Buffy went through her morning routine on autopilot. She was completely consumed with not very pleasant memories. Even after all these years, she blamed herself for Spike's death. She had been the one to give him that damn amulet in the first place. Of course, there was some resentment towards Angel for giving the amulet to her, but it was mostly directed at herself. All this time, she'd thought it was for the greater good. They'd saved the world from being taken over by the armies of hell at least, and they'd weakened The First enough that it wouldn't be rearing its ugly head for a while, but that didn't stop her from feeling bad. It had been in that moment – with their burning hands clasped together – that she'd realized she did in fact love Spike. She'd never forget that moment, even if she lived well into old age.

"I love you."

"No you don't, but thanks for saying it."

Normally Spike was so unbelievably accurate with other peoples' feelings, but that was the one instance in which he was wrong. She did love him, but that was what killed him. Seeing the amulet again brought back every emotion she thought she was on her way to being able to think about without crying. Despite this, she felt the faint stirrings of hope in the pits of her stomach. She'd come back from the dead before, so why couldn't he? It was ridiculous for her thoughts to go to such places, so she shook her head and came back to reality. Quickly swiping away tears, she hurried up and finished getting ready.

Freshly showered, she was surprised to see that Dawn had left. She didn't have time to think about it though because if she didn't leave soon, she'd be late to work. Her car keys clutched in her hands – yes she'd finally learned to drive – she hurried out the door, her work bag slung over her shoulders. Buffy's long hair swung against her back in the ponytail she had it in as she tossed her bag into her black SUV and then climbed up into the front seat. "Happy birthday to me," she muttered to herself as she pulled out of the driveway and drove to work.

It had been just as terrible as she expected it to be. She'd never been a huge fan of birthdays, especially since she was twenty-seven now. She felt old. Sure, she didn't look it, but being the slayer left you feeling run down sometimes. All her co-workers wished her happy birthday and she had to put on her happy Buffy smile. By the end of her work day, her face hurt from forcing a smile all day. She just wanted to get home, curl in bed with one of her novels, and sleep. She couldn't do that though. Even with all the slayers in the world now, she couldn't just stop her patrols. It was a constant in her life, and she needed the stress relief. Cleveland had an active Hellmouth now – one of two in North America now that the Sunnydale one was properly sealed off – and that left for lots of work for them. They'd lost a few slayers since moving here, so Buffy liked to do sweeps to keep an eye on things.

Dawn was still gone when she got home, but that was normal. She knew she was alright because Dawn tended to text her while she was working so she could complain about her courses. Apparently English Comp was more boring than usual today. It was five p.m. so Buffy had time to fix herself something to eat real quick, dress and then head out for a few hours of slaying.

It was strange having to dress warmly for slayage. She'd been living in Cleveland a little over a year, but she still wasn't used to how cold it got at night. Buffy was bundled up in a jacket, boots, gloves, and a knit hat, and she was still cold. The freezing wind was a bitch on the exposed skin of her face and neck too. Moisturizing took on an entirely new and more serious meaning. Tonight was surprisingly slow. Ever since many of the slayers took up residence in Cleveland, the demonic population decided to either get the hell out of Dodge or they were long dead. There were always those idiots that didn't leave though – kinda like people that stayed at home despite repeated warnings about a hurricane. Buffy spotted a group of said idiots up ahead. They were vampires. She smirked. It had been far too long since she'd had an opportunity to really stretch her muscles.

"Hasn't anyone told you it's not good to eat this late? It'll go straight to your hips," she teased the vampires that had a young girl pinned to the wall. The one closest to her hissed and then leapt at her. He was clumsy though and Buffy made quick work of him. She ducked to dodge his attack and came around behind him, and before he could whirl around, she had a stake rammed into his heart from the back. Buffy yanked it back out and was immediately knocked in the head by an elbow towards her face. She grunted in pain and dropped to a crouch and did a sweeping kick in order to knock him off his feet. Something she'd learned from sparring with Spike and liked to use at every opportunity she had. The third vampire chose this time to drop their meal – who ran off once her feet hit the ground – and launch himself at the off-balanced slayer. He snapped his teeth at her, but she merely rolled her eyes despite the disadvantage she had. As she squirmed around underneath him, trying to get her stake in position, the vampire suddenly glanced up like he'd heard something. Wasting no time at all, Buffy head-butted him in the nose and flipped them over when he grabbed at his now bleeding nose. From her position, she quickly disposed of him, fanning dust away from her face.

Confused, she glanced around. Where'd the third vampire go? She wondered when she heard a scuffle around the corner. She bolted, thinking the girl from earlier hadn't gotten completely away, but when she arrived, it was just in time to see dust falling and to hear the distant sound of boots against the concrete. "Hey!" She exclaimed and ran after where the footsteps were heading.

An hour of fruitless searching later and a discouraged Buffy headed back home, her cheeks and nose tinged pink from the cold. Pulling off her gloves and hat, she entered the house. It was quiet. Dawn was normally home by now. She felt panic well up in her and she frantically went to the kitchen only to discover a note on the counter. As she read it, her feeling of unease subsided. She was going to be at Giles' place late, but she made pasta before leaving the house. Dawn always was the better cook in the house considering Buffy's lack of culinary skills. She heated up a plate of food, changed into warm pajamas and then sat down in her favorite chair in the living room and ate her food while reading one of her new books. She was planning on a quiet night. With her empty plate on the end table, and the book in her lap, her eyes slowly drifted shut and she curled up on the chair and fell asleep.

A knock on the front door stirred her from her sleep. She groggily sat up and rubbed her eyes. It started out like it always does it seems. As she usual did in these dreams, Buffy wandered to the front door to open it. She knew how this dream worked; she'd been having them since the Hellmouth closed. At first, she'd thought they were prophetic dreams and that one of these days Spike was going to waltz back into her life with his signature swagger. After months of initial hoping but never any signs of him returning, she gave up the hope it was going to come true. Sleeping was enjoyable now. She used to be restless at night, but ever since the dreams started; she looked forward to sleeping. Buffy tugged open the front door, and even though she knew who was going to be on the other side, it still took her breath away. It left her in a little, surprised sigh and he smiled awkwardly at her. "Spike," she greeted in a surprised whisper. He smiled and scuffed his feet on the ground.

"Gonna invite me in?" He asked and she nodded.

"Spike, c-come in," she managed to get past the lump of emotion in her throat. As soon as he stepped over the threshold, her legs moved as if of their own accord and she rushed at him and wrapped her arms tightly around him. He tensed up at first, but then he returned the hug and rested his head on top of hers. "I missed you so much," she murmured against him, tears welling up in her eyes. He reached up and ran a hand through her hair. Suddenly, she stiffened. That never happened in the dream. It was always the same, why would it be different now? "A-are you real? Am I dreaming?" She asked, mostly to herself. Spike smirked and reached over to her upper arm and pinched it.

"Ow!" She exclaimed and jumped back from him, a hand pressed against her arm. Her eyes widened. So she wasn't dreaming . . . that meant . . . "You asshole! I thought you were dead! I grieved for you for five years! You think you can just walk back into my life like nothing happened!?" She yelled suddenly and shoved him away from her when he tried to reach for her.

"I can explain!" He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Should've known you'd react like this," he muttered, but held his hands up in surrender from the glare she sent his way. "It's a long story."

"I've got time. Dawn is over at Giles' tonight with the slayers," she replied and walked into the living room, assuming he was going to follow her. He did, trotting after her like a puppy with their tail between their legs. He had a lot of explaining to do, and he honestly didn't know how she'd react once he did. Only one way to do this. Spike sat on the edge of her coffee table while she sat in the chair and began his story.

"It all started in L.A . . ."