He stumbled out of the cave a new being.
The bruises and welts, the cuts and scratches stood testament to his willingness to change. To grow. To be a man. To be a kind of man.
His only thought: find her, beg her, love her.
Weak, he fell to his knees when he could walk no further; crawling, after that, in the general direction of Sunnydale. His home.
It was there that he would find her.
He'd wondered how she would look upon him, after so many months. After the bubble of their uneasy agreement to stay apart had shattered, leaving shards of pain that fell between them; slicing along the way, opening wounds that refused to close...refused to stop bleeding their mistakes all over the ground beneath them.
In his mind's eye he saw her face; at first contorted with rage and emotions so violent, they scared him into silence. What could he do but fall at her feet and ask for forgiveness? If he dared.
If he dared to ever think that she could...could see what he'd done. What he'd fought for, and won for her. What he'd changed, all for her. His very self, his essence, his nature purified in the fires of hell.
When she opens the door, a myriad of reactions occur, each lasting fractions of seconds. She cannot hide the initial relief, followed by concern for his sorry state. Something like protectiveness flashes in her eyes before the requisite anger replaces it. That is when he can no longer meet them.
He does fall to his knees then, prepared to pay whatever penance necessary to quell her lingering disgust in him. So he is surprised when she puts her arms under his and pulls him upright.
"How could you?" she says, fury darkening the summer green of her eyes to hurricane gray.
"I... I'm so sorry, Buffy..." He fights to stop the torrent of tears threatening to crush him under her steady gaze.
She shakes him gently.
"We were so worried." She embraces him and he stands stiffly, paralyzed in his confusion. What just happened? "Dawn and I were beside ourselves. Why did you run away like that?"
His mind is reeling and he has to step back from her. She smiles at the quizzical look on his face.
"Buffy?" She shakes her head.
"Look at you, you're a mess." She brushes the sand off his clothing. "This is going to get everywhere." He is dumbfounded.
His girl was worried? Both of his girls? "Aren't you...I mean...what I did..." He fumbles for words. She shakes her head and smiles again.
"Spike, I can't blame you entirely for wanting to leave after...after what...happened." The way the sadness fills her eyes melts his resolve and he dissolves into tears, finally clutching her to him.
"Buffy, oh god...oh god, I'm...I'm so sorry." She hugs him to her and they sway back and forth in a gentle rhythm, lost in the relief of being in each others arms again. When the moment passes, she looks up into the June-July blue of his eyes.
"Forgiven." She smiles warmly. "Forgive me?" He looks at her in horror.
"Forgive you? Buffy, you can't seriously...honestly, forgive what, luv? You've done nothing wrong. Nothing. I was the one..." She cuts him off with a soft kiss and all thoughts flee from him.
The kiss is warm and dry, as if he's kissing the rising sun. It's beautiful but frightening. She steps back and pulls him into the house.
"Tea?" She asks. He smiles.
"Cure-all, innit?" The bright smile she gives him warms him to the core. His soul flares up in response as if a beacon has called it home.
She lets go of his hand as he settles on the barstool. Following her movements, his gaze burns into her; memorizing the flow of her hair, the curve of her waist, the soft sway of her hips and her delicate hands as she prepares the pot of tea.
After setting the water to boil, she turns back to him, leaning on the counter. The light from the window frames her in a golden aura befitting his May queen. They study one another in silence.
"It looks good on you." She smiles knowingly. His response is preceded by a heavy sigh.
"How did you know?" His voice is as soft as a frightened child's.
"It's all around you, Spike. Pulsating...vibrating. I felt it when it happened. I knew you were transformed."
"And...do you know why?" He holds an unneeded breath.
"Yes." She suddenly grows contemplative, looking off behind her to the window for a moment before coming back. "And I love you for it."
He is suddenly on his feet and in front of her.
"Say it again." She smiles up at him, tilting her head to the side.
"I love you for doing this. It is the greatest gift anyone has ever given me." He crushes her to him and buries his face in her hair.
She smells like the earth; pure and primal. Her warmth invades him. He can feel it seeping into his skin.
Spike leans back and catches her eyes. Slowly he lowers his head to hers, but she stops him.
"Tea is ready." She chirps. He blinks bewildered as she slips away and grabs a mug from the dish drain. "Sugar?"
He shakes his head, confusion knitting his brow. She hands him the steaming cup of hot liquid. Their fingers brush and he nearly swoons at how soft she is.
She is again distracted by something in the window, though. He studies her profile for a moment.
"You're beautiful." She turns to him and smiles.
"So are you."
"I love you."
"I love you too Spike." She frowns suddenly. "And I'm sorry."
"For what, luv?"
"For...everything." She looks out the window again. Turning back to him, a look of concern lands on her face. "Drink your tea."
He smiles at her over the cup before he takes a small sip.
He nearly chokes on the contents. Sputtering and spitting, he looks up at her but a gauzy veil now separates them.
"B-buffy?" He squints, trying to see her, but the vision is fading and quickly being replaced by an increasingly blinding light. "Buffy!" His cry becomes more urgent as a searing pain begins to rip through him. He looks back down at the cup in his hand and is horrified to find it full of sand. He drops it to the blurred linoleum, expecting it to splinter on contact. Instead, it lands in a soft dune. He closes his eyes. "Oh....god."
He feels the first of the flames on his hand and instinctively moves to cover it with his body. His eyelids refuse to open, deadened with fatigue and adverse to the harsh light breaking across the horizon. His thoughts fly to her, to his life back home. He curses his body for betraying him.
Now she'll never know. She'll never know what he did for her; for them. He is defeated.
He rolls onto his back, not bothering to see if he can make the return trip to the cave. He knows he's come too far.
He knows that it is too late.
Spike forces his eyes open and is overwhelmed with the colors of the dawning sky. Pinks and blues, purples and greens all assault his senses. Colors so vibrant he can smell them. It's been so, so long.
As he's known all along that they would be, his final thoughts are of her. He sees her eyes above him and the curve of her California smile. He tastes the sugary velvet of her mouth and feels the peachskin softness of her flesh in the warming desert sand.
Flames are everywhere now, but he is nowhere; nowhere but with her. He closes his eyes, tears sizzling and evaporating on his burning flesh, and smiles for her. In his soul he feels her smiling back. And then there is nothing.
6,000 miles away, Buffy awakes with a start, clutching the damp cloth of the pillowcase that is drenched in her tears and sweat. Silent sobs rack her frame as she struggles for breath.
"Forgive me ." She whispers desperately into the night.
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