He had a lot of time to think, lying in the hospital bed, linked up to all the drips and machines that they seemed to think he needed. Not the way he preferred to take his blood, but then it always tasted odd out of those bags anyway. The drugs worked – mostly. Kept the pain sort of bearable, even if he sometimes wished they'd just take them away and let it hurt – let the pain stop the thinking. He'd asked the pretty nurse if she could maybe just give him enough to knock him out – even gave her his best smile, full-on bad boy charm – but she'd muttered something about how much drug you needed to KO a vampire, and how dangerous it was. Dangerous for who? Hardly going to kill him, now, was it?

The place where they'd joined him back together itched like hell. He gritted his teeth and tried to move his arms, but nothing happened. He let out a frustrated sigh. Almost worse that being a ghost. No, not that bad. And it wasn't going to last – a few weeks and a combination of Wolfram and Hart mojo and vampire healing ability and he'd be as good as new. Back to normal. And then it would be easier.

Easier to keep moving, keep fighting, keep annoying the hell out of Angel – keep your mind away from where it wants to go. Because he was Spike – all snark and attitude and as hard as they come. Yeah. Better believe it. Well, somebody better, because basically? At times he couldn't.

Times like this. Sometimes... sometimes if he forgot to try hard enough... she was there. He could call up the image of her so clearly, he could smell her, taste her, almost hear her. And seeing her, even in his mind, was so beautiful but so very painful, he could hardly bear it.

So why not seek her out, follow his blood? What was he afraid of? He'd used the excuses – how do you come back after an exit like that one, how could he just turn up all fit and undead after that, what would that make of what he did - but even to his ears they sounded feeble.

The thing is... the thing is... he'd made his peace. He really had. Last year he had taken a good long look at himself and he knew she'd never love him. Not really love him, not the way he loved her, and because of what he'd learnt about himself - because of what he had been, what he was - that was... right... it was as it should be. He could love her, give her whatever she felt she needed from him but he could do it without any expectation. Way it should be. Made it easy... strike that... easier. And then, at the last possible moment, when it was too late to matter, she had said the three words he had known he'd never hear. And, despite what he'd said back there on the Hellmouth - what he'd said to save them both the pain - there was a tiny part of him that wanted to believe her; the hard, bright little hope that wouldn't bloody well die. And the hope that she could... maybe... really love him... sometimes it was all that held him together. Or maybe it was what broke him apart. He couldn't tell any more.

Mostly he was scared. Scared of what he'd find she'd become in her new life. Scared there was no place for him anymore. Scared that maybe she'd come to him, only because of what they had shared, not what they could share. And he didn't want to go back.

So he hoped that the boy wouldn't let his excitement and the need to be the big I am carry him away. Hoped he wouldn't spill the beans to Buffy. But in the quiet moments, alone with his heart, half of him hopes he does.

And that, maybe, she'd come.

xxxxxx

Andrew didn't even manage to hold out until he got back to Europe. He was so full of his triumph in LA and so very keen to tell Buffy how well he'd managed, that it was inevitable he would be unable to stop such momentous news slipping out. Spike was back. Hero worship shone in his voice.

And strangely – among the raging of emotions she felt when he let spill the fact that Spike had helped him with Dana – the one thing she didn't feel was surprise. Andrew had blustered and stammered when he realised what he had said and then pretended that he was losing the connection. He had turned his phone off, but Buffy hadn't tried to call back anyway. Wasn't ready to talk. Wasn't even sure she was ready to think.

Easier to keep moving, keep fighting, keep working with the slayers, keep yourself wrapped up in your sister – keep your mind away from where it wants to go. Because she was Buffy. Self-contained, in control, too strong to let it beat her down. And sometimes she believed it. But most times she didn't.

She'd dream of him. Not as often as before, but often enough. Often enough to keep the hurt alive, despite her attempts to bury it. She had wanted to have good memories of him. Memories of his smile, of how he understood her better than she understood herself, memories of the feel of him against her – and memories of what he did, for her... for everyone. But the good memories were drowned in a sea of what should have been, in the agony of wishing... wishing she could have made it different. Because he hadn't believed her and, in truth? She wasn't sure she had believed it herself. But what she'd felt back then, in those last few moments with him, had been the most wonderful and powerful thing she had ever felt and the only word she had for it was... love.

Mostly she was scared. Scared of what she'd find he'd become. Scared there was no place for her anymore, that he would be beyond her. That she had truly lost him. Because she doesn't think she could bear that.

So she hopes that Andrew didn't tell Spike about the bad times after the Hellmouth, when he'd caught her weeping for her lost chances and her new life. About the reason she fled to Europe. About why she couldn't rest in London. But in the quiet moments, alone with her heart, half of her hopes he did.

And that, maybe, he'd come.