tara, and now she would be allowed to share it with someone new.

The redheaded witch had decided sometime in the last few hours that she didn’t love Spike more than she had loved Tara. At least, not yet. Things were too new and they didn’t know each other on the same level. That sort of familiarity was a bond in and of itself, and Willow couldn’t wait to form that with the man she loved.

Was it the fact that Spike was a man that made her feelings for him different? Or was it more that he had come on the heels of her former love to patch her back together and make her feel more cherished than either of her former lovers had? Willow still wasn’t sure how it was that the vampire made her feel more herself than the other two had, but she suspected that it had something to do with not being forced to pretend that she was something other than just Willow.

Oz had wanted something that she just wasn’t able to give him, not physically. He had wanted someone who would identify with the wolf in him, not someone who would try to understand and keep him safe. Willow had come to understand that he wanted someone to be either his mother or his warden, and she just wasn’t controlling enough for either of those roles.

Tara wanted a woman to cuddle and hold. She wanted someone to exchange sweet words in the dark with. She liked the control Willow showed in their relationship, but she didn’t want her lover to show that kind of control anywhere else. Tara had been insecure about her own abilities and needs in worship and took that out on Willow.

With Spike, however, Willow was able to say what she thought about anything and not be ridiculed or coddled. If Spike disagreed, they would have a bit of an ‘aggressive conversation’ and move on. She could wear whatever she felt like wearing without him telling her she looked ‘loose’ or asking her to change so others didn’t see her that way. Heck, he would try to get her to wear things rather un-Willowy just so he had a little more to show off, and Willow found herself loving that about him.

She also loved that he loved so completely. Soul or no soul, Spike had both Oz and Tara beat in that department as well. Oz had run the second he decided that she wouldn’t be able to handle his furry side, not even bothering to ask her if she could deal with him being who and what he was. Tara had broken up with her and moved out the moment Willow refused to give up control of the one thing that brought her true total happiness outside of their relationship.

Spike had been the one to pick her up, dust her off, and help her start all over again. Spike had been the one who got her out of town and away from the friends she wasn’t ready to face. Spike had been the one to hold her and pet her hair when things got too hard, telling her that it would all work out eventually. No one had done that for her when Oz left and she highly doubted that anyone else would have comforted her like that for Tara’s leaving.

Willow suddenly had the feeling of standing on the edge of a great precipice, unsure and frightened of what her future could hold. If she took this step with Spike, she would plunge into the unknown without a safety net or a way back to the confident, strong woman she had become. If she got to know Spike like this, she would fall in love with him more completely and deeply than she had loved Oz and Tara combined.

A soft tickle to her sides brought her back to reality with a giggle, and she found herself smiling up into Spike’s cornflower eyes as her feet were lowered to the floor.

"Okay with this, Red?" His voice was soft, and his eyes held nothing but understanding. "We don’t have to do anything. You know that, right?"

Willow took a deep breath and plunged into the unknown, drawing Spike’s head down for a slow deep kiss as she pressed into the ungiving line of his body. She felt the growl against her hands and tongue as she slipped inside his mouth to taste all of him that she could.

Willow felt long fingers sink into her hair and lean her head to the side as Spike broke from kissing her lips and began planting soft kisses and nibbles along her jaw and down her neck. Taking the opportunity to do so, Willow gulped air and set about untucking the tight shirt Spike was wearing. Letting her fingers slide along bare skin, she heard another husky growl that was all male appreciation before she was once again drowning in Spike’s kisses and he was sliding her shirt up her torso.

Halting the kiss, Spike divested her of her shirt, and Willow avoided another kiss to return the favor and gasped. Spike and Oz were both male, and that was as far as their similarities seemed to go. Where Oz had been undefined, Spike was sculpted. Where Oz still had baby fat, Spike was all rippling muscle. Willow’s groan was as feminine as Spike’s growl had been masculine, and she let her hands slide over the cool skin of his body as she began her own oral exploration of the vampire’s neck and shoulders.

"Cor, Red," Spike’s fingers tightened in her hair, and Willow knew he wanted her to kiss him again.

Kissing him softly, Willow tried not to shuffle from foot to foot. "Please, Spike? It’s been a long time since I’ve been with a man. I just want to touch you for a while."

"I wouldn’t call the mutt a man, luv, but I get what you’re saying." Spike moved past her and sat on the edge of the bed to untie and remove his boots before stretching out on top of the dark comforter on the bed. "Who am I to deny the woman I love the pleasure of touching me?"

Willow had somehow completely forgotten how to speak, and so only shook her head and grinned as she moved to the bed. Toeing off her tennis shoes and socks, she leaned over Spike’s body. Moving slowly, Willow placed kisses along his skin as she crawled over him before pressing her nose into the center of his chest to take in his smell.

"You smell good." Willow let her lips brush his skin as she spoke and thrilled at the slight tremor that wracked his form.

Spike’s hands slid over her back until they came to the fastenings of her bra. Unhooking it deliberately, he brought the straps down her arms and chuckled as she moved to help him remove the garment.

Moving her mouth over the rippling plane of his stomach, Willow groaned her encouragement when strong hands began running through her hair and caressing the back of her head. She loved the feel of Spike’s hands keeping her mouth above the band of his jeans but otherwise allowing her freedom. Letting herself follow Spike’s hands as he used her softly curling hair to lever her away from his body, Willow suddenly found her senses reeling as her back settled into the downy softness of the bed. One strong hand remained buried in her hair as the other slid up her side to ghost over her breast.

Willow’s left arm had wound around Spike’s side and up so her nails played lightly over the skin below his neck and between his shoulder blades. Her right hand had fisted itself in Spike’s hair, but drifted down to caress the smooth alabaster skin of his back and side when Spike momentarily abandoned his fondling to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear.

"Wha--?" Willow came out of the caress as she felt along a faint line on Spike’s lower back. It was a long scar. A razor-thin line that stretched for nearly three inches over the otherwise smooth skin.

"Prague," Spike’s lips brushed over Willow’s neck and shoulder as he let both hands come to rest on her sides. "Some stupid bint got in a lucky shot with a pitchfork."

"And it scarred like that? Why hasn’t it healed?"

"Soaked it in holy water, pet." Spike met her eyes and gave the barest hint of a shrug. "Might not have been much for books or the finer music of the time, but that mob of plonkers had a few things on the idiots in this town."

"But, how did she even--?"

"Was just before dawn and I wasn’t at my peak." Spike’s voice became slightly defensive. "‘Sides, I was carrying Dru, wasn’t I?"

Willow nudged at his shoulder until he was once again lying on his back with her hovering just above. "Turn over."

After giving her a look that clearly stated that he was questioning her sanity, Spike obligingly turned and rested on her stomach, his head cradled on his arms.

"Want me to make it go away?" The redhead moved down the bed to study the line at eye level. This close to the clean scent of his skin, Willow was unable to resist the urge to slide the flat of her tongue over that narrow ridge of imperfection.

Spike’s entire body seemed to vibrate as he gave a low purr. Willow’s eyes went wide at the realization that this was one of Spike’s pleasure points. Smiling to herself, Willow decided to find out just how big this spot was. Moving over a few inches, Willow kissed up the line of his spine. Spurred on by the vampire’s soft sigh, she rested her knees on either side of his hips and brought her fingers up to run nothing more than their soft tips over his shoulder blades and down both sides.

"You never answered me, baby." Willow licked over the scar again. "Want me to make it go away?"

"Mmmm, no Red," Spike was shifting restlessly on the bed as Willow continued to lick at his back. "I kinda like my scars."

Willow was busy feasting on Spike’s lower back when her hands seemed to take on a mind of their own. They slowly whispered over his skin before her nails sunk into his shoulder blades. Bringing them down to his waist, Willow left long, red, angry lines in their wake.

With a near roar, Spike had her on her back below him before Willow even had time to feel dizzy. The vampire’s eyes had bled to amber, though his true face remained hidden. Willow’s heart had just enough time to skip a beat at the lust in her lover’s eyes before his mouth crashed back into hers.

It wasn’t a kiss Willow had ever known. It was as if Spike were trying to devour her from the lips down. He ate at her with lips, teeth, and tongue. Willow felt the right corner of her lower lip split under the assault, and Spike’s growl of appreciation combined with the fine thread of pain to tug on something just under her navel. Willow could actually *feel* the evidence of her arousal seep through her panties and jeans.

With another snarl, Spike was on her again, ripping at her jeans as his mouth made its way hungrily down her throat to her chest. There was a jerk, and the heavy sound of denim ripping. Suddenly, Spike’s hands were running over the bare flesh of her legs as he settled over her, worshiping her with his mouth any way he could as he moved down her body. Growling at the barrier of her thin cotton panties, Spike wrapped clawed fingers in either side of the material and ripped the delicate garment from her body.

Willow was shaking. Not from fear at the displays of power or the amber eyes that gazed upon her lean form. No, her fear was at the thought that Spike would not like what he saw, that she would be some sort of disappointment to him.

"Beautiful." The word was muffled against the swell of her hip bone, and Willow’s body shivered on its own volition. Spike sat up and let his amber and blue eyes take in what was spread before him on the bed. "Christ, Red, you’re more beautiful than I thought possible."

What little rational thought Willow had been holding on to left as swiftly as it took for Spike’s words to register and she pulled him up her body to initiate a hungry kiss of her own. She was unable to get enough of the musky cleanness that was Spike as she slid her mouth over his neck and shoulders and she clawed ineffectually at his jeans, glad when he took over and removed them for her. Sinking nails into his back and wriggling her legs into the right position, Willow wrapped a leg over Spike’s hip and turned them until they were both resting on their sides.

With a small movement, Spike was fully sheathed inside her wet heat. He gasped at her movements, but didn’t take his eyes off of hers as they slowly began to move against each other. The friction between their bodies was delicious for Willow, but she realized that Spike’s amber-eyed demon needed something else. He needed to be in control.

With a barely audible sigh, Willow relaxed and let him slowly push her onto her back without breaking his rhythm. Resting both legs around his waist now, she gasped at the new angle and penetration. She could see shadows of Spike’s ridges as he rode above her, and realized that he was still holding back, trying not to scare or hurt her even as he gave her pleasure.

Reaching up, Willow ran shaking fingers over his brow. "I know who and what you are, Spike, and I want all of you. Not just the man. Don’t hold back anymore, Spike. Be the person you’ve wanted to be since that night in my dorm room."

With only a snarl to let her know that she had been heard, Spike drew her up at an angle to drive into her deeper as his face completely shifted. In response to the sight, Willow felt the tremors of a small orgasm flutter around his shaft. Her head snapped back of its own accord, but she angled it to the side in a blatant invitation to her lover.

Spike leaned over her body, his chest brushing her breasts as he continued to move. Sighing her name against the pulse of her blood through her artery, Spike sunk his fangs into her skin. She felt him tense for just a moment before a sound of weeping joy met her jugular and he bit down harder.

Willow could feel herself spiraling out of control and didn’t even realize that her teeth had found their way into Spike’s shoulder just before she screamed.