DISCLAIMER: Joss' blocks, my building.


SPOILERS: "Crush" ** Character Death...sort of **

The door didn't so much slam as click. Didn't matter. It was the finality that rang out so loudly. Spike stepped back and looked at it, incredulous. Locked out. Again. Damn.

At first he wanted to hurt something. Anything. Her. He'd proven himself trustworthy time and again. Come to her house. Been nice to her mom. He'd poured out his heart to her. Told her he loved her. What right did she have to throw him out of her house? Heartless, selfish. He laughed. That's rich, the Slayer the heartless one.

Well, he'd show her. He'd go and find some young, innocent...OUCH! OK! ...young, innocent demons and kill them all. It might not show her anything, but it'd sure make him feel better. Killing always did.

He walked away from her, down the dark, Sunnydale street, looking for trouble. Right town for it.

What a night, Buffy thought. What a night. I just want to curl up and die. Spike. Loves me. Damn.

Buffy went upstairs, and checked on her mom and Dawn. Dawn was sleeping. Mom's bed was empty. Waiting up again, huh? She found her in the kitchen, nursing a cup of coffee.

"Hi, hon. Did I hear Spike?"

"Yeah, mom. But you won't any more."


"Tara and Willow recanted the invitation. I asked them to. He's not welcome here anymore."

"Oh. I see," her mom looked puzzled. "Buffy? Are you sure that's what you want?"

"Mom! I can't believe you're asking me that! Spike is evil! He's a danger to our family. He's obsessed with me, he's been stalking me and...and...and he's a VAMPIRE for God's sake."

"I know that. I remember. But I remember other things too. Times when he's been a friend to us. When you went to fight Glory and left Dawn and me with him. He was a perfect...well, nearly perfect gentleman. It really was rather sweet to see him fussing over us."

"I left you there because I had no choice. He's the only one who could..."

"Protect us? Keep us safe? The only one, huh?" Joyce questioned. "We could've gone away, hidden out at Giles' or with Xander and Anya. But you chose Spike to do those things. Why?" She paused. Buffy was the one looking puzzled now. Her forehead was wrinkled and her bottom lip pouted.

"Sweetheart, you live a life I could never begin to understand. When I was young, the biggest danger we faced was the evil Mr. Stranger Danger. You, you face ultimate, absolute evil seven days a week. Vampires, demons, hell-gods and goddesses, aliens, even Dracula himself. On top of all that, you have all the usual 20-year-old's pressures of going to college, maintaining friendships and developing more mature relationships. I don't know how you do it. You're truly amazing." She smiled at Buffy. "Maybe it's because you've always been the strong one, but I feel I've failed you. Somehow, with all you've been, I've forgotten to be your mom."

Buffy listened quietly. "Honey, when we first moved to Sunnydale, it was the beginning of a new life for us both. I didn't know HOW new it would be for you, but when we moved here, I knew that we were free to begin again. No ties, no emotional baggage, no reliving the past. But I was wrong. We brought all of that stuff with us just like our furniture, and we should have talked about it. Talked about relationships." She ran her hand over Buffy's hair. "I'm sorry. I guess I just hoped... But let's talk this thing through now. OK?"

"Mom. You have no reason to be sorry about my inability to keep a man," Buffy protested. "It wasn't your fault that Angel left me for redemption's sake, or that I jumped right into b...another relationship with a self-centered ass, or that I couldn't admit I needed Riley until it was too late. That was me. Buffy. You've been great."

"Well, thank you, even if you are wrong. But, honey, you left out one relationship." Buffy looked at her mom, puzzled. "Spike."

"No, Mom. There IS no relationship there. NONE. ZIPPO. ZERO. NADA."

Joyce shook her head. "Yes there is, Buffy, whether you like it or not. Even if the relationship is hatred, you can't pretend it doesn't exist."

"OK, well, I guess that's it. I hate him."

"I could accept that, Buffy, if you could say that you were really hating him for what he is...not for what he was. Chip or no chip, I believe he HAS changed. I know he's still what he is. He IS a soulless demon, a vampire. But think about it. All the while he was welcome in this house, he has never abused that trust. He never did anything to threaten us."

"That's right," Willow walked into the kitchen. "I had to come back, Mrs. Summers. I knocked, but there was no answer."

"Come in, Willow. We've been talking."

"Good. That's what I wanted to do too. You're mom is right, Buffy. Earlier tonight, when you first came hme and told us what he'd said to you, I was shocked. I was all, "Ewww, SPIKE?" I'll always remember when he first got the chip and tried to attack me, but couldn't. It was very scary. HE was very scary. But he's changed, Buffy. Spike HAS changed. He'd never do that now, and I don't think it's just the chip that's stopping him." Willow stopped talking.

After a few moments to think, Buffy responded, "Let's say, JUST for the sake of argument, mind you, that SPIKE has changed. Why has he changed? For me?"

"Yep," Willow confirmed with certainty.

"Willow, is that enough? Is it enough that he feels something for me? And, I'm NOT admitting its love yet. He's going to be around a long time. Someday he'll get that chip out. When that' s gone, when I'm gone, what will stop him? Some warm, fuzzy feelings he had for me? No. I don't buy it. He is dangerous and I don't want anyone to be around when he gets loose." Buffy stalked out of the kitchen. Joyce and Willow looked at each other. This was going to take a while.

Spike prowled Sunnydale at night. Well, not so much prowled, as shoved his way through. He wasn't hunting anymore. The one demon that had gotten in his way hadn't made him feel any better after all. Instead, he was walking because he had to walk because the thought of stopping and thinking was too much. So he walked and as he walked he kicked anything in his way and he muttered to himself. "Bloody hell. Why me?" and then, "William got his feelings crushed again, didn't he? I'm 147 bleedin' years old! When will I learn?"

"Spike? You are a sorry sight. What's up? Outta cash?" Xander asked disdainfully.

Spike looked up and saw who it was. He rushed toward Xander and tackled him to the ground. His grasp was strong, until the chip kicked in and Spike let out a scream of pain. Xander jumped up, rubbing his throat. "Ah, ah, ah. Mad equals pain. Remember?"

Spike struggled to his feet and lunged again at Xander, but only half-heartedly this time and stopped short, "Yeah, I remember."

Xander looked at Spike. He'd had a good laugh when Buffy had told him about Spike's feelings earlier today. But suddenly, facing Spike right now, it wasn't so funny. "Let's get a drink. Payday-man's treat."

"Okay, sure. I could use a good drunk."

They walked over to the Bronze and settled in. Even the onion blossoms were gone. Damn.

Xander walked back from the bar with two shots of bourbon. "One for you, one for me." Xander sipped his. Spike downed his in one gulp.

"What? Just one?"

"Well...No. Here, have mine," Xander sat down at the table.

Spike held up the glass and waved it in salute to Xander before downing shot number two.

"So. It's true, huh? Who'd have thought." Xander was genuinely surprised.

"What?" Spike shot back. "Oh, she told you all already. Bet you all had a good laugh at my expense. Well...that's OK. I haven't any self-respect left anyway. What did she say? "Spike's all hot for me. Ewww!"?" He imitated Buffys "ick" face.

"No. Well...not exactly. Well...yes." Xander laughed.

Spike looked up at him and stared at him hard for two seconds.

Looking into his eyes, Xander suddenly knew. He remembered feeling the same way about Buffy not too long ago. (Truth be known, he probably still did somewhere under the "Anya layer of Happiness Now".) He remembered seeing that look in his own eyes. God, it still hurt.

"Got it bad, huh?" he asked. Spike nodded once and looked down at his empty glass. "Let me refill that for you." And he did.

"What is it she's lookin' for?" Spike wondered out loud. "I've stopped feeding, not that I had much choice in that. I've fought at her side against aliens, demons and hell-goddesses. I've taken abuse with plastic spikes, crossbow arrows, Glory's punches. I've thrown all other women out of my life. All with no complaints. Trying to earn her respect, her trust. What is it she bleedin' wants from me?"

Xander knew. He was certain. "Spike. She needs something you could never give her." Suddenly he stood up. "Follow me."

Spike raised his head and they walked out into the night.

Buffy went to her room. It seemed empty. She felt empty. She sat on her bed and looked around. Still empty. She laid down and stared up at the ceiling. She closed her eyes. She saw his face. Spike. Spike? Spike! She shook her head and opened her eyes. What was that? Why was she thinking of him? The room was getting smaller. Time to patrol.

She grabbed her usual arsenal these days, just two stakes. More was too much and wouldn't hurt Glory anyway.

She slipped on her coat. She looked at her door. Mom would want to talk more. She slid out the window.

She dropped to the ground and felt herself looking at the tree across the street. She'd known for a long time that he'd been lurking there at night. Funny, she thought, it never bothered her before. She'd never told him to leave or cut it out. "I was just too lazy to bother with him. I had other things on my mind," she said to herself. Now it was like her room. Empty. She turned and walked down the street. She'd go and find some young, obviously evil demons and kill them all. It might not prove anything, but it'd sure make her feel better. Killing always did.

"This is it? Xander, boy, you've lost what little mind you had." They stood on the ridge overlooking Sunnydale.

"Sorry, fella, but this is what she needs from you."

"Don't get it."

"Spike, when you fight, on our side I mean, what are you fighting for?"

"Easy. For her."

"See, that's just it. That's why you'll never get her. 'Cuz, you just don't get it." Spike waited. Xander looked at him sighed. This wasn't going to be easy. "OK, let's look at it this way. What do you think she's fighting for?"

Another easy one, "To save the world from the big bads."

"Wrong," Xander explained. "Buffy doesn't fight for personal triumph or glory. Buffy fights for us. For me, for Willow, Tara, her mom, Dawn. For them...and for you." Xander pointed at Sunnydale, "Spike, you hate people. We are beneath you because we're not immortal, because we're weak and frightened. Buffy finds humanity in those faults. She finds each and every person worthy of a Slayer's sacrifice."

"Bull. She does it because it's in her nature to kill. Just like me. She's in it for the excitement, the adventure, the danger."

"You were human once. Do you remember what it was like to be dependent, lonely, scared, overwhelmed by stronger...things? All the time?" Xander thought for a second more before he spoke. "I think she kinda sees us all as the children she'll never have and when we feel that lost feeling, Buffy is willing to do anything for us. She'll never love you because you don't love us."

Xander, looked over at him. Spike was silent. Listening. Spike was, for the first time in a VERY long time, truly himself. Xander left him...alone.