Author's Note: All right, usually I don't "do" review replies, but as this is quickly developing into one of my all-time favorite projects, I'm going to try my best to reply to whatever reviews were submitted for the previous chapter. I'll keep doing this in every chapter, until I either discontinue the fic or there are no more reviews to reply to.
Review Replies: (In order from the first to the most recent.)
— Tariq: I can't even count all the requests you put in your review… I have to admit, it seems a little demanding, but it'll definitely be helpful once I move on to the later chapters.
— Childrentheemuisnotatoy: I might not be very clear on the meanings of "phwoar" and "shibby", but I do know that your review was one of the most intelligent and thought-out ones I've had in a long time, and I really appreciated it.
— Forevermore: Hey, girl… Thanks for taking the time to stop by, but you really didn't to say all of that… "hello" would have been just as great, and you know it!
— never look back: Nice to see that not all B/A fans have abandoned ship; and, hopefully, you'll enjoy this chapter as much as the last two.
— UberWicca: You're the fifth person to put me on their Favorite Authors' list… Five isn't a very large number, I know, but I appreciate it immensely all the same – thank you.
— Night Slayer: First of all… nice pen name! And it's nice to know that I had somebody interested by the time they'd read the opening chapters.
Author's Note: I think that covers just about everything, so I should probably get on with the fic itself…
Chapter III: You, Me, And The Man In Between
It was a dream. It had to be a dream.
Buffy was sinking into a daze; her eyes were barely focused on what she was seeing. She didn't believe it, couldn't believe it… How? How was it even possible?
Surely it was some sort of trick, a sick mind game… Someone was trying to toy with her…
And suddenly, she felt as though reality were slipping away from her: the floor rocked dangerously under her feet, and her sight was blurring… She was falling, and it was so unreal – as though it were in slow-motion…
But she didn't fall. He moved forward, smoothly and surely, and caught her in his arms. She struggled briefly against him, but at the moment he was stronger.
He tipped her head back gently, and gazed into her eyes, her face, for a long time. "I thought you'd be happier to see me, luv," he said, his voice uncharacteristically softened.
A brief, confused, saddened cry escaped her throat, and she turned away from him. She didn't want to see him standing there, waiting, as though everything was fine and she hadn't seen him die before her own eyes.
Without even being aware of it, she clenched her hands into fists. She didn't want to have to deal with another cruel illusion… Not now…
She could still remember, vividly, what she had felt as she watched him die and had told him that she loved him… She had been hurt by his reply, but realized later that he had been right: she had never really given her heart to him... Not like she had to Angel.
"Angel…" and he was there, suddenly, offering welcome support by wrapping his hand around hers. With Buffy at his side, Angel stood motionless, his eyes fixed on the open doorway and the figure who stood framed in it. But, unlike Buffy, who was trembling violently in shock and disbelief, he remained totally impassive. His face and tone were expressionless as he gave a brief nod at the figure.
Spike smiled lazily and leaned against the doorframe, hands in the pockets of his traditional black leather duster. "Angel," he replied, his heavy accent ringing so familiar to Buffy's ears. "Are you going to invite me in, or will I have to stay out here all bloody night?"
Angel shrugged. "Your choice." He seemed to understand what Spike was trying to prove: he had been there before. He didn't need to be invited.
"Good man." And Spike stepped inside easily, swinging one foot ahead of the other, enjoying the effect he was having on the shocked Slayer.
Buffy tore her hand from Angel's and moved away from both of them, her disbelief quickly replaced by confusion and anger. Spike was dead… dead… and yet Angel was acting as though he had been around for weeks…
Which meant one of two things: either Angel didn't know that Spike had died, or Spike had been there several times after his supposed death. Buffy knew, almost by instinct and without trying to figure out which option was true, that she had been lied to by the only two men she had ever truly loved. And she wasn't happy about it.
"Calm down, luv," Spike said, noticing her growing agitation. "Angel here obviously has some explaining to do, but -"
"Shut up." Buffy didn't care how petulant she sounded: she felt betrayed and vulnerable, and all she wanted to do was get away from them. Both of them. "I really don't need to hear anything you have to say, Spike."
She pushed past him and turned briefly to Angel. "Tell the others I've gone. They'll know where to find me." And she walked away, disappearing into the darkness outside.
"Didn't tell me she was going to be here, did you?" Spike settled comfortably into a nearby armchair and picked up the deck of cards lying on the coffee table in front of him, shuffling through the deck as he spoke. "But then again, I suppose you knew it was a mistake to bring her here in the first place."
Angel sighed and met Spike's politely raised eyebrow with a cold glare. "Stay out of this, Spike." He didn't want to admit that his rebellious grandchilde was right, and that everyone else had been harboring the same general opinion for weeks.
"Whatever you say," Spike drawled, flipping cards onto he table in quick succession. "I didn't come here to visit the Slayer, anyway."
Something about his tone made Angel look up sharply, and the younger vampire smiled, swinging a single card between his fingers. "No, Peaches, I've got quite another subject in mind…"
To Be Continued.