Third Chances

Third Chances

By Fer1213

Rating: NC17
Pairing S/O, S/B
Summary : Two years after the battle at the end of "Not Fade Away", Buffy's still in Rome. An unexpected visitor shows up bringing even more unexpected news.
Notes: sex, language, S/O Disclaimer : Not mine, though I so wish they were.

***

Chapter 1 – Things Unexpected

The streets of Rome were quiet as Buffy window-shopped the closed stores. She and Dawn used to do this before Dawn left for the Sorbonne. If they looked when the stores weren't open, they couldn't buy. Saved a lot of denaro that way. Marco used to indulge her in this too, until the night she killed four demons who were robbing a negozio. As he wiped their guts off his pristine suit, Marco informed Buffy that he would humor her slaying hobby, but that he would appreciate it if she would refrain from acting on her impulses while in his company. After she calmed down from the "hobby" crack, Buffy did humor him. For about a week. But hey, she thought now. How many women can say the Immortal was their transitional guy?

Buffy touched the cool glass of the store window. She'd been in Rome two years now. With Dawn at college and Andrew back in England working for the Council, basically, there was nothing holding her here. The whole "finding herself" gig was getting old. Old and lonely.

She gently pushed away from the window and continued down the cobblestone street. Her boot heels made loud clicking sounds as she walked, but just a block away from her apartment, she stopped. She'd heard a noise. And those little hairs on the back of her neck were standing straight up--she could feel them. Maybe tonight won't be a total loss after all, Buffy thought as she slid a stake out from under her leather jacket.

She whirled around, ready to dust a bumpy-faced creature but froze when she saw who it was. His hair was a darker blond and he was wearing blue jeans, not black. He was still wearing leather, but this coat was short and dark brown over a gray t-shirt. But his voice, when he spoke, was the one she heard in her dreams.

"Hello, Buffy," Spike said.

Buffy stared at him, but when he opened his mouth to say something else, she ran.

***

She slammed and locked the door to her apartment and grabbed the telephone. Her fingers stabbed the buttons as she dialed Giles's number. It was only an hour earlier in London. He should still be up.

"Giles?" Buffy said as she heard his sleepy voice. "Did I wake you?"

"Buffy? No. Well, yes. But it's quite all right. How are you?"

"No time. Giles, Spike is back. Here. In Rome. At least I think it's Spike. I ran like a little frightened, uh, running thing when I saw him. It's not the First, do you think? Because I didn't try to touch him. But it definitely looked like Spike, but Spike's dead, right? Again? Again again? After the whole L.A. thing? Not that he ever bothered to call me when he wasn't dead dead again before he was dead again. And oh my God I'm babbling. Stop me, Giles!"

"Buffy!" Giles said. "I don't need to tell you that you are making very little sense right now. Spike? Is back?"

"Unless it's the First."

"What did he say?"

"He said, 'Hello, Buffy'. Do you think that means something?" Her hand was sweaty as she clutched the phone. She switched it to her other ear and wiped her palm on her skirt. "Because it can't be Spike, can it? Angel said he didn't make it."

"Well--" Giles said before she interrupted him.

"And I've dealt, Giles. I did the crying. I did the mourning. Twice, for God's sake. And after the second time I thought I'd really made peace with Spike's death and the fact that he never let me know he'd been back. Let go of being so pissed at him for not letting me know--so pissed that I never let him know I knew. And I'm doing it again, aren't I?"

"Buffy, do breathe for a moment and let me talk to you," Giles said.

Buffy sank down on the couch and took a deep breath. She was shaking all over. "Talk to me, Giles," she finally said.

Giles cleared his throat. "Angel never actually said Spike was dead, Buffy. I believe his exact words were that Spike was gone. We just assumed..."

"Give me Angel's phone number," Buffy said, her voice hard. "I know I didn't want it before, but I want it now."

"Do you really think it wise to call him when you're this emotional, Buffy?" Giles asked. "Not to mention it's been nearly a year since we've heard from him."

"The phone number, Giles. Now. Please."

She heard him flipping through some sort of book or rolodex. He read her the number and she wrote it down on a pad of paper on the end table next to her. He was still talking to her when she hung up.

Buffy was about to dial Angel's number when there was a knock on her door. Followed by his voice, muffled, speaking through it. "Buffy, I know it's a right shock, but it's me. Spike. Please, can I talk to you?"

"Buffy?" he asked softly.

"It's really you?" she asked, just as softly.

"It's really me, love. Can I come in? I have a lot to tell you, if you want to hear it."

She reached a finger out and poked him in the chest. He was solid. "Tell me something only Spike would know about me," she demanded.

His face relaxed as he thought. "You like having ice put on the back of your neck after a rough night of slaying or..." He raised an eyebrow suggestively. "You allowed me to call you Goldilocks on a few occasions. And you told me you loved me right before I burned up in the Hellmouth, though I told you you didn't."

Buffy stared at him. She couldn't control the tears that filled her eyes or the hitch in her voice as she said, "Come in, Spike."

He crossed the threshold, stepping close to her. She turned her head and waved him toward the couch. "Sit," she said. "Is there anything I can get for you? I don't have any blood, though..."

Spike shook his head and reached out to barely brush the back of her hand. "Just want to talk to you. That's all," he said.

She narrowed her eyes at him and then nodded. They sat, a careful distance between them.

"Know you're mad," Spike said. "Can see it in your face..."

"Mad?" Buffy asked. "Is that what you think I am? Because mad is so far from what I'm feeling. Try furious. Or flabbergasted. Or hurt, betrayed, idiotic, pissed..." She ticked the emotions off on her fingers.

"Yeah," Spike said. "Got the picture. And you're right to feel all that. Though you feeling anything at all for me is just..."

"You're gonna feel me kicking your ass out my door if you don't explain yourself pretty soon," Buffy said. "I left you in the Hellmouth because you told me to go, said you had to finish it yourself. So I went. And I grieved. And I tried my damnedest to move on..."

"With the bloody Immortal," he grumbled. Then he sat up straight. "Wait. You grieved for me?"

"Shut up, Spike," Buffy said angrily. "I'm not done bitching you out."

"Right."

"And then Andrew, of all people, tells me you're alive--undead--and were here with Angel. Yet did you leave me a note? Did you make a single phone call?" "No," Spike said.

"No," Buffy agreed. "So I figured, well screw him. He doesn't want me to know he's back? Fine. But then a month goes by and Giles gets this phone call from Angel saying he's taken on the Senior Partners at Wolfram & Hart and managed to defeat the first wave of hell spawn they sent his way, but that his whole team is gone. Including you."

"Yeah. About that..."

"And that was a year ago, Spike. Yet here you are. And what I really want to know is--why?" Buffy looked at him sadly. She tried hard to ignore how her body was shaking. "Why now?"

Spike stared down at his hands as they rested between his knees. "I was shattered, Buffy. Torn up. Unrecognizable. Angel left me for dust." He glanced at her to see if she was listening. She was. He went on, "There was a woman, Anne, who found me. Said she knew you, Buffy. Knew Gunn--one of Angel's people--too. Couldn't save Gunn, though. But she saved me."

"Anne?" Buffy asked.

"She looks a little like you. Blonde hair, beautiful. Said she knew you in Sunnydale then met you again in L.A. I guess it was the summer after I helped you off Angelus?"

"Oh," Buffy said, finally remembering. "I let her use my name."

"Yeah. Saved her life, you did."

"And she took care of you?"

"She did." Spike shifted, looking uncomfortable. "She loves me, Buffy."

"Does she?" Buffy asked, her voice flat. "And you? Do you love her?"

"Well, there's a question," Spike said. He leaned back to rest against the couch cushions and rolled his head slightly to look at Buffy. "For so long, it was only you. You were everything, Buffy. My whole world, mostly when you didn't fancy it. But we were never good to each other, like Anne is to me."

"We never got the chance," Buffy said, shifting to look at him too. "When I finally accepted how I felt about you, it was too late. Then when you came back, for so long I didn't even know it." Her shock was giving way to panic. They hadn't even touched each other yet, not really. And he was trying to tell her what?

"Right. You're right," he said. "And that's why I'm here. Vampires don't marry humans, at least no vampire I've ever known. Even with my soul, that's what I am still--a vampire. But Anne wants to be with me. She knows she'll age while I'll basically still be like this." He waved his arm in front of himself. "But she wants me anyway. So we decided to lay our pasts to rest. Because, thing is, part of me is still in love with you. And I couldn't seem to let that part go. Least not 'til I saw you one more time."

Buffy covered her mouth with her hands, her eyes wide. Her head and heart were fighting with each other and she felt sick to her stomach. The idea of Spike being here was overwhelming. The idea of him being here and no longer completely in love with her... As selfish as that was, Buffy had never imagined that'd be possible. She took her hands away from her face and breathed deeply. "Does she--Anne--does she know you're here? With me?"

Spike nodded. "She does. She wants me to figure this--us--out before I can decide to really be with her."

"Sounds to me like you already think we won't... That I don't..."

"No," he said reaching his hand over to trail his fingers along her cheek. Finally touching her. And the contact burned, just like it had the last time they'd touched. Buffy turned her face into his palm and closed her eyes. He still smelled like Spike, but without the cigarette smoke and bourbon.

Buffy slowly lifted her lids. "You quit smoking," she said.

He smiled slightly. "Yeah. It was bad for my health."

Buffy surprised herself by laughing. Evidently, from the look on his face, she'd surprised Spike too.

"Never heard enough of that for my liking," he said.

Buffy reached up and wrapped her hand around his, holding his palm to her cheek. "I missed you so much, you idiot," she said. "How could you not call me?"

"And say what, exactly? 'Hi, Buffy. Didn't burn up forever like you thought. So much for heroic gestures. Want me to bollocks up the new life you've been given?' Think not." He looked down. "And then this last year..."

"But you're here now," Buffy said. "For how long?"

"Two weeks. Booked a return ticket for then."

"Just two weeks." Buffy took his hand from her face and held it between both of hers. "Can I kiss you hello? I mean, do you want me to? Is it allowed?"

He smiled at her. "I'd like that."

Buffy tugged him to her. She was a little afraid to close her eyes, in case he wouldn't be there when she opened them again. But when his lips touched hers, she stopped worrying. She remembered this, this heat between them. This need to practically be a part of him and have him a part of her. She deepened the kiss, teasing Spike's tongue with her own, wrapping her arms around his head to hold him close. She felt Spike's arms wrap around her too and heard him groan as they sank into each other. He still tasted like Spike, Buffy thought. All woodsy and a little sweet. She pressed herself against his body, felt his erection push into her belly.

But then he pulled away.

"Um," Buffy said awkwardly.

"Yeah," Spike said as he ran a hand through his hair. "Looks like that part still works with us."

"Understatement much?" Buffy said, smoothing her own hair.

Spike took her hand again. "That's not the part that concerns me, love. If I'm gonna move forward with this existing thing, I need to know where I belong. If I can be good for you--if you can be good for me too. Or if I'm just being a bloody idiot. And if that's the case, at least I'll know."

Buffy looked at him, at the face that she dreamed about so often. At the man he'd become--the man she'd known he could become. And he was really here.

"Stay?" she asked, her voice steadier than she felt.

"Yeah?"

"We have two weeks to find out, right? I say we use them."

Chapter 2 – Easing In

"Your phone?" he asked.

"Well, yes," Buffy answered.

"No, love. Can I use it? Sorry, it'll be long distance."

"Oh," Buffy said, handing the phone to him. "Of course. She'll be wondering if you got here safely."

"Right. Okay if I take it in the other room?"

Buffy stood up quickly. "No, wait. I'll go in the bedroom. I need to change clothes anyway. You stay here. Talk as long as you like."

"Thanks, pet," he said. But he didn't start dialing until she was around the corner and almost to her room.

Buffy couldn't help it. She left her door open, hoping to overhear Spike's side of the conversation with "Anne". Changing into sweats and a tank top quickly, she made her way back down the hall and stood, out of sight, to listen.

"Yes, love. I found her," he was saying. "Well, I knew she would be. Yeah. I think so." His voice got softer and Buffy strained to hear. "Still want us to do this, Anne? Could've just left things… I know. Yeah, me too. I'll ring you again when I'm settled. Bye, love."

Buffy slipped back down the hall and into her bedroom when she heard him press the off button on the phone. She hated the sick feeling she'd gotten in her stomach when Spike called the other woman "love". Her head knew that he called most women that. Her heart, though, hurt hearing it. She straightened her bed and tried to look busy until he appeared in her doorway.

"Better push off, Buffy. Didn't realize how late it was."

Buffy wrapped her arms around her middle and shifted uncomfortably. "Where, ah, are you staying?" she asked.

"Hadn't thought that far ahead, actually," he said. "Left my stuff in a locker at the airport and came straight here."

"You can stay in Dawn's room. If you want. She's off at college."

"Was wondering where little sis had got off to. College, eh? Well go Dawnie."

"So you'll stay?" she asked hesitantly.

"Your, ah, boyfriend won't mind?" he asked.

"Is that your way of asking if Marco and I are still together?"

He shrugged. "If I've learned one thing over the years, it's to never assume anything about you, Slayer."

"Wow," Buffy said, sitting abruptly on the edge of her bed. "I can't remember the last time anyone called me that."

Spike came further into the room and stood next to her. "You still are, though. The Slayer. Even though the slayer mojo was spread about?"

"Technically, yes," she said, looking at her hands. "Or as Giles likes to call me, 'the head Slayer'. Though I feel more like 'the old maiden aunt Slayer' compared to the others. Did you know there are slayers out there as young as seven? I can't imagine being called at seven. Fifteen was hard enough as it was."

"You handled it, though. You're still handling it."

"Yeah, I guess I am." She looked up at him. "So, you'll take Dawn's room?"

Spike shrugged out of his coat. "Yeah, show me to the land of fluffy huggy toys and teenage girl angst."

Buffy slapped her knees and stood. "Let's find some sheets for your bed."

***

After Buffy located the sheets, Spike helped her make up the bed. When they finished, he stood and looked around at Dawn's room with its yellow walls and piles of stuffed animals everywhere. Buffy watched him as he took it all in.

"Better than Xander's closet?" she asked.

"Space-wise? Much," he said. "And look. Can ogle Britney Spears before bed."

Buffy laughed and saw Spike's face crease into a smile. "It feels good," he said. "To laugh with you. We never did enough of that."

"We didn't," Buffy said, still smiling. "But hey, no big apocalypses hanging over our heads right now. Maybe we can make with the merry more." She looked around. "Clean towels are in the bathroom. Need anything else? Will you be able to sleep?"

"Seeing as it's oh, late afternoon in Los Angeles and I'm usually asleep about now, yeah. Don't think it'll be a problem."

"Oh. Well, good," Buffy said. "I'll let you, then. Sleep."

"Buffy," he said as she turned to go. She looked back at him, her hand on the bedroom door. "Thanks for not staking me when I sprung myself on you tonight. Wasn't quite fair, the way I did that to you."

Buffy rested her palm on the door for a second before going back to stand in front of him. She reached her hand up and cupped his face. "I'm glad you're here, Spike. Despite everything, I'm mostly feeling the gladness." She kissed the hollow beneath his cheekbone and left, closing the door behind her.

Once she was back in her own room, Buffy finally let herself cry--for what was lost, what was found, what could be and what could never be.

***

Buffy slept very little and when she did, her dreams were filled with fire and ashes. Spike's ashes. She had to stop herself from going into his room to make sure he was still there, still all right.

She finally dragged herself out of bed around eleven that morning. Spike was still asleep when she checked on him. She could see the strong line of his bare back above the sheet. She'd never noticed what a beautiful back he had. She'd never let herself notice.

Buffy closed his door softly and made her way into the kitchen. She poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table to think. Spike here. With her. Yet also with someone else. Buffy rested her chin in her hand. She couldn't deny all the feelings that had come rushing back when she'd realized it was really Spike standing in her doorway. Anger was there, like she'd said, but tenderness too. And a strange sense of completeness. But did she really want to tie the rest of her life to a vampire? Even if that vampire was Spike?

She shook her head and downed the last of her coffee. Too much introspection makes Buffy a confused girl, she thought as she pushed away from the table. She put her mug in the sink and went to shower.

***

The warm water beat down on her head. She soaped her hair and body and refused to think about Spike sleeping in the next room. About his back. About his...

"Buffy?"

She dropped the loofa she'd been circling around her body. "Crap," she said as she scooped it up. "Spike?"

"Sorry. Phone's been ringing off the hook. Giles must have left ten messages by now."

"Oh! Thanks," Buffy said. "I'll be out in just a--" She heard the bathroom door close. Then she mentally beat herself up for being disappointed that he hadn't stayed and tried to sneak a peek as she got out of the shower.

Buffy finished rinsing and turned the water off. She dried off quickly and dressed in a blouse and jeans. She left her hair wet as she went to check the answering machine.

Spike was sitting at the kitchen table with the morning paper in hand. "Can't read a bloody word of this," he grumbled.

"I usually just look at the pictures," Buffy said as she pressed the button on the machine. Giles's voice filled the kitchen.

"Buffy, do call me."

And, "Buffy, I'd really like to know if it actually was Spike you saw. Ring me."

And, "Buffy? Are you there?"

Several other messages were exactly the same. "Jeez, Giles," Buffy said as she sank into the chair across from Spike's. "I wasn't in the shower that long."

"Always was a nosy bastard, your watcher," Spike commented.

Buffy watched him as he looked through the paper. They'd both been through so much since they'd seen each other last. Yet here they were, sitting with the newspaper. Though she highly doubted any footsie playing would follow.

"Spike," she said, grabbing his attention. "Why are you here? Not that I'm not glad that you're here, but it sounds like you had something pretty good going with Anne. Why did you decide to come and see me again? After all this time?"

Spike folded the newspaper and slid it to his right. He leaned back in his chair, knees spread. "Honestly? Anne asked me to, to settle things with you. Like I told you, part of me still cares for you. Thought I could put that part aside and be content. But she's right. It's been eating at me, my feelings for you. It's been keeping me from saying--things."

"Oh. So it was her idea?"

"Not entirely. We're both taking time--trying to figure out where we go from here. Me being here, seeing you, that's my thing. She's off seeing people she once knew and cared for." He leaned forward in his chair and looked up at her. "Knew I'd find you eventually, Buffy. Have to admit, I still think about you. Wonder what might have been had I not burned..."

"Or had contacted me once you were back."

"Yeah," he said. "There's that too."

They were quiet for a moment. Then Spike said, "So, what will Marco think about me being here?"

Buffy got up to pour herself another cup of coffee. "Chances are he won't know. And if he does, he won't care."

"Why's that now?"

"We went our separate ways. A while back. He didn't like my slaying and I didn't like his antiquated ideas. So I ended it." She sat down with her full cup and sipped it carefully.

"The hell you did," Spike said. "No woman ever leaves the Immortal."

Buffy shrugged. "Well, this one did." She leaned forward. "You should have seen his face, too. I thought he was going to have a heart attack. Not that it would have mattered, him being, you know--"

"Immortal," Spike said.

"Exactly." Buffy laughed and then sobered as Spike reached across the table to take her hand.

"Buffy. Know you never felt about me the way I felt about you. But we were friends, yeah? Maybe we can be friends again."

Buffy shook her head. "I don't know if I want us to be friends, Spike."

"Oh." Spike pulled his hand away and pushed back from the table. "It was bloody stupid of me to come. Told Anne it would just bring up things long dead and buried. Just needed more time, I did. It's damn hard getting over you, Slayer." He stood and turned to leave the kitchen.

Buffy stood too and put her hand out to stop him. "Wait. I didn't say that right. Spike, please."

He stopped and looked at her, waiting. And it struck Buffy how he'd always done that--stopped and waited to hear what she had to say. Like it mattered. Like she mattered. "I still have feelings for you, Spike. I did mean what I said that day and I care about you now. I'm so relieved to see you--even more than I ever imagined. And, yeah, I did imagine it. But I don't want to take you from this new life you've built--from Anne--if that's what's going to make you truly happy. And believe it or not, you deserve to be happy."

"Not so sure about that, pet. If it's what I deserve." He took a step toward her. "Recently I've had moments, yeah, thanks to Anne and how she cares for me. But I can't help think how it was you who made me feel--alive."

Buffy could feel her heart start to race. Talking about happiness—when was the last time she was truly happy? She was, for a time, with Marco, but that ended badly, like always. Would she be dooming Spike if she completely opened her heart to him? Was she considering doing so because she was lonely and sad or could she actually see a life with Spike?

Panicking a little, she changed the subject. "So! Did you want to grab a shower?"

***

Buffy called Giles back as Spike went into the bathroom.

"Was it him?" Giles asked anxiously.

"It was," she answered.

"What is it he wants?"

"Possibly? Me."

"Excuse me?" Giles asked. Any second now he'd be polishing his glasses.

"He's here to either get closure with me or figure out if there's still something there. The jury's still out on which it is," Buffy said. She clutched the phone, anticipating Giles's reaction.

"And you told him there was nothing there, correct?"

"Giles," Buffy said, "I love you. And see how easy it was for me to say that? I've changed a lot these last few years. So has he. He's a good man. Who knows? Maybe this time it can work in a no-beating-each-other-up-and-sleeping-with-my-friends kind of way. He was so different at the end. We were so different."

"Good God, Buffy. He's a vampire. You deserve so much more."

"Did you ever stop to think that maybe--just maybe--he's more than I deserve?"

"Now you're being foolish."

Buffy switched the phone to her other ear. "We had this conversation three years ago. And you were right--my feelings for him do color my judgment. But that doesn't mean what I say isn't true. You don't know him like I do--did--Giles. Like I hope to again. You never did."

She heard Giles sigh deeply. "I only want what's best for you, Buffy." "So do I."

"Please take care," Giles said.

"Don't worry so much," Buffy told him. "If my heart gets broken, it won't be the first time. I can deal."

They said their goodbyes and Buffy turned off the phone. She set it back in its cradle and stared at it. She didn't know why she hadn't mentioned Anne or the fact that Spike wasn't head over heels for her anymore. Optimism? Fatalism? Denial Buffyism? She turned from the phone and went to check on Spike.

He was out of the shower and again dressed in his gray t-shirt and jeans. "Should probably pick my bag up from the airport," he told her.

"Or," Buffy said, "we could hit the butcher and then go shopping."

"Pet."

"My treat. Really. I like the gray, but maybe adding some color to your wardrobe won't kill you. More. Again." She winked.

"All right. But I get final say, yeah?"

"Of course!" Buffy said, crossing her fingers behind her back.

***

Shopping with Spike was a new experience. It felt so weirdly domestic. They walked in the shadows of the buildings to the macellaio--butcher--first and asked for enough blood to tide Spike over for a few days. "Making blood sausage," Buffy told the man behind the counter. He looked confused until Spike pointed at her and mouthed "American" and gave a "What can you do?" shrug. Buffy elbowed Spike in the stomach, but they got his blood.

After dropping that package back at her apartment, she took him to a small shop around the corner where they sold men and women's clothing. She'd save the full shopping experience for after dark when she could show him the Via Condotti and all its stores, bars and sights. The idea of hitting the town with Spike held a certain appeal, Buffy thought. As long as I can get him to buy those gabardine pants and that blue shirt he just tried on. She practically clapped when he agreed, but stopped herself when she realized it was a very Harmony thing to do. Instead, she merely nodded and told the clerk, "Li prenderemo. Grazie."

They also picked out new shoes, two pairs of jeans and a few shirts and t-shirts. All in all, a successful trip, Buffy thought. Spike grumbled about her "queer eyeing" him.

"One of the nice things about these tiny streets," Buffy said as they toted their bags back to her apartment, "is that the buildings offer a lot of shade. Though before you showed up, I never thought about it."

"It is nice. It's nice being out in public with you. Doing normal type things," Spike said.

"We never really did, did we?" Buffy asked. "Other than taking the Potentials to that demon bar."

"More work than play, really."

"True."

***

Once they were back home, Spike heated up some blood and sprawled on the couch to watch TV. Some things never do change," Buffy remarked as she pushed his booted feet off her coffee table.

"Hey, now! Should make you feel good that I'm so at home here already," he smirked.

Buffy sat next to him. "At home?" she asked, knowing this was probably dangerous territory. "Is that what this is to you?"

Spike grabbed the remote and turned off the television. "Feel comfortable here. With you," he said.

"And I feel comfortable having you here," Buffy said. "Isn't that strange? I mean, I'm all for the strangeness of it, but isn't it? Strange?"

"It is, a bit," Spike agreed. "Especially considering a mere, what, five years ago we were still trying to kill each other. Yeah, I'd call this strange. But nice?"

"Well, yeah."

"Don't have to sound all shocked, love. We were getting along quite well at the end. Stands to reason we'd turned a corner on our relationship."

"Spike, what you and I had could never be called a relationship." Buffy settled her head against the back of the couch.

"Know that now," he said softly. She glanced at him. He seemed upset.

Buffy put a hand on his arm. "But I'm not saying it could never be a relationship. Now. If we want that. If you want that."

He turned to her. "What do you want, Buffy? Can you tell me?"

"Now there's a loaded question." She rested her head on his shoulder. "I want to be loved for me. I was something without pain. I want a partnership. And maybe someday a family."

"That's one thing I could never give you, love." He put an arm around her and pulled her closer to his body.

"There are all kinds of families, Spike," Buffy said. She was getting sleepy. Her rough night was catching up with her. And it felt so good to be resting against his body. Knowing he could take care of her, if she let him. She felt herself drifting. Vaguely she thought she heard Spike say, "Sorry it was never me, gave you those other things." And then she was asleep.

Chapter 3 – It's All We've Ever Done

When Buffy woke up, she was stretched out on the couch with an afghan draped over her. Spike was gone. She could feel the emptiness of the apartment. She sat up suddenly, worried. She'd just pushed herself off the couch when she noticed the note on the coffee table. She picked it up.

Buffy—
Didn't want to wake you. Gone to airport to collect my things. Back soon. Spike

She sighed, partly in relief and partly in irritation. He wasn't gone gone, but he couldn't wait for her to go with him? Spike from four years ago would have awakened her by spreading her legs and using his tongue--

But that wasn't this Spike. And she wasn't that Buffy. She'd known how to keep that Spike at a distance. She'd used him. They'd hurt each other. Badly. But was it wrong that part of this Buffy wanted this Spike to do some of the more athletic things she'd done with that Spike?

Okay, morally, knowing about Anne, yeah, it was wrong for her to want that. But that last year when she and Spike were no longer physical in "that way" and the world was falling down around her, she'd only found real comfort in his arms. She'd wanted him, even then. Even now. And frankly, Buffy was tired of always doing the right thing. Right thing for everyone but her. If Spike truly wanted to explore where this thing between them could go, she'd try the "every woman for herself" approach for once. One thing her time with Marco had taught her was how to finally let go of some of the crushing responsibility that dominated so much of her life and just enjoy.

She went to get dressed. When Spike got back, she was taking him out on the town.

***

Buffy twisted around to see the back of her dress in the mirror. Not bad. She'd gained a little bit of weight since seeing Spike last and fortunately it mostly showed up in the breast area and not in her butt. The black dress she wore was backless and sleeveless, fastened at the neck, halter-style. It said Versace on the label, but the price had been so reasonable, Buffy kind of doubted it was real. But it didn't matter. She looked good.

As she was pulling her hair back with clips she heard a light knock on her front door. She went to look through the peephole and saw Spike standing on the other side. Her whole body sagged in relief. He came back. He wasn't an illusion.

Buffy pulled the door open. "Forgot your key, honey?" she teased.

Spike just stared at her, his bag gripped loosely in his hand. She moved out of the doorway to let him in. He walked past her but never took his eyes off her. "Are we going somewhere, love?" he finally asked.

"I am taking you dancing," Buffy told him.

"You can dance in that dress?" he asked.

She looked down at herself and then back at him. "Of course. Why couldn't I?"

"Look bloody gorgeous, Slayer. You know you do. Not much to that thing, though. Stiff breeze and away it blows."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Oh please. It's got this strong claspy thing right back here." She turned and showed him her back before moving her hair to the side so he could see what she was talking about. She could feel him touch the fastening before his knuckles brushed her nape. She looked over her shoulder at him. He blinked quickly and stepped back.

"Right then," he said, still sounding unsure. "Long time since I danced. Hope I don't disappoint."

"I'll take the chance," she said. "Go get changed."

When he came out of Dawn's room a few minutes later, it was Buffy's turn to stare. The blue shirt really brought out the blue in his eyes and the dark pants clung and hung in all the right places. He grabbed his coat from over one of the kitchen chairs and held his elbow out to her. "Shall we?" he asked.

"Thing is?" Buffy said, taking his arm. "All I have in the way of transportation is my Vespa. Not great for a dress like this. I called a taxi, if you don't mind."

"Don't mind a bit. Let's go paint the town."

***

The taxi dropped them off at Club Primo, a bar and dance club off the Via Monte di Testaccio. Buffy took Spike's hand and led him to the front of the line. The bouncer nodded when he saw her and let them right in.

"How'd you do that?" Spike said into her ear so she'd hear him above the music.

Buffy's lips brushed his cheek before reaching his ear. "Marco and I used to come here."

"Bloody hell," Spike said, shaking his head.

Buffy raised an eyebrow him. "What?" she asked.

"It's nothing. Just the damned Immortal. Irritating bugger."

Buffy smiled and shrugged. "It's just a club, Spike. We can go to a different one, if you want."

"No. Not changing our plans because of that bastard," he said, squeezing her hand. "Let's go cut a rug, shall we, pet?"

Buffy led him onto the dance floor and wrapped her arms around his neck. The song was a relatively slow one and their bodies rocked together to the beat. Buffy had figured he could dance, just from watching him walk and the way his body had moved during sex. He didn't disappoint her at all.

Spike's hands ghosted up and down the bare skin of her back, like he was afraid to actually hold her. Buffy knew she was pushing things, but she moved even closer to him, brushing his hips with the gyrations of hers. She let go of his neck to lift her hair off her shoulders and let it slide through her fingers. Spike watched her, his eyes unreadable.

"Love this song," Buffy yelled to him.

"Bet you say that about all the songs," he yelled back with a smile.

"Most," she agreed. She covered his hands, which were gently resting on her hips, and forced him to really feel the way her body moved to the beat. Nice thing about his looser pants, she could see how her dancing was affecting him.

"You letting out your inner Faith tonight, love?" Spike spoke directly into her ear.

Buffy's movements faltered for a second. He thought she was putting on an act for him? She didn't think she was, but did it matter anyway? She wanted to have fun. To have fun with Spike. "Nope. It's just me here with you," she told him, resuming her swaying.

"Always were a hot little thing," Spike said, finally allowing his hands to guide her hips, rather than just reacting to their motions. He pulled her pelvis to his and ground his erection against her. Buffy's breasts pressed into his chest and she threw her head back, enjoying the feel of him. When he gently sucked on her exposed neck, she could feel the wetness between her legs. She lifted her head slowly to look into his eyes. His pupils were dilated and he looked almost hungry for her, but there was no sign of his demon--just of a man who wanted to fuck her very, very much.

And then, like a candle blown out, that look was gone.

Spike released Buffy's hips and stepped away from her. "Let's get some drinks, yeah?" he asked. He didn't wait for her answer and left her standing there as he went for the bar.

Buffy was stunned. What just happened here? One second he wants to tear my dress off and the next he can't get away from me fast enough? She followed him, confused. She'd never seen that look just disappear from Spike's face before. Granted, it was a long time since she'd seen it at all, but it was usually followed by hours of inventive sex, not a visit to the bar for tequila and limes. But that's what he was ordering, with a beer chaser. He gestured to the stool next to him.

"Have a seat, Slayer. Feel like getting plastered. Join me?"

Buffy sat on the stool. "You know? Yes. Plastered and wallpapered for me."

Spike ordered another shot, a lime and a beer for her and showed her how to slam it all back. After two more rounds, Buffy decided to confront him.

"What happened out there?" she asked, swinging her arm in the direction of the dance floor. "You gave me your look--your 'I'm gonna have you naked and under the rug in 12 seconds' look and then--POOF--it was gone."

Spike cringed. "Yeah. Sorry about that."

"What?" Buffy said. "That's it? Just 'Sorry about that, pet'?"

"Still do a godawful impression of me, love."

She grabbed his shoulders and shook him. "Are you in there? Spike? What did she do to you?"

"She loved me. She took care of me. She forgave me."

"What? And you think I can't do all those things for you too?" Buffy said, letting go of him and throwing her arms in the air. "I already told you I love you. And I forgave you!" She rubbed her temples before saying, "Wait. What did Anne forgive you for?"

"You remember, Buffy. When Dru and me came to town? Your friend wanted to be a vampire? When we burst in the place, Anne was the first one came up to me. I bit her. Would have killed her if you hadn't stopped me."

Buffy caught her breath. "Oh," she said slowly. "She was Chan-something or other then. I'd forgotten that."

"Yeah. Me too." Spike signaled the bartender to bring them more shots. "Think she didn't realize it was me when she took me off the street and patched me up. Later, though, she knew. Reminded me of it. Somehow forgave me for it."

Buffy slammed back her new shot and sucked on her lime. She made a face. "Don't these things usually start tasting better the more you drink?"

That made Spike laugh. "Remember the last time you got drunk with me, Slayer? Threw up all over my boots, you did. Not aching to repeat that little scene, if you don't mind."

Buffy was silent for a few moments. Suddenly she turned to him. "So it was what? The forgiving thing? 'Cause I so did that, even if I never came right out and said the words."

"Buffy..."

"I got you back from the First, let you stay in my home, had your chip removed, defended you to everyone--especially to Giles. I chose you, Spike, to wear that damn amulet. To be my champion. And I went to you those last nights. You. No one else. And you still think I didn't forgive you? Didn't mean it when I said I love you?"

"You pitied me. Poor freak Spike. Got his soul 'cause no matter what, he's still love's bitch. Felt responsible for me, did you? Threw me some crumbs. Kept me around. Your pet vampire to use as a bloody teaching device. 'Oh, see him get all fangy! Come at me Spike! Let me show them how I smack you 'round.'"

Buffy stared at him with her mouth open a little. "That is so not how it was and you know it. Yeah, I felt sorry for you at first with the whacked-out-ness. But I told you--I saw you. I saw how you'd changed. I saw it before the soul, though I couldn't--wouldn't--admit it. We were partners. Friends."

"But not lovers," he said bitterly. He knocked his shot back and finished his beer.

"You think I don't love you because we weren't having sex? While the house was packed with teenagers?" Buffy asked, shocked at the angry look on his face.

"Well, yeah. Real love and sex--they kind of go together as I see it."

"God, you really are a man."

He shook his head at her. "And you really are insufferable. Don't you see? I don't blame you for not wanting to shag me. Didn't deserve it then. Don't deserve it now."

Buffy downed the rest of her beer, feeling frustrated as hell. "Were you and Anne having sex?" she demanded.

Suddenly Spike was fascinated with something on his shoe. Buffy put her hand under his chin and made him look at her. "Well? You can tell me. After all, I was 'shagging' the Immortal, though I thought you were dead."

"Yes," Spike said. He didn't elaborate.

"Why?" Buffy asked. "Why is it okay to have sex with her, but you don't 'deserve' it with me?"

"I care for her..."

"But you don't love her," Buffy said. She thought she finally understood him. Damn him. He still had her on some pedestal.

"I care for her," Spike said once more. "No, not like I cared for you." He let his head fall back and closed his eyes. "Who am I kidding? Not like I still care for you. But I didn't hurt her the way I hurt you. Because I'd never promised I wouldn't."

"Spike, look at me." He did, though his face was still creased in a frown. "I. Forgive. You. I think you forgive me. So the question really is: When will you forgive yourself?"

"One to talk, Slayer."

"I've grown up a bit," she said, tilting her chin up.

"So I see." He looked her up and down and gave her a half-hearted leer. Then he sighed. "But there's still Anne. That's why I stopped our dance."

Buffy took her empty shot glass and squashed her lime with it. "If there's still Anne, why did you even come?"

"I don't know, now, do I?" Spike said, getting angry again. "Thought I'd come 'round, say hello and cheers and bump up my flight. Never thought you having feelings for me was a possibility! Knew we fought and fucked well together, but never thought you'd consider being with me. Now I'm fucked but good."

"But why?" Buffy asked, exasperated.

Spike laughed humorlessly and looked away. "It's like I'm around you and--"

"And what?"

"And I can't bloody well not be around you."

Buffy finished pulverizing her lime with the shot glass and then wiped it up with a cocktail napkin. She looked at him. "And if I feel the same way?"

He stared at her, eyes narrowed. "Do you know what you're say--"

"C'è un mostro qui fuori! C'è un mostro qui fuori!"

"What the hell?" Spike asked as a frantic young man ran through the crowd, pulling on people's sleeves.

"He says there's a monster outside," Buffy said. "I wonder if he means that literally."

The man ran up to the bar and said, "Aiuto! La mia ragazza è in pericolo!"

"Your girlfriend's in danger?" Buffy asked him.

"Right gentleman, leaving her alone with the thing," Spike commented.

"Sì! Aiuto! Help me! Please! Telephone? You have a telephone?" he asked, noticing Buffy rummaging around in her purse.

She pulled out a stake. "No. Something a little pointier." She looked to Spike. He nodded and they stood. Adrenaline cleared Buffy's head. "Where? Uh, dov'è?"

"Out the back," he said, pointing to a door near the hall to the restrooms. "We go? We go outside for--"

"Sex?" Spike asked.

"No--for sigaretta." The man quickly mimed puffing on an invisible cigarette.

"Oh," Spike said. He gave Buffy a "What?" look when she glared at him.

"And this thing--this monster--he grabs her!"

"Let's go," Buffy said.

Spike nodded, quickly following her.

They burst through the exit and found themselves in an alley. Buffy could hear a woman screaming. "You ready?" she asked Spike.

"Always," he answered. "Gonna have ourselves some fun."

Chapter 4 – Fighting and ...

They raced down the alley and turned the corner into--another alley.

"Where are they?" Buffy asked. The woman screamed again and Spike and Buffy whirled around.

"Back there," Spike said. He pointed into the gloom. Buffy could just barely make out a grayish humped-over thing holding a dark-haired woman under its arm.

"What the hell is that?" Buffy asked.

"Got me," Spike said. "That's one I haven't seen before. Where's an overeducated watcher when you need one?"

"My God! That sound!" Buffy said. She squinted, hoping the demon would move into the light.

"Uh, pet. He's gnawing on the girl's arm," Spike said.

"Ooh. And--ewww." v"What should we do? I vote for neck-snapping. Or ripping out of entrails."

"I'm thinking a quick distracting might be good. Get him to stop, uh, chewing?" Buffy felt the tequila rebelling in her stomach. She swallowed and took some deep breaths.

"Got it." Spike swaggered forward and Buffy had a huge flash of déjà vu. She knew that strut. Intimately. "Hey mate," Spike said. "That's no way to treat a lady."

The demon lifted its head and its four tusk-like teeth gleamed in the shadows. It shook the limp woman and growled at Spike.

"'Sides, not much meat to that one."

Buffy moved into the shadows on the other side of the alleyway while Spike chatted up the demon. She made her way around behind it and nodded at Spike. He saw her and winked. Buffy mentally counted to three. One. Two...

"Isabella!!" The man from the bar came barreling around the corner and stopped short when he saw his girlfriend.

"Now!" Buffy yelled.

She ran and jumped at the demon, feet first, hitting it behind the knees. It stumbled and Spike grabbed the girlfriend from its arms. "Hospital!" he yelled to the boyfriend as he handed the woman to him.

The demon regained its balance and whirled on Buffy. She kicked out again and caught it in the midsection. It staggered for a second before grabbing her heel, spinning her and tossing her aside like a used napkin. Spike jumped on its back and tried to snap its neck, but its large block-like fist caught Spike square in the face and knocked him to the ground.

Buffy let out a little "Oh!" when she saw Spike hit the pavement. "For that," she said to the demon, "this one's gonna hurt." She drove her fist into the meaty gray flesh under its chin, expecting to knock it halfway down the street. Instead, it felt like her fist hit solid iron. The demon grabbed her around the middle and squeezed. She could hear a couple ribs pop.

Buffy's eyes started to roll back in her head as Spike, vamped and furious, smashed the demon in the back of the head with a trash can. The plastic cracked, annoying the monster, who then let Buffy go to peel the can off its head. Buffy wrapped one arm across her stomach and tried to punch the demon again. Next thing she knew, she was flying through the air. She crashed against a building and slid down to the street. Groaning in pain, she looked up in time to see Spike's head snapping back as the demon swatted him like a fly. Before Buffy could move, Spike landed in a heap next to her. The demon tilted its head at them and loped away.

"Spike?" Buffy touched his face--his human face. His eyes fluttered open.

"Didn't think I was that outta shape," he said.

"Me either," Buffy said. They both dragged themselves into sitting positions, resting against the building behind them. "In fact, I know I'm not that out of shape. That thing is really, really strong."

"And now it's loose on the streets of Rome," Spike said.

Buffy forced herself to stand. She felt like she'd been hit with a sledgehammer. An enchanted sledgehammer. "So much for my dress," she said ruefully, examining the tears in the fabric.

"Still look good, Slayer," Spike said, staggering a bit as he stood also. "Bit of the rough and tumble always looked good on you."

Buffy laughed and then cringed as her ribs protested. "I think I broke something."

Spike felt the back of his head. His hand came away red with blood. "Yeah, me too," he said.

"Should we go after it?" Buffy asked.

Spike looked at the sky. "Dawn's only a few hours away. That and I think we ought to find out what it is we're dealing with here before going after it."

"Plus ow."

"Yeah." He smiled. "Quite a pair we make, eh Slayer?"

Buffy nodded gingerly. "Still," she said.

***

Four taxis passed them by before one took a chance and stopped for them. The driver argued with them, wanting to take them to the hospital, but eventually he threw his hands up in the air and drove them to Buffy's address. Buffy paid him and he sped away spitting curses about "stupido turisti."

"Wonder what he was thinking?" Buffy said idly as she opened the door to her building.

"Thinking you gave me as good as you got," Spike said. He followed her up the stairs and into her apartment.

Buffy slammed and locked the door before collapsing on the couch. "God, the last time I felt this bad was when I fought one of those ubervamps. Not fun." Spike went into the kitchen, where he rummaged around until he found some dishtowels. He filled two with ice from the freezer and brought them over to Buffy. He sank down on the couch next to her.

"Thanks," she said, taking the ice he offered. His own ice, he put on the lump on the back of his head. "Does it hurt a lot?" Buffy asked.

"Just a scratch. Hard head. Remember?"

Buffy laughed a little and then clutched her middle. "Oh God. Broken ribs."

Spike stood up. "You want to call your watcher? Have him hit the books on this nasty while I look for something to wrap those ribs with?" he asked.

Buffy nodded. "Bandages. In the bathroom. Third drawer from the left."

Spike handed her the phone before disappearing down the hall. Buffy dialed Giles's number, knowing for sure this time she'd be waking him up. "Giles?" she said at his mumbled hello. "Sorry about the earliness. We've got a sitch. Demon that eats human flesh. Gray skin. Hairless. Four giant teeth like elephant tusks. And very, very strong."

"Are you all right, Buffy?" Giles asked. She could hear him fumble for his glasses.

"I will be. At least I hope so. Slayer healing and all."

"Let me write this down," Giles said. "Very strong you say? How strong would that be?"

"Ubervamp strong. Without the vamp."

"And it defeated you?"

"Handily. It threw both Spike and me like those fish those guys throw at that market in Seattle? That I saw years ago on The Real World?" At Giles's deafening silence she added, "So anyway, yeah. It defeated us. We need to know how to kill it."

"You and Spike are working together on this?"

Buffy sighed. "Yes, Giles. We were out tonight. The demon was eating some guy's girlfriend."

"I'll do what I can, Buffy," Giles said. "But I don't believe I know this particular beast. I'll call you if we come up with anything, though."

"Appreciate it," Buffy said. Spike came back into the room with one hand full of bandages, Advil and a sports cream. In the other he held a glass of water. "Talk to you soon, Giles." She hung up.

"Should wrap those ribs. Give 'em a better chance to heal right," Spike said. He handed her three Advil and the water. She swallowed the pills quickly and gave the empty glass back to him.

"Yeah. Thanks," Buffy said. "I just have to go change."

Spike rolled his eyes. "Not like it's anything I haven't seen, Slayer. Think I can control myself long enough to wrap some bandages around you."

"I didn't... I mean, I wasn't thinking you..."

He put the bandages and glass down on the coffee table and offered her his hand. "Stand and turn. I'll get that 'claspy thing' as you so eloquently put it."

He pulled her up gently and she offered him her back. She tried lifting her arms so she could move her hair to the side, but a sharp stab of pain made her think again. She waited while Spike undid the clasp and lowered what was left of her dress. She stepped out of it and kicked it aside, nude except for her satin panties and black heels. She toed the shoes off quickly and held her breath.

Spike's hands were cool on her skin. He draped her hair over her shoulder to get it out of the way and placed the beginning of the bandage just above her stomach. "Hold this, please," he said, his voice rough.

As she did, he smoothed Miracle Ice around her middle. He came around her front and took the ice-filled towel from her other hand. He wiped the excess cream from his fingers and tossed the towel on the table. Then he began to wrap the bandage around her.

Buffy blinked furiously, trying not to be affected by his nearness and his hands on her body. She couldn't help that her nipples were visibly hard or that Spike could surely smell her arousal. He kept his eyes down, though, concentrating on making the wrapping tight enough. When he fastened the bandage with two clips, the back of his hand brushed the underside of her breast, making Buffy gasp. He froze and caught her eye.

"Spike," she whispered.

Emotions flashed across his face faster than she could read them. One move from either of them and Buffy knew what would happen next. She grasped his hand and moved it to cover her breast, waiting. He reflexively squeezed and she caught her breath.

"Fuck. Buffy..."

She wanted to jump up on him, but the pain in her ribs wouldn't let her. Instead she wrapped her arms around his middle and molded herself to him. Their mouths crashed together and Buffy felt her lip split when it came into contact with his teeth. She kissed him harder.

Spike lifted her so she could wrap her legs around him. He kicked the coffee table out of their way and crossed the room to push Buffy up against the wall. His arm softened the impact and he ground against her. Buffy practically tore the coat and shirt from his body, her mouth never completely leaving his. When his chest was bare, Spike carried her down the hallway. He kicked the door to her bedroom open and they collapsed on Buffy's bed. Spike rose up on his forearms so Buffy could undo his pants. As she pushed them down along with her panties, he kicked off his shoes and peeled off his socks. When he was finally naked, he quickly spread her legs and fingered her, finding her more than ready. Buffy arched her back as he drove into her.

"Missed this. Missed you. God Buffy," he chanted as he moved within her body. He held himself up with one arm and brought his other hand down to rub his thumb around her clitoris. Buffy felt herself shudder around him, grasping him and pulling him deeper into her. She was going to come fast and hard. Several more deep thrusts and she was shaking and moaning with her orgasm. Spike came with a shout shortly after, pulsing into her over and over.

When the pleasure ebbed, they stared at each other. Buffy rubbed her thumb on his swollen lower lip. He blinked down at her and began to move within her again.

Chapter 5 – Can We Not Talk

He breathed when he slept. Not much. Just the occasional rise and fall to his chest. Buffy gently brushed her hand down his back and the fine hairs there tickled her palm.

She wanted him with her. She knew that now. She wished they could stay here forever. In bed together. Because when they were like this, everything made sense. In this and in fighting, everything was in synch. Nothing and no one else mattered.

Buffy left her hand on his back as she used her other to prod her ribs. The wrapping Spike had done was helping. That and her useful fast-healing tendencies. She looked over at the clock. Half the day was gone already. It shouldn't surprise her, knowing how time had always flown when she'd been with him like this before. What did surprise her a little was that now she didn't mind at all. She moved behind Spike and wrapped an arm around his middle.

"Bu—" he mumbled before quickly rolling to his back and looking at her. He blinked at her sleepily and touched her cheek. "Buffy," he said.

"In the somewhat bruised flesh," she said. She smiled. "Were you dreaming?"

He raised an eyebrow before giving her his sexy smirk. "Lewd, explicit dreams, love. Wanna feel what they do to me, those dreams of you?" He took her hand and moved it to his erection. She wrapped her fingers around him and hummed appreciatively. Her fist pumped him several times before she rubbed her thumb along the slit. Staring into his surprised eyes, she brought her thumb to her mouth and licked it. He tasted salty, a little tangy. Not bad at all.

"Buffy?"

"Shh," she told him. She slid down his body and between his legs. Spike braced himself on his elbows, watching her as she licked along his cock. When she got to the exposed head, she opened her mouth and took him inside. She sucked gently and then more forcefully when he collapsed back on the bed. Buffy pressed her index finger on the large vein in his shaft and gripped what her mouth couldn't cover, squeezing hard as she drew her hand up. Spike groaned and dug his hands in her hair.

Buffy sucked and moved her hand faster, watching his expression. She'd never done this for him before. All the dozens of times he'd mouthed her, she'd never considered going down on him. It would have meant too much.

Spike tensed and raised his head. "Stop love. I won't... I can't..."

Buffy dragged the middle finger of her other hand down below his balls, over the stretch of skin there and to the puckered hole of his anus. She teased him, not quite pushing her finger in. But it was enough to set him off. He gripped her head hard and shot into her mouth. The first ejaculation nearly caught her by surprise, but she recovered quickly and swallowed all he had to give. When he was done, she sucked him once more and then moved up to kiss him right below his navel. She'd always secretly loved that soft spot--one of the only such places on his body.

Spike stroked her cheeks with his thumbs before releasing her head. She crawled up his body and kissed him, letting him taste himself on her tongue.

"Hey there," he said as she drew away to catch her breath.

"Hey," she said back, a little worried. "Did you... Was that good?" She bit her lip, waiting for his answer.

"Bloody fantastic, love. Fuck, Buffy. Wanted you like this for so long." He moved his thumb and cupped her cheek, drawing her mouth down to his again. "Want more," he said against her lips.

Buffy refused to think beyond the moment. Though just by thinking that, she knew she was. But she kissed Spike hard and let him toss her onto her back. He grabbed her wrists in one hand and pulled them above her head. She gripped the headboard as he bit at her neck, her shoulders, the tops of her breasts. She felt marked, branded as he nipped and licked his way down her body. He stopped right before reaching where she wanted his mouth most and looked up at her.

"Raise your hips," he said, his voice a rough growl.

"No," she said, playfully defiant.

A look of surprise crossed his face. His expression hardened. "Lift your bloody hips, Slayer."

"Make me."

He gave her a slit-eyed, wicked smile and slid his hands under her body to grab her ass. Hard. She gasped as the pain of his fingers digging into her flesh made her wetter. He pulled her to him roughly and she felt his cock, rock hard again, push against her labia.

"This what you want, Slayer? You want me to fuck you?"

"Yes," Buffy panted. "God, yes. Uh, please."

He laughed softly and moved one of his hands to caress her between her ass cheeks. "Gonna take you so hard, Slayer, you won't be able to walk after."

"Do it Spike..."

He pushed her away from him and threw her legs wide. He shoved his cock inside her. The force of it made Buffy's head crack against the headboard. She so didn't care. He was in her, pounding into her, grabbing her breast and pinching the nipple. "Fuck you, Slayer. Fuck you. Fuck," he ground out. She held onto his shoulders, her nails digging into his skin. Her hips rose to meet every thrust. Angry sex. It was their specialty. But Spike vamping out was something new.

Buffy's breath caught as he dragged his fangs along the side of her neck, still fucking her hard. She'd let him do it. If he wanted it, she'd let him do it.

Suddenly he reared back and roared, coming inside her with long, forceful pulses. When he was finally spent, his face melted back to human and he pulled out of her. He collapsed next to her and threw an arm over his face.

Buffy slowly rolled to face him. Her ribs were really aching now, but she didn't want him to know. Didn't want him to think he'd hurt her or that she hadn't really wanted this. Any of this.

"Wow," she said.

"Yeah." He was still. Buffy felt a tiny curl of panic in her stomach.

"You okay?" she asked.

He sat up. "I should go."

"What? No!" Buffy sat up too and grabbed his arm. "What's going on? Talk to me."

He looked over his shoulder at her. "Very nearly lost it there. With you. Never done that before."

"It's okay, Spike," Buffy said. "You didn't do it. And if you had, that would have been okay too."

He shook her off and stood. "Are you cracked? You want me to--" He found his jeans and pulled them on. "Nothing about this is okay!" The pain on his face aged him, making him seem even more human. "Don't know what the hell I'm doing. Shagging you like there's no tomorrow. Vamping out. Pushing away every little thought of--"

"Don't say her name," Buffy said quietly but forcefully. "She's not here. This is not about her. It's about you and me. Isn't that why you came?"

"Didn't intend to shag you raw! I get around you and my cock does all the thinking!"

So this is my fault?" Buffy asked, pulling the sheet up to cover her nakedness.

"No. No," he said. He put a knee on the bed and pulled her into a hug. "Not your fault, love. It's me." After a second, he pulled back from her. "Actually, yes. It is your bloody fault. If you hadn't fucked me over so many sodding times, we wouldn't be in this mess, now would we?"

"Oh, don't you even start with that," Buffy said. "Mr. You-Belong-in-the-Dark-With-Me. Mr. No-You-Don't-But-Thanks-for-Saying-It. Mr. I'm-Alive-But-Can't-be-Bothered-to-Pick-Up-a-Phone!" She got up on her knees and wagged a finger in his face. "And who showed up on whose doorstep here?!"

"Bugger," Spike said, visibly deflating. "I'm a fuck-up. Still. A fucking cheating bastard fuck-up. Getting my rocks off here with you while she's--"

"Can we maybe not think for just a little while longer?" Buffy asked. "I know there are consequences to what we've done here. I know it was too soon--and, yeah, wrong--for us to be doing this, but God, Spike. For the first time in years I'm really feeling. Call me selfish. I am. I am selfish. I want us to be like this. For things to feel right like this."

He rubbed his hands over his face. "Got to be more than sex with us, Buffy."

"I know that too. And there is more, Spike. You were right, all those years ago. We're alike, you and I. We're equals. We could be partners in everything." She paused and twisted the sheet in her hands. "How does it feel, having me beg you to have sex with me? I'm pretty pathetic, huh?"

"Does make me wonder about the temperature in hell right about now," Spike said. She looked up at him quickly. He smiled faintly and ghosted his fingertips across her collarbone. "You're not pathetic, Buffy. You're beautiful. Desirable. And God help me, I still want you so much I can taste it. Want to taste you."

"Then do it," she said.

"Hate this fucking weakness I have for you. Hate what I'm doing to Anne. But good Christ, Buffy, I want you more."

He lowered her back to the bed and drew the sheet away from her body. "You're Buffy," he said as he kissed his way to her cleft. "Open up for me, Buffy."

"Take your jeans off," she said as she spread her legs.

"No," he said shortly. He touched his tongue to the tip of her clit and Buffy shook from the sensation. No one. No one did this for her like Spike. No one enjoyed it the way he did, as if he could live off the taste of her.

Spike licked her, teasing her entrance with his tongue before plunging it inside her as his fingers played with her clit. Buffy felt her heart pounding. He knew her body so well...

She heard the phone ring in the other room, but ignored it in favor of Spike's tongue fucking her, his fingers taking her closer and closer to the edge of orgasm.

The answering machine picked up.

"Buffy?" a woman's voice said. "It's, um, Anne? I haven't heard from Spike. Is he there with you?"

Chapter 6 – Bloody Revelation

Spike froze. Buffy could feel his whole body tense up at the sound of Anne's voice. He pushed off the bed and ran for the phone.

Buffy slowly sat up. She could hear him in the kitchen. Could hear his, "Wait! Anne. Hi, love. Yes, I'm here. Was in the shower, is all. Yeah, Buffy's shower. She had an extra room. Yeah, that's the address..."

Buffy flopped back down on the bed and pulled a pillow over her head. Why the hell did Anne have to call now? And why had Spike run for the phone instead of ignoring it? And oh God, he was in love with Anne, wasn't he? Or no, he "loved" her. Like a favorite stuffed animal kind of love. Because no matter what he said, Buffy had no doubt Spike was still in love with her, especially after last night and this morning. She almost couldn't remember a time when he wasn't in love with her. It was one of those givens like Twinkies having white cream filling or that she could never pass a shoe store without going in and trying on a pair. Come to think of it, though, didn't Twinkies have strawberry cream filling too for a while there?

She slid the pillow down and wrapped her arms around it and listened. She couldn't hear him. Was he off the phone already?

Buffy let go of the pillow and slid out of bed. She stretched her stiff muscles for a couple seconds before hobbling over to her door and grabbing a short green silk robe off the back. She wrapped it around her body as she went down the hallway and into the kitchen.

Spike was pacing back and forth, chewing on a thumbnail. His jeans were still undone, but he either didn't notice or didn't care.

"Spike?"

He stopped suddenly and looked at her, his thumb still at his mouth. "Shit," he said. He took a step toward her and put his hand out. "God, Buffy. Sorry 'bout that. But, couldn't just leave her hanging there, could I?" He started pacing again. "I lied. Outright lied to her, I did. Have to call her back. Have to make this right."

"Do you think that's really a good idea? Over the phone?" Buffy asked. She grabbed his arm, halting him. This revisiting of crazy basement Spike was freaking her out a little. "Wouldn't it be a better idea to tell her this in person?"

He looked away. "Suppose that would be the fairest thing, yeah."

"We can do it together. I'll fly back with you—we can leave as soon as we kill that Hunchback Demon of Rome from last night. I'll help you pack your stuff up and we'll have it shipped here." She let go of his arm and made her way to the coffee maker, still planning. "We should probably look for a place that's good for both of us, unless you don't mind living here?" She looked up at him as she filled the carafe with water. He was staring at her, his mouth a little slack.

"What?" she said.

"You think I'm moving in with you?"

"Are you saying you're not?" Buffy asked, freezing with the carafe halfway to the coffee maker.

Spike wrapped his arms around himself. "Didn't mean to give you that impression, Buffy."

"What are you talking about?" Buffy put the pot down on the counter, afraid she'd drop it. "Last night--"

"Last night and this morning were--incredible. They were. Never thought I'd be with you like that."

"Oh. My. God," Buffy said. "This isn't a 'let's be friends' speech, is it?"

"No. Well, yes. Would like us to be friends. Told you that when I first saw you again. But sex--even bloody fantastic sex--isn't going to make this work between us, Buffy."

"I thought we discussed this. It wasn't just sex, Spike. At least not to me. I completely let myself go with you. I haven't done that with you, well, ever."

"It's still all about you, isn't it, Buffy," Spike said quietly.

"Not me. Us. Spike, it's about us."

"I don't believe there is an us. There's you. There's me. And there's Anne."

"Spike, I didn't..."

"I know you didn't. Neither of us did and that's the problem! It never matters who gets hurt with you."

"How can you…"

"Because it is all about you. What makes you happy. What you want. Sod all else!" He dragged his hands through his hair. "You tell me you love me right when you know you bloody well don't have to actually do a damn thing about it. Yeah, Buffy. You love me. But can you give me the kind of love you can't run from? All the passion, the fire, the honesty, the sodding commitment? Can you give that to a monster?" He crossed the kitchen to stand directly in front of her. Buffy tried hard not to flinch. "Don't think you can. You'll always be the slayer. I'll always be that monster you're supposed to kill. Sure, you'll fuck me and fight with me and 'love' me, but you'll never really be with me."

"Spike, you haven't been listening at all. At all. What's happened to you?"

"Didn't know what I was missing, now did I? First time in my life--or unlife--I found someone willing to love me for me, not in spite of me."

The phone rang. Anne? Buffy thought. She looked at Spike and saw that question in his eyes as well. On the last ring before the machine picked up, she snatched the receiver.

"Hello," she said.

"Buffy?"

"Giles."

Spike sagged and looked down at the floor. Buffy listened absently as Giles told her what he'd learned about the demon and how to defeat it. Looking at Spike, she felt hopeless. And so ready to kill something.

"Thanks, Giles. Wish us luck," she said before hanging up.

"It's called a Korbaka demon," Buffy told Spike, her "slayer" voice in place. "Incredibly strong, but it can be killed with a silver blade through its throat."

"Buffy..." Spike said.

Buffy threw her hands up in the air. "I don't know what else to tell you, Spike. My feelings are real. More real than I've ever felt. You're right, though. I'm not the slayer anymore, but I will always be a slayer. But I don't think you're a monster and I think what happened last night proves that. I know what I've said to you in the past. I was wrong. But I can't force you to believe me. And obviously you feel something for Anne and it's not something I can compete with."

"It's not a competition, pet."

Buffy turned back to the counter and picked up the pot. She poured the water down the sink, set the pot down and looked out the window at the view of the alley behind her apartment building. She didn't turn to Spike, but she spoke to him. "Let's kill this monster. Then maybe we can talk again. Decide what it is you want to do."

Buffy pushed away from the counter and brushed past Spike without looking at him. She locked the bathroom door behind her.

She stared at herself in the mirror for a long time after taking off her robe. It was her--Buffy--but suddenly she didn't know what that meant. Who was the person Spike thought he knew? Who was the person who had hurt Spike so badly and had been completely oblivious to it? She touched the bandage he'd wrapped around her the night before and then quickly unwound it, examining the faint bruises on her skin. Pretty much healed. That much was of the good. But the way she felt right now was not. She was confused and upset and feeling like she'd somehow taken advantage of Spike. He was so different than she remembered. Restrained. Cautious. Though, when she really thought about it, he'd seemed that way regularly after he'd come back with the soul. But that last year had been all about defeating the First. Buffy regretted not having more time to understand the changes the soul had made in Spike. He'd just seemed still so Spikelike. At least after she'd basically mocked him into fighting again.

Buffy paused before stepping into the shower, afraid of what she was thinking. She'd believed she was doing the right thing by reawakening blood-lusty Spike that last year. He'd seemed happy enough to be working side by side with her. She'd definitely needed him that way. And Spike had always tried to be what she needed. She knew that, though she'd never acknowledged it. Not really.

Buffy turned on the water and ducked under the shower spray. But maybe that right there is the problem? she asked herself as she soaped her hair. Maybe he was right and once again Buffy had made things all about her? And Spike, still being Spike, still wanting to be what Buffy needed, had cheated on the one person who'd never hurt him.

Shit, Buffy thought as she scrubbed her body roughly, if that's true, no wonder he's so angry--at me and at himself. What have I done?

But she so didn't want to hurt him--not again. Somehow, she had to show him that he could trust her not to. That, yeah, being with her while he was still with Anne was dishonest, but not wrong. Because what had happened between them the night before felt anything but wrong.

She rinsed herself quickly and got out of the shower. As she toweled off, she thought about how she'd never actually fought for anyone before. When relationships were over, she'd forced herself to accept and move on. But then Spike had shown up at her door. And the way she felt now, she'd never wanted to fight for anyone more.

***

Spike was dressed and sitting on the couch when Buffy came out of the bathroom, again in her robe. She picked up the coffee table and put it back where it belonged before trying to meet his eyes. "I'll get dressed and we can go. Giles said these demons are generally afraid of crowds, so we can check some of the quieter areas of the city."

"Right," he said, glancing at her and then away again.

Buffy started to say more, but changed her mind and went to her room. She let herself sit on the bed for a minute and smell the pillow Spike had used the night before. She didn't want to regret anything that had happened in that bed. She didn't want Spike to regret anything that had happened. But she was seriously afraid he did.

She pushed herself off the bed and got dressed. Jeans, white tank top, jean jacket, ankle boots. Her standard slayer gear. From the back of her closet she pulled her favorite silver-plated sword and a silver dagger, just in case. She stuck the dagger in her boot and went back out to tell Spike she was ready.

***

They'd searched the back alleys and some of the parks without finding anything, neither speaking except to offer suggestions or directions. As they wandered down a side street, Spike mentioned the catacombs.

"What? Those creepy underground cemetery thingies?" Buffy asked. "Don't they close those after something like five in the afternoon?"

"Exactly," Spike said. "What better hiding place than a tourist attraction after hours?"

Buffy gave him a skeptical look.

"What's the matter, Slayer? Afraid of the dark?"

"No! I'm just not a big fan of really small, enclosed spaces."

Spike frowned. "Right. Me neither, really."

"How about a plain old aboveground cemetery? That's where we find most of our beasties."

"Lead on, Slayer."

Buffy stopped walking and stared at him. "You can stop calling me that any time now."

"Calling you what?" Spike asked, stopping too. "Slayer? That's still what you are, isn't it? Said so yourself."

"That's not all I am, Spike, and you know it."

"Oh right," Spike said, settling his hands on his hips. "Forgot. You're also a bitch."

Buffy gave him a half-smile after putting her non-sword-holding hand on her own hip. "I'm not going to hit you, Spike. No matter what you say to me."

"What makes you think I want you to hit me, Slayer? What makes you think you could?"

"Knock it off."

"Make me."

Buffy carefully crossed her arms. "Oh, this is real mature. You make big with the tauntage, I hit you, you get your point proven."

"What point would this be?" he asked, mimicking her stance.

"That we can't communicate unless I'm hitting you!"

"No, that you can't see me as more than your punching bag."

"That's crap, Spike. I think you're just looking for a reason to go back to Anne."

"Move right, Buffy."

"What?" she said, but years of experience had her moving before finishing the word. Just as she did, the demon from the previous night landed a belly flop right where she'd been standing. "Couldn't stay away, could you?" she asked it, holding her sword in both hands. The demon looked up at both of them and then struck, ripping the sword out of Buffy's hands and nearly stabbing it into Spike's middle. Buffy knocked Spike down to avoid the blade and kicked at the demon's knees.

"Why the hell didn't you shish kabob it when you had the chance, you stupid bint!" Spike asked, rolling her off of him.

"Hey! I just saved your life, asshole! A little gratitude?"

The demon charged at them, sword first. Buffy and Spike jumped apart and it lunged between them. With a glare at Spike, Buffy pulled the dagger from her boot and stabbed it at the demon. It ducked, causing her to miss, and sliced her arm open with the sword.

"Crap!" Buffy yelled. "I loved this jacket!"

Spike grabbed the demon by the head and, after three tries, snapped its neck. It fell to the ground and he was at Buffy's side instantly. "Gotta get that wrapped up, love," he said, gently examining her arm. The cut started at her shoulder and ended just above her elbow. "You're losing a lot of blood here." He shrugged out of his leather jacket and button down shirt, leaving him in just his gray t-shirt, and started tearing the button down into strips.

"Spike?" Buffy said as he wrapped the strips of cloth around her arm. "Do you see spots?"

Spike looked at her face and started wrapping her arm tighter. "No, love. No spots."

"Then, um, do you see the demon whose neck you just broke standing behind you?"

Spike swung around in time to miss being skewered by the blade in the demon's fist. Buffy grabbed the demon as it went by and sliced its arm with the dagger still in her good hand. It dropped the sword and howled. Spike scooped the sword up as Buffy kicked the demon in its midsection, sending it crashing to the pavement. At the same moment, Spike and Buffy drove their respective weapons into the demon's throat. It gurgled once and was still.

Spike pulled the sword out and sliced the demon's head off. "Just to be sure," he said. He kicked the head far away from the body. He picked his coat up off the ground and put it on.

Buffy examined her arm. The bleeding had slowed quite a bit, but it throbbed. "I did not like that thing," she said.

"Didn't like us much either," Spike replied, coming to stand next to her. "Should get that checked out, Buffy. Get stitches and whatnot."

"I'll be fine."

"Always are, aren't you?" Spike said.

"Okay, Mr. Passive-aggressive, enough with the cheap shots. We talk this out here and now."

"In an alley with dead demon bits at our feet?" Spike gestured at the body, which was decomposing really quickly. "Smelly dead demon bits at that."

Buffy poked him in the chest. "Did you ever stop to think that the problem here isn't me, it's you?"

"Is that right?"

"Yeah! You're the one with all the issues! You're issue-fied. I basically throw myself at your booted feet after finally figuring out that yeah, I can see fat grandbabies in the offing with you--in theory at least--and all you can do is toss the past in my face!" She took a step closer and he dropped the sword to the pavement with a loud clang. "I can't think around you. I don't know what the hell you want from me! I don't think you know what the hell you want from me."

"I want you to say it." His voice was so soft, Buffy almost has to ask him to repeat himself.

"Say what?" she asked. "Haven't I said everything already?"

"No. Really haven't."

Buffy really looked into his blue, blue eyes and saw it all--his pain, confusion, fear. He was afraid of her. Or afraid of what she might say--or not say. And then she knew what he wanted--needed--to hear.

"That night we were together," she said, "when the gang kicked me out of the house--you told me. You said the words. But I never really said them back, did I?"

Spike was frozen, watching her.

She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Spike. So sorry. For the way I used you to feel something and then pushed you away when I did. I hurt you..." She swallowed hard, trying not to cry. "And then you left and I--really wasn't expecting that. And when you came back, I used you some more, but in a different way." He was so still. "I think... I think you're afraid to believe me--to believe I love you, am in love with you--because you think I'll use you again and hurt you some more. But Spike..." She gently touched his cheek. "I won't. I swear to you I won't."

"Want to believe you," he said.

"You can." She waited, knowing it would be so unwise to do anything more. Spike made a move toward her, lifting his hand as if to touch her. But he dropped his arm to his side and stepped back again.

"If you won't let me take you to a hospital, at least let's get back to your flat so we can look at that cut," he said.

Buffy blinked quickly, trying to stop tears from filling her eyes. He didn't believe her. And why should he? She was the queen of mixed signals when it came to Spike. Still, understanding his hesitation didn't make her feel any better.

She cleared her throat. "Right. The cut. Grab the sword, will you?" She leaned over the demon's corpse and pulled the dagger out of its neck. She tried to wipe the gore off it on the pavement before sticking it back in her boot. Then she straightened up, emotions again under control, and gestured with her head toward home. "Let's go then," she said. Spike nodded and they started down the street.

When they got to her apartment building, Buffy touched his shoulder, stopping him. "Spike," she said, "is there any point to me still trying with you? Are you giving me a chance here or are you really just looking for a reason not to give me a chance?"

He smiled then and ran his thumb across her cheek before tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. "Let's figure this out inside, yeah?" he said. Buffy nodded and let him take the lead up the stairs.

When they got to her floor, Buffy paused to dig her key out of her jacket pocket. She found it and looked up, nearly running into Spike's back. He'd come to a dead stop in front of her.

"Spike?" she asked. Buffy moved around him to see what he was looking at. When she saw the blonde standing at her apartment door, she froze as well.

"Anne?" Spike said.

Chapter 7 – Three Sides to Every Triangle

"Buffy," Anne said. "It's been a long time."

"Yes it has, Chanterelle. Or is it Lily?"

"Buffy," Spike said, his voice a low growl.

"Sorry," Buffy said, more to Spike than to Anne. "So, Anne. What brings you to Rome?"

Spike went to Anne and put his hands on her shoulders. "Is there trouble?" he asked.

"Could we talk somewhere?" She avoided his question and his look.

Spike looked to Buffy. She nodded slightly.

"Let's go inside," Spike said. "Got to get the Slayer patched up first. Then we'll talk."

Buffy unlocked the door and stepped aside so Spike and Anne could enter. She slammed the door behind them a little louder than necessary and set to work trying to untie the pieces of Spike's shirt that bound her jacket to her arm. Spike noticed her struggling and quickly moved to help her. Buffy stifled her impulse to pull away to do it herself and let him peel the crusty jacket off her. Her arm underneath was an angry red and still seeping blood.

"Oh my God," Anne said, walking over for a closer look. "What did that?"

"Corona demon," Buffy said.

"Korbaka," Spike corrected her.

Buffy tilted her head in irritation at him. "Whatever."

"Shouldn't you go get stitches?" Anne asked.

"No," Buffy said as Spike said, "Yes."

"You did a great job with my ribs," Buffy told Spike. "And now you know where all the first aid junk is."

He grabbed hold of her good arm and tugged her toward the bathroom. "This won't take but a moment, pet," he said to Anne. "Make yourself comfortable."

Once they were in the bathroom, Spike began to rummage through drawers until he found butterfly bandages, gauze and antibacterial ointment. He pulled a towel off the rack and wet it down, using it to clean the wound. Buffy's stomach fluttered at his gentle touch and the brush of his fingertips on her skin.

"Think you need a tetanus shot, Slayer?" he asked.

She started at his voice. "No. No shots. Just bandage it, okay?"

"Right."

They were quiet as he applied the ointment and butterfly closures and wrapped her arm in the gauze. She watched his face. His forehead was creased in concentration, his dark blond hair was mussed sexily and she really wished she knew what he was thinking.

"So Anne's here," she said, breaking the quiet.

"Looks like it."

"Got here awfully fast if she was just on the phone with you this afternoon," Buffy commented.

Spike paused in his wrapping and looked at her. "That she did," he said thoughtfully.

"Interesting how she was all about giving you time and now here she is, just days later," Buffy said, striving for an idly curious tone.

Spike wasn't buying it. "Something must've happened," he said. "Some big bad she needs help with. Or something's going down at the shelter."

"And she couldn't have told you about this on the phone? Except, oops. She must've already been in Rome when you talked to her."

Spike finished with the gauze and stepped back. He calmly set the unused first aid things on the counter and crossed his arms. "What's your point?"

"No point," Buffy said, putting her good hand up. "Just observiness."

"Don't know what I'm going to tell her," he said, looking at the bathroom door.

Buffy touched his arm lightly. "Spike. Again. I'm sorry that what we did put you in this position. But I can't say I regret the doing."

Spike closed his eyes for a second and took a breath. "Can't say I regret doing what we did either. Least not while we were doing it. But it was the wrong time to do it."

"I know," Buffy said quietly.

"I've got to tell her, Buffy. Got to tell her what I did."

"Not first thing, though," Buffy said. "Let's find out why she's here."

Spike pressed his lips together, but nodded. He opened the bathroom door and strode across the hall to the living room. Buffy followed.

"What's going down, love? Why are you here?" Spike asked as he sat next to Anne on the couch.

"It's... I..." Anne glanced at Buffy. She lowered her voice. "Could we talk about this in--private?"

"Buffy?" Spike said, looking at her.

"What?"

"Would you mind..."

"Oh. Oh! 'Private' as in 'sans Buffy'. Well, sure. I guess. I'll just, um, be in my bedroom if you, ah, need me." Buffy backed into the hallway and turned toward her room, fully intending to go in there. But her feet suddenly seemed extra heavy and the floor right there, out of sight, seemed as good a place to sit as any...

Being able to hear every word Spike and Anne said? Just a lucky coincidence.

"What is it, Anne?" Spike asked.

Buffy could hear Anne shifting around on the couch. "Now that I've seen you, it seems silly. I was being truthful with you when I said I wanted you to come here and find some closure with Buffy. You know that, right?"

Buffy could easily imagine Spike's uncomfortable look. "'Course. Sure," he said.

"I really wasn't going to come. But then the day after you left, Angel came to the shelter."

"Angel?"

Angel? Buffy thought.

"He was following a lead, he said. Someone told him they'd seen us together so he came to me to find you."

"Why would Angel need to find me? Left me there to rot in the street a year ago, bloody bastard."

"I actually asked him that," Anne said. "He told me he knew you'd be fine because you always were. But he needs your help now. He wants to rebuild Angel Investigations."

"Is that right? I'll see him in hell before I help that ponce out again. Knew I'd be all right, did he? Think all those nancy boy hair products finally soaked into his brain!" Buffy heard Spike get up and start pacing around the room. "What kind of idiot does he take me for? Wait. Don't answer that. I know what kind of idiot he takes me for. Sure as hell not his bloody sidekick or comic relief boy any longer. Big, brawny and broody can go fu--"

"Spike!" Anne's voice stopped his tirade. "I told him that--that you wouldn't want to have anything to do with him. And he asked me where you were."

"Didn't tell him, did you?"

"Why wouldn't I?"

"Good God, Anne. What'd the bugger say?"

"He asked me if I was insane. Actually, his exact words were, 'Are you nuts? Sending Spike to Rome to find Buffy?' I told him that you were going to let her know you were okay and to end things as friends. And then he said, 'Friends? Ask Spike about ex-lovers and friends.' He also did a lot of that kind of laugh that's not funny and head shaking."

Buffy put her face in her hands. Spike was silent.

"And I got scared," Anne said. "So I flew here and called you from my hotel."

"God, I hate him," Spike finally said. "'Specially when the wanker's right."

"What do you mean?"

Buffy jumped up and charged into the room, hoping to stop Spike from spilling everything right there. "So I talked to Giles and the monster isn't dead. So we've gotta go back out there. As in right now. Let's go."

Spike and Anne just stared at her.

"Don't have a phone in your bedroom, Slayer," Spike said.

"Cell phone! I have my cell phone," Buffy answered him. She went to dig into the front pocket of her jeans, forgetting her wound. As she flexed her bicep, bandages snapped and blood began to seep into the gauze. "Crap," she said, examining her arm.

Spike was suddenly in front of her, sweeping her hair behind her shoulder to get a better look. His thumb rubbed calming circles in her palm as he gently lifted her arm. "Bloody stupid thing you did there, love. Forget you're all banged up?"

Buffy laughed softly, her head close to his. "I guess I'm so used to something kind of hurting that I--"

"Oh my God," Anne said. Buffy and Spike looked at her. Her hands were over her mouth. "Oh God! I told myself I was being paranoid, that I needed to just trust you... And you... You..." Anne pushed off the couch and ran for the front door.

"Anne!" Spike called after her. "Let me talk with you about this!" But she was out the door and down the hall before he'd moved.

Buffy grabbed his coat sleeve as he was about to go after her. "Let her be for now," she said. "I know you didn't want her to find out this way, but give her a chance to deal."

"Can't you see? I've hurt her. We've hurt her. And goddamn Angelus was right!"

"I'm trying to figure out what's upsetting you more."

"It's not funny, Buffy."

"I know it's not funny, Spike."

"Don't even know where she's staying."

"We could call around--"

Spike pulled away from her. "Fuck that. I'm going after her."

"Spike!" Buffy yelled after him as he slammed out of the apartment. "Dammit!" Her arm was still bleeding and she didn't have another coat handy. She hurried into the bathroom and re-bandaged the cut and then rummaged through her closet to find her third favorite denim jacket. As she gingerly pulled it on, she wondered if maybe she should call the area hotels herself.

She went back into the living room and picked up the phone, intending to call directory assistance, when she realized she didn't even know Anne's last name.

She tossed the phone on the couch and flopped down next to it. She felt guilty, but also irrationally mad at Anne for encouraging Spike to come to Rome in the first place. What did Anne think was going to happen? What had Spike told her--or not told her? If Anne had really known Spike, she'd also have known that Spike was insanely loyal to those he loved. But maybe that's another reason why Anne had come. Some part of her had figured out that Spike didn't love her, not like he'd loved Drusilla. Not like he still loved Buffy. Damn Angel for sticking that knife of doubt in there and twisting it around.

But who was she kidding really? It wasn't Angel's fault he was right. It was hers--Buffy's. She'd set out to get Spike back in her bed, damn the consequences. And now the consequences were damning her.

Buffy got up off the couch and headed for her front door. She'd find Spike, try to convince him to come back to her apartment and then figure out what to do next. That is, if he hadn't found Anne first. Or done something stupid.

Chapter 8 – Truth and Consequences

After an hour and a half of driving around the streets of Rome on her Vespa, Buffy was worried, angry and still Spike-less. She pulled up in front of La Tazza Sporca, the only demon bar she knew of in town, and turned off her bike. Knowing how well Spike could sniff out alcohol and baddies, he was bound to end up here at some point.

Buffy pushed through the door of the bar and looked around. A few vamps. A couple of those loose-skinned things. One with big tusks. But no Spike.

"Slayer del vampire!" One of the demons sitting at the bar recognized her.

"Una domanda," she said in her butchered Italian. "Chiunque ha visto Spike stasera?"

"Spike? As in 'William the Bloody' Spike?" a vampire in the corner asked.

"You speak English. Good," Buffy said. "Yes, that Spike. Was he in here tonight?"

The vampire looked at his friend and then back at Buffy. "Why are you looking for him, Slayer?"

Buffy walked over to him, slowly pulling a stake out of her jacket pocket. "If I thought that was any of your business, I would have told you. Since it's not, I won't. And I have this pretty piece of wood here that says you'll answer my question without asking any more of yours."

The vamp put his hands up. "Don't want no trouble, Slayer. Yeah. Spike was in here, maybe an hour ago. Got into a fight with some of the guys. They took it out back."

"Is that it?" Buffy asked, playing with the stake.

"Yeah! That's it, Slayer. I swear! Right Billy?" he asked his friend. The fleshy demon next to him gurgled what Buffy took as a yes.

Buffy nodded. "How do I get out into the alley?"

***

There were oddly colored smears on the cobblestones behind the bar. The red ones looked like blood... But no sign of Spike.

Buffy shoved the stake back in her jacket pocket and walked around to the front of the building. A different vamp than the one from inside was standing next to her Vespa. This one was tall and dark and very young-looking.

"You'll not stake me, right? If I have the information?" he asked as she walked up to him.

"What information would that be?" Buffy crossed her arms.

"Where this Spike is. The one you look for."

"Well?" Buffy said. "You're not dust yet, but unless you make with the info spillage, I'm not promising that will always be the case."

"Right. Right," the vampire said. "The demons? They, uh, beat him up? Very bad. He has bad reputation. They say he works with you--the Slayer. No?"

Buffy raised an eyebrow.

"So," the vampire said nervously, "they say 'Take him to the Scalinata di Spagna'--the Spanish Steps? So he'll burn in the coming light."

"Crap," Buffy said. She climbed on her bike.

"One thing, signorina?" Buffy looked at him. "You'll remember that I--Antonio--helped you?"

"I'll remember," Buffy said. "Thanks." She drove off, knowing dawn was less than an hour away.

***

Several tourists littered the Spanish Steps and the piazza around them, either up really early or out really late. Buffy parked her Vespa and started climbing, occasionally calling out Spike's name. When she reached the top, she stopped for a moment just to see if she could somehow feel him. But there was nothing. She continued to climb and call.

As the sun broke over the horizon, Buffy was pretty confident Spike was not anywhere in the area. The question was, of course, then where was he?

Buffy squashed her panicky feelings and decided to head back to her apartment to make some calls. Last she'd heard, Giles had some kind of a psychic on the Council's payroll. She sighed, frustrated and worried. At least it'll be doing something, she thought as she once again settled herself on her bike.

***

Climbing the steps to her apartment, Buffy was furious with herself for not finding Spike. It wasn't like he didn't stand out in a crowd, even without the white-blond blond. She rubbed her hands over her face as she got to her landing. And when she took them away, there he was. Lying face-down in front of her apartment door. Not crispy, but definitely worse for wear.

"Crap!" she said as she ran to him. She knelt next to his bruised and bloody face. "Spike?"

"Need a drink, love," Spike mumbled, his cheek pressed against the dirty carpet.

"From the smell of you, I think you've had more than your share for one night," Buffy said. "Can you get up?"

"Sure," he said. A minute passed. He didn't move.

"Well?" Buffy asked.

"What was the question?"

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Can you get up off the floor and walk into my apartment? Oh, who am I kidding?" She quickly unlocked and opened her front door before straddling him and leaning down to hook her hands under his armpits. She pulled him upright and mummy-walked him inside, slamming the door with her foot. Awkwardly, she lowered him to the couch and peeled his coat off his arms. She was able to lift him enough to slide it out from under him and replace it with a couch pillow.

"I'll get the first aid stuff," she said.

"No," Spike said. His hand shot out and grabbed her wrist, stopping her. "Want to talk to you. Got some explaining needs to be done."

"You can explain after I stop your face from oozing all over my couch, okay?" Buffy gently peeled his fingers from her wrist and went into the bathroom. A few seconds later she was back with cloths, creams and bandages. She began to dab the messiest of his cuts.

"So talk," she said.

"Never told her, Buffy. Never told her how much you meant--mean--to me."

Buffy nodded. "Anne, you mean."

"Right. Tried to stop thinking of you. Made you a right bitch in my head, I did. But wanted that all gone--you, Dru--all gone. Start fresh, yeah? Anne'd be my chance at that. My chance at that bloody normal life you went on and on about. Mine. Bleeding Christ, Buffy! That hurts!"

"Sorry," she said as she continued to dab antiseptic on him.

"Don't need that, you daft bint. Can't get infections!"

"Calm down, Spike. Better safe than sorry." Buffy capped the antiseptic and began bandaging his face and hands. "So you never told Anne about us. At least not all about us."

"Wasn't trying to keep things from her. Just never thought you'd be part of my life again. Why drag it all up?"

"Why didn't you tell her when she suggested you come to Rome?" Buffy asked mildly.

Spike rolled his head to look at her. His unswollen eye focused on her. "'Cause I really wanted to see you again, Buffy." He swallowed. "Tried not to, but I missed you. Hurts to be without you." He limply gestured at himself. "Kinda hurts to be with you too."

Buffy closed her eyes for a second. "Lift up, if you can," she said when she opened them. "I need to get your shirt off." She rucked his shirt up as high as she could while he was prone and then helped him semi-sit so she could carefully pull it over his head. "I think it's your turn for a couple broken ribs," she told him. "Do vampires bleed internally?"

"No idea. Don't feel like I'm bleedin' inside."

Buffy got up and got him some blood from the refrigerator. While she waited for it to heat in the microwave, she said, "I still don't know why you didn't believe me down in the Hellmouth."

"Maybe I did believe it. Believed you felt something for me. But it wasn't the kind of love I wanted. Not near deep enough. Didn't crowd all others from your heart. But Anne? I was that for Anne. Wanted to be it for her." He let Buffy prop him up so he could drink from the mug without spilling. "Wanted her to be the one for me," he said after he finished drinking.

"She isn't, though," Buffy said. She put the empty mug on the coffee table and sat on the floor next to him.

"She'd ask about you, you know? Wanted to know if you and I ever did some of the things she and I did. If I told you things I told her. Ended up telling her the past's best left there. And that you and I weren't much for the talking."

"Guess that's true enough," Buffy said.

"We got--closer. She was it for me. Had no one left. Needed her, I did. You get that, right?"

"I get that."

"Still, didn't want her to know what a bloody wanker I am. How I could never make things work. Didn't want her to leave me." He shifted on the couch and grimaced. "But then she wanted the words. And I didn't have them in me to give her. Not 'til I knew things with you and me were really done."

"And then I told you they weren't."

He half-laughed, half-groaned. "Bollocksed me up but good with that one, you did, love. She's been so good to me, Buffy. Better than I deserve. But now all these bloody feelings I've been ignoring are filling me up and making me want to explode..."

He shifted to look directly at Buffy. "How can I be happy with you when all it's doing is hurting Anne?"

Buffy felt like crying, but at least she now knew what to do. She gently touched his face. "You should get some sleep," she said.

"Stay with me?" he asked.

"Yeah." Buffy took her coat off and unzipped her boots before she crawled behind him on the couch and pulled the afghan over them. She stroked his hair. "We'll talk more in the morning, okay?"

Spike didn't answer. He was already asleep. Buffy lay there for a long time, trying to figure out how to tell him he'd have to leave.

Chapter 9 - If You Love Someone

Buffy woke with Spike’s nose pressed against her neck. Her arm throbbed faintly and she had a crick in her neck, but she didn’t want to move and wake him. Until that moment, she could pretend that things were good and right. That they could always wake up like this together. That she was whole.

She felt Spike pressed so closely against her and her eyes filled. How could she let him go, especially now that she realized how empty her life was without him? How could she let him stay, knowing how torn up he was about Anne? Leaving things the way they were would only lead to badness, resentment and blame. And Buffy knew she and Spike had had enough of all three of those things to fill many lifetimes. The last thing she ever wanted to see on Spike's face when he looked at her was regret. If he were to give her--give them--another chance, she never wanted him to doubt his decision.

It was Spike's turn to figure out what he wanted. And Buffy needed to let him go so he could.

She sniffed, not wanting Spike to wake up to a snot-faced Buffy. This not selfish thing? she thought. Hurts like hell.

Spike shifted and kissed her neck. Buffy pulled him even closer, knowing how soon she'd have to let him go. His kisses became sucks, marking her, as he made his way to her mouth. She ached inside as she turned and ducked her head to meet his lips with hers. Their tongues touched as the kisses grew deeper, more desperate. She needed this, for her. She needed him. Buffy clawed at the back of Spike's t-shirt, ignoring the pain in her arm as she worked to get to his skin. He drew a sharp breath when she brushed against his ribs, but grabbed her and pulled her flush against him when she tried to move away.

They stopped kissing long enough to pull each others' shirts and jeans off. Spike rose above her and Buffy's breath caught as he took her breast into his mouth. He sucked hard while lightly pinching her other nipple. Buffy squirmed, feeling the wetness between her legs grow. She wanted him deep inside of her, pounding into her. A part of her.

She pulled her legs up and attempted to wrap them around Spike's waist, but his hand on her stomach stopped her. She was about to protest when he released her breast and took the other into his mouth. Buffy's skin jumped as he moved his hand to rake his fingers through her damp curls. His soft touch was driving her crazy. She brought her hips up, trying to force his fingers to brush against her clitoris, but Spike pulled his head up and made a "tsk" sound at her. Keeping one hand on a breast, he licked and bit his way down her body, past her navel and into her curls. Her body shook as his tongue teased her, licking all around her folds, but never touching where he knew she needed him. He pushed a finger inside of her and Buffy arched her back up off the couch. He touched and tasted her, gently and then faster as she moved against his face and hand. As she hovered on the edge of orgasm, he pulled his finger out to cover her with his mouth. His tongue moved the right way and she was shaking and flying and coming.

Before her orgasm ended, Spike was driving himself into her, triggering another wave of tingles throughout Buffy's body. She grabbed his head and kissed him, tasting herself on his tongue. He thrust into her so deeply it almost hurt, but Buffy welcomed the pain. She welcomed anything that made this real. She wrapped her legs around him and lifted her hips higher, forcing him in even deeper.

"Gonna come, love," Spike growled against her lips.

"Just a little longer, Spike. I need this to last a little longer," Buffy said, pushing her forehead against his. He lifted his head and looked into her eyes. A sad smile crossed his face before he nodded and slowed his hips.

He was gliding in and out of her now as she blinked up at him. The swelling had gone down and he could open both eyes. The intense blueness of them made Buffy want to cry. She ran her fingernails lightly up and down his chest, avoiding the bruises still there.

"You feel so good," she whispered to him.

"So do you." He kissed her and smiled against her mouth. "I love you, Buffy," he said.

Buffy's heart squeezed. She swallowed past the lump in her throat to say, "I love you too, Spike." She hooked a hand around his neck and pulled his mouth back down to hers. "I need it now. Come in me," she whispered against his lips.

He groaned and snapped his hips into her again and again as her vaginal muscles grasped at him. Several strokes later, he cried out and spilled into her. Buffy kept her legs wrapped around him, not ready to let him go.

After a minute, she touched his cheek. "Why?" she asked. "Why did they beat you up?"

Spike tried to pull out of her, but she held him to her tightly, watching his face.

"My reputation apparently precedes me, love," he said, settling back into the cradle of her hips. "Me being a white hat and all, fighting for the forces of good and whatnot." He rubbed his nose along her hairline. "Some bloke named Antonio tipped 'em off I was in the city. Wonder if he works for the bloody Senior Partners."

"You're kidding."

"What?" Spike asked, rising up a bit to look at her.

"Some vamp named Antonio told me you were dumped at the Spanish Steps. I stupidly let him live."

"Huh," Spike said. "I managed to get away from the lot of them before they could take me anywhere, but maybe that was the plan. Flambe Spike. Sounds like Antonio had a change of heart."

"Or maybe he just didn't want me to kill him."

"Don't risk yourself for me, Buffy," Spike said. "Couldn't bear it if you got hurt."

Buffy flexed her legs, encouraging him to move within her again. "Risk is still what I do, Spike. You know that. And by now you hopefully know that there's pretty much nothing I wouldn't do for you."

He touched her face and dragged his fingers down to her nipple to squeeze it lightly. "Things you say, Buffy..."

Maybe... she thought. Maybe things could be okay. Maybe he can stay.

And then the phone rang and Spike's whole body tensed. He was frozen, staring at it until the answering machine picked up and the caller disconnected without leaving a message. Right then, Buffy knew she was kidding herself. If he didn't work things through with Anne, she'd have this to look forward to for the rest of their lives together--every time the phone rang or someone knocked on the door or a strange piece of mail arrived or someone who resembled Anne... It would stir this all up again. And maybe it was kind of selfish, but Buffy didn't want to spend her life worrying about the possibility of Anne being right around that next corner.

"You thought it was her, didn't you?" Buffy finally asked after Spike relaxed again.

He rolled off her, bringing her with him. "Yeah, it crossed my mind."

"You have to go. You know that, don't you?" Buffy asked.

"Go where?" he said, confused.

"Back to Anne."

This time Spike did pull out of her to sit up. "What the bloody hell kind of game are you playing, Slayer?" he spat at her. "You fuck me, you tell me you love me and then you throw me out?"

Buffy sat up too and tried to touch him, but he batted her hands away. "Spike!" she said, trying to get him to listen. "I'm not throwing you out! I just know you. I know you can't leave things this way with Anne."

"Buffy, I--"

"Just hear me out. Please," she asked. He let her take his hands. "You need to go, Spike. To work things out with Anne. Get it to where you both can be okay with your choices and decisions. You? I want so much. I can't even tell you how much. And even though it will hurt worse than hell to be without you, I know I can't have you--all of you--with me until you make things right with her."

She shifted to sit across from him. "You obviously care for Anne. She's a good person and she's been wonderful to you. How could you not care? But you also haven't been honest with her--or with yourself. And boy do I identify with that." She squeezed his hands. "Until you are, you won't be able to really see where it is you want to be. What sucks majorly is that someone's gonna get hurt here, and none of us deserve it. But you and me, we know hurt. We know how to deal with it. I'm not telling you to go because I want you to. I'm telling you because you need to. Find out what will be best for you. And if that happens to be me, I'll be here."

"And then what happens?" he asked.

"What do you mean?"

"I come back, you're waiting and then what? We start our happily ever after?"

"Well, that would probably be the plan," she said, trying to make him smile.

Instead, he shook his head. "You and me, we can't do happily ever after, love. Not wired that way."

"I know things won't be easy and carefree and all "Seventh Heaven"-y. But it can be our version of good."

"And what exactly is that? Our version of good? We've never even had a bloody relationship, Buffy."

Her shoulders slumped a little. "Yeah, there's that. I guess that's part of what you need to decide. It's a scary thing, a future with the two of us. It's all unpredictable and stuff. And there'll be fighting. And hurt. But we could also be so good together, Spike. I know that now."

"Buffy, I love you," he said. "But I also know a relationship will work with Anne."

"Ball's in your court, Spike. Find out if you want that sure thing with Anne, or if you're willing to try for more with me. Like I said, I'll be here. But not forever." She laughed a little. "Know what's funny? I know part of the reason you're unsure is because you don't trust me."

"But I--"

"No," she said. She brushed her thumb across his lips. "You don't. But I hope you will."

"Feel like I've played this scene before, 'cept in reverse," he said.

"Strange how things work, isn't it?" She kissed his cheek and stood up, wrapping the afghan around her. "We better call the airline and change your flight."

He grabbed her hand. "Buffy, I'm not ready. I can't go," he said.

She looked down at him and steeled herself. "And I can't let you stay."

***

Buffy showered while Spike called the airline and packed his bag. She cried against the shower wall, great heaving sobs. She knew Spike could hear her. He heard everything. But when she was done, she felt better. Calmer. Drained.

She toweled off and dressed, barely fussing with her hair and makeup before going out to face him again. He was sitting on the couch, his jacket on, his bag at his feet and his hands clasped between his knees. He looked up when she entered the room and the pain in his eyes took her breath away.

"Changed the flight," Spike said. "Leaves in three hours." He stood up. "Called a cab, Buffy. It'll be better this way, me going to the airport alone."

Buffy started to argue, but stopped herself. "Okay."

He came to stand in front of her and touched her cheek. "Crying," he said.

"This isn't easy for me, Spike. None of this is."

"Oh, and it's a bloody walk in the park for me then?" She watched him as he clenched his jaw and calmed himself. "No, Buffy," he finally said. "This isn't easy. But you are right. I've got to make things right with Anne. Got to be sure. Can't anyone be happy if we're not all honest with ourselves."

He opened his arms and Buffy stepped inside the circle of them. She wrapped her own arms around his middle and buried her nose in his coat. She took a deep breath, filling her senses with his scent. "Stupid vampire," she mumbled into the leather.

He held her tightly. "Daft Slayer," he said into her hair.

They stood that way for what seemed like forever, neither wanting to move. Finally Spike stepped back. "Better go," he said.

Buffy sniffed and nodded, willing herself not to cry again.

"I'll be in touch, yeah?" he asked.

"Counting on it," she answered.

And then he was gone, closing the door very softly behind him. Buffy sank to the floor, hoping she hadn't just made the biggest mistake of her life.

Chapter 10 - Loose Ends

"Giles."

"Buffy?"

"Yeah. Any news?"

"Which news, exactly, are you hoping for?"

Buffy sighed into the phone. "Vampire lackey? Senior Partner minion or not? I've been back to that demon bar looking for him so many times they're starting to shout 'Slayer' like I'm Norm whenever I walk in."

"Norm?"

"You know. From that old sitcom?" There was silence at the other end. "So," Buffy continued. "You were about to give me news."

"Actually, I don't know much more than the last time we spoke. As you discovered while, um, 'interviewing' various demons, it looks as though the vampire Antonio was told to leak the information that Spike was in Rome. We've managed to confirm that."

"Right. But who did the telling?"

"I could find no further information."

"Then I'll have to just keep looking for him. I want to know why he found me to tell me where Spike would be. A vampire tipping me off out of the goodness of his unbeating heart? It just doesn't add up." Buffy sat down on her couch. She took a deep breath. "And any other news?"

She could practically feel Giles's hesitation. "Giles?" she prompted.

"Buffy. It's been nearly a month."

"I know exactly how long it's been. That's not what I asked."

"I don't know what you want me to say."

"I want you to tell me if your people in L.A. have heard anything."

"Buffy, you did the right thing." His voice was low and his tone fatherly.

"But you know I was hoping for the right thing for me too. And this doesn't feel right at all." She scrubbed an eye with the back of her hand, frustrated with her useless tears. "I know I was being all mature and selfless and stuff, but he was supposed to come back, Giles. Why hasn't he come back?"

"Maybe there are things he must do. Or maybe--and I know you don't want to hear this, Buffy--he's decided he's where he wants to be."

Buffy bit her lip. She knew where Giles stood on the whole Spike thing. She couldn't get mad at him for wanting to protect her. Well, maybe a little mad. "Why do I bother talking to you about this?" she asked.

"I've asked myself that many times. Most likely because I care for you and I want what's best for you. And you know that."

"But Giles," Buffy said quietly, "what's best for me is Spike."

Giles sighed, the sound like wind blowing across the phone line. "I know."

"I'll call if I find Antonio," she said.

"I'll be waiting to hear from you."

Buffy hit the off button on the phone and checked her watch. Happy hour. Time for another visit to The Dirty Cup. And yes, Buffy thought as she stuck a couple stakes in her jacket pocket, that does sound a hell of a lot better in Italian.

***

"Slayer!" the bar's clientele yelled as Buffy walked through the door. She held up a hand in greeting and approached the bartender.

"Was he here last night?" she asked the green scaly demon pouring drinks.

"Told you I'd call if he came in, Slayer."

"Yeah, so you did. Did he come in?" she asked again, her voice hard.

"Actually," the bartender said, blinking his three eyes furiously, "he did come in. I, uh, lost your phone number."

Buffy narrowed her eyes at him. "Did you tell him I was looking for him?"

"Now why would I do that? He'd run for sure. But I did tell him that there was some hot chick coming in here nearly every night, looking for a, um, bite."

Buffy leaned across the bar. "And he bought that?"

"Said he'd be back tonight." He panicked a little when she grabbed him by his silk shirt. "Honest, Slayer! Here! Have a drink and wait him out."

She let him go and he quickly poured a whiskey for her. The smell of it reminded her of Spike. Hell, everything reminded her of Spike. She glared at the bartender and took her drink over to an empty table to wait.

Buffy sipped the whiskey and thought about the last twenty-three days. They'd been long. Lonely. Even though she'd been in her apartment alone for several months before Spike had appeared, it had never felt as empty as it did right after he left. She hadn't talked with anyone except Giles. Part of her hoped to tell everyone the good news--at least as she saw it--when Spike came back. Another part of her didn't want anyone pitying her if he didn't.

Buffy finished her drink and signaled the bartender for another. He brought it to her himself. "He just came in the back," he hissed at her after placing the glass on the table.

"Who now?"

"Slayer!" the bartender said disapprovingly. "Antonio! The vamp you're so hot to 'talk' to?"

Buffy placed her hands on the table and pushed herself up from the chair. She'd forgotten to eat again, so the whiskey was making her feel a little fuzzy. "Where?" she asked.

"He's sitting at the bar."

Buffy nodded at the bartender and pushed past him. She saw Antonio slouching on a stool and stepped up next to him.

"Looking for me?" she asked.

He looked at her, startled. "Slayer! No, no. I was looking for no one!"

"Is that right?" Buffy asked. "Then you've got some time on your hands to talk to me. Outside. Now."

The vampire glanced around the room quickly, looking for an escape. Buffy grabbed him by the arm and poked a stake into his back. "Easy way or hard way, buddy," she said. His shoulders slumped and he didn't resist as she propelled him to the door.

Once they were outside, Buffy shoved him from her. "Talk," she said. "Who told you to leak that Spike was in Rome? And why did you then tell me where to find him?"

Antonio held his hands up in front of him. "I cannot say," he said nervously.

"I have a stake here that says you can."

"No, no! You do not understand! He will kill me."

"He?" Buffy narrowed her eyes, all fuzziness gone. "He who?"

"I cannot--I will not tell you, Slayer. I cannot betray him so."

"Then I'll just kill you myself," Buffy said, raising her stake.

Antonio fell to his knees on the pavement. "Per favore, signorina! He is mio angelo..."

"Your Angel?" Buffy said, shocked. "Angel told you to have Spike beat up?"

"I hear tales--he is your angel as well, no?"

Buffy started pacing in front of the kneeling vampire. "No! He hasn't been my Angel for years. Yeah, he'll always have a place in my heart--first love and all--but why the hell is he messing with my life now? I mean, I haven't seen him in forever, the stupid vampire."

"Vampire?" Antonio asked, looking confused. "No, you did not know? He is no vampire."

Buffy stopped moving and stared at him. "He's not a vampire anymore?"

Antonio got off his knees and dusted his trousers off. "You were his amore and you did not guess?"

"I told you I haven't seen him in years!" Buffy said, exasperated.

"This is not what I hear, signorina. The Immortal, he is seen with you mere mesi--months--ago."

"Wait," Buffy said, holding up a hand. "You're talking about the Immortal? Marco. Not Angel?"

"The Immortal is my angel," Antonio said, looking like a lovesick puppy. A lovesick puppy Buffy had an uncontrollable urge to kick.

"Marco wanted you have Spike beaten up? Why? My God, I haven't seen him in at least six months! What is with jealous supernatural guys?"

Antonio looked around them quickly. "That the Immortal wanted this, I did not say."

"Fine. Whatever," Buffy said. "But why did you come and tell me where they were taking him--Spike?"

"I know nothing of this," Antonio told her, trying to look innocent.

"You. Came to me. And told me to go find Spike at the Spanish Steps."

"No. I would never do such a thing." He looked around again and then leaned in closer to Buffy. "Not even if the Immortal, he show me no love in return, just use me and toss me, crumpled, aside. Or if I discover you, the Slayer, would hunt me down and uccidalo--kill me--for my part in the death of your William the Bloody."

Buffy took a step back from him and looked around as well. "O-kay," she said, not sensing anyone. "So you wouldn't know where Marco was right now, seeing as you would never betray him and all that, right?"

"I would not," Antonio said, raising his chin. "As I would never tell you, Slayer, he is at l'hotel Eden sopra Via Ludovisi."

"Just so we're clear," Buffy said wryly.

" Sì. We are, as you say, clear?"

"As less murky mud," Buffy said. "Thanks for--nothing?"

Antonio made an exaggerated, sweeping bow. "It is my pleasure, signorina. I leave you now." He turned to go. Buffy's head snapped up. "Antonio?" she called to him. He stopped and faced her, a smile on his lips. "So I'm clear, no offense," she said as she threw a stake directly into his heart. "Just doing my job." His expression was shocked as he crumbled to dust in front of her. Buffy walked through the cloud before the night breeze swept the rest of him away.

***

As Buffy walked home, she debated about what she should or shouldn't do with the information Antonio had given her. Why would Marco want Spike beaten? Should she go to the Hotel Eden and confront him? But what good would that do? It would make her feel good to do a little rearranging of his pretty face... Suddenly Buffy thought about what Spike had said when she'd told him she'd ended the relationship with Marco. "No woman ever leaves the Immortal," he'd told her. And she'd said, all big with the confidence, "Well, this one did." Buffy sighed. She should know by now, everything had consequences.

No matter what, though, Marco had no right messing with Spike. The idea of beating that into him was starting to grow on her. She stopped walking and waved down a taxi.

Fifteen minutes later, the cab driver dropped her at the entrance to the Hotel Eden. Buffy was striding her way to the front doors when she pulled up short. What was she doing? This wasn't going to bring Spike back to her. In fact, the only things she'd accomplish by beating on the Immortal would probably be getting kicked out of Rome and amassing a whole new army of enemies. That is if she didn't get herself killed in the process. And the whole dead thing? Been there. Done that. Sang in a musical about it. Plus, despite what her head was telling her, in her heart she still had some hope that Spike would come back. And she didn't want to be dead when he did.

Still, Giles had a point, though Buffy would never admit that to him. She knew she should start getting realistic about this. Nearly a month had gone by and she hadn't heard a peep from Spike. She also knew the only way Spike was coming back to her was if Spike chose to come back to her. It was the whole reason she'd sent him away. It was supposed to be like that Sting song. If you love someone, set them free...

So, if Spike already had made a decision, she needed to get on with her life. And moving away from Rome might actually be a really good first step. She looked around at the trash just beyond the entrance to the fancy hotel. It was just so dirty here. And the smells. And she had no friends or purpose, really. Face it, Buffy, she told herself, you're homesick.

Except she really had no home anymore. Spike could have been my home, was the thought that raced through her head. And then she wondered when she'd started thinking about him in the past tense.

She decided to go back to her apartment and call Willow up to have her do one of those Internet search thingies to see what flats in London were going for. Or maybe she'd look into Paris. Buffy had hated French in high school, but being in the actual country could change things, right? Plus, Dawn was there.

She was working out a whole plan in her mind by the time she reached her building. Figuring out the logistics, she slowly climbed the stairs to her floor. The month was almost over and she could break her lease after that. She could store or sell her stuff and she'd go see Dawn. See how university was treating her. Have some sisterly bonding time. Then she could check out London again and the Council headquarters...

She stopped and blinked. A figure sat on the floor next to her door, all black leather and blond hair. He looked up slowly when he sensed her. Buffy held her breath as his face creased into a smile.

"I'm home, love," he said.

Buffy was stunned. Was he real? She took a couple steps and then she was sitting in his lap, wrapping herself around a very solid, very real Spike. She pulled back slightly to see his eyes and touch his cheek. "Yes, you are," she said.

Chapter 11 - Reunions

Buffy held Spike tightly and breathed in the smell of his duster. She could tell it wasn't the one he'd had in Sunnydale because this one didn't smell as strongly of dirt and blood and demon goo--but the scent was still familiar and weirdly kind of homey. Eventually she loosened her grip on him and pulled away a little.

"Took your damn time. You don't write. You don't call..." she said, raising an eyebrow.

Spike cringed a little. "Yeah. 'Bout that. Needed to sort things and I knew if I talked with you, it'd only muck up my brain."

"Oh, thanks."

"You know how I mean that, Buffy."

Buffy stood and stuck a hand out. He grasped it and let her pull him to his feet. She squeezed his hand and then dropped it to unlock her front door. "I guess I do. But why don't you explain it for me?" She gestured for him to go inside. He started past her, but stopped to cup her face in his hands and kiss her. It was a good kiss. One that Buffy felt all the way to her knees.

"It's so good to see you, love," he said when their lips parted.

Buffy forced herself to push him through the doorway. "Talk first, kiss later," she said, following him in and closing the door behind them. "What's with the retro look?"

Spike gave her that smile, the one that melted her bones. The one with the head tilt and the cocked eyebrow. And suddenly Buffy felt that talk was way overrated. She literally jumped on him.

"We will talk," she said between kisses. She pulled at his duster and he shrugged it off. "Because there's lots to talk about."

"We can talk this way first," he said, kneeling in front of her to strip her boots and jeans off.

"Actually, really want your mouth to be doing things other than talking right now," Buffy said. She tugged at his arm to get him to stand again and pulled his t-shirt over his head.

Spike curled his tongue over his teeth. He unbuttoned Buffy's blouse and pushed it off her shoulders, leaving her in just a camisole and panties. He quickly peeled those off of her and asked, "Where do you want my mouth, love?"

She undid his jeans and slid them down over his hips. He leaned down to pull his own boots off and then kicked his jeans aside. When he straightened, Buffy licked his collarbone. "Me first," she said.

Spike's eyes closed and his head fell back as Buffy kissed and licked her way down his body. His hands rested gently on her head as she took him into her mouth. She loved the taste of him because it was him--musky, slightly salty, addicting. Spike groaned and pushed his fingers deeper into her hair as her tongue circled him and she sucked strongly.

"God, Buffy," he said. "Wish I could stay here with you forever."

Buffy released him with a pop and looked up at him. "Well, we can't stay exactly like this forever, but with bathroom and food breaks for me and blood breaks for you..."

Spike knelt down to face her. He trailed his fingertips across her cheek and lips. "Can't stay in Rome, love," he said. "Have to go back to L.A."

"What?" Buffy stood and stared down at him, hands on her naked hips. "You just came back. Why the hell would you have to leave again?"

Spike stood too and tried to take her into his arms. She pushed him away. "Buffy, there's work needs to be done in L.A. still. I've been working with Angel--"

"Angel who left you for dead in an alley?"

"Angel who says he made sure I wasn't dust before going off to slay this enormous dragon. Said he came back to find me after, and I wasn't there any longer."

"Convenient. So now instead of leaving me for Anne, you're leaving me for Angel? Why the hell did you come back anyway?"

"Please, love, just listen."

Buffy stormed down the hall and into her bedroom, Spike following. She pulled her green robe off the back of her door and wrapped it around herself. "Fine. Talk," she said.

"Angel and me, we're rebuilding Angel Investigations. Well, Angel and Spike Investigations or something. That's what I've been doing this month."

"And what about Anne? The script I was following said you were going back to work things through with her," Buffy said.

"Things are never that easy, Buffy."

"What does that mean? You haven't finished things with her? And if that's so, you can get your tight ass out of here. As in now." She pointed at her bedroom door.

Spike shook his head and ran a hand through his hair, releasing some of the slicked back curls. "No. It's done. Thought I wanted to make a go of it. She was safe, you know? Good to me. But not good for me--and I'm not good for her. Not when all's I can think about is you."

"What did you tell her?" Buffy asked, sitting down on her bed.

He sat down across from her. "Buffy, you don't want to hear about all that."

"Yes I do. I want to know why you're really here and why you say you're not staying. And wrap this around your waist." She threw a blanket at him. "You're distracting me."

He caught the blanket and glared at her. "Know what? This is bollocks. I'm here now. Isn't that enough?"

"Spike--"

He gave her a hard look. "Fine. Want to know what I said to Anne? Had to tell her to her face, the way I still feel about you. Owed her that. Didn't take it well and it hurt her. She cried, Buffy. She cried over losing me. Very nearly stayed because of that--because I swore to myself I'd never make her cry. But had I stayed, I never could've made her happy. Not honestly. 'Cause it's you I want. Warts and all."

"I'm trying to get those warts removed, you know," Buffy said softly.

"Keep 'em," he said. "Or at least some of them. Gives you character." He pointed at her nose. "Might want to get that one taken care of, though."

"You really can be an ass, you know that?" she asked, her tone light.

"Yeah, but I'm your ass. Wait. That didn't come out right..."

"So things are done with Anne. But you're starting something with Angel."

"A business. Starting a business with Angel," Spike said emphatically.

Buffy looked at him strangely. "Well, duh. What else would you be starting with him? And don't tell me there's some weird vampire thingy that only you and he can understand..."

"Buffy, no. That's not what I'm telling you."

"Then, Spike, what are you telling me?"

He stood and wrapped the blanket around his waist before facing her. "This seem familiar?" he asked. She looked at him, waiting. "Remember that night, love? When I told you I'd seen the best and the worst of you?"

"Of course I remember that night," she said. "That night changed everything for me."

Spike looked surprised. "It did? Then why'd you ask me if it had to mean something?"

Buffy lowered her eyes for a second and then lifted her head to look straight at him. "Ever think maybe you weren't the only one who was scared then?" she asked quietly.

He sat next to her and ran a finger along her jaw. "Know a little something about scared," he said. "Here I am, bloody terrified again. I'm choosing to believe you, Buffy. To believe that you mean it when you say you love me. That you won't change your mind tomorrow or next year or in twenty years. I love all of you, Buffy. Do you--can you--love all of me?"

"Spike," she said, reaching for him.

He took her hands and held them in his. "No, pet. Need the words this time."

She looked at him and felt tears prickle her eyes. "I don't say those words easily. In fact, it's damn hard for me to say them. It seems as though every time I do, whoever I tell leaves my life. But you? You're the one who came back and stayed." She shook her head. "I feel like I've been rehearsing this for so long and it's still gonna come out all wrong."

"Think you're doing pretty well so far," Spike said.

Buffy took a deep breath. "Okay. Here's the thing. The only man I've ever loved who I've consistently been able to count on, who has risked so much for me, who tried so hard--even before the soul--is you. You've actually taught me a lot about love, Spike. Which still makes me laugh considering who you are and who I am." They exchanged wry smiles. "But you have," she continued. "I've learned that love is more than hormones and dreams and pain. It's about watching each other's back, about knowing the other will be there for you when you really need it. And yeah, there is the hormone element, but what I feel for you goes way deeper than just that."

"Buffy, I--"

"You deserve to be loved, Spike. Even if it is by me."

He brought her hands up to his lips and kissed them. "No one I'd rather be loved by," he said.

"Well that works out nicely for both of us, then, doesn't it?" she asked. "I think we just had a 'Very Special Moment.'"

Spike squeezed her hands and let them go. "So, in light of this 'moment', does this mean you'll go back to L.A. with me?" he asked.

"It means," she said, wrapping her arms around his neck, "that we should probably talk more about that later because I need you inside me pretty much right now."

"Right." Spike unwrapped the blanket from his waist and slid his hands under her robe. He lifted her up and she positioned him at her entrance. "You sure you don't need me to...?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"I'm definitely good to go," Buffy said. She lowered herself inch by inch, pulling him deep inside of her. "Ohh," she breathed. "I remember this."

"I should bloody well hope so," Spike said, sounding breathless himself. He held her hips and encouraged her movements. When he was all the way in, Buffy leaned down and touched her forehead to his.

"This is right," she said. "We can make this work."

"Already know that, love," he said giving her a sly grin.

Buffy let her head fall back. "You know what I mean, you dope."

"Ah, name calling. Now that's familiar foreplay." He latched on to one of her nipples as she squeezed him within her, making him gasp against her breast. "Fighting dirty. Remember that too."

Buffy moved on him, increasing her speed. "I never fight dirty. I'm always of the true and right."

"Oh, right there. That's so good, love. Feels so good inside you, being surrounded by you." He took a hand from her hip and brushed his thumb across her clitoris. Buffy's body spasmed at the touch. "Buffy, you're in me too. Part of me. Part I never want to let go of--never could let go of."

"God, Spike," Buffy said, feeling her orgasm build. "Touch me again."

He did and she froze on him, feeling the waves of sensation wash over her. She cried out and clutched his shoulders. When her climax ebbed, she opened her eyes to see him watching her, awe on his face. "So bloody beautiful when you come for me," he whispered.

"Wanna see you come too," she whispered back. She ground down on him and tightened her muscles as she drew herself back up his length.

"Oh yeah," he said. "Gonna come hard, you keep doing that. Faster, love."

She did as he asked and his hips rose to meet her downward thrusts. They moved together again and again. Buffy could feel him deep inside of her and knew he was close. She leaned down and bit his neck, not hard enough to break the skin, but enough to send him over the edge. He bucked up and shot into her, calling out her name as he held her hips hard enough to bruise. As he came back down, Buffy held his face and kissed him.

Eventually, Spike rolled over with her, their lips still touching and teasing. Buffy was the first to speak. "Let's do that again," she said.

"Give us a second, love. Jet lag and all."

Buffy laughed, surprising herself with the happiness in the sound. It seemed to surprise Spike too. "Love that sound," he said. "Gonna make you do that more often."

She held him close, breathing him in. "I'm so glad you're here," she said against his skin. "I was worried when you didn't call. Not just that you'd decided to stay with Anne, but then when I found out tonight that he was the one who had you beaten--"

"He who?" he asked.

Buffy propped her head up on her hand and traced patterns on Spike's chest with her fingers. "Marco. Evidently, he was the one who called out the hit on you."

"The bloody Immortal? Why am I not entirely surprised? Wanker always had others do his dirty work for him. He go after me because of you? My being with you after you dumped his Teflon ass?"

"I'm not sure," Buffy admitted. "That's what I thought too, but then I wondered if I was being too egotistical. But it's possible."

"Bastard. 'Bout time he got some of his own. What are we gonna do?"

"Oh, I want to hurt him and hurt him bad. But it's more important to me that he not try that crap on you again."

"Can take care of myself, you know," Spike said.

Buffy smiled at the male bravado in his tone. "I know. Doesn't mean I ever want to be the reason you're hurt again."

"You and me, we can have a talk with 'Marco' in the morning," Spike said with a decisive nod.

"If that's what you want," Buffy answered.

"Right now, I want you again," he said, rolling her beneath him.

Chapter 12 - Where Do We Go from Here

Buffy felt herself being kissed awake. "Up and at 'em, Slayer," a warm, rumbly voice whispered in her ear. She slowly opened her eyes to see Spike standing next to the bed, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

"Time?" she asked croakily.

"Four pm," he said, rubbing his hands together. "Time to go tear a hole in some Immortal ass."

"Good God, Spike," Buffy groaned. She rolled over and buried her head under the covers. Those covers were soon gone as Spike yanked them off the bed and wrapped his arms around her, dragging her to her feet.

"C'mon now, Slayer. When have you ever backed down from a good fight?"

"There has to be fighting?" she asked, blinking at him. He felt warm pressed against her. Mostly likely from her body heat since he'd spent the night and most of the day either wrapped around her or in her. "Marco can be reasonable, you know. Maybe there could be talking? Talking and coffee?"

"You're not serious, right?" Spike asked. He stepped back and held her at arms-length. "That bloody bastard had me beaten. Add that to the humiliations of the last times we've crossed paths and I'm ready to spill some of his perfect blood!"

Buffy broke his grip on her arms and sat on the bed. She grabbed a blanket and wound it around herself. "Sorry. Can't have a conversation about Marco while we're both naked. It's a thing."

Spike grabbed his jeans off the floor and tugged them on. "Better?" he asked sarcastically.

"No," Buffy said. "But it makes it easier to concentrate." She smiled at him and his frown eased. "Think about it, Spike. We can't just barge into his hotel room and beat him up. We'd be squashed like bugs by all the bodyguards he keeps around. And that's if we even got through the front door and found out which room is his."

"I can smell him," Spike said, putting his hands on his hips.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "There are over a hundred rooms in the Hotel Eden. You're gonna smell him?"

"Worth a try, innit?"

"So, are you going to tell me what Marco did that has you so ready for a bite of him? Besides the beating. Because, frankly, Spike, you kinda like being beaten up."

"Only by you," he said, sitting next to her.

"God that's seriously twisted."

"Yeah, well. If it makes you feel any better, I like getting shagged by you a hell of a lot more."

Buffy grinned. "And if I do both at the same time..."

Spike lunged for her, covering her body with his as he pressed her down into the bed. He licked her neck. "Yeah? Tell me more."

Buffy hooked her leg around his and flipped them so she was on top. She crossed her arms on his chest. "Actually, that gives me an idea," she said.

"Oh yeah?" Spike asked, waggling his eyebrows and curling his tongue over his teeth.

"Yeah. I know how we can hurt Marco without getting anywhere near him."

"Oh," Spike said, disappointment crossing his face. "Well, supposed I'd like to hear that idea as well."

"It's not like I've had a lot of time to think about this, you know. With the you showing up and all the sex."

"You'd better not have been thinking about that wanker while you were with me," Spike growled at her.

"Oh please." She bit his collarbone lightly and thumped him on the chest. "Focus. What's the thing Marco cares about most?"

Spike frowned in concentration. "Sex?" At her glare he added, "May be a vampire, pet, but I'm still a guy. It's what guys care about, yeah?"

"Well, yes, but Marco also really cares about his reputation. If we mess with that, we mess with him big time."

Spike sat up, pulling her with him. "Yeah. Can see that working. How're we gonna bollocks his reputation?"

"I'm thinking a few well-placed phone calls from the local clinica mentioning that Marco suffers from a rare STD... I mean yes, he's immortal. But that doesn't mean he can't spread stuff."

"That's low, love."

"And?"

He smiled slowly. "Might work."

***

Two hours and seventeen phone calls later, Buffy was feeling pretty confident that Marco wouldn't be getting another date in all of Italy, let alone Rome. She turned away from the phone to look at Spike, who was sprawled across her couch, clicking through the television channels with the sound off.

"So?" he asked when she caught his eye. "Couldn't understand any of that Italian gibberish you were spouting off."

"He's pretty much bulletproof in many ways--no pun intended--but I don't think he'll be gettin' any for a while. I called all his haunts and left word that he really needs to call the clinic for malattia venereal--venereal disease--to get treatment for his, um, condition."

Spike snorted and then frowned a little. "Still curious as to why the Immortal's interfering with your personal life now. Ended it with him a while ago, didn't you?"

Buffy pushed his feet off the couch and sat next to him. "You know I did."

"Then why?"

"You were my first."

"Yeah, right. Know for a fact that's not true--"

She punched him on the shoulder, making him wince. "You were the first one I was with since him. And even when I was with him, he knew I still thought about you. Still missed you."

"And you were the first ever to break things off with him..."

Buffy shrugged. "One thing I've learned from all my disastrous relationships? The male ego can be huge. Huge and irrational. And often in direct opposite proportion to his..."

"Hey, now," Spike said, offended.

"Except yours, sweetie."

"Damn right."

"But I still think we should probably leave Rome," Buffy said.

"And go to L.A.?"

Buffy shifted uncomfortably. "Yeah. About that--"

Spike said, "Great. Here we go," at the same time Buffy said, "I can't go back to L.A."

Spike stood. "Think it's more 'won't' than 'can't'."

"Um, both?"

He crossed his arms and widened his stance, like he was waiting for a blow. "So that's it. Again. I'm building a life in L.A. and you can't see past the end of your nose to join me there."

Buffy stood too. "No, it's not like that. And I don't think you're building a life for you at all, by the way."

"What's that mean?"

"I think you're helping to build Angel's life--just like you did when you stayed at Wolfram and Hart after you were re-corporealized. And yes, Andrew did fill me in on all the details."

"I did not! If anything, I stayed to bugger up Angel's Shanshu, to be the bloody thorn in his bloody side! And I stayed because I didn't think you'd want me!"

"Well, you're just a stupid head then! Of course I wanted you! How could you think I wouldn't?!"

"I don't know!" he shouted.

"I don't know either!" she shouted back. "But I think it's time for us to build a life for us instead of doing it for everyone else!"

"S'what I'm trying to do, you silly bint!"

Buffy grabbed his shoulders. "Then let's go to London and start our own business. One that's funded by the Council. They owe us, Spike. Both of us."

"But I told Angel--"

"Angel's a big vampire. Angel can take care of himself. You don't owe Angel anything."

"It's not that easy, Buffy." He uncrossed his arms and put his hands on her waist. "He's counting on me."

She was quiet for several moments, wrestling with her thoughts. Finally, she said, "You know, the old Buffy would say, 'So am I'. But the Buffy I am now knows that's unfair. I know I should go to L.A. with you, if that's what you want." She took a deep breath. "So I will."

Spike looked stunned. "What?" he asked.

"I'll go back to L.A. with you. For however long you need me. But I like the idea of going to London and building something there. Something that's just ours. Without all the baggage."

"Slayer, you and me--we're all about the baggage."

"Without everyone else's baggage, then."

He touched her cheek and ran a thumb across her lips. "Be hard on you, going back?"

Buffy nodded once. "With Angel there and Anne there. And Sunnydale not that far away--or what's left of it. Yeah. Hard's a nice way of putting it. But I'll do it. For you."

Spike pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her. "You'd do that for me," he said and she could hear the wonder in his voice.

She nodded, her forehead rubbing against his neck. "I would. I will. If that's what you want, Spike."

"What I want," he said, pulling away from her to look into her eyes, "is you. Happy."

"If I can be with you, I'll be happy, okay?"

He shook his head. "No. You won't."

She stepped back. "What the hell does that mean?"

"It means we're not going to L.A.--at least not to stay. You and me? We're opening up shop in London."

"We are?"

"Yes, Buffy. Love. You've got a point. Been following other people for so long, I've almost forgotten what it's like to strike out on my own. Do me good, starting from scratch. As long as I can do it with you."

Buffy cupped his face in her hands. "Are you sure this won't just be more of the following me?"

"Hell no," he said, tilting his head. "I'm going first."

"I love you, you know," Buffy said.

"Love you too. Now kiss me before I call The Great Poof and tell him we're coming to L.A. To pack."

The End

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