Author's Notes:

This one is set either during or after 'Soul Purpose'. Angel S5 is really hard to reconcile with Buffy... Spike is supposed to pop out of the amulet only 19 days later, and when get gets his body he says something about it being only 3 months since Sunnydale... but we're well after Halloween by that point. Which means that the Sunnydale apocalypse happened August-ish - later than usual, not earlier than usual. *Huffs* Oh well.


Season Five (Angel) - 2003

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Spike watched the bloke leave the bar, following a woman dressed in her come-hither best. Stupid wanker didn't even realize the woman had no reflection. Or pulse. He took a sip of his bourbon, considered leaving them to it. Idiot had no sense of self-preservation, why should Spike ride in and play the hero?

He sighed and got up to follow, ignoring the urge to thin the herd that still coursed through his veins. She would be disappointed in him if he didn't. Once upon a time, that would have been the only impetus driving him; now, he had a stronger reason – he would be disappointed in himself.

Sodding soul.

Not only did it not let him live his unlife in peace, untroubled by other's concerns, it made him a right bloody coward too. Not in a fight, mind. But a coward nonetheless. Poncy William was back in the saddle, and Spike was none too happy about it.

He shoved his hands in his duster pockets as he stepped outside into the dark alleyway, his left closing around a stake, the right thumbing the well-worn edge of a now-worthless boat ticket. The one he'd paid good money for – well, paid Angel's good money for – and then let sail away without him.

Coward.

He gazed sightlessly at the snogging couple, barely registering the vamp's mouth working its way ever closer to the man's jugular while his thoughts played out in his head.

No, not a coward. You died to set her free.

She's expecting you. Even if she doesn't know you're alive, some small part of her is waiting for you. You should have been there, tonight of all nights. Should have gone to her.

Nah. She wanted to break with tradition, remember? Said the tradition had ruined her life – made it suck. You made it suck, mate. She's better off without the likes of you.

And on and on.

Selfishly wanting to go to her, hoping she meant those last words to him, that despite all the pain and misery of their past, she would be happy to see him. For tonight at least.

And equally determined to set her free. Let her live her life, no matter how it killed him. Bloody tradition was only, what, six years old after all. Not much of a tradition anyhow.

Spike pulled the stake from his pocket, saved the man. Lit a fag and leaned back against the filthy brick wall of the alley, tears coursing down his cheeks.

There would be no kiss to get him through this upcoming year. Or any other.


Buffy stood outside the door, staring up at the sign, deliberating. The place was a dive, exactly the sort of establishment she could have imagined her vampire in. Had he been alive.

But he wasn't. Burnt up, gone, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. These days, she could accept it. Think of him with more smiles than tears. Usually.

Tonight was a different story. Tonight – he should have been with her.

"All the more reason to survive the coming year," he'd said."Knowing what's waiting at the end of it."

But he hadn't.

Had he?

She scrubbed at her face, undecided still. She could go in, wait out the New Year amongst the strangers within, a drink in hand to numb the pain, or she could head back to the sterile hotel room and curl up under the covers to cry herself to sleep. The second option beckoned. It had been a long while since she'd had a good cry.

Buffy squared her shoulders and pushed her way inside, face set in grim lines of determination. Spike had died so she would live. Okay, pissing the night away in this dive wasn't exactly living it up, but it wasn't hiding away, sobbing broken-heartedly, either.

Her back to the room, she seated herself at the bar and ordered a drink, then let that tiny, crazy, hopeful feeling in the pit of her stomach flutter back to life.

Maybe… just maybe… he isn't dead.

She wasn't floundering in lunatic delusion. There was a solid reason why that crazy little thought kept working itself free. That solid reason was why she'd flown all the way to L.A. today, cash only, without telling another soul of her true destination.

Buffy had woken in the dead of night in a cold sweat, gripped with the certainty that not only was Spike alive, but he was in danger. Her dream had had the ring of truth about it, that certain hyper-reality that came with Slayer visions. Without giving it a second thought, she'd packed up, used her emergency funds to purchase a ticket, and left without a word.

Just in case she was crazy.

Not that there was anybody to leave word with anyhow. Her friends were scattered across the globe, only Dawn nearby. The teen had easily been convinced that her sister was taking a well-deserved vacation, and more than happy to spend the rest of the holiday break with her own friends.

Throughout the long plane ride to L.A., Buffy had been determined to march straight to Angel's office and demand answers, but the minute she'd landed her resolve had faltered, and by the time she'd settled into the hotel it had completely fled.

Tomorrow, she'd told herself. I'll deal with Angel tomorrow.

So here she was, getting progressively tipsier and wondering if she'd gone mad. Her mind wandered back to her dream, trying to puzzle it out. Angel had been in it, along with a man who called himself Doyle… and Spike. Spike in all his leather-clad, punked out, bad-ass glory had been alive in her dream, hanging out in a strip club, ogling the girls and arguing with this Doyle. Buffy didn't know why, but she knew this Doyle character was bad news for Spike. Was going to get him hurt somehow.

She shook her head. Trying to logic out a Slayer dream while boozing it up was not productive Buffy time. She glanced at the clock again, dismayed to see that time seemed to have stopped, keeping her trapped in the year from hell.

Maybe if I smashed the clock…?

The Slayer snorted away the ridiculous idea, then headed for the restroom. That should pass a few minutes, at least.


When he re-entered through the back door, Spike's senses went haywire, making him dizzy.

Buffy…

He scanned the room, eyes wide, panting, but no, there was no sign of her. Just a lingering scent. A scent he would know anywhere.

You've gone off your rocker, William. Girl's not here, it's all in your mind.

Of course it was. He was dreaming of her, wanting her, needing her. Of course his mind would trick him into thinking Buffy was here. Spike returned to his booth, tucked away in a gloomy corner where nobody was likely to see him, and got back to work on the bottle of bourbon that was miraculously still there.

Should have gone to her.

It's better this way.

He rolled his head about his neck, lit a fag, and took a long drag. The Slayer scent got stronger and Spike dug his fist into his forehead, trying to will it away. It didn't go. Obviously he needed something with more of a punch.

The vampire twisted to face the bar.

And froze.

Either fate was playing a cruel trick on him, or smacking him over the head with a two-by-four and telling him to get a bleeding clue. He had no sodding idea which it was. According to this Doyle chappie, he was the new poster boy for the Ponces That Be… so why would they jerk him around by putting what he wanted most within spitting distance?

To test his dedication to his supposed new calling?

To give him a lesson in martyrdom?

That was the Great Brooder's raison d'être, not his. Never his. Spike was a weak man. Put what he craved most in this world right in front of him, and his nobility fled like a timid virgin before the ravening hordes.

Spike stood. Sat. Dithered. Stood again.

Sod the buggers.

He was nobody's whipping boy, soul or not. He made his own bloody fate. If the higher ups didn't like it, they could smite him, or whatever the hell these types did when royally pissed. Wasn't his concern.

Not when Buffy was right there, only feet away.


She felt him. Somehow… oh, God. She felt him. Couldn't see him in the mirror, but knew he was there, behind her.

Either that or she really was losing her mind.

Buffy didn't turn around. She couldn't bear it if he was just a hallucination born of desperate longing.

The seat next to her creaked. "You're here." It was his deep voice, roughened by emotion. She shut her eyes tight. Let her other senses take him in. If she didn't open her eyes, he couldn't disappear.

Buffy licked her lips, managed to speak despite the dryness in her mouth. "More precisely, you're here. What's up with that? I thought you were dead."

"'Ve heard that before. Could give a fellow a complex, seeing as I can't do anything 'bout this unbeating heart of mine." A tremor wracked her body. Slowly, so slowly, she turned towards the sound of her voice and opened her eyes. Spike waggled his eyebrows. "Hello, cutie."

She found herself hyperventilating, her ragged breath impossible to hold on to. "Oh, god. Oh god oh god oh god. You're… are you real? Not just in my mind?" She reached out to touch him and snatched her hand back, sure that nothing solid would be there. "If you're the First trying to fuck with me, so help me God, you'll regret it."

Spike took her hand and brought it to his mouth, his cool lips brushing the back of her hand in an ephemeral kiss. "Real as I ever was."

"But you're dead," she repeatedly stupidly.

He gave her an enigmatic smile, raising his other hand and laying two fingers over his jugular. "Whaddya know, Slayer, you're right. 'M dead after all. Thanks for the tip. But…" He held her hand tighter, whispered his next words. "Please don't go."

Her heart was tumbling, her mind spinning. Buffy was so dizzy, she thought she might faint. "How…? No, don't tell me. I don't care right now."

"Had a date to keep, you and I. Death couldn't keep us apart."

A hysterical giggle burst out of her mouth. "Thank you, Wesley. Dread Pirate Wesley, that is." She used her free hand to wipe at the tears streaming down her face, still not believing this was really happening. "Jesus, Spike. I have had the worst year of my life," she laughed. "Because you were dead. And the worst part was knowing I'd really be alone this year." Buffy closed her eyes, shook her head. "No," she said fiercely. "No matter how ironic or poetic or whatever that is, the real worst part is that you didn't believe me. You said I didn't love you."


Christ. It felt like his heart had just kickstarted in his chest. Bloody bugger hurt like hell. She'd meant it? Buffy was saying something else now, and he had to get over his elation, try to focus on her words.

"Why didn't you find me? Or call me? Or…?"

How to explain? There was no proper way to make her understand his fear, his certainty that he had to let her go.

Buffy took his other hand in hers. "How long?"

"Bit hard to answer that. To make a long and painful story short, was a ghost for awhile. Just got this body back… few weeks ago now."

All the color drained from her face. "A few weeks?"

"Uh…" Bollocks. "See, I was on my way to you, love. Even got this ticket, here." He yanked it out, shoved it in her hand. Proof that he'd thought about her. "But then…" I was a bloody coward. Didn't know what was the right thing to do. "Things came up," he finished lamely.

"Things…" Her face flickered between anger and hurt.

"Well… found out I had this destiny, see. Helping the helpless and whatnot. Got a bit… distracted."

"Too distracted to call me, let me know I didn't need to be crying my eyes out over you anymore? So… distracted… you forgot that we… that tonight… that…" Angry tears were spilling out.

Christ, he was a first-class wanker.


The television suddenly got louder, the sounds of cheering and chanting echoing about the bar. One old drunk let out a bleary, "Happy New Year!" then tumbled sideways off his seat.

Buffy didn't notice any of it.

He'd been alive. For weeks. Been alive, and not told her, not come to her, not even called or sent a note. If she hadn't followed a damn dream, she would have never known he was alive. How much longer would he have kept it from her?

The worst, the absolute most final, damning nail in the coffin was that even when Spike had hated her, he'd sought her out to keep their 'date'.

This year, he hadn't.

It was echoes of Drusilla. He'd chased his lunatic girlfriend for over a century, desperate to be her everything even when she pushed him away… until he'd finally given up. Hadn't cared anymore.

And this was what it had come to. He didn't care. She was too late.

When he'd said she didn't mean it, what he'd really meant was he didn't.

He didn't love her, not anymore. Didn't even want her to know he was alive.

"I have had the worst year of my entire life, and I've had some pretty awful ones. But this one took the prize because you died. You should know what that's like. Even if… even if you didn't care to be around me anymore…" Even if you were happy to be free of me… "You still could have let me know. So it didn't hurt so damn much."

He was trying to speak, to apologize, but Buffy didn't want to hear it. Didn't want him to make something up, just to make her feel better.

"No. Don't lie to me. You didn't… you didn't come to me. I get it now, I never should have-"

Spike shut her up, crashing his lips to hers just as the shout of "Happy New Year!" blared from the television overhead. She moaned into his mouth, just for a moment, but the hot tears continued to stream down her cheeks, choking her.

Buffy shoved the man she loved away.

"I take it back," she whispered. "I'd rather believe you're still dead. It hurts less."

Hurts less than knowing you're alive and don't want me.

She turned and fled blindly, desperate sobs tearing through her.


Spike stared at where she'd stood only seconds before, the taste of her lips strong on his, her tears still wet on his face. He didn't understand what had just happened. He'd been gloriously, deliriously happy, and then…

Somehow it had all gone pear-shaped. He shook his head, trying to make sense of it all. She was angry with him, he got that much, even if he hadn't quite caught up to the why of it.

I'd rather believe you're still dead. It hurts less.

What the bloody hell did that mean?

Means you were right, you ass, to leave her be. You bring her nothing but pain and suffering.

He took an involuntary step forward, then another. He needed to stop her. Explain to her.

You need to not be a selfish bastard. She's not meant for you.

Spike felt rather smited, all things considered.

Fucking Powers.

He roared out his frustration, smashing everything within reach.

And let the girl go.


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NOTES:

Wha…? Wait, what?

What the hell just happened?

Hi. My name is Spuffy Luvr, and I'm an angstoholic.

*Shakes her head.* Geez, you guys should know by now that if a story goes longer than a few chapters, I'm going to go for the heart-crushing, soul-wrenching angst. And if you're just meeting me… Sorry about that. :) Heh. Not really.

But see, I figured out how to keep things canon. Go me. Spike's going to stay with Angel, Buffy is going to go back home, all is canon in the Buffyverse (work with me on this). And lucky you, you get one more chapter. One that will blithely ignore all post-TV show comics, 'cause we all know those aren't canon.

I'll tell you a secret: This next chapter really will result in gooey Spuffy goodness. I promise. It's already written.

Love me now?