Title: Dead Man's Arms

A/N: During the BtVS 20th anniversary celebrations, Joss mentioned that Buffy and Spike were a good long-term relationship, but Buffy and Angel were the grandest love story he'd ever tell. I also found that as a diehard Buffy and Angel shipper I didn't completely hate the Buffy and Spike pairing as I think it served a positive purpose to let Buffy safely fall into the darkness that was season 6 without becoming romantic or fluffy. So this story explores the idea of Buffy finding a healthy way to explore a relationship with Spike before ultimately ending up with her Angel, just as Joss intended. This story sticks closely to BtVS canon and the first three chapters are key moments pulled directly from the tv series before moving off into the true plot of the story. For B/A shippers concerned that there is going to be a lot of Spuffy in this fic don't worry as it will be kept to a minimum and ultimately serve an important purpose. Definitely a Spike friendly fic but completely B/A where it counts. You've been warned! Also just so you know this is my first ever attempt at writing fan fic so be kind...

PLEASE NOTE that the dialogue in this chapter is taken directly from the episode Lovers Walk and only the narrative is my words!

Spoilers: It's been 20 years since Buffy first aired. Do we really need a spoiler alert? This whole fic is full of spoilers for the entire series, particularly seasons 3 to 7.

Disclaimer: It all belongs to Joss et al!

S03E08 – Lovers Walk

"…Spike can get the rats eyes." she announced grimly, moving further into the Magic Box to peruse the stock on the shelves.

The shop was dark and an unnatural stillness permeated the air. Angel's senses were assaulted by both the stench of death – thanks to Spike's brilliant handiwork when he'd killed the owner - and the earthy incense that was so often burned in the space.

He was standing a little apart from Buffy and Spike, with his back to them both. Searching for the ingredients Buffy had prattled off Willow's list and assigned to him moments ago, but also deeply lost in thought.

The evening had started off trying at best and quickly slipped into mercilessly infuriating. Angel just wanted to rescue the others and be done with it. He didn't need to hear any more pathetic snivelling from Spike, and he certainly didn't want Buffy subjected to it.

"I used to bring her rats with the morning paper." Spike's voice broke him from his silent reverie.

The 'her' in question was of course Drusilla, the wild eyed and clinically insane vampire Angel had so horrifically created in the name of sport. It was sad, really, that Spike had become so caught up in his love for Drusilla that he had reduced himself to telling Angel all about it. In a sick way, it was kind of like running back to your girlfriend's daddy after she gave you the old relationship heave-ho. Angel almost shuddered at the thought and opened his mouth to respond, but before he could formulate any words Buffy beat him to it.

"Great." she sighed. "More moping. That's going to get her back."

Angel could hear the fast paced rhythmic thumping of Buffy's heart and feel the annoyance radiating from her body in consistent waves. If at all possible, his beloved had even less tolerance for Spike than he did. Angel clenched his fists, but lets his arms hang loosely by his sides. He too wanted nothing more than to be permanently rid of the menace, but first they needed to safety locate Buffy's friends. He found himself momentarily wondering if they were his friends too. No, definitely Buffy's friends.

"The spell is gonna get her back." Spike snapped at her.

Finally Angel opened his mouth to deflect Spike's attention away from Buffy before she did something she would live to regret.

"Lot of trouble for somebody who doesn't even care about you." he said, choosing his words carefully so as to be deliberately provocative.

"Shut your gob!" Spike snapped, his voice rising in both pitch and volume as he took the bait, hook line and sinker.

"She really is just kind of fickle." Angel shrugged a little.

The expression on his face skated the peripheral of what could easily be construed as Angelus-esque in nature; a deliberate ploy to draw Spike's mind back to their younger days and remind him of the times Angelus had bedded Drusilla merely to toy with Spike's lingering mortal sensitivities. It worked like a charm and Spike completely lost his cool.

"Shut up!" he shouted, his angry voice echoing off the shop's ownerless inventory of herbs and magical trinkets.

Before Angel could throw another barb his way, Spike approached with haphazardly directed fury and lashed out with a sloppy right hook. It connected solidly with Angel's face, though the power behind the punch wasn't strong enough to cause any lasting pain or damage. He quickly moved to block and counter a second much stronger attack, before Buffy intervened and physically dragged Spike away.

It made Angel burn with unspoken shame and fury that Buffy thought she needed to rescue him, especially from a vampire as weak and pathetic as Spike currently was. At the same time, it warmed his cold dead heart that she cared enough to try and protect him. It reminded him of his unending love for her. A love that he fought daily to suppress.

"What do you know? It's your fault, the both of you! She belongs with me." Spike said, his voice now breaking with anguish. "I'm nothing without her."

The words reverberated in the churn of Angel's dark and brooding mind. I'm nothing without her. The same thing could be said for him when it came to Buffy. He'd begrudgingly survived over a hundred years in a hell dimension – a place she'd personally sent him to – and yet he still felt like the hollow shell of a man without her by his side. He drew his strength from her, his ambition to do good in the world, his desire to hold his head high and go on living despite all his misdeeds and the misfortunes he'd bestowed upon both himself and others. She treated him like her equal, and his desire for her burned deeply within his soul.

"That I'll have to agree with. You're pathetic, you know that?" Buffy's voice was strong and jarring in stark contrast to Spikes. "You're not even a loser anymore, you're a shell of a loser."

Angel subtly shook his head to try and quiet his thoughts and return to the present moment. More than anything he needed to stay alert and protect Buffy. To help her find her friends. To get rid of Spike. To demonstrate his true and pure love for her. No, scratch that last one.

They were still trying for the friends thing, and he'd infinitely rather her as a friend than nothing at all. He was more than willing to hungrily consume the table scraps of a relationship she tossed his way. He was pathetic in his need for her, but strengthened by his love for her. A strange juxtaposition.

Before Spike had so unfortunately reappeared in Sunnydale, he'd been building up the courage to ask Buffy an important question. Ask her once and for all if she still loved him. If she was still his girl. He was deeply terrified that the answer would be no, but he felt the need to ask it regardless. And he would get right back to building up that courage as soon as they got rid of Spike.

"Yeah. You're one to talk." Spike scoffed at Buffy, before turning away to continue his hunt for the ingredients he needed.

Just as Angel had baited Spike moments ago, he knew instantly that Spike was now returning the favor. He also knew that Buffy would waste no time falling for his line. Angel knew them both so well; knew they were just as susceptible to stirring as each other. Buffy had never been one to let a sleeping dog lie, especially not when it addressed her directly.

"Meaning?" Buffy asked immediately, confirming Angel's silent assessment.

Spike turned to face them both again. "The last time I looked in on you two, you were fighting to the death. Now you're back making googly eyes at each other like nothing happened. Makes me want to heave."

Angel had lived for over a century as a terrifying monster with a passion for senseless violence, and then spent just as many years suppressing such urges. Yet he'd never come closer to letting his self-control slip as in that moment. He wanted to grind his fist so hard into Spike's smarmy little mouth that he was never able to utter another word ever again.

Their 'fight to the death' was one of the most heinous of all Angel's memories. He didn't want to be reminded of that day. Of that time. The things he'd done to Buffy. The things he'd made her do. The things he'd made her do to him. The Watcher, the sword, the fighting, the anguish, the portal. And more importantly, he didn't want Buffy reminded of it either. She had already cried too many tears over him and because of him.

"I don't know what you're talking about." Buffy deflected Spike's words, but both vampires could hear the doubt in her voice.

"Oh, yeah. You're just friends." Spike drawled sarcastically.

"That's right." Angel responded hastily, needing Buffy to believe it more than anything else.

"You're not friends. You'll never be friends." Spike said, the scantly hidden truth pouring from his mouth like delicious poison. "You'll be in love 'til it kills you both. You'll fight. And you'll shag. And you'll hate each other until it makes you quiver. But you'll never be friends."

Both Buffy and Angel were struck silent by his words, and Spike, always with a flair for the theatrical, brought his hand to his head and let his index finger drive into his temple. "Love isn't brains, children, it's blood. Blood screaming inside you to work its will. I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it."

Seemingly satiated by his little speech, Spike turned back to the shelves to renew his search of the stock.

Angel could hear the quickening of Buffy's heartbeat. Her fast, shallow breathing. Knowing now was not the time for pretence, he turned toward her and lifted his eyes to appraise her. Whatever he hadn't been able to read from her thrumming heart he could see plainly in her body language – she was upset, awkward and uncomfortable.

He hated Spike for making her feel that way. Hated him. Hated the entire situation. Maybe even his complete miserable existence.

Most of all he wanted to know if Buffy had reacted that way because she agreed with Spike's words, or if she was feeling uneasy because she didn't. Didn't love him anymore. Didn't think of them as anything more than friends.

Again, that question reverberated in his mind.

Are you still my girl?

But it was left unspoken, and unanswered.

Buffy's piercing green eyes briefly raised, almost as if by their own volition. But the second their gazes met she clenched her jaw and looked sharply away.

Angel suddenly wished for the ground to open up and for the Hellmouth to swallow him. He'd already done such a sizeable stint in hell and there was no way it could be worse than what he was now forced to endure.

Spike's voice filled the dead air of the magic shop once again, this time with jolly inflection. "Eye of rat!" he declared, hoisting a dubious looking jar.

And the nightmare went on.