Buffy went to the kitchen and noticed Spike on the back porch

The house made very little noise as Buffy crept through the halls. The girls were all sleeping, and not one was making a sound. She peeked into Dawn's room. Her sister was sleeping peacefully, and this brought a smile to Buffy's face. After her date with Principal Wood, she was more than happy to come home. She slipped down the stairs, her shoes silent on the floor as she descended. As she passed the living room, she noticed Xander snoring softly on the couch, and more girls were strewn out over the floor.

Buffy crept into the kitchen, debating between doing dishes and going to the basement. The choice was made for her however when she saw Spike's bobbing head in the yard. He was pacing, and he only did that when he was deep in thought or frustrated. Her date with the principal tonight hadn't gone like she had hoped, and she was almost relieved that Spike interrupted. She didn't have the chemistry with the principle that she thought she would, and it almost felt like she was running from something at home that she was trying to forget, but she still couldn't face that yet either. But the look on his face at the restaurant had caused an ache deep inside her heart. The last thing she wanted to do was hurt him. But in the end, she had come home with Spike.

The dishes forgotten, she decided to join him on the porch. Making her way toward the back door, she opened it silently, so as to not wake the sleeping girls in the house. "Hey. You okay?" She asked, closing the door. If he didn't stop his agitated pacing, he was going to make a rut in her yard.

Spike stopped pacing and looked at her. "I don't know," he said, in a soft voice.

His eyes were expressive, and she could see the sorrow swimming deep within them. She had seen that same look when he had shown up at their table. Buffy's brows drew together. "Is this about tonight?" She hoped it wasn't. But if it was, she would explain to him that nothing would happen with her and the principle.

There was a slight breeze that whipped her golden hair around her face, but it wasn't cold. It was a clear night, and she could see the stars twinkling in the night sky. She sat down on the steps as her eyes traveled to his form. "Spike?"

Spike shook his head. "No, it's not that." She could see the fallen expression on his face, and it worried her.

She frowned. "Tell me what's wrong." She needed to know. It was bothering Spike, and they had gotten closer over these past few months. He had been honest with her, and she had been honest with him. She didn't want that to change now.

He stared at the sky for a moment, before he glanced at her. "Did anyone tell you what happened around here tonight?" He asked, sitting down beside her.

"Willow did. The First is back in the mix," she said, clasping her hands together. This was their spot. It was calm, and quiet. She could gather her thoughts and actually put them into words. It wasn't her strong suit, but she did her best. But out here, there were no secrets. They had never been interrupted. She vaguely wondered if someone had made a point about staying away from the kitchen when the blondes were occupying the porch. She was grateful for whatever force that kept the girls away.

Spike sighed. "The First isn't finished with me, Buffy. I don't think it's safe for me to stay here anymore," he said, regretfully. He stared at his boots, unable to look at her.

Buffy looked up at him in surprise, and she suddenly felt as if her heart had fallen out of her chest. "What do you mean?" She felt like she had been kicked in the gut. She had not been expecting him to say that. The last thing she wanted to hear, or even think about, was his walking out of her life. Was she crazy?

"I mean, I should leave town before something does happen." She couldn't ignore the look in his eyes, which clearly said that he didn't want to leave, but that didn't stop her from asking.

"But…what about me?" She asked, softly. Whoops. Now her selfishness was coming out and she didn't even bother to hide it. He was planning on leaving, and she had let him last time. She didn't want to go through that again. She couldn't bare the thought of losing him. She needed him by her side.

Spike's heart shattered in his eyes. "Don't make this harder, Buffy. I don't wanna leave again, but I'd rather leave then hurt you or the people around you," he whispered. "You know me better then that. I won't hurt you again."

She got up and went down the stairs. What would she do if he wasn't in her life anymore? How would she handle that? "And what am I supposed to do?" She whispered, not looking at him. She couldn't bear to meet his blue eyes. She couldn't stand to see what he was planning to do. She couldn't do this again. She knew he loved her and he had never hid that from her. But she didn't want him to see what was in her eyes. He had always read her like a book, but lately he hadn't been able to pick up on her feelings. Feelings that she still hadn't been able to come to terms with. She didn't want to take a chance of him, seeing what she felt deep within her own soul. She could see his own soul in his eyes, and sometimes it scared her.

"Buffy…" Spike started, resting his arms on his legs as he leaned forward. "I thought you would understand. I'm only trying to protect you. Protect you from me and from what the First had planned. I can't risk you getting hurt."

Buffy turned with fury. She could feel tears streaming out of her eyes, but she didn't care. "NO!" She flared, and then bit her lip, knowing that people were sleeping in the house. Well, not anymore they weren't. Not after her outburst, but she couldn't seem to care. "You can't leave again. What I went through while you were away, I can't go through that again. I won't." She didn't know what to say to make him understand why she needed him. She hadn't thought about it. Spike wasn't a guaranteed thing anymore, but she never thought about losing him.

He looked at her with disbelief. "What was I supposed to do? I couldn't say. When I came back, I thought you were going to kill me. I hoped you would kill me because I couldn't stand being here and not having you anymore. I was prepared for anything from you, except your forgiveness." He rubbed his face and looked away from her. "Somehow we ended up where we are, and I'm okay with that. But I cannot hurt you again. I'd rather turn into dust before I ever do something like that again," he said, getting off the porch and approaching her with each word until they were nose to nose.

She sniffled and tried to grasp her thoughts. "When Willow went crazy, I brought Dawn to your place after what happened. I still trusted you, even after what you did." She swallowed the lump in her throat. "Don't you see, Spike? I need you here. You can't leave me again. Not after everything we've been through. You've been tortured by the First, and you've had your chip almost make your head explode. But I've been right here by your side, trying to repair all the damage that we've done to each other." She crossed her arms and looked up at him. "Don't you get it Spike? I don't want to throw all of this away."

"You brought the Nibblet to my place?" Spike asked, surprised. "Even after…" He paused, unable to think about his actions.

"Yes." She reached out and paused for a moment, but then she grasped his hands in hers. She had to touch him. She had to make him understand that she was serious. "I still trusted you. Then I found out that you had left, and that's what hurt me. I didn't care about what happened in the bathroom. I deserved that for what I did to you. But I didn't think I deserved to have you leave me too." She had been devastated when she found out that Spike had left and that he would be gone for a while. After Willow had been shipped off to England, Buffy had pretty much had a mental break down. It had taken her a little while to realize that Spike was gone, and she had felt his absence deep in her heart.

Spike closed his eyes to keep his tears at bay. "Buffy," he whispered. "You did not deserve that, and please don't ever say that again. How could you even think something like that?"

Buffy guided his hands to her hips and brought her hands to his face. "Spike, look at me. Please believe what I'm saying to you. We've both put each other through a lot of pain. It wasn't just you. I did some pretty awful things to you. I was devastated when you left, and I shouldn't have let things get so out of control with you." She sniffled again, and stared into his eyes. "Before, I had always said 'no', but I never meant it. It wasn't your fault that I meant it that time and you didn't know. It wasn't your fault."

His eyes opened with unshed tears, and he began to shake a little. "That doesn't excuse what I did Buffy," he whispered. "I never thought I'd be able to touch you again. Not for pleasure."

"Hey, it's okay. It's the past," she said, soothingly. "I'm here in front of you, and I'm not going anywhere." She didn't think they had repaired all the damage between them, but she didn't want him to shut her out. She needed him to understand that she was serious, and she couldn't handle him leaving her again.

Hesitantly, Spike pulled her close to him. "I just… Buffy, I don't wanna hurt you again."

"I know, and you won't. I promise.'' She kissed his cheek tenderly. She wasn't going to turn against it, but it was up to her to make him understand. "Come on, let's go get some sleep." Buffy led him inside and downstairs, where she sat with him on his cot. "Could you just for once, Spike, trust what I'm saying?" she whispered. "Just do this for us. Please, don't ruin what we have."

Spike stood up so abruptly it startled her. "Buffy, all I ever did was trust you. And every time one of us got hurt. I don't wanna hurt you again, and you have already hurt me enough. I don't think there's anything left for you to destroy, and I can't take that chance," he explained.

"So it's my fault?" Buffy flared, tears in her eyes. "Is that why you're leaving; because of what I did last year? Then why come back? Why come back if you didn't want to work things out with me?" She wiped her face. "Just to rub it in my face how we couldn't be together. You are being just like Angel." She knew that was a low blow, but she couldn't even think clearly anymore.

"It sure as hell wasn't my fault that you abused me," he pointed out. "But don't compare me to that ponce. I'm nothing like him, and if you had given me half a chance you would have known that."

"How is it my fault? You attacked me!" She paused when guilt washed over Spike's face. "Spike, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to," she said, stepping toward him. That was really smooth. She had just told him, not five minutes ago, that she had deserved what he did only to blame him for it. Now she was throwing it in his face. What a way to keep him around. She had really messed up with that line. How was she going to make up for that?

He flinched away from her. "No, you did, and you're right. I did attack you," he affirmed, going towards the stairs.

Buffy rushed after him when she realized he was going to run and she blocked his way. "Oh, no! You are not leaving like this!" Buffy felt her temper rise. "Why is it my fault?" Running away used to be her job. She now knew that it didn't solve anything, and she wasn't about to have him walk out on her. Not like this.

"Don't make me say something I'm gunna regret," Spike said, his jaw set. "Please move."

She placed a hand on each railing. "Stop being a jerk. Just tell me what you need to say," she demanded. "What right do you have to just tell me that you're going to leave, then walk away from me when I'm talking about us? I thought this was what you wanted. Right, Spike?" She raised an eyebrow. "Didn't you want to be with me? Isn't that why you got a soul, so that I would love you?"

"No. I don't wanna talk about it." Spike refused to answer her. "You have no idea what you're talking about."

Tears came to Buffy's eyes. "Spike, please. I want us to fix this." Maybe it was time to be a little softer, and not demand things from him. He wouldn't respond to harshness, and that wasn't the way to win him over. "I don't want you to leave."

"We can't. Buffy, don't you get it?" Spike said in frustration as he went over to sit on his cot.

"No, I don't," Buffy whispered, following him with slow steps. Where was he going with this? "What is so wrong with me that I'm not good enough anymore?" He was being just like Angel and Riley. Leaving her for her own good or thinking that they weren't good enough, or that she wasn't good enough. For once, she wanted someone to just stay with her and be everything she needed.

Spike bowed his head. "Every time we're together, one of us gets hurt. You chose Riley, and you would definitely have chosen Angel over me. I can't have a relationship like that, where I'm second best. That's what happened with Dru. I'd do anything for you, and you keep shutting me out. I do wanna be with you, but you don't wanna be with me. Not really," he said, softly. "I'll never be number one in your heart."

"You have no idea what I want," she said, angrily. "You can't tell me that I don't want you, because you have no idea what I feel." She wasn't sure if she was ready for a relationship with Spike, but she didn't want him to walk away. She wanted to work on things with him. They didn't have to jump into anything serious, but she couldn't force those words out of her mouth to help him understand.

"Then explain it to me, because you're killing me, Buffy," Spike whispered.

"I miss you. I miss being with you. Everything I do, everything I touch, reminds me of you. Then I come home and you don't even wanna be in the same room with me. That hurts more than anything," she explained, moving away from him. "When I come home from work, I go to see you because I want to. I miss working with you, just joking around with you. Every time I'm near you, you become tense. I know you feel bad about what happened but, God, I don't care," she said. "Spike, I just don't care anymore. I just want us to be okay."

"Well I care," Spike replied. "I can't show you how sorry I am."

"Goddamn it, Spike! Do you not hear the words coming out of my mouth?" Buffy cried. "If I need to say it I will, but I forgave you the second you left, just like you forgave me for all the things I did. So what is so hard about all of this?"

"Buffy, it's not that simple," He said. "I'm not sure how I feel about you anymore."

Buffy backed away a little and looked at the ground. "Oh, well that is a slight problem," she said, tears in her eyes. He didn't love her anymore. That could be her fault. She hadn't given him any indication that his loving her was okay, so he had tried to change it. This would have been the perfect time for her to tell him that she was happy just being friends with him, but did she mean that? Did she just want friendship?

Spike went towards the stairs. "I'm sorry, Buffy." He moved past her and headed toward the stairs. He paused at the bottom and looked at her back. "You just hurt me way too much. I still love you, I just don't know if I can forgive you." He stared at her for a moment before heading up the stairs.

Buffy heard the back door open and close before she finally picked her head up. The truth of his words hit her like a ton of bricks and caused her to crumble in pain. He still loved her but that wasn't what she wanted. She wanted his forgiveness more then his love. It was harder to forgive someone more then love them. Her knees felt like they were going to give out as she stumbled over to his cot. She sat down heavily as a few tears slid out of her eyes. She messed up really bad.

After leaving Buffy in the basement, Spike had gone back out to his original spot on the front porch. He knew he couldn't be with her. It was too risky for them to have a relationship again, especially with regards to what Andrew had found out from the First. If he was kidnapped again and another one of those super vampires were raised, Buffy could really be hurt. He wouldn't be responsible for hurting her again. He loved her too much to ruin what he had struggled to rebuild with her. He just wanted to be a friend to her. He didn't think he could handle more then that.

He didn't bother to hide his tears or stop his shoulders from shaking as he heard Dawn come out on to the porch. He kept his head in his hands and let the tears fall into his lap. He didn't look up at her, he had no desire to. He knew that she had to be out here to talk about Buffy and he didn't want it. But she just sat next to him and didn't say anything.

After he felt that he had calmed down he looked at her. "Why are you still up?" he asked. He sniffed and rubbed at his swollen eyes. He ached for a cigarette. That would calm his nerves a little bit right now, and that was all he needed. He needed a distraction. He glanced at Dawn, and was amazed to see the genuine concerned in her eyes. Maybe things between him and Dawn would be okay.

"You guys were pretty loud," she said, folding her hands in her lap. "What happened?"

"I explained to her why we can't be together," he said. "Maybe I made the wrong choice. I think it's better for us to just be friends. It's better. Safer. For everyone."

"Why can't you?" she asked. "I thought this was what you wanted. Maybe she really is ready to take that chance with you."

"She didn't mean it. Not really. Dawn, we really hurt each other last year. We can't have a relationship like that," he answered. "She's just lonely. It'll be just like last year. Nothing will be different. She won't love me like I love her, and I can't have my heart broken again."

Dawn bit her lip but nodded. "I understand," she said. "I hope you and Buffy work things out. I'll get Buffy out of the basement for you."

"Thanks, Dawn." It was nice to have Dawn talking to him again, and he was more than grateful to have her free up his basement. He couldn't face Buffy right now. He didn't know what he would say.

Dawn smiled. "I'll see you in the morning," she said, standing. "Right, you're still gonna be here?"

"I'll still be here," he said, offering a small smile as he got to his feet. Like he could walk away from that. "Goodnight Dawn." He watched as she went inside and she went down to the basement. While he waited he scanned the yard. He thought he felt someone watching the house but he couldn't see anyone. He brushed it off, thinking it was just his emotions getting the best of him as he went back to the door. He saw Dawn bring Buffy out of the basement and he put his hand on the door to go in.

However, as Dawn went upstairs, Buffy remained in the dining room, staring at him through the back door with a heartbroken expression. He ached to go to her and tell her that everything would be fine, but he couldn't just let her walk all over him. Things would never be different. Finally, Buffy turned and left the dining room, and he made his way inside.

He could hear Buffy's whimpers upstairs as she mumbled about how much she hated him. There was no way he could sleep with her words ringing in her ears. He had really hurt her, and it was killing him. But he knew it was better this way.