***Part Seven***

Present Day - Sunnydale, California

"Still no change," Spike asked the nurse from the night before as he approached her. He could not help but chuckle lightly as she jumped.

"I'm afraid not. The doctor can't find anything wrong either. They've run every test they can think of. You can talk to her main nurse if you'd like."

"She's not hurt," Spike said adamantly. It did not console him, in fact it made Spike even more frightened of the possibility that some unknown disease riddled his Slayer's body.

"Is there anything I can get for you," she asked, offering him a smile.

"No, luv, thanks. I'll just head to her room. The others have gone for the night? Her sister and the friend?"

"Yes, they are gone. They don't know you have been here."

"Thanks, I appreciate it. It's a long story, but it's better for Buffy if they don't know I'm here. Some differences better left until she gets better."

"I understand. She's lucky to have you. I could tell a difference in her after you'd left last night."

"Really," he asked the nurse having grabbed his attention with that sentence. "Hopefully not a bad difference."

"No," she said quickly. "Not at all. In fact, she seemed to rest better, her vitals were more steady and consistent. She seemed to know you were nearby at any rate."

He smiled slightly at that. It was probably her Slayer senses and he took momentary comfort even a little pride that she took comfort in his nearness. If this nurse had any idea what he had done to her this past spring she would no doubt find it strange for Buffy to gain comfort from him. "I'm sure it's just that I talked to her."

"Maybe," the nurse said with a slight smile. "I'll see you in a little bit then."

"Right. Thanks," he said, walking toward Buffy's room and a long night of sitting by her bed.

He drew the chair over to the side of the bed and took her hand in his. He was not sure why he chose to sit on the same side as the hand with the IV in it. Perhaps on some level he recognized the IV with its medicines dripping down, pumping into her body represented evidence that she was alive.

"Well, your nurse Dawn seems to think my visiting is helping. Not sure why that would be exactly. But I'm here, can't bear to leave you alone. You might wake up only to see the strange faces of nurses and doctors." He sighed and grew quiet not sure why he bothered talking to her. Why was he even bothering coming there? As soon as she came to she was going to tell him to leave. Not that he didn't deserve it, and more.

"I've got so much to tell you, pet," he said softly, bringing his lips to the back of her hand. "So much. I'd tell you now but I have a feeling while it would be easier it would not be right. You won't remember it and then I'd be stuck having to tell you all over again."

"I can tell you, though, that I'm sorry. The man that I became, that night in your bathroom, well he wasn't me. I mean he was, but well I think you know what I mean, at least I hope you do. I was at my wit's end trying to figure out how to get you to admit your feelings for me. And now," he said softly. "Well, now, I'd just be happy to know you might one day find it in your heart to forgive me. I'd give anything to have your friendship like I had before, your trust. I've missed that more than anything. Most of my victims, most of the voices in my head and the faces I see when I close my eyes I can't ask forgiveness from because they're dead. I've left very few alive in my wake during the past century and a quarter. Not that I'm proud of that. At least not anymore, once upon a time I strutted like a peacock about it."

"Like when I met you. Though things changed even then. Drusilla tells me I never wanted to kill you. I don't know that I believe that, but I've learned not to question her on most things. I remember seeing you for the first time. Do you remember, pet," he asked. He actually paused as if expecting her to reply.

"I'm sure you do. You were dancing with your friends, Red and the whelp, and I sent one of my underlings out in search of a snack. I sent him to his death, knowing you would kill him. Wasn't very nice of me now was it. I suppose you'd let that one go, though, since he was already a vamp and all," he muttered not quite sure he was supposed to differentiate his bad deeds between those that were against humans and those that were not.

"I lied to you, you know. I told you recently that you belonged in the dark, but you don't. Not entirely. I think you need a bit of darkness in you. I believe that and won't lie to you about that. I think that's why Angelus and I do it for you, whatever it is. And why Captain Cardboard didn't, couldn't, do it for you. God it pained me to see you with him, coming to the Scoobie meetings smelling like him. But you don't belong there, not like I do, you don't deserve to drown in it like I do. I noticed it even that first night, you are the light. Maybe it's the Slayery goodness in you, I don't know. The two I met prior to you I did not spend time with beyond our fight to the death, no time to get to know them and no time to reflect whether they themselves were Ra's inspiration."

His enhanced hearing picked up on the footsteps outside the door and he stopped talking and just stroked her hand with his fingertips.

"You are still here," Dawn said as she pushed through the door.

"I'll be here until you kick me out."

"You're so quiet and you don't have any lights on. You could turn the television on if you want to. You don't have to sit in the dark."

"That's all right I don't mind. I'm just talking to her, reminiscing a bit. Hoping to draw her out by talking her ear off about the past five years," he added, not willing to say that he wondered if he was in part to blame for her condition. He was aware she had sensed his presence and yet he had continued to follow her and not present himself to her.

"You've known her a while then," she said as she took Buffy's temperature and performed whatever other nursing tasks she had to perform.

"Yeah, about five years give or take. I wasn't always around and we didn't always get along."

"You're not the guy that she went to Prom with." It was a statement with a hint of question as if she was trying to reassure herself she was remembering correctly.

"No, I was not lucky enough to be the one to take her to Prom. That would have been her ex I wager, Angel. Tall, dark, broody."

"I think so, I only saw him, never met him. Buffy and I weren't friends really. I never got to know her."

"She's hard to get to know," Spike said sincerely, somberly but pleased that he was one of a select few who had the privilege of knowing her. "It's just the way she is, nothing personal."

"Oh I got that. I mean she always seemed nice, just kept to herself."

"How is it you are a nurse?"

"I'm just an assistant. I'm going to school to become one, though. So I get to do the jobs no one wants," she said with a light laugh. "And work the hours most people dread."

"You'll make a good nurse I wager. Good bedside personality and all that," he said with a slight smirk.

"Thanks. I hope so. I was sorry that Buffy had to leave school. It must be hard for her having to take care of her sister and all. I can't even imagine it."

Spike instinctively squeezed Buffy's hand at the mention of Dawn and the indirect reference to Joyce's death. "Yeah, she's had a rough couple of years. She'll get back to school, though, I'm sure of it. Just a slight detour is all," Spike said. If he had to steal from Fort Knox to get her back to school he would do it.

"It happens to a lot of people, I hope she does go back. Some people never do, you know? My sister dropped out and once she started working and doing other things she just never got back."

"Me, too," Spike said simply. "Does she have a brush here?"

"Sure, Xander brought some of her things over this morning, they're in the drawer there."

"Great, maybe I'll tend to her hair then for a while. She would hate to know we let her hair become a mess."

Dawn smiled. "Well, I'm going on my break once I'm done in here so hopefully you won't be bothered until I have to come in again in a few hours."

"Right, so I'll have Nurse Ratched to contend with if I'm caught is what you're saying."

She laughed lightly. "Well, you're just not supposed to be in here, so I'd get in trouble."

"I'll tell ‘er I hid in the loo if asked."

"Thanks," she said with a smile. "Well, I'm done here." She collected the few gadgets she had brought in with her. One was a thermometer that went into Buffy's ear and looked like no thermometer he had seen before. Gone were the days he guessed of glass bulb thermometers with mercury. He had been tempted to ask about it but refrained. He could settle his curiosities some other time.

Spike was trying to figure out how Buffy rated a private room. Perhaps since they did not know what was wrong with her they were keeping her away from other patients. It was the only logical reason Spike could come up with. This was going to be a costly doctor's visit for Buffy, one she could not afford. She was still paying hospital bills from her mother's death. It was just what she needed, more debt to make her have to work longer hours and prohibit her from returning to school.

He paced the length of floor at the side of her bed, pausing on occasion to look out the window at the night.

"Come on, Slayer," he murmured. "You're stronger than this. I wonder if the li'l bit or the whelp has been in contact with your Watcher. Have him check his books for demons that might have infected you somehow. I'd do it myself, but have no idea how to get in touch with him."

He felt his human visage fall away as his frustration at the situation mounted. "Slayer," he called out hoarsely. "Come back to me, damn it. I'm here for you. I'm here now. Wake up and yell at me or something, just so I know you're all right and then I'll leave." His blackened nails dug into his palms, stopping him from lashing out at something in the room.

"Come on, Slayer. I need you. Li'l bit needs you and I reckon even the whelp needs you. I'll take the three of you out for a soddin' steak and lobster dinner if you just come back to me."

He returned to her side, sitting once again in the chair and took her hand resting his forehead against it. He kissed the back of her hand, grazing her knuckles with a fang. "I can't stand seeing you like this, Slayer. I can't. Those one hundred forty-seven days without you were bad, but seeing you lying here helpless is worse. I hear that little machine beeping, so I know you're in there somewhere. Come back to me, Slayer," he whispered, rubbing his cheek against her hand. Even comatose she was warm, he could hear her blood coursing through her body. "Slayer. Please," he said hoarsely, his voice catching and his human disguise falling back in place.

"I know it was hard for you to call out to me the other night. I should have shown myself, I shouldn't have watched you like I did, but I didn't think you'd want to talk to me. I didn't think you'd want to hear from me. I don't deserve you wanting to talk to me."

"I can hope though. A man has to have hope or he'll die, and I can still die even if I'm the undead. You do it every day, Slayer, kill my kind. I know you have it in you to think of me as a man not just a monster. That day, the day you invited me back into your home, meant more to me than you can know. It meant you trusted me, something you as not just human but the Slayer have no business doing. I realize I must have done something over the course of the months preceding that moment to earn it and I realize too that I tossed it all to hell in a hand basket with what happened last spring."

He paused stroking the back of her hand along the edges of the medical tape with a fingertip. "Slayer," he said simply, unable to say more afraid it would all come spilling out. It was hard enough to have to tell her once he did not want to have to repeat the story a second time to anyone not even Buffy.

"I did this all for you, everything I've done the past few months has been for you. I'll go the hell away and stay away for good this time if you want me to, but just come back to me, Slayer."

"Come back to the light, Slayer. You don't belong in the darkness, not completely. The world needs you, Sunnydale needs you, Dawn and the whelp need you, I need you," he said softly. "Can you see the light, Slayer?"

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