Summary: Sometimes the ghosts of our past bring us only regret. Sometimes they offer something a little more substantial.

Note: Short one shot post ATS, but ignoring the comics.

Disclaimer: The characters herein are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. They are being used for entertainment purposes out of respect and admiration, and not for the sake of profit. No copyright infringement is intended.

Buffy was drunk. Very drunk. She knew this because her mouth was dry and her stomach was roiling, and there were a dozen elephants tap dancing inside her skull.

And because there was a dead man in her living room.

Well, she supposed he was a ghost, or a hallucination. Whatever he was he was bouncing ever so slightly from foot to foot like maybe he was nervous, or had ADD, which, considering who it appeared to be, was probably more likely. The thought of a ghost with ADD struck her as funny and she giggled.

She stumbled against the doorframe, using it to prop herself up for support as her giggles faded and the figment in her apartment did not, and she could do nothing but stare dumbly at him.

"'Lo, pet," he offered meekly – which was something he had so rarely been when he was alive. Well, un-alive. Un-dead. Whatever.

Buffy stared in wonder as her eyes traveled over scuffed combat boots, up black denim clad legs and the heavy belt buckle to an equally black t-shirt all covered by his trademark leather duster, and thought it wasn't fair that even while completely sloshed she could still remember him so well. Perhaps that was what made her hazy mind determine that this could not be a hallucination.

"Hello, ghost-Spike," she replied quietly.

Ghost-Spike looked startled, and she wondered momentarily if he hadn't known he was a ghost, which would be very sad, she thought, because then he probably would try to talk to people and stuff, and normal people wouldn't be able to see or hear him, which would only frustrate him she knew.

Ghost-Spike approached her cautiously, tilting his head to study her in that half-predatory half-concerned way she knew so well. "You alright, pet?" he asked with concern.

Buffy giggled a little and then clutched her head as the resulting movement increased the tempo of the elephants' dance.

"Not so much," she confessed, bypassing his outstretched arm in favor of sinking onto the couch. Maybe he really didn't know he was a ghost, because what good was a steadying hand if it would just pass right through her? Or maybe it was habit. One of those ingrained Victorianisms he hadn't completely been able to get rid of even as a Vampire, and which had become more and more apparent after the soul.

Buffy allowed her head to loll back with a small groan groan, raising a hand to press against her forehead.

"I don't feel so good," she murmured.

This proclamation was followed by a moment of uncertain silence that stretched into several, and then she sat up and looked over to him, "Care to die with me?" she inquired perkily.

He chuckled, taking a seat on the couch beside her without touching her. "I think the phrase is 'care to dine with me', pet. And I don't think you're in any condition to be eating right now."

She shook her head adamantly and then pressed a hand to her temple in an attempt to steady herself. "No, no. I mean die." And boy did she ever. Being dead would surely stop the room from spinning and her head from pounding. "Except… you're already dead," she said in that guileless little girl tone she had so often adopted when she felt overwhelmed or put-out as a teen. "Twice." Her head tilted thoughtfully, a frown pouting out her lower lip adorably "or, no, three times."

He chuckled again. "Well, then I guess I've caught up with you then, sweetheart."

The frown deepened. "Uh uh. I only died twice."

"Me too," he whispered conspiratorially, which only deepened her confusion. He placed a hand gently over hers on her lap. "Didn't dust in L.A., luv," he said gently.

Wide green eyes looked to his hand on hers before they rose to meet his uncertainly. He was touching her… so… not a ghost? Now she wasn't sure. Maybe some ghosts could touch things. Or maybe she was more sloshed than she'd thought and she'd passed out and this was all just a really cruel dream. Ghost, not-ghost, or dream, she responded to him anyway. "You didn't?"

He shook his head.

Her eyes left his, darting back and forth – or rather, moving in patterns which might have been darting had she not been too inebriated to affect such rapid movement – as though searching for something, or deep in thought. Finally she shook her head, her eyes coming back to rest on his. "No," she declared, "Spike dusted fighting the Senior partners. He and Angel and Wesley and those others, they died saving the world." Her expression was vaguely upset, but also filled with conviction. "They died because we didn't help them. Because I didn't help them." She sniffed and then said, very quietly, "You died and I didn't even know you were alive."

He shifted closer to her, ever so slightly. "Didn't die, pet. 'M right here." He took her hand gently in his and raised it to press against his chest. "See?" he prompted, "Still undead and not breathing."

Buffy shook her head again, attempting to withdraw. "No. No. Spike's dead. If he wasn't…" She let the thought die and Spike placed a gentle finger under her chin to raise it.

"If I wasn't, what, luv?"

She blinked as though to stop tears and her eyes drifted beside him and down as she spoke, "If he wasn't dead he'd have come for me by now," she whispered.

Not-Ghost-Spike swallowed hard, blue eyes filling with pain and the sheen of unshed tears.

"Oh, pet," he murmured, tightening his grip on her hand and using his other to run tenderly over her golden locks. "'M so sorry," he whispered, and her response was a hiccupping sob. He moved to gather her in his arms, and she came willingly, sobbing against his very solid chest as he brought both arms up around her and laid his cheek against the top of her head. "So sorry," he whispered over and over.

They remained this way for some time before Buffy finally pulled away, sniffing and wiping at her eyes, and it did not escape her notice that Not-Ghost-Spike was blinking back tears of his own, scrubbing surreptitiously at the tracks running down both cheeks.

"I miss you," she said quietly.

She watched his Adam's apple, transfixed, as it bobbed with his hard swallow. "Missed you too, Goldilocks."

"You left me, and you didn't even believe me. Didn't believe I loved you." She met his gaze seriously, "I know that's why you didn't come back to me. You thought it wasn't true." The tears threatened to spill over again, but she valiantly held them back. She had too many things to tell him, too many things he needed to hear her say. She didn't want to waste any more of these precious moments on tears; she had already spent so many and she had no idea how long she had with him.

"Was a bloody pillock, Buffy. Shoulda known you didn't say those words lightly. But I just," he shook his head, "I couldn't let myself believe you." His eyes met hers, deep and sincere, and she remembered him telling her once that he was drowning in her. Now she was drowning in him. "If I'd let myself believe you I wouldn't have been able to do it. I had to stay to the end and if I'd let myself believe you I would have wanted to go with you." His hand cupped her cheek, thumb stroking softly against her skin. "Can you understand that?" The question was quiet, low, and Buffy nodded.

"But after you came back?" she whispered.

He gave a little snort of disgust. "After I came back I was a bloody coward. Well, no," he reconsidered, "'S not quite true. When I first came back I wanted nothing more than to go to you." Her eyes met his in question and he shrugged. "Was all ghosty, and stuck to bloody Peaches' office besides. And by the time I was myself again I'd let the wanker convince me you'd moved on." He drew in a deep, unnecessary breath and the part of here not wholly caught up in the words coming from his lips noted with amusement that Spike still breathed – vampire, ghost or not-ghost. He was so strange. He shook his head. "Told myself I didn't want to disrupt your life, make things difficult for you. But the truth was I was bloody terrified. Thinking you'd moved on was one thing, seein' you with another bloke'd like to have killed me." His lips twisted into a humorless half grin, "Again."

Maybe it was the shock, or the cold (she'd forgotten to turn on the heater and it was mid-winter in Cleveland), but Buffy was starting to feel remarkably sober. Sober enough to realize that ghosts and hallucinations couldn't touch her and the Vampire before her most certainly was.

"You didn't dust in LA," she murmured.

"I really didn't."

"And you came to find me?"

"Soon as I could," he swore, hand finding hers again and clasping it tightly, as though he was afraid one or both of them might disappear.

"I love you." The words were near-silent, a thousand flavors of fear muffling the conviction she had meant to put into the words. Maybe he wasn't real. Maybe he wouldn't believe her. Maybe he didn't care anymore. Maybe they'd missed their chance.

His eyes fluttered closed and he leaned in to rest his forehead against hers.

"Love you. Never stopped."

"I know."

She took a few moments to bask in his nearness lost in a haze part pure joy that he was here, with her, and part honest to goodness exhaustion because she hadn't had enough sleep in years, it seemed, and certainly not in the last few days, and she had had way too much to drink. Somewhere some small rational part of her brain told her that she should get up, move to her bedroom, and go to sleep even as the rest of her protested that she was perfectly content right here. And then that little voice reminded her that there wasn't any reason she couldn't take the part of right here that was making her so happy with her to get that much needed sleep and she decided that the only thing better than sitting here with Spike would be to cuddle up against him in her bed and so she should definitely follow its advice.

It took her a moment to gather her will and her balance, but she finally managed to disentangle herself from the man before her and rise mostly steadily to her feet.

Spike's gaze followed her, a mixture of questioning and uncertainty, and maybe a little hurt, their joined arms stretched between them. Buffy gave his hand a little tug.

"Pet?" he questioned softly, following her prompting to rise.

"I'm sleepy."

His face fell and then rearranged itself into a more neutral expression, though Spike had never been good at hiding what he was feeling. "Right. Sorry. Was right selfish of me to show up in the middle of the night and expect you to… I'll just come back tomorrow, yeah?"

"Spike." She refused to let go of his hand, and when his eyes met hers again she shook her head. "Stay." It was part invitation, part plea.

She knew he could see that she meant it, but still he hesitated.

"You sure, luv?" It had been a long time, after all.

"I'm sure."

The quiet assurance had him blinking back tears again and she hid her smile as he swallowed hard against them. He took a step closer to her, smiling down at her, and she could see a bit of the old mischief lurking in his eyes.

"You know," he observed, "maybe it was good for me you were drunk when I got here."

"Hey!" Buffy protested, simultaneously dropping his hand and wincing at the pain the sharp exclamation elicited. It was the first time either of them had raised their voice above a low hush and apparently her hangover was getting an early start.

He shrugged, unperturbed by her obvious offense. "'M just saying, like as not I'd shown up while you were sober you'd have kicked me in the head right and proper." His gaze softened, and he reached to tuck a feathery strand of hair behind her ear, allowing the soft touch to linger before he dropped his hand back to his side. "And you wouldn't have been wrong to do it."

"I might still do it in the morning," she warned, though her soft smile allayed any fears that she meant it. "Though a punch to the nose is more our style." They shared a grin and then her smile turned soft once more and she reached out to take his hand once more. "But tonight, I'm just happy you're here. I have a splitting headache, unsurprisingly, and all I want to do is curl up with the man I love and sleep it off."

There would be plenty of time tomorrow for explanations and apologies and promises and forgiveness, on both sides. Tonight it was enough that they were together again.

For a moment Spike's face was a mask of awe and then he closed the distance between them and pulled her into his arms. For a long time they stood, encased in one another's arms, simply enjoying being together after so long apart. And then Spike shifted, his cool lips brushing her earlobe, drawing a shudder up from her toes.

"I know a wonderful cure for hangovers," he breathed suggestively, the slow press of his hips to hers leaving no doubt what he meant.

Buffy swallowed a giggle. "Pig," she accused without conviction.

"Yeah." Spike pulled back to look at her, the blue depths of his eyes so filled with love and warmth she thought she might melt right into them. "But I'm your pig. And you love it."

Raising herself up on tip toe Buffy pressed a kiss to his cheek and then , when he turned his head ever so slightly, mouth instinctively seeking hers, pressed her lips to his fully, sharing a deep and tender open mouthed kiss. Her arms came up to wrap around his neck, pulling him impossibly closer. Before the need for air could overwhelm her she pulled back ever so slightly, so that her lips brushed his as they curled into a smile, and her whispered response tickled the soft flesh of his lips as she spoke.

"I really do."