Buffy was getting ready to leave the office for the day, when she saw Angel approaching her desk. He had a brown envelope in his hands, and a grim look on his face.
"I don't want to hear it."
"Buffy. Just look, will you? This is the last I'm going to say about it." He tossed the envelope onto the desk in front of her, then shrugged. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
She stared at his back as he walked away, her eyes stinging from lack of sleep and the fight to keep tears at bay.
"You're a glutton for punishment, Summers," she muttered, as she flipped the envelope over and spilled the contents onto her desk. Her heart sank when she saw the grainy black and white photograph, and the accompanying note.
Thursday 28th November
Left La Piazza restaurant, 5.35 p.m. with brunette female.
Accompanied her to area just south of Linfield Park.
Snow reduced visibility, was able to follow. Address below.
The photo showed Spike getting into his car with another woman, a wide smile on his face and a light smirk on hers.
Buffy closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. She felt sick. With surprising calmness, she jotted down the address, then put the photograph and the note back into the envelope.
Lifting the telephone receiver took a little more work, her hands were shaking, but she managed to dial the correct number and bring it to her ear. The plastic felt cool against her hot cheek, and oddly sturdy, as though it were a lifeline.
"Hey. It's me."
"Hey, love. Everything okay?" Spike's voice was warm, normal.
"Sure. I just wondered if you'd be home for dinner." Buffy tried not to sound too bitter. "You know, since you missed it last night."
"Uh– I might be a bit late. Got a meeting."
"You all right, pet? You sound a bit off."
"I'm fine. Just tired. I'll see you later."
Buffy hung up without replying.
Buffy came to a stop outside Spike's office building, braking carefully after almost swerving on the icy roads during the drive over. The snow had melted into an unpleasant grey slush, and the dull gloominess reflected her mood.
She wondered if she was doing the right thing. Surely it would be better–more sensible–to go home and wait for Spike, then confront him head-on. Ask him who the woman was, and what he was doing with her. She had no doubt now that Angel's dates and times and places were all meetings with the mysterious brunette.
Part of her wanted there to be some sort of rational explanation. The woman was a colleague. She was just helping him with something.
Something that required meetings in bars and restaurants and visits to somewhere just south of Linfield Park. Yeah, right.
Shaking her head, she set her gaze on the employee car park. Spike drove an old, beat-up DeSoto that he'd had imported from the States long before she met him; it would be easy to see when he left, despite the fact that it had started snowing again.
She clicked on the radio, the irony of The Beatles telling her to Let it Be not lost on her, as she continued her surveillance.
The snow was coming down thick and fast by the time Spike's black monolith of a car pulled out onto the road, and Buffy didn't know whether to be grateful to it for making her own red Ford Fiesta more difficult to see, or whether to curse it because it made it that much harder to follow her boyfriend.
She lost sight of him shortly after turning onto a small country road. She had been following the tail lights of his car, when all of a sudden they blinked out. Buffy frowned, but kept her foot on the accelerator. She flicked her headlights to full-beam, and raised her eyebrow.
Spike had pulled over, and was standing next to his car, hands thrust deep in the pockets of his leather coat.
Buffy let out a resigned sigh, and stopped her car behind his. Moments later, Spike opened her passenger door and slid into the seat next to her. His hair was wet with snowflakes again, and Buffy found it easier to concentrate on the melting snow than on what she had to say.
"Buffy? What's going on? Is there something wrong?" He sounded confused and worried.
"Why don't you tell me?" She hated the way her voice shook.
"You were following me." Grinning sheepishly, Spike rubbed the back of his neck. "You've found out, haven't you?"
Buffy stared, not quite believing that he had asked her that with a smile on his face. Undoing her seatbelt, she twisted around to face him properly. "So you're admitting it?"
"Uh… I guess. I haven't got a clue how you found out, though." He shook his head and grinned again. "Was it Sophie? Did she tell you?"
"Her name's Sophie." Her patience was running out.
"My secretary, yeah." Spike frowned. "You don't sound very happy, love."
"Happy?" Buffy gaped. "Why the fuck would I be happy? You've just admitted to having an affair, and you want me to be happy?!" She was gripping the sides of her chair so tightly, her knuckles were white. It felt like her world was tumbling away and she couldn't do anything to stop it.
"What? Buffy, what the hell are you going on about?" Spike sounded genuinely confused, and for a moment, she faltered.
"Y-you've been cheating on me."
"The fuck I have."
"You just admitted it! You said her name was Sophie!" Buffy shouted. "And how else do you explain all the missed dinners and late nights? Angel told me all these dates of when you met up with her."
"Oh, well, if Angel told you then it must be true!" Spike interrupted. "God, even after all these years, it all comes back to him, doesn't it?" He threw his hands in the air. "He never got over you, Buffy. Ever think he might be lying to try and split us up?" He was in her face now, eyes narrowed. "You know he hates me."
Buffy heard the crack in Spike's voice, and met his eyes, surprised to see them shiny with unshed tears. "He gave me an address… and a photo. I saw her. Tall, massive boobs, legs up to here? You can't deny that."
"I'm not trying to!" Spike shook his head. "Fuck, I can't believe you think I'm having an affair. I thought you trusted me. I thought you loved me."
Buffy swallowed past the lump in her throat. "I do. But you're not making any sense, Spike. If you're not fucking her, then who is she? What's going on?"
Spike reached into his pocket, and pulled out a key. "You've got the address?" At her nod, he said, "Here's the key. Go and see for yourself what I've been doing."
He threw the key into her lap, and got out of the car, slamming the door behind him. Buffy stared as he got back into the DeSoto, started the engine, and drove off.
What had just happened? She sat back, and bit her lip, going over the conversation in her mind. Nothing made sense. He hadn't acted like a man having an affair; there was no guilt, no fear, just confusion and hurt.
Buffy looked at the key. It was nondescript, an ordinary key made for an ordinary Yale lock. She slipped it into her pocket, and started the engine of her car, pulling away with a determination to get to the bottom of it all.
Five Oakfield Drive was the last property on the quiet lane. Buffy got out of the car, and lifted the latch on the wrought iron gate, pushing it open wide enough to let her car pass through.
The tyres crunched on the gravel driveway, a security light flashing on and illuminating a beautiful house. While it was elegant and austere looking, it had a welcoming feel that Buffy immediately fell in love with.
Her stomach sank as she began to get an idea of what was really going on. She scrambled out of the car and hurried through the snow to the front door. She slid the key into the lock, and it turned easily.
The hallway had a plush carpet that she'd hate to get wet, so she slipped her wet shoes off at the 'welcome' mat. Turning the light on, she ventured further into the house.
Buffy's eyes filled with tears when she walked into the living room. It was half-decorated for Christmas, ceiling garlands fastened in the corners of the room, but not at the centre. There was a tall tree in the large bay window, undecorated save for the Christmas star at the top–her Christmas star–the one her mom had sent over from Sunnydale three years earlier.
"I'm an idiot."
A pile of papers on the coffee table in front of the fireplace caught her eye. Floor plans, and pictures of the rooms in the house, undecorated and run-down. Notes in Spike's messy scrawl, months of planning, hard work, and devotion lay bare on scraps of paper.
Buffy sank down into one of the armchairs, and put her head in her hands. She had messed up, big time. Spike had done this wonderful thing for her, and she had fucked it all up.
"He's gonna hate me," she mumbled to herself, feeling in her pocket for her phone. "But he's got to admit, it did look suspicious. Right?" Finding what she'd been looking for, she dialed his number. "Still. You're a stupid, stupid woman, Buffy. Bet he's not even going to answer–oh! I'm sorry!"
She heard him sigh, but he didn't say anything.
"Spike? I am so, so sorry. I can't believe I got it so wrong. I love it. The house, I mean. I can't–you–you're amazing. I love you." The words spilled out of her in a rush. She bit her lip, but let herself relax when she heard him chuckle.
"I want to stay angry at you, but I can't." His voice was deep, comforting.
"Oh, thank God." Buffy smiled. "Spike, I really am sorry. I didn't want to think… but you can understand why, right?"
"Yeah. I'd have thought the same. Although I'd have tried asking you before paranoia settled in." Buffy heard the click of the car's indicator, and then the rev of the engine. "Look, stay put. I'm coming back."
"Okay. I love you."
"Love you, too."
Buffy wasn't sure how to act when Spike arrived. She had spent the last fifteen minutes pacing up and down the living room, nervousness bubbling in her stomach with every step she took. She was embarrassed, and angry with herself–not to mention absolutely livid with Angel–but at the same time she knew that her assumption had been a logical–if flawed–conclusion.
Hearing the crunch of tyres, she rushed out of the front door and almost collided with Spike on the doorstep. She put her hands to his chest to steady herself and looked up at him.
He still looked upset, but there was a hint of a smile on his lips. Buffy burrowed her face into his shirt, taking comfort from the closeness. She wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly, and relaxed when his arms went around her too.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"You've got nothing to be sorry for."
"I should've known how it'd look from the outside."
"And I should have trusted you."
Spike shrugged. "Shoulda, woulda, coulda."
Buffy smiled, and leaned up to kiss him. "I love the house. Thank you."
"It's not finished yet. That–the woman–she's an interior designer. Been helping me."
"Oh." Buffy bit her lip.
"Don't say it. No more apologising. We're just gonna forget all about it, okay?"
"Okay," Buffy nodded.
Spike squeezed her hand, and then pulled her back through the front door. "What say we christen this place properly?"
Buffy slid her arms around his neck. "Sounds like a plan."