"So, I dunno. I'm kind of two-sided on the issue… What do you think?" Dakota said, interested gaze fixing pointedly upon the blonde girl before him.

It took Buffy a moment to realise that the question had in fact been thrown her way however, and she quite suddenly snapped from the daze she'd burrowed into. "Huh?" the Slayer asked, jerking to attention. "Oh, uh…" she shrugged, attempting to cover for her obvious failure to stay in the conversation. "I'm not sure," she laughed. "I pretty much agree with you, what with there being good reasons to go either way and all," activating her most charming smile, Buffy could only pray that he would accept her answer and move on.

Emerald eyes simply glowed though as Dakota stared at her, mild amusement written across his features. Clearing his throat, the young man pushed away his smile and became mockingly serious. "I see… And, what about the obvious international complications? What do you suppose should be done about that?" he inquired, brows furrowed as if deeply curious.

"Well, I…" the Slayer shrugged, looking to her now empty glass in hope that it would reveal an answer to her. "Who says anyone else would have a problem with it? M-maybe everyone will be just fine and dandy with it!" she said confidently, as if she'd made a perfectly relevant point.

Instead of beginning any sort of debate with her though, Dakota simply began to chuckle light-heartedly, nodding as he did so.

Not understanding what was meant by her companion's outbreak of gentle giggles, it didn't take long before Buffy's previously self-assured expression became something of a more offended variety. "What?" she asked, not enjoying the fact that she was being laughed at. "What'd I say?"

Dakota waved a hand in the air, now shaking off his laughter. "Nothing, nothing," he said, shaking his head. "It's just… You realise that I had been talking about whether or not Sunnydale High and Sunnydale University should be allowed to have corporate sponsors for their sports teams… right?" Dakota's eyebrows were lifted to astronomical heights as he asked the question, clearly aware that Buffy hadn't heard more than eleven of the words he'd spoken over the past five minutes.

Mortified beyond the telling of it, the Slayer could do nothing but look away as her face took on the composure of a ripe cherry. Dating tip number one: always listen to his stories, even if they're only about as exciting as watching paint dry, she mentally chided herself.

"Hey," Dakota prompted, touching the Slayer's bare shoulder lightly. "Don't worry about it… I realise that when you're not all gung-ho about sports teams, it can be pretty boring to sit and listen to someone ramble on about them," the ebon-haired student shrugged, smiling as Buffy turned back to him so she knew he wasn't offended by her bout of daydreaming.

"No, no, it's not that," she insisted, not wanting him to get the wrong impression even though his one-ended conversation had put her into a mild coma. "I just had a really long day at work," she sighed. "I mean, I can handle serving an entire family, even if it's a really big family… But two entire classes of screaming third-graders who still think the contents of their noses substitutes as a food group?" she shook her head. "That is a completely different situation," the Slayer groaned, a testament to just how desperate she was to never prepare another Medley Meal for as long as she lived.

Chiselled features contracted as Dakota pulled them into a wince, though even with such an expression upon his face, the man was still gorgeous. "Well in that case, it looks like this is the best place for you… Nothing cures stress better than dancing and drinks!"

Although she could quite easily come up with one… no, two activities that were even more satisfying than The Bronze, Buffy gave an exuberant nod. "Amen to that!"

Slapping his hands against his thighs and rubbing the slightly tense muscles once or twice, Dakota looked to his semi-date's long-since-empty cup. "Speaking of which" he pointed to the tinted plastic article. "Looks like you could use a refill."

"Oh! Uh, yeah… You don't mind…?" the Slayer asked hesitantly, not wanting him to get up simply for the purpose of refilling her drink.

"Wouldn't ask if I didn't want to," he smiled, taking hold of both their glasses. "Back in a minute" he glanced quickly to the bar, and noticed the not-so-friendly looking line-up. "Or five," he chuckled, shrugging as he walked away.

Alone at last, Buffy thought wistfully, heaving a deep, relaxing sigh. It was nice to be out with someone else… it really was. She felt comforted knowing that human guys still found her even mildly attractive. But… it was equally as wonderful to be left alone with her own thoughts for a moment… or five.

Thrumming her fingers against the white table at which she was seated, Buffy looked straight ahead to the dance floor. Dawn was still out there with Phoenix, her eyes trained solely upon his form as she continued to swing her hips and laugh at each and every one of his jokes. The teens were obviously having the time of their lives.

Score one for the Summers women: Dawn finds a nice, normal guy on her first try, she thought with a smile, emerald orbs glittering slightly as she began pondering her current situation.

So far, things were going quite nicely. Dakota didn't show any signs of possessing the stuck-up, arrogant attitude displayed by most of the football players she'd met in high school. He was definitely a 'nice guy', having chuckled in response to her poorest jokes and sympathized with her devastating stories concerning the Doublemeat Palace. Oh, and the fact that her Slayer senses weren't going berserk while she sat next to him was definitely a good sign. Maybe she and Dawn would both get lucky tonight… but only in the not-getting-eaten context of course… No need to let her mind start wandering in those directions when it concerned her little sister.

Despite all of the truly wonderful things that Dakota had going for him though, Buffy couldn't help admitting that she felt as if… something… was missing. Mentally, she once again ran over the checklist she'd prepared in terms of Dakota's obvious characteristics.

Let's see…

Human? Check.

Normal? Check.

Giving off the good guy and super dependable vibe? Check.

Actually going somewhere in life? Definitely.

Interesting? Maybe… In the sense that he was obviously a very active part of his community. Along with attending Sunnydale U, Dakota played on the school's football team, helped out with coaching Phoenix's team whenever he could, and worked part-time at his father's business whenever his schedule permitted it. We'll give him half marks in this category then… she decided, wanting to at least give the man credit despite the fact that his lifestyle wasn't one she truly found exceptionably remarkable.

Finished grading him on the 'interesting' aspect, Buffy moved on to her last category…

Was Dakota really all that exciting? Did she feel sparks fly whenever his emerald gems made contact with hers? Was her skin still humming from how close she'd been sitting to him not long ago? Sighing, Buffy reluctantly arrived at the only conclusion she could. The mental image of her pen was removed from its hovering position above her equally intangible piece of paper, unable to affirm Dakota's ability to send electrical impulses rocketing through her veins. So far during the evening, the only thing she'd felt when speaking with Dakota was casually budding friendship… that is, if she wasn't daydreaming.

With a sigh, Buffy abandoned the task of mentally listing Dakota's favourable qualities, deciding that unfortunately he just wasn't anything… unique. Head resting in the palm of her hand, the Slayer began toying with the little plastic umbrella she'd received with her drink, mildly amused by the blur of colours created when she twirled it between her index finger and thumb. And so ends my curiosity as to just how this 'date' was going to end, she thought, wondering as her eyes swept over the various couples in the crowd if she'd ever be able to find a man suited for her needs.

It wasn't that she couldn't deal with a human boyfriend. She'd proved that she could with Riley, despite the obviously catastrophic way in which that relationship had ended. Being with a nice, normal guy definitely had its perks… There was no worrying if he'd lose his soul after their relationship was consummated… Hell, there was no concern that he didn't have a soul in the first place. Most wonderful of all, they could spend time together in the daylight, a definite requirement for relationships in sunny California.

But if Spike had taught her anything, it was that a Slayer needed just a little more than that. It wasn't so much that she required the violence that had sprouted between her and the peroxide fiend last year… and, hello! She was way past that I-hate-everything-in-my-life-and-need-some-violent-release stage. No, the fact of the matter was that as a Slayer, Buffy practically required someone who was physically equal to her. Someone who could handle it if she wanted to relieve some of the stress that had accumulated in her Slayer muscles after a hard night's work, and someone who could return such superhuman pressure with an equal calibre of strength. So far, the only answer to such a primal need had been a vampire lover.

Hence her strong yet so far unsuccessful determination to forget all of what Spike had 'taught' her and just… move on. Besides, she thought… you don't have to use sex as a stress-reliever… Hello! That's what your training equipment is for! Buffy assured herself, quickly swapping away any thoughts suggesting the fact that there wasn't a piece of equipment for every set of muscles in her body…

Damn… she thought simply, a universal response to all of the notions that had just forced their way into, through, and back out of her cranium. Despite the fact that the conjuring of such thoughts had only created more problems though, her inner voice appeared to have been silenced for the time being, and Buffy decided that she was going to savour it. Maybe she'd listen to the Bronze's not-too-terrible choice of music for a change.

Her moment of peace was promptly halted though, the presence of another being invading her senses like some alien probe. Dakota's back, I guess… she sighed, not disappointed but not excited by the fact, either. Yay? She offered meekly, painting a falsely wide smile upon her features before pivoting on the stool to meet…

Shocking blue. Cerulean crystals. Sapphires. Lightning tainted with the colours of the ocean. God, who knew she had enough of a poet within her to describe the set of orbs that stared back at her when she swivelled so casually upon her hind axis to meet them.

And, wait.

She knew those eyes. And those cheeks, chiselled from the purest, most velveteen texture of ivory she could imagine. Lips that borrowed their hue from the most luscious roses, hiding behind them a tongue more experienced than any dance instructor on the face of the earth. Oh, and that hair, electrically platinum curls so silken that they could put even the finest articles of clothing crafted from the same fabric to shame.

"Spike?" she whispered. Gah! Wait a minute! The Slayer's inner voice practically screeched. You were not supposed to sound so… so… wow-my-heart's-fluttering-in-my-chest-ish! It must be your inner turmoil that's getting to you… Making you react in strange ways to the most inappropriate people, er, demons. And, hey, is there something different about him? Buffy caught herself again, refusing to allow that last question to be answered. Okay, pulling yourself together again, she narrated. Now, let's try this a second time…

"What are you doing here?" There. That's better. You don't sound as if your true love has finally come back to you, but it didn't sound as if as if you want him out of your face immediately, either. Of course, that inner statement only lead Buffy to ask herself why she wasn't treating him like the animal he so obviously was, but for now she was too focused on any reply that might sprout from his lips to really be concerned with such a question.

"Me?" the vampire said softly, eyebrows lifting as he pointed to himself momentarily. "Oh, nothing, really" he shrugged, looking around. "Just uh, gettin' reacquainted with the scenery is all," a weak smile crossed his features then, its tenderness almost startling the Slayer opposite him.

"Well," Buffy said with a forced but light-hearted chuckle. "Lucky for you nothing really ever changes in this town… It's not the sort of place that does a one-eighty on you if you're gone for a little while." Okay! Could you have fitted just one more subtle but very personal references into that teensy little sentence? Buffy thought, mentally shaking her head at herself.

"I dunno," Spike said, shrugging in the same meek way he'd done only seconds ago. "Seems like Bite Size has grown up a bit since I last saw her," he motioned with his eyes to the dance floor then, checking for perhaps the sixth time since approaching Buffy that he was surrounded by enough shadow that Dawn wouldn't see him should she happen glance over.

Following his gaze, the blonde huntress was met by the sight of her sister, who was now wrapped in a semi-intimate embrace with Phoenix. They drifted across the dance floor in complete ignorance of the world around them, it seemed, aware only of each other and the soft, slow song that soothed their dance-exhausted muscles. "Oh yeah," Buffy said with an affectionate smile. "I think Dawn's experiencing her first puppy love," the Slayer chuckled, glancing to witness Spike's semi-charmed response.

"I'm surprised it took her this long," from Buffy's curious look, Spike continued with the chit-chat, pushing away the shyness that enveloped him to continue what would no doubt be a brief conversation with his lady love. "All family ties aside, I always thought lil' sis'd be a looker with the boys her age" he said sincerely, eyes drifting back to Buffy in the moment of silence that followed them.

God… she was beautiful. It didn't matter what sort of effort she put into her appearance, Buffy always filled his heart to the absolute breaking point with stunned rapture. Her golden tresses, those emerald orbs tinted with a daring amount of hazel, lips that could ignite his skin within a nanosecond of contact, and the spirit of a warrior that outdid any Amazon woman even in spite of Buffy's California-girl personality. This… No, she was what made it all worthwhile. The echoing screams that now haunted him every night because of his soul, the torture he'd gone through to get it in the first place… It was all worth it when it boiled down to her.

He loved her… God, did he love her. More than she could fathom. Sometimes more than he could handle. But no matter what, she would always be worth it.

"And what about you?" Spike found himself asking, almost startled by the automatic activity of his voice he was so drowned by his thoughts. His tone was pleasant yet soft as he spoke, signifying to Buffy that he could handle even the bitterest truth. "Is… There anyone you're here with, pet?" his eyebrows lifted, hoping she was solo even though it would hardly heighten his chances with her. Spike was no fool; soul or no soul, nothing would ever erase what he did to her. Of course, that made his acquiring the soul somewhat worthless, but then again, love wasn't exactly the least blind condition known to man, now was it?

Buffy almost panicked as she quickly searched for a response to his question, for some reason intimidated by Spike's soft, almost shy demeanour. "Well, I'm… In a manner of speaking, I guess you could say that--"

"Can I help you?" Dakota's voice unexpectedly sliced between the pair of blondes with a somewhat suspicious and domineering blade.

Twin craniums twisted in the young man's direction, Buffy's eyes almost startled while Spike's were comprehensive, understanding from the pair of beverages the other man held that he was most likely Buffy's 'date'. The vampire instinctively sized his opponent up, wondering from the Slayer's pseudo-answer if the younger boy really had a right to sound so intolerant as he intruded upon their already awkward conversation.

"Dakota!" the Slayer bubbled with innocence as she turned a beaming smile toward the man, its phoniness visible only to Spike, who was the uncontested expert when it came to recognizing the true emotion behind her every facial expression. "Hey, um…" Buffy looked between either man, Spike's eyes calm oceans as they studied the other man, whose own jewels were full of question. "This is Wi--esley," she said, stumbling slightly and then re-shaping the vampire's 'name'. "Wesley… Dalton," she finished with a polite smile.

Dakota regarded the other man for a moment, curious as to what sort of relationship, if any, he had with Buffy, but feeling relaxed enough to allow some of his hostility to wash away. "Oh," he said monotonously, setting down the stash of drinks he held to offer Spike his hand. "Well, Wesley… Pleased to meet you."

"Likewise," the bleached demon responded, his voice equally devoid of emotion. Spike's shyness had been pushed to the back burner for a moment, his signature defensiveness showing through in response to the other man's attitude. For a split second his gaze was tossed to the Slayer, quirked brow displaying his mental inquiry as to why she would choose a false name with which to introduce him.

Unable to explain herself verbally, Buffy lifted her eyebrows ever so slightly, eyes widening just as subtly as if to say 'I have my reasons… Just go with it for now'.

When it had come time to produce Spike's name, she had originally thought to use 'William', deciding that it would be the least disturbing to Dakota, who had obviously been slightly agitated by the demon's presence in the first place. But she couldn't do it. She just couldn't use his true name in a situation that seemed so informal. For some reason, Spike's birth title was like some sort of treasure to her, one that could be used only in the most private, if not personal situations. No way was she going to offer it to a stranger, regardless of how friendly he might be.

Realising in that instant that the moment of introduction between either male had passed, Buffy jumped in with her usual peacekeeping abilities. "Wesley is… a friend from out of town… We hung out a lot when I still lived in LA," and again with her innocent, convincing smile. Please God, let him be one of those guys who believes anything they're told… she thought fleetingly, waiting for Dakota's response. Spike in the meanwhile kept his feet planted, watching with mild amusement as Buffy staggered from explanation to explanation.

"Oh… Did you just move here or something?" the dark-haired man asked as his emerald gaze swept over Spike once again, his politeness becoming more and more genuine as harmless seconds ticked by.

"You could say that," Spike shrugged. Buffy's wha- in-the-hell-kind-of-answer-is-that?-look made him quickly realise though that this was obviously not the situation for enigmatic responses. "I mean, uh, you know… I'm in the process of moving and such," he amended, looking to the Slayer for her approval of his response, which she wordlessly granted him.

"Cool," Dakota said neutrally, nodding his head. "So, does that mean you're gonna be attending Sunnydale U then?" he asked with some curiosity, only mildly interested in the other man's endeavours.

"I highly doubt it," Spike replied cooly, eyes narrowed as if reminiscing some past schooling experience. "Never was the type to really appreciate what the education system had to offer. Was always more of a 'live and learn' sort of fellow myself" he gave an awkward chuckle, able to see that the other man obviously didn't understand, or for that matter, approve. His recently added conscience should have had something to say on that note, but for some reason, Spike couldn't find it within himself to feel anything positive about Dakota. "Anyway, best be off I suppose. Think I might get in a spot of uh, physical activity before the night's end" he cast a knowing glance in the Slayer's direction.

"Exercise? At this time of night?" Dakota laughed. "Wow, I bet you'd be a football coach's dream as far as fitness goes" he chuckled, a slight pang of jealousy running through him at the thought that such an academically disinclined man could be a potential dream-member of the football team.

"Right" Spike said with a tight-lipped, very subtle grin, tossing a glance in Buffy's direction, who had fallen fairly silent amidst the manly conversation that floated around her. "Well, I'll leave you two to it then…" he said after a moment of fittingly awkward silence, making direct eye contact with his former lover then. "Be seeing you, love." Pinning his azure orbs upon Dakota for only a fraction of a second and then looking to Buffy once more, Spike turned his back upon the obviously happy pair.

"Bye, Wesley," the Slayer said softly, almost robotically, unable to raise her voice to its usually confident tone. Before Spike had taken three steps away from her, Buffy had already begun to long for him to return. When he had been within such a close proximity, she had been filled with a comforting sense of normalcy. It put her at ease knowing he still existed, still sought her out, even in spite of all that had occurred between them in the past year. Spike reminded her that there was someone in the world who knew who and what she was; the Slayer, the leader, the lost little girl who just wished for the violence to stop once in a while, the Chosen One who couldn't help being occasionally drawn to the demon realm she battled so relentlessly. He saw the good and bad sides of her, knew them better than she did even, and still he loved her. Why did the only one who understood and loved everything within her have to be a heartless demon?

"Uh oh, did I lose you again?" Dakota chuckled, completely unaware of the momentous thought-train he'd just interrupted. His face was slightly bemused as he gazed upon his blank-eyed pseudo-date.

Buffy straightened immediately, emerald orbs regaining their composure as she flushed embarrassedly. "Oh, God, I'm so sorry Dakota" she shook her head. "I'm just Miss Space Cadet tonight… it has nothing to do with you, I promise" the Slayer smiled apologetically, partly lying through her teeth as she did so.

"Don't worry about it," the football player said passively. "Compared to some dates I've had in the past, tonight has been epically romantic… trust me when I say that, too" he shook his head in brief remembrance. "Listen, if you're feeling that…"

"Blonde?" Buffy offered good-naturedly.

"Okay, I was gonna go for dazed, but…" he smiled. "Anyway, if you're feeling that out of it, do you wanna just dance for a little while?" Dakota asked, eyebrows raised in hope.

"Hm," the Slayer pretended to contemplate the decision, surprised at how carefree she suddenly felt, hardly concerned with the fact that the man opposite her could be about as interesting as a peanut at times. "An activity that is both fun, and requires no thinking whatsoever…" she continued to act out the process of thinking over her decision. "By Buffy standards, it doesn't really get much better than that," she smiled, hopping off her stool.

"Well then, after you," Dakota waved his hand out in a gentlemanly manner, waiting for Buffy to make her way out onto the dance floor before following.

Forget the fact that this guy is so obviously not your type… Buffy thought silently as she began to move along with the tunes that began to drown her. Just think: you could be pulling a late shift at the Doublemeat Palace… Instead, you're here, at the Bronze, dancing to half-decent music with a guy who, yes, is boring but is also totally nice… Does life really get any better?

With that, the Slayer deactivated any retaliating thoughts, refusing to acknowledge the fact that yes, there were better things in life… If she did that after all, then she might also have to admit just what those 'better things' were, and that one of them, whether she liked it or not, had in fact just walked out the door not five minutes ago.


Spike stepped into the crisp night air, his head buzzing with the flurry of thoughts and emotions that were weaving through his mind and soul. Angered jealousy, heartache, confusion, and even a small slice of serenity were ingredients to the mentally noisy recipe. All except the latter could of course blame their existence primarily upon the effect of seeing Buffy in the presence of another man. Whether she seemed genuinely interested in the boy or not could in no way dampen the force with which his soul was currently wrenching.

Make a trip to the underworld and back, get myself a nice, shiny soul for the girl I love, and this is what happens… he thought heavily, eyes closing as the magnitude of his words hit his heart with another fistful of pain. He was supposed to have at least had the chance to tell Buffy about the acquisition of his soul before another man swooped in. Of course, all was not lost just yet… the Slayer hadn't seemed as if she was all too interested in Dakota, which meant Spike had no reason to assume that his gaining a soul had been completely pointless. But it was just the principle of the situation; Buffy might be worth his getting a soul, but why do it for nothing?

With a heavy sigh, Spike attempted to clear every ounce of troublesome thought from his consciousness, focusing instead upon that fraction of contentment hanging over his head. Even those few moments he'd spent with Buffy had been enough to make his heart sing. His hungry ears had savoured every syllable they exchanged, the brightness in her most subtle smiles was like visual ambrosia to him, and her scent was more intoxicating than the most potent alcohol he'd ever tasted. To put it simply, her perfection hadn't wavered by a single degree since the last time he'd seen her. And for perhaps the six millionth time, Spike ensured himself that every flaming punch that had struck him, every otherworldly insect that had crawled beneath his skin had been worth it if the soul he had attained from such torture could eventually make him worthy of her love.

Hear that, prep boy? I got myself a soul for her, fought a right nasty, fire-fisted wanker for it, too. Had bugs crawlin' around my inner wigglies, even fought a few not-too-friendly demons. What have you done then, hm? Bought her a drink? Said a few nice words? Sorry, but in Buffy's book, that'll only get you so far… Spike mused, a confident smile spreading between his finely chiselled cheeks at that. Oh no, he wasn't going to get shown up by a guy who was even less worthy than Riley had been.

Besides… something about that fellow was just pressing the wrong buttons in Spike's mind. He couldn't tell whether his senses had read 'demon' or 'malicious human', but something about Dakota had just… irked him the wrong way. And Buffy had seemed relatively oblivious to any such danger, too.

Gonna have to keep an eye on that one then, I suppose… he thought idly, beginning a randomly mapped-out journey down the alleyway. Shifting between mental states composed of quiet rage and tranquillity, Spike melted into the darkness, eventually becoming nothing more than a fleeting ripple in the shadows.

(Author's Note: Oh. MY GOSH! I know… It's been TWO MONTHS since my last update! Believe me, I am FEELING the shame. And I am so sorry… I just haven't been feeling inspired lately, and being the type of writer I am, I don't like to push things just so that I can punch out a new chapter every three days. I'd rather you guys be happy with something that I took time to perfect, than for you to be mildly satisfied with a piece of garbage. That said, I hope you like! PLEASE REVIEW!!! I won't stop writing if you DON'T choose to, but like I always say, your words mean a lot to me! Oh, and just as a teency side note: I know that Spike and Buffy had a lot of conflicting feelings, ie. She was having fun one second, and was bored to tears the next; or Spike was depressed and on the verge of giving up with Buffy, and then he was motivated again… I realise that happened, and I kind of meant for it to. It's just all part of their characters… I mean, in situations like that, people don't always tend to have a consistent thought process, so… Well, in short, I meant for that to happen, lol… anyways, REVIEW PLEAAASE! Hehe… Later!)