He shouldn't care. He shouldn't care one bit. The little witch deserved every bit of heartbreak she was getting and then some – that bloody bow tie still rankled.

The idea of someone mucking about in his mind? That rankled even more – especially when he hit the bottom of a bottle and his love for Buffy was still there. That spell… that buggering spell Red had done when her mongrel took off after baying at some other bitch's moon. He should have snapped her neck then and there, sod whatever headache it caused. Her fault that he'd ever even looked at the bloody Slayer as anything but his sworn enemy.

Now look at him… trailing after Buffy like some flea-bitten hound, an even more lowly-born cur than the one who was off marking hydrants in parts unknown.

But Buffy wasn't who he was trailing after now. No, he was trailing after Willow – who was taking an unwise nighttime walk solo. Not hard to guess why. He'd overheard the whelp asking his demon bitch for permission to visit the chit tonight and she'd said no. There'd been a particular reason for Harris's failed request, though. It was Willow's birthday.

And damn him if he didn't feel sorry for the girl in spite of it all.

"Hold up there, witch." It was obvious he'd startled her – more proof she was in no shape to be out on her own. "Thought you might like some company." The look he got in response… it would have broken his heart if he were a ponce.

"You were looking for me?" And again – a poncey poet like the long-dead William Pratt would have been moved.

"Yeah. I didn't have anything on the agenda tonight. Figured you were on your own too. Thought…"

"What do you want, Spike?" Her eyes had come over suspicious and he could almost feel the stiffness of her posture. She didn't trust him, not one bit. Of course, getting offended would be pretty unjust. How much reason did she have to let down her guard with him?

He played it off. "Just got bored. Wanted some company."

Well, can't say he'd lost his touch. Seemed she believed him. She visibly relaxed.

Of course, true to form, his next move was to bollix it all up. "Heard Doughnut Boy say it was your birthday today."

And with that, her back was up all over again. "Oh. So you figured that the cure for your boredom was to come make fun of the junkie? Left all alone on her birthday?" Her emotions had obviously been raw before he'd even found her because there were already tears in her eyes – tears she pretended weren't there as she struggled to keep her voice calm and even. "Hate to rain on your pain parade, Spike, but I get it. I screwed up. I screwed up badly. So yeah, it's kind of to be expected that no one's throwing me any party this year."

His demon had been prodded now and before he could stop himself, he barked out a sharp, "They didn't throw you one last year either."

Turning on her heel, she tried to hurry away, but he grabbed her arm, hating himself for the pain he felt radiating from her. Thank hell he hadn't brought up Glinda. "I'm sorry. Shouldn't have said that."

"It's true." Her voice was so soft he barely heard her. Damn his poncey heart for aching.

"They're right bastards. All of 'em."

"You don't mean that."

"Know me better than that, don't you?"

"You love Buffy." Well now, there was a bit of his own hurled back at him, even if she didn't know it. It occurred to him to wonder if the Slayer was even now at his crypt, bearing her itch like a lottery ticket for him to scratch. Maybe she won something; hell knew he never did.

"Guess so," he said. Was it love? Obsession? Who knew… who cared? All that mattered was that whatever it was tore up his insides and left him more dead than he'd ever been.

"So you don't think she's a bastard." Whatever Red was going through, her logic was still intact. The trouble was that logic didn't much matter.

"Yeah, I do." For a brief moment that made him feel barmier than Dru, he thought about crying on Willow's shoulder, not for the first time, spilling the whole sordid truth – destroying Willow's faith in that shining creature she believed her friend to be.

He shouldn't. If he had a shred of decency left in him, he wouldn't. "Been shagging the bint for weeks but she hasn't managed to fuck my brains out. I can see her for what she is."

That sound – that nonexistent but somehow audible sound. It was Willow, shattering into a thousand pieces… and maybe it was him shattering with her. "Shouldn't have said anything," he offered weakly. He could see her weaving where she stood and he pulled her into his arms before she collapsed. "I'm the one who's the bastard," he mumbled, amazed when she clung to him and began to cry.

"She never told me."

"I know."

"Why?" she wailed. "Am I so bad that she couldn't even tell me she was… that you were…?"

Willow obviously didn't have the words for what he and Buffy were to each other, but Spike did. As painful as it was, he shared them. "I'm just some thing she uses to make herself feel. I'm a bloody dildo with fangs. Nothing more. She's ashamed, disgusted… either or both. It's nothing to do with you why she kept mum."

Here he'd gone and handed her a weapon and Willow didn't even use it. Instead, she clung to him. Guess he wasn't the only ponce, because now she was consoling him. "I'm sorry. I brought her back all wrong. That has to be it. It's my fault. I'm so sorry." She clung even tighter and he realized he was crying when he felt the fabric of her shirt damp against his cheek.

Time for this weakness to stop. With some effort, he got himself back under control and pulled back slightly, putting his hand under the chin of his still tearful companion. "'M not complaining. The Slayer's a right fine shag. I'm getting plenty out of it, believe me. Not too many chits out there with a heartbeat who can also keep up with a vampire." He waggled his eyebrows, hoping the innuendo would make Willow giggle.

It didn't.

"She hurts you." She wasn't asking. Red was too smart by half, wasn't she?

"I can handle it."

Her eyes searched his. What she found, he didn't want to know, but it stopped this line of conversation. Had he paid too much for that relief?

"You know it's not midnight yet. It's still my birthday."

An abrupt change but a welcome one. "That it is, pet."

"Wanna go grab a mocha? They might even have some muffins left. Those are sort of like cake."

He reached into his pocket. What do you know? Still had some cash left from his last score. "I got a better idea. Why don't we hit that fancy bakery? I'll buy you a real cake."

There was a brief flare of something… something bright and shining that Spike wanted to cling to, but then she frowned and said, "They close at six."

Damn those shopkeepers. They weren't gonna ruin things for him. "All the better." He grabbed her hand and began dragging her towards the center of town.

"Spike, we can't break into a store and steal cake. That's illegal!"

"Vampire, luv. Don't much care about your silly laws."

The second he said that, she stopped, making herself solid and immobile and nearly making him lose his footing. "I'm not a vampire."

Rolling his eyes, he offered, "Okay. We split the difference. Yeah, we'll break in, but I'll leave cash to pay for the cake. Would that make you happy?" There was that shining thing again, wrapped up in a bright smile and the sudden resumption of their journey downtown.

"I hope they have lemon," she said.

"Hope so, too, pet."

That smile was there all the way to the shop.

And there was lemon cake.

The End.