Disclaimer: Not mine. (That's not too vague, right Willow?)

A/N: I've been working on this story since March, y'all. If you wanted to know how slow I am, and why I've never written anything very long, this is why. (I actually can't figure out how this took as long as it did, but it did.)

I want to call this story Spuffel, but I'm not sure it is. It's more open to interpretation, I suppose. Spuffel, Spuffy, Spangel, Bangel, platonic. It's just three people that love each other, take it as you will.

Takes place post Not Fade Away and goes AU before After the Fall/Season Eight. Some spoilers for the comics anyway, though.

The sound of Buffy's footsteps echoing is the only sound the hotel lobby. The whole place looks abandoned. A layer of dust covers everything: the sofas, the floor, the front desk. The elevator door looks like it took a serious pummelling too. Outside isn't much better: the walkway is unswept and the plants are overgrown. Reaching the large doors of the Hyperion is like a jungle expedition.

"Angel?" Buffy calls, not really knowing what to expect or where to start looking. She's never been here before, but this hotel's the only lead she's got since the building that had supposedly housed the evil law firm was missing. This begged the obvious question of how a building could be misplaced, which had been Buffy's excuse to Giles when'd he enquired about her sudden purchase of a plane ticket, though they both knew it wasn't the truth.

Honestly, Buffy should have just told him to shove it, seeing how he'd deliberately kept information about this situation away from her. She hadn't even known there was anything going on in LA until two weeks after the fact, when Renee had commented that they'd lost one of the three slayers dispatched to handle the Los Angeles situation. Buffy had known something was up then, usually she was in the know when things got Apocalypsey, and eventually some of Xander's girls poking at keyboards had gotten her the field report. Only a few lines in and Angel was placed in the dead centre of the situation.

It had taken her a little while to eventually calm herself down enough to actually read the whole thing, and while the disappearing law firm was curious to say the least, what was actually upsetting was the list at the bottom. The list reported the causalities from their side: Clara Schooling, Slayer; Charles Gunn, Human; and Connor Reilly, Human (?). The survivors were listed as Clara's sister slayers, and a demon goddess who gave them the slip after her request that the girls play video games with her were turned down.

Not a word about Angel one way or the other.

Attempts to contact Willow had proved fruitless; she was apparently still in another dimension, searching for Kennedy. Not that Buffy, or anyone else it seemed, knew what Kennedy was doing in another dimension.

Without a locator spell, Buffy just has to follow her gut feeling that Angel is still alive. He has to be, really. She doesn't think she can bear to lose him, even if they haven't even talked in almost a year. She just can't take the idea of losing someone else. Not after Spike had—

Not after Spike.

Presently, there's a noise deeper into the hotel. It's the sound of a door shutting or a cabinet closing. In any case, it means she's not alone here, which in turn means that whoever's down there at the end of the hall may be able to answer some questions and tell her exactly what's going on.

A little ways down the hallway, straining her ears, she manages to hear the sound of footsteps coming from inside one of the rooms. The large, swinging double doors that stand between her and her mysterious footstepper have certainly seen better days, considering that they've become rusted permanently into a slightly ajar position.

"Angel?" Buffy calls as she pushes open the door and enters what turns out to be a massive industrial kitchen.

The man at the stove turns to her, clearly as shocked as she is. It's not Angel. Not at all. Too small, too slim. Paler skin, bluer eyes, sharper cheekbones. And the hair. The hair.

"Um," Spike says tentatively. He looks nervous, a deer caught in the headlights. "Hi," he finishes lamely.

Buffy stares unbelievingly at his face before her eyes are drawn downward to his hand in which he clutches the handle of a little sauce pan that he'd snatched off of one of the multitude of burners when he's spun to face her. His knuckles whiten even more than usual in his nervous death-grip.

She's had this fantasy plenty of times, brought on by her grieving brain filling in gaps it shouldn't have. A snatch of white hair across a crowded restaurant, a growling cockney accent filtered through her Walkman's headphones. The worst had been Andrew, wandering around in a long coat, attempting to imitate the vampire's swaggering walk. She'd caught him in her peripheral and for a second… not even a second, but, God, she's been happy. She'd yelled at Andrew over his lack of respect for almost twenty minutes, feeling horribly betrayed, and then Xander had had to hold her through two tubs of Ben & Jerry's while the tears ran all over again. The next morning, Xander reassigned Andrew to Rome. Buffy hasn't seen or spoken to him since.

And then there were the dreams. Daydreams, just imagining walking around the corner and then, there was Spike. Imaginary. And there were figments, phantoms, conjured from desperate wishes. And at nights, that was when she saved him. Every night. Every night she saved him.

Buffy moves across the floor in slow motion and he doesn't react, just holds perfectly still. She stops, inches from his body and he watches her, waiting. Her eyes hold onto his and she slowly raises her hand; hoping, praying.

Her palm lays flat against smooth, cool skin.

Spike's eyes drift closed and he leans his cheek into her hand. "Buffy," he sighs, like this is the only breath he has in him. Like this action, this word, this moment, is all he needs in his life. All he will ever need.

She swallows. Her throat's gone very, very dry. "You're real," she whispers disbelievingly, still waiting for him to blow away.

He nuzzles into her hand gently, seemingly just happy at the simple touch. "Yeah," he agrees. His voice is smooth and soft with contentment.

Buffy slowly runs the pad of her thumb over the sharp curve of his cheek bone, a motion that ends with the rest of her fingers curled under his chin. Spike follows the motion, leaning into her touch as it takes her across his face, and slowly raises his head as she finishes. "I thought you were dead," she tells him.

Spike's eyebrows draw together and he looks her in the eye. "Oh," he says. "I thought…" His expression is confused, and his eyes dart away from her, quick as they'd come, to look down at the dirty tile. "I'm sorry."

Buffy continues to stare at him, even when he looks away. She studies his face, amazed that it's exactly the way she left it. The lips, the nose, the pale little slash that trisects his eyebrow, everything just the way it had been before she's seen him go up in flames. His hair is in disarray though, not quite to the beyond-taking- care-of-himself point, but about the way she remembers him looking the night she crawled out of her grave. He looks small, smaller than she remembers him being, but to some level she is aware that Spike actually is kind of small. The fact that his duster is nowhere to be seen might contribute to the dissonance as well. No hair gel to speak of, though it does look like he made some attempt at combing his curls back at some point. A failing attempt, but an attempt nonetheless. She wants to touch.

She wants to touch all of him, all over. And she doesn't even mean that in a sexy way for once. She wants to feel all the little things that make him Spike so she knows that he's really, truly there, every last bit of him. She wants to feel the soft curls of his hair; the coolness of his skin; the worn cotton of his t-shirt, washed and washed and washed again, possibly as old as she. She wants to feel the rough denim of his jeans, and the aged leather of his duster, which she can't imagine is too far away. She wants to feel the structure of his body, all lean muscle, and the way his bones stand out just a bit too much against his skin.

She draws her hand away though and doesn't ask for that, not yet. "How?" she asks instead.

She sees it, the little flash of loss the shows in his eyes when she pulls away. He enjoys the touch too. "Amulet," he says. "And a lawyer." When Buffy frowns at him, perplexed, he shifts his feet a bit. "It's a long story," he says.

"I'm not going anywhere," Buffy promises.

Spike's expression lightens at that, the corners of his mouth twitching ever so slightly, and then he glances at the pot still in his hands.

Buffy looks long enough to see where his eyes are going, though she doesn't need to look inside; she knows what's in there. "You can eat," she tells him, and she smiles a little when she thinks of Spike taunting her about her squeamishness on the issue, so defiant and prideful even when chained to a bathtub.

"It's not for me," Spike says, a little slowly. "He's upstairs."

Buffy blinks. "Angel?" she asks, because she can't imagine Spike heating up blood for anyone else. Not that she can really imagine Spike heating up blood for Angel. Not unless Angel forced him to do it, threatened him into it.

Spike nods. "Yeah," he confirms. "I need to get him to drink this." He doesn't sound like he's being threatened. He actually sounds concerned instead.

Buffy frowns, beginning to feel uneasy now, a little roiling ache in the bottom of her belly. Angel had just fought off an apocalypse, and, while this isn't exactly new territory, the good guys rarely escape entirely unscathed. And if Spike has to help him eat, that doesn't really bode well for Angel. "He's hurt?" she asks.

Spike seems to consider this, as if he isn't really sure how to answer. "Buffy," he says tentatively, his eyes flicker to the floor and then up to her face. "He's…" Spike searches for the term. "He isn't the way you think he is."

Buffy stares at him, her nose wrinkling in confusion. "What does that mean?" she asks cautiously, fearful of receiving an answer she doesn't want to hear.

She watches Spike as he tries to come up with the right words, watches as he runs his tongue over his teeth in thought. "You can see him," he offers finally.

Buffy nods, though she is nervous. There's something just this side of off about the situation. "Okay," she agrees, and her voice betrays her lack of confidence.

Spike leads the way back through the lobby and up the stairs, still carrying the little single-handled pot. Buffy follows behind him silently, bracing herself for what lies behind the door Spike stops at. The blond vampire raps on the door with his knuckles and after a moment he lets them in, even though there had been no response.

Buffy hesitates outside for a moment, steeling herself for what she is about to see. She knows it has to be bad if it's keeping Angel bedridden this long. She expects to see a mutilated corpse, bloodied beyond recognition. She expects to see limbs torn off, or his face smashed in, or organs missing from an open chest cavity. All this preparation and, full honesty, the first thing she notices upon entry is that Angel doesn't have any gel in his hair either.

This is probably because otherwise Angel looks completely fine.

He's sitting up in the bed, half naked at least, and doesn't seem to have a scratch on him. Buffy stands in the doorway and stares, searching for what Spike could have possibly been talking about. Her eyes rake up and down over what she can see of Angel's body, which is everything from the waist up. There isn't a single mark on his face. No scars across that broad chest of his. No wounds trailing up from under the duvet that's pooled in his lap even.

So she stands there, and she stares, and if she hadn't been forewarned she probably wouldn't have noticed anything was wrong at all. Or maybe she doesn't notice because she's looking so hard for what is wrong. But it hits her very suddenly as Spike moves and takes a mug from the bedside table next to Angel and gives his grandsire a small nudge in doing so. "Hey," he says, raising his voice slightly as he walks away to keep his words from fading. "You see who came to visit?"

Angel turns his head then and looks in the direction of Buffy. Her breath catches in her chest. His eyes do not focus on her, instead giving a glazed look in the general direction of her face.

Buffy feels her body growing cold suddenly, and she swallows. "Angel," she says, and it comes out in almost a whisper. "You're…" She stops to gather her words. "You can't see me?" she asks. Her voice is tentative. She does not want the answer to be the one she fully expects.

And it isn't.

"He can see you," Spike assures her from inside the bathroom, where he stands over the sink as he pours the blood from the saucepan into the coffee mug. He sounds like he's trying to be amused by the situation, even though it doesn't seem all that funny. Buffy finds it comforting to an extent anyway. This has always been his fall back and knowing that whatever is happening with Angel, Spike is still unchanged deep down makes it a bit more bearable.

"Then…" Buffy struggles to comprehend the situation she's suddenly found herself in. "What's wrong?" She stares imploringly into Angel's eyes. She wishes he'd say something. Anything. "Angel, what's going on?"

Angel's head sort of tilts off to the side and his eyes slip away from her entirely as he studies the wall beside the door with the same unfocused expression he'd given her. His hands are still and unmoving in his lap until Spike slides up beside him and takes one in his own, wrapping the fingers around the blood-filled mug.

"He just went away," Spike tells her.

"Went away where?" Buffy asks, confused and scared of the answer. She has become frozen in the doorway and she can no more move her feet to approach the bed than she can fly.

"Somewhere better," Spike says simply.

Buffy gets it. She does. She really, really does. And she really, really wishes she didn't. "What happened?" she asks. She has stopped directing her questions to Angel now; his lack of response only serves to upset her more.

Spike looks to her, meets her gaze. His blue eyes are mellowed and soft; he is calm because he wants to be, because he has to be. "Everything," he says with a gentle shrug. She appreciates the way he moves around the bed. He does not walk with a proud swagger, nor does he stalk forward with the restrained motions of a hungry beast prowling after its prey. He is relaxed, for once, or gives the impression of a person that is relaxed, and he does not startle Angel when he sits down on the bed opposite the other vampire. "Too much, too quick."

Buffy notices Spike's duster at last, thrown over the back of an armchair, and that the sheets and blankets have been kicked out of the way on one side of the bed to create a rumpled pile at the foot of the bed. Spike has been sleeping there.

She can picture it, though it is an image that is done in Crayola and played with scratchy film grain. Angel, flat on his back, silent through all the dreams that run through his head. Spike murmurs in his sleep and moves closer, giving and receiving comfort even in his unconsciousness. It makes sense in its own bizarre way.

"He's lost everything, Buffy," Spike says.

"You won the fight," Buffy says. She isn't arguing, isn't trying to, not really. She just doesn't really know what to say.

Spike nods concedingly. "Don't think he knew that the price was so high, though," he says. "'least not until he paid it."

"I heard about Cordelia," Buffy offers. "I meant to… something. I wanted to do something, but then I didn't know what to do."

"Started with her, didn't it?" says Spike. "Or before. There was someone else who was here, before." He looks contemplative, and Buffy knows that in this moment, he is not truly speaking to her. "But Lorne and Illyria, they've gone and left. Nina too, I suppose. And," his breathe moves a little shakily here, "Fred, Wes, Charlie, they all died. And Connor…" Spike shakes his head and when she sees his eyes Buffy realises that Spike is mourning for each of these people too.

Most of them are people she has never met, and yet Angel cared for each of them. Spike cared for them, as difficult as it is to imagine him actually creating friendships or even functioning socially outside of the Scooby Gang.

Buffy feels bad for not caring for them too.

"All the people that looked after him, and all the people he looked after, and then, now he's all alone."

Loneliness is about the scariest thing there is.

"You're still here," Buffy points out. "Everyone else left, but you're still here. Looking after him." She knows he hears everything she means by those words. The unspoken ones as well. The ones that change the word 'him to 'me'.

Spike flicks his eyes away. "Yeah," he says, uncomfortable. "Well." He doesn't keep talking after that, makes a few breathing sounds, like he's thinking, trying to decide what to do. His gaze casts about the room for a moment and then he moves his left foot to nudge Angel in the calf.

Angel lifts his head and moves slowly to look in Spike's direction. "Here," Spike says, he is facetiously grumpy and attempting to cover his discomfort. "I went to all the trouble to heat that for you and you've gone and let it cool." Angel does not respond in any way. Spike leans over and puts his hand over Angel's, guiding the mug closer to his mouth. "Now drink."

Angel complies finally and takes small slow sips of the blood. Buffy watches him swallow, watches the way his throat works. He never would drink in front of her before. She'd once thought it wouldn't upset her because she loved him too much to care about that. And then she'd thought it wouldn't upset her because she had seen Spike do the same thing so many times.

And now she does get to see him do it. And it does upset her, because it's so unlike Angel. Buffy swallows too, but for a very different reason. She feels the tears gathering at the corners of her eyes as it all really begins to sink in.

"I found him in a sewer," Spike says suddenly, interrupting Buffy's train of thought.

"What?" she asks. She sniffs once and recovers from the dangerous mental road that she had been headed down.

"Lost him, for three days right after the fight. Morning came and I was alive and the dragon was dead, and everyone else was gone away." Spike isn't looking at her. He's still facing Angel and he's got one hand on the other vampire's closer arm. "After a while I started realising he wasn't showing up. Could have been he was dead but, I just knew, you know?" He takes in a breath. He lets it out. It isn't deep or steadying or much of anything in particular, though. It's just a breath. But it feels important somehow, as if the world would be in some way wrong if he didn't take a breath here. "Spent a bit over a day looking before I found him. He was just sitting down there, holding Connor."

Spike does turn his head to look at her now. "And Connor, he," Spike draws his hand away from Angel and uses both to gesture over his abdomen. He holds his fingers out straight and perpendicular to his chest, moving his hands up and down. "He had his guts all torn out, dried to his shirt." Spike shakes his head. "And his face. His face, Buffy, he didn't even have one." He looks into her eyes and she stares back, mesmerised and terrified of the story. "And Angel— Angel he's just sitting there, covered in-in human shit and rats and he's just, holding him. Like a baby."

Spike's eyes are sad, although they do not water, and she can tell from his expression that this hurts him. That this was a scene that caused him pain when he came upon it. It hurts her now, hearing it, picturing it in her mind. Buffy moves forward slowly until she comes to stand at the foot of the bed and her shins press against the edge of the mattress. "So you got them out and you brought him back here."

"That I did, luv," Spike agrees.

Buffy places one hand on the footboard, her eyes trail away from Spike and over to Angel. He's finished drinking now and sits with his hands in his lap once more, still holding onto the mug. "And so you're just gonna take care of him? Now that he's…" she trails off because she doesn't really know how Angel is. Her mind returns back to how Spike described it earlier. Gone away.

"Buffy." His eyes had slid away as well, a natural instinct, but now they were focused on her once more, in full force. She looks back and meets them. "If a person had gone through all that, had lost all those things they care about, had sat there in the sewage for two days, holding someone they love who's got their face melted off. If they'd done all that and come out just fine, bit foul smelling but no worse for wear, then they aren't someone who's worth taking care of."

Buffy lets that settle, lets the idea settle down around in her bones and deep in the core of her and nods. "You're right," she says. She is unsurprised to hear herself say this, because when Spike gets like this, when he starts talking in this way, without the attitude or the swagger or the sarcasm, when he is raw and deep and honest, he is rarely not right.

"We all lose things in life, pet," Spike says. "Especially with our lives the way that they are. Angel's just lost a bit more than the rest of us."

And she thinks of Spike pressing a handkerchief into the gore of Xander's vacated eye socket. She thinks of Willow, weeping for the hole that Tara had left in her. She thinks of Anya in her wedding gown, walking down the aisle with no one to walk to, quiet and sombre. She thinks of Dawn, growing up without a mother or a father in her life.

And then she thinks of Spike. She thinks of Spike with his legs useless and she thinks of Spike when he wept for Drusilla, wept and wept for a love he'd thought he'd known and lost but maybe had never known at all. She thinks of Spike suffering through migraine after migraine, tied to a chair and chained to a bathtub, his pride and dignity stolen away from him. She thinks of his face when she'd locked him from her house, and of the ragged, worn version of him she'd found when she'd returned from Heaven. She thinks of Spike in the rubble of his home, picking up things that were no longer things and of how she'd left that night. I'm sorry, William. She thinks of Spike, crouched in the school basement, confused and scared with no place to go, and of how he'd looked when Dawn told him to stay away. She thinks of him standing before her, his skin and his life burning away to nothing.

And when she's thought of all these things, she realises that Angel has not lost the most, not at all. He's simply the one who hasn't gotten anything back yet.


Buffy isn't entirely certain if there really is a particular time that is bathtime or if it is bathtime simply because Spike decides it is so.

"Wouldn't it be easier?" she asks as he draws the bath water. He turns to look at her and she feels awkward under his gaze, though she has no idea why. His expression is not intimidating by any means; his head tilts slightly to the side, encouraging her to speak. This is the way it was. Spike was the one who listened to her. When she could not be heard, Spike would hear. And now it does not make her as comfortable as it used to. She feels embarrassed, but she does not squirm. "If you used the shower," she suggests, "wouldn't it be easier?"

Spike nods to her. He agrees, though he does not comply. "Tried that," he tells her. "The first time, I tried that." He crouches before the tub as it fills and looks up at Angel who is standing still in the middle of the bathroom where he hasn't moved since Spike removed his hand from Angel's elbow after leading him in there. "Didn't work so well. Upset him." He continues to look up at Angel, his eyes soft and warm. Accepting. "It rained that night. And a different night." His voice is gentle. Though the phrasing is short and blunt, he does not slight Angel's emotions. "He seemed upset by it and I don't mean to do that."

It rained on the night Angel took her virginity. The night when she'd laid damp and bare and vulnerable under his body in the dark and had dug her fingers into the ink on his back. She doesn't know if she wants that to be the night or not.

Spike uses the white rim of the big porcelain tub to push himself into standing position, leaning his weight against the one arm even though he doesn't need to, could have leapt from his squat on the bathroom tile and smacked his head against the ceiling if he'd felt the inclination. When he steps closer to Angel, he moves with the same restraint that he manages to make look natural. As if he is moving with the slow steadiness he is displaying for no other reason than his own such desire.

Buffy watches as one love of her life undresses the other. Angel has put on weight since they last met, his body taking on a new softness, and roundness that it had not had before. More flesh around his face and over his stomach. It is more apparent here, in the full light of the master bathroom, than it had been in bed.

Spike pulls Angel's pyjama pants down his legs and urges the other vampire into stepping out of the puddle of blue satin he leaves on the floor. Angel complies without protest and when Spike stands again, he steps off just enough to the side that Buffy can see every little detail of Angel there is.

She has never seen him naked before. She'd found, up until he'd vanished amongst a wash of red and blue lights and the wail of sirens, that her chances of finding him with a shirt on were about equal to those of finding him without. But, like his dietary habits and darkly-coloured past, he'd kept his sex as a guarded aspect of himself. One of the things she knew of but did not inquire about further. They'd made love in the dark, and only once. Without thought, she had allowed him his modesty, or, as she recognised it now, his shame.

But now he stands before her, unabashed and nude and it makes her body go numb. She has thought, on the occasions that she allowed herself to think of such things, that should the two of them reunite, she would no longer tolerate Angel's embarrassment. That she would no longer allow him to hide. Words that Spike had said, and words that Spike had meant to say had floated into her thoughts and had planted themselves as firmly into her brain as their sower had planted himself into her life. She couldn't love Angel the way she wanted to because she knew she didn't know all of him. She'd seen the parts of him he'd let her see, or that Spike or Darla had forced upon her, but she had never known all of him.

To love someone, truly and fully, you have to know all of them, like the way Spike knows her, the best and the worst of her. Angel had hidden away the parts of himself he hadn't wanted seen and she had not looked because she did not want to know. And when she had seen, all that love they'd thought they'd had hadn't felt like enough.

And so she knew, knew as they used baked goods to shield themselves from reality, and knew as Spike crumpled to ash at her fingertips, that if she and Angel ever found one another again, he'd have to show her everything. All those little bits and pieces, the hidden hardware and wires that made Angel into Angel. She was going to see that.

And he stands before her now and she sees that, and it isn't just about his nudeness. Everything that makes up Angel is now right in front of her. No longer is he a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a long coat. Now he is everything she sees at surface value. Angel has no hidden agendas, no secrets left to conceal, no emotions that she cannot read. He is exactly what she is looking at, nothing more and nothing less.

Buffy's hand tightens around the collar of her shirt, twists the fabric tightly around her fingers and her nails bite ever so slightly into her skin. She can't stop, can't do anything. The world reels away from her, far out of her grasp. She's gotten what she'd wished for and now she wants to give it back.

Even after he'd left, Angel had still felt almost like a constant in her life. Like, if things got too bad, he was there. Two hours, a phone call away. She'd curled against his side and let him hold her the night she'd buried her mother, and he was the one she'd broken down in front of after losing Spike. Angel was someone she could lean against, for a little while, and he could take some of her pain away.

But now that was gone. She gets her peek inside, she gets a whole tour, and in that she loses the strength of him. The solidness she'd found in his stoicism.

It hits her all very suddenly, a sharp kick in the gut that knocks her breath away and leaves her gasping for air. Tears build behind her eyelids and before she can stop it, before she can finish raising her free hand to her mouth to trap it in, a tiny sob slips through her lips.

"Oh. Oh, pet." She can hear it in his tone. She feels it in his touch, when he's by her side instantly, pulling her to him, one hand around her shoulder and the other in her hair. He wants nothing more than to take her hurt away. She wants nothing more than to let him. Let Spike take on this role in her life, the way he'd begun to before everything went so wrong.

Buffy presses her nose into his shoulder and shakes. "I'm sorry," she manages between hiccups.

"No," Spike says quickly. He pets her hair soothingly, fingers combing through the gold and working deftly through the tangles there. "No, Slayer. 's not something to be sorry about, alright? You need to have yourself a cry, you just let it out, yeah?"

As tempting as it is to let herself breakdown completely, even more than she already has, Buffy shakes her head. She sniffles and wipes her nose, a little on the back of her hand and a little on Spike's tee-shirt, and draws out of his embrace. "I'm okay," she tells him. The look in his eyes is still one of concern, one that reminds her of when she crawled out of her grave, of when he was the one she didn't have to be okay in front of. She gives him a reassuring, albeit wobbly, smile. "Really," she promises. "Just a long day. Jet lag. And everything here…"

Spike tilts his head at her and stares through her into the other version of Buffy, the one who's not a military general and who sometimes needs to be heard. He's always been able to do this. Right from the day they met. He strips away her outer layers and looks at all her insides, the parts no one else can see. Under his gaze she becomes an I Can Read book.

Spike studies her inner Buffy for a long moment before dropping his hands. He gives her a gentle smile and his fingers flutter against her elbow on the way down. But apparently he is satisfied that she isn't nearing the explosive levels of bottled up emotions because he doesn't try to coax her into telling him anything. But she does understand, from the touch and from his eyes, that he is there if she wants to.

"I'm okay," she repeats, and finds that she means it even more now than she did a minute ago. The realisation that she has her confidante back, that Spike has really, truly been returned to her, makes her feel lighter even in her fatigue. Even in her fear of losing Angel.

Spike nods. "Alright," he agrees, smile gentle. His eyes don't leave hers until he's taken a few backwards steps and a spin that leaves his arm submerged to the shoulder in the nearly-full bath tub. When he's free he has the clog held by the little chain in between two fingers. The drain recalls the water only a little faster than the faucet spills it.

Spike fumbles with the knobs and sets the "H" spinning, forcing the water to run double-time. "Here," he says. Turns back, looks up at her over his shoulder. "See if this is good for you, pet."

Buffy's eyes, red rimmed now and bloodshot, go wide. "Oh," she says, startled.

Spike manages to give her back a nearly identical look, startled by her startlement. "I was just—" He looks embarrassed, ashamed of his ideas. "I don't mean to presume," he hurries to defend. "I wouldn't… We'll leave." He looks away from her. "Don't mean to upset you, Buffy. Wouldn't mean to."

She crouches beside him and holds her hand under the tap, feels the warmth of the water. How long has it been since she took a hot bath?

"This is nice," she tells him. "Thank you."

He smiles tentatively. "Just thought it would be good for you is all."

"Spike." She looks him in the eye. "You'd be honest with me, right?"

He meets her gaze, keeps it steady, though she knows the question worries him. "Always."

Buffy swallows, grimaces, and braces herself for an answer she doesn't want to hear.

"Do I stink?"

He stares at her, dumbfounded, for a moment and then the grin breaks out across his face in full force. "No." His voice rumbles a little bit with what could easily turn into laughter. "No, luv, you don't."

She eyes him scrutinizingly. "Promise?"


"Not even a little bit?"

"How little we talkin' about here?"

Buffy holds her fingers close together. "Like, tiny. Spider size on the stink scale. Point zero-zero-zero-one stinkiness."

Spike actually does chuckle here. "You're fine, pet, really."

"Okay," Buffy pouts at him, not fully willing to believe. "I'm trusting you on this one."

"No," he assures her. "Just thought it would help you relax. Know the flight from Rome is a long one."

"Well, thank you. Really." She returns his smile, placated. Buffy settles back, leans against the edge of the tub and peers in to watch the water as it changes temperature.

Being back with Spike feels like the most natural thing in the world. Like there hasn't been this giant gaping hole left in her since he died. Like everything is finally back to how it was, or how it should have been. Being around him makes everything feel like it's going to be okay. Angel will be alright. Her problems with Giles are almost meaningless. And suddenly her brain's catching up with what he just said.



"But, Scotland," Spike says again. "Buffy, Scotland? Those people are…" he grimaces and she giggles.

"It's not that bad."

He looks at her.

"Okay, it's kinda bad. It's all wet and icky and isolated and my hair can only take so much, but we needed isolated. And, plus side, I had to replace all my clothing for the weather." She settles back down in the warm water, arms folded over her chest in triumph.

He rolls his eyes and refocuses his attention on pouring water over Angel's head without getting the soapy run-off in the other vampire's eyes.

Spike is crouched down beside the tub again, shirtless and wet up to his elbows. Their banter about her new living arrangements had reached a small lull a minute earlier when she'd quieted to watch in fascination as Spike scrubbed the shampoo into Angel's hair.

The way his fingers move with such expertise, working the lather everywhere it needed to be, had been just a little bit captivating. It was like he'd done this hundreds of times before.

And who was to say he hadn't? Drusilla had always been out of her mind, hadn't she? Spike was always looking after someone, taking care of someone, why would it be unlikely that he had helped someone bathe?

Buffy draws her legs up closer to her chest, her knees not quite breaking the water's surface, and tries to focus her brain more towards thoughts of that nature than towards the fact that this entire scenario reminds her just a little bit of being a young child. When her mother would put Dawn in the tub with her at the same time. Which, ew. Loves of her life, here. So not a parallelism she needs in her head.

"We live in a castle," she says to distract herself.

"That right?"


"That's good for you, then, innit? Better than where we thought you were, I reckon."

"What? Rome?" Buffy asks. "I'd love to live in Rome, right? That close to all those shoes." She isn't sure if it's triggered by the fact that she's using the other woman's shampoo, but she really misses Cordelia right now. It's selfish, and greedy, and she's just been reunited with two lost lovers, but Cordelia actually understood about fashion and facials and, apparently, shampoo that smells like the beach.

She has to try and find this shampoo in Scotland.

"Well, we thought you were roomin' with Andrew," Spike says. "When we stopped by your—I guess his apartment, huh? Smelled you all over, though. You and the Little Bit."

"You were in Rome? Looking for Andrew?"

"Looking for you, pet," he corrects.


Spike blinks at her, perplexed at the questioning. "Well, we love you," he says, trying to sort through her confusion even as he answers. "You're our girl, you know?" One of his hands s comes to rest on Angel's shoulder, the one holding the cup skims the water. "We love you, Buffy."

"I mean, why did you think I was in Rome?"

"Oh," Spike says. "Angel, I guess, he heard it from someone." He looks to Angel as he says it and tilts his head just so, like he's seeking confirmation from his grandsire. Angel gives none. "I mean, Andrew told me. 's what he said. Said you were off in Rome livin' the good life while Dawn learned Italian. Then we heard you were involved with The Immortal, figured you were in trouble. But all we found was Andrew, telling us how we just missed you. Did go looking for you but… there was a demon head and some wacky blasts from the past. Got ourselves blown up at one point, too." He gives her a small, sardonic smile to match the semi-serious tone that he'd hit upon for the last few sentences.

"Thought we saw you, though. Dancing with 'His Benevolence.' Seemed to be having a nice time, figured you were happy. Hadn't seen you like that since…" he trails off. "In a long time. Figured it wasn't our place to mess any of that up for you."

"And you just left?" Buffy asks, getting upset. "Without even talking to me?" She so doesn't want to be naked for this conversation. But getting dressed means getting out of the tub, which in general just doesn't sound appealing, but also means further exposing her nakedness to Spike, which seems counteractive.

"Well, it wasn't you, was it?" Spike says, but he looks even more unsure know. He knows she's upset, even if he hasn't figured out why yet.

"But you thought it was!" Buffy exclaims. She grabs a tight hold on the rim of the bathtub and leans her face closer to Spike. "What if it had been? You didn't think I should have any say in this?" She falls back suddenly and the water surface swells with the motion. "God! I am so sick of people choosing what's best for me! Angel left, Willow pulled me out of Heaven, Giles tried to kill you! Remember that?" Spike's expression continues to fall a little more with each word. "'For my own good,' right? All of it.
I thought you were dead, Spike." She lets her anger dissipate to let her disappointment surface in her eyes. "I thought you were different."

Spike swallows. He has his head lowered and he stares unseeingly at the water. "I thought you knew," he says in a small voice. "Buffy, I thought you knew." He sounds so earnest, and just the smallest bit broken, that all her upset seems to be slipping away from her in moments. "And when you never called, never tried to reach me… I thought that was saying enough." His grip on the little plastic cup tightens momentarily then he lets it go. "I didn't think I could take you spelling it out. I'm sorry." He lifts his head, just a little bit, so that he can raise his eyes to hers. "Buffy, I'm sorry."

And like that, all her anger is gone.

"Why did you think that I knew?" she asks. "You never called."

"Giles," he says. "Andrew."

She isn't surprised. It's what she gets. The men in her life, she's always disappointed in them. Her father, Pike, Angel, Riley, Giles. Now Andrew. Maybe she should stop expecting anything more. Maybe she should give up on them altogether. Satsu's been checking her out. Maybe she should take all of this as a sign.

She shuts her eyes, leans back against the wall of the tub.

"I'm tired," she tells Spike.

There's a stretch of silence.

Then, "Okay," Spike says quietly.


The room he takes her to is a bit of a contrast from the one the vampires are staying in. Angel's room has a lived in look to it, but this one looks newly decorated.

The colours are brighter, too. Happier.

The walls are a rich maroon colour, various animal prints decorate a set of chairs by the French doors that lead to the bed and various throws tossed over the sofa. The paintings are bright and cheerful too; flowers seem to be a recurring theme.

"It smells nice."

Spike hasn't ventured in from the hall and remains stuck in the doorframe, even though Buffy knows the invitation rules don't apply here.

"Jasmine," he tells her. "I don't know who lived here."

Buffy sets her meagre belongings out on one of the tables between two brightly coloured vases. Her cell phone (dead), her passport, her wallet, and a half empty pack of gum make up everything she'd thought to bring with her for her impulsive intercontinental journey.

She stares at them and not at Spike, but when she says, "Goodnight," she finds it lacks both the anger and disappointment that her voice had held only minutes earlier.

"G'night, Buffy."

She can hear his bare feet on the carpet for a minute, then quiet.

Buffy lays herself down on the mountain of pillows and brightly coloured blankets, the towel she'd wrapped around her head slipping loose and Cordelia's bathrobe opening enough to display the underwear she's been wearing for the last four days.

Try as she might, she finds her mind unable to restore the hurt emotions she'd felt earlier. The soft scent, the warm bed, the cheerful colours seem to work to soothe her temper like a balm and when she falls asleep, just as the crack between the golden curtains begins to turn pink with the dawn, there isn't a negative thought in her head.


Okay, so, maybe it would have been smart to pay attention to which room housed the two vampires. But it wasn't like she didn't have totally valid excuses about not knowing. When Spike had led her to the room the first time, she'd been too worried about Angel, and when he'd led her away to the room she'd just left, she'd been too focussed on the irresistible allure of a soft bed.

So, it wasn't Buffy's fault she was lost.

Nope, not even a little bit.

"Your loyalty serves only as a liability."

A voice. Voices tended to come from people, and while this one belonged to neither of the people Buffy was presently seeking, voices also had a tendency to be directed to people as well. As far as she knew, there were only three people in the hotel, and since Angel wasn't much for conversation at the moment, and the voice definitely probably wasn't talking to her, it seemed pretty likely that the voice was talking to—

"Remember when Wesley tried to kill you?"

Oh, she's good. She's so good.

Follow the voices, Buffy. It's tracking practice, not eavesdropping.

"His presence is a distraction. He is weak. Leave him. His absence will strength our flock."

"Flock?" Spike's tone turns somewhat incredulous. "Where've you even been, Blue? Buggered off when the shit came pouring down. That sound much like a flock to you?"

"I enjoyed the violence."

Buffy rounds a corner and gets picture to go along with her radio drama.

Blue lady. Blue lady in a leather catsuit. Huh.

The people you see in LA.

"'course you bloody did. " Spike hasn't noticed Buffy yet, where she stands at the edge of the hall in the same clothes she'd been wearing for days. Or if he has, he doesn't acknowledge her. He's got his coat on, but otherwise gives off the impression of having just crawled out of bed. "Didn't stick around for the aftermath, did you?"

"Your sentimentality makes you weak."

"Makes us human."

"You are not a human, half-breed." There's something very disturbing about this blue lady. Her voice is so empty, such a contrast to Spike's. It makes Buffy uncomfortable, and sets of some Slayer warning bells; that little tight, roiling in her gut when something Big and Bad is getting too close for comfort. Though, the blue lady doesn't look particularly human in the first place.

Admittedly, her Slayer Senses aren't quite what they could be.

"Rid yourself of him and take your rightful place."


"A leader must know when to remove its weakest links. Do you think that he would spare you?"

"'course not."

He says it so casually, too. Such nonchalance. Spike's spent weeks caring for Angel and yet does not hesitate to affirm his own death and lack of worth, should the positions have been reversed.

Once, Spike cowered in the corner of a strange basement and begged her to take his life.

He smiled when he burnt to cinders at her fingertips.

He is unafraid to die and it is his lack of fear that frightens Buffy.

"Stake me good and proper, he would. And I don't think I'm physically capable of doing something because Angel'd do it, so you might just want to give up on that one, pet."

The blue woman, Illyria, is quiet for a moment. "You are foolish," she decides. Then she turns on her heel and stalks down the hall, faster than Buffy thought was possible.

Buffy fully clears the corner she'd been lurking against and heads toward the open door Spike is standing in.


He looks at her, expression unreadable. "Heard all that, did you?"


He nods and turns back through the door. Buffy takes this as a cue and follows him into the bedroom. Angel is sitting in bed, staring at the wall.

"Spike," she says, before realised she has no idea how to say what she wants to say.

"Illyria, god-king of the universe, warper of time, converser of plants, and master of yours truly."

Well, that sort of pauses all the other thoughts in her head, doesn't it?

"She owns you?"

Spike snorts. "If you ask her." He looks around, a little jumpily in Buffy's opinion. She doesn't know what he's looking for, though it is possible that neither does he.

"Spike," says Buffy. "What she said. That's not—"

He doesn't let her finish. "Of course it is," he affirms. There's no hesitation in his voice. "Buffy." He sighs and moves a little closer, head tilted just right to meet her eyes. "If it were the other way around, if he was here and I was there, I wouldn't be."

"Angel isn't like that," she protests.

"Yeah, he is," Spike asserts. "Leader type. Someone's got to make the rough calls." His gaze gentle, but firm. "Been there yourself, if you recall."

To say she's surprised would be a bit of an understatement. She's known Spike to strike where it hurts; it is what he does, after all. He looks in and sees and understands everything, about her, about everyone and then he uses it as he will.

But she never thought he'd use that against her. He was the one who stood by her when she muddled through that miserable time, the one who'd never thrown such words in her direction. The pang of betrayal that had ebbed as she slept returned to her now. And probably to her face too, because Spike grimaces and his eyes go all soft and apologetic.

"Aw, pet." He exhales in a sigh. "Look. Angel'd do what needs doing, yeah? I'm just a sentimental prat. Don't know when to quit."

Buffy looks away. Angel hasn't responded since she entered the room and he doesn't respond now, when she sits down on the edge of the mattress beside him.

"What about me?" she asks in a small voice. "What if it was me?"

"Hey!" Spike forcibly turns her head toward him. "Never do it. Never. You hear?"

"And Angel?"

"Christ, Buffy," Spike says, "of course not." He sounds so certain of it. Like it's some law of the universe. "You are the first thing in this entire world that he has ever loved. How could he hurt you?"

"He left," Buffy points out quietly, her gaze drifting to the floor. "Just like everyone else."

Spike makes a little noise, somewhere in between annoyance and sympathy, which seems like a weird mix, but Spike's all about that sort of thing.

And there's a little thought then that occurs to Buffy. A little thought that niggles its way through her brain and into her consciousness and she looks up and meets Spike's eyes. His face shows only minor surprise at the sudden shift in the Slayer as she leaves behind her insecurities for the time being and gathers about her a melancholy sort of determination.


"Yeah, pet?"

"I need to tell you something." He tilts his head, as if urging her to go on, although she can see the trepidation in his expression. "Sit?" she asks, patting the bed beside her.

He sits, flaring out his coat so it doesn't bunch up beneath him. His gaze jitters away from her face as he braces himself for what she has to say.

"Spike, please look at me?" He does and she can see the mournfulness in those blue, blue eyes. Sees him waiting for what he knows is coming, for what's always coming. But he holds her gaze because she asks him too.

"I just—" she stops, because that isn't quite how she wants to start. "I don't… I don't know Drusilla that well," she settles on. His brow knits together in confusion. "And… I don't really know how things are here. Or what happened that summer when I was gone." Buffy's tongue slips between her teeth and she wets her lips without much conscious thought. "And, I know that… when you were taking care of me, after I got back and after everything…"

She gives a little exhale. It really shouldn't be this hard, but all the words are making a mad dash through her body and jumbling themselves up in her throat. "Spike, I was really, really hard on you and I need you to know that I appreciate everything you've ever done for me." There's a little flicker in his eyes that she doesn't quite catch, too caught up in her words, but she does hope it's only her wild imagination that labels it as disappointment. "I don't think anyone's ever told you that. But you're always taking care of someone, and… and sometimes I think the scariest thing in the world would be to be you. But I don't want you to feel like what you do is thankless—"

"'course I don't," Spike interrupts. His expression has changed from one of apprehension to one of embarrassment. "Just do what needs doing is all."

"I know. I know. But, not everyone would. I mean, you're there when no one else is. So… I wanted you to know that I appreciate that."

Spike nods a thank you and looks away.

Okay. Admittedly, it may have been a little awkward. Spike usually seemed to like being the centre of attention, and did have a tendency to be the one most in touch with his emotions (as new-age, hippy-dippy as that was), but shine the light on his good deeds and he'd quiet up pretty quick when he wasn't the one doing the bragging. Maybe it was because caretaker generally didn't fit on the résumé of the Big Bad.

"How'd you sleep?" Spike asks, before the awkward quiet can completely swallow them whole.

"Good!" says Buffy, grappling onto the semblance of a conversation like a lifeline. "Really, really good."



"Um… nothin'. Never mind. That room, though. You felt it?"

Buffy frowns at him a little. "Felt what?" she asks slowly.

"Just… I dunno. The room. It's got a feel to it. Like…"

"Love," finishes Buffy. "It feels like love."

Spike nods. "Yeah."

Truth be told, she hadn't ascribed the sensation to the room. Sure, she'd felt cosy and cared for, but that tended to happen when a person was fresh from a hot bath, wrapped in fluffy blankets, and in the presence of someone who, well, cared for them.

Maybe she was catching whatever it was that had affected Sunnydale and cause the townsfolk to write off all demonic activity as PCP use and gang violence.

"It's magic?" she asks.

"Far as I can tell," says Spike. "Seems harmless, though. Just aftereffects, I reckon." He shrugs. "Like goin' into Willow's room or something. Just sticks in the air."

"You think someone did a love spell in there?"

"Possible. But whoever it was for and whoever did it aren't around. Way I can tell, it just amplifies things, no brainwashing involved. Mostly just seems relaxing now, or something. Thought it'd do you good, staying in there."

Buffy squints at him. "What makes you think I need relaxing?"

"I followed you around like a whipped dog for three years, Slayer. Think I got a pretty decent handle on you." He looks her in the eye and holds her gaze until the seriousness just becomes too silly to just keep staring and she turns her head away with a smile.

Spike smiles back at her before a glance at the clock sends him to his feet. "Um, I'm gonna go get him—I'm trying to keep a schedule, you know? Routine. So I'm gonna go get him some blood," he makes a vague gesture to Angel, like there was some chance she'd be confused as to who they were talking about. "And you can order a pizza or… you don't have to stay here. Go out or something. Whatever you like."

"I'm good here," Buffy assures him. She waves a hand. "We need to do that thing people do when they reunite. Catching up? I hear its popular these days, for people who return from the dead and don't call."

"Ha," says Spike. Buffy smiles up at him sweetly. He grabs the mug from where it had sat on the nightstand since shortly after Buffy's arrival and leaves the room in a swish of black leather.

Buffy draws her legs up onto the bed beside her and scoots closer to the centre, next to Angel. Angel does nothing.

She tips her head back to look up at him, and his vacant stare, and she thinks about the baby names she threw out and wedding locations that were indoors and out of churches and when it felt like the Earth might stop rotating if he ever left her.

And she thinks about when she knew he was so full of goodness and never questioned what was happening, when she trusted him and didn't have to wonder about lawyers and dragons. When he felt close wherever he was and not beside her and a million miles away.

Buffy reaches out and touches his hand. "Angel." He doesn't respond. "I miss you."

She thinks about the smell of graveyard dirt that clung to her clothes long after their encounters had taken place and about the echoes of their voices in the vast emptiness of the mansion on Crawford street when it was just the two of them. Just like now but completely different.


She thinks about cool damp snow in Southern California and warm sunny beaches in her dreams.

"Angel, I'm sorry. Do you hear me? I'm sorry." She takes his hand, so much larger than hers, in her own. She used to find that comforting, once upon a time. She used to think it meant that everything she threw at him, all her extra Buffy baggage, he could handle it. He was big and tall and strong and he could protect her and shield her and handle all the shit that came along with being with her. Now it just makes it harder to hold onto him.

"I'm sorry that I wasn't here to help you, and that everything went so bad. And I'm sorry about Cordelia and Wesley and… and everyone else." She keeps her hold on his hand and raises her other one to wipe at the tears that blur her vision. "I'm sorry."

She moves her hand up to hold onto his arm instead, gripping him tightly, trying to pull him back to her with her Slayer strength. "And I'm sorry I need you, 'cause I know you need this and I just want you to come back and be here and I just want you to say that things are going to be okay, but I'm just selfish and I'm sorry I can't just be here like Spike is, but I need you, Angel. I miss you."

He doesn't respond.

She presses her wet cheek up against his shoulder and scrapes down from the bottom of her emotions to summon her strongest appeal. Her voice begs and pleads and calls to him desperately with three words that go: "I love you."

He doesn't respond.

"Tried that one too."

Buffy lifts up her head, hair clinging to her damp cheeks, and peers at Spike in the doorway. She believes him, believes that he did. There's too much honesty and empathy in those blue eyes of his to believe otherwise.

"Should have known better than to leave the two of you alone." He comes around the side of the bed, sets the mug back down in the dark ring stained onto the bedside table, and sits down on the other side of Angel's legs. "Someone always ends up in tears." He reaches a hand out and she slumps into his touch, exhausted despite just waking up.

She shivers and lets her tears flow but makes no sounds.

Spike draws Angel in with the arm not settled around Buffy and the older vampire folds complacently into the little huddle in the middle of his bed, though he contributes nothing. Buffy's fingers are still tight on his bicep.

"I'm sorry," Buffy sighs.


The Pavilion is as full as a movie theatre could reasonably expect to be on a Tuesday evening, and the seats on either side of Buffy are empty.

Is that symbolic? It feels sorta symbolic.

It'd probably be more symbolic if the entire row to her left weren't completely empty and if the trio of middle-aged women weren't sitting two chairs down on her right. But life was dumb like that, sometimes.

She isn't completely sure which words came out of her mouth or what order they were in or anything, but she managed to express her need for new clothes and flee the premises of the Hyperion Hotel before she completely melted down.

Part of her worries that she's going to end up coming full circle and shutting everyone out again, which so shouldn't happen given how that ended last time. But, also, a part of her is pretty sure Spike doesn't need anyone else's troubles on his shoulders.

Buffy settles into the plush red seat, drawing her legs up to her chest and trying not to think much on the sticky sound the movie theatre floor makes as it resists the motion.

It's been almost nine years, but she thinks she's got a pretty good chance of sitting exactly where she'd sat when Pike had kicked the back of her seat, right before she threw her Twizzlers at him and her life went to shit. Back when she was bitchy and shallow and a blonde version of Cordelia.

Her hand scoops popcorn from the jumbo bucket and brings the kernels to her mouth mechanically. The flickering lights on the screen that wash over her face may as well be a thousand miles away.

This whole nostalgia thing, which got triggered extra hard when she found herself staring at the elevator where she'd first seen Merrick, before she knew who he was and when she just though he was some creepy guy with a walrus moustache, is sorta wearing at her.

So now she was huddled in a seat at the movie theatre, watching a movie she couldn't care less much about, and really missing her mom.

There are so many people she wants to talk to, and none that she can.

She wants to talk with her mom, say, 'What happens when I don't know him anymore?'

And then her mom knows all the answers, and says it in her mom voice, and then things are okay.

Or she could talk to Tara, who was always so calm and gentle and even if she didn't have all the answers, at least Buffy felt listened to, cared for.

Or Willow, who was her best friend and could give best friend advice, which wasn't to always be listened to and followed, but reminds you that you aren't alone. Or Dawn, who could snark some little sister snark at her.

Or, maybe most of all, she kinda wants to talk to Spike. Because he's the guy she tells her problems to. He's the one person who always listens, no matter what, and maybe the one who understands her the best.

But she can't. Can't talk to any of them. Mom and Tara are dead and gone and twice-buried, and Willow's off in some other plane of existence. Dawn's touring colleges and surgically attached to her SAT study book. And Spike… that's kinda the problem, really.

Spike's someone new now. Someone else.

Back in Sunnydale, that last final year there, she'd hardly been around. She'd hardly been able to meet that new Spike. And then, he wasn't quite Spike yet then either. He'd been in the making. A new version, the souled version, but still incomplete, still being assembled.

This Spike was even more evolved, even further from the one she'd known. The monster, the killer, he was gone, or buried at any rate, deep down under.

He'd always played caretaker, it was true, and he was often patient with her, even when he'd been evil, or when she'd been sure that he had been. But there was a new calmness, a goodness, a morality that threw her when she looked his way and saw the comfort and compassion and empathy held within his eyes.

And maybe part of that was something she'd wanted, something she'd begged for. That he would change, become truly good, truly virtuous. Is she regretting that now? Is she jealous that that means his attention is focused on other things?

Yeah. Kinda. But yeah.

And it's not fair of her, not at all.

She'll always love Angel. She can't imagine not loving Angel. Even if she's still in love with a different version of him, one that maybe never even existed, she still loves him. It's not fair to tell Spike he can't do the same.

The ice rattles around in the bottom of what used to be her Diet Coke as she tries to drink what isn't there anymore. One of the women to her right glares at her like she's ruining the movie for them.

Full circle, except she's pretty sure that Garfield just isn't one of the movies that can be ruined.


The door is unlocked and swings open at Buffy's light touch, which is good because she doesn't really have the dexterity to turn the knob or anything, weighed down the way she is. Her arms only just fit all the bags, which in turn only just fit all her purchases.

'Wherever you may be, I'll be beside you

Although you're many million dreams away'

The music could have served as a nice guide, now that there aren't any bickering vampires and gods to guide her way, but it's too low to hear from even out in the hall, though it seems loud enough for Spike at least.

He turns and looks at her with surprise and Buffy realises that, even though she'd told him she just needed to buy herself a change of clothes, he didn't really expect her to come back. He's on his back, sideways across the bed with his knees bent and his head on Angel's thigh, the book he'd held above his head to read folds against his chest as his eyebrows knit together in wonder at the Slayer in the doorway.

Buffy gives her best imitation of a wave. "I remembered," she tells him proudly. "Room 312. I remembered this time."

"Uh," says Spike. "Yeah. Hey." He puts the book down on the sheets beside him and stands, pulling the needle from the turntable.

"Hey," Buffy says back. She feels a little bad that he thought she wasn't going to return. Part of that was probably her fault. Between her hot-cold deal she'd pulled on him before, and the way she'd been handling things since she'd shown up yesterday, it wasn't too surprising that he couldn't completely trust her.

That said, there was just enough of her that was hurt that he hadn't believed her that she takes just the slightest bit of smugness in his surprise.

"Can I use your bathroom to change?" she asks, deciding that their trust isn't an issue that needs to be discussed right now.

"Yeah, sure," Spike nods, though he looks just the slightest bit confused as he says it.

Buffy unceremoniously dumps her fifteen bags onto the floor and watches as the bright fabrics spill out onto the carpet like the innards of a demon split up the middle.

She needs to get out more so she can find less gross analogies.

She crouches and sorts through the bags while Spike stands over at the edge of her mess with a look of mild befuddlement. "You know what's dumb?" she asks, shuffling through her bags to find the outfit she's looking for.

"What's that, pet?"

"The cat is totally made on the computer, and he looks super fake—okay fake, though, not new Yoda fake—but like, Odie and everyone else are real dogs and stuff. It's really freaky and weird."

"Oh," says Spike, like he's not entirely sure how to respond to such a statement. She can pretty much hear his brain working through its various options and coming up blank.

Buffy finds the right bag and snatches it up, the paper crumpling a little under her fist. "Yeah. I dunno who made that choice." Her sneakers thump against the wall when she kicks them off on the way to the bathroom and she feels a little satisfaction from the impact. She also doesn't want to have to think about how long she's been wearing them.

"Also," she calls, after shutting the bathroom door, "what's up with the music?"

There's a little crumpling sound from back in the main room that she imagines belongs to Spike clearing her bags from the doorway, hopefully with some respect for the insane amount of money she charged to Giles' credit card.

"Most of the rooms are just full with other people's things. Figured if they haven't come back in the last year, they probably aren't coming back for 'em now."

"Hmm," goes Buffy, so that he knows she's listening. "Rocking the oldies there, though, Spike?"

"'s what was around was all. And not so old from everyone's view," he reminds her.

The bathroom door opens under Buffy's command and she stands there, leaned up against the doorway in a sexy, lingerie model type pose, arm over her head, one leg bent just so, bare foot against the door's frame.

Spike stares at her in new sleepwear and tilts his head, a baffled but nonetheless amused smile twitching the corners of his lips.


Buffy grins at him. "You like?" She gives him a twirl to maximise his viewing and when she faces him again his smile has grown in both amusement and confusion.

She stuffs her hands the pockets of her new, ugly flannel pants and crawls into the bed, teetering on the edge between Angel and the end of the mattress. Spike sits down on the other side, still smiling.

"So, you're staying here, then? For now?"

"Are you gonna kick me out?"

Spike's smile loses its amusement and instead becomes one of surprise and flattery and love and pleasure and a whole bunch of other things that go into the looks he gives her. She thinks about the time he crouched before her in a strange bedroom and brought her to tears and the time he gazed up at her from the bottom of the stairs and she tried to hide her hands and the time she cut away the ropes binding him and he had to grab her shoulder to be sure she was real.

She smiles back at him.

"No, pet. Never."

"Cool." Buffy leans over, snuggling her body up against Angel who doesn't resist. She rests her head against his chest, finding it softer than she remembered, but comforting all the same. "Whatcha reading?"

Spike flickers a glance at the book next to him on the bed, a slight tinge of embarrassment appearing around his expression of wonder. "Well, it's—I was just—"

Buffy leans in more, peering over the rumples in the blankets and the wall of Angel and tilts her head to read the title upside-down. "Sonnets from the Portuguese," she says out loud, frowning when the words from her mouth sound so familiar to her ears. It takes a second before it clicks. "Oh!"


"I know that book!" She grins proudly. She doesn't get to say that very much. "I had that book, before it gotten eaten by the Hellmouth."

Spike tilts his head. "Really?"

"Uh-huh. Angel gave it to me." Buffy cranes her neck and looks up at Angel. "Remember?" she directs her words to the elder vampire now. "My eighteenth birthday? And we talked about hearts and Dru's arm collection and stuff?"

Angel doesn't respond, but Buffy doesn't mind all that much. Now that she doesn't completely expect him to, now that she knows that things are different and now that she understands the ways in which they are different, silent Angel isn't that terrifying.

She misses his voice, and his arms, and his smile, but there's an acceptance inside her now. If Angel needs this, this distance, this quiet, then Buffy can give it to him.

She lays her head back down on his chest and blinks at Spike. "Read the one about love?"

"They're love sonnets, pet. All of them."

"'How many ways do I love thee...' or something like that? That one?"

Spike nods and flips to the end of the book. "How do I love thee? Let-" he cuts off when Buffy's hand grabs his arm and yanks him down onto the pillows. "Pet?" he asks, turning to look at her the best he can with her maybe kinda slightly pinning him down.

She doesn't respond in words, but pulls him so that he's resting against Angel's chest, his head beside hers. He doesn't argue, don't protest, and Buffy, under her determination to snuggle and newly improved mindset on the Angel matter, has the vague realisation that, even though she's pretty sure he'd never have fought her over this at any point in their relationship, she's pretty sure he would have made some dirt jokes about it before the soul.

Is it weird that he doesn't? Should she think that's strange?

Spike repositions himself, tucked up against Angel beside her, and holds the book over his head to read better, but Buffy notices he isn't really looking too much at the page. He expects the words before the come from his mouth.

That, she does think is strange.

How long has Spike been memorizing poetry? Is this part of the new Spike, or is this something that's always been going on? Some part of Spike she ignored to make him bigger and badder than he really was, the way she ignored things about Angel to make him less so.

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight"

Buffy snuggles in closer.

The End.