"Never seen you hunt with that weapon before."

Spike hefts the shovel a little higher on his shoulder, turning around to glare. "Need a refresh course at Stalker School, Peaches. Known you were behind me for the last fifteen."

"I can smell it." Angel's voice is shaking as he moves out of the shadows. "Did you kill her?"

"Drained her for the flight is all. Thought you knew new n' improved me better than that."

Angel winces. "And how'd that go?"

"Got a big fat happy, turned into Spikeulus, ate the Watcher's liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti. Are we done here?"

"You didn't have to do this tonight."

Spike merely stares at him.

Angel sighs. "At least let me help."

They walk side-by-side for a few minutes, past headstones and mausoleums, their boots on the ground and the creak of the leather they both wear the only sounds.

"How in the hell did we get here, huh?" Angel sighs.

Spike quirks an eyebrow. "Which century you wantin' to start in, then?"

"You know what I mean. After everything we've been through... to be here... doing this..."

"Oh, and I was so hopin' you'd be in a philosophical mood..."

"C'mon, Spike. You have a soul now. Don't tell me it doesn't eat you up inside."

"Mate... I don't have time for it to eat me up inside. Where does all your broodin' get you, Peaches? Doesn't bring anyone back, can't change anythin'. Y'know what does change stuff?"

"What?"

"This." In the blink of an eye, Spike takes a stake from his pocket and hurls it into the night. There is a scream, and a fall of dust.

"So instead of feeling remorse for everything you've killed, you kill more things."

Spike shrugs. "Pretty much, yeah. Different color hats, though."

"Always were a bit simple, Willy," Angel sighs, and Spike almost smiles at the tiny trace of Irish accent that has crept back in.

"And you always had to make things complicated, Liam."

They stop in front of the tombstone, sighing in stereo. Angel traces her name in the stone.

"Less broodin', Peaches," Spike whispers, lowering the shovel from his shoulder. "More diggin'."

---------------------------------------

Giles sags rather than leans against the doorframe, and Angel's eyes fall on the tumbler clutched loosely in the ex-Watcher's hand, the rumpled state of his clothing, the slightly glassy look in his eyes.

"Good evening, Giles," Angel says stiffly. Giles has always made him a little uncomfortable... even sober, even back when Angel could look at him without the dark, tormenting eyes of Jenny Calendar dancing all around his head.

"What did you find out?" Giles turns from Angel, waving him in with an arm. "I assume you accompanied Spike on his... errand."

"The coffin was empty. And has been for a long time."

Giles winces, pinching the bridge of his nose. "As I suspected."

"You let Spike drain Buffy." Angel cannot keep the low rumble of rage out of his voice.

Giles meets Angel's eyes. "I trust Spike implicitly."

And oh, that slight accent on the word, that tiniest of pauses; Angel takes this for the slap in the face it was meant to be.

"Right. He has a soul now."

"And you would be amazed at the amount of selfless good he managed to do without one."

Giles might have been discussing the weather, so light and casual is his tone; but it is Ripper's eyes that stare out of Giles' face, a knife's edge away from violence.

For a second, he looks so like Spike he takes Angel's breath away.

"Of course, I rather suppose Angelus would be properly disgusted," Giles can't resist adding.

"Wouldn't know," Angel purrs, the tiniest fleck of gold rising to his eyes. "We don't communicate much."

Giles turns away, heading for the kitchen, but Angel's vampiric hearing picks up his muttered words anyway: "I rather doubt that."

"Look," Angel tries. "I didn't come here to fight with you. I just... came to tell you about the coffin, and I... Giles, there's something I think you need to know."

"Oh?" Giles stops mid-refill. "And what is that?"

"I know Spike better than pretty much anyone. And I'm pretty good at reading his emotions."

Giles waits, eyebrows raised, expectantly.

Angel swallows hard. "I... I think he's in love with Buffy."

And now Giles laughs, throwing his head back, slamming the whiskey bottle down on the table, laughs so hard tears come to his eyes, laughs so hard he has to remove his glasses, his shoulders vibrating, his head shaking back and forth.

"Angel," Giles hiccups, "My heartfelt thanks for shining a floodlight onto that hidden mystery."

"You already knew." Angel's hands curl into fists.

A mischevious glint begins to burn in Giles' pupils. "Oh, I daresay everyone in Buffy's circle knew. Towards the end, Buffy and Spike were... practically inseparable. What did she say? Ah, yes. I believe she said that he was the only one with a chance of protecting Dawn."

"The only one...?"

"Well, he was so very close to the family, after all. When there was peril, Buffy would send Joyce and Dawn to Spike's crypt for protection. Joyce fair adored the boy." Giles' casual smile trembles on the edge of smirk. "All before the soul, of course."

Giles sips his drink, poker face never slipping, and for the first time in years, torturing Rupert Giles is a memory that gives Angel almost as much satisfaction as it gave Angelus.

"You've known how Spike felt about Buffy for a long time."

"Ah, yes; I'm quite certain that Spike is in love with Buffy."

Angel stares, fingernails digging into his palms, forcing the demon down.

"Just as certain as I am," Giles continues serenely, "That William's heart is lodged in an entirely different place."

He shocks a laugh out of Angel; low, sharp, bitter.

"That won't end well."

"No," Giles muses, "I rather suspect that it won't."

---------------------------------------

Soft footsteps, a shadow passing in front of the light through the window, and Tara feels the weight of his eyes upon her and opens her own, watching him as he stares down at her, his hands curled into desperate fists at his sides.

It's been a long time since she's seen him like this... utterly raw, all his veneer scraped violently aside, his eyes wide and wild and frightened, his chest hitching in shallow, unnecessary breaths.

Pain transforms Spike's face, gives him a look of such blinding innocence that, in those moments, it is impossible for her to place the word 'evil' anywhere near him.

It is an amazing thing to see. And every time, she hopes she never sees it again.

Their eyes lock, his misery lighting him from within, and the truth of him is almost funny, the reason for the terror she sees etched in his face.

His demon is utterly terrified... of his human.

As well he should be.

Being human hurts.

She knows this very well.

"Honey, I'm home," Spike drawls, but his heart isn't in it, trailing off into a whisper.

Like sarcasm could cover the five minutes he's spent staring at her like a trapped animal, the sea of naked emotions he's let play over his face. Like he can hide why he's here, what he wants, what is about to happen to him.

"I'm glad," Tara smiles, reaching up to him.

He refuses to look at her outstretched hand, taking a step back. "Just came to nick a pillow, Pet. Couchin' it tonight... there's a Goldilocks sleepin' in Blondie Bear's bed. Hope we're stocked on lukewarm porridge."

"Spike, don't," Tara sighs, grasping for his hand, pulling him towards her.

"Pet, no... not tonight... I couldn't..."

She locks his eyes with hers; he closes his mouth.

They also have their rituals.

She pulls him down to the mattress, and he doesn't protest further; it's what he has really come for, his feet carrying him into her room with a mind of their own.

She guides his head down to her chest, stroking his hair... and he has been waiting for this, steeling himself with the promise of this to come, knowing this lay at the end of his journey, the reward for making it those last few feet. He's not worthy and he no longer cares; he needs it too badly. He's home, he's safe, he has made it before his wall cracked.

And now, in her arms, he lets himself crumble.

He begins to sob, clinging to her, clutching fistfuls of her t-shirt, her breasts drenched with his tears. She can't number the times they've done this, can't remember when it started, which one of them was the first to stumble across the hallway between their rooms looking for sanctuary.

She murmurs into his hair, rubs his shoulders, and eventually, his shaking stills... raising himself, pressing his forehead to hers, their breath mingling, their lips a centimeter apart, his fingers reaching up to trail her cheekbones.

She feels him startle at the wetness he finds there.

"You're crying too?" he whispers. "What's wrong? You should have told me..."

She threads her fingers through his, strokes his palm with her thumb. "Willow had one of her... special days."

He chuckles a little. Their pooling tears itch her nose. "How many years y'think we're gonna end up like this, love?"

She can't bear to say what she thinks the real answer is. "Until it quits hurting, I guess."

Their eyes meet, and she's caught all over again at how naked, how intimate eye contact with him is... like they've completed a circuit that lets them read each other's minds, like she can see their thoughts flowing in between them.

His fingers still linger at her temple; he moves towards her, unconsciously, a fraction of an inch, almost enough to close the small gap between their lips.

And then he smiles at himself, shakes his head slightly, leans back and chuckles.

"Yeah, well... immortality's a right bitch that way..."

The spell is broken; she grins up at him. "Aw, c'mon, you know you're gonna laugh at us when we're all in Depends playing shuffleboard and you still look twenty-five."

He moves a lock of her hair aside. "I'll take care of you, y'know."

"It's your defining characteristic," she grins.

His eyebrow soars. "Thought that was my overwhelmin' sex appeal?"

"Sure. Right. Sex appeal. Come back when you've grown some boobs."

"Still a demon, y'know. A little respect for the evil, please."

"Fine." She traces his scar with a finger. "You'll take care of us until we all die... in a very scary, evil way."

He hugs her tighter. "Damned straight."

"Like you did with your mother, and Dru, and Dawn, and me..."

"Hey! I'm not a bloody Care Bear, y'know, I cut a swath through continents..."

"Oh, I think you'd make a cute Care Bear. You could be, I dunno, Snarky Bear. With black fur and a leering skull and crossbones on your fuzzy... little... tummy."

She reaches down and tickles his stomach to illustrate. When she learned she could get away with this sort of thing is something she can't remember either.

"One of these days, pet, I'm gonna..."

Tara's eyes twinkle. "Rip off my head one-handed and drink from my brain stem?"

And he grins, touching her chin with a crooked finger. "Remind me to make up some new threats."

She sighs, turning serious. "How bad was it?"

Spike sighs heavily and flops onto his back; Tara follows, ducking underneath his arm to lay her head on his chest.

"That bad?" Tara adds quietly.

"Thought I could handle it," Spike says, his voice low and thick. "Thought nothin' could be worse than that moment I saw her, layin' there, no life in her. This is worse. This is... bloody obscene."

Tara hears his voice hitch and runs her hand down his arm.

"Everythin' that made her who she was is gone, Tara. All that fire, all that sass, that spark she had... she was so bloody brave, so bloody noble, and they've made her a machine... like all they wanted was the Slayer part of her and didn't want any Buffy muckin' up the mix. And they didn't realize the Buffy was what made her wonderful."

"They?"

"The bloody Wanker's Council. They couldn't find Faith to off her, so they made a new Slayer instead. One that wouldn't defy 'em like Buffy did."

Tara thinks of her father, her mother, the lies to keep her in line. Spike takes her wince for an answer.

"Gets worse, Pet. Had to get her on the plane, right? Couldn't have her all hog-tied for it neither. So Rupes had me drain her."

"Oh my God, Spike... are you okay?"

"Am I okay? Weren't you listening, pet?"

Tara snuggles her head in further. "I guess that explains why you're all warm."

"Ah, love, ah... drinkin' human blood? Vampire? Addiction? You, human? Me all fangy? No chip?" Spike waits, but Tara merely draws a pattern on his collarbone with her fingertips. "This is the bit where you plant your foot in my rear and kick me out of bed if you know what's good for you, pet..."

"I don't mind if you bite me," Tara whispers.

Spike stiffens. "Don't ever say that."

"It's true. I trust you."

Spike reaches out, raises her chin so she meets his eyes. "Tara, what the hell happened to you today?"

"Just a bad visit with Willow. You know how that goes."

He shakes his head slightly. "That's not all."

She ducks her head, breaking that eye contact that feels like a physical attachment, tucking herself into the crook of his arm. "I also had to tell Dawnie about Buffy."

"Ah, love, I'm sorry." Spike pulls her closer, accepting this half-truth; Tara rather suspects he wouldn't have, had he still been looking at her. "How's she taking it?"

"Cried herself to sleep."

She feels him stiffen, feels him start to get up. "She did say she needed some time alone, Spike."

"In the tone of voice where she actually means it?"

"Would I be in here otherwise?"

"Right." He settles back into the mattress, shifts Tara back into her favored spot in his arms. "Spose we'll have a lot to deal with, you n' me."

Tara looks across the darkened room at the small pile of cardboard boxes she has already filled, and does not answer.