No one spoke or moved for a very long moment, both vampires' attention focused fully on the girl standing self-consciously in front of them, just trying to come to terms with the surprising fact that she was actually there.

"Okay -- somebody say something, please," she finally said in a soft, trembling voice, ducking her head with a nervous laugh.

"Buffy!" Spike's voice was barely over a whisper, his wide blue eyes focused on hers in a cautious, silent question.

After another brief moment of awkward silence, Buffy sighed heavily, biting her lower lip. "Okay," she admitted softly. "That didn't help much."

"Why are you here?" Spike abruptly voiced the question in his mind, his expression solemn and intent as her eyes finally rose to meet his.

Buffy hesitated, not quite sure how to answer him -- and not particularly reassured by the blunt words. "Um -- I just -- I needed to -- to talk to you. I -- I have to tell you something -- I -- I wanted to tell you something...and...Angel, could you please leave?" As she suddenly turned to face her first love, the Slayer's eyes were wide and pleading, and a bit apologetic for the slightly rude request.

Angel's eyes betrayed just the slightest hint of hurt and jealousy at her words -- before he quickly suppressed it, and forced a bittersweet smile to his lips. "Of course. Just as long as..." His voice trailed off as he cast a questioning look in his childe's direction.

Spike's eyes never left Buffy's, as he nodded slowly, immediately, in response.

"Right," Angel nodded his acceptance with a sigh, looking back to Buffy. "I'm gone. I'll be downstairs if you two -- need anything. Okay?"

"Thank you," Buffy called sincerely after him as he walked toward the door, though her attention as well was focused on Spike.

In Angel's absence, the awkward silence descended between them again, and suddenly each found that while they had not been able to look away before they had been alone in the room, now, it seemed that they could not bring themselves to meet each other's eyes.

"So to what do I owe...?"

"I'm sorry..."

They both spoke at once, and then glanced up at each other with a shared rueful laugh, before looking downward again.

"You first," Buffy offered softly, a tentative half-smile rising to her lips.

"No, that's all right, Slayer -- go right ahead."

Buffy felt the urge to laugh and cry in that moment, because it was such a Spike thing to say, considering that he already knew from her first two words the general nature of what it was she had to say; and while the offer seemed to carry the air of "ladies first" gallantry, they both knew that he wanted her to speak first simply because he had been waiting far too long to hear what it was that she was about to say.

"I -- I'm sorry," Buffy repeated, her voice a little firmer, more certain, though she still did not meet his eyes. "For -- everything, Spike. I just needed you to know that."

Spike was quiet for a moment, before nodding guardedly -- and when he spoke, his words took her very much by surprise.

"Just how far back does that 'everything' go, love?"

Buffy looked up at him sharply, her eyes wide and startled. "W-what...?"

Spike still did not look at her, his own eyes wide and focused on the floor, as he swallowed back the swell of emotion in his throat, and concentrated on keeping his voice even and calm as he explained his question -- though, as he spoke, his voice continually rose with his emotions, until it was trembling and barely under control at all by the end.

"As far back as -- six weeks ago, when you -- wouldn't listen to me, and nearly got me bloody well brain damaged a second time...or as far back as when you told me you'd protect me, when all you really were interested in was protecting the Whelp from the truth of what he'd done...or -- as far back as -- last year -- when you -- used me, and -- and tossed me aside like some bloody blow up doll that'd seen its better days..."

"All of it."

Her softly spoken, anguished words stopped his rant, and he closed his eyes for a moment, fighting to get his feelings back under control, as she went on in a quiet, pleading tone of voice.

"Spike, I'm so sorry for all of it. I know I've -- I've done so many things to be sorry for, that -- well, I think we've both lost count," Buffy admitted softly. "I -- I've hurt you. Over and over again. I never even started treating you like you -- like you deserved to be treated, not until after -- until..."

Spike suddenly looked up at her sharply, his eyes narrowed slightly, but welling with tears as he cut her off with a quiet demand, "When, love? When did you start treating me any better, because I must have missed the bloody memo on that one!"

Buffy's eyes widened with astonishment then, as she shook her head slightly in confusion. "Well -- after you were hurt..."

"Oh, right," Spike interrupted again, nodding with sarcastic understanding. "You mean the not bloody beating the soddin' daylights out of the retarded vamp -- not using me for sex while I had the IQ of a bleedin' stump...right...forgot about those amazing testaments to your compassion and virtue."

Buffy's eyes narrowed then, and she squared her shoulders, her jaw setting with anger. "I did the best I could, Spike. I've never dealt with anyone -- let alone a vampire -- who was in the kind of shape you were during those few days, Spike. So forgive me if I made a few mistakes, if I didn't do every little thing like I should have. I tried...and that was all I could do."

"Well, I know you didn't have a bloody handbook on dealing with brain damaged demons, love," Spike conceded, though his tone sounded nothing like a concession. "But I'm pretty bloody sure you didn't need one to know that what you did was taking advantage of me!"

Buffy's tone was indignant as she protested, "I never...!"

"You knew I didn't want to do it!" Spike burst out in an accusing tone, stepping into her space, his eyes blazing into hers, as his voice trembled with anger and hurt. "You knew I was scared out of bloody mind -- what little of it I had use of at that moment -- and you still did your best to convince me to go through with it anyway. I was bloody well terrified of that ignorant sod -- as humiliating as that fact is now -- but it didn't matter to you, all that mattered was clearing his bloody name! No matter what that meant putting me through! So forgive me if I have a hard time buying the whole 'I love you' line of crap..."

"I do love you!" Buffy declared angrily, her voice trembling with anger as she matched his forward step until their faces were inches apart, furious eyes boring into each other's, trembling lips a bare inch of space apart.

Spike found himself suddenly focusing on her trembling lower lip, so near, so tempting, in spite of the circumstances. No matter what had happened between them, she was still the woman that had stolen his affections from his own sire, his reason for living for over a century -- the woman who had become more than an obsession to him over the past two years -- the woman he had returned to Sunnydale to kill, but would give his own life for if necessary now -- even now.

"You've got a bloody funny way of showing it," he said softly, his eyes sorrowful and defeated, as he moved quickly a step or two backward, away from her, easing the rising tension between them -- tension of a sort that would not end well, he knew from painful experience.

Buffy saw his slight retreat, and looked away, her face flushing with embarrassment. She had not been deliberately trying to distract him from the issue at hand; it just seemed to happen whenever they were together, that words seemed less than an adequate form of communication for them.

Words still seemed far less than adequate -- but she knew that words were where they needed to start right now.

"Okay, Spike, let's hold up a second here," she suggested warily, holding up both hands in a halting gesture as she waited for him to reluctantly meet his gaze again. "Things are getting kind of -- out of hand, here, and -- I think it's better if we both just calm down and start at the beginning..."

Spike was quiet for a moment, studying her expression, before he finally nodded in agreement. "Right," he said softly. Then, with a sad smile and a shake of his head, he added, "Things always do seem to get bloody out of hand with us, don't they?"

"They don't have to." Buffy's eyes were glimmering with tears, as she spoke with a wistfully sad smile. "I mean -- I don't want them to -- not anymore. I want to -- I want to work this out, Spike. I -- I meant what I said. I do love you -- so much. More than I ever knew I did...and no matter what it takes, I want to make you understand that -- make you believe me."

Spike had no response for her earnest, clearly heart-felt words -- which were in such a contrast to the actions of the past two years, actions which had done nothing but prove to him again and again what Buffy had told him so many times that past years.

She could never love him.

And yet -- now she said she did.

He had wanted it too badly for too long not to at least give her the chance to go on.

"I want to believe you, Buffy," he admitted softly, his voice thick with emotion, as he conceded a single step in her direction, meeting her eyes with a searching, barely hopeful look in his own. "I's just...I don't know if I...there's so much that's happened..."

"I know," Buffy nodded, moving forward to take his hand in hers, a bit too eagerly. "And I want to make it right -- I really do...please...please just listen to me, Spike. Hear me out."

Spike could not bring himself to pull his hand from the warmth of hers, and he closed his eyes, fighting an inner battle, before nodding again. "Right. I'm listening, pet."

"I'll just start at the beginning," Buffy declared quietly, her eyes focused on some point between them as her mind traced back over the years. "I'm sorry that I kissed you that first time, behind the Bronze."

Spike looked up at her, startled and confused by her words. "Gotta say, love," he admitted slowly. "Wasn't exactly on my list..."

"I'm sorry because -- I was just using you. And -- I ruined our friendship," Buffy clarified in a soft, regretful voice, not looking at him as she edged closer to him almost unconsciously. "You were there for me -- you were doing everything you could to help me through all of that -- junk I was going through...and I -- I think I messed that up, by -- by using you to feel the things I couldn't."

Spike was silent, taking that in. It was not something that he had considered as needing forgiveness, but he knew that she was probably right.

"I'm sorry that I was so -- well, that I was such a heinous bitch all that year to you," she shrugged helplessly when she could not come up with any better description of the way she had treated him. "I'm sorry for every last time I hit you -- and told you that you weren't good enough -- that you were evil, and could never be anything more than a monster...because you're so much more than that, Spike..."

Buffy moved in closer, her wide eyes seeking his as she reached her free hand out to gently close around his, and he stubbornly kept his gaze focused on the floor, blinking back tears.

" were more than that way back then...and I just wouldn't let myself see it, Spike. And I'm so sorry..."

"You were right about what I am, pet," Spike pointed out softly without looking at her. "I'll always be just a vampire..."

"You'll always be a vampire," Buffy corrected gently. "You've never been 'just' a vampire, Spike. You're different -- and you always have been -- I just couldn't let myself see it. Because -- if I saw it -- well, let's just say it'd have thrown my whole world view out of kilter."

"I s'pose Harris just did that anyway, didn't he?" Spike murmured thoughtfully, glancing hesitantly up to meet her gaze.

"Exactly!" Buffy exclaimed in a breathless whisper, holding his gaze pleadingly. "That's just what I'm trying to say, Spike! Everything is different now -- and there've been times these past few weeks when I thought that it would kill me -- but it hasn't...and now...I think I understand some things a little better. Like -- being human doesn't make you good. And -- and I think -- being a vampire doesn't necessarily -- make you bad."

Spike's eyes widened as he looked up at her again, stunned by her words -- words he had never thought to hear from the Slayer's mouth.

"I took advantage of you in the worst ways, Spike -- and all the time I was telling myself that it was okay -- it didn't really matter -- because you weren't human." Buffy was quiet for a moment, her face a mask of pain and regret. "And that made me the monster. I see that now."

"No, love," Spike objected, with love in his voice -- because he could do nothing else. "You were never a monster..."

"I was. I was when I hurt you last year -- and I was -- when I refused to listen to you, back in Sunnydale -- when I -- pushed you into going along with my stupid plan. I -- I think -- deep down -- there was still that voice telling me that -- Xander couldn't have done it. He was human -- he was my friend -- and there was no way that he would do a thing like that. And -- I know it was wrong -- but I think that somehow, I thought that made him -- matter more...but it didn't. And I was so wrong to put you through that, when I knew how -- how scared you were, Spike..."

Buffy's voice trailed off there for a few moments, as she sniffled back tears, and her grip on his hands became almost painfully tight, even as her hands shook with her effort to hold back her emotions.

Finally, she whispered helplessly, unable to find any other words, "Spike -- I'm just so sorry." Tears streaked her face as she raised her eyes to his, a desperate plea in her honest gaze. "Please -- can you forgive me? Can we -- can we try to make this work? I -- I want to love you, like you deserve to be loved...will you -- will you give me the chance to try?"