Warning- Bangel. But again, it's all kind of tongue-in-cheek.

…And I just realized that I can't post this at the bloodshedverse, so I'm sad. :'(

--

--

"I love you."

"No, you don't. But thanks for saying it."

No, I didn't.

I wanted to, I really did. It's the perfect story, right? Vampire on the road to redemption, all for the sake of a girl. He falls in love, gets a soul, does everything he can to help her and be good for her, and eventually he gets his dream and she falls in love with him. And it came to the point, that last year, when I was relying on him for nearly everything and he was my only friend, that it would have been so easy for me to love him.

But I couldn't. I was attracted to him, sure. I needed him back then. But love? Love was something I hadn't felt since Angel. And I could never love like that again, feel that connected to someone else. But all I had ever done was take from Spike. I wanted to give him something, anything at all, in that last moment. And all I had was my love.

He didn't believe me. Spike knew me too well. And frankly, if I had seen my love interest kissing his ex two days before he told me he loved me, I probably wouldn't have believed him, either.

I should have known better. No one stays dead in Sunnydale.

"I just wanted to tell you, y'know? That I was alive. Thought you'd want to know." Spike shuffled his feet, looking down. "Never mind. This was a mistake." He turned to go.

And I, stupid Buffy who doesn't know when to stop and still can't resist that stupid vampire's sad-face, took his arm and said, "No, wait. I…You can stay here. We'll figure stuff out."

The flash of hope that lit up his face made me want to do one of two things- either hug him and sleep with him and lie about loving him again, just to keep that look on his face and warming me up like it was now, or punch him in the nose and yell at him for being so stupid and loyal and why was he bothering with me again, anyway. It was flattering, but really, was it so hard to get over me? No one else ever seemed to have a problem with it. Not Angel, not Riley. Spike was away for a year. That was precisely how long it took for a Buffy-ex to get married or impregnate his vampire ex. Whatever. Spike was, as always, infuriatingly unique.

He followed me silently into Faith's house, where we'd been staying for the summer. Willow, Dawn, Xander, and I were all living there, so it was pretty cramped. I was just glad that no one was home for this awkward, surreal situation. Xander had mellowed out about the whole Buffy-the-vampire-magnet thing, but bringing Spike back would just get him worked up again. And why was I inviting him to stay again?

"Um, you can stay in the basement. It's kind of small, smaller than the one in Sunnydale, but we don't have much space and there are lots of windows upstairs. I can get some blood, if you need-"

"You can take it back," he said quietly.

"Wh-what?" I stuttered, turning to stare at him with wide eyes.

"You didn't mean it, I know that." He lifted up a stake on the mantle, his fingers running over it with contemplative grace. "Told you then, and I'm telling you again. I know why you said it, and there's no need to keep pretending."

An out. Right there, in front of me. And I took it eagerly. "You were right. I don't love you." His face fell almost imperceptibly, and I bit back a jolt of regret. This was my one chance to be honest with him, and I wasn't going to get tangled in a web of my own lies. Not even to make him smile again in that way that made me want to say 'to hell with it' and jump him. "I'm sorry."

He waved a hand vaguely. "No, I thought so. I just needed to be sure, before…"

"Before what?" I asked him warily.

He shook his head. "It doesn't matter. I'll be going now."

What? He'd been gone for a year, came back to tell me he was alive, and now he was leaving? Already? "Don't go. It…it'd be nice to have you around. You can still stay here." That was as close to love that anyone other than Angel would ever get from me. Don't leave me...

His eyes were dark now, with a strange emotion I didn't recognize on him. "No. I can't." He bent down and kissed me on the cheek. "Goodbye, Buffy."

And then he was gone, and I felt a little more hollow than I had been before.

Had I dreamed the whole thing? I touched my cheek, the feel of his lips still warm on my cheek.

Wait. Warm?

My questions were answered two days later, when Angel arrived with a heartbeat.

--

"You're human," I repeated dazedly, touching my ear to his chest again.

He nodded, his arms encircling me and pulling me close. Engulfed in his embrace, I was struck by just how big he really was. Not lean, like Spike had been. Not like Spike at all. "The Shanshu prophecy. I'm human, and here to stay. If you'll have me, of course?" His eyes were wide with sudden concern.

I reached up- way, way up; seriously, had he grown a foot when he became human?- and stroked his cheek. "Of course I will. I love you."

"Oh, good," he said with relief. "I thought that- Never mind. I'm just happy that you're here for me."

And it all felt right. It was like I was sixteen again, young and happy and in love. This was what love was, the adoration and idolization of the man in front of me. In my eyes, he could do no wrong. And I knew that he felt the same way. Love was great like that. How could Spike have ever thought that I could love him? Our relationship was so flawed and twisted that it was incredible that he was even on my like list. There were no pedestals in my relationship with Spike. Nothing but a mutual respect and attraction and a need, mostly unhealthily high, for each other. And that was just a mixture of lust and friendship. Not love.

Angel smiled down at me. "You're miles away. What are you thinking about?"

"Spike," I said without thinking.

His smile vanished. "What?"

I shrugged away my thoughts. "Just wondering how he thought we could ever have a relationship like you and I do."

His face relaxed. "Oh." His eyes narrowed suddenly. "He came here?"

I nodded. "Yeah. He told me that he was with you. And I guess he was also human." He came to see if I loved him, I realized suddenly. And when he realized that I didn't, he left me for Angel.

He didn't love me, not as much as he'd always said he did. How could he give me up so quickly if he did? Someone who loved me wouldn't leave like that, not even if he had thought it was for my own good.

I smiled brightly at Angel. "So…do you want to…?" If it were Spike, I would have just jumped him. But with Angel, there was a lot of shifting and awkwardness and dancing around the topic. Not that that matters! Angel was the one I loved. So what if we hadn't really kept in touch in years, or knew each other at all anymore? We were true love. It would just take some time for us to mesh together again.

--

Faith's face lit up when she saw him. "Angel! What are you doing here?"

Feeling suddenly protective, I wrapped my arms around my man. "We're together again."

"But the curse-" Willow interjected worriedly.

"I'm human!" Angel announced, something almost like a smile on his face. He launched into an explanation about the Shanshu, and I zoned out, flashing back to our lovemaking from earlier that day.

It was strange, sleeping with someone I loved. Different. With Spike, it had been nothing but passion and lust and need and fun. We had both loved to experiment and had been comfortable enough with each other to try almost anything. With Spike, I had felt free. With Angel, things were different. We loved each other- we didn't need to experiment or vary positions or anything. We didn't need hours and hours of marathon sex. Sex was just an expression of how much we loved each other. The actual act didn't matter.

Spike's name jolted me back to the present.

"Do we really need to talk about him?" Angel asked sulkily.

"But he also has a soul. And if he was alive…" Dawn raised her eyebrows at Angel.

He sighed, defeated. "Well, we thought that the prophecy was about one vampire with a soul. But it turns out that there was an error in translation. So we both got souls."

"Wow." Dawn turned to look at me challengingly. "Did you hear that? Spike's human!"

I nodded, feigning vague surprise. "Yeah."

Faith watched me suspiciously. I looked away.

Later that night, I awakened to an empty bed. I fought the fear that seized up inside. Angel was still there. He was probably just…

…In the kitchen with Faith?

"…heard about her. She was one of the good ones," Faith was saying. "So much so it was annoying."

Angel laughed. The sound startled me. Had I ever heard him laugh before? "You really don't get along with anyone who isn't as twisted as you, do you?" He paused. "Except me."

Faith exhaled noisily. "You're still stuck on that, aren't you?"

"What?" Now Angel sounded defensive. It was probably rude of me, but I settled down on the steps to listen. Some residual Faith-plus-Buffy's-boyfriend fear, I guess.

"Your goodness." She pronounced the word with disdain. "You're so infatuated with redemption that you try to surround yourself with people that are pure. Buffy, Cordelia, Fred…even that werewolf girl I heard about. People who represent what you want to be. As if their proximity can turn you into someone like that." She stood up. "So you're human. That doesn't mean you're redeemed, or good enough for them. You're tainted, same as me. And the sooner you admit that, the sooner you can accept yourself."

Angel sighed. "Faith…"

"Goodnight, Angel." Faith said wearily. "Look me up when you finally grow up."

I skittered away from the stairs before Faith could see me. What had just happened? What was she playing at, going after Angel like that?

Had she been hitting on Angel? I wasn't sure. But I didn't like the way she was talking to him. He was perfect, and she was trying to take that away.

"You belong in the dark…with me."

And that never ended well.

--

"Maybe it's just a residual human-turning thing," I said worriedly. "Like it interfered with your ability to…or something."

It was three days later, three days of fun and love and the rose colored glasses that came with said love. Dawn had even noted that I was acting like a sixteen-year-old again. She said it with a frown, but I took as a compliment. I was in love! It was making me feel young again!

But this was different, and unexpected.

"Maybe if I tried-" I bent toward the uncooperative body part.

"Buffy…" Angel said, pained. "You don't have to do that."

"I want to!" I said brightly.

"It's demeaning for you."

I remembered another time when the act had had Spike reduced to a gibbering mess. Then, it had felt like power. But if Angel said it was demeaning, then he was probably right. That wasn't love, it was sex. I withdrew reluctantly. "Okay."

"Let's just go to sleep, okay?" He kissed me lightly on the lips. "Give it some time."

And we did. But nothing changed.

Until two days later, when Angel was wearing tight pants and we were at the beach and Faith came over in a tiny bikini. I noticed, but said nothing. I wasn't comfortable enough with Angel to yell at him about looking at other girls.

If it had been Spike, I probably would have beaten him up for it. But with the love of my life, I knew I had to be more forgiving. And I was just so glad that he was fixed, and we could make love again.

But we couldn't. Maybe it was a night thing, borne from his being a vampire for so long.

Everything would be fine, once we figured this out.

--

Xander asked me to go for a walk with him the next day. I joined him readily. "What's going on?"

He turned to look at me, his eyes serious. "Look, I know I'm not his biggest fan, but this is hurting you, too."

"What?" I yelped. How did Xander know about our…problem? "Look, it's really none of your business! I mean, this is private stuff!"

Xander sighed. "Anyone could see it from a mile away, Buff. And we all hate to see you like this."

Were we so obvious? Did everyone know?

"I know you're mad, but sleeping with Angel to make him jealous isn't going to make you happier," he continued.

And to everyone, a big Huh?

"Xan? What are you talking about?"

He put a hand on my arm reassuringly. "Buffy, we get it. We know you're upset that Spike didn't come to tell you that he was alive. Or human."

I stared at him. "No, I'm not. Spike came. Then he left, so Angel and I could be together. He gets that Angel and I have a forever love. Why don't you?"

"What??" Xander demanded. "Spike was here, and you sent him away?"

I was starting to feel defensive. "Well, it wasn't like I told him to leave. We just talked for a little while, and then he disappeared. I figured out that he was human when Angel came a few days later."

Xander shook his head. "That guy's really a glutton for punishment. The two of you were so in love, and then he just lets you go to Angel…"

I felt obliged to correct him. "I was never in love with Spike."

He laughed then, so long and hard that I finally left back for Faith's house, puzzled and a little annoyed.

I came back just in time to see Angel and Faith, their faces millimeters away from each other. "What's going on?"

They jumped apart guiltily.

"Nothing happened!" Faith said quickly.

I stared at them both, my face frozen. Faith was looking at me pleadingly, Angel was looking at Faith longingly. "What's going on?" I repeated.

Angel turned to face me, his dark eyes downcast. "I'm sorry, Buffy."

I moved to him. "Can we just pretend this never happened?" Not even this could interfere with my newly perfect life.

Faith was nodding, but Angel was shaking his head. "I can't."

We both stared at him, startled.

He lowered his head. "I think I'm in love with Faith. I have been, for a long time. I kept denying it, afraid of loving someone who really understood me…"

Faith was gazing at him, her eyes shining. I felt sick. "What about us?"

Angel laughed again. It wasn't nearly as attractive as it had sounded the first time I'd heard it. "Buffy, we've been struggling to recreate something that's been over for five years. I think we both knew that that spark fizzled a long time ago."

"But I love you!" I said plaintively, staring up at him in despair.

He gaped at me disbelievingly. "Don't tell me you actually still think we go together!" Seeing my crestfallen look, he moved to hug me in a comforting, platonic way. "Buffy, we just put each other on these pedestals, loved the idea of each other. That's not love."

It wasn't? Sure as hell felt like it was!

"Real love is seeing the other persons faults and being okay with them. Understanding who the other person is and needing her, needing her to be happy." He smiled at Faith. "There's so much more to it."

They kissed, and I wanted to retch. How was this happening? "I'll never know love," I moaned to myself.

Faith broke away from Angel and glared at me. "Stop being such an idiot, B."

How dare she? She'd just stolen away the one thing that was important to me, and now she was calling me an idiot, when I felt like…felt like…

How did I feel? A little nauseous, yes. Despair. Anger. Some of my pride was hurt, definitely. But not…

Oh, god.

Not hollow. Not like I'd felt when Spike had walked into my life and walked out moments later. Not like I needed Angel, the way I needed Spike.

"Crap!" Both Angel and Faith turned to stare at me. I looked like the idiot Faith said I was, my mouth gaping open and my eyes wide. "I'm in love with Spike!"

"Well, duh!" Faith said, rolling her eyes.

Angel shook his head. "Really, Buffy, what took you so long?"

"Hey! Want to stop picking on me, oh-friend-and-boyfriend-who-are-currently macking-on-each-other?" I folded my arms.

They looked at each other guiltily. "Right. Sorry about that," Angel mumbled.

"I've got to find him," I turned to Angel. "How can I reach him?"

Angel shrugged. "He's probably with Illyria somewhere. Here's his cell phone number." He jotted it down on the refrigerator. "Do you mind…?"

I nodded absently, ignoring them as they left for Faith's bedroom.

The phone rang twice before Spike picked up. "Yeah?"

My heart stopped. "Spike."

There was a long silence. Then… "Buffy?"

"Where are you?" I asked bluntly. I needed to see him.

"Buffy?" He repeated, disbelievingly.

"Yes, it's Buffy," I said impatiently. "Now are you gonna tell me where you are or am I going to have to travel the world hunting for you?"

"One second."

There was a sudden whooshing noise, and the air around me rippled. A blue-haired woman stepped through the ripple, pulled Spike through, and then vanished back into the ripple.

He smiled at me sheepishly. "Hi?"

I reached out to touch him, to reassure myself that he was really there. "Want to go out sometime?"

His face lit up, then dimmed almost instantly. My heart leapt and fell with him. "What about Angel?"

I shrugged. "He's with Faith."

"So I'm a consolation prize?" Spike shook his head. "Not going to do that." He turned away.

"No!" I reached for him desperately. "Wait! Just- listen."

He waited.

"I'm an idiot," I said finally.

"Mm-hm," he said disinterestedly.

I felt tears spring to my eyes. It had finally happened. Spike had tired of me. "Shut up!" I said, crying furiously. "Fine, so you're over me and I totally get the consolation prize thing, but I just want to be with you because I finally realized that I was never really in love with Angel and I love you and now you're over me and I don't want to lose you!"

He reached out to stroke my hair and I leaned into his hand, craving the nearness. "You should know better, Buffy." I shook with ragged sobs. "I could never get over you. S' a curse of mine."

"I love you," I whispered into his hand.

He studied my face. "Yeah, you do."

He kissed me almost reverently. "Love you, too." He kissed me again. "Never gonna leave you." Another kiss. "Gonna make you mine."

I rested my forehead against his. "I already am."