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picket fences are bloody dangerous

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"Because I'm not ready for you to not be here."

"And the Principal? How's he fit in?"

Immediately, he regretted saying it. It was juvenile and petty and jealous, all the things he'd promised himself he wouldn't be anymore. All the things he couldn't be anymore, not nearly as much as he'd been---well, before.

Everything was more intense now, of course, but also somehow duller, because his feelings were no longer only his own--they came from that spark in him, and from the looks and words of the people around him--from the vampires he fought, from the humans he saved, from Buffy. Most of all, from Buffy. He'd felt for her before: seeing her in pain had touched his heart back when he had forgotten what it meant to have one. And being with her, touching her--that heat had, however momentarily, made him wish he was no longer cold.

But it was like that all the time now, every second, even when he wasn't with her, and even when she wasn't in his thoughts: he reacted now, felt himself responding to anger when Willow raged, growing sad because Dawn frowned. It was unselfish emotion, and utterly terrifying.

So that was what made it harder, now, to snap back retorts and shake off insults. Any semblance of wry detachment was gone, and sniping at Buffy about her date wasn't clever or biting, but witless and petulant.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly, pulling his eyes away from hers.

Buffy blinked. "You're sorry? For what? Pointing out the elephant in the sentimental moment? Since when do you care about preserving the mood?"

"Since..."

"Oh." She was quiet for a moment. "Still adjusting to the whole empathy thing, huh?"

He laughed shakily. "You could say that."

"It's incredibly brave of you, you know," she said, eyes fixed on her lap. "The way you're dealing. I can't imagine the, the shock factor of it all."

"Eh. It's my funeral. In a manner of speaking. And don't expect me to open up about it any more, all right, pet? Hard enough as it is without you butting in."

Buffy stood up. "Right. Well, you know the way out."

"Well, calm down now, I didn't mean to offend you," he said, rising to meet her, straining for the semblance of languidness.

She laughed. "You've offended me in more ways than you can imagine. That barely scratches the surface."

"Honestly, though," Spike said, "forget I said anything. It oughtn't to be any of my business what you get up to in that area. It was--it was never my right to pry into your heart, and I've done more than enough to lose the privilege. I don't know what I expected from you, from us. Even if you felt...even if you wanted what I want, well, people like you and me, we don't get storybook endings. What, were we gonna live out our lives--your life--making love by day and fighting evil by night? Have a couple of kids, raise 'em with stakes by their pillows in the place of teddy bears, move into some nursing home and eat custard for every meal because our teeth had gone all soft? Even in my fantasies where you care enough for me to give up your whole life, I never forget that I haven't got a life to give to you. Because I'm no human, no matter how much this soul of mine seems to forget."

"That's an impressive amount of detail for a happily never after," Buffy said dryly. "I take it you've spent some time on this."

"You know I have. I sound like bloody Angel, all brooding and longing. I ought to dye my hair back."

Buffy laughed, and Spike let the corner of his mouth twist into a smile. "Son of a bitch, I hate myself. Tell me, is there any way to sound less pathetic?"

"You don't sound pathetic," she said, clapping a reassuring hand on his arm. "You're very frightening. I think I'll run and hide."

"Just try, Slayer. I'll catch you."

"I know you will," she said softly, and the friendliness of her hand softened into him.

"Buffy?" he asked, his breath catching in his throat. "What are you doing?"

"Letting you back into my heart." She pulled him down into a kiss, their first in months, and he--animal that he was--responded eagerly.

"I hope that's not the only place you let me in," he whispered into her ear, and she rolled her eyes in disgust and locked her mouth on his, presumably to stop him from talking.

Not that he felt like talking just now. He'd thought he could never forget how she felt, how she burned, how she melted, how her ferocity bled into him, invigorating him with the purest joy he'd ever experienced. He hadn't forgotten, but this was different; it was as though each of his nerve endings was exploding, as though the shivers she sent down his spine had turned to waves, and the only way to keep from drowning was to hold her closer. She had always been rough with him, and that force was still there, but it was so much sweeter now, to feel her push against him, to push back with all the fire in him, that one spark at his core splintering into a thousand shards that prickled and delighted him.

He wanted to shout her name, to revel in her, not with the pride and gloating from before, not even with passion, but with boundless ecstasy, with resounding exultation, with love. And in the moment they came together, he felt the weight he was still learning to bear lift, and for the first time since he'd changed, his shuddering exhale carried no guilt, only peace.

Afterwards, tangled together, she asked him: "Do you still hate yourself?"

"No," he said, content, but then remembered in a flash of fear--"Do you?"

"No," she said, and kissed him. "You don't make me feel that way anymore."

And even as he felt the weight of his sins descend upon him again, he smiled, because that soul had been a bloody good bargain.