Angel had known Spike was living with Buffy for a while. He hated the idea of it, but he couldn't say he was too terribly surprised. He had expected it sooner even, it had been more of a shock to him that Spike hadn't run off looking for Buffy the moment he was corporeal again. He wasn't even surprised that Buffy took him back. For the toughest person he'd ever met, she had a forgiving streak a mile wide… one he'd walked down a few times himself. Besides, their William was a hero now, all dying for noble causes and helping the helpless. Angel rolled his eyes.

When he approached the address Willow had given him, it wasn't what he expected. It was hard for him to imagine Buffy living anywhere that wasn't Sunnydale and even harder to imagine Spike living anywhere that wasn't a creepy hole in the wall. The brownstone was much smaller than Buffy's old house, but quaint. They didn't have a lawn, but there was a large flower pot next to the stoop, which was full of snow at the moment, and upon the top step there was a welcome mat, that upon closer examination read "Go Away." A strange image of Spike browsing the shelves of a Bed, Bath and Beyond entered the vampire's mind and he grimaced.

Angel was beginning to wonder why he'd decided to deliver this message in person. Sure, he and his team had found some valuable information about a demon that Buffy and her Mini-Slayers were fighting… but he could have just called. He usually called, sometimes emailed even. Maybe it was morbid curiosity that had caused him to travel all this way just to deliver two paragraph's worth of info… maybe he had to see for himself.

"BIT!" his vampire hearing could pick up his former friend's voice shouting somewhere inside the house. "BIT!"

'Bit by what?' Angel thought to himself, his eyebrows furrowing. He wasn't sure he was ready to knock on the door, not yet. So instead he went to the alley alongside the building, finding a rather convenient fire escape. As he climbed to the second level, he could hear lively 80s music playing on the radio, just a bit too loud. He figured that meant he was in the right place, and stealthily peered through the window.

The layout of the home was fairly open, maximizing the small amount of space. There was a TV against the wall closest to the street, sitting on top of a disorganized looking entertainment center full of movies. In front of that was an area rug and scratched up wooden coffee table, which had a couple of notebooks stacked on one side and an old coffee mug on the other. A well worn sofa covered in throw pillows seemed to act as a divide between the living room area and the dining room area, as behind it was a round kitchen table with four chairs. The kitchen itself was just a stove, sink, refrigerator and small stretch of counter against the back wall of the apartment… and it was there that he first noticed the blonde vampire.

He was putting something in the oven, rather haphazardly, and shouting over his shoulder, "NIBLET!"

Willow hadn't mentioned to Angel that Spike had gone crazy again… though he guessed it could be hard to tell sometimes with that one. He had spent so much time following Dru around and then that stint of eating rats and mumbling to himself in the Sunnydale High basement… maybe some of the crazy had finally caught up with him. Angel was waiting for any more signs of mental illness, when suddenly he heard footsteps trotting down the stairs and a female voice answering.

"Hold your horses!"

It most definitely was not Buffy, and it took him a moment to realize who the voice belonged to. 'Dawn,' he thought, and just on cue the brunette jogged down the stairs and into the room. She looked older than when he'd seen her last, a young lady, but still doe-eyed, innocent as ever.

"Okay, I'm here and reporting for duty. I am ready to be your kitchen assistant," Dawn said with a wide smile, making her way over to the kitchen, "No task too big, no task too small."

"Well, took you long enough, I've been calling you for ages," Spike said, his voice sounding half passed peeved off. When he turned however, Angel was surprised to see no anger on his face, in fact he wasn't quite sure what emotion that the blonde was sporting. "I already finished all the hard work, but you could help set the table."

"Done and done," Dawn nodded, and began gather silverware from one of the drawers as Spike pulled some plates from a cabinet.

Just as they were headed toward the kitchen table, what Angel considered to be a particularly loud and annoying song came on the radio… but Spike seemed to like it.

"Yeah! Turn this up, Luv," he said, already walking with a little sway in his step. Once Dawn complied to his request, that little sway became a full blown dance. Angel felt like he was going to die of secondhand embarrassment. He had no idea how had lived with this idiot for so long without staking him. He may have been a Slayer of Slayers, but he was also a goofy oaf.

Dawn and Spike made quick work of setting the table, both dancing poorly as they did so. And to Angel's distaste, the dancing continued after the table was set. Intensified even. Dawn had grabbed Spike's hands and pulled him toward the living room area so they'd have more room to flail about.

Angel watched them, his grimace softening a little as he heard Dawn giggle. Spike was spinning her around as they both attempted to sing along to the song on the radio. It was at that moment that Angel realized the look that had been on Spike's face when Dawn entered the room. It had been love, pure and honest, a look that Angel wasn't accustom to seeing on the other vampire.

Sure, he'd seen Spike love before. All too often. There was his age old love affair with Dru, his undying devotion to Buffy… Hell, Angel was pretty sure Spike even loved him at one point. Yes, Angel had seen Spike love people with a boundless and smothering intensity, the kind of love that was at the same time poetic and terrifying. But this was different. It was gentle and undemanding. It was a quiet love.

As Spike twirled the young woman around the tiny living room, his blue eyes were soft and his smile came easily. A real smile, not a smirk. "Come on Lil' Bit, I know you're a better dancer than that!"

As Angel watched the two, his initial embarrassment faded and turned to a strange mixture of sadness and confusion. Dawn had always hated him, even before the Angelus incident things had been rocky, but that definitely solidified her dislike toward him. He just never knew how to act around her and always ended up saying the wrong thing. He also always attributed it to a fear of vampires, but here she was, the apple of Spike's eye. His 'Niblet" apparently.

And she adored him right back, by the looks of it. She trusted him, which was becoming more and more apparent as their dancing got further out of hand. What had started off as normal, goofy dance moves had now escalated to what Angel could only describe as swing-dance inspired stunts. Spike was using his vampire strength and speed to toss Dawn up in the air and catch her, spinning the both of them around the room to the tempo of the blaring retro music.

They were both laughing like children and making such a racket that they didn't even hear Buffy get home until she was already in the room. She had entered just in time to see Spike throw Dawn toward the ceiling while simultaneously spinning her, causing her body to twirl through the air like figure skater. Well, like an uncoordinated and kind of lanky figure skater.

By the time Dawn landed back in Spike's arms, in a bridal carry, they were both aware of the Slayer's presence in the doorway and the brunette offered a timid "Ta-da!"

'This is it,' Angel thought, he was sure Buffy was going to yell. He wasn't sure if she was going to yell at Spike for being so rough and putting Dawn in danger or if she was going to yell at the both of them for being so reckless in such a small apartment… but he knew someone was going to get it.

That was, until Buffy let out a short laugh, "You dorks." She shook her head and took off her coat, as Spike gingerly placed Dawn upright and turned down the stereo.

Angel grimaced as he watched Spike cross the room toward Buffy, sure he was about to witness a kiss, but instead Spike brushed a bit of snow off of the girl's hair and cupped her cheek for a moment. "Rough day, luv?"

"No rougher than the usual." It was brief, but she closed her eyes and leaned into his hand before pulling away and walking toward the kitchen.

Buffy was home, Angel could interrupt now if he wanted to, tell Buffy the info and get out of there… but he saw Dawn pulling a dish out of the oven and placing it on a trivet in the middle of the kitchen table. The vampire could just barely smell it outside the window, 'Spike made… taco casserole?' Something about barging in during dinner didn't sit right with Angel, so he decided to wait a bit longer.

To his surprise, dinner was a very chatty affair. Buffy started out talking about the demon and the other Slayers and basically what she'd accomplished that day. Spike filled her in on something he'd been reading up on in some ancient text. Dawn told them she'd spoken to Giles on the phone earlier about a spell that could possibly help the situation. 'Scoobie stuff,' Angel thought to himself, settling into a more comfortable position on the fire escape. Surprisingly, what Spike had been researching was on the right track and Angel had no doubt that once he shared the info he had they would be able to stop the demon pretty easily.

After the demon talk, however, the conversation shifted in a direction Angel didn't expect. The three began arguing over what to get Giles for Christmas.

"Maybe a book," Dawn suggested.

"Oh like he doesn't have ten bloody million of those laying about," Spike interjected, his mouth full.

Buffy shot him a look before coming up with a suggestion of her own, "What about an artifact then? Like a magic amulet or something?"

Spike sighed, putting his fork down. Angel didn't understand why Spike ate so much, he didn't have to. Angel couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten real food, never mind sat down for dinner. But then again, Angel didn't understand half of the things Spike did.

"You birds are hopeless. Think about it for a mo," Spike paused, as if giving them time to think, "The man is a Watcher, he's already up to his eyeballs in dusty tomes and cursed trinkets. You need to get him a gift that has nothing to do with magic or monsters."

Dawn thought for a moment, "Like what?"

"I d'unno," the vampire shrugged, directing his attention back to his plate, "he plays guitar, doesn't he?"

"You're right," Buffy said, smiling, "Maybe we could get him something music related. We should check out the mall tomorrow, Dawn."

"If all else fails, we could get him one of those tweed jackets with the patches on the elbows," the brunette jokes, "Old, British guys like those, right Spike?"

"Oi!" he shot her a warning glance, but he was clearly not as threatening as he once had been because both girls laughed.

The conversation continued on like that, Buffy and Dawn discussing holiday gifts for the rest of the Scoobies while Spike pretended to be disinterested… though he kept interjecting. 'Always has to have something to say about everything.' Angel had always thought that Spike talked too much, and while Dawn didn't exactly talk to him, he knew her to prattle on as well. But he had never heard Buffy so talkative. Sure, she talked about Slayer stuff, but watching her have a normal conversation over dinner was weird to say the least. When he talked to her it was usually about do or die apocalyptic stuff… not what colors clashed with Willow's hair or which Star Wars movie Xander liked best.

After they finished eating, Buffy rose from the table and rolled her neck. "I'm gonna go shower."

"And leave us to do the dishes?" Dawn asked, with a pout.

"Yup!" the Slayer smiled and headed upstairs.

'Great,' Angel sighed, 'Back to the Spike and Dawn show.' He was kind of regretting not interrupting dinner since now he had to wait even longer before he could deliver his message. He definitely didn't want to go in there and have to spend any extended amount of time with Spike and Dawn, so he stayed put for the time being.

The duo loaded the dishwasher and then settled in on the couch. The cushions were fluffy and Spike sunk into them, kicking his feet up onto the coffee table. That's when Angel noticed that sticking out of the bottom of Spike's jeans were not his usual leather boots… but a pair of striped wool socks. 'Is Buffy buying his clothes now?'

Dawn rested her head on Spike's shoulder and hugged a pillow in front of her. Spike lazily draped one of his arms over the girl's shoulders, though Angel wasn't sure why since it wasn't like he had any warmth to share, being dead and all. They flipped through channels and eventually settled on watching some cheesy comedy that was just starting on one of the basic cable channels.

'It sort of makes sense,' Angel thought in regards to their friendship. After Buffy died, Angel had sort of shut off for a while, so he hadn't witnessed it himself, but he had heard that Spike had really stepped up and helped to take care of Dawn. He had always imagined that meant that Spike stood watch outside of the Summer residence at night or something… but he was starting to think that Spike had been something closer to a babysitter than a body guard.

Angel didn't think he could even bring himself to look at Dawn after Buffy's passing. He hated to admit it, but part of him had blamed her, for being what Buffy had died for. And he had a soul at that point. How a soulless Spike managed not to despise the girl was beyond him, never mind how he managed to spend a good chunk of his time looking after her…

That was something that had always confused Angel, why Spike had stayed. Angel had been convinced for a long time that every good thing Spike ever did had been to impress Buffy. The crime fighting, the getting a soul, the heroic sacrifice… all of it. But it's kind of hard to impress a dead girl. So why hadn't he left Sunnydale after Buffy died?

"You okay, Bit?" Spike asked softly, bringing his hand from where it sat across the back of the couch and resting it on top of Dawn's head.

"Yeah," the girl smiled, "I'm fine."

It was then that Buffy came back downstairs, pajama clad, her hair damp. Dawn sat up momentarily to allow Buffy to have the center seat on the couch, the spot that happened to be right under Spike's arm. She pulled a fleece throw blanket off of the back of the couch and spread it out across herself and the vampire. As soon as Buffy was completely settled, Dawn laid down across her lap. The three looked… undeniably cozy.

Angel let out a sigh and rose from where he'd been sitting, jumped down from the fire escape and made his way to the front door. He stood there for a few moments trying to gather his courage and plan out what he was going to say before he rang the doorbell. He heard some shuffling, and then feet running down the stairs to the lobby and then, the door clicked.

"Dawn," Angel said, startled. He had been thinking of what to say to Buffy, he hadn't expected her sister to answer the door. "Hi," he added with an awkward smile.

The girl ran to the coat closet and quickly returned with a loaded crossbow, which she aimed directly at his heart with a startling accuracy. "You are not invited in," the girl warned, her wide blue eyes filled with determination. She looked so small… but every inch of her was full of determination, if it weren't for the slight tremble of her thin wrists, he could have mistaken her for a young Slayer.

He took a step back away from the threshold, not that he could cross it anyway. "So, Dawn," he began with a forced laugh, feeling like he was standing on very thin ice, "Is your sister home?"

"BUFFY!" Dawn called, not turning her face away from the vampire. And then for good measure, "SPIKE!"

The two blondes came down the stairs together. They had apparently picked up on the distress in Dawn's voice as Buffy was holding an ax and Spike had a broad sword. It was actually kind of funny, considering Buffy was in a pair of mint green star printed pajamas and Spike hadn't bothered to put shoes on before running to Dawn's aid.

"Angel," Buffy was the first to speak, lowering her weapon and placing it against the wall. "What are you doing here?"

"We have to talk."

"Come in," Buffy said, without so much as hesitating, eliciting a groan from Dawn.

"Don't just invite him in! What if he's gone evil again?!" the younger girl complained, still aiming her crossbow for the kill shot.

"He's not," Spike said, "I can smell a soul under all that hair gel."

Buffy lead the way back upstairs, Spike grabbed Buffy's discarded ax and followed in her wake, shoulders slumped, Angel was next, and then Dawn… whom Angel was pretty sure still had her crossbow aimed at his heart.

The apartment looked even homier from the inside. Angel now noticed the finer details. The photos hanging on the walls and the scented candles scattered about. A couple of framed album covers from old punk bands. The line of shoes near the door which included a pair of heels, a pair of converse, and a pair of beat up black combat boots. An antique lamp he was pretty sure had been Joyce's. Spike's leather duster hanging on the coat rack right next to Dawn's purple back pack. He could see the notebooks on the table were filled with a neat, old fashioned script handwriting. He could also see that the mug on the coffee table was a little lopsided and had the words "Big Bad" painted on the side, he could only figure it was a handmade gift from Dawn, probably from some high school art class.

He had thought it would be unsettling to see Spikes things mixed in with Buffy's, but everything seemed to fit so perfectly. Before that moment he never would have been able to imagine a place that both Buffy and Spike seemed equally at home in… but as the former offered to take Angel's coat and the latter put the sword and ax neatly away in their weapons cabinet… Angel knew this was it. Their home.

"Can I get you something to drink?" Buffy asked, sounding unsure of how to handle this situation. "We have blood."

"Um… sure, thank you," Angel responded, not wanting to be rude. He suddenly felt huge, as if he were taking up too much space. As if he didn't fit.

"So how have you been, mate? Kill anything interesting lately?" Spike asked tentatively, but surprisingly conversational. While Spike had been staying in L.A., the two vampires had worked together… but they had never quite gotten along. They had what Harmony had once referred to as a 'weird sibling rivalry thingie'... though Angel would admit that now seeing Spike up close like this did bring out something akin to fondness in him. They were 'blood' relatives after all.

"I've been… alright," Angel said honestly. His afterlife was not at a high point at the moment, but he'd definitely been worse so he couldn't complain. "How are you?"

"Good, you know how is it," Spike said briefly, though Angel couldn't really say that he knew what the other vampire meant by that.

"And how are you doing, Dawnie?" Angel asked, turning to the girl who had now lowered her weapon, but was still looking none too happy. "How's school going?"

"Don't talk to me like I'm a little kid, mega-forehead," Dawn replied with venom.

Spike laughed, but quickly contained himself, giving Angel his best attempt at a sympathetic look… which wasn't at all convincing. "Teenagers."

Luckily, Buffy reentered the room carrying two warm mugs of blood and ended the conversation before it could get any more awkward. She handed one to each of the vampires, though Angel couldn't help notice that Spike's mug smelled oddly like cinnamon and had what looked like chunks of cereal floating in it. He was relieved Buffy hadn't added any secret ingredients to his.

Spike took his mug and leaned against the wall next to the door, Dawn joined him. With her arms crossed over her chest, a scowl set on her mouth, and anger burning in her blue eyes… she looked almost like a miniature, female Spike. Buffy moved into the living room, and sat down on the couch, gesturing for Angel to join her. He did, sitting stiffly and sipping his blood.

"So… you said we need to talk?" Buffy asked, clearly struggling to be as polite as possible in an attempt to diffuse the tension of the situation.

Angel nodded, "Yeeeah… but I was hoping we could maybe talk alone?"

The Slayer's eyes flitted away from his and landed on the other vampire. The exchanged a silent conversation over the course of a few seconds, and Spike elbowed Dawn lightly.

"Come on, Bit," he sighed, and headed toward the stairs that lead to the next story. "Time to let the grown-ups talk."

"But, Spike!"

"No buts," he said sternly, "And put that crossbow away 'fore you hurt yourself."

Dawn pouted, giving Angel one last glare. "I'll come upstairs… but I'm bringing the crossbow… and maybe one of the swords." She swiftly crossed the room and grabbed a sheathed katana from weapon's cabinet, before running up the stairs, making sure to stomp loudly as she did so.

"That's my girl," Spike said to no one in particular as he followed her up, mug of blood still in hand.

Angel relaxed a little once he heard a door open and shut upstairs, but he was still visibly uncomfortable. "So, the three of you live here now?"

"No, just the two of us," Buffy said and for a moment Angel felt hopeful, but then she added, "Dawn only stays here when she's on break from school."

"Oh," Angel nodded, "It's a nice place. I like what you've done with it. It's got a lot of character. Who picked out the curtains?"

"Spike did," Buffy sighed, "Angel, did you come here to talk about my interior decorating and criticize my boyfriend?"

"So, he's your boyfriend now," his heavy brow lowered over his eyes and he frowned.

Buffy's hand landed on his knee and she took a deep breath before she began speaking. "Yes. He is my boyfriend. Who I live with. In this apartment. And before you start about how he used to be evil, I'd like to point out so did you, so maybe think before you go calling the kettle a vampire."

He wondered how many people had given her 'the talk' about moving in with the bottle blonde before she developed that defensive little number. "Buffy… I don't want to fight with you… or Spike. I'm just… concerned. I mean… having him live in your basement is one thing, but signing a lease together?"

The girl pushed her hair out of her face and spoke earnestly, "This wasn't some 'Hi, haven't seen you in a while, how was being a ghost? Let's move in together' thing, Angel. He was roommates with Andrew for a while, he's been helping me train the Slayers again, we patrolled together, we… went on dates. Talked. When my lease was up at my old place, I asked him if he wanted to get a place together. I made a big girl decision."

Angel sighed, he really hadn't come here to fight with Buffy or criticize Spike. If Buffy's detailing of events was true, which he was pretty sure it was, they they had both been more mature than he expected… took things slow. He couldn't help but wondered what the pair considered a date though. 'Probably killing something and then splitting an order of buffalo wings.'

"You and Spike are both… capable of making your own decisions," he relented. " It's just a big decision. I want you to know I'm here for you if you need me. Here for… both of you."

Buffy put on a small smile, and he decided not to push the topic any further. Instead he reached into his pocket and pulled out the folded, xeroxed copy of the passage he'd found about the Terogk demon and passed it to her.

He watched her face harden as her eyes scanned the page. "What else do you know about this demon?"

"Not much, probably nothing you don't already know."

"You should talk to Spike. He's been the one doing most of the research," Buffy admitted, still reading over the passage.

"Research? Spike?" Angel asked, raising an eyebrow. He'd always known Spike to be more of a punch first, ask questions never kind of guy.

"Yeah," the blonde looked up and laughed, "You might not know it from the looks of him, but he's actually a big nerd."

Another thing that Angel hadn't expected, but that kind of made sense. After all, he bookish before Drusilla sired him… maybe now that he had a soul again and was leading a more normal, domestic life that was coming back. "Well, he used to wear glasses. Before the whole vampire thing."

Buffy wrinkled her nose at that, then smiled. "Do you mind if I go get him?"

"No, go ahead," Angel shrugged as he watched Buffy run up the stairs. He drank the rest of his blood before it got cold.

It wasn't long before she was coming back down, 'boyfriend' hot on her heels. He was already nose deep in the text, reading and rereading the information. Without so much as looking where he was going, he maneuvered his way around the coffee table to the couch sitting himself a cushion over from Angel. "My notebook, mate?" the blonde asked distractedly.

The larger vampire picked up the first spiral notebook from the stack, but he couldn't help but laugh when his eyes caught what was on the page it was folded open to. He read aloud, "Her hair of golden honey flows, down to her shoulders neat. In the wind like barley blows, gently swaying wheat." Angel looked up to see both blondes looking at him, Buffy was blushing slighting, Spike looked furious.

His lips pulled up, the way they did when he wanted to punch something, and he sucked his teeth. "The other notebook."

Angel felt a big brotherly sort of tug to torture Spike about this, but decided it was not the time to tease the younger vampire about his 'bloody awful' poetry, put that notebook down and passed him the one that was beneath it in the stack. One that appeared to contain a lot of notes about various demons and not so many poems about Buffy's hair.

"This is it, Buff," Spike was saying excitedly, pointing at the now folded and wrinkled copy. "I just need to cross reference this with the book of Helgarg and I think we've found ourselves a way to put that bugger out of commission for good."

Buffy smiled, "Yay! That is one baddie I've just been waiting to bash."

"Are you claimin' the kill then?" Spike asked with a smirk, "And here I thought you were going to give the kill to the girlies… or maybe your dear old bloke, who, by the way, has not gotten to kill anything in two whole weeks because he's been letting your chickies do the fun stuff."

"The girls aren't going to learn how to slay properly if you keep swooping in at the last second," Buffy chided.

He pouted, "But I like swooping…"

His girlfriend laughed, "Okay, find a way to kill this Ter-yucky guy, let the girls go a few rounds with him, and then you can be Sir Swoops-a-lot." She paused for a moment, "You do think you can find a way to kill this guy, right?"

"Yeah, it's all coming together, pet," he reassured her, placing the xerox with his notes. Spike turned to Angel then, a sincerity on his features, "Ta, Angel. I've been looking all over for this info."

"No problem," he nodded, breaking eye contact with his old companion and rising from the couch. "Well, I uh… better get going."

"Are you sure you sure you don't want to rest a while? You're a long way from Los Angeles," Buffy observed, absentmindedly placing her hand on Spike's shoulder from where she was sitting on the arm of the couch.

"Yeah, mate," Spike said, tilting his head, whether he was just grateful for the help with his research or feeling something else, Angel couldn't tell. "You're welcome as long as you'd like. You could even crash on the settee."

Angel has never heard a less enticing offer than sleeping on Buffy and Spike's couch. "No, I have business in town," he lied. "I'd really better go before it starts getting light out."

The couple got up and walked him to the door, not just the door in the apartment, but all the way down stairs to the foyer. Spike extended his hand for a shake, which Angel accepted, "Don't be such a stranger, you git."

Angel looked Spike straight in the face for what might be the first time since he arrived. He looked… healthier than he'd ever seen him. He wasn't all rosy and full of life or anything, but he didn't have a black eye or broken nose, so that counted for something. And he was… happy. "Take care of yourself, Spike," Angel said, sounding more fatherly than he had meant to. Spike's grin faded a little and his brows furrowed, making the vampire look oddly innocent. He nodded.

"Right, you do the same."

Once the two men were done with their goodbyes, Buffy wrapped Angel in tight hug. He let go of a breath… and suddenly realized he hadn't taken a single breath since he entered the apartment, not that he really needed to.

He had been secretly worried that Buffy hated him. The way she got defensive about Spike in combination with how she had been almost overly polite and awkward… he was sure she hated his guts. But now, in her arms, he thought maybe she was just as nervous as he was, and he hugged back. He felt her bury her face deeper into his shoulder and to his surprise, he saw Spike leaving out of the corner of his eye. The blonde vampire trudging back up the stairs.

"Angel," Buffy spoke, smiling, still holding him.

"Buffy," he responded, and it felt good just to say her name. It felt light.

She went back into the hug, holding him close with her Slayer strength. Holding onto him the way she used to, like she was never going to let go. When she spoke again, she didn't look into his eyes, but pressed her forehead to his chest.

"I love you," she whispered, her voice suddenly sounding sad. He knew it was true, but it was different now. He knew something had shifted.

He pressed his face against her hair, "I love you, too."

When they parted, she smiled again, and he smiled back. It was a real smile, but more than a little bit sad. "Be good," she said as he left.

He waited outside the door after it closed, until he heard Buffy turn and walk back up the steps to her apartment. He breathed a few times, hoping the habit would comfort him, but it didn't really. He wasn't sure what he was feeling. He wanted to feel jealousy... maybe anger? But instead he felt empty as a drum. He tried to resist, but he couldn't help himself, he headed back to the alley and up the fire escape.

When he got to the window he saw Spike sitting on the couch, wearing what appeared to be… pajamas? Yes, wearing a black tank top and plaid flannel pajama bottoms. He was hunched over the coffee table, his notes and books spread out before him.

Buffy came from the kitchen area, carrying a glass of water and leaned over the back of the couch. "How's it going?"

"D'unno," Spike answered curtly, flipping pages. "Don't bloody read over my shoulder like that. I can't concentrate."

Buffy sighed and moved around the couch to sit down next to him. "So, how long are you going to be Mr. Grumpy?"

"Not grumpy," Spike said without looking up, setting his jaw in a way that certainly made him look very grumpy.

The girl sighed again, frustrated, "Are you going to get this way every time Angel comes to visit? I thought you two had gotten… better?"

Spike threw his pen down on his notes and leaned back into the couch, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. A pout twisting his mouth.

"Spike," Buffy pleaded.

When the blonde vampire spoke, his voice was so small that Angel almost didn't hear it, "You love him more than you love me."

'Of all the childish bullshit,' Angel thought, watching Spike as he continued to cover his face and sink deeper into the sofa. Here Angel was, thinking Spike had actually grown up a bit, but he was still a whimpering momma's boy.

"Spike, that's not fair," Buffy started, "Yes, I still love Angel, but I don't compare you two. You're the one who is always measuring yourself against him."

The vampire groaned, still covering his face with his hands, and sunk deeper into the sofa.

"Come on, as if you don't still have feelings for Dru!" Buffy shot back. She was sitting on her knees, next to him on the couch, leaning over him a bit as he slumped. "When you love someone you don't just stop loving them… especially not if they're your first love."

She was answered with another groan.

"Spike," Buffy said, reaching to pull his hands away from his face, but the vampire wouldn't let her. "Spike, look at me." Still no movement. "Spike. Spike!"

Angel hadn't been thrilled with the two of them dating, but he hadn't meant to break them up. If you had asked him yesterday if he would have wanted to split the pair, he probably would have said yeah, sure… but actually watching them argue was putting a knot in his stomach. Especially after seeing how happy they had been earlier. He could only imagine it getting worse from this point. They hadn't been yelling yet, but raised voices couldn't be far away if they were talking about their exes.

But then Buffy spoke again, her voice soft, "William."

Spike finally lowered his hands from his face and let Buffy take them in her own, pulling them into her lap.

"Who's my champion? Who's my hero?" Buffy was leaning her forehead against Spike's and talking quietly, "Who loved me when I was at my worse? Who writes me poetry? Who's my Big Bad?"

Spikes lips were pulling into a small smile and he turned so he was facing her, nose to nose, "You best be talking about me, because if not I'll be right brassed off."

Buffy leaned forward and kissed Spike. He responded with a slow tender kiss of his own before pulling away so he could look at her. Their hands were still twined together.

"He is always going to be a part of me," The girl admitted, "But he's never going to be mine. Not like you are."

"I just…" Spike began, struggling to find the words to apologize, "I just love you and I can't… the thought of… it's… if you… just… you make me… and if you… Buffy, I…"

"I know," Buffy shushed him, apparently finding some meaning in the jumble of words.

The two looked into each other's eyes for another moment before Buffy slid down so that she was nestled next to him on the couch, her head tucked neatly into his shoulder. He wrapped his arms around her and rested his cheek on top of her head.

They sat together, just holding each other for a while, and Angel sat outside of the window trying to process it. Out of all of the people he knew, Buffy and Spike were two of the most hot headed and strong willed. He'd had the misfortune of fighting with both of them on numerous occasions and never… NEVER had he seen either of them give up so quickly. Where was the fighting? The name calling? The slamming of doors? The punching of faces? Had they honestly just talked about their feelings?

Angel was pulled from this thought by the sound of Buffy's voice, "What should we get Dawn for Christmas?"

"I was thinking a moped," Spike replied without a pause.

"No, definitely not," the girl said, sounding drowsy but amused. "First of all, we don't have the money to buy her a moped. Second of all, she's a total spaz and I guarantee she will crash it almost immediately."

"Come on, give her more credit than that. She's not… the MOST graceful girl, but she's not that bad. I'll teach her. Buy her many brightly colored helmets."

Buffy lazily pulled the blanket from the back of the couch and Spike helped her adjust it over them. The conversation continued as they shifted so they were both laying down and Spike put some music video channel on TV.

"Even if I did go along with this horrible idea… which I won't. There's still the money issue. Namely, the issue of us not having much."

Spike laughed, "Maybe you don't have money, pet. I have a little dosh stowed away for a big rainy. Don't lump my finances in with yours like we're a couple of old marrieds."

"Since when do you have money?" Buffy sputtered a laugh, "Are you gambling again?"

"Might be," the vampire said and took a deep breath, closing his eyes sleepily.

"So long as you're winning," she snuggled further into his chest, closing her eyes as well. "And so long as there are no kittens involved."

Spike laughed, "Maybe we should get Dawn a kitten."

Angel watched the two, still confused. Not only had their fight ended with a fizzle, but they were back to talking like it had never happened already? Where was the fighting? The drama? The… passion? The brunette watched as Spike gently wove his fingers through Buffy's hair and placed a small kiss on her forehead. This wasn't a teenage fling. Maybe it had started out as something like that. Hate sex and violence and obsession… but he couldn't see a trace of that now. If he hadn't known, he never would have guessed that these two people had tried to kill each other more times than they could count. That they had used each other, taken advantage… hurt. That he had gone through hell to get a soul just so she would look at him. That she had chosen him as her champion, sacrificed him to save the world. That he had died.

The intensity of their relationship had burned itself out, but something else had grown for it's ashes. 'So this is the happily ever after,' Angel thought, 'This is the part I couldn't give her… the good part.' There was no insecurity between them, because as Buffy had mentioned earlier, they'd seen each other at their worsts. They'd been there for each other at their worsts.

There was movement on the stairs and then the clanking of metal, which caused both Buffy and Spike to cringe, rousing them from their sleepy states.

"Sword away now, Dawn," the woman ordered as her sister came into view, awkwardly holding the sword that was too big for her.

"Is Angel gone?"

"Yes, duck," Spike sighed.

"Good," the girl seemed relieved, putting the weapon back in it's rightful place… but not before fumbling and dropping it again. She then came over and plopped herself on the edge of the couch, "So, movie marathon?"

Buffy laughed at her sister's enthusiasm. "How about we save that for tomorrow, I think we've all had enough excitement for tonight." The older girl rose from the couch and stretched, "And I for one didn't sleep late like you two."

"Vampire," Spike said in his defense.

"College student! Sleeping late is kind of in my job description, too!" Dawn added, with a wide grin. "Sleep all day, party all night!"

Buffy ran a hand over her sister's hair affectionately. "I guess I should feel lucky that your idea of a party is cuddling on the couch and watching movies."

"Watching movies with a Slayer and a Vampire!" the younger girl insisted, gesturing to her current company. "That's dangerous and exciting!"

"Yeah, you're a right wild one," Spike said sarcastically, "A real live wire. Danger Dawn."

Buffy kissed the top of Dawn's head, and then pulled back with a yawn, "It's definitely time for some serious hay-hittage." She turned to Spike and gave him a quick peck as well. "Brush your fangs before you come to bed, your breath smells like hot sauce and O negative."

"Yeah, yeah," the vampire rolled his eyes, "I'll be up in a tic."

As the Slayer went upstairs to bed, Spike pulled an extra blanket out of the hall closet and brought it over to the couch where Dawn was already starting to settle in. He draped the second blanket over her and sat by her legs for a moment. "Do you need anything, Niblet? More pillows?"

"I'm practically swimming in pillows, Spike," Dawn laughed, picking up one of the throw pillows from beside her and tossing it at the blonde. Whether he really hadn't seen it coming or had decided to let it hit him, the pillow made it's mark, hitting him square in the face.

Spike's face morphed and he growled, pouncing forward and trapping Dawn between his arms… she squealed, but not out of fear. It was a boy band squeal that ended in a fit of giggles.

"Don't laugh at me, you're gonna hurt my feelings," the vampire teased and shook his head, reverting his face back to it's more human form and dipping in to kiss Dawn's forehead. "Good night, Bit."

He heaved himself from the couch was a sigh and began heading toward the stairs, when Dawn called out to him suddenly, and edge of fear on her voice. "Spike! Could you um… make sure the door is locked? And the windows?"

"Sure thing, luv," he said, turning and heading toward the door first. Angel knew he better get off the fire escape before Spike saw him sitting outside the window.

As he headed into the sewers, he thought about how the two blondes had done nothing but surprise him during his visit. They had changed. Changed each other. Spike loved Buffy without expecting anything, without any preconceived notions of her… and that allowed her to grow into her own woman, be herself. Meanwhile, Buffy loved Spike… and expected EVERYthing. Which worked for Spike. She gave him ideals to live up to, expectations to exceed. They had let each other grow, encouraged each other to be the best possible versions of themselves… and as a result, they had changed into people Angel had never expected them to be… never even ventured to hope they could be.

He thought about himself and Buffy. They had been in love, he had no doubt about that. But it had been a soulmate kind of love. Love at first sight, head over heels love. Fated. That wasn't the kind of love he'd seen tonight. Sure, they had their tragic origin story, but all in all they were… ordinary. 'Maybe even a little boring' He remembered the day he let the powers take back, the day when he had become human. Buffy had said she wanted to feel normal… and Spike, despite being a total weirdo, was giving her that. They were giving each other that.

Angel wondered if they somehow found a way to be together without worrying about his curse, would he really be able to be that for her? To be a home? When he imagined himself with Buffy, it had always been just that… with Buffy. He forgot that she was a package deal, she came with a whole life full of people. He could maybe picture himself helping her train the new Slayers… but the idea of spending Christmas time with the Scoobies felt like a stretch. And he definitely didn't see himself looking after her kid sister.

He was her soulmate… but he couldn't be her family. Not even close.

The vampire's thoughts drifted back to the image of Spike and the Summers girls on the couch, before he had intruded on their evening. The empty feeling inside him started to fill up. He remembered every detail of the night with photographic accuracy. And he remembered other things too. He remembered his whole life and what a big part these two people had played in it. When he was honest with himself, Buffy and Spike were probably the two most important people in his life… for very different reasons of course, but still. They meant something to him, they meant a lot to him, and he wanted them to be happy.

And he knew they were.