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Chapter Notes: Response to a challenge.

It's my fault, really.

Not in the way Riley told me it was my fault. "You keep me at a distance." I tried. I gave it my all, but that wasn't enough for him. OK, so maybe I could've tried harder, but part of me was scared of loving again while another part of me knew something else – the reason why it's my fault.

I never loved Riley.

I never felt a connection with him. Never any spark-age. I knew that, right from the beginning, but I kept trying because Riley kept trying, and because my friends kept telling me that Riley is what I should want. A nice, normal, dependable guy. Maybe not so normal, being a demon hunter, but still human.

He won't break my heart, they said. He's the best thing that ever happened to me, they said. He's a once in a lifetime guy, they said. And now he's gone, back to the military and back to the world he wants to live in. Where heroes are big strong men with guns who always save the women from the big bad demons. And people call me delusional.

Our breakup, he told me, was because I wasn't giving him enough, and while I guess that's true in part, that's not all of it. Straight to the fact, Riley can't handle that I'm stronger than him. That I don't need to be saved, and that I'm usually the one saving him. He wants an action girlfriend, but he wants to be the stronger one; the dominant male. He wanted me to depend on him; he wanted to feel needed.

And I refused to change who I am just so he could satisfy his "needs". The last straw came when he gave me the ultimatum; either I give in to his demands, or he's leaving. Pretty much the easiest choice I've ever made in my life.

What made it all worse was the fact that I was in the middle of saving his life at the time. Whatever had been shoved into him by Professor Walsh was killing him, and he needed help. But he didn't want the help. Yes Riley, because your needs and insecurities about keeping up with me must come before everyone else's, and more importantly, your health needs.

I walk towards the Bronze at a slow pace, a small part of my senses on the search for any vampires in the area. But for the most part I keep my head down and hope that no one bothers me tonight.

I told my friends, and they understood. Or they made it look like they did. I think they care, and they were on my side when I told them why Riley left, but as I was heading out I saw Willow and Xander exchange a meaningful glance, and I can't help but wonder if they're disappointed in me. They all liked Riley. Maybe they thought that I should've tried harder – that I should've given into his so called "needs". They were the ones who told me that I should date Riley, that he was a once in a lifetime guy, that he was the best thing that ever happened to me…

I'll believe that when pigs fly. Of course this being the Hellmouth, pigs probably will start flying…

I shake my head and keep moving.

I don't sense any vamps when I reach the Bronze, and I'm glad. I don't want to stake anything tonight. I don't want to remind myself of the reason why guys run from me in flocks. Or would packs be a more suitable word? They can surely act like a pack of hungry wolves half the time…

My Slayer sense goes off, but it's not urgent. Which only means one thing.

"Evenin', Slayer."

Great. I would've taken a run of the mill vampire any day over Spike. At least I can stake a run of the mill vampire.

Spike strolls up to me with his usual swagger before he takes a seat opposite, and I try my hardest to ignore him. But with Spike, that's never an option. He can never be ignored, like you can never ignore a nasty inconvenient hole in your ceiling.

At least he wasn't there for the bad break up. When Riley ran off, I contemplated going to Spike and paying him to help me find my commando boyfriend – ex-boyfriend, you're a single gal now, Summers – but then I realized that A) Spike never liked Riley, and no amount of money could convince him to help me, and B) I'd have to mention the former Initiative doctor in town, and I didn't want Spike getting any funny ideas about removing the chip from his head.

"What do you want, Spike?" I ask, not in any kind of mood to physically remove him from the Bronze. It's not like he can bite anymore, so he's no danger to the people here.

He runs a hand through his hair. "Harm's got it in her head that she's your mortal enemy and demanded that I give her "sanctuary". Her words, not mine." He looks at me then, those blue eyes so intense that sometimes I forget he's a soulless vampire. "You're not her mortal enemy, right? Thought that was my gig."

"She's just a pain in my butt," I say, a little glad for a distraction. OK, so I'm not shatteringly heartbroken like I was when Angel left, but still… "Like you. But you can at least be mildly amusing sometimes."

"Is that a compliment, Slayer?"

"Shut up, Spike."

"Right." He nods, looking away thoughtfully. "That means I can kick her out. Can't stand her yammerin' any longer." He turns back to me then, his blue eyes gazing intently into mine once more. "Heard you broke up with Cardboard."

I groan and let my head fall to the table. Please, someone kill me. Can Spike's chip just randomly malfunction so he can make me his third Slayer? It's gotta be better than this. "Who told you?"

"Everyone's talkin' 'bout it down at Willy's," says Spike. "Your little fuck toy had no shortage of enemies. From what I heard, he used a plastic stake on vamps to weaken them before beatin' them to a bloody pulp. That boy had inferiority issues."

I raise my head and stare at him, but I can't find a trace in his expression that tells me he's lying. And Spike usually isn't one to lie, especially about things like this. Prefers brutal honesty. Which means…

It shockingly and scarily makes sense. Riley always had issues with the fact that he couldn't keep up with me, and that some vampires and demons were too strong for him to handle. Making them weak so he could get in several good hits… It's horrible. Vampires should just be staked, dusted and done. Not tortured like that.

"You really know how to pick 'em, don't you, Slayer?" says Spike. "And I thought you couldn't do any worse than Peaches."

I want to punch the living daylights out of him, but I don't because I know he's right. I'm a guy anti-magnet. Or whatever the hell it is you call the other side of a magnet that forces other magnets away.

I mean, look at my track record: Pike left me because I was getting too into the slaying, Owen I had to send away myself because he got way too into fighting vampires, Ford wanted to become a vampire and was one for about a few minutes, Angel lost his soul to me which forced me to send him to Hell only for him to come back and break up with me, Scott dumped me because I was too distracted, Parker used me and ditched me, and Riley left because he didn't feel needed by me.

I blink back to the real world when something is placed in front of us. Great, Spike ordered that "blooming onion" thing he's always complimenting. It's gross.

I tuck in anyway. "I should give up on guys. It's obvious that I'm just gonna grow old and die alone."

"Or die an early death."

I glare at him, even though I know he has a point. And what's worse? Dying an early death, or dying when I'm old and wrinkly and alone? I don't know. Either way I'm gonna be alone. "Maybe I should be a nun."

"Don't beat yourself up." Spike takes a gulp from his beer. "You know, there are few American beers that don't taste like piss. This unfortunately is not one of them."

I roll my eyes. "You were saying?"

He puts the beer glass down. "I may hate you, Summers, but I wouldn't wish Cardboard on my worst enemy. He's a wanker for givin' up someone like you. Not that he deserved you in the first place. You're the Slayer; you deserve better than him. Deserve better than Peaches, quite frankly. But you're obviously not gonna give him up…"

"Angel's gone," I tell him. I can say it without any pain welling up inside me. "We can't work."

"'Cause of that pesky curse, I know," says Spike, taking several bites from the food in front of us. "But have you ever considered that you two may not work for other reasons, like maybe perhaps you have nothing in common? That your little romance was no better than a bad performance of Romeo & Juliet?"

"Shut up before I break your nose." I can't listen to him say things like that. If Angel's soul wasn't cursed, then we'd be together, thick and thin.


Spike just rolls his eyes. "Right. There's a new one. You need to come up with some new material, Slayer. Maybe with Cardboard gone, you can use your spare time to think up and few more creative threats."

Another mention of Riley – how many is that now? – and I can't take it anymore. "Spike, order me a beer. I need to get drunk. Now." I take out some cash from my pocket and slide it across the table.

He looks at me in surprise, then at the cash, and then back at me. "Aren't you underage?"

"Aren't you evil?"

He stares at me for a moment before shrugging, taking the cash and getting to his feet. He returns a few minutes later with a beer, and I snatch it from him as steadily as I can without spilling any. I begin to gulp it down. It tastes nasty – yeah, a little like piss; good call, Spike – but I don't care.

I notice Spike raising an eyebrow at me, the way he usually does when he's watching something of mild interest. Good to know that I'm interesting to him.

"Ever considered gettin' yourself a new type, Slayer?" he asks when I finally stop gulping down the beer a mile a minute. "The big buff guys aren't workin' for you. The ones who make promises of good intentions and sweetness but then leave you in the dirt to do their own thing. They have the bigger egos and don't take kindly to anyone showin' them up, especially women."

Either the beer is already starting to affect me, or he's making sense. Both Riley and Angel have hidden egos the size of New York, Angel especially, and neither really accepted that I can take care of myself most of the time. Heck, Riley admitted that night after the frat party that he thinks girls can't take care of themselves. I don't know why I didn't just turn my back on him then and there.

But if that kind of guy isn't my type, then what is?

"Maybe I should consider becoming a lesbian."

"I'd pay good money to see you and Red go at it."

Now I know the beer's affecting me, because I really should've hit him for that.

I wake to find myself under the covers of an unfamiliar bed, and in the background I can hear muffled voices.

"Harm, I don't want you here. You're an idiotic twit and I don't have the patience or the tolerance to deal with you anymore."

I hear a sob. "Fine! I'm leaving, but don't expect to ever touch this again!"

Footsteps, storming away. Harmony. Why did Spike say that to her? I mean, yeah, he's kinda right, but he still shouldn't say it to Harmony's face. I remember Willow telling me about how upset she was last time, and remembering how upset I was after Parker ditched me… Well, I can't help but feel a little sympathetic.

I pull the covers away and sit up. "You know, you could've been a little nicer to her."

Spike turns to me, and that's when I realize that he's sat right next to me. In a bed. His bed. In his crypt.

And we're both naked.