Special thanks to Kimi, Chris and Kelly.
"We do." The mage nodded. "You have paid a steep price."
"Not as high as the one the vampire will pay. He *and* his whore."
The pain started in his gut, bloomed in his chest, and burned his throat as it rushed upward, filling his head until he thought it would explode from the pressure. This was worse than anything the chip had done to him, yet he couldn't utter a sound, save for a weak, wretched gasp. He staggered from the bed, making it only a step or two before falling to his knees. Then, as suddenly as it came, the pain was gone. Emotions warred within him. Pain, loss, confusion, fear, and a sort of terrible joy. But most of all, blissful relief. Because it was gone. It could torment him no longer.
His soul was gone.
Slowly, he rose to his feet. A surge of power coursed through his limbs. He couldn't remember feeling quite this way since...since he'd first risen. No soul. No chip. He was free. His demon face came forth, and it was then he heard her heart beat, pounding in his head. He let out a low growl, and turned to gaze at his beloved, curled up in the bed, a curtain of silky hair covering most of her face.
God he wanted her. Needed her. Had to have her. Had to make her his own. And it would be so easy. She would never expect it, and that would give him the advantage. He could have her nearly drained before she was even fully awake. Then, she'd be his. Forever. The thought of it was intoxicating, arousing, and he moved toward the bed. Leaning over her, he pushed back her hair slightly to reveal her lovely profile. The arch of her brow. Long dark lashes against her golden skin. The tip of her nose. Soft, full lips parted in sleep. He loved her, so much.
He reeled backward, disgusted with himself. God! What was he thinking? The memory of the last two years came flooding back to him. The first time she kissed him. Their painful affair. The soul, and all that came after. It had been long road back, but it had all been worth it. Because she loved him now. Now he was a good man, and she could love him. Because he had a soul.
Except, he didn't anymore. It was gone, and she would never love him now. She was still asleep. He could still turn her. The thought of it made him nauseous, and his game face melted away.
He wanted to rail against whatever powers had taken it from him. At the same time, he wanted to fall upon his knees and thank whatever had relieved him from this burden. He did neither. Instead, he reached for his clothes.
She stirred, and reached out for him, and his heart ached. "Spike?" she asked groggily.
"Hey," he said. He sat down on the bed. She grabbed his arm and tried to pull him back down.
"C'mere. Wanna cuddle." He thought his heart would break.
"Buffy, you need to wake up. Something's happened."
She was immediately awake and alert. Years of middle of the night emergencies will do that to a person. "What is it? You're dressed." She sat up and glanced at the clock. It was a little after three a.m.
Her hand was around his bicep, and he fought back the urge to take her in his arms. "I...I don't know how to tell you this."
Her other hand went to his face. "What, baby? What's wrong."
He pulled away from her gently, and stood up, running a hand through his already mussed hair. "Oh, God."
"Spike?" She was up on her knees now, the sheet falling down to expose her nude body. "You're scaring me."
"Buffy, something's happened. My...I mean, I...bloody hell! This is insane!" How could he tell her? He didn't even know what happened. This had to be her worst nightmare. She stared at him with increasing anxiety, and he ended up just blurting it out. "I don't know how, but, my soul... is gone."
She looked at him like he'd just said that the sky was orange or that water ran uphill. "What?"
"I don't know how it happened. I didn't do anything, I swear. I was asleep, and all of a sudden I felt it...leaving."
Her eyes went dark. "Is this some kind of joke?"
"Of course not!"
"We make love for the first time since you have your soul, and now it's gone? Just like before with Angel?" She began to tremble, and he reached toward her, meaning to comfort her. She scooted backward until she hit the headboard, then pulled the sheet up to her chin, clutching it with shaking hands. "This is not happening. This can't be happening."
He sat down on the end of the bed but made no further move to touch her. "Buffy, I love you."
She said nothing, her eyes fixed on some point beyond his left shoulder.
"Buffy, please. Say something."
"You don't have a chip anymore," she said, so soft he could barely hear her.
"No, I don't."
"You don't have a soul or a chip anymore." Her voice was stronger, now, and she looked him in the eye. "So, what are you going to do?"
He himself was confused for a moment, then he understood her meaning. And he laughed. "Why pet, don't you know? I'm going to go on a rampage. Feelin' a might peckish, I am. Think I'll start with Dawn and Willow, since they're so close by. Maybe a potential or two. Harris is safe, though. Wouldn't have him for dinner, if he was the last man on earth."
She glared at him. "How dare you joke about this."
He stood up and glared back. "How dare you ask me that question."
"How dare I? Do I need to remind you of what happened the last time you were in this house without a soul?"
He laughed again. A cold hollow sound. "So that's what it comes down to, eh pet?" He reached for his coat, which was hanging over the back of a chair. "I'll just get out of your hair, then. You know, I thought maybe, after everything...oh, bugger it."
He walked to the door and put his hand on the knob.
"Do you actually think I'm just going to let you leave?"
He lowered his head, but didn't remove his hand from the door. "I'm not going to hurt anybody," he said, his voice soft and low.
"Because I love you," he said, his voice breaking. "And I would never hurt you like that."
Buffy got out of bed and walked soundlessly across the carpet to the middle of the room. There he stood, in that damn leather coat that bore the invisible stains of a thousand kills. Blond head still bowed, waiting for her to release him or call him back. Or stake him, perhaps. She supposed he'd considered that possibility, although this was the first time the thought had entered her mind.
It occurred to her, suddenly, that this was one of those moments in life that you usually don't recognize until after they happen, if at all. One of those moments that was going to change everything. She'd thought she'd had one of those earlier, when she finally opened up to him, admitted her feelings, and they'd made love for the first time since his return. But that was just dress rehearsal. It didn't take a lot of courage. What was she supposed to do now? If she made the wrong decision, people could get hurt. Lives could be ruined. In fact, that was sure to happen even if she made the right one. But which people? Which lives? She might not be able to change her mind later, and even if she could, it might be too late.
Was she strong enough to make the right decision?
This time last year, probably not. But now, she thought she was. It wouldn't be easy. It would probably be the most difficult thing she'd ever done. And that was saying something. Buffy knew she was at her best when she followed her instincts, and right now they were screaming at her to do one thing.
She took a step towards Spike. "I didn't tell you not to leave because I thought you would hurt someone," she said.
His hand dropped off the knob, and he slowly turned around, his shoulders sagging wearily. "Then why?"
She took another step towards him, then another, then she was somehow, impossibly, in his embrace, completely wrapped up in his arms and his coat and in him. "Because I love you too," she said. Her words poured into his mouth as she kissed him. "God help me, I love you too."