Disclaimer: I own neither 'Buffy: The Vampire Slayer' nor 'Angel'. I'm just really glad about the existence of the former and a little bit curious about whether or not I want to watch the second.

Summary: Buffy's grief for Spike is triggered by the most unlikely of people. The tale of a shanshued ex-boyfriend, Buffy's unrepressed sense of longing for someone else entirely and a platinum blonde vampire pacing outside.

Rating: T

Setting: Post 'Chosen', possibly post 'NFA'

Pairing: Spuffy. Bangel is mentioned and treated as seriously as Buffy does feel about Angel.

A/N: Another little piece that was supposed to be a more realistic approach to post 'Chosen' Spuffy. It turned out sappier than I thought and Buffy is a tad OOC around the middle part of part two (which I'm generally not that happy with and which is the reason why I held this thing back even though I've had it written for months), but I'm very happy again with the ending.

Well, I hope you enjoy. Drop me a line, whether you like it or not. :)

PS: For those of you waiting for a 'Vertigo' update - I'm so freaking stuck it's not even funny. I hope I'll get over my writer's block for that particular story, but I can't guarantee I will have a new chapter ready anytime soon. However, it is not abandoned. I will eventually finish it, hopefully not three years from now. :) Sorry.


Underneath her heart

Their hands slipped into each other so easily, the caress of fingers, the tenderness of palm against palm. It was soft and she felt like she had come home. More than kissing him, this felt-… not quite right, but like home.

If she let herself, she would cry tears of joy at the sight of their embracing hands. But that wasn't necessary, because now, no tears would be needed, never again. She was with him and he let her in and they would never be apart again.

Her smile was radiant when she looked back at his face.

Then it hit her. That thing she had known before and that had somehow slipped her mind or gotten muddled up in it; the reason for celebrating.

It was Angel she was with right now. Angel who was finally ready for happy instead of broody misery. Angel, done redeeming himself, human, perfect Angel who didn't run from her anymore.

But it hadn't been his eyes she had expected to see. The warm brown she used to be able to find all the happiness in the world in. She had longed for blue ice to drown in, to draw strength out of. Just one second.

Of course, it had been the visual of the intertwining hands that had gotten her to this. Buffy could feel her smile slipping, could feel panic creeping in and the grief , but she couldn't move. All she could do was look at their hands again and see flames.

Something was obviously wrong with her. He didn't know what had happened, what ghost of a memory had intruded in their reunion, in the beauty of the moment that was going to finally last until they both died of old age. Buffy, the wonderful love of his life, Buffy had been gleaming up at him with more joy than he'd ever seen in her and then it had been gone. Wiped away.

"Buffy?", he probed carefully, trying to catch her eyes again. They snapped up to his and she let go of his hand as if startled out of the last remaining traces of bliss. She even stepped away from him as if bit.

He was really worried now. The only thing he had seen that had made her look like this was when he had first kissed her and accidentally shown her his vampire visage. And even that had been different.

God, she had been so young then… So uninjured by life. By him.

His hands flew up, unreasonably worried something had undone the shanshu, had taken his humanity away again. For a few painful seconds he searched for bumps he rationally knew he could not possibly find. He had earned it after a long struggle with himself and with whatever evil stepped into his way. He deserved being human and free of his guilt, free of the things he had done as a vampire. He had proven that he was worth being with her, at last. His forehead was smooth.

And then a little whimper, while he still held her gaze, even though it seemed to see something far, far away. That little whimper that was about to bring his entire world to ruin and later, he could swear part of him had known it was coming, even though he couldn't possibly have guessed the reason for her distress. That little whimper of a name.

"Spike…"

Saying his name brought her crashing back into the present, into reality, into the man she was actually with. And her first reaction was to be horrified at how devastated he looked.

"Oh God, Angel… I'm so sorry-… I don't know what-…I-…"

She wanted to make it better, take that hurt away from him, but he just let her ramble on and her words ebbed away. It didn't take the pain in his eyes to make her realize she had just destroyed the man in front of her. Who she had supposed to live happily ever after with, after waiting for it so long.

She had wrecked it all with a memory she hadn't asked for.

Spike, in that cave. Burning with the soul he got for her. Saving the world for her sake.

She didn't know how long she and Angel starred at each other, before he warily uttered:

"You love him?"

She didn't hesitate, didn't say something right away. She took the exact amount of time that would make him believe she wasn't lying, that she was convinced it was the truth.

"Of course I don't. It's Spike."

Buffy hated her answer. It didn't sound defensive. It sounded like she was annoyed by even the thought of it being possible. That was unfair to Spike, she knew and it hurt to think of what he would think of her if he could see her now. She had, after all, tried really hard to love him, at the end. Because… he had earned it so much. She had wanted to love him, even if she hadn't managed to. And that was a lot more than she had just told Angel.

"Right."

And why didn't he believe her? It wasn't like she would ever choose Spike over him, even if he was still alive. She had kissed him, for God's sake. She had kissed him and promised him her cookies and had thrown Spike's honesty about holding her being what had made him happiest back in his face. If that didn't prove anything, what did?

She closed the gap her little memory attack had created between them and reached up to cup his face. His eyes were on the floor.

"Hey… Angel. Hey, look at me. Don't be mad, okay? I don't love Spike. I love you."

"I know you love me."

Satisfied with his answer, she leaned up to kiss him. This time it was him who stepped away from her as if she were poison.

"But you also love him."

She had to be lying if she said she wasn't getting really frustrated now.

"That's ridiculous, Angel. You're making a huge elephant-… or something… out of nothing. I love you. I want to be with you. I'm so happy that you finally let me."

Smiling up at him like a good girlfriend, showing him. But Angel, being the big mood kill that he was, insisted.

"You were searching for his face. You looked at me and when I wasn't him, you crumbled and damn near broke down."

Which was true, of course. Wasn't the first time that had happened. Something random would remind her of Spike and she would miss him so much it felt like she was turning inside out. Yes, now hadn't been a very fortunate time and situation for it to happen, but… it wasn't like she had done it on purpose.

"And I'm sorry. I didn't mean for this little flashback thingy to happen. It's just that the hands thing was kind a Spike and me deal and it reminds me of how he died and I do grieve him."

It didn't feel right telling him even that. It felt as if she was betraying Spike's trust, giving Angel information about something so incredibly beautiful, so incredibly painful, so incredibly… in the end it came down to being personal. This story was not for him.

"Because you love him."

And now she was getting really upset.

"Why do you keep saying that? Why won't you believe me when I say that you are it for me? It was just a memory."

"Damn strong memory…"

Tears of anger now pooled in her eyes, threatening to fall.

"God, Angel! Would you listen to yourself? You're ruining our happy time! I thought we were over that jealous vampire thing. Or human or whatever."

And then he said the one thing that could possibly make his situation worse, whether he knew it or not. She briefly wondered if he was stupid to bring up his own insecurities in a way she hadn't even looked at. Then she had the memory of him doing this again and again in all kinds of situations and realized it was just him being Angel. And right now, him being Angel was anything but working in his favor.

"It's that he got a soul out of his own free will, isn't it? That's what he did. That's what made him better than me."

So she said the one thing she had sworn she wouldn't bring up. Not now. Not yet. This was a discussion they would have to have eventually, but not in the precise moment when only happily ever after should matter.

"If anything made him better than you then it was the fact that he stayed when I asked him to."

Of course she brought that up, of course she did. Why didn't she get he had done it for her own good?

"I walked away from you to protect you!"

This was getting out of hand.

"I didn't ask for that kind of protection! I hated that kind of protection and you knew it and you still walked away!"

There she stood, her eyes swimming in the angry tears she had held back for-… well, obviously a longer time than the last few catastrophic minutes. And she was just so beautiful he might be able to look past her bringing up the same old fight again, in which his side obviously didn't matter to her. But it was all said and done now and he didn't want to fight anymore. Not about this, not about Spike, not about anything. He just wanted to be with her.

She didn't stop there, though.

"Spike loved me enough to not even leave when I tried to make him!"

It felt like she had punched him in his chest, arrested his now once more beating heart. Because if anything else hadn't made it clear, if her wanting to see his damned vampire offspring more than him, if she kept pointing out how much better Spike was…. This was it. She had basically told him she believed Spike loved her more than he did. And that was-… It was the end. It was something he couldn't fight any longer. She had chosen him, yes. But he wasn't what she wanted, not really.

"Be happy together."

"What are you talking about?"

"No, really, Buffy. Be happy together. But don't expect me to sound the trumpets."

"Be happy together? Just how exactly are we going to do that? He is dead, Angel. Really, being jealous of the dead is so not an attractive quality."

He just stared at her. He had forgotten she didn't know. And she was still rambling and the words slowly got through to him and they didn't exactly make him believe she wanted to be with him instead of Spike.

"So I cared about him. I kinda appreciated the whole getting a soul for me and standing up for me and fighting by my side and dying for me thing. But he's gone. And he knew I didn't love him, even when I told him."

Which was just the last straw.

"If you love him so much, go find him! He lives a few blocks from here! Go and don't come back!"

"What?"

His dreams were falling to dust around him, collapsing as if they had never been more than figments of his fantasies. He had thought today would be the happiest day of his life. Instead, he was as good as barking information at his sweet Buffy, because she didn't want to be his anymore.

"Someone sent me the amulet I gave you and out came Spike. A little incorporeal at first and one hell of a pain in the ass, but he's been helping out here ever since."

And he almost felt bad about putting it so bluntly, but it was just so difficult to mind her feelings when he was so-… heartbroken. There was no other word for it. The thing he had fought for that was thumping away in his chest again felt as if she had it gripped in an iron fist. And the incredulous, far from amused look she gave him didn't help calm him enough to be gentler.

"You know, that's really the least funny thing you have ever said. Not that you've ever been a bundle of jokes. Spike would never be back from the dead and not even check in with me."

Because Spike loves me. Because Spike never stays away from me. Because Spike always comes back to me. He could as good as hear the thoughts that were going through her head right now. They were unbearable. She was accusing him in her mind of not being as amazing as her beloved Spike and-…

"Well, I didn't think you cared!", he yelled and he could almost watch realization hit home. From one second to the other, she believed it. She knew his grandchilde was alive and well and their future together was over before it even began. So for the sake of maybe making her see at least why he had believed it was the best course of action to keep Spike from telling Buffy he was undead and well, he added:

"And neither did he."

There was a long pause. His chest was heaving with breaths he hadn't drawn in many centuries and that were oh so necessary now. She stood like he'd struck her.

The seconds ticked away and he wanted her gone from his life. If she didn't want to be with him, the least she could do was go now and leave him to his sorrow. But something held him back from screaming at her further. It did register than he had really hurt her just then. And despite wanting to squeeze the ugly truth out of her throat and then throw himself out of his office window, he did love her so, so incredibly much and it destroyed him to see her like this. She was in pain because of something he said and that was…

"So you're saying…", she slowly began, "Spike has been alive all along and he never picked up a phone or-… or flew over?"

Suddenly, the exhaustion was overwhelming. On the other hand, he was glad to have his voice back under control.

"That's exactly what I'm saying."

And then the look in her eyes changed frighteningly fast and if he didn't know he was save from her slaying him by being human now and also of a certain amount of sentimental value to her, he would run the hell away.

"Because you told him I wouldn't want to see him?"

"I didn't say it like that-…"

Her eyes were ice now and for a second he really did wish she would put him out of his misery. Never, not even when he'd been Angelus, had she looked at him like she truly hated him.

"You know what, Angel? I think you're right. We are done."

And she walked away, not even looking back.

~o~o~o~o~

Spike felt like he was on fire again. To as good as know Buffy was close and to have actually stepped aside so that her reunion with her beloved Angel would be undisturbed and Spike-guilt-free… He wanted to kick his own ass for it.

What else was there he could do, though? Barge in there, face the woman who didn't even know he wasn't ashes anymore and demand she be with him instead? Now that was a suicide mission and nothing more. Even if she didn't stake him for never telling her he was anything other but dead and buried underneath pretty much all of Sunnydale, and even if his sodding now human granddaddy didn't muck it all up by saying or doing something stupid… Buffy wouldn't chose him. Never him. Never the one she had only tried to love over the one who had always been in her bloody heart (he he, bloody heart) and hadn't left any space in there for him to conquer.

Sod Angel and his sodding shanshu. It just wasn't fair. He had been there first and hadn't he earned it, too? What with the dying to save the world and everything? Or at least dying for love. If anyone deserved to be human it was the vampire who had died for the woman who made him get a soul.

Maybe it was the fact that he liked being a vampire. He liked the taste of blood – even if it was only sodding pig – he loved the violence and he sure as hell didn't feel like giving up the additional strength that could help him save the world at Buffy's side. He didn't need ancient prophecies and a beating heart for his redemption. Redemption might be quite nice, but certainly not his first priority. If he was honest with himself, he had only done it so that there might be a chance Buffy would want him in her life.

Anything for her.

God, he had turned into such a poof since meeting the bint.

And now she was in a building not too far away, probably kissing the life out of Angel (and wouldn't that solve his problems) and then celebrating his renewed ability to shag without losing the soul. And he was doing nothing about it.

He lit a fag, not his first today, greedily sucking in the smoke. He was pacing, pacing, pacing and there was no way he could go back to his flat to just lie on his bed and imagine all the things that were probably going on in a different bed right now.

What he wanted was some violence. Some beautiful, almost fatal action with some baddies who didn't know any better than to cross his path. But it had been surprisingly quiet today, as if even the lowest of minions knew that there was a real Slayer in town, one with more fire in her than any silly Potential gone Slayer could possibly have, with death in her eyes and it had never looked more inviting…

He had passed the stupid Wolfram and Hart building, alright. Passed it time and time again in his unrelenting roam through the city. Wanted to storm in and kidnap her, if that was what it took, but of course, that was ridiculous. Tying her up in his crypt and offering to kill Drusilla unsurprisingly hadn't done any good. Clearly not the way to go about this. And what else was there to do? There was nothing that wouldn't end with a wooden stick firmly impacted somewhere in his anatomy, be it to put him out of his misery or somewhere else just to make it hurt. And even that wouldn't be as bad as seeing them together and happy and him not mattering enough to-…

Deep down, he knew. He knew why he didn't actually try anything, even if it was a futile attempt before he had even started. At the odd chance that she would be glad to see him, he was still a vampire. He was still not someone she could even begin to consider leading her life with. And that was just it, wasn't it? He hadn't told her he was alive, because she deserved better than to be stuck with big ol' vampire him. He had wanted to be worth her before meeting her next. But Angel had been first. Angel had what she wanted now. Angel was-…

Was that-… What the devil was she doing out here?

And that was the only thought he was capable of thinking before the Slayer had broken out of her full stop at seeing him and he had his arms full of Buffy.

There she was, warm and alive and pressed against him so tightly he could feel her heart racing against his ribcage. Her gold hair shining in the moonlight and the streetlamps, her arms locked behind his back, as if she would never let him go. And he was too stunned to appreciate any of it. His arms hung limply at his sides, his gaze merely gracing the top of her head, staring straight ahead into the void of disbelief.

What. Was. She. Doing?

And then he felt her shoulders start to shake and she was crying into his duster, which was more than enough to shock him out of his trance.

"Buffy?"

Sounds so chocked up he could barely make them out.

"You were gone…"

Unable to wrap his mind around what was happening, what she had just told him, his right hand came up to stroke her hair, so soft between nicotine-stained fingertips, a little awkwardly. He had never been in a position before when she had actually sought him out to hold her while she wept.

"You idiot.", she weakly punched his shoulder, her fist lacking brutality, her voice surprisingly void of venom. "I grieved you. I missed you. I would have given anything to see you again!"

His left hand now rested at the small of her back, unable to resist the temptation to feel her body against his even in this way, solid and real and Buffy.

So this was what he had missed. With all the inane – apparently torturous even for her - longing, he had not been prepared for how the familiarity that was her threw him off, overwhelmed him, made him want to scream to the heavens and shut up for good. This tiny human being full of strength on every level, her soft curves, her sometimes infuriating voice, the painful thumping of her heartbeat against his chest. This was the girl who held everything that he was and ever could be in the palm of her hand. And God, he loved her.

Spike shouldn't. He really shouldn't, but he had to ask.

"Weren't you going to be with tall forehead?"

"He didn't tell me you were back."

The ice in her voice startled him. He'd felt some resentment in her before concerning Angel, a whole lot of pain, the makings of tragedy that evoked a certain amount of anger. But this? She made it sound like it was a capital offense.

Why would anything regarding him be a capital offense?

"I'm not saying that I don't love him", she went on, and his heart sank, "I'm saying after everything we've been through, he still thinks he can decide what's best for me. Convincing you I wouldn't want to see you… that was the last straw. I'm finally done with him."

Oh. Oh. That made sense. Of course she wouldn't be here if things with Angel had worked out. It was silly, really, how disappointed he felt, when he should have expected nothing else.

Buffy cared about him. Somehow, he had made her care about him before he had died. Maybe by dying for her. But he was still second 0n her list and even though that was a place he'd never thought he'd see, it was a truth a lot like bitter flames licking at his skin.

"And so you come running to me."

She pulled away, a frown marring her beautiful features, her voice bafflingly honest, like that hadn't even occurred to her.

"No. I'm not here because of anything that happened with Angel. I'm here because I can't sleep without your arms around me. I can't even enjoy a good dream, because they all become freakin' nightmares when I wake up to find you gone again."

And that was hope. It was hope, the way his voice was trembling right now. It was fear, yes. But it was also hope. There was hope; with everything she had said so far, things that only now started to sink in, there had to be hope, god damnit!

"Buffy… luv… What are you saying?"

And could he possibly sound any more vulnerable?

"I'm saying I want to be with you."

Couldn't, wasn't ready to believe it, because it was too bloody glorious for him, for them.

"Buffy, love… As much as I appreciate it… What about – you know, happily ever after? Isn't that what you were going to have with big ol' broody? 'Cause as much as I'd like to believe it, I can guarantee you skipping off into the sunset won't be happening with this vamp. Not only is there the whole thing where I turn to ashes, but also-…"

She didn't seem fazed by his worries, not for one second. Instead, she cut him off, voice firm, but warm.

"I do get that. And it's never going to be easy for us. But that's what makes it real. I don't need the happy ending if we can have something real instead."

"I'll never be human."

She could see that upset him for some reason. And it did give her pause. No, he wouldn't be human. He wouldn't grow old with her. They could never have children together. But in the end-…

"I don't need you to be human. I just need you to be with me."

And it was in this exact moment that she understood the truth behind those words. She had thought them before – well, not the human part – but never had she gotten what they meant so completely. And she knew, it had to show on her face, the realization she was having that would have made her freeze if not for the warmth in his blue, blue eyes and the beginning of awe in the trembling of that beautiful scared eyebrow mixed with the tightening of his lips as if biting back grief.

But there shouldn't be any grief. There should never be grief for him again, because she was in the middle of finishing a whole chain of comprehensions.

She needed him. She needed Spike. Buffy needs Spike. Buffy can never not need Spike.

"Buffy loves Spike…", she muttered, in a daze, staring at him and almost not seeing him and at the same time seeing him more clearly than she ever had.

And then it bubbled from her lips, without a warning, without her being able to hold back because she hadn't seen it coming.

Laughter so indescribably happy even he with his well-deserved insecurities couldn't think it meant she was laughing at how absurd the words she had said were. And the tears spilling down her cheeks felt like rain, like a cleansing somehow. They absolved them both of all the darkness they had put each other through. For the first time since she had been called to be the Slayer, Buffy felt complete and utterly free.

Free…

Somewhere, amidst the laughter and the joy she hadn't felt in so long – quite possibly never – she found just a few more words.

"I finally love you…"

And they were heaven, because they were true.

She was finally free to love him.

It felt like it had always been there, unseen, hidden somewhere, underneath her heart instead of in it. It had been there, but not in her and now, now she could let it find its rightful place. The warmth of it filled her inside out.

And she could see in the way tears welled up in his eyes and his complete and utter inability to say anything at all that he believed her. This time, he believed her.

Then his lips were on hers and he had never, never kissed her like that. Buffy wanted to kick himself for making him hold back before, because if he had kissed her like this all the time… Nothing compared to the way he was kissing her right now. He had always kissed her as if she was his world, even in the darkest moments, where she had reduced them both to nothing but all-consuming lust and mutual hate. She had always felt his craving for tenderness underneath the passion and the pain and the damn near wanting to rip her head off; that had always been there. Every kiss he gave her – every kiss he let her take was a plea to love him.

But this? This kiss was love. That was what love tasted like. It was what Spike kissed like when he was unafraid of being rejected. And it was what she kissed like when she finally, finally let go.

Nothing had ever felt better than this kiss. And the best part? It was only the beginning.

The End