Buffy had never known that every single day could be worse than the preceding one. Surely, by the time you were alone, homeless and expelled, things couldn't get any worse.

No, they got worse when you bumped into your mother at the supermarket.

No, they got worse when she demanded an apology from you.

No, they got worse when you were rejected from re-enrolment.

Even worse than that was when you got accepted for re-enrolment.

Things had never looked further down the drain than they were right now. They were so far down they'd washed out to sea. Buffy would have preferred to be drifting around the North Atlantic than being here, walking through a misty graveyard, corpses passing beneath her feet, fingers wrapped around the single stick of wood that stood between her and death.

Yeah. The good life.

Bull.

She sighed, watching her breath fog out in front of her and disperse on the winds. If she'd just stayed in LA, she could be sleeping right now. Of course, had she stayed in LA she and Spike would probably have gotten naked under the influence of Willow's love spell. Buffy didn't think she would have minded. Obviously Spike couldn't be that bad, since thoughts of him hadn't left her since Willow undid the spell. She'd wished for his unquestioning support when confronting her mother, his understanding shoulder when she finally let herself cry over Angel, his sarcastic humour as she sat through remedial chemistry. While the crazy-hot-lust between them was gone, something real had been built in its place. Something that let Buffy think of a vampire without wanting to stake it.

But she couldn't call Spike a friend. Friends were people like Willow and Xander, Oz and Cordelia, ordinary people that she had to protect and hide her Slayer side from. Spike wasn't like that. He knew about the Slayer, and treated her no differently to the girl whose body she lived in. Spike treated Buffy as a whole person, and her friends just couldn't do that. And Spike wasn't her boyfriend, either. Her boyfriend had been Angel, somebody she saw rarely and thought she'd spend her entire life with. She knew Spike wasn't marriage material, and she'd been pretty scared off love given her past experiences. And her heart didn't race just to see him, either. She didn't love Spike by anybody's definition.

So what the hell was this? Buffy really didn't know. Spike might feel nothing at all, and this could all be wishful thinking. Maybe she needed a connection so badly, her subconscious had invented one for her. Spike was probably cuddling up to Drusilla at this very moment.

A yawn split her face open forcefully, reminding her of those days in LA where she'd slept as much as she'd wanted. Not anymore. Now she caught a nap straight after dinner before popping out of her bedroom window, spending hours on her feet, then getting another hour or two of sleep before a day of school. Science said that teenagers needed eight hours of sleep a night, right? Maybe she could accuse her destiny of infringing on her human right to sleep. Oh yeah, like that'd work.

This would be the third night in a row with no vampires. She didn't mind saving lives now and again; she'd just like a pager so she could be on the job only when there was a job to do. Evil, whatever Giles said, was not unsleeping. It was lazy and careless, and a big fat load of not here.

Buffy kicked at a rock, sending it several dozen yards across the lawn. She thought it sailed through a solid wood fence. Damn Slayer strength. As if she needed any more reminders that she was different, special, predestined. She'd tried to give this up in exchange for a destiny of eat, sleep, do nothing. She'd do it again if she could get away with it, but she already knew her friends could find her in minutes. Surely location spells counted as stalking?

She couldn't run, and she didn't want to stay. Trapped.

She was seriously fu-

Movement.

Buffy whirled, stake appearing in her upraised fist. Something had been behind her, just a second ago. Something fast, and quiet. And unfriendly, if it was sneaking up on her, in a graveyard, at two in the morning.

"Who's there?" she asked, voice snappy. She didn't expect an answer, although a head poking from behind a tree saying 'Me!' wouldn't have been unhelpful. She just wanted to distract them, keep them off balance. Let her find them. "Come on. I know you're here, and you must know I'm here, since you're stalking me-"

It was the one voice she expected least to hear. "Stalkin', pet? Didn' think you'd mind me tha' much."

Buffy spun on her heel, stake plummeting from her hand. "Spike!" Relief flooded her veins. He was here. They could sort this out, now, what she felt and if he felt the same thing.

If, over the days they'd been under the love spell's influence, anything real had grown underneath it. She was sure it had, but what were the chances of Spike agreeing? She had to know if he counted her as a friend. That was all she was after, really; being with Angel had taught her that romance did not go with Slaying. Maybe if she wasn't trying to manage school and a home life as well, but her future held nothing but single-Buffy.

"Back to Slayin', I see."

"Yeah. They all wanted it, and it's hard to not save people from getting their throats ripped out, y'know?"

"But you didn' want it?"

Buffy shrugged and sat down, back resting against somebody's headstone. Spike sprawled lazily on the grass before her. "I'm not sure it's really me anymore. I mean, before it was always, yay, fight, adrenaline, fun. Now it's more like a job that has to be done. I got to be normal for a few days... and I liked it too much. I want it back, but for now I guess this is who I am again. It's not what I want, but that's never been a problem before."

Spike smiled, the corner of his mouth quirking. "We always end up talkin', don't we? Whatever 'appens, we jus' talk about it."

"You're good to talk to. I don't know why, but you are." And the fact that she could still talk to him, that she wasn't dead right now, meant... "Not that this isn't a lovely chat, but I'm wondering why you haven't tried to kill me yet."

Spike laughed at her words; the same words he'd said to her on that roadside where he'd picked her up. "Didn' come to kill you, Buffy. Don' wanna." He dropped his gaze and picked at the grass, hands actually unsteady. "Somethin' passed between us, somethin' I 'aven't felt before. I didn' know love could be more than just..." His eyes sought hers, and she met his gorgeous blue gaze, usually so sure of itself, now hesitant. "When Willow did the spell, I got sent back to Dru. She wasn' very 'appy about tha', considerin' she was entertainin' her new lover at the time."

"Oh, Spike, I'm so sorry..."

"Remember when she disappeared? Turned out she got dumped in some Russian demon hellhole somewhere. And she'd gotten in with some guy by the next day. Didn' really matter to me. It was perfectly clear I wasn' welcome."

"That sucks," Buffy said softly. "Did you... did you want to be welcome?"

"Not really," Spike shrugged. "I thought I loved her, all those decades together, but those days with you… they taught me that it wasn' love. What me an' Dru 'ad was never about love. You really loved me, Buffy. I thought what Dru and I had was love. I didn' realise it takes two. And even though the spell's gone now, I keep thinkin' about when we were together, how good it was to 'ave somebody who actually cared about me."

"That's how I feel," Buffy whispered. He agreed? He felt the same? Like something meaningful had grown between them, when they weren't mindlessly groping each other? "Like even though I was crazy in love, I was getting to know you. I was seeing parts of you I hadn't before. I mean, it's kind of difficult to spend time with a guy intent on killing you-"

Spike dropped his head again, looking embarrassed.

"-but I realise you're not a bad person, inside. I like you. You seemed to look at me, and see me, not the Slayer or anything else. Everybody else tries to fit me into this mould, and there's always some part of me hanging out. You don't want a mould. You just see Buffy. I didn't know who that was before this."

She hadn't known she'd felt so deeply before the words came, but as soon as they took form their truth was obvious. Daughter, Slayer, girlfriend, friend; all were roles that she couldn't play, not all of her. Mom didn't want to know the Slayer, Angel didn't want to know the girl... And she couldn't show them. She had to keep parts of herself buried, all the time. Spike had no expectations. He just looked at who she was, all of her, and she could show him whatever she wanted. He already knew all the secrets that would tear anybody else apart.

"I've tried to be somethin' I'm not for a hundred years, now," Spike said after a minute. "I worshipped the bloody ground Dru walked on - and it was bloody, lot of the time - cared for her, brought her through countless fits and ramblings, and I never knew that I was just an object to her. I could'a been anybody. Could'a been the milkman or somebody's grandpa, it was meaningless to her. But you made me feel like I was the only person you needed, right there; that you didn' want anybody else. Only me."

"That was true, Spike. Nobody could have done what you did. You made me feel wanted, and safe, and happy. And I don't blame that on any spell. That was all you."

He cared. Just like her, he actually cared. He felt it too, this relationship, whatever it was - he liked her, as a person, he truly liked her. And she liked him. She could get around the vampire thing, she had with Angel. Spike could have her blood, or animal blood like Angel had. She thought he'd do it if she asked. They could actually be friends? She could have somebody who was there for all of her - not just parts, but all of her. Somebody she could talk to. Somebody who cared. Somebody to be her everything.

"What is this, anyway?" Spike asked. "I mean, it ain't love, that's for damn sure."

"Hell, no," Buffy agreed. "Love and Buffy just don't work out together. But friends seems too... too casual. And this is something really special." Something based on mutual support, or something, something nameless. It wasn't love, but maybe it wasn't as far away from love as all that. Spike was somebody she could fight beside, joke with, sit around and chat about school with. She got the feeling they could really do everything together. Whenever Buffy was with Willow and Xander, it always felt like the Slayer got in the way. She wasn't fragmented like that with Spike. "God, this is confusing!"

"You're tellin' me," Spike said. "I was a poet 'fore I died and I still can't find a word for this."

"You were a poet?" Buffy didn't know whether to laugh or... no, she just wanted to laugh.

"A bloody awful poet, but you'd think I could name the most importan' thin' in my life."

"Maybe it doesn't need a name? Maybe we should just... let it be? Like, we were studying beauty in this philosophy elective I have, and somebody said that part of what makes something beautiful is that you can't say what it is that makes it beautiful. It just is. Maybe this just is, too."

"I like that."

Buffy considered it. It sounded good. "Me too."

"Jus' let it 'appen as it 'appens."

"Give it time."

Buffy crawled over and laid down next to him, head pillowed on his arm in a totally comfortable, non-sexual way. The sky spread out open above them, stars glittering in the dark. They had forever to get to know each other, a relationship based on actually knowing everything, on sharing everything. It felt supportive, and wonderful, and perfect.

And happy.

Together.