A View of the Ocean

Author: OneTwoMany

Rating: R, for sexual situations and a smattering of violence

Summary: A girl can dream, right?

Pairing: Spuffy4eva!!!!111

Spoilers: Up to Just Rewards, but very, very vague indeed.

Thanks to: Juliaabra and Scarlettfish, as usual

"Ungrateful...shallow...deceitful...early-onset Alzheimer's is what..."

Spike filled the seconds between each word with a punch. A left jab, gave 'em a fright. Followed with a right cross. Ducked the wanker's telegraphed hook. Another jab, this time to the stomach. A blur of black leather and the flash of silver jewellery and too-white hair. It was a familiar dance and one Spike knew instinctively. He moved with inhuman grace against his opponents - a larger vamp who bore a sad resemblance to Mr T, and a scrawny kid with the nervous mannerisms of a skittish sparrow.

"Not so frozen when she wants to play the field..."

Easy words, but there was no heart beneath them, and Spike knew it. The rage, the battlelust, those were real enough. Been too long since he'd found his way to this area of the city, with its handful of derelict homes and row after row of warehouses stinking of mold and covertly-grown hash. Much too long. Fortunate for everyone he'd remembered there was nothin' better to cure a broken heart and a burning yen for patricide than a good old-fashioned fangs-out, fists-bloodied, take-down brawl. He was actually enjoying himself. Probably a little too much. But soul or no soul, there was something intoxicating, invigorating about the thrill of the kill. The sense of power, the smell of blood, the taste of dust on his tongue.

Death and glory and sod all else, right?

Words to live by.

'Cept it's not quite as easy as it was. Not with the memory of flashing green eyes, light reflecting off golden hair as she stood in Angel's embrace beneath that downright unnatural sun-blocking glass. He'd lost the plot and fled.

"Big 'n Stupid" broke into his thoughts with another swing, not quite so clumsy this time. Still, Spike caught the blow with ease. Bored now, he wrenched the thick arm back and pulled the vamp into a tearing hammerlock. Couldn't help but smile in gleeful delight as he heard the satisfying pop of ripping muscle and bone.

The vamp groaned in pain.

"Thanks for the distraction, mate," Spike smiled, before he kicked his opponent's knee out, whipping free a stake as the vamp went down with the grace of a stoned Fyarl demon. A disgrace to vamp kind, really. A second later and the heavy body was nothing but swirling dust.

"Just don't make minions like they use to..."

Behind him, he could hear "Scrawny" moving, apparently trying to slip in some sneaky rear attack. It wasn't working. The wanker couldn't have made more noise if he'd been wearing bells on his feet while carrying a kitten past Dobermans. Spike side-stepped easily, watched as the kid stumbled another few steps. So bloody embarrassing that vamps of this kind actually existed.

"Nice try." He couldn't contain the smirk this time. "But I think you missed."

The smaller vamp glared at him with demonic yellow eyes, fangs dripping slightly with spittle. "Won't happen again, you traitorous fuck."

"Promises, promises."

They circled each other for a moment, and Spike was more than ready when the boy launched another punch. No grace, no training, just a few too many badly dubbed kung fu movies. With an almost lazy ease, Spike responded with attacks of his own, a punch to send the kid back, a perfectly-aimed roundhouse, and a thrust of the stake. It was barely even satisfying to watch the dusting this time.

Battery fledglings were just too easy. Least the night was still young. Plenty of time to hunt down the pontificating little prick who'd apparently dubbed himself "master." Plenty of time to make him hurt. Real bad. He's pretty sure he remembers how that goes. Nothing like someone else screaming to provide a little stress relief.

Yeah, that'd be neat.

"Death and glory and sod all else," he reminded himself firmly, again, kicking the scattered dust.

And sod, especially, annoying, blonde bints who tore his heart out and then trod on it with their pointy, little stiletto heels. Who returned from Europe all unnaturally tanned, to make googly eyes at constipated hero-types with pretty sports cars, without a second thought for blokes who'd, oh, saved the world. For blokes who'd loved them more than anything else in their entire miserable existences, and who they'd said they'd loved.

Well, whatever. Fine. No need for her. Time to move on, to forget about...

Only then the ground rose up scarily fast. Or maybe he was falling to meet it. For a moment, that wasn't rightly clear. Hurt like a bitch when he hit, though. Hurt almost as much as the sudden crack of a boot on his back, followed by the poke of wood, and then the knowledge that he was kinda screwed.

"Hello, Spike."

The voice was masculine, American, dripping with sarcastic glee. Great, a gloater.

"Do I know you?" Spike said to the concrete, as he tried to wiggle for a better view.

"Oh, don't say you've forgotten me." The attempt at smooth failed. "Spike, man, I'm hurt."

"Obviously you didn't leave that much of an impression," he began, but the foot dug in harder between his shoulder blades, and the stake begin to push through leather. "Or I've got issues with the aural recognition thing. Hearing's not been as good since I came back from the..." He stopped. Never let it be said that Spike's dignity out-weighed his survival instinct.

"Yeah, you've got issues all right."

"This my invitation to talk about them, then? 'Cause, if you want me to start at the beginning, we'll be here a while."

Another slam between the shoulder blades. "Stop running that useless mouth of yours before I grind your teeth to dust."

He did. For a moment, anyway, and not entirely because of the oh-so-pleasant imagery. Concentrated instead on the scent, the feel. Vaguely familiar, but nothing special. Just another vampboy loser, only this time one who got the drop on him. He made a mental note to pay more attention to minions.

"Ah, ah, ah. No flinching or moving. Don't want to have to kill you before I tell you why."

"Heavens no, wouldn't want that! Please, tell me why you want to kill me."

It was the most sarcastic, cold tone he could summon, but the dickwad clearly didn't pick up on it.

"You're all she talks about, you know," the other vamp said, and Spike was sure he heard a tremble in his voice. Stake him now, a crying executioner.

"What?"

"Don't play the innocent slimeball with me, pal. I know you're leading her on. Giving her looks. Trading on that reputation of yours. Being mean to her in that way she likes best. Man, you've done a job on her, you sick freak. She doesn't even care that you once fucked a slayer!"

Well done, now he knew who his would-be killer was. Harmony's latest. What was his name? Walter? Winston? Wallace? Whatever. Big bloke. Former linebacker for some team that had played America's pouncy excuse for football back in the sixties, before he got turned by someone who'd lost a wager on the other team. No wonder the fucker was heavy.

"Look, mate, she's all yours. Really. Not interested in the bint in the least. Find her rather irritating actually, voice like fingernails on the blackboard with a brain that's soggier than an overripe tomato..."

He felt the other vamp's muscles tense. Score. Instantly, he was up on hands and knees, until he felt a boot collide with his temple. The world - currently, dark, black asphalt - spun. Then he kissed it again as his head was driven down. Bugger. This was fast becoming one of those days when he fondly remembered the basement.

"Too slow, Spike, but then you always sucked at subtle."



Sprawled, bleeding, he waited for the dusty ending. Pictured Buffy's face, as she clasped his hand in that cave, and Dru's brown cow-eyes as she'd offered him eternal life and forbidden pleasure. No regrets, he told himself firmly, trying to believe it.

But the blow didn't come.

"Wow, Spike. That was one of the most sucky escape attempts I've seen, like, ever. Were you trying to get yourself killed or more killed? Because, if you were, then right now I'm just about willing to oblige!"

He thought that's what he heard, but with the ringing in his ears from the boot to the head, he also thought he must be delusional. Or that perhaps he'd already reached the great beyond. Painfully, he rolled over, wiping blood from his nose. At least it wasn't broken again, even if the concussion had made him crazy.

Then he focused on the figure standing above him and amended that to "insane and haunted by the first crazy". And, for one brilliant moment, he was happy to stay that way.

He'd spent hours imagining his reunion with Buffy, all the different ways it might go. Usually not one for planning, he'd rehearsed everything in his head, he had. Every response, every look, every graphic detail. Her hair, her eyes, the clever, seductive things he'd say. The way she'd fall into his arms, and beg to know why he hadn't believed her, and then they'd talk and share ... or maybe just skip that part entirely and just start with the shagging happily ever after.

He'd clung to those dreams, through the ghost phase, through the agonizing journey back from no-man's-land to undead and kicking corporeality. Had clung to them with every inch of his being. Right up until he'd seen her in the foyer of Wolfram & Hart, arms wrapped around Angel, eyes filled with adoration as she gazed at his Neanderthal mug. Watching them, Spike had felt the rise of his demon, the pleasurable-painful need to hurt things. He'd imagined the satisfying sound of Angel's neck snapping, the rush of blood as limbs were torn from that over-stuffed torso. Had also, in that moment, also forgotten every practiced conversation. Because he'd never prepared for that moment.

And nor had he prepared for this. Hours later, and he was still not able to find words.

Except one.

"Buffy..."

She stood above him, hand gripped around Mr. Pointy, as the dull light from a nearby streetlight glinted off the gold in her hair. Every inch of her was poised and battle-ready, but when she said his name her lips curved up with the hint of a smile.

"Spike."

For a moment, as their eyes met, Spike felt the sudden suspicion that she was, actually, looking at him. Seeing into his soul - her soul, she owned it fully. But the moment passed, the look faded, making way for that typical Slayer-glare.

"Friend of yours?" she asked evenly, one perfectly groomed eyebrow raised.

"Not in so many words..."



He couldn't stop staring at her. God, so beautiful, so deadly. His wonderful slayer. But he forced a smirk and a dramatic, overly- impudent sweep of his gaze up her body, deliberately taking in every delicious angle, each emphasized by the clothing that was almost shrink wrapped around her.

"Been shopping with Faith, have you?" he observed, adding just a touch of lasciviousness to his voice. "Slayer, I very much approve."

She rolled her eyes but held out her hand.

It was an effort to force his gaze from her face to her extended palm. Short nails, painted a pale, white-ish pink. Finally, found time for a manicure. A moment's hesitation, and he grasped her hand. Warm, strong. It was their first touch, almost a repetition of their last, and it sent a little trail of electricity up Spike's arm.

I love you.

No, you don't.

He hoped the significance of the moment wasn't lost on her, but if she was thinking deep thoughts she gave no sign. Always so damn controlled. The thought made his demon unfurl a little and start to grumble with anger and frustration. He stopped thinking right there.

"You look good," Buffy said, as she hauled him up. "Tangible even."

"Yeah. Handy that. No pun intended."

Then they stood, uncomfortably, fingers still entwined. He was reluctant to let go. Fought the urge to pull her to him, cling to her, press his body against her slight curves and melt into her. Hold onto her and never, ever let her go. But the need to possess was easier to manage now, and he got control of himself quickly, barely hesitated when she relaxed her grip to let go.

Perhaps he was still suffering from brainstrain, but it felt like her fingers almost caressed his as she broke the contact and moved her hand to rest on her belt.

More silence, this time with the accompaniment of shuffling of feet. How very seventeen. Spike wondered if maybe he should say something, but with his demon pacing in his stomach, resentment clouding his mind, the words forming on his tongue tasted bitter, and he swallowed them fast. Replaced them with the most innocuous thing possible.

"Thanks for the rescue, luv." He kept his voice even.

"Slayer at your service." She grinned at him. Perfect, white teeth beneath pretty, pink-painted lips. "I'm glad you're not of the dead. Again."

"Yeah, me too. Death by moron would've been right embarrassing."

"No, not this," she gestured towards at the dust. "Well, maybe kind of this, 'cause one skanky minion so should not have been able to get the jump on you. But, so Inot/I the point, I mean that I'm glad you're alive. Generally."

It was the kind of open, honest statement he never expected from her. He was sure his eyes narrowed. She looked and sounded so genuine, almost bouncy, for a moment, he was reminded of the Buffybot. Placid, pleasing, so full of nice thoughts and made to love him. Not a bit like his slayer, really, and if she was modelling herself on that to let him down easy, then he had no time for it.

"Uh huh. Always trying to please, I am."

He watched her face fall a little, her eyes cloud. She swallowed. He was hurting her. That's what he wanted, wasn't it?

Buffy recovered in a second and continued valiantly. "I know I should have called and all. But I wanted to say it in person."

She looked up and into his eyes, pupils large and dilated from the lack of light. He missed the green.

"I am glad you're back, Spike. Very glad. Here. With us. With me. And...I hope you are, too."

"Glad". That was three uses of that word now. He thought that must be significant. Not delighted or frenzied or shocked. Glad. He supposed he was glad he was back, too. Better than hell. Should be glad he'd been given another chance to even the score and all. Luckiest bloke not-quite-alive.

Except that right now, he didn't give a fuck about that other hell, 'cause he was standing in his own, drowning in her again, even as he knew - knew - that his thirst for her would never be sated.

That she belonged to someone else.

"Yeah, life's dandy right now." His voice sounded high and pathetic. "I'm so 'glad' I came back too."

"Good. I wouldn't want you to feel like I did. Before... To need...I wouldn't want you to feel as lost as I did after I returned. Or to act like I did."

He wondered if that was meant to be an apology, but that was another thing he had no time for.

"Oh, no need to worry about that, pet. I'm completely free of the need to fuck things behind dumpsters in filthy, secret alleys."

Score. The soft look in Buffy's eyes vanished instantly, and she was back to pissed off.

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

"Means what it sounds like it means, pet. You're a smart bird. I'm sure you'll figure it out."

He heard her blood pressure rise, the beating of her heart, the smell of anger. He wanted to stop this here and now, put the light back in her eyes, but his demon rose and roared in defense of his battered heart. Stay away, make her stay away, maintain some dignity. But not like this. Had to be a better way. His stomach lurched into a somersault as he tried to work out what the hell was going on, inside and out.

Finally, Buffy sighed, and he fancied that she looked almost vulnerable. Tender. She wasn't going to play games. "Okay, you are so weirding me out here, Spike. I wanna talk about stuff and you're getting all avoid-y on me."

He chuckled, a harsh sound devoid of humor. "Oh, sweet irony."

"What..." She stopped, licked her lips, and he felt a swell of guilt rise within him at her lost look. Damn soul, made everything harder. "Did I do something wrong? Something that made you leave? I don't...why?"

"Why? Take a stab."

"I don't know, Spike. I mean, I know you didn't believe me when I said that I loved..."

He cut her off with a wave of his hand. "Nothing to do with that, pet. Over, burnt to a crisp, just like me." He paused to take a breath, easily ignored her shudder. "Just didn't fancy hanging around to watch you smack lips with Mr. Big back there."

"What?" She stared at him like he was crazier than a pissed chicken. "How could you think that?"

"How could I not? You standin' there, groping each other in the middle of the foyer..."

"....And since when would that have that stopped you anyway?"

Oh, so typically Buffy.

"Since I got my balls back, and, with 'em, some bloody dignity. Not stickin' around to watch you swap spit with my grandsire. Rather go wash my privates with holy water. Probably less painful, too"

For a moment, she simply stared at him. Face flushed, hands balled into fists. He wondered if she was going to hit him. He'd welcome it, knew he deserved it. Hit him and leave, she would, and he'd go find some more stake-fodder and cheap liquor to smother the goddamn pain.

But instead of hitting him, Buffy threw her hands up in disgust, fists taunting only the air.

"Oh my God, do I have to pound things through your thick skull with a mallet? I. Am. Not. With Angel! There. I can not put it more simply than that. So cut out the attitude, because it is making me mad. And you don't want me mad."

He blinked. No other reaction to make as the words "not with Angel" repeated on continual loop through his misfiring brain.

Buffy fixed him with a glare that could freeze a nun's heart. "You know what? You're right. It is ironic. And you've got every right to find my attempts at this talking thing amusing. But I'm trying here, and...shit, Spike, when did we suddenly reverse roles here?"

He shrugged. "Fucked if I know. Seems everything's screwed up these days."

Buffy nodded, cast her eyes over the now-deserted lot. "You working?"

"Yeah, actually, I am. Things to do, you know..." His answer was defensive, instantaneous. But this time, he cut himself off before any more damage was done. Mouth slightly open, he paused to consider for a moment, weighed the question. He still wasn't quite certain what she was all about tonight, but burning within him was low, dull heat, a flicker of hope. "But it's nothing important," he amended quickly.

"Good." Her lips curled up into a smile again, and she reached out to touch his arm gently. He thought he could feel the heat of her fingers through the leather. "You have a car?"

"Er..well, yeah." Kinda. Not his, exactly. But Angel would never miss it. Or maybe he would, and that would be even funnier.

Buffy's smile got even wider. "Let's get outta here, okay? Go someplace...else."

"Lead the way, then."

And so he followed her, again. And even though he recognized that her control over him was kind of pathetic, he decided that he didn't care. A well-trained puppy, he was. Just waiting to be kicked.

****

There was something safe about being in a car with Spike.

It was an ironic realization, because 'safe' and 'Spike'? Not usually two words that went together. Plus, he was driving one-handed, at least thirty miles over the speed limit, along a ridge so steep that any misstep would mean a sticky, messy end for her vulnerable human flesh. But she trusted him. Vamp speed, vamp eyes. Supernatural everything. More than that though was the determination to never hurt her. Not again. He had promised, and she, strangely enough now, believed him, perhaps even more than he believed in himself.

Amazing how a year free from world-save-age could give a girl a little perspective on stuff like that.

But that wasn't really why it was safe. It was more that they had so little history in cars. Nothing except that ridiculous "not-a-date" he'd taken her one February. He'd thought he could charm her with a flask of cheap liquor and some bad punk rock. The memory sometimes brought a giggle. A giggle too easily cut off by the memory of what had come after. But no thinking of that! So, bad singing aside, the car remained safe. They'd never again talked in his car, or screwed in his car, not even when she'd asked too. The car was his space, he'd told her. His home. The one occasion when she hadn't won.

Of course, this wasn't Spike's car. Not his real car. It was too bright and shiny, too antiseptically cleaned. Probably detailed on every return, but that had left it bland. There were no stains on the seat, no smell of alcohol and old leather and half a century of better-left-uncontemplated sex. Spike's car was buried beneath the dust in Sunnydale, along with so much of their lives. Sad to think that he'll never get that important piece of himself back.

Scary to think that she kind missed it. Missed so much about the old Spike, really, and had for some time. Some time before he died. Again. She wondered if that made her a bad person. Probably it did, but what was one more for the list?

Spike barely talked as he drove, just listened as Buffy tried to fill in the silence. That used to be his job, before the soul, but he was a lot quieter now, more cautious in everything he said. She'd always known the whole snark thing had been a bit of an act, but it became so obvious in those final months. So painfully telling.

So, he watched the road, smiled occasionally, as she played catch-up with the Scoobies. Willow was doing grad work at NYU, living in a swanky pad in the Upper East Side, paid for by Kennedy's doting parents. Xander had started again in Seattle, still a builder. He was dating a nice-enough girl, one who was so far, apparently, completely human, although Buffy admitted to holding doubts. Faith was in Cleveland, where there was a new Hellmouth of sorts. Watching him, she wondered whether he really cared or was only pretending to for her sake. Either way, she supposed it was a bit of an improvement.

"And the Nibblet?" he asked finally, after she'd failed to mention her sister.

Buffy smiled. She'd kept quiet in the hope that he'd ask.

"She's at this amazing school in England, and she's totally kicking ass. She's even, like, passing French and math and all those things I sucked at. And, oh, she's taking drama and she's in the school play. But she's got to 'tone down the accent' or something. You know, colonial accents don't impress those kinds of parents. I'm kinda scared she's gonna start talking with that posh accent and all all the time...Not that's there's anything wrong with English accents. They can be quiet sexy..."

Her voice drifted off, and she glanced at Spike quickly. He raised an eyebrow. Caught out. Time for a topic change.

"Oh, and the Council has given her a scholarship..."

Well, that worked, although perhaps not in the way she wanted. Spike's face darkened and his fingers against the wheel turned even whiter.

"So, everyone's doing deals with the devil then?"

"Oh, no, nothing like that. It's string free. 'Cause, Giles runs the Council now and he does what he wants."

She watched him swallow and try to relax, but his knuckles remained white. "Good for him, then. Both of you needed a touch of pampering."

"Yeah, right there with you about the pampering. Giles says I'm being 'unnecessarily extravagant.' But I'm tired of wearing Target and eating crap. I've got my own credit cards and everything, so I can do what I want. Life is good."

"Good."

She smiled and dragged her eyes back from Spike's profile to her nicely manicured nails. She wondered whether Spike had noticed that she'd made an effort to look nice. He could be so observant about little things like that, and yet he'd never seemed to care when she'd stunk of lard, never complained when his caressing hands slid through smears of grease.

"Anyway," she continued quickly, trying hard not to think any more of caressing hands. "Dawn says she wants to be an archaeologist. Or maybe a vet. Can you believe it? My little sister, all college bound and absolutely brilliant."

Spike nodded, and Buffy could see the pride in his eyes, hear it in his voice. "Your mum would be proud."

"Yes." Buffy said quietly. "I hope so."

And then there was silence. But not awkward silence. Calm and companion-y, like it had been in those final days together, when they'd found a quiet comfort in each other's presence. Buffy listened to the roar of the engine, as she watched Spike out of the corner of her eye. His profile was impassive, voice even, but his body was tense. He was waiting. Waiting for her, as usual.

Honestly - and she'd been trying to be honest with herself lately - she'd half expected Spike to fall at her feet upon seeing her. Which, she supposed, he kind of had, just not in the way she'd expected. But there'd been no stunned, devotion-filled eyes, no trembling hands and heart-felt, chivalrous declarations of eternal love. Heck, 'til she'd hunted him down, there hadn't even been any Spike at all. Spike leaving, without causing a fuss! In a way, it was almost mature, but a part of her was offended that he hadn't challenged Angel to a duel.

A part of her feared that his searing love for her had been devoured by Hellmouth. She's lost so much else when Sunnydale was taken, why should she have assumed this, between them, would really have been any different?

"Spike..."

He cut her off. "We're here."

Her gaze was drawn back to the window as he pulled the car into a parking lot above an apparently deserted beach. She gasped at the beauty of the moon's white light reflecting off the water.

"No people. No disruptions. Definitely no vamps, right?" he stated, almost defensively, as if embarrassed by the romanticism of the place. Or freaked out by the possibilities. Or maybe even embarrassed. She hadn't asked for romantic, but it was so like Spike to covertly cross the line, even as he gnawed on his lip and spazzed about it.

"You did good," she answered. She wanted to touch him again, to slide her hand over his and let him know that she wasn't going to kick him where it hurt. But something stopped her, a feeling of hesitancy and fear, coupled with the knowledge that this new Spike wasn't one to be pushed too far.

"C'mon, Spike," she said finally, pulling the latch open on the door. "Let's go for a walk."

"Right. Sure, got a couple of hours before sunrise, why not get some more exercise...stretch the legs."

She wasn't entirely sure whether he was speaking to himself, or to her, but the confusion was kind of a relief, because she didn't know how to respond.

They climbed out of the car and she watched in amusement as Spike had three goes with the electronic key before the car finally locked.

"What?" he asked, almost snarky. "Don't fancy being stuck here beneath the bright California sun should some fucker fancy himself a new set of wheels. Not jonesing to be toasted again, no matter who the company."

"And here I thought you'd die for me."

His response came with a strange, soft smile that left her nothing but confused. "Did you just?"

Leather boots make for good slaying, but bad beachcombing, Buffy decided, as she stumbled over the thick sand. She had half a mind to sit down and remove them, pull the leather off and dip her feet in the cool, ocean water. But that would mean sand in even more uncomfortable places and getting wet. Also, you never know what could be lying in the sand of California beaches these days...And, God, could she sound any more like her father? Two months, and his influence had already rubbed off.

It was deeply disturbing.

Speaking of disturbing, Buffy couldn't help but chuckle at the sight of Spike as he stumbled along beside her, even his natural grace having failed him on the dry, crumbly sand. Docs and dry sand clearly didn't mix, and it made her feel little better about her own clumsy stagger.

"Bloody awkward moonlight stroll. Should've known better than to try for a beach. Unnatural, it is."

"Everything about you is unnatural, Spike. And I mean that in the best way."

"Yeah?" The slight surprise in his voice touched her. Confident, arrogant Spike might like to boast, but the little look of delight on his face at her sparse compliment reminded her just how insecure he was beneath the bravado.

She fell into step beside him as they moved toward the water's edge. The night was dark but not quite black, a slither of moon casting a slight light and reflecting off the ripples in the water. She was used to dark, could sense her surroundings, sense Spike, even before her eyes had adjusted to the dimness. She glanced at him, as was able to almost make out the angular plans of his face. Again, she resisted the urge to thread her arm through his. Decided, instead, to connect another way.

She turned her head and watched as the water erased their footprints in the sand and said, "I meant it, you know. When I said I loved you."

His step faltered. It was nearly imperceptible, detectable only to her heightened slayer senses. It made her heart jump.

"I know," he said evenly, after a second.

"Then why..."

"Why didn't I believe you?"

She'd pondered that all summer. Concocted reasons, explanations in her head. She thought that maybe she understood why he'd misunderstood. But that all seemed so far away now, buried by the memory of his empty room, the missing car, the knowledge that Spike had fled her presence, after she'd come home to be with him.

"Why didn't you fight for me?" she asked instead, "I thought...this...me... isn't it what you wanted? More than anything?"

She heard the pain and hurt in her words, and also the selfishness. God, she sounded about sixteen, like an angsty teenager off Dawsons Creek. Self-absorption, thy name is Buffy Summers.

"Didn't want to hold you to something said under duress."

She stopped where she was and blinked in the darkness as she felt the words cut into her chest. "But you just said you believed me. That I love you."

"Buffy..." His voice faded off for a moment, and he stopped, too, just out of reached. Kicked at the sand. "I know you were telling the truth. In that moment. Kinda hard not to love me when I was dying to save the world, yeah? But I didn't think it meant forever and ever, amen. I don't kid myself that it did, and you shouldn't either."

She watched, speechless, as he patted his coat, his jeans in search of cigarettes. Still a chain smoker, and she was surprised that she kind of missed the dusty smell of smoke on her clothes. Missed so much about him, really, and she didn't know how to get it back.

"Spike..."

"Buffy, just..." He shook his head. "I saw how you looked at Angel."

"It's not what..." She began but then wondered what the point was. Stubborn vampire wouldn't listen, and she couldn't blame him. Hadn't he watched her jump into Angel's arms the minute she'd seen him again, back in those chaotic days before the fall of Sunnydale?

So, she doesn't make excuses this time. Doesn't lie, because she can't fool Spike.

"I did mean it, for always and ever, you know. And if you saw something in how I looked at Angel...well, I'm not surprised. 'Cause I love him, too. Both of you. I know that sounds selfish and immature and, God, maybe it is...But that I still feel something for him doesn't make how I feel about you any less."

"Oh, so you get to double-dip?"

She rolled her eyes. Infuriating vampire.

"You told me once, that Angel and I would never be friends. That we'd fight and 'shag' and hate each other and be in love 'til it killed us. And sometimes...you know, sometimes I think that's true..."

"Buffy..."

"No, wait a sec! See, you're right. I'm not friends with Angel. We're working on it..." Working on it as best as they could, given they were located on separate continents now, and Angel seemed to have issues with using the phone. Or maybe it was issues with talking in general. "...But I am friends with you. Good friends. Maybe...last year, even best friends. I know that's not what you wanted. But I need you to know how much I appreciated it. How much I appreciated you."

Spike cut her off with laugh. "All this way, the soppy words, and now you're giving me the 'let's be friends' speech?"

"Isn't this what you wanted? You certainly don't seem to want me anymore."

There, she'd said it. She felt the air turn cold around her as she waited for him to speak.

Instead he turned and took a few steps closer to the water, boots squelching slightly in the wet sand. When he finally spoke, his words seemed directed at the ocean.

"I'm bored with America, sometimes. Can stare across the ocean and remember my life before. Things have never been that simple for me, Slayer. Not even with the bloody soul, always be shades of gray, nasty pictures in my mind's eye, blurred and softened by the memory of once having been maybe a little happy. It doesn't disgust me like it should. Though doubtless hearing that disgusts you, as it should." His voice sounded hollow in the still night air. "But I've got work here, purpose. Makes me get up at sundown, keeps me going? Gotta have something to keep me going, yeah?"

"That something," she said. "It used to be me."

He nodded, white head glinting in the moonlight.



"Use to be, when I thought about my life, there was just you. Thought I was over that, that I was all right with you coming back here. But then, I look at you, and it happens again. You stand there, in your pretty clothes, all calm and strong, and everything falls away around you. You're my rock, my home, my everything. And then you leave, and I'm left a beggar. I can't do that again, Buffy. And I'm not gonna take hand-me-downs anymore."

He turned to face her, and, even in the darkness, and despite the dark, she thought she could see flame-blue eyes burning a hole right through her.

"Go back to Angel, and have your manly hero and your perfect, chaste love. Or go back further. Hunt down another Captain America or whatever. I don't care. But stop with the too-ing and fro-ing, cause it's making me dizzy. Just make a goddamn choice."

She swallowed against the lump in her throat, and the lines of his slender form blurred, as water pooled at the corner of her eyes. She knew he could see the tears, even in the dark. She hoped he could see the honesty in her eyes.

"I am making a choice, Spike. That's why I'm here. And I choose you."

******

Three little words that should have caused his world to melt around him. But everything stayed solid.

"That's it? You 'choose' me?"

"Yup."

"Right. Thanks. I think I'll just drop everything and fall at your feet then."

His voice was thick with sarcasm, but a part of him longed to do just that. To give in, hold her, love her, delight in her choice. Maybe carry her back to Wolfram & Hart and laugh in Angel's face as he shouted to all and sundry that the Slayer was his. But a fella's gotta keep some dignity and so he remained still.

"I'd rather you stay standing, be easier that way."

He stared at her in what he hoped looked like disgust, and absently patted his coat's pockets again. This would all be so much easier if he just had some nicotine.

Buffy just sighed, her amused expression not faltering. "I know what you're doing Spike, being all defensive and stuff. Kinda familiar with it, as you found out the hard way."

"Too right I did."

"Yup, you've seen it all, every cruel and vicious and psycho impulse I have." She was still smiling, that wide, toothy smile that lit her face. He wondered briefly if he had been right the first time, and this really was the 'bot.

"You saw it all, Spike, and you still loved me. Said it yourself, lots of times. That'd you'd seen the best and worst of me, and that you loved me and believed in me. I don't know that I ever really said thank you for that. And I should have. But I think you knew - no, I know you knew, that those words kept me going."

She began to broach the slight distance between them. He stood motionless, watching her, his acute hearing discerning the shifting sounds, as she moved from the dry, crumbling sand onto the firmer surface where the water lapped.

"I know you meant those words, Spike. You've always been so honest about stuff like that. Much more honest than I was. And I know there's not anyone else now. So, tell me Spike, do you still love me? 'Cause if you've really fallen out of love with me, I'll understand. But I don't think you have." Her voice rose at the end, questioning, and she swallowed hard, before she added in a small voice with a slight quaver. "Have you?"

He'd never seen his slayer look quite so vulnerable before, so honest and open. Not even when her eyes had been red with tears, face flushed from crying, had she let him in like this before. As he stared into her eyes, he felt that she was finally admitting him into her soul.

Screw dignity, because this was everything he'd ever wanted. He wasn't able to pretend any longer

"Of course, I still love you, you silly bint. Never stopped, can't stop. Why else do you think I acted like such a fool?"

Released, the words seemed to take with them most of the weight he'd been carrying on his shoulders. He felt almost free. Maybe his heart even beat.

"Oh, thank god!" Buffy breathed, as a genuine smile broke across her face and her body visibly relaxed. "'Cause rejection after all that melodrama? Definitely not my thing."

He couldn't help but laugh at the relieved expression on her face. He smiled too. It had been such a long time, for both of them. He wrapped his arms around her as she collapsed against him.

Now this, this was home.

"I get that you'll always love Angel," he said, lips brushing her hair. "Hard to let go of the past. I know that all too well."

"Yes, it is," she agreed. "But it's worth it. And I totally think we should try."

"Starting now, yeah?"

"Not a minute too soon."

He kissed her. She tasted familiar, yet startling. Intoxicating. He'd never get tired of her taste, her scent, the way she met his passion with a strength and eagerness of her own. He groaned, or maybe she did, and she pulled him closer using the lapels of his coat, pushed her body against his. He could feel her small breasts crush against his chest, her heat seeping into him, warming places long cold and dead. He worked his hands under her top, beneath her leather pants, touched everywhere he could.

She responded in turn, hands tracing up his arms, under the duster and then his t-shirt, across his stomach, and then lower. She stroked him through his jeans, and he gasped, then groaned. His hands rested under the belt of her pants, and he wondered if it would be presumptuous to actually start removing clothes.

She broke the kiss and gave him his answer. "Have to ever? You know..." He could sense the blood rise to her cheeks. "...in the ocean?"

He followed her gaze to the water. Imagined loosing themselves to the waves. But she shook. "No, and I don't reckon we should start tonight. Even I can tell that the water's cold. Not gonna risk you getting all sick or something."

"Well, you're no fun."

She pouted, and he couldn't resist. He kissed her again, biting the lush lower lip, teasing the pulsing blood beneath.

"We'll see about that," he answered, when she pulled away for air.

The beach had sounded kind of romantic, back when they'd been standing in the filth of warehouses. But then he'd never expected this, and hadn't given a second thought to sand and shells and rocks and water. He led her away from the water's edge and laid his coat on the beach.

She pushed him down gently, and he watched as, eyes sparkling with mischief and desire, she began to undress. Or tried to. They both giggled as removing the tight leathers put an end to her attempt at a moonlight strip show and she collapsed onto the sand beside him. Nothing ever went entirely according to plan for them. But fortunately, muddling through was half the fun, he thought as his hands glided down Buffy's legs, slipping the leather pants down and off.

She undressed him in turn, taking slightly less care with significantly more urgency. Not exactly romantic, his girl. Passionate, demanding, even bloody confusing at times, but worth every bit of it.

They lay beside each other, touching, reacquainting themselves with places once familiar, until she pulled him on top of her.

"God, I love you." He wanted to yell it to the skies, dare the powers to smite him for his presumption, but he feared his voice would fail him. Instead, he whispered it into her ear, before tracing the familiar, sweat-line path from the base of her ear down the curve of her neck.

She writhed beneath him, hands holding his head. "I love you, too."

The words caused his dead heart to flutter and soar.

When his lips reached her collarbone, she pulled his mouth back to hers. He stared at her in surprise.

"Later. Plenty of time. In me now," she gasped, pulling his mouth back to hers. He kissed back , chasing her tongue, finding every hidden taste, as she wrapped her legs around him and drew in him.

For a moment, time seemed to stop. They broke the kiss and stared at each other. Skin on skin, eyes locked, bodies heaving, completion and connection at once. Spike had to try very, very hard not to come at once. Then she ran her hands along his arms and pulled him down flush against her body, urging him on, and he couldn't hold back any longer.

Their soft moans, and then their louder cries, echoed along the beach and out to sea.

Later, much later. as they lay on the sand, they talked.

"So, then, what happens now?" Spike asked, as he ran a lazy hand up and down her flank. His skin looked silver-white in the moonlight, more alive than it had under the harsh, fluorescent lights at Wolfram & Hart. Hers still glowed a touch of exotic gold. Compliment and contrast. "You moving to back here, to sunny California?"

She held his gaze for a moment, then dropped hers to the sand, hair hiding her face. "No, I don't think I can. Not yet, anyway. Faith needs help in Cleveland and all. Still got the whole world save-age thing to take care of."

"Thought an army of slayerettes would've helped with that."

"Hah! I so wish."

She rolled her eyes, and he chuckled a little, sympathetically.

"Bit like herding cats then?"

"They're good girls, most of them. Giles is keeping most of them locked up in England, trying to train them. There are downsides to the yay-girl-power, multi-slayer plan, Spike. Consequences..."

Her voice trailed off as her mind went elsewhere, back to London and Giles perhaps. Spike resisted the urge to succumb to a creeping, rising shudder. He could well imagine an army of souped-up, teenage hormone bombs, jazzed up on teen-pop girlpower, and set loose on an unsuspecting world.

He stopped his gentle caress, resting his hand on her hip in what he hoped was a comforting manner. "Can't foresee everything, pet. Did the best you could. Saved the bloody world."

"Not without a little help from you."

When she looked back up at him from beneath the veil of hair, an a ghost of a smile crept across her face. "Hey, so not the time to talk about work. I want to think happy thoughts and leave all that badness 'til tomorrow. Or the next day. Welcome to the new angst-free, ready-to-smile, absolutely pleasant me."

"Doesn't need to be anything new about you, Buffy. Just plain you. Original, classic and a hell of a woman."

She smiled, learned over and kissed him gently. "Thank you."

"No problem. Never get tired of saying it, 'specially when I get such a reward."

"That's convenient, 'cause I don't think egotistical me is ever gonna get tired of hearing it. Or handing out rewards."

She ran her hand down his chest, drawing patterns across the skin. He felt his cock stir, even as his vampiric nerves began to itch in warning of the approaching sunlight.

He stopped her hand reluctantly. "We'd better get a move on, lest you got the means and manner to get my dust to talk. Getting light quick."



She groaned but began to push herself to her feet, brushing off sand in an surprisingly erotic manner. "Stupid sun, ruins all my fun."

He watched shamelessly, eagerly, as she gathered her clothes. Not shy around him in the least anymore, and it was good to see. Took all his self-control, and sense of self-preservation, not to take her again there and then, but he stamped down his lust and rose and helped her dress. Enjoyed the tingly sensations of touching her again, the trust she placed in him, her own gentle touches.

He clasped her hand tightly, as they made their way back to the car.

"Ow, all this sand is rubbing in uncomfortable and tender places," she said suddenly, then blushed a little, but smiled at him. "And note to self: Sex on beaches is only romantic in movies."

"Thought it was plenty romantic."

"Okay, I'll concede that. Romantic. And lots of other words, too. Most of which should be reserved for French films."

He wondered how many French films she'd actually seen, but decided not to ask. There were a couple he'd certainly enjoy educating her about.

"So, how long have we got?" He inquired finally, as they reached the carpark. Reality was on his heels, and he eyed the car door with as much resentful anger as he could manage while sated, happy, and holding hands with his girl.

"Before I go back? Two days."

He groaned. "Bloofy hell, but that's not long enough."

"I know, but Cleveland's a short flight. I'll be back, soon. All the time really. You'll probably get sick of me..."

"Never happen..."

"And you know what they say about absence."

He smiled wickedly at that. "Bloody right. I think we proved that last night."

Proved it dozens of times. Maybe even set a new record, which by their standards was especially impressive. He couldn't control the grin that came with the memory. Bugger it, but he'd be smiling like a loon for months.

They walked across the parking lot in silence, but when he moved to open the car door for her, she pulled him into another kiss, tongue gliding over his her hands in all the right places. Everything about her, about them was familiar, but he knew he'd never grow tired of it. Would just get better with age and experience. He pushed her firmly against the car, running his hands over her breasts and up to her face, touching her in all the special places he'd memorised well.

Breaking apart, Buffy panting, Spike pulled back to stare at her in the light of the slowly rising sun. He allowed himself a healthy dose of satisfaction and even a little smugness. She was deliciously mussed-up and looked well and truly shagged. The vision was enough to send his blood rushing south again. He allowed himself a little glee at the thought of the stir they'd cause at the office. Maybe it'd even be enough to get Angel to crack an expression. He slowed that thought. Wouldn't want to set his sights Ithat/I high.

Once they were seated in the car, she scooted as close as she could get to him, hand resting on his thigh. Dangerous distraction while driving, that, but he was hardly about to ask for space. He felt streams of fire shoot their way straight from her touch to his groin. It was gonna be a long drive.

"Gonna get you home, quick as I can. Have another go right then," he promised, for both their benefits.

She licked her lips, and whispered close to his ear, "then drive all fast and furious, so we don't have to wait."

"Never drive any other way, luv," he assured her, as he pulled out of the lot, tires screeching.

Two days and counting.

He wasn't gonna waste a single second more.