by Kat Leaf
Rating: PG-13
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Disclaimer: I don't own either Spike or Willow, but everything else is mine.
Author's Notes: This takes place after my fic "Tastes" though you don't have to read that to follow this.

Willow lay perfectly still, eyes wide, staring into the darkness. She knew she should be sleeping but every time she closed her eyes she began to remember - pictures flashing against closed lids like one of Oz's favorite slasher movies but not a movie at all. Blood on her shirt, blood on her arms, blond hair spilled across the carpeting... A movie with a soundtrack, voices echo through her. 'Wanna know what a bullet feels like Warren?' Screams for mercy and then the sound... the sound of flesh ripping..

She rolled over, wrenching her thoughts from the well-worn track they were taking. She glanced at the phone and willed it to ring. Not in the way that would force anything. Not anymore. Simply wishing. Was a time when she could pick up the phone herself and call someone. Xander first, then Tara, Kennedy... Giles, after that summer in England. Dawnie, pretending to check on her, but really checking in herself. Buffy, if things were particularly bad and if it was late enough that she would have finished patrolling. Not anymore. They were all gone. All in their different ways, but gone all the same. She was the only one left. The only one left in California, the only one left awake... the only one.

Suddenly she sat bolt upright, heart pounding. She rubbed sweaty palms in the flannel of her pajama pants, then wrenched open the window so hard that she nearly sent the pane tumbling to the sidewalk below. She took a deep gulp of the breeze that flooded the room and a sob caught in her throat. Her fists clenched and unclenched in the sheets as she shuddered.

It was happening again, she realized and this knowledge allowed her to hold herself together, even a bit. It would pass; this time it would pass and she would not get stuck. She clung to the hope as she clung to the sheets - white-knuckled.

If anyone had told her emptiness was so heavy she never would have believed them. Until she felt the weight of it herself as she did now. Her shoulders bowed under the strain and her back ached with it. Tears flowed down her cheeks, mingling with the rain that blew in from the open window, until she felt she was drowning. "Not waving, I'm drowning," she whispered, but there was no one to hear. The sound was swallowed by the emptiness.

Just when she thought she might snap in two from the weight, she was startled by a strange tingle at the edge of her awareness. Brushing tears from her cheeks, she closed her eyes and opened, searching for what (who) had touched her. There was someone out there, in the storm, seeking her.

Fear flooded her in an icy wash. It was never good to be the one sought... but as quickly as the panic rose, it faded again. This wasn't Sunnydale. There was no more Sunnydale. The First had been defeated, the Potentials chosen. Though she wasn't na´ve enough to believe that there was no longer any danger, things were not as they had been. She wasn't a hero's best friend and she wasn't a sidekick. She was just a girl, a witch yes, but that wasn't so odd in San Francisco.

She took a breath, and then another and suddenly knew. Spike... Spike? Leaning out the window she gripped the metal sill so hard it creased her hands. Through the blur of rain in her eyes, Willow caught sight of bleached hair, longer than it had been and darker at the roots, looking very much as it had when he first returned to Sunnydale post-Africa. It was him, she would know him anywhere even without that touch. "Spike," she called. The wind snatched the word from her throat but still he looked up, squinting through the rain and the distance between them. Before she gave herself the chance to consider... what are you thinking doing crazygirlcrazy... she raised a hand and gestured for him to come across the street.

Willow slammed the window closed and leaped from her bed. She tugged on a pair of flannel pajama pants over her boxers and yanked a sweatshirt over her head. There was the slightest sound at the door. A knock? It was hard to tell. She kicked a pile of dirty laundry under her bed and flipped the quilt over the bed so it hung down to the floor. Too late to do anything about the rest of the mess. She switched on a lamp, the warm yellow light clashing with the racing of her heart, and peered through the peephole. Habits died hard. It was him. Him... here, now, why? "I'd bite you in a heartbeat..." Heart beat... it certainly did. As though she dreamed, Willow watched as her hand reached out and flipped the deadbolt, grasped the doorknob and turned.

Spike stood on the threshold. Rain dripped from the ends of his hair, the tip of his nose, sparkled in his eyelashes. He summoned a smile, pale shadow of his usual cocky smirk. It didn't reach his eyes. "Red," he said.

"Spike," she replied, pleased to find her voice remained even, though her heart slammed against the cage of her ribs. She did not step back, did not invite him in, merely waited to see what would come next. They both stood that way for a long moment, simply watching each other. Taking measure.

"Been a while," he said at last. Casual - as though he'd just been passing by.

She nodded, but neither invited him in nor closed the door, waiting instead for an explanation though of what she was unsure. Did she want him to explain his absence? His return? His silence? The breaking of that silence now, after all of these months? They had made no promises when they last came together - he, mourning the loss of hope for a relationship with Buffy, she, mourning the loss of Kennedy and Tara (always and forever Tara). They took comfort in each other and left it at that. Until one day he did - leave it at that. And she hadn't heard from him since. She crossed her arms over her chest. She would not be the one to break the stalemate.

Suddenly he ducked his head, shuddering quickly. "ht-essh!... hehesshuh!" He sniffed slightly and straightened. "Pardon," he said, and the light that had been missing before flashed in his eyes.

Heat, unwanted but unable to be suppressed rose to stain her cheeks. Had he done it on purpose? She supposed it didn't matter. Either way, the damage was done. She stepped back and held the door wider. "Come in out of the rain," she said. She could use some comfort.

(tbc in Exanimate)

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