She hadn't seen him smoke since before he left for Africa.

It was like he had done his best to erase everything he was before the soul--new coat, different clothes, tamer hair… Things like kitten poker and black nail polish and drinking the nights away with a bottle of Jack Daniels were long forgotten about.

But there he was, leaning against the tree in her front yard, wearing that familiar leather coat and smoking through what had to have been a whole pack of cigarettes. The ground around him was littered with cigarette butts and as his facial features were lit up by the flame in his hand Buffy could have sworn she was back in time, that any moment he was going to look up, cocky smile on his lips and promise in his eyes as he tried to convince her to sneak away for a bit of "rough and tumble" in the shadows.

Except Spike was using a match instead of his beloved silver lighter, and he didn't look at her when she approached.

She didn't say anything when she came up to him, choosing instead to just watch him as she leaned next to him against the tree. His eyes were fixed on something across the street, though she knew it wasn't the neat row of houses or the mailboxes he was seeing. His cheeks hollowed as he took another drag from the cigarette, exaggerating the angle of his cheekbones. The light from the porch gave her a clear view of the burn on his face and once again she felt the anger, the fury at what Robin had tried to do.

What Giles had tried to do.

She hadn't felt so betrayed since the night of her eighteenth birthday, since the Cruciamentum.

"Trigger's gone," Spike said abruptly. His voice was soft, tone flat, and he still didn't look at her.

"Oh?" she asked, like it wasn't a big deal. And maybe it wasn't, really. Not when it came to Spike. "How did you do that?"

"Oh, you know," he said lightly, flicking the cigarette from his hand and grinding it out with the heel of his boot, "I worked through the issues." A wry grin curved his mouth as he shoved his hands in his pockets and slouched more against the tree.

"Spike," she began, voice earnest, "you know I didn't have anything to do with this, right? That I wouldn't have? I didn't even know about it until I figured out why Giles was stalling me in the cemetery and--" She cut off when he finally looked at her.

"I know, luv." His eyes were dark as they looked down at hers and the bitter smile fell from his lips, replaced with a smaller, barely there upturn of his lips. "We may have our issues, pet, but 've always known that if the time ever came, you would do it yourself, not send some wannabe demon hunter like Wood to carry out the job for you."

Buffy swallowed and looked away, not knowing what to say to that. She could feel the weight of years of emotional baggage between them and didn't have the energy to sort through it all tonight, didn't have the strength. Instead she focused on what had caught her attention earlier. "That's some burn you've got there." She turned to look at it again, feeling the rage burn through her as she studied it. That was good. Anger was good. She always knew exactly what she had to do when she was angry.

"Yeah." His voice was gruff as he said the word, and he dug restlessly in his pockets for another cigarette. "You see the inside of that garage, Slayer? All those crosses." He shot her a sideways glance. "Must've seemed like a haven to you."

Her jaw clenched. "No," she ground out, "all I saw were the workings of an obsessed man. There was nothing good or healthy about that place."

Spike stared at her, head tilted in that way he did whenever she said something he wasn't expecting. "Is that right?" He said the words the exact same way he did on the night she told him not to leave, and she already knew there would be another question following it. "And what did you do with the principal? Bandage 'im up? Set 'im up all nice an' comfy in 'is bed?"

She didn't look away as she answered, expression hard. "No. I told him if he tried it again I'd let you kill him and then left him there."

His eyes widened in shock and she heard the sharp intake of air before he spoke. "Buffy--"

She cut him off. "No. Listen--Giles and I had a nice long talk in the cemetery before I figured out what was going on and some of what he said was right." She could see him tense as she said this, even in the dim lighting. "About war and decisions. About sacrifice. He was right. Not everyone is going to survive this, and I'm going to have to make decisions that might mean life or death for someone. And some of those decisions I've already made." She pushed away from the tree, stepping closer to him so she could look directly into his eyes. "I'll say this once: Robin Wood is dispensable. You are not. Remember that, Spike."

She paused for a moment to take in his expression--the wide, disbelieving eyes, the slack mouth--before she turned around and stalked back to the house. Giles had thought he was opening her eyes when he was coaching her earlier that evening, that he was revealing to her the harsh truths of war. But he hadn't shown her anything she didn't already know, and he didn't take from her what he thought were decisions she felt were too hard for her to make.

He had just made them easier.