DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss', of course, and the chapter title is Spanish for "blanco."
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy and Spike have managed to find Julio for Anya…

-----

She almost wished they hadn't been successful with Julio when Anya showed her the dress design.

"Isn't it beautiful?" Anya gushed. Slim fingers traced over the illustrated sleeves, and Buffy could swear she could the green reflecting off the paper onto her friend's skin. "It's exactly what I want. Nobody can make a dress like Julio."

She wanted to say, because nobody would want it, but the Slayer just nodded, the fake smile she'd been wearing all afternoon while she watched over the preparations for the demon's captivity still going strong. Getting him back to the Magic Box had been relatively simple, though she'd gotten lost following Spike through the meandering cemetery paths as he led them to one of the exits from the other dimension. Of course, her mind had still been reeling from the contact she'd shared of the vampire's emotions when he'd yanked her away from Julio's grasp, but she'd covered it up by inflating the extent of her injuries. And Spike---good old reliable Spike---had believed every word she said, too eager to make sure she was all right to notice when her pretend limp faltered, too relieved that she was still amongst the walking and breathing to demand any further explanations of her post-empath encounter conversation.

Rescuing Anya hadn't been nearly as easy. And she really had exacerbated her mild injuries when they'd fought the same maelstrom that had tried to slow them the first time. Spike had argued left and right about leaving the DeSoto behind, but when Anya threatened to take it out of his payment if he dared to put the car in a higher regard than she, he'd shut right up, resorting to grumbling under his breath as he led the way through the melee.

That had been the last Buffy had seen of him.

"I'm assuming a check is all right," Anya was saying, jerking Buffy from her thoughts.

She blinked, unable to focus on the piece of paper that was being held out to her for a long moment before shaking her brain back to normalcy. "Oh, yeah, sure," she replied. She only cast it a cursory glance before adding, "Do you need me to take Spike's check to him? Except, I guess it's going to be cash, huh? He's kind of short in the identification department to have a banking account or anything like that."

Turning back to the register, Anya shook her head. "You don't have to worry about Spike," she said. "I've already paid him."

Her attention piqued. "He was here? When?"

The ledger she'd been holding fell to the floor with a ruffled clatter, and Anya disappeared from view as she bent to retrieve it. "He wasn't," came the muted reply. "I sent it over to his crypt."

"Oh." She didn't know why she was disappointed. But they really hadn't had a chance to talk since the whole thing happened, and for some reason, Buffy had this overwhelming desire to just be with Spike, even if they didn't discuss what she'd felt during their escapade. Maybe she could get him to stop by the Doublemeat during her shift that night…except that thought vanished as soon as she remembered the last time he'd done that, memories taunting her of how she'd shut him up from talking by dragging him into the alley and going down on him until he was fucking her into the wall, all because she hadn't wanted to listen to him tell her yet again how she was better than that place.

She did that a lot.

Too much.

"You don't need me for anything else, do you?" Buffy asked. "I can really use some sleep before work tonight."

When Anya patted her arm, like a mother would a child, it took all her control not to bat her friend's hand away. "Yes, you do," Anya said. "And you might want to consider some of that concealer to hide the shadows under your eyes. I don't think sleep is going to be enough for you."

She didn't have a response to that. So, Buffy just nodded and did what she did best.

She fled.

It crossed her mind more than once on the walk home that she could take a detour through the cemetery so that she could see Spike, but in spite of her earlier desires, she was at a loss as to what she would say to him. Not that he would demand conversation, but if she showed up without having a plan, they'd end up in bed---metaphorically speaking, of course, because they never seemed to actually make it to Spike's bed---and for some reason she couldn't fathom, she didn't want that. Well, she did, with her body at least, but not her head. There were still too many unanswered questions and unresolved feelings that had been stirred up by what had happened on the other side of the gate.

And hadn't she claimed to Spike that all she wanted was answers?

How could she tell him that in one breath and then in the next, swallow him down in kisses that promised her oblivion from the tempest of her brain? If nothing else, being reacquainted with the peaceful euphoria that had been so pervasive during her death had showed her just how low she had fallen, but the grief and frustration that had sucked her into Julio's parasitic embrace was just the tip of the iceberg on how far she could yet tumble.

Did she want that?

Did she really?

She'd been relieved when Spike had pulled her away, and felt a stirring of warmth deep inside when he'd looked at her with such genuine concern. If she really did have a deathwish, wouldn't she have fought that?

The thing of it was…she didn't know. She was weary, both in body and spirit, and all she wanted right then was to sleep.

Surely, answers would sort themselves out.

-----

If hell was paved with good intentions, Buffy figured she would be well on her way if she hadn't already so recently visited it with Spike and the Rootin' Tootin' Dress Designer Rescue of the Decade debacle.

Five days. Five days where she slept, went to work, patrolled, and then came home to start the cycle all over again. And not once in those hundred-plus hours had she seen Spike, or gone to Spike, or even talked to Spike on the phone. It wasn't for lack of opportunity. Or motivation. Or desire, for that matter. It was just…easier not to.

What surprised her was that he stayed away from her as well. Normally, Buffy would've expected him to show up at the Doublemeat to whine about needing to talk, or to be together, or at the very least to try and goad her into admitting what they had between them was real. But he didn't even lurk about in the alley when she was leaving, and not once she did see his motorcycle parked across the street.

He didn't even show up under his tree to watch her bedroom window in silent longing.

She knew that for a fact.

She'd watched for him.

So when the hum of an engine being silenced in her driveway filtered through the closed living room curtains, Buffy's first instinct was that Spike had finally caved. She fought the urge to jump up when the doorbell rang; let him see that she hadn't really missed him---liar, liar, pants on fire---and that she could lead a normal life where vampires who loved her weren't the end-all be-all of the universe. But she listened with a keen ear, alert for the whisky rumble that felt so much like home these days.

Dawn's squeal at the front door made Buffy frown, and she leaned forward on the couch just in time to see the familiar shape fill the entry, the teenager's arms still clinging tightly to his neck. She was on her feet in a shot, hugging him just as rabidly, only letting go when Dawn's muffled protest for air reached her ears.

"Well, that's certainly a more…robust greeting than I imagined," Giles said with a small smile.

He looked good, a light jacket hanging over his worn jeans, and there was a twinkle in his eye that Buffy could only attribute to succeeding in surprising them.

"Why didn't you tell us you were coming?" she demanded. "And you're not staying at a hotel. There's plenty of room at Casa de Summers for my favoritist Watcher. And why didn't you tell us you were coming? We could've…baked a cake or something."

Giles' lips twitched in amusement. "Yes, well, as…thrilling as the prospect of your culinary escapades are, I've been rather busy. Making arrangements and such."

Buffy's face fell, and she retreated a step as she deliberately calmed her rushing nerves. "Of course," she said. "We're probably just a layover for shop business, right?"

"Well, it's shop business, but hardly a layover."

"You're staying for a few days then?" A trickle of hope. God, it was good to see him. Her world just made so much more sense when he was around.

"Longer, actually. May I?" Gesturing toward the couch, Giles waited for their assent before taking a seat, letting out a long sigh as he rubbed tiredly at his face. "I don't know when it happened, but I do believe demons have taken over the airlines. It's the only explanation why traveling so far can make you feel worse than before you started."

"Do you want something to drink?" Dawn asked. She was hovering in the entrance, eyes shiny with expectation. "There's still tea in the cupboard from last summer."

"Actually, a cup of tea would be lovely, thank you." He waited until he and Buffy were alone before speaking again. "You're going to sit, aren't you? All this hanging about is too tiring for these old bones at the moment."

She smiled as she joined him on the couch. "So, shop business, huh? For a second there, I thought you were showing up to help out with another apocalypse."

"Well, I am, if you were to consider Anya and Xander's wedding as such." At her puzzled frown, he added, "Anya called me in England earlier this week. apparently, she's finding it difficult to give the shop adequate attention in light of the wedding arrangements. She asked if I would consider coming back until after the ceremony, as, as she put it, she doesn't want to lose her cash cow before it's ready to be slaughtered."

They both chuckled at the blunt statement, but it didn't stop Buffy from asking the first thing that popped into her head. "And you just dropped everything to come back to Sunnydale?" she queried. "All because Anya was wigging out about her bridesmaids' dresses?"

"Well, I didn't hear the specifics of her nuptial concerns," Giles said, "but I did take a look over the ledger pages she faxed me. She's made quite a few uncharacteristic mistakes in my absence, though thankfully, not costly ones. But certainly serious enough to require my presence until she's thinking clearly again. Between that, and Willow's…issues, and…" He grew serious. "How are you? Honestly, now. No prevarication."

"Honestly? I've been better. But at least I'm not dead, right?" He only shook his head at her failed attempt at humor. Buffy sighed. "I'm…coping. Sometimes, just barely. But I'm starting to think that maybe there's a light at the end of the tunnel after all. But not one of those I'm supposed to be walking into so that I can meet and greet everyone who's died ahead of me. This one's more…like coming home." Her eyes were solemn as she regarded him. "A lot's happened since you left, Giles."

As they settled back onto the couch, she found herself spilling all the details that she'd kept bottled inside her for so long, never once noting any pity or condescension on her Watcher's face. Even after Dawn came in with the tea, Buffy kept talking, her relief too great to allow her to stop.

And amidst it all, she finally knew what she had to do. Because now she understood just what had been going on with Spike all along.

-----

He surprised her by being outside, leaning against the wall of the crypt as he smoked a cigarette, pale smoke curling around his head as he stared up at the sky. He didn't even look down when she stopped in the grass, just lifted the white stick up to his lips to take another drag before murmuring, "So this is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a Slayer."

"Gee, Spike," she said, though her mouth was twisted in a smile, "melodramatic much?"

His cigarette made a crimson arc against the ivy climbing the crypt walls as he flicked it away. "Not wrong, though, am I?" he countered. "Aren't you here for our last hurrah?"

"Why would you say that?"

"Haven't seen you since we dropped off our little Spanish package. Why wouldn't I think it?"

"I think the real question is…why would you think it?" Glancing up at the almost full moon brightening the sky, Buffy said, "I like this one better than the one in…" She turned a quizzical gaze back to Spike. "What was that place called?"

"Lutwidge."

"No, seriously."

"You think every demon hangout has to be unpronounceable?"

"No, I just don't expect them to sound like somewhere even Giles would find stuffy."

"Guess you've still got a few things to learn then, don't you, pet?" Straightening from his perch, his duster made a dry rustle against the leaves as he turned back to his door. "Care to share what brings you by over a little bit of Jack?" he asked.

"Actually…" Buffy chewed at her lip, her first doubts about the wisdom of her choice making her falter. "I was kind of hoping you'd like to take a walk. With me. Together."

That made Spike stop, but his eyes fixed on an unknown spot on the graveyard's horizon. "Got something you want to show me?"

"No. I was hoping we could…talk."

"We're talkin' now."

What was that in his tone? She couldn't puzzle it out, and he was refusing to look at her so that she could try to read him more accurately. "I'd rather do it sober," Buffy said. "And moving. My brain works better when I'm moving. And since when are you one to argue with me about wanting to talk? Are we still in Demento World and nobody's bothered to tell me?"

With a noncommittal shrug of his shoulders, Spike ambled away from the crypt, lingering just along at her side to prompt her into moving. Ahhhhh. Comfort. Odd how she could relish such a simple thing.

They walked in silence until they'd rounded the path by the Hoffman Mausoleum, their arms faintly brushing in the cool night, each musing on his and her private thoughts. And then…

"Giles is back," Buffy said. "But then, you knew he would be, didn't you?"

"If you're askin' if I had a bet on how long he'd last in Merry Olde, you'd be mistaken, pet."

"You don't have to pretend, Spike. I know about the agreement you made with Anya. Did you really think I was going to buy her not being able to keep her books straight? I'm just surprised Giles hasn't figured it out yet."

His hands seemed to disappear deeper into his pockets, his tread slightly louder in the nighttime hush, but the vampire held his tongue. There was a resolution to his limbs that stole from his natural nimbleness, but it only served to prompt Buffy into continuing the words she'd planned on sharing.

"I mean," she said, "paying both of us to go after Julio? So not Anya. And lemme tell you, she was mucho relieved when I asked her about it. She's not really big for the secrets, though she's still keeping up the pretense for Giles' sake."

"He say how long he'd be stickin' it out this time 'round?"

Spike was still playing at neutrality, and it leadened Buffy's heart. "Indefinitely." Pause. "Is that what you wanted?"

"All's I want is for you to be happy, luv."

"Why'd you do it, Spike? You have to've known things would be different between us if Giles was around."

He stopped in the path, kicking at some loose rubble that rested in the grass. "Knew that was a risk," he conceded. "But…nothin' I was doin' was making a difference. And I can only take you bein' miserable for so long. I may be a selfish bastard, but seein' you like that…knowin' I couldn't just love the bad stuff away…it was tearing me apart, Buffy."

"I wasn't completely miserable. Not all the time."

His laugh was a death rattle. "Please. I have eyes. And you really think you'd let me fuck you in the grease pit's back alley if things weren't all pear-shaped? Problem was, I was always so bloody grateful you were even lettin' me touch you, that you were comin' to me for what bits of comfort I could give you, I never could think straight when you were around. It was always…after, when you'd gone, and I'd start remembering…" Spike dropped heavily on the edge of a grave marker, legs sprawled out in front of him as he picked at his fingernails. "So, yeah, I made the deal with Shopgirl. Not like I could call Rupes and say, 'Your Slayer's goin' 'round the bed, so stop bein' a git and get your ass back here because she needs you.'"

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"And what if I hadn't found that Julio?" He shook his head. "I couldn't get your hopes up only to have it go all to cock if I failed." Finally, he looked at her, and his eyes blazed in the moonlight. "You are happy he's back, right?"

His pleading tone drove her closer. "Yeah," Buffy said. "He showed up at the house after dinner, and I talked his ear off about stuff until after Dawn went to bed. It just felt so…normal to be able to tell him what was happening. And he didn't even really say that much, which for Giles is a switch."

"So…does that mean I should be sleeping with one eye open in case he decides to protect his Slayer's honor?" Spike asked.

"I didn't tell him that part." Taking a deep breath to quell the nerves that were suddenly racing, she blurted, "I was kind of hoping I wouldn't have to."

She saw the effect as immediate as if she'd plunged a stake into his chest, and cringed when Spike's hands returned to his coat pockets, his feet resuming their trek through the cemetery. She didn't know where he was going, but the important thing was, wherever it was, it was away from her.

"Right. Knew I was goin' against the secret card when I started this. Guess I shouldn't be surprised you'd want to play it."

"That's not what I said," she argued with an angry huff as she raced to return to his side.

"Oh, so you're sayin' you want to spill on all the sordid details about us shagging? Don't think so, pet. You haven't been able to tell any of your friends about us; why should your Watcher be any different?"

"Will you just listen to me?" Yanking him to a halt, Buffy forced Spike to turn and face her. "Do I have to be beating you up in order to get any kind of attention from you?"

"Look, I'm not interested in the post-game rehash. You got your Watcher back so you can go and be all kinds of happy now without me. That's what you wanted, wasn't it? Someone to help you through all this who wasn't the resident evil? Well, guess what? Wish granted."

"Just because Giles is back, doesn't mean I don't ever want to see you again. It's just…I'm tired of everything in my life being half-empty. I want to start being a half-full kind of gal. I deserve that, Dawn deserves that, my friends deserve that." She used his lapel to pull him closer to her, the familiarity of his scent making her head swim. "You deserve that, Spike."

His lashes were lowered, the hollow of her throat seemingly easier for him to focus on than her face. Any other time, Buffy would've seen it as a distinctly sexual move---his neck fixation was almost as strong as his adoration for her hands, which she'd always thought was weird---but in light of what she'd learned from him at Julio's touch, and what she'd decided over the past week, she knew he was just frightened.

Which wasn't a word she normally associated with Spike.

And not one she wanted to see continue.

"Things need to change," she said softly. "You said it yourself. The way things were between us…it wasn't healthy. And I don't think it's what either one of us really wanted, do you?"

"Can't fault the shaggin', pet," he replied with a shadow of a smirk. "That was bloody fantastic."

Buffy smiled with him. "One of these days, you're going to have get over these delusions that you're some kind of sex god, Spike. They're embarrassing."

"Like you weren't screamin' to bring the house down."

"If I remember correctly, the cops showed up because of your inability to keep your mouth shut, Mr. Oh-God-Don't-Bloody-Stop."

"Good times."

The camaraderie glowed between them for a moment before Buffy returned to what she had to say. "I miss the way we used to just…be together. Before the kissage got in the way. I want to go back to that."

Spike nodded, as if this was what he'd been waiting all night for. "Have to give you props," he said. "You're the first woman I've loved who's ever given me the 'let's be friends' speech instead of cheating or nattering on about me bein'…" He grimaced. "Can't say that it still doesn't hurt like a bitch, though."

"That's not…look, if I said I loved you right now, we'd both know I was lying. But…" Her head fell. This was so not turning out how she'd envisioned. Why was she so much more articulate in her head? At least she hadn't hit him. Score one for Buffy to sticking to at least one of her resolutions.

"It's all right. I knew bringing Rupert back was goin' to cost me. The only thing that matters to me is that you get a shot at bein' happy, Buffy." He grabbed her chin and tilted her head back so that she could see the sincerity burning in the blue. "The only thing."

She kissed him. She didn't know why, and even as his hands slid down to her shoulders, Buffy chastised herself for breaking the second of her resolutions, but she did it anyway. She just…needed to.

She broke away before he could deepen the caress. "The part about things changing," she said breathlessly, "what I meant wasn't us pretending none of it happened, because, believe me, there is no way I could do it, I tried that and it so doesn't work, but…just…doing this right, and not imagining that phenomenal sex is enough to cover up everything that was wrong."

"Phenomenal, eh?"

"And how did I know that would be the one word you would pick out of that entire speech?"

"Heard the whole thing, luv. Just…not sure I believe it's real."

"Why?"

"Because Buffy the Vampire Slayer's not exactly renowned for bein' a great thinker, and this…this sounds like all you've been doin' is thinking." Spike's hand cupped the side of her face, his thumb stroking the sharp line of her cheek. "Where is this coming from?"

"Believe it or not, from you. And from having the time this past week to sort through everything I felt when we were on the other side of the gate. And from realizing that this might not be heaven but it's definitely not hell, either. Not with my friends and family all around me."

"Don't forget the Big Bad here."

"Silly vampire." She elbowed him playfully before pulling him back to the path. "You're both."

As they began the long, slow trip back to his crypt, the moon gleaming at them in the horizon, Buffy allowed herself the luxury of sinking into the satisfactory warmth of believing she was doing the right thing. It wasn't going to be easy, and it wouldn't be as convenient as Willow's clean slate spell, but it was a start, which in her head, was miles better than being an end. She couldn't see how it was going to turn out; for all she knew, one or the both of them would do something completely horrendous and fuck it all up. And she wasn't entirely sure how the others would react to the return of Spike's presence to the fold. Playing nicely with others wasn't exactly his strong suit.

But she was going to try.

She wanted to try. Like she hadn't wanted anything since being brought back.

Funny what a designer demon and some moonlight could do to a girl.

THE END