"Buffy?" he repeated, his eyes widening.

How the hell had he missed it. He was a stupid git. Had been face to bloody face making small talk with Buffy bloody Summers and he hadn't even noticed.

But he knew why. It wasn't until now, stake raised, looking for a scuffle, her bodying doing what was meant to do, destined to do, that her green eyes had come alive. Inside, waiting tables, her eyes had been dull, deadened, vacant. Had a far away look to them. She was there, but she wasn't. Not really. Not in a way that counted for anything. But now, they flashed, brilliant and vibrant and finally really present. And in that moment he knew her. This is the girl he remembered, had tried to kill, had helped to save the world. And then, he had heard (later found out for himself), had split the whole Sunnyhell scene and hadn't been back. Apparently to come to this godforsaken corner of America the beauty.

Also, the pun, of course. Queen of the bloody quips that one was.

Buffy bloody Summers.

Buffy froze. She hadn't heard that name in years. Elizabeth. Anne. Eliza. Beth. Liz. Anna. Even, once or twice, Summer, which had proved unfortunate and she had decided against using again. But not Buffy. Never Buffy. She could not bring herself to use her real name. So hearing it now had knocked the wind out of her. How had he known? Who the hell was this vamp? And why wasn't he tearing out her throat right now? She looked into his face, which oddly hadn't gone all bumpy. "Spike?" she gasped, memories rushing back at her, overwhelming her and making her legs all wobbly and her breath short and her palms sweat and her heart pound in a way it hadn't beat for eighteen years since she had run away and left everything she loved behind her. That night he had come to her. Told her he was going to help her stop Angel, to save the world. And he had helped her. He had gotten his ho of a girlfriend out of the way so that she could fight Angel and put a sword through his chest and send him to hell.

"Buffy," he repeated, his voice gruff and he reached out a hand (the other was gripping the wrist of her hand that held the wooden spoon, which went clattering to the ground) and touched her cheek.

She was struck by the tenderness in his touch, the warmth in his eyes. Why was he looking at her like that? It was giving her a major wiggins (and wasn't helping with the racing heart and clammy hands and wobbly legs). Sure, they had an uneasy, untrusting alliance in the end, but he had spent most of his time in Sunnydale trying to kill her. Definitely not the kind of relationship that merited a touchy reunion. In fact, it didn't merit any touchy. At all. None whatsoever.

"What the hell are you doing here?" she demanded, jerking away from him. (Using a little more force than she needed. His hold on her hadn't been tight and had loosened with his recognition of her, and part of her wondered if she wished it had been tighter, wished it hadn't been so easy for her to break away in the first place, wished that someone had held her firm and hadn't let her go.)

He shrugged, lighting another cigarette. "Like I said, just passing through, luv."

"You weren't looking for me?" she asked, suspiciously.

"As if," he replied casually, looking slightly offended. "Angel followed you like a whelp through most of the major American cities before packing it in and shacking up in L.A. He would. Oooh City of Angels. He would, pretentious git," he stopped, noticing her broken expression.

"Angel," she said, quietly, something between a question and a choke.

How?

"Right. And you wouldn't have known that." He ran his free hand over his hair. He had buggered this up. Bird hadn't even known Angel and his stupid hair had come back. This was not good. Should never have stopped here. It had been a very bad idea. Vampires didn't even need coffee. He had just been bored. "Yeah. Uh, he, um, he came back. Somehow got himself mojoed back from the great beyond. No one's quite sure how or why Captain Forehead managed the rerun, but there you have it. Broody's back in town." Probably not the best phrasing. But he had never been one to sugar coat things, had he. He had never known when to just shut up, didn't have much of a reputation for tact. Especially not when it came to Peaches.

"How long?" was all she could manage.

"'Bout seventeen years now."

"Seventeen years," she echoed. All those years she had been torturing herself for killing him, for stickingthatswordinhischesta ndsendinghimtohell and he hadn't been dead. And he hadn't found her either. He had given up.

"I think I need to sit down or I'm going to be sick."

He took her arm and led her inside. He was surprised by how much she leaned on him. It struck him how broken she must be to be depending on him. The memory he had of her was all spunk and fight and fire. (She had been almost as reckless as he was, almost as eager for a fight. He had wanted to kill her so badly, wanted her more than he had wanted any other Slayer. He had wanted to brawl and dance and drink deeply from her and lose himself in her flames. He hadn't been surprised when she had finally, really burned him. Fighting with her had been like flying to close to the sun. Not a wise choice for a flammable vampire. Liable to get burnt to a bloody crisp.) When they got inside, he saw that her eyes were dead again. "Look Buffy," he said gently. Too gently, Buffy thought. What was with this vamp? "I'm sorry," he said, which was about the sodden stupidest thing he could've but nothing else had come to mind. Words had failed him. (Which might not have been a blessing in disguise. Not that someone as damned as him got many blessings, but when he did, they were often the disguised kind. The kind that you didn't realize was a blessing until after you'd been taught a painful lesson, gotten to the moral of the story, suffered through the guilt and the penance and the trying to make things rights and the realizing that you never could.)

"It's not your fault," she said in a monotone. She heard Rob ding the bell which meant that her food was up. She walked mechanically to the window and picked up the plate.

"I was beginning to wonder where you had gone off to," he chided her. Then he looked up from the stove and saw her expression. "You okay, Bethy. You look pale, girl."

"Fine. I'm fine," she said, mechanically faking a smile before quickly turning away.

She put the plate down in front of Spike before collapsing in the booth across from him. She had mourned for Angel for eighteen years and he had given up on her in what a year. Two years. A few months. Eighteen years she had punished herself, had not allowed herself the luxury of love, of home, of life. Eighteen years she hadn't lived because she thought he was dead.

Plus, she wondered vaguely when she had actually stopped loving him.

She had gripped her guilt for so long, but somehow hadn't managed to hold on to love. Weird. All these years she had been carrying a torch for him without realizing that it had gone out at some point without her noticing.

And without that torch, she couldn't even see who she was anymore.

The tears came. She put her head between her hands and sobbed. She wasn't even sure what or who she was crying for. For Angel. For herself. For the mother, sister, daughter, friend she had turned her back on and run away from. For the woman she had abandoned, the woman she would never be, had given up on before she had even existed. Spike moved into the booth beside her (his hot wings untouched) and began to awkwardly pat her back.

He didn't know what the hell he was doing here. He barely knew this girl. But he did know that he didn't want to see her suffer like this. From the look of her she had suffered enough. Didn't like seeing her so down was all.

One of the disadvantages of being all soulful: actual sodden empathy.

He heard a noise and looked up from the sobbing Slayer to see a large man lumber out from the kitchen. "What you done to her, boy?" The man said, smacking a rolling pin into the palm of his hand. It would have been pretty comical to Spike, except that the rolling pin was unfortunately, dangerously, wooden. "Saw the look on her face and heard her wailing up a gale in here."

"Me?" Spike exclaimed, instinctively holding up his hands. "You think I did something wrong here? You've got the wrong bloke."

The man made a show of looking around. "Don't see anybody else here? Do you?" he said incredulously.

"He's fine," Buffy said between sobs. "He just messagering."

"So, don't shoot is what you're saying?" Robbie asked.

"Yeah. No shootage."

"Alright then. If you need anything, Bethy, you know where I am."

She smiled weakly. "Thanks Robbie."

The man gave Spike one more menacing look before heading back into the kitchen. "Well, that was a show, wasn't it?" Spike asked, arching an eyebrow. "Bethy, huh?"

Buffy shrugged, reaching for a napkin from the dispenser and blowing her nose. "Beth, really. Had to tell them something. It was different everywhere."

He nodded. He understood the urge to change names as part of running away from the person you had been. After all, he had invented a few nomenclatures for himself along the way. But she had managed to hold on to a least a piece of herself. Save one of the fragments that had been left about after everything that Angelus had done to her. (Like he had. Or at least he thought he had. That piece of humanity that he had kept, buried deep inside of him, repressed by the demon that resented it and the grandsire who had despised it. Not enough humanity to stop the evil, but enough that he fought for his soul once it was too late, after the damage had been done and redemption had become impossible.) She had clung to that at least. It was something. Not much. But something. (He supposed he was proof enough of that.)

Besides, she still had her instincts, if the wooden spoon she had almost driven through his heart had been any indication. That was something more.

He just wasn't sure exactly why he cared.

They sat for a few minutes in silence, broken only by her occasional sniffles. Such sad, pathetic little sounds that twisted his heart and his gut and made him feel bloody awful.

His hand was still on her back. She had not told him to move it.

After a while she spoke. "I don't… I don't know where to start. I mean. Why haven't you killed me, yet? Isn't that what you're supposed to do? Be all Slayer of Slayers-y."

He chuckled. "That hasn't been me for a long time, Slayer. Got me a soul and all." What would she say if he told her that he had help train a whole school of Slayers?

She looked at him in disbelief. "A soul? Like Angel."

"No. Not like Angel. First of all, I can shag without worrying that it will scamper off every time I have an especially good…" He trailed off, noticing her hurt expression. "And, besides, I fought for mine. Wasn't a curse for me, it was a choice."

"Why? Why would you ever do that?"

He shrugged. "Almost hurt a person I loved. Figured it was time." He looked down. "Couldn't risk doing it again. Not to her. Couldn't bear it."

"Drusilla?"

"No… no… not Dru. Haven't seen Dru for years," he laughed slightly. "She dumped me after our little alliance. Went to back to Sunnydale after that to, you know, kill you. Earn back some of my ruthless demon cred. But, of course, you weren't there. Went back a year later, after Dru had dumped me again. Thought you might be back and that killing you might make me feel better. You know, blood of a Slayer, the vamp equivalent of a pint of Ben and bloody Jerry's. You still weren't there, but the sodden Initiative was. They caught me, tranqued me, and chipped me."

"Wait," she shook her head. "The Initiative? Chipping? I feel like I'm feeling total out of the loopiness here."

"You have been away a while. And you know, Hellmouth tends to attract plenty of unsavory types. The Initiative was a bunch of government blokes. Decided to go all Dr. Frankenstein on the demon world. Didn't work out. The chip was how they Skinner boxed me. Behavior modification. Got a painful jolt to the brain anytime I tried to bite anyone."

"Doesn't sound too bad to me," Buffy said.

"No. I suppose it wouldn't. Suppose you would have been just chuffed to see me all toothless and housebroken," he eyed her. "It's out now, by the way. Almost cracked my skull in half with its sodden shocks. But yeah, first there was a chip. Then a soul. Then no more chip."

She looked at him, her eyes full of questions, her brain unsure which to ask. None of this made anything like sense to her.

"It's a long, bloody complicated, horror story, pet. Sometimes I can't keep the bollocks straight."

"I want you to tell me. Tell me everything," she said with a sudden fierceness in her voice that surprised him.

"Glad to see you've perked up a bit. But believe me, Slayer, there are things you don't want to know. That Angel bit. That's just the tip of the iceberg, yeah? And I don't think you want to know what's in those depths."

"No, I do. Everything."

He shook his head. "Can't do that, love."

"You seem to have a pretty good grasp of all things Sunnydale," she paused. "Talking to you. It's like, I don't know, like I'm going home again."

"You know what they say about that, luv." He eyed her for a moment, his expression searching and serious. "You can't."