Disclaimer: I own none of the characters in this story, everything is borrowed, so please don't sue me

Disclaimer: I own none of the characters in this story, everything is borrowed, so please don't sue me.

Author note: This story takes place seven years from now. Just a little fic to get my two favorite people together yet again…

~Starting Over~

She walked down the darkened street slowly. She still wasn't entirely comfortable with this city. When she lived in Sunnydale, it was as if she owned the town, here she felt like an outsider. In New Orleans, there certainly were plenty of vampires to chase down, but it still didn't feel like home to her.

She had left Sunnydale only six months ago. Everyone she had loved there had either died or moved on. She saw no reason to stay there any longer. It had been nearly seven years since her mother had died and she had lost Dawn to Glory. They had won the fight in the end, but not without losing her sister in the process.

She never thought she would get over the double tragedy, and had felt completely alone. Giles and her friends had managed to help her through it, all those years ago, but Buffy knew that she was not the same. She never would be. She had focused on her slaying with a passion and fury that she had never felt before. She was like a machine. But all her strength and rage wasn't enough to have saved Willow or Giles.

There had been a demonic cult that had taken up residence in Sunnydale nearly a year ago. They were powerful and terrorized the entire town, by kidnapping people and making them into zombies, of sorts. They were brainwashed into loyalty to the master demon, and became killing machines in the name of evil.

Buffy and the gang had thought they had an unbeatable plan to stop them, but the numbers had been greater than any of them imagined. They took Willow first. They went right to her house and dragged her from it. She had tried to resist their programming and attempted magic on them, but it was futile.

No one had known what she had become until she took Giles. Giles had fallen right into their trap, and he became one of them as well. Buffy, Xander, and Anya had figured it out before they fell victim too.

In the end, the only way to stop them was to destroy their master, and in doing so, all the followers would perish as well. It was not a decision that any of them took lightly, but in the end, they accepted that the two people they all dearly loved were already dead, not unlike if they had become vampires.

Buffy shuddered now at the memories, and pulled her jacket tighter around her. It had been almost a year, and she still couldn't erase the torment of watching Giles and Willow die.

Xander and Anya had decided to move their family out of Sunnydale. They had two small children to take of, and the realization that none of them were immune from harm, made it all the more threatening to stay there any longer. That was when Buffy decided to leave for good.

She had also decided in her own mind, that her friends were the reason she had made it this far in life. She was twenty-seven, completely unheard of for a slayer. She knew that without them, she would have died long ago. But instead of her, it was them that died. She couldn't make that mistake again. From here on out, it was just her, alone, the way it should have been all along.

She came around a corner and heard a commotion in the alley. She drew her stake from her jacket, and peered into the darkness. In the distance, she could make an outline of a man in a long, dark trench coat fighting with two other men.

Her immediate thought was that it was just some drunken street fight, and she was almost prepared to move on. But, for some reason though, her legs wouldn't move. She stood there transfixed by the man in the coat. The way he fought seemed almost familiar to her, but she wasn't sure why.

He threw hard punches at the two other men, his movements fluid and lightening quick. The faint light coming from the streetlamp shone off his light brown hair and for an instant, she saw a glimpse of a smile on his face.

"He's enjoying this." She said laughed quietly to herself.

Just then, she caught another flash of one of the two other men. His features were mottled and his eyes were glowing yellow. Vampires. She clutched her stake in her hand and charged over to where they were fighting. She figured that this man had no idea what he was dealing with and since it was her job, she better lend a hand.

She leapt through the air and knocked one of the vampires down. The man in the trench coat had been busy fighting the other vampire, and quickly turned around to see what was going on.

He caught a glimpse of a small, dark figure lying on top of one of the vampires, before he was knocked upside the head by the one he was fighting. He went down to the ground.

Buffy jammed her stake into her vampires chest then quickly ran to the aid of the man. She grabbed the vampire off of him and jammed her stake home. The vampire exploded before he even knew what had hit him.

She was out of breath and looking around the alley to make sure that there weren't any more.

"Listen mister, do you have any idea what you were doing? Those guys would have killed you." She said in an irritated voice. Sometimes she just couldn't stand to see innocent people trying to fight something they didn't understand.

The man lay on the ground a bit disoriented but her voice snapped him out of it. He sat up slowly and as he did his face came into the light and Buffy looked at him for the first time.

"Slayer? What the bloody hell are you doing here?" Spike said in disbelief.

Buffy's mouth hung open in shock.

"Spike?"

They both stared at each other for a moment trying to absorb the fact that they were seeing each other for the first time in seven years.

Spike broke the silence as he stood to his feet.

"Well, well…So did you miss me? Is that why you're here?" He said with a smirk as he fished into his coat for a cigarette.

Buffy couldn't stop staring at him. He looked so different than the last time she had seen him. Gone was the bad dye job, and the harsh slicked back hair. In its place was an unruly mess of wavy brown hair. His coat was brown instead of the black duster that was his trademark, and his clothing was lighter. He wore a blue shirt and jeans. He was hardly recognizable as his former self. His eyes bore a hole right through her as she stared at him.

She stammered, "I-I didn't miss you. How would I even know you were here?"

"Good point. So then why are you here? This is my town, you realize?" He said taking a drag on his cigarette.

"Your town?" She laughed at him. "What is this? Some bad western movie?"

"Very funny. Look, Sunnydale was yours, LA was Angel's and New Orleans is mine. I take care of the evil around here, and I don't need you interfering." He said angrily.

He still couldn't believe she was standing before him. It had been so long now, yet he still longed for her. In his dreams, his nightmares, it was always her face that he saw. He had loved her, and she had coldly rejected him without a second thought. He shook off the unpleasantness of the memories and took another drag of his cigarette.

"You take care of the evil?" She said with a smirk.

"Yes, I do. You saw me here tonight. I was kicking evil's ass, until you showed up and ruined everything." He said bitterly.

"I saved your evil ass, Spike." She said enjoying the verbal sparring with him again.

"Think what you what, point is, I don't want you here." He said to her.

"You don't have much of a choice. I live here now, so either you can leave, or we can just stay out of each others way." She said firmly.

She never thought she'd ever see him again. He had left town shortly after Glory was defeated. He had been pretty shaken up about Dawn and had tried to comfort Buffy over the loss of her sister, but she had pushed him away. She suspected that her constant rejection was the reason he had left.

At first, she was relieved not to have to deal with him anymore, but as time went on, she found herself missing him. It was hard for her to even admit to herself, but she had liked him, at least a little. She feared ever letting him know, because he would have used that as fuel for his argument that they were meant to be together.

Seeing him tonight was almost scary for her. Feelings that she had hidden from him and herself, so long ago, had bubbled to the surface. And the way he looked now… she felt uncomfortable by the fact that she had been drawn to him immensely before she realized who he was.

"Fine then, you stay out of my way, and I'll stay out of yours." He said as he prepared to walk away from her.

The truth was, all he wanted to do was grab her and kiss her and never let her out of his sight again. But that wasn't going to happen. He was done making a fool of himself over her. Even though it had been years since they were sharing the same space, he knew her hatred for him had not likely lessened.

She watched him turn to go and something inside her heart wrenched. She didn't know why, but she grabbed his arm to stop him from leaving.

"Wait…Spike, this is silly. If you're fighting evil and so am I, why don't we just call a truce? I mean, why fight each other?" She could hardly believe that she was saying this to him, but something inside of her longed for something familiar, even if it was him.

"A truce? It seems to me that you once said we don't get to call truces. Why the change of heart?" He asked.

"Look, all that stuff…Well, it was a long time ago. I don't know anyone here, and well, you could show me around. Show me the hotspots of vampire activity and…Oh just forget it. It was a ridiculous idea." She said shaking her head. Partnering with him was a horrible idea. What if he still wanted her? It would just be too awkward.

"What's a ridiculous idea?" He asked with his curiosity peaked.

She sighed, "Well, we could be partners. I could always use someone to watch my back." She said plainly.

He smiled at her. Partners with the slayer? He wasn't sure it was such a good idea, but the part of him that still loved her, was thrilled at the prospect of spending time with her.

"Partners? Well, don't expect to be ordering me around. I don't need directions." He said with a smirk.

"Fine. Look, maybe we should go someplace to talk, you know? Work out the details." She said to him.

"You want to go to my place?" He asked with a seductive smile.

"No, I don't want to go to your place." She said, already regretting their decision to work together.

"Relax, Slayer. I'm over you. I was just teasing." He lied to her. He wished that he didn't want her still, but he couldn't help himself. She had hardly changed at all since he saw her last.

She was still just as beautiful, and just as stubborn. Her hair was shorter and her features looked slightly more mature, but she was still the same Buffy he fell in love with.

"Well, I'm glad you're over me. That whole thing was insane, you know?" She told him. Deep inside she felt almost disappointed to hear that he no longer wanted her. She pushed those feelings aside and suggested they go to a bar around the corner to talk.

They walked side by side down the low lit street. It was sometime after midnight and most of the people in town were either home in bed or inside a bar. During Mardi Gras it was a different story. The whole place was lit up and people never slept.

Buffy had been in awe when she had seen it. Vampires loved Mardi Gras. Thousands of drunken, half naked people walking around. It was like a smorgasbord for them. She had been very busy during that time, but since then, things were a lot quieter.

They walked into the bar and sat at a table in the corner. The place was dark and smoky and a jazz band was playing onstage. They ordered their drinks and just sat there for what seemed an eternity, neither knowing what to say.

Buffy looked up from her drink and spoke first.

"So, why New Orleans?" She asked him.

"I could ask you the same." He said with a smile.

"Well, I had heard that it was full of vamps. I needed a new challenge." She told him as she shrugged her shoulders.

"Sunnydale not hellmouthy enough for you?"

"It wasn't that, I just…Well, things got really bad there. I couldn't deal anymore. I had to get out." She said sadly looking down at the table. She didn't want to break down in front of him.

He noted the stricken look on her face.

"What happened, Luv?"

Buffy took a long drink and tried to push the tears away. She sighed and looked back at him.

"Willow and Giles are dead because of me. I had to kill them." She said calmly, trying to keep it together.

Spike nearly choked on his vodka, and stared into her eyes.

"You killed them?"

"Well, it wasn't really them. It's a long, long story, but the fact is they're gone and I wasn't able to save them. I had to destroy them to save the world, yet again." She said sadly, not wanting to go into details.

"I'm sorry, Buffy." He said softly, wondering what had actually happened. Did Red and the Watcher become vampires? He could tell she didn't want to get into it, so he wasn't going to press it.

She smiled softly at him. She noticed that was the first time he had said her name tonight. Before he had left town, he had gotten used to calling her by her name, and not just 'Slayer'. When he called her that, it always sounded full of contempt, but 'Buffy' made him sound like a friend.

"It's all right. Xander and Anya are okay." She said attempting to lighten the mood. "They got married a few years ago, they have two kids."

"Two kids, eh? Scary thought, them two multiplying." He said sarcastically.

"Be nice, Spike." She glared at him. "Anyway, they moved out of Sunnydale. After Willow and Giles…Well, it just wasn't safe, not with their babies to protect, you know? They were getting too old to run around town with a pointy stick chasing demons, like me."

"Nothing wrong with chasin' demons, Luv. You can never be too old. Look at me?" He said with a smirk.

"Yeah, Spike. Look at you. Why are you chasing demons? I assume it means your head is still chips' ahoy?" She laughed at him.

"Well, if it wasn't do you think I'd be sitting here with you?"

"No, you'd be dust right about now."

"Well then, there's your answer. I'm fightin' because I have nothing better to do. Besides, I rather like fighting the good fight." He added almost inaudibly.

"What? You enjoy fighting for good?"

"What of it? It's not like I never helped you out before. I did lots of good things when you were around, you just never noticed. I helped you with Glory, and damn near got myself killed…" He said with irritation.

"I know, but you were trying to get into my pants, Spike. There's a difference."

"I was not!" He said angrily.

"Uh, yeah you were. That's the only reason you helped us. You hoped I'd fall into your arms with gratitude." She told him.

"Yeah, well, a simple 'thank you' would have been nice, but as I recall you shoved me away and told me to get lost." He said getting pissed.

Buffy's cocky smile faded and she looked at him seriously.

"I'm sorry, Spike. I should have thanked you." She couldn't believe she was saying that to him.

"Your welcome." He said sarcastically. " It's not like I thought I had a chance with you, I helped because I wanted to save Dawn…and the world, okay?"

Dawn. Her sister's memory stayed with her, along with the knowledge that she was unable to save her.

"I know you cared about Dawn. She liked you."

"Well, I liked her too. She was a good girl. It's a shame she never had a chance to live a real life." He said remembering the young girl he was so fond of.

"I know…Look, let's forget all this. What else have you been up to? Anything interesting I should know about?" She asked, wanting to keep the past where it belonged.

"Just keepin' busy." He said, not really wanting to share.

"Any friends? Girlfriends? Enemies I should know about? If we're gonna work together, I need some details."

"I don't have any friends, Slayer. Too complicated. Girlfriends? Well, I've had a few, nothin' to write home about." He told her. The truth was, he had tried to get involved with other women, but he just couldn't shake the memory of Buffy from his heart.

"What about enemies? Anyone in this town eager to get a piece of you?"

"Of course. Every vampire in town wants to see me swept into little piles. I'm a traitor, remember? Other than that, nah' no enemies. I keep to myself. What about you, Slayer? You all by your lonesome? No big, strong, strapping bloke lookin' out for your needs?"

"Uh, too complicated." She said shaking her head. "It's just me now."

"Correction…you and me." He smiled at her as he downed the remainder of his drink. They were always so much alike and yet she had refused to see it.

Now it was just the two of them, alone in a city where no body knew them. To the passerby, they were just a couple out for the evening. He wasn't a vampire and she wasn't a slayer. There were no Scoobies meddling in their lives, no watcher, no rules, as far as he saw it. They were free to be whatever they wanted, and now they were going to do that together.

"You and me. Right. I'm not sure I can get used to that." She said with a small smile.

She was actually relieved to see a recognizable face in the sea of strangers she passed every night. She had sworn to herself that she would work alone, not get any innocents involved. But Spike was no innocent. He was strong, a great fighter, and immortal. Sure, he could still be hurt or dusted, but he was not vulnerable like her friends back home had been.

He was able to take care of himself, and had done so successfully for more than a century. Having him as a partner would be beneficial. She had long since given up her mistrust of him. When he risked everything for Dawn, she knew she could trust him and he wouldn't turn on her, but getting along with him was a different story.

"It's late, and I'm beat. I'm heading home." She told him as she stood up.

"Buffy, I'll walk you home." He told her.

"That's okay. I can manage." She said putting her defenses up.

"What you're not even gonna tell me where you live? If we're gonna work together, don't you think I should know where to find you?"

She relaxed her guard and nodded her head.

"Okay, fine. Let's go."

They walked out of the bar and headed down the street. She lived close to where they were and they made it to her building in ten minutes.

"This is it. Apartment 212. So if you need me, this is where I'll be." She said somewhat nervously.

She wasn't sure why she was so nervous, but being around him again was disconcerting. Or rather, her reactions and feelings were disconcerting to her. She wanted to be repulsed by him, to hate him, but she only found herself attracted to his smile and the way he fought, and his sarcastic comments.

The very things that always annoyed her, now felt like a welcome reminder of her past, of their past. Being with him again felt like slipping into a pair of well worn shoes. It was as if time had stood still and nothing had changed. Except it had. She had changed, the way she saw him had changed, and most importantly, he had changed.

He wasn't the evil weirdo who stalked her and made a robot replica of her, and chained her to a wall and begged her to love him. He seemed like just a regular guy now, but he still had his Spike edge to him. She liked that.

Spike spoke and broke her out of her thoughts.

"So, am I invited in or do the old rules apply?" He asked her.

"What? Oh, I guess so. But, I still have that spell, so don't be dropping by unannounced, or stealing my things, or sneaking around. The key word is 'invited'. If I don't ask you in, you don't come in just because you can." She said trying to be forceful and not let her guard down completely.

"Fair enough. You know, I told you I was over you. I gave up stalking when I left Sunnydale." He said somewhat annoyed, but also lying through his teeth.

"Good." She said opening her door. "Come in." She told him.

They walked into the small apartment. She flipped the lights on to reveal a very nice, brightly decorated room. Everything was done in white and tan. There was a sofa and a table. The kitchen was neat and sparse. He sensed she didn't cook much.

He sat down on the couch and she watched him.

"Don't get too comfy. I told you I was tired. I really want to go to bed."

So do I, Slayer…He thought, wanting her all the more. Just being in her apartment was making him crazy.

"Right, well, I guess I'll see ya around then. You want to go out tomorrow night?" He asked her.

"Go out? Spike, I'm not dating you." She said uncomfortably.

"Date? I meant do you want to go out and look for some vampires. Where is your mind?" He said laughing at her, but wishing that she did want to date him.

"Oh right, vampires. Sure, okay. Meet me here around eight. We'll see what's what." She said feeling instantly embarrassed by her mistake. Where was her mind? She wondered to herself.

"See you then." He said heading for the door. "Oh, and it's good to see you again." He added quietly.

Buffy wanted to say it was good to see him too, but she wasn't sure what she felt. She decided it was safer to just say good night.

She watched as he walked out the door and found herself standing at the window watching as he disappeared down the street. She had no idea why she was inviting him back into her life, but it felt like the right thing, the only thing to do.

She tried to tell herself that she should have just walked away when she realized who he was, but the thought of knowing he was around and she wasn't in contact with him, made her unhappy. She figured she must be really tired because these sort of feelings didn't make any sense.

This was a business arrangement, and nothing more. They weren't even friends, it was just a strategic agreement. She tried really hard to convince herself of that as she lay in bed tossing and turning until the sun came up.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Oh stop it! You needed my help and I don't care what you say." Buffy laughed at him as they sat on the floor of her apartment.

They had a pizza in front of them and empty soda cans were laying around them. It had been six months since the night they had crossed paths again.

"I was handling myself perfectly until you distracted me." Spike said defending himself against her constant ribbing.

"Just admit that you need me, Spike." She teased him.

"Oh, I need you all right. Like a hole in my head." He snickered at her and they both laughed.

Over the last months, they had grown to be friends. They went out nearly every night in search of trouble and trouble seemed to find them quickly. Together, they were an unbeatable team. Word had gotten around that a slayer was in town and she wasn't fighting alone.

Vampires who thought they were tough, sought them out, looking for an impressive victory. The smarter vamps, went running in the other direction. Every fight they were in was like a choreographed dance.

Buffy would laugh when she thought about it like that. Spike had always used that metaphor for the two of them. He always said that when they fought, they were dancing, but she never believed him until now. Of course now, they were fighting together and not with each other.

"So, should we rent a movie?" Spike asked her between bites of his pizza.

Buffy shrugged and watched him curiously.

"What? Why are you looking at me like that? Do I have cheese on my face or something?" He asked self consciously.

"No, it's just…Well, you're the strangest vampire I've ever known. I mean why do you eat this stuff?" She asked gesturing at the pizza.

Spike shrugged. "I dunno. It tastes good, plus it's enjoyable. Just because I don't have to eat it, doesn't mean I don't want to. Besides, it's a social thing." He said taking a swig of coke.

"Angel never ate food when we were together." She said absently.

"Yeah, well, I'm not Angel. He didn't know what he was missing." He said not wanting to talk about him. Buffy admitted that she still talked to him once in awhile and it made him insanely jealous, though he wouldn't admit it to her.

Buffy just shrugged and took another bite. She couldn't help but look at him again. Over the last few months, she had been fighting her attraction to him desperately.

"What?! Why do you keep staring at me? You act as if this is the first time we've shared a meal." He said wondering what was going on with her.

"Sorry, it's just…your hair." She said curiously.

Spike put a hand on his head wondering if it was falling out or something.

"What about my hair?" He asked.

"Why'd you change it? Did you sell your stock in Miss Clairol?" She said with a smile.

"No, I just figured I was ready for a change. I mean, the bleached out punk is only cool for like twenty or so years, it was time to get a new look." He said wondering why after all this time she was asking about his hair.

"Oh, well, it looks nice. I mean, I like it better." She said nervously. "Want to rent a movie?" She said desperate to change the subject.

"Yes. That's what I asked you five minutes ago before you started critiquing me." He said with a sigh.

He was more in love with her than he ever was before. All those years ago, it was an obsession. He lusted after his idea of her, what he wanted her to be in his mind.

Now, he actually knew her, spent time with her. It wasn't just some crazy infatuation, he was head over heels for this woman, and he suspected she had no idea. He assumed that she had bought his lines about being over her, when they couldn't have been further from the truth.

Everyday, he waited for the blasted sun to set, just so he could see her. They slayed together and played together. Meals such as the one they shared tonight were commonplace. Movies and talking long into night were something they did all the time.

Never once had he shared his true feelings and never once did he dream of ever doing so. He finally found some happiness with her, and would rather stake himself than ruin a good thing.

"I'll get my bag and we can head to VideoMart." Buffy said as she got up to retrieve her purse. "But I get to pick this time. That last movie you picked was terrible."

"How was I to know? It said it was about vampires. I had no idea it would be so inaccurate." He told her.

"Yeah, well accurate or not, I don't want to see vampire movies. I get enough of that at the office, plus I hang with you all the time." She said with a sly smile.

"But I'm so charming, you forget that I'm still a bloodsucker." He said making a scary face at her and pretending to grab her.

She laughed at him and pushed him away. "Stop that! I'm the slayer, I can still stake your ass." She teased him.

He was charming, that was for sure. And he was right. When they were together, she totally forgot what he was and the things he'd done. His evil deeds seemed so long ago now that she could barely remember. The only thing she noticed was the way he was now. And she was falling for him, as much as she denied it and detested herself for it, it was happening.

They brought their movie back to Buffy's and sat down to watch. She had picked a love story about a man and a woman who came from two different worlds, yet longed to be together. Spike had protested saying that it was too sappy and annoying, but Buffy had caught him watching it as intently as her.

She chided herself, because she knew she rented it because it reminded her of them. She realized that being attracted to him was insane and unhealthy, not to mention ridiculous. He was still a vampire, no matter how easy to forget. Their relationship was doomed for failure from the beginning, yet she couldn't stop her feelings.

The only other obstacle that stood in their way, was that Spike had made it clear he had no interest in her anymore. At first she was relieved, but quickly the fact of that made her long for him even more. If her friends could see her now…She only hoped that wherever Giles and Willow were they weren't watching her.

"That movie sucked." Spike said as the credits rolled.

He would never tell her that it had made him want to cry. He still didn't understand where all his emotions and feelings came from. He may be chipped, but he was still soulless. It didn't make sense to him but he gave up questioning himself long ago.

"It didn't suck. It was beautiful." She said as she laid on the couch next to him.

"It was so unrealistic. Tina would never have given up her future and her world to be with Pablo. He had nothing to offer her. Girls don't do that sort of thing in real life." He said thinking about her. Buffy would never give up herself for him.

Buffy thought about what he had said and turned her head to look at him.

"You never know. Some girls might…I mean if they really loved someone." She said looking into his eyes.

Their bodies were touching and their faces were close together. Once it was a sign of their comfort level together, but now there was an electricity in the air that hadn't been there before.

Spike gulped and looked at her nervously. Was she implying something? He wasn't sure and didn't want to chance it.

"Well, I-uh, well, no one has ever loved me like that." He told her apprehensively.

She looked into his eyes and saw that he was affected by that.

"What about Drusilla? You guys had a pretty good thing…I mean as good as it gets for two vampires and well, when one is crazy…But still, she loved you, right?" Buffy said trying to backpedal her way out of this moment. Mentioning Dru should shatter this energy that was between them.

Spike sat up and looked at her shaking his head.

"No, she never loved me. Not like I loved her anyway. She was never faithful. Once someone better crossed her path, she was outta there. She dumped me twice, remember?" He said not really wanting to rehash Drusilla.

"Oh…Right." Buffy said unsure of what to say next.

Spike laid back down next to her, wanting more than anything to reach out and put his arms around her, but he didn't want to betray their friendship and lose all he had worked for.

"Well, but I still think that a girl would do that for someone. I think I would…" She said softly continuing the conversation and wishing she could stop herself.

"Really now?" He said with a touch of sarcasm.

She turned her head to face him again and stared deep into his eyes. She wanted so much to restrain herself, but she knew she wasn't going to. She couldn't pretend anymore.

She reached out and touched his face with her hand and he jumped slightly at her touch. She almost pulled away, thinking he was unhappy that she was touching him, but he relaxed.

He was breathing heavy and almost laughed at himself, knowing that he didn't even need to breathe and here he was near hyperventilation.

"Spike…" She said as she lifted her head and touched her lips to his lips.

The whole room began to spin for him. This was the thing he had dreamed of for years, for what seemed a lifetime and here it was happening. He grabbed her and pulled her on top of him.

Her kisses grew stronger and more passionate and it took all the restraint that he had not to rip her clothes off. He ran his fingers through her hair and savored the taste of her lips on his.

Buffy had lost herself in him and tried to push all of her doubts away. She kept telling herself to get a grip and stop the madness but her body had overridden her brain. Suddenly she snapped herself out of it and pulled away from him abruptly.

"What? Did I do something wrong?" He asked her breathlessly.

She stumbled off the couch and began pacing around.

"I did not just do that." She said out loud to herself.

"What?" He asked confused. She had initiated the kiss, he hoped that she wasn't going to turn it around and blame him.

"We can't do that, Spike. It's wrong. It's bad…It's just…No! It can't happen again." She said more to herself than him.

"But, Luv, it was so right…How can you think it was bad?" He said standing up and grabbing her arm lightly.

"It just is. Look, you were right. A girl isn't going to give up everything for a man who can't offer her a future." She said knowing that her words would hurt him, but not knowing what else to say.

She was angry with herself for not having better self control, and the foresight to see that this whole situation was crazy.

Spike let go of her arm and looked at the floor. He almost felt a tear welling up in his eye, and quickly held it back. Damn her! She had done this to him before when she had thrown him to the ground and told him that he was beneath her. He had wanted to kill her that night, but now he only wanted cry. He was an idiot, he thought. Stupid emotions, stupid feelings, and stupid Buffy. He couldn't believe he was standing in the face of her rejection again.

"Fine. I see how it is. I'm not worthy of you and your precious affections. I'm just a vampire. Something you stake for a living. I bet to you I'm not even a real person, right?" He said his anger and hurt building.

"Spike, don't say that. You know that's not true. We just can't do this. I can't do this." She said feeling a sob catch in her throat.

He watched as her expression turned to one of anguish. He wanted to pull her close and tell her that she shouldn't be afraid, but he knew that was not what she wanted. Instead he only turned around and walked to the door.

"I still love you, Buffy. I know I said I didn't, but I lied." He told her, with his back facing her. He didn't think he could bear to see her face again when she heard him say that.

Buffy's heart wrenched and she desperately wanted to run to him but she didn't.

"Will I see you tomorrow?" She asked, just to have something to say and not wanting this to be the last time she saw him.

"I'll be around." He said noncommittally, not wanting to share any further emotion around her. He opened the door and walked out, not looking back.

Buffy hung her head and cried.

"I'm so stupid." She said to herself. "Why did I kiss him? Why did I push him away? What was I thinking?"

She only hoped that she hadn't ruined everything with him. Despite all else, he was her friend, her only friend now. She needed him more than she cared to admit. Why can't I just tell him that? She wondered, as she sat on her couch and cried.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Two weeks went by and Buffy didn't hear from Spike. She had tried calling him, but he wouldn't answer. She had thought about showing up at his place, but decided against it. If he wanted to see her, he would show up.

She found herself scanning crowds every night in search of his face and each night, she ended up alone. She could kick herself for ruining things between them.

She had still been out patrolling and slaying, but it didn't feel the same anymore without him. It was almost as if they had always done it together, and now she was without her right hand.

She walked up the steps to her apartment and ambled slowly to her door.

"Hello, Slayer." Spike said as he emerged from the dark shadows surrounding her door.

Buffy jumped back, surprised to see someone there.

"Spike…" She said breathlessly. It took all her willpower not to run up and hug him, but she decided she better play things cool.

"Finally decided to show your face?" She said a little sarcastically.

"Well, I've done a lot of thinking…Let's just forget the past. I like working with you and you need me, so let's just go back to way it was." He said trying to sound confident.

"I don't need anyone." She said defiantly. But then she softened her tone, "But I did miss having a partner."

Spike smiled at her wishing that things would have worked out differently. He loved her so much, yet she was too stubborn to let him into her life. He would just have to deal with it, because not being around her was making him crazy.

"Are we friends again?" She asked tentatively.

"Sure we are…Friends." He told her with a smile. He wanted so much more, and he sensed that somewhere deep inside her, she felt the same, but for now and maybe forever, he'd just have to take what he could get.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Three more months had passed now, and they were almost back into their old routines. They did spend less of their free time together than before, and both were feeling lonely because of it. Neither one wanted to further complicate things between them. Spike was still hurting from her rejection. He wanted to keep things strictly business.

Buffy agreed that it was the best solution, but she was saddened that the closeness they had found before was fading. She was always used to having close friends, someone she could talk to and hang out with. It was a hard adjustment for her.

One night, they got word of a powerful demon that was living underground near the waterfront. They decided to bust in and take him out. They knew he had a group of minions, but there weren't too many. They figured they could take them easily.

This demon was supposedly making plans to take over the city. Typical demon on a power trip. They always thought they could do what they wanted, but they didn't count on Buffy and Spike.

They walked silently along the waterfront. It was deserted, and getting cold outside. Buffy pulled her jacket closer to her as they walked.

"So, we deal with the peons first, then take out Big Daddy?" Buffy asked Spike, just trying to get their plan organized.

"That's the plan. We get rid of most of them, then you distract while I attack. Shouldn't be too hard." He said confidently.

He was in the mood for a good fight, and this was bound to be tougher than anything they had done lately. He was ready.

They walked down through the sewer entrance. It was dark and musty. They heard the faint sound of voices speaking up ahead and a pungent aroma filled their nostrils.

"Okay, eww! We must be getting close cause it smells really ripe in here." Buffy said as she crinkled her nose.

"Right up there." Spike said pointing to the glow of light around the corner. "Let's go."

They charged up the tunnel and burst in ready for attack. There were about ten various demons milling about guarding their master. Buffy quickly beheaded two of them while Spike swung his sword around and got another.

By now the element of surprise was gone and the remaining demons were in full defense mode.

Spike and Buffy fought them with all their strength, and were quickly winning the battle. It was down to five minions and one very pissed off master.

"Seize them!!" He shouted at his lackeys. He was not one to fight himself as he weighed nearly a ton and had no legs. His skin was red and scaly and he had two stubby claw-like limbs that protruded from his enormous belly.

Buffy and Spike momentarily caught a glimpse of the demon as they were fighting and Buffy made a face.

"Boy he sure is attractive…Smells real nice too." She said to Spike as she punched one demon in the face.

"Concentrate, Slayer. Plenty of time to make fun of him later." He said, trying to focus. He enjoyed her witty remarks during battle, but he felt the need to annoy her, just to keep her on her toes.

She rolled her eyes and stabbed her demon through the chest and he went down.

Spike noticed that it was now down to four and the master was shouting and spitting at his remaining servants.

"You got this, Slayer?" He called to her, wanting to make his break for the master.

"Go Spike!" She shouted as she fought three demons simultaneously.

Spike made a final stab for his demon and he went down. He charged up to the master and went to plunge his sword in. The demon spit fire into his face and Spike went flying.

Buffy saw what happened and shouted, "Are you okay?!"

Spike got up and dusted himself off.

"A little blackened, but okay. You didn't tell me this thing shot fire out of its face!" He said irritated by the situation, but quickly jumping back into the fray.

Spike attempted to maneuver himself around to the back of the demon so as to avoid any more unpleasant burns.

"Let's just hope fire doesn't come out of this end too." Spike muttered to himself.

Spike suddenly heard the demon laughing and attempting to applaud, but his fat arms wouldn't reach together.

"Excellent. Bring her to me." He said.

Spike glanced around and saw that the three demons had Buffy captured. He didn't know what had gone wrong, but they were holding her and she was struggling as they held a dagger to her throat.

Damn it! Spike thought. He had the perfect opportunity to get this guy, but Buffy might not make it. He couldn't risk that.

"You think that you and your friend can take me? Foolish, foolish imbeciles." The demon hissed at Buffy. "Kill her now!"

Just then Spike jumped out from the shadows.

"Let her go! Take me instead!" He shouted at them.

The demon hissed fire in Spike's direction and he jumped back.

"There is no instead! You will both die, but if you want to be first…" He said to Spike.

"Just let her go." Spike said forcefully.

"Spike, forget it. They're not getting either of us." Buffy said, acutely aware that the dagger was penetrating her skin and blood was beginning to run down her neck.

"Strong words for someone in your position." The demon laughed. "Kill him first! Perhaps she would like to watch her friend die."

Two of the demons charged Spike and the other stayed behind holding Buffy.

"No!" She shouted, not wanting Spike to get hurt.

He tried to fight them, and was able to stab one, but the other grabbed his sword and quickly impaled Spike through the stomach.

He cried out and collapsed to the ground.

"Noooo! You evil bastard! You have really pissed me off now!" She shouted as she jammed her elbow into the demons face and he was stunned enough to drop the dagger. She picked it up and plunged it into his chest.

She ran over and grabbed her sword that had fallen and with one fluid motion lopped the head off the demon that had impaled Spike.

The master was furious now and began spitting fire once more. Buffy picked up large rocks and threw them at him, hitting him in the face. He cried out. She ran along the wall and got behind him.

With quick, forceful strokes, she plunged her sword into his back, over and over. She listened to the sound of the dying monsters cries, until he was silenced for good.

She dropped her sword and ran over to Spike who lay in a heap on the ground.

"Oh my god! Are you okay?" She said with tears in her eyes.

Spike lay there motionless, with blood seeping through his torn shirt. She ripped it open to see a severe gash across his abdomen.

"Oh god…Spike come on, wake up!" She shouted at him as she shook him.

Spike started moaning and slowly started to regain consciousness.

"What happened?" He asked as he tried to move and a sharp pain shot through his stomach. He looked down at the wound, and winced.

"Bloody hell! This was my favorite shirt." He said softly.

"You're alive! I can't believe they stabbed you." She said to him as she hugged him. He winced at her touch because it hurt his wound.

"Ouch, Slayer! Be careful. My belly is hanging open." He said to her.

"Sorry!" She said feeling bad that she hurt him.

"Did you really think I was gonna die? This may hurt like hell, but it won't kill me." He said softly to her. He could see that she was distraught.

"Oh, Spike…Sometimes I forget, you know. I still can't stand to see you hurting like this. They could have killed you. You sacrificed yourself for me. Why did you do that?" She asked him as she wiped away her tears.

"Why do you think?" He said looking into her eyes.

She felt her tears coming again and didn't try to stop them. She smiled at him and leaned down and kissed him softly on the lips. For an instant, he forgot about the hole in his stomach, and melted into her tenderness.

She pulled away from their kiss and stroked his hair.

"We better get out of here." She said to him.

"Yeah…Help me up?" He asked her.

She put her arms around him and lifted him up. He groaned at the pain but was able to stand. She wrapped her arms around his waist to support him and they moved slowly out of the tunnel.

"So, you gonna take me shopping?" He asked with a smile.

"Shopping? You're thinking about shopping at a time like this?" She teased him.

"Well, my favorite shirt is ruined, I'll need another." He said with a smirk.

"Fine then, we'll go shopping as soon as your stomach heals up." She said rolling her eyes at him.

He stopped walking and looked at her.

"What? Are you okay? Do you need to rest?" She asked her concern building.

"I'm just looking at you. You're beautiful, you know? Here I am with a gaping belly wound and you have hardly a scratch. How do you do that?" He asked her with a smile.

"It helps to have a strong partner who looks out for you." She said softly.

"Right, we're partners…" He said somewhat sadly. He wanted to be thought of as more than just a partner.

"Partners…And friends…" She said softly looking into his eyes. "And maybe more…"

"More?" He questioned her.

She took his hand and held it in her own.

"Spike…Seeing you hurt like that, it was hard. It made me remember all the people before that I loved that died because of me. Life is too short…Too short for me to not tell you the truth." She said quietly.

"The truth?"

"I love you, Spike…I don't care anymore about consequences or the future. Why worry about something that may never happen? I…Love…You." She said to him with a tear in her eye.

Spike felt his heart soar and quickly forgot about the pain as he grabbed her into his arms and kissed her. For a few minutes they stayed in that musty tunnel, lost in each other's embrace. It felt good to finally stop pretending and start living.

Spike pulled away first.

"Let's get out of here. The smell in here is not very romantic." He said with a laugh.

"Good idea. We need to get you home and bandage that gash." She told him as they started walking again.

"I don't want to go back to my place, what if I need help getting around?" He asked her slyly.

She looked at him and smiled.

"I said we were going home, I meant my place. That's our home." She smiled at him. "Unless you don't want it to be?" She added flippantly.

"What? Are you kidding? Your place is better than mine. I don't even have a DVD player, or cable." He said joking with her.

"Oh, so that's why you want to live with me?" She teased him.

"There are other perks…" He said stopping once more and taking her into his arms. "Like waking up next to you." He said as he kissed her.

"I love you, Spike." Buffy said softly into his ear.

"I love you too, Buffy." He said, feeling happier than he had ever felt.

They walked home together slowly savoring the first night of the rest of their lives together.