Hello to all!

It's been a while, but since I bought Season7 this weekend and watched all day yesterday and finished it around twelve thirty last night, I needed a treat. I knew what was going to happen, of course. I read it on the upn site and also had a lot of my nice buddettes telling me of what was happening. I loved all the intimate moments between my two favorite characters. The fact that she sticks by him is also so very comforting and I can't say how much I enjoyed Touched and End of Days (except for the Angel kissage, of course...) Anyways, the ending was all oh-what's-gonna-happen and what-did-she-mean and I couldn't have that. I had to go into deeper prodding mode and so this ficlet was created. This is what I want to happen, of course, NO SPOILERS in here what so ever for coming episodes.

There are SPOILERS for SEASON 7 of Buffy, naturally, and also some for the past season of Angel.

However, I have to say that we don't have Angel where I currently reside and since I couldn't find a decent chat room last night to get the low-down on the show I had to go on what little info I could get out of the WB site. So, forgive me if details are off. I have, for example, no idea what happened in Rome other than that Spike and Angel were SUPPOSED to save Buffy.

I have a few questions to anyone willing to answer. I get that SMG decided not to do Angel. Does anyone know why? Perhaps it's for the better, I dunno. But I still feel it's sad. Are they really thinking about making a TV-movie of some sort? And further more, after Rome – DID the vamps see Buffy and save her, or didn't they have to? Does she now know that Spike's alive, or doesn't she? Was there any implication of this at all?

I've gone with the theory that she doesn't know that he's alive, which is my very own little theory, yessiree. But I couldn't base this story on her knowing that he's alive. I need to see her reaction, otherwise I will be deeply disappointed.

So, in SHORT: Spuffy, short 'n nice, spoiler free for what is up ahead but not what is behind and I hope you'll enjoy it, to some extent.

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One Simple Choice

By Annie

2004-05-10

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She stepped into the blazing California sun and closed her eyes for a moment. It was strange. She had stood under this very same orb of fire on virtually every continent of the planet over the past two years, but it never felt quite the same as it did here. Home.

She smiled, grabbing her suitcase and crossing the street.

She didn't know what it was. Perhaps that she felt sure of what it was she was doing; or perhaps that the moment of doing it had finally arrived. Safe to say – she was finished baking and now only needed someone willing to take her out of the oven. And she knew who would be.

Rome had been crazy. Almost a year ago now and that was the last time she had seen him. And still it had been as it always had – non changing, never any different, as though his eyes had just recently rested in hers. To be honest she had barely been surprised to see him.

She stopped in front of the tall building – Wolfram and Hart sign gleaming in the setting sun – and she smiled again. She felt light headed, and happy. Very happy. Entering the building she waited for the elevator and once it finally arrived her heart began hammering in her chest.

She had heard the stories of his bad days the year prior. Of how he had come one smidgeon from being vaporized by Wesley. How he had turned back into that demon she loathed with all of her heart. There had never been a doubt in her mind that he would be alright, though. And now he was. Alright. And here she was. To see him.

She stepped out of the elevator and onto the quiet floor hosting his office, and those closest to him.

It smelled of old and new mixed together and she smirked as she softly trotted the hallways. It smelled of Angel and familiarity and hard work. It sure had been a while.

She paused in the doorway to the room she had been on the prowl for, gently put her suitcase down on the floor and entered. He was bent over some paperwork, writing furiously in a notebook, and she smiled for a third time at the sight of him. He hadn't changed.

But then, why would he?

"You once said," she began and his head shot up, his eyes widening as she stopped before his desk, "that you weren't getting any older. That's a lie. You just look like you're not getting any older."

"Buffy?"

She raised her eyebrows.

"Well, duh!" she replied and he got to his feet, still staring at her.

"What are you doing here? You're here?" he asked, coming around the desk and her eyebrows merely rose another notch.

"Funny – I remember you as being a bit more intelligent than this," she stated and at that a smile graced his lips.

Then he pulled her close and she held him back, breathing him in and relaxing into the embrace.

"I just can't believe it," he mumbled. "The last time I saw you..."

"...was crazy," she filled in, pulling back to look up at him. "I'm sorry we barely got to say two words to each other... But in all fairness you seemed pretty quick about leaving too."

He swallowed, then smiled a small smile as he let her go and leaned back against the edge of the desk, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Well, you're right – it was crazy times," he said quietly, growing thoughtful and she frowned.

"Beg your pardon, but I didn't think you'd get all moody this quickly into our..." she trailed off and he met her gaze again.

"Our what, exactly?" he asked and she smiled coyly.

Reunion? It seemed like too small a word for what this was. It was so strange. She knew their future would be a childless, nightish, her-growing-old-where-he-stayed-young thing; but no part of her considered that anymore. She had known this when she fell in love with him in the first place. Love wasn't about age, it wasn't about race or gender or appearance or any law man was bound to – that much she had learned. Love was more powerful than that, and that was why it could move Heaven and Earth. Once you truly love someone, you don't simply stop because you can't be with them anymore. They're there, in your heart, forever. Yes, she had learned her lessons, and knew that trying to pass on the gift that it was to have him loving her back was unthinkable.

"I'm done," she said and he blinked, confused. "I'm a cookie," she elaborated and for a moment he didn't catch on, but then there was a flicker of recognition in his gaze. "Ding," she added and he smiled again.

"May I do the honors, then?" he asked and she returned his smile as his face drew closer.

After a few more moments of nothing she eased her eyes open, and noticed that he had stopped his movement. Again he looked thoughtful and she observed him in growing impatience before she had to ask:

"Is there something more important on your mind? 'Cause if you want I can go check into my hotel and set that whole thing up and then come back again."

He shook his head.

"I'm sorry. There's... There's something I didn't tell you in Rome and... I think it was a bad idea now, but it's always easier to think that after you do something. Back then we were just in the middle of this feud thing and it was... sorta stupid, but not really if you think about it 'cause man can you get tired of the never ending..." he stopped himself at Buffy's quizzical expression.

God, how could he say this?

"You freaked me out a little in Sunnydale that time," he murmured and she tried to get with the program, but was still completely lost as to where he was going with this speech. "With the whole when-I'm-ready deal and I was happy to hear it, don't get me wrong, that you had figured that part out, but then you were going back to him." At that she clenched her jaws together, both at the stupidity of her old love, but also at the memory of how he had reacted in the same jealous manner, once she got back to the house. "I thought maybe you'd already made up your mind, but didn't wanna tell me 'cause of the whole looming Apocalypse Now theme."

"I hadn't," she mumbled, and he nodded.

"I know," he said. "But it shook me, Buffy. I mean, Spike! Of all vampires you go and... Never mind."

"I didn't think this'd be part of our first conversation," she grumbled and he frowned.

"Sorry," he sighed. "I'm afraid it has to be..." She looked wondering again and he hesitated, then said: "There are things you don't know."

"Like what?" she asked and Angel reached out a hand and took hers.

"I'll show you," he answered, leading her out of the room.

They walked in silence, not stopping until they reached a high set of doors over which said FILES AND RESEARCH and he let her hand go. Her heart was pounding for some reason, but he merely gestured for her to step inside and she tentatively pushed the left door open. Walking through it Angel stayed behind, and she felt a slight shiver of another pending Apocalypse slip up behind her. Icy fingers down her back and chilling breath upon her neck.

She walked slowly through the large hall stocked with bookcases, which went floor to ceiling. She couldn't believe how there could be so much evil in the world. And netherworld. And other dimensions and perhaps it wasn't so unbelievable after all.

She heard a noise and stopped.

"Hello?" she called out, feeling like a complete idiot.

Hello? Who the hell was she "hello"-ing? Well, Angel hadn't sent her in here to clear out some sort of mass-murdering lunatic or anything; that was for certain. So perhaps trying a friendly "Anyone in here?" might not be such a bad idea after all? She was bound to get lost sooner or later anyway. Might as well find some common ground. And a guide. She cleared her throat.

"Anyone in here?" she then tried, peeking around a bookshelf and being met by yet another passageway of passageways between shelves. "Great," she grunted. "This is just great. I come back here, toasty warm and delicious and all he has to do is bite me... God, this analogy has just seen its better days."

She stopped at another scratching noise and swirled around.

Nothing.

"I can kick your ass!" she spoke up. "Just so you know," she added.

"I know," a voice said behind her and again she twirled on her heel to face...

To face...

An ex-mass-murdering lunatic. And...

"You... can't be," she mumbled, shaking her head and feeling her heart beat slow with deliberate pain in her chest as she stared at the form of a vampire she had put out of her head and out of her heart a long time ago.

He cocked an eyebrow.

"You should probably take that claim to the Powers, love," he said, his whole being shaking at the sight of her.

At the turmoil she caused within him. As always... He could scarcely fathom that she was actually standing there, right before him. Close.

And he was there! How the hell could he be... there? Just standing there like everything was peachy frickin' keen and like it shouldn't shock her to her self-manicured toenails! It couldn't be real. Honestly. She had been here, done this. Only this time he didn't seem out of his mind. This time he looked back at her with total clarity, all be it she thought she could detect some sort of flashing sign in his eyes that he wasn't as cool as he lead on.

"Spike?" she asked, feeling the light headedness from before come over her with renewed power. "What...? When! ... And how! And..."

"I wasn't sure he'd told you... Seems like he didn't. Guess that's fine, I probably wouldn't 've either, had the placements been different and all that."

"Told me?" she asked and he smiled a small smile which had the fragile threads around her mended heart begin to twitch eerily.

"In Rome," Spike answered meaningfully.

How could he not be more shaken up about this? How could he smile and speak as though this wasn't the biggest revelation since... since... the splitting of the first goddamn atom?

"He didn't tell me in Rome?" she repeated the statement, dumbfounded.

Angel hadn't told her. In Rome. Angel hadn't told her in Rome that Spike was... that he was alive. Back and alive and there and...

She reached out a hand before she could stop herself, putting it against his chest and having a tremble go through her as it rested against the fabric of his black T.

"Oh, God..." she murmured, her eyes welling up unexpectedly and she blinked, meeting his gaze again.

He wasn't sure what to make of her. To make of the situation. He was long gone already. Lost in tresses of golden blonde and specks of green and the curve of her mouth as she spoke words he could barely pick up on. And then her touch. He moved a hand up to place it over hers, but she had already taken it away and was stepping back.

"No," she shook her head. "No, I made the choice. I've made my choice. That's alright, isn't it? I had to make it. I had to. And you weren't part of it, 'cause you couldn't be. You can't be."

He furrowed his brow, watching as she turned and ran away from him.

"Buffy!" he yelled, but she would stop for nothing as she followed her instincts back to the doors and threw them open.

"You!" she exclaimed, stalking up to Angel. "How could you! How could you keep it from me! Don't say that you were scared! Don't say that you were afraid of having to give me up. You had no right! You had no right to make that choice for me! You had no goddamn right!" she screamed, pushing him aside and running again.

She didn't know where she was going and she had no reason to care.

Through a window, perhaps? Have a meet-and-greet with the pavement a few or more stories below her. Sounded good. Anything – she would give anything – to not be back with the confusion. She had made up her mind. And now, through one single event, it was undone. Messed up. She was damned. This was her curse. She wasn't supposed to get out of the oven.

She was supposed to burn.

¤

"Has she said anything?" Giles asked, taking a sip of his tea and Willow shook her head no.

"I'm worried," the Wicca stated. "She looked sick when she got back and she refuses to eat. She just pokes at the food and makes a funny noise whenever she actually gets some on the fork. Like she's sticking herself with it or something."

"She's clearly in some sort of shock," Giles murmured and Willow paused, then said:

"No, I think she's shutting herself down for some reason... It goes deeper than shock and that's what has me worried."

"Have you tried talking to her?"

"Inside and out," Willow assured. "She closes me off. I've never seen her like this. Even when Dawn was taken... I could reach her. She left a loophole for me, you know? Now, there are brick-walls meeting me everywhere I go. I don't know what to do."

"It'll be all right," Giles promised, ignoring the gnawing fright which had started up when Buffy burst through his door two days earlier.

She had looked distant even then, mumbling something about getting herself to bed, and then she had stayed in it without listening to any entreaties that she should come down for the lovely weather, for dinner, for Jeopardy, for God's sake! Giles had tried to get a hold of Dawn, but the younger sister was out of reach, away at a hike in the Himalayas with a group of slayers and friends from school. Perfect timing, per usual.

Now there was a knock on the door, and Willow went to get it, leaving Giles before the wining fire in the fireplace. She stood stumped at the sight of two drenched vampires.

"It's raining," Angel said.

"On us," Spike added and Willow took a step out of the way to let them inside.

They both raised their eyebrows meaningfully and she put on an apologetic smile as she said:

"Please, come in."

With the formal invitation the two bustled through the doorway, shrugging the water off their shoulders and looking so much alike that Willow couldn't restrain a gape as she closed the door. Giles, hearing the commotion, entered the room from the drawing room and stopped.

"Look," Willow said with a nod. "Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum."

She received an equally dark look from either vamp at that.

¤

"Giving up Angel – killing him, watching him leave – that's some of the hardest things I've ever had to do."

"I know, sweetie."

Joyce poured some more milk into Buffy's glass and reached out a hand to stroke her hair. Buffy took a mouthful of the whiteness, swallowed and looked at her mother, sitting by the side of her bed.

"I did it because I knew I had to. I had to because I'm the Slayer... When I killed him I did it to save everyone. I did my job the way I was trained to do it, the way I knew I was forced to do it or the world would end. It sounds so far away now, all those years battling to keep this world safe... How easily you forget." Joyce smiled sympathetically and Buffy put the glass on the nightstand before continuing: "When I had to let him go... I knew I had to because we didn't have a future. He was the first man I ever loved, mom – and I couldn't be with him or I'd turn him into a monster. It's the irony of it all, isn't it? Because with Spike..."

She trailed off, scraps of memories fleetingly showing themselves in her mind.

"'Cause with Spike," she then picked up, "it was the complete opposite. When I was near him, mom, he changed. He changed for me. What did I ever do to deserve that kind of sacrifice?"

"You loved him," Joyce remarked and Buffy shook her head slowly.

"No, I didn't. I used him. I beat him. I took everything angry in me out on him. I blamed him for whenever I blamed myself. For anything. He was there, he was willing to be a punching bag, was willing to let me take my frustration out on him. For what, mom?"

"He loved you."

Buffy grew silent at that, pulling her covers up and then she nodded.

"In his own way."

"He loved you," Joyce repeated and Buffy fought to keep the tears down.

"Angel loved me," she stated.

"Of course he did, darling. He loved you enough to walk away. When did Spike ever show such strength?"

Buffy stared at her.

"When he got his soul back," she replied.

"And when did you fall in love with him, then? I believe that is the thousand dollar question," Joyce remarked.

A flood of pictures from the past was literally poured into the Slayer's lap at that query and she looked at them in growing confusion.

"There's too many of them," she mumbled. "I can't look through all of them."

"Then organize them, honey," Joyce said.

In the next moment there was a photo album where they had been and Buffy opened the cover.

The first time she met Angel.

Mysterious savior, her guardian. He had a way of making her feel safe and more out on a limb than ever at the same time. She had known right from the start, in the back of her head, that she would fall in love with him.

Their first kiss... Well, that had been a trip. Finding out that he was what she was fighting. That he was actually... dead. Oh, well, she had gotten over it quickly enough.

Snapshots of them kissing, laughing, her ice-skating... his death, his being-brought-back... them walking in the snow holding hands, dancing at her prom... Her eyes grew teary quickly as she touched the photograph, and remembered how her heart had been truly ripping into shreds that night. She had known he was going to leave. She hadn't even been able to imagine how she could ever move on. A part of her never had.

She flipped the page and came face to face with...

"What happens Saturday?"

"I kill you."

Dark. Deep. Threatening. Sickening. Hate. And the suppressed and sudden hunger for more that she knew had been there right from the very start. It had been small at first, naturally. More the intrigue of him, the puzzle, the Slayer killer. She had wanted to kill him, more than she had ever wanted to kill anyone or anything, but she had also wanted to question him.

"Lesson the first."

On how he had done what he had done.

"Here endeth the lesson."

And she had. But not until much later.

She wondered now what it was about him that had pulled her to him so irreversibly. When had it all started? Truly begun between them?

"And my robot?"

Yes... That might have been the turning point of their tale. His immense show of strength whenever she was the most convinced he would coil and bend like a deflated doll. Whenever she thought that he would sell her out, and he surprised her. Caught her off guard. Not even a god had been able to make him turn his back on her. Perhaps that had been the first crack in her very heavy armor.

"Yes, that's correct. But for the real 'turning point' I think you can go back a little farther," Joyce said and Buffy frowned.

"I love you," his voice stated with feeling in it, so unlike him that she had nearly laughed at it.

"Yes, that's very good, sweetheart. Though I have to say that man is rather lost when it comes to romance, isn't he? And what scenarios to pick when trying to emphasize truth. Having you chained is my first red flag. Being in a crypt is my second. And having his ex there is my third."

"Don't forget his current-soon-to-be-ex," Buffy pointed out and Joyce nodded her agreement.

"But look a little farther back still."

The chip?

"No, no, honey. You're barking up the wrong tree, though what a lovely puppy you make. Look... deeper."

"Do you wanna stop Angel?"

"Yes," Joyce nodded. "Accepting his help was the true turning point of your relationship with him. Because...?"

"I invited him into my home," Buffy stated, the very thought just then coming to her.

"Very good!" Joyce nodded. "You're making progress. And all the steps following this first one, were merely ones taken in an inevitable carousel of fate and twists there of."

Buffy merely stared at her and then flipped another page.

A song lyric.

She couldn't hold back a small smile as the words made her reminisce that night.

Then his voice came through from afar, softly...

"I know, I should go, but I follow you like a man possessed, there's a traitor here beneath my breast, and it hurts me more than you've ever guessed, if my heart could beat it would break my chest, but I can see, you're unimpressed, so leave me be..."

"I was so determined to not hear that I never took the time to listen," she said, looking at Dawn who was sitting by her side in the bed.

"I remember," her sister nodded, then smiled a little at the elder's countenance. "Don't worry, I'm over it."

Buffy smiled at that, patting her arm and directing her gaze back in the album.

"This is totally lame," Dawn stated, grabbing the album and pulling it out of her sister's lap, tossing it aside.

"Dawn!" Buffy exclaimed.

"Come on, let's go for a walk," she merely replied, getting to her feet and reaching out a hand.

After a second, Buffy took it and got off the bed as well.

¤

Angel reached out a hand and touched Buffy's cheek with quivering fingers. She was cold and he put another blanket on her. He sat back down on the chair, facing her and having all the remorse he felt color his eyes. His poor, beloved...

"I'm sorry," he mumbled.

"A bit late, innit?" Spike's voice sounded from behind.

Angel didn't bother to turn around.

"Here it comes," he sighed.

"What? The blame fest of two-thousand-bloody-five? Damn straight it is. You did this to her!"

"I know," Angel said.

Spike stood down at that, not able to ignore the heavy weight on his own shoulders. If he had only had the sodding guts to get in contact with her. If he hadn't been so damn frightened that she'd turn him away. That she didn't want him... anymore. Even in Rome he had let the circumstances get so out of hand that he wouldn't have to face her. Bloody hell, what a wanker he was.

He pulled up a chair next to Angel's and sat down, putting his head in his hands and then looking at Buffy.

Buffy.

He knew that the vampire sitting next to him loved her just as much as he did, and yet they were both cowards in each other's presence when it came to her. Both of them backing away from the fact of her making the final choice of one of them. Both of them terrified that it wouldn't be they.

"Sorry, mate," Spike muttered. "I'm not... seeing this straight, I s'pose."

"You scared?"

"Yeah, a bit."

"Me too."

They grew quiet.

¤

Buffy looked up at the warehouse she stood in front of.

"I don't wanna go in there," she murmured.

"Not your decision," Dawn answered, snapping a finger and suddenly they were very much inside.

There were shadows moving to their right and Buffy grabbed her sister, pulling her with her behind a stack of old newspapers.

"Dawnie, duck," she hissed, but Dawn merely laughed.

"It's okay," she ensured. "They can't see us."

"...round up the old gang. Be like old times," Angelus' voice was heard and Buffy popped her head up to see what was going on.

"Exactly like old times?" Drusilla asked, moving around the table, her body twisting like a snake's and Angelus smirked, pulling her tight to him before kissing her on the lips.

"No," Spike said, getting his wheelchair around to face them and Buffy's eyes grew.

She had forgotten about that.

"Not exactly like old times, is it?" he added, locking the wheels down with an annoyed snap of the clasp.

"Don't be a sad little hummingbird," Drusilla cooed. "Sing for mommy."

"Dru!" he snarled and she pulled back with a little shout, into the safety of Angelus' embrace.

"I'm sorry, William," Angelus said with mock-empathy. "I'd fight you if you still had a backbone left to help you stand."

"You...!" Spike began, but Drusilla moved forward, shaking her head.

"Tsk-tsk," she said. "Daddy don't want a bad dog that bites, daddy wants a good little doggy that plays with mommy. No shouting in this house, young man. Leave daddy be or I'll have to tie you out back."

She clicked her teeth in a small growl and moved around to Angelus again.

"Times are changing," he said as she kissed his neck and then rested her head against his chest. "And I'll do what you couldn't," he added with a glare at Spike, who showed no need to conceal the pure hatred in his gaze. "I'll kill the Slayer."

Buffy swallowed and Dawn slipped her hand into the elder's comfortingly.

"Why am I here?" Buffy whispered, not able to hold back the tears anymore.

"You'll see," Dawn replied.

¤

Spike stared at her face. The soft glow of the fire spread gentle shadows up her cheek, and he felt like crying. What use was he without her? She had said that she had made her choice. Said that he couldn't be part of it. Asked for his blessing, even – if not in so many words. How could he refuse her what would make her happy? She had loved Angel for so long...

"I just don't know..." Spike whispered, reaching out a hand and tenderly touching her cheek, moving a few loose strands from her forehead. "I just don't know how to be without you."

He would never love another. Would never be able to look upon another. Eternity without love. Eternity being all alone. What difference did it make? Wasn't that how it always had been?

No. Not for those few precious days when she...

He closed his eyes and let the salty liquid come, giving up the attempts to push them back.

As long as she came out of this state. As long as she woke up in the next minute, he would gladly go into the night by himself. She would be a light eternally his to carry. The memory of her would sustain him, until the day he ran into his death in some forlorn part of the world.

"Just wake up, love," he mumbled, blinking as he looked at her face again. "Just wake up."

¤

Dawn pulled Buffy toward the Magic Box and Buffy sighed.

"I'm sorry, I'm not up to seeing anyone right now," she grumbled, making Dawn stop.

"This isn't about that," Dawn replied, pushing the door open and walking inside.

After a moment Buffy followed.

"So, what's it about?" she asked and Dawn giggled.

"You, silly. You need to see you," she answered and Buffy turned her eyes on the shop displayed before her.

"Wow," she breathed. "Spot on. Is my memory seriously this good?"

"Obviously," her sister replied, tossing a candle between her hands carelessly, and Buffy snatched it in the air.

"Don't," she said and Dawn rolled her eyes.

"'Spot on' it is," she muttered, walking further into the shop and Buffy followed.

"So, I get that this isn't real," Buffy said, leaning against the counter. "What I don't get is why I'm here."

"You've got a choice to make. Obviously a major one or you would've simply made it out there, and not retreated in here to go all soul-search-y, mind-mojo-jumbling," Dawn stated and Buffy arched an eyebrow.

"Do you get that from me? The talking thingy?" she asked and Dawn smirked.

"I get everything from you," she teased and Buffy sighed, turning her head when the bell above the door jingled merrily.

Spike entered, with Anya. They were kissing. Pulling at each other's clothes.

Buffy swallowed hard.

"That..." she mumbled. "That isn't me."

Dawn placed a hand over her heart.

"But this is," she stated, only Buffy couldn't react, couldn't tear her eyes away from the scene before her.

Suddenly the whole setting changed in a flash to Spike's crypt, his bed, and her in it with him on top of her. It changed back again. She could still hear her own gasps as he thrust into her... The flash was there again. She felt her heart beat elevate. And then the flash turned into solid ground as she stood before herself in the throws of passionate love making to the unholy, undead, bloodsucking fiend whom she told herself every night that she loathed more than anything, and that she couldn't believe what she was doing, and that she had to stop.

And yet, every single time she had rounded up patrol, her feet took her to that door, to that down-ladder room, where his bed served as her home for a few hours. His body taking her far away from anything real. From ache, from pain, from the memories and the duties, from the weight of the world. From loneliness.

Becoming a part of him was the single most foolish, incredibly exhilarating, utterly dangerous thing she had ever done in her entire life. Sure, she went out and she fought evil – but she never ever let it inside her head. Into her.

He had nestled in so deep that for a while she hadn't seen things clearly. She had thought she needed him. She hadn't wanted to let him go because of that need. In the end she had boiled it all down to desire, vulnerability and timing. She had blamed him, of course. She was weakened, she wasn't herself in mind or spirit and he had seen it, taken advantage of it; and she had used him. She had used him to the point beyond actual use – where it had crossed into battering. And that was when she couldn't place the blame on him anymore. Couldn't take it all out on him. Couldn't abuse him so anymore. She ended it. She couldn't love him.

"I couldn't love him," she mumbled.

"Of course you couldn't," Xander agreed, gesturing toward the bed. "Look at you, going at it! You never believed it was a matter of love on his part, just as he deep down knew it never would be on your part. See, you used each other."

"No, that's not what I meant," she shook her head. "I couldn't love him... because I shut him out. He couldn't reach me, because I didn't let him. Of course, this I already know... but, you know what? What's scaring me now is that even here... even long before I knew it – I did need him. I needed his strength."

The scenario morphed into the last night he was alive and in her home. She eyed herself, scythe in hand, watching him head for the kitchen door. Yet another disheveled attempt at communication between them shot to hell, and she remembered the churning anxiety and bubbling impatience she had felt as she watched his back when he walked away from her.

"You're a dope!" she exclaimed, moving after him and he halted at the door, hand on knob.

"I'm a what?" he asked, looking completely taken aback by this outburst.

"You're a dope!" she repeated. "And a bonehead. And you're shirty!" she carelessly violated his word from before and he furrowed his brow deeply.

"Have you gone completely Carrot Top?" he asked, disbelieving.

"Do you see this?" she asked, holding up the scythe. "This may actually help me fight my war. This might be the key to everything! And the reason I'm holding it is because of you. Because of the strength that you gave me last night."

He stared at her and she knew that those words homed in on where she had meant them to.

"I am tired of defensiveness and weird, mixed signals. You know, I have Faith for that. Let's just get to the truth, okay? I don't know how you feel about last night, but I will not..."

"Terrified," he interrupted.

She remembered exactly how hard her heart had been beating as she looked into his eyes. She remembered how hard her grip had been on the weapon in her hand, as though she was about to defend herself against something apt to hurt her. Even though she knew that right then, she was before the only creature she could trust never to do anything of the sort.

"Of what?" she now asked him.

He was shaking his head. Struggling to find the words.

"Last night was..."

And then he trailed off, merely looked at her in a way which filled her and held her. Suddenly he drew a breath, looked away, self-conscious.

"God, I'm such a jerk. I can't do this," he stated.

But she needed him to. She wanted him to. And so she encouraged with a meaningful:

"Spike."

He wouldn't look at her at first, but then finally locked eyes with her again, as he finished his former sentence with:

"It was the best night of my life."

She had to fight back tears, but did it without hesitation. She couldn't afford them, not now. She wanted to hear this. She had to. She craved these words more than she ever had because... nothing was what it had been anymore. Apart from the way he looked at her right now. And she realized she had been feeding off of it for a long time.

"If you poke fun of me you bloody well better use that 'cause I couldn't bear it," he suddenly murmured, throwing a glance at the scythe before he continued: "It may not mean that much to you, but..."

"I just told you," she stopped him, voice slightly unsteady, "it did."

He looked skeptical, looked annoyed with himself for not being able to take it to heart.

"Yeah," he sighed. "I hear you say it, but... I've lived for sodding ever, Buffy. I've done everything. I've done things with you I can't even spell, but..." He hesitated. "I've never..." Trailing off again he had his eyes in hers as he finished: "been close. To anyone. Least of all you."

She found herself wishing that that wasn't true, that she could tell him that through it all he had always been there for her, and that she had seen it. But she knew that would be a lie. And through it all he had still been a demon. A mistreated, miserable demon, but a demon none the less. She couldn't overlook that. She hadn't shred her armor before because she couldn't let something like Angelus close to her. She knew better than anyone what a relationship without trust was worth, and she hadn't been able to trust Spike before. That was the truth. As she now looked at him, listened to him, she saw him for who he was and something within her, that had been stirring slowly for a long while, now began to pick up its pace.

"Till last night," he now finished. "All I did was... hold you, watch you sleep."

A twirl of sudden softness swiveled through her at the thought of what his words pictured for her.

"And it was the best night of my life," he said the words again, and she felt the tears press for audience, but she kept them at bay stubbornly. "So, yeah, I'm... terrified."

She knew why he was, and the shadow of a smile placed itself on her lips.

"You don't have to be," she said.

A pause as he watched her. And then...

"Were you there with me?" he asked gently and she soaked up the look of warmth and love in his eyes before she replied:

"I was."

¤

"I think our best bet is for Willow to try and work her way in there again," Angel said, but Willow shook her head.

"If I push too hard I might damage her. There's a reason she doesn't want me in there. Maybe she gets her strength from the knowledge that whatever it is that caused this, she has to work it out on her own."

The Wicca looked from bleached to black and then asked:

"You don't know what the cause might be, do you?"

The two glanced at each other.

¤

"When Angel became Angelus... I didn't think it was humanly possible to hurt so much," Buffy murmured.

"But you're the Slayer," Willow reminded and Buffy smiled a little.

"You know what I mean. Slayer-y possible, then," she said and Willow nodded. "He wasn't there anymore. Angel was wiped out and instead there was this nasty looking demon staring out at me... It was totally surreal. The face of the one you love and then it turns into something else."

"Yeah, but it did that frequently even with Angel, didn't it?" Willow inquired and Buffy cocked an eyebrow.

"Shouldn't you look like Anya?" she asked and Willow looked terribly offended.

"I'm merely saying," the redhead replied pointedly and Buffy had to smile.

"You're merely stating the obvious," she shot and Willow rolled her eyes, taking another bite of her brownie and pushing the plate across the island standing in the middle of the Summers kitchen. "No, thanks," Buffy shook her head.

"Oh, come on! This is inside-mind land. No calories, extra fun chocolate goo in the center," she tempted and Buffy reached out a hand, taking a brownie and having the Wicca smile.

"Then when Spike slept with Anya... I felt so betrayed I wanted to break something. I felt jealous looking at them because... in a way I missed him. I really did, it sounds ridiculous, but I did. And I figured that I had been completely right all along about him. He didn't love me. He never had. And maybe a very small part of me was... a lot disappointed. I don't know why, it's strange to even say it, but I guess I had come to expect more from him."

"So, why do you think you had to go back to these particular points in your life?"

"I don't know..."

"Hey, this is your head we're in. If you don't know, we're in serious trouble! Come on, dish out a little healthy self-analysis with that mouthful of brownie," Willow pressed and Buffy hesitated.

Thinking it over she supposed she had an inkling.

"I guess it might be that... those were the two times that they hurt me the most. I mean, I would've said that it was when Spike tried to... when he tried to rape me, that that hurt me the most. But I think that merely scarred me the most. Shocked me the most. His sleeping with Anya was the prelude. It lead up to the whole Bathroom Scene and... God, I knew he was out of his mind when he did it. I could see it on him afterwards. Will, he was so... confused. He looked so... surprised at himself. And not in a good way. He looked... scared. Like he knew that what he had done was never going to be brushed off... I hated him then, for making me care that he left, even when it was in my right to never even think of him again... I was so sure I'd never see him again."

"Surprise," Willow smiled, and Buffy did the same, watching her friend slip off her stool and go up to the freezer to retrieve an enormous bucket of chocolate-chip ice cream. "Let's move this into the living room, shall we?"

Buffy nodded and followed.

Looking around she touched the familiar pieces of furniture, the photos, even let her fingers grace the carpet.

"I wish I could do this more often," she mumbled, taking a seat on the couch next to Willow. "God, how I miss this house. And my clothes. And my shoes."

"You've bought new ones, haven't you?" Willow asked and Buffy nodded, taking the spoon she was handed and digging in on the ice cream.

"Yeah, but it's not the same. Nothing's the same."

"So which do you love the most?"

Buffy had to contemplate the question for a while, eating another spoon of ice cream before she answered:

"I'd say the black leather boots. I really miss them. Came in handy in the slaying too, heels – extra pointy," she nodded and Willow raised her eyebrows.

"I meant – which vampire?" she clarified and Buffy smirked.

"I know."

She reached out for another scoop, but Willow pulled the bucket away.

"Hey," the Slayer pouted.

"Points for honesty, ice cream for truths," Willow said and Buffy grumbled.

"It's not that simple, Wills. They're so different. The situations are so different! How can I choose between them? How can I break the heart of one of them? I just don't know if I can."

"I see," Willow said. "I'm afraid you're gonna have to. Otherwise you'll probably be stuck in here for the rest of your life and let's face it: too much self-analysis is always a big no-no."

"Right," Buffy shrugged. "I might decide to proclaim myself insane and go live in a basement somewhere."

"Ah," Willow nodded. "Spike-ism."

¤

"I remember everything we ever did," Angel mumbled, lying next to Buffy on the bed and gently stroking her hair. "Everything you ever said. I'm sorry that I left you the way I did. I wish it could've been different... I wanted to stay, you know I did... More than anything. I loved you so much, Buffy. I still love you. I want to be with you."

At the subtle sound of his voice she turned her head to the side and blinked.

"Angel?"

How did he get here? He tried to clear his head. Then his eyes landed in hers and he smiled.

"You let me in?" he asked and she smiled back.

"Always," she promised.

"Do you know how worried you got us all?" he asked and she furrowed her brow.

"You all?" she asked. "What do you mean?"

"It's me, I'm here," Angel replied and she looked quizzical.

"In my head?"

"No! Well, yes... But, no, in England! When Giles called it took only about an hour and a half for me and Spike to argue over which airport to leave from and which airline to fly with and then we were... coming here," he explained and she looked at him.

"Like in Rome," she said and he seemed to grow uncertain what to say to that. "Were you really that scared of losing me?"

"I was really that selfish," he muttered and she reached out, taking one of his hands.

"Yeah, you were," she agreed. "I meant what I said – or, screamed – you had no right to do what you did."

"I know."

"But I think I understand," she said and he met her gaze hopefully.

"You forgive me?" he asked and she smiled, nodding.

She realized they were seated on her old bed at the house, in her old room, and she smiled again. This was where so many of their memories had been made. At least their earlier ones. She lay down and he followed, spooning her and she closed her eyes.

Outside her head, Spike watched the two forms lying next to each other, and bit back the clawing jealousy. He knew it was a mere opening for the raging pain, which would cut him open inside. He could try to be noble about it, but knew he would fail. What would he do without her? Without even the hope of her?

¤

Angel woke with a snap, looking at his grandchilde sitting sleeping in an uncomfortable looking armchair. He slid off the bed carefully, then walked up to the bleached blonde and tucked his shoulder for him to wake up.

"Wha'?" Spike drawled, annoyed and slapping at the hand. "I'm sleeping 'ere, yeah?"

"Having lucid dreams again, are we?" Angel mocked and Spike glared up at him. "I'm going out for blood; meat-market's just about ready to open. I'll be back in an hour."

"Wonderously interesting. Never thought of transferring intriguing thoughts to – oh, I don't know, off the top of my head – a note, maybe?" Spike grumbled and Angel shook his head, leaving the room with another look at Buffy.

Spike sunk back in the armchair, unsure of whether he had the right to approach her anymore. Then made his mind up and stood. He took the steps up to the bed and then squatted down beside it, hesitating even further before in extreme slow motion reaching out a hand and taking one of hers. He brought it cautiously to his lips and kissed its knuckles lovingly.

"This," her voice said and he jerked back with clear apprehension, "this is where it happened," she finished and he stared at her.

What the bloody...?

"What the bloody hell's going on?" he demanded and she smiled.

"What the bloody hell 'd ya think?" she retorted, standing from the bed and making a gesture to their surroundings. "Remember this?"

He looked around as well, and to his surprise found himself to be in a room he indeed remembered well. It was the one they had been in the night when... when he had stayed with her. Because she had asked him to. And she had slept in his arms... He smiled, insecurely, looking up at her.

"What?" she asked and he got to his feet as well, biting his lower lip.

"You're asking me why I'm spooked?" he wondered and she smirked.

"What's the matter, Spikey? Never been inside another person's head before? I thought that was your specialty," she teased and he cocked an eyebrow. She smiled calmingly. "I wanted to talk to you," she said and both of his eyebrows rose.

"I believe there are simpler ways. Like... waking up?" he suggested and her smile widened.

"No, I wanted to talk to you like this. Between four eyes. Just you and me," she said and he raised one shoulder in a shrug.

"What about?" he asked and she sat down.

Before he knew what he was doing he was squatting before her and words came out of his mouth that he didn't speak for himself. He knew they originated from him, though. He recognized every last one.

"I've been alive a bit longer than you," he said, "and dead a lot longer than that. I've seen things that you couldn't imagine, and done things I prefer you didn't. I don't exactly have a reputation for being a thinker. I follow my blood, which doesn't exactly rush in the direction of my brain. So I make a lot of mistakes, a lot of wrong bloody calls. A hundred plus years... and there's only one thing I've ever been sure of – you." She turned her eyes out of his, his gaze too intense. "Hey, look at me." She did. "I'm not asking you for anything. When I say I love you it's not because I want you or because I can't have you. It has nothing to do with me. I love what you are, what you do, how you try... I've seen your kindness and your strength. I've seen the best and the worst of you. And I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You're a hell of a woman... You're the one, Buffy."

He was obviously finished at that and in the stillness he observed her. She wore a faint smile, her gaze was soft, but she also looked sad.

"Why didn't you try and get a hold of me?" she asked silently.

"Buffy... I..." he tried, but didn't know what to say. "I don't know."

"I'll make you talk, you know? You're on my turf," she stated and he arched his scarred eyebrow.

She moved a hand and let one finger slip across the three white, healed cuts.

"Besides, you're no dumber than me – and even I can see that you were... terrified," she mumbled, removing her hand and locking her gaze in his once more. "Weren't you?"

He drew a small breath. Moment of no return.

"Yes," he admitted. "I'm not proud of it. I wanted to... but I couldn't do it."

"Yeah, no, I got that," she nodded, rising for a second time and walking around him to the window.

Moonlight fell across her face, painting it pale and blue. It didn't matter where she was, she always looked radiant. He found himself memorizing the image of her. As so many times before.

"That whole speech. All of it. I remembered it," she said, voice quiet and he stood, eyes still on her. "For a long time I thought about what I could've done to prevent you from burning. I kept thinking that maybe there had been another way to defeat the First after all, when all the slayers got their powers... We might have been able to unite against it... But after a while I began to understand that fate doesn't work like that. Just like I was supposed to jump off Glory's tower, just like Angel was supposed to die for opening Acathla – so were you supposed to wear the amulet... I want you to know that I didn't just forget about what you did for me, or any of all the things you ever did for me, just because you weren't there anymore," she finished and he smiled meekly.

He could feel it coming now. He was losing her.

"I remembered you," she mumbled, sounding thoughtful before she turned to him again. "Spike..."

She trailed off and he waited, his nerves outside his skin and his blood burning in his veins.

"Why didn't you believe me?" she finally asked and he looked questioning.

"Believe you?" he wondered.

"Oh, so you've even forgotten?" she asked, her voice shaking with restrained tears, and he felt an enormous confusion leap into him with the growing need not to upset her.

Suddenly he realized what she meant.

"My last words to you," she confirmed, brushing at the tears, irritated, as she came up to stand before him. "Why didn't you believe them?"

"Because..." he tried, not finding the proper dressing for the feeling he had been under right then.

Suddenly her hand moved and placed itself on his cheek, in a way so intimate to him now as he had replayed the times she had done that those last few days of Sunnydales' existence, that he felt himself choke up.

What was she doing?

"Everything you ever did – I've carried it with me, Spike. I know the good came with the bad, but thinking back... God, there was a lot of the good." He stared at her as she slowly let her hand fall. "You helped me in ways I couldn't express back then, and my largest regret has always been that I was so stupid that I didn't tell you. That last night we had together... I've thought about that, too. And I've thought about how you loved me. No one's loved me like that, Spike. Ever. All of you screamed it at me and I wanted to keep it with me. I did. But then I had to make the decision. Had to make the choice... to be alone, or to be loved now. I made it. Two years is a long time, isn't it? That's what it took me to... move on. To let you go. To get over all this unused love I'd bottled up inside me, for you."

His tears ran over and she smiled a small smile.

"When I saw you in Los Angeles I had to get away because it was too intense. I couldn't process it. I was shutting down. I thought my journey was over and that it had landed me back where I started. I was wrong. It landed me right back where I always have ended up these past six years. With you. In some way, shape or form it's always been with you. You're a hell of a man, Spike. And you once told me that I was the one. I said I didn't want to be – and I didn't want to be because I wasn't ready... If I tell you I am; will you tell me that I'm still just that? ...Do you still love me?"

He was absolutely blown away. He couldn't stand, couldn't sit, couldn't move. He could barely see straight because of the blooming happiness in his chest. It was quite extraordinary and he had never, not ever felt anything like it.

Everything swirled around him and for a moment he thought that he was going to faint, but then he opened his eyes and met Buffy's where she lay on the bed.

She was awake.

She smiled tryingly and he didn't hesitate to return it as she sat up. She gently touched his cheek again, tears in her eyes as well. Then moved so that she could throw her arms around his neck and he pulled her to him, holding her tightly and burying his head against her throat.

She was sobbing quietly, but her mouth still bore the smile as she kissed the side of his throat and then held onto him again.

"Please..." she mumbled and he smiled.

"I love you," he said, tone gentle and her hold grew even tighter.

All of the turbulence they had been through ever since the first time they met had brought them here, to this moment, and one simple choice.

She loved him. The realization she had been hit with when her fingers were locked with his and his whole body was gleaming from the sunlight coursing through it, was now crystallized. It was real, this love. And this time...

She had been around the world and back. She had seen sunrises and sunsets. Beaches, streets, monuments, ruins. She had grown as a person and as the Slayer. She had met people, demons, creatures and death. But most of all – she had met life. There was no longer any questions. She was ready to love.

Ding.