Buffy rubbed her face as she poured over her school books; she had forgotten how intense college was. After the collapse of Sunnydale, they had gone to L.A. and taken the wounded to the hospital. Buffy briefly stopped to see Angel to tell him what happened, but she hadn't been in the mood to talk to him. She had been so heartbroken at the loss of Spike; she just wanted to crawl into a bed and sleep. And she had. She and Dawn had gotten a hotel room and the reality had smacked Buffy right in the face.

After her emotional breakdown, she started to put her life back together. After moving around a lot, looking for other slayers, she finally settled in Europe with Dawn. She needed a new setting, a new life, far away from the memories that were still ripping her up inside. She heard that Giles had started to rebuild the Watcher's Council and she had decided to go to Rome, not wanting to be a part of the slayer thing anymore. It was too much.

Buffy went back to college and Dawn started up high school again. Currently, the slayer was single, and she wanted to go to medical school, but she had to finish up what she had started in Sunnydale. She wanted to save people, help people like she used to. That part of her she couldn't give up. And amazingly enough, she was happy. She still missed her old life, but she certainly did not miss the heartbreak that came with slaying. She didn't miss the broken windows, the bloody clothes, the injuries, pain or long nights. She did, however, feel the loss of her friends, the support that she had. She might not miss the slaying itself, but the family she had gained upon moving to the Hellmouth was broken – some dead, others spread across the globe. After leaving Sunnydale, the Scooby gang had split up. Willow and Xander were off doing their own thing, and their absence sometimes felt like another hole in her already fractured heart.

Buffy looked up from her highlighting as Dawn trudged through the door. "Dawnie, what's wrong?" Dawn's eyes were red and puffy, so something must be wrong.

"Wesley just called. Um… He said that, uh… Cordelia died," Dawn whispered, softly. "He said that she just slipped away in her sleep and he asked if we would come to the service." Dawn crossed her arms as she often did and watched Buffy's reaction through the veil of her damp brown hair – the pouring rain outside fitting her current mood.

Buffy couldn't even comprehend what she had just heard. Cordy? Dead? Buffy stood up and took a shaky breath. "Ok. Angel's gonna need me," she said. On auto-pilot, she walked to her bedroom and began throwing clothes into a bag. She didn't know how long she was going to be gone, but something like this could take awhile. Poor Angel; he must be a wreck. She knew what it felt like, to lose the one you love. She went into her bathroom to get shampoo, toothpaste, and her tooth brush. She hoped she didn't forget anything.

"Buffy!" Dawn exclaimed, following her sister. "Angel doesn't need you. What about Spike?" Dawn asked. "I thought you loved him? You're just going to forget about him, just like that? The only one who ever loved us and stayed with us no matter what? How can you just… how can you just forget him, Buffy?" She couldn't believe her sister's callous behavior.

Buffy looked up from packing with wide, surprised eyes. "I'm not forgetting," she replied, softly. "I'll never forget Spike, and you know that. And since when do you care about Spike anyway? You hated him." She shook her head. "Never mind. It doesn't matter because Spike is gone. Okay, Dawn? He's dead. And he's not coming back. And someone that we know has just died, too. We should go." After that, Buffy tried not to think about Spike. She didn't want her sister to think that she had forgotten about their vampire. She knew Dawn was feeling guilty because she had never worked things out with Spike, but in her heart, Buffy knew that Spike understood. Or she hoped that he did. But nothing she said would ever make Dawn feel better.

The flight was long and Buffy had been very fidgety. She wasn't sure if she should call before they got there but in the end she opted against it. As she sat in the aisle seat and Dawn sat next to the window on the airplane, Buffy remembered that she hated flying. It was crowded and uncomfortable and off the plane was no better - the airport was a madhouse. It took every ounce of willpower for Buffy not to use her slayer strength to get through the mass of people. An hour after getting off the plane, they were in a cab on their way to their house in L.A. just to drop off their things. Then they were on their way to Wolfram and Hart. Buffy had no idea what she was going to say to Angel when she got there, but she knew it would be rough for both of them.

As she stepped out of the elevator with Dawn by her side, she noticed it was relatively quiet. Buffy turned and saw Harmony sitting at a desk and rolled her eyes. She didn't know what Harmony was doing here, but Buffy didn't want to listen to her ditzy comments. However, Harmony mumbled something about sex with her Blondie Bear, and Buffy nearly tripped over herself. But, ignoring the few people mingling around the main lobby she headed straight for the double wooden doors, asking Dawn to stay behind for a few moments.

"Angel?" she called, closing the doors behind her. Angel was sitting on the sofa, his head cradled in his hands, but when she said his name, he looked up at her. She went to him with no words and sat beside him. "Hey," she said, resting her hand on his back. As the silence filled the room, she remembered that consoling others was not a Buffy specialty. She was horrible at this kind of thing. Especially when she was still going through the same grief that Angel was. That thought made her think of how good Spike was at comforting her, even if he had been an ass sometimes. He always knew what to say, but now? She couldn't do that. She didn't have the words.

"I've never felt like this before," Angel said, the sound breaking Buffy from her thoughts. "She was here, Buffy. Then she wasn't." He glanced at her and she had never seen him this broken up.

That didn't make a whole lot of sense to her but she chose not to make a comment. "I know. I'm so sorry," she said, rubbing soft circles on his back. She jumped slightly when he got to his feet and began pacing around the office.

"Buffy, you don't understand," he whispered, rubbing a hand through his already messed up hair.

"How can you say that to me?!" she flared as she got to her feet. Had he forgotten what she went through when she lost Spike? It was only 4 months ago. "I came to you after the battle and I told you how I felt," she gasped, her voice cracking, tears falling down her face. "At least, you had some hope because she was still alive. You had time; she could have woken up. I watched Spike burn. You got to hold Cordy in your arms and love her. I tried to have that with Spike and he didn't believe me. I loved him so much. I wanted my life to be with him. So don't you dare tell me I don't understand! I understand more than you think." She stopped her ranting and collapsed against Angel as she sobbed. "I wish I could tell you how to make it better, but I can't because I don't know, myself," she whispered through the tears.

Angel's face softened and he reached around her to get the box of tissues off his desk and helped her dry her cheeks.

Outside, Spike was standing in the lobby, and he had heard every word she said. He had come down just to see how everyone was holding up, and he had been very surprised to see Dawn standing in the lobby. Her eyes widened and her face broke into a huge grin as she sprinted across the lobby and he nearly fell over when she jumped into his arms. She mumbled into his chest about how much she couldn't believe that he was really here.

It had been so long since he had been close to Dawn. After he had abandoned her and her sister over a year ago, she had never forgiven him. Once he came back with a soul, he had worked things out with Buffy, but Dawn wasn't willing to do that. He could understand where she was coming from. He had always promised to protect her and take care of her and he left in her time of need. But now, holding her in his arms, it felt good. He had a lot to make up for with Dawn and with Buffy. He could see how much both girls had missed him. He didn't realize how much they had gone through and his sensitive ears picked up Buffy's familiar voice. It was breaking his heart to hear how much she had loved him and how much it had hurt to lose him. He looked down at the brown-headed girl in his arms and was hesitant to break away from her but he needed to go to Buffy. "Dawn, I need to go to her," Spike said, softly. She needed him right now and he wasn't terribly happy to have Angel consoling her.

Dawn nodded and pulled away. "Oh. Yes, of course." she said, wiping her eyes. "She loves you, you know. She's been devastated since you died. She might be mad at you at first, but she loves you. I promise." Dawn smiled and pushed him in the direction of the office doors.

Spike walked into Angel's office and watched as Buffy sobbed. They were huddled where she had collapsed on the floor, Angel was supporting her as her body wracked with sobs, and Spike's heart broke. He was surprised when Angel released her, telling her that he'd give her a few minutes alone. Spike didn't even glance at Angel as he left the room; his eyes were glued to her. She wore tight blue jeans that hugged her every curve and a form-fitting white blouse. She had a nice tan and her hair had gotten its shine back. He frowned when she leaned against the desk for support and he took a few steps toward her. He bit his lip, unsure of what to say to her. How could he explain this to her? "Buffy," he said, softly.

She jumped and whirled around to face him, the shock etched on her tear stained face. "Spike?" she whispered in a raspy voice.

He ached to go to her. "I'm here, luv," he whispered, taking another step toward her. He hoped she wouldn't try to stake him or break his nose for not telling her. Hopefully she would give him a chance to explain himself. More tears slid down her face as she rose on shaky legs to stand before him. Spike couldn't wait another minute and reached out to her. "Shhh. Buffy, I'm here, pet, and I'm not goin' anywhere."

"But how? You died," she mumbled. She shook her head almost as if she couldn't believe it. She was so beautiful, even more so than he remembered. Her hair was smooth and probably silky to the touch, and he wanted so badly to run his fingers through it.

"I came back," Spike said, wiping her tears with his thumb. "I don't know how, but I did. I wanted to go to you, but I was so confused." He moved his hands to her waist and pulled her against him. "I'm so sorry I didn't tell you." He felt tears sting his own eyes as she slid her arms around his neck and her sobs began anew. He hated hearing her cry, but he didn't know what to do.

She shook her head against him in disbelief. "This isn't real," she whispered. After a moment she pushed him away and wiped her tears. "Why didn't you tell me? How come you didn't come find me?"

Shit. Now he was in trouble. "I wanted to, Buffy," he said. "You have no idea how badly I wanted to be with you." He had no excuse for not calling her or coming to find her. Only that he was scared. There was no other reason for him to not find the woman he claimed to love. And now…after all that shit he had gone through with Angel, she was here. With him. She wanted to be with him, not with Angel.

"Can we… go some place and talk?" she asked, softly.

"Sure, Pet," he said, softly. "We can go to my place. It's not much, but it's private." He realized now that Angel's office was not where they should be having this talk. "What about Dawn?" He didn't want to just leave her by herself, but he needed some alone time with Buffy. They had so much to talk about. He had so much he wanted to tell her, so much he wanted to ask her. His mind was swirling with questions.

"She'll stay here," Buffy said. "She's friends with everyone and she likes to roam." Buffy grabbed his hand, leading him out of the office. Dawn was chatting away with Lorne and she waved to the two blondes as they headed toward the elevator. "See? She'll be fine."


The two of them finally got to Spike's place after stealing Angel's Viper. Spike smirked when Buffy lightly reprimanded him, but that didn't stop him. She had laughed when they had finally gotten in the car before he peeled out of Angel's garage. However, the ride was made in uncomfortable silence. There was so much Spike wanted to say to her, but for once in his unlife he couldn't get any words to come out. She mostly stared out the window and kept her thoughts to herself. The questions were raging in his head. He wanted to know where she had been, what she had been up to, if there were any guys in her life treating her right, but he didn't feel he had the right to bring all that up now, in a confined space.

Once they were inside his place, he locked the door behind them before Buffy slammed him up against it. "Pet?" he asked in confusion. Then she smashed her lips against his. His arms banded around her waist as his mouth plundered hers. It took every ounce of willpower to pull away from her. God, he loved her lips. "Luv," he panted, leaning his forehead against her. "You know I love you kissing you but we have to talk."

She nodded and stole one more kiss before pulling away. "I know," she said, softly backing away from him. "Sorry."

"Don't be." There was no reason to be sorry. He wasn't complaining. "I plan on having you in bed at some point tonight, but we have to talk." Everything needed to be laid out before they started this all over again. He couldn't just jump in her arms without talking to her, without finding out how she felt about him.

A smile formed on her lips as she sat on his couch. "Good to know," she said then turned serious. "Come on." Her hand patted the side of the couch next to her. "Let's talk."

Spike shed his jacket and tossed it on a chair before joining her. He sat sideways so he could look at her. "I don't know where to start," he said. And he really didn't. He wanted to tell her how much he loved her and how much he missed her. He wanted to tell her that Angel had tried everything to keep them apart, but he knew that would be a lost cause. Angel would always shine in her eyes. No matter what he did.

"How did you come back?" she whispered. "And when?"

"About three weeks after the battle," Spike said, softly. "Amulet got sent to Angel and here I am. I was a ghost. I tried to leave so many times and I just got sent back to Wolfram and Hart." He couldn't remember ever feeling so lost and alone. Trying to get the woman he loved, knowing she was the only one that could help him, and being unable to do so. To not be able to taste anything or feel anything, he had felt incomplete. But even when he gotten his body back, being without Buffy had been hell.

"But you're fine now," Buffy said. "You didn't call or anything."

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair messing up the gelled curls. "I didn't know where you were," he said, softly. "Angel didn't want me anywhere near you. How could I call?" Europe was a very large continent. It would have taken him years to find her without any sort of clue. Not to mention, he didn't know how she had felt.

"You mean you tried everything you could to reach me?" She asked, raising an eyebrow. "You may not work for Wolfram and Hart but you could have found a way."

Busted. Sometimes she was too smart for her own good. "I was scared Buffy," he said, staring at his stained carpet. Suddenly he wished he had taken her to a hotel, somewhere nicer than his dingy apartment. "I sacrificed myself for you and the world. I wasn't sure where I'd fit into your life." If he would even fit into her life at all.

"That's silly," she said. "You've always inserted yourself into my life whether I wanted you to or not. Why was it different this time?"

"Because I love you," Spike answered, meeting her eyes. "And I've fucked up your life enough times in the past. Didn't want to do it again knowing you were happy." As far as he knew, she had everything she'd ever wanted. She wasn't the only slayer anymore and she could have a relatively normal life without him messing it up on her. He did that enough. They had hurt each other so much in the past and he didn't want that for her anymore.

"Who said I was happy?" Buffy asked. "Because they were very poorly mistaken."

He sighed and got off the couch before crossing his living room. This was not going well at all. He could feel a fight coming as his muscles tensed up. Fights with Buffy usually ended with him having a broken nose. "Buffy, it was different this time," he said. "Before, you had the Hellmouth and I had your back. I didn't know what to do now. I almost felt as if I had nowhere to go and I had to start over. I didn't want to complicate things for you."

The slayer rose to her feet as well. "Spike," she said as she approached him. "I understand what you're saying. I do. But even though I don't have the weight of the world on my shoulders anymore, I do have a broken heart." His eyes snapped to hers quickly. "I want you with me, Spike. You just chose to be totally blind to that fact."

"You're not exactly a clear girl, Pet," he said. She never had been. He had spent most of his time trying to figure out what she really meant and a lot of the time, he was wrong; and then things got worse with them. He just wanted her to come right out and tell him what was going on. Not have him figure it out. He used to be good at it. But now? He needed straight answers. "You've never felt the same for me as I did for you and I didn't want my heart broken again."

"Is that what you think I'm going to do?" she asked, crossing her arms. "Break your heart?"

"That's all you've ever done," he pointed out. His brain kept telling him to shut up and stop rubbing salt into old wounds, but he just couldn't stop. She was walking all over him and he couldn't do that. He had his own mind. He had more than made it clear that he wasn't her whipping boy anymore. He didn't want to hurt her, but the words just kept flying out. "What's different this time?"

Buffy stared at him with wide eyes as they glittered with tears. "Everything's different."

"Like what?" he asked. "You don't feel the same for me as I do for you. You couldn't possibly conceive of how much I love you." His heart was breaking into a million pieces. She hadn't said she loved him since the Hellmouth and now he was beginning to believe that she didn't mean it. That she was just saying it because she felt bad. And hearing those words, and her not meaning them, hurt more than anything she could ever do to him.

"How would you know?" she asked, furiously. "You never gave me a chance to show you."

Spike ran after her as she quickly made her way toward the door. "You had plenty of chances, Slayer," he growled. She was not going to walk out on him like this. This was far from over and now was the time to work everything out. No more dancing around it like fairies. "Remember? You used me for months. You had every chance to love me and you didn't."

She shuddered and met his eyes. "What about last year?" she whispered. "Things were different last year."

"Were they?" he asked. "Because I remember opening myself up to you and then you kissing Angel." He regretted saying that, because he had long since been over that little part, just not over the fact that Angel would always have everything he wanted. The friends, the girl, even the job. And Spike was left with sloppy seconds. Always. And he was tired of being second best.

"You're right," she said, softly. "I did kiss him. And I felt horrible. Probably not as horrible as you did after you fucked Harmony."

Spike froze and backed away from her. "Who told you that?" he asked. "Angel?" He'd kill him. He knew what kind of mistake that was and he had the chunk missing from his neck to prove it. Harmony was a right bint if ever he'd met one and he had lost his mind for a short period of time.

"Doesn't matter," she said. "I called them a liar because you could not possibly want to sleep with her after what we had."

"Which was what, Buffy?" he flared. "You don't get to have a say in whom I choose to sleep with." Fuck. There it was. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. Now this was over and he could see it as she nearly crumbled.

"You're right," she said, opening the door. "I'm sorry that I thought we could work things out." With that, she closed the door, and Spike didn't go after her.