A/N: This chapter is going to earn that angst tag. :(

For the first time in two years, Buffy found herself with empty summer days and no way to fill them. She'd helped her mom at the gallery in the morning, gone shopping with her sister in the afternoon, and now she sat on the front porch swing, feet curled under her and a book of poetry forgotten on her lap as she stared moodily down the street.

She hadn't been back to the Bronze in a week now, not since she and Xander had confronted Spike in the alleyway. That afternoon, when Giles had come in, she'd told him she needed to spend her remaining three weeks of summer vacation as actual vacation. Her last chance to be a carefree college student she'd told him, and, naturally, he'd believed her. She'd even skipped performing with the Dingoes the other night, using a sore throat as an excuse. It was no lie – she had had a sore throat, from crying the night before.

Why had Spike come to Sunnydale and ruined everything? Come and interfered with her family, her job, her friends… Just like the year before. Buffy had never hated anyone as much as she hated that man, especially now that she'd let him chase her away. No way was she going to spend another day near him, though. He'd won. The bleached menace could have the Bronze. She wouldn't set foot in it until he'd gone back to England.

Worse, she was even letting him chase her out of her own home. When her mother had mentioned Spike would be coming to dinner with Giles tomorrow, she'd called Riley up, finally finding the time for a second date with him. Right during Sunday dinner.

What a coincidence.

If she was lucky, and worked it right, that morning in the alleyway would be the last time she ever laid eyes on Rupert Giles' stupid, jerky nephew.

"Movie night?" Xander asked, coming up the walkway and disturbing her from her sulk.

"Oh, hey Xand," she said with a smile. "I didn't see you."

"Well, we don't see you, now that you've absconded from the Bronze. Guess it means we're spending the evenings Chez Summers."

She made room for him on the swing. "That would be nice. Anya going to come?"

"I don't think we're there yet."

Buffy leaned on his shoulder. "I'm sorry."

He blew out a breath. "Yeah. Kinda sucks. I find somebody that I like – really like – and I screw it up. By not making it clear to her how much I like her. And I know that part is my fault, but at the same time…"

"It still hurts."

"You have no idea."

"But you guys are going to be okay?"

Buffy felt his shoulder shrug beneath her. "Who can say? We're both willing to give it another shot, after we take some time. And I tell you, your plan of avoiding the Bronze as long as Spike is around is pretty much my plan too."

"Sucks though." She sniffed. "He should be the one to leave, not us."

They sat together in silence, the gentle squeaking of the swing's springs accompanying their private musings until Willow and Oz appeared, strolling hand-in-hand up the sidewalk.

"Movie night?" Willow asked.

"Movie night," Buffy agreed, getting to her feet and holding the door open for her friends.

One more shot. For luck.

Of course, this followed the shot for courage, the shot to cheer him up, the shot to calm him down – and the original double shot of courage. But Spike thought he was ready now.

It was a testament to how much he'd drunk of late that he didn't weave even a little bit as he strode down the street, making his way to Buffy's home under the twilit sky. Veins full of artificial cheer and courage, he hummed under his breath. He had a plan. Buffy would be home, and because he'd be there, in person, face-to-face, she'd have to let him in. He'd talk to her, and explain, and make everything right between them. And then his stomach would unclench, and his head stop pounding, and – well it was a good plan, all around.

It had taken him a week or so to cotton on to the fact that she was avoiding him. After that nasty bit in the alleyway with her friend's bird, she hadn't been back to work, but Rupert had said it was only vacation time, so he hadn't thought twice about it. Girl worked hard, she was due a holiday before school started up. But then she hadn't sung with the Dingoes either, and he'd sorely missed her. When she'd been out on a date rather than at her mum's weekly family dinner, Spike had started to get the feeling she was avoiding him – and when he'd tried to call her since, with the result that she was always 'just leaving' or 'too busy to talk', his suspicions had been confirmed.

When it came to Buffy Summers, Spike didn't know what he wanted. But it sure as sodding hell wasn't this. He couldn't help but feel guilty she was missing out on the things she loved, just so as she could miss out on him too. Hence the plan to fix it. No idea how yet, but he figured the words would come to him. If only he could get her to listen in the first place.

He knocked at the door, and it opened right up, Joyce giving him a distracted smile as she fiddled with her earring.

"Spike! I didn't know you were coming by, I'm just heading out…" She turned and yelled, "Dawn, come on! I don't want to be late!"

"No worries Mrs. Summers, I'm here to see your eldest. She home?"

"Upstairs," she said. Dawn came to the door, all smiles, and Joyce hurried her outside. "You don't mind seeing yourself in…?"

He waved his hand. "Don't be late." Inside, door shut, elation battled with apprehension. She was here, which meant the chance to talk to her. Heart pitter-pattering, stomach churning, Spike called out, "Buffy? 'Lo?"

No answer. He laid his duster over the banister and climbed the stairs, two at a time. "It's Spike," he yelled again, not wanting to surprise her. All he got in return was the sound of water running. He followed it to what had to be the bathroom.

Showering. Right. So… Go downstairs and wait? Leave and come back? Knock and let her know he was here?

He dithered, pacing back and forth in the hallway, then knocked, before the triple shot of courage could wear off and he tucked tail and ran, the coward inside his head whispering that Buffy would be off to university soon and then it wouldn't much matter anymore. Spike didn't want to listen to that voice. An asshole he might be, but he couldn't bear to think he'd broken her.

"Come in," she yelled, and his hand froze on the door. Obviously, she didn't know it was him… But maybe he could just pop his head in, tell her he was here. He twisted the knob, and ended up having to shove the humidity-swollen door with his shoulder, grunting as it jolted its way past the jamb. Spike staggered inside the small room, his senses assaulted by the warm and wet scent of Buffy's floral shampoo. His heart raced even faster when he realized he was only a thin, white shower curtain away from seeing her in her altogether.

"We so need to fix that door," she said. "Hey, can you hand me the new shampoo bottle under the sink? This one's emptier than a donut box after Xander's finished with it."

One glistening hand peeked out around the curtain, and his voice froze in his throat. Spike couldn't have spoken if his life depended upon it. He glanced at her hand, desperately trying to keep from imagining the naked arm attached to it, never mind the naked body, and decided the best thing to do would be to hand her the bottle and scurry the hell out of there before she was any wiser to his presence. He would go sit on the couch, tell her Joyce had just left when she came downstairs… He rooted under the cabinet and found a bottle of shampoo, unable to resist whispering his fingers across hers when he dropped it in her waiting hand.

The cap snicked. "Thanks," Buffy said, and Spike's imagination went wild, making him forget his plan to skedaddle. Visions of her danced in his head – arms raised up to lather the shampoo in, hot water running over her shoulders and down her breasts, coursing along her belly and between her legs…

His hand crept to the top button of his jeans without conscious thought, and he flicked it open as his other hand leaned on the bathroom counter to support his shaking knees.

"You're being awfully quiet. And shouldn't you have left already?" Buffy asked, and before Spike knew what was happening, she had poked her head around the curtain. Her eyes widened with fear as she took in first his unexpected presence, and then the placement of his left hand, hovering over his fly.

It was one of those moments when time slowed to molasses, and muscles moved slower still. Spike could only stand there, frozen, as Buffy gasped, eyes darting around the room in panic. He opened his mouth to say – well, fucked if he knew what, precisely, but he never got the chance. With seemingly superhuman speed, Buffy snatched up the towel on the hook and bunched in front of her with one hand. The other darted out quick as a snake, two fingers jabbing him in the Adam's apple with enough force to send him to his knees, gasping and choking.

She was away before he could climb to his feet, water spraying out the open curtain and drenching the floor. Spike hurried after her, slipping and sliding on the wet tile as he wheezed and gurgled, stars exploding in his vision, desperate to catch up to her and explain before something worse happened.

He tumbled down the stairs after her and into the kitchen. One hand clutched at his throat while held he the other out in supplication. "Please," he rasped out, but Buffy held a wicked knife in one hand and the phone in her other, forearm tucked tight against her chest to keep the loosely wrapped towel from falling.

"Stay the fuck back!" She waved the knife as her thumb punched the numbers on the phone, one-two-three times.

"Buffy," he gurgled. "Wasn't… just… listen…"

"Help!" she screamed into the phone. "There's a man in my house, he came into the bathroom and…"

Spike fell to his knees on the floor. A shrill buzzing in his ears drowned out her words, and his mind whirled, the alcohol in his system choosing this moment to make itself known. Dimly, he noted his pants were wet, and his shirt too. His breath wheezed in and out of his bruised air pipe, adding to the din in his head.

"Buffy…" he tried again.

"Don't move."

"Won't. Only came… talk. Fix… things."

"You came to talk? Funny how I heard no words. You need to take your pants off to make your mouth work, you sick pervert?"

His eyes rolled back in his head from the pain, but he clung to consciousness. "Buggered things up. Again."

She didn't answer. Spike heard the sounds of sirens in the distance, growing steadily closer. He slumped sideways onto the floor, the cold linoleum soothing against his overheated skin. "Won't move. Won't hurt you. Don't worry."

He retreated to somewhere in the depths of his mind, reality coming to him through a thick haze, only brief snatches of sight and sound penetrating the fog. Buffy sobbing. The cold metallic clink of handcuffs behind his back. A hand on his head as he was pushed into a police cruiser. Buffy dressed and shivering, standing in her front doorway, watching as he was taken away.

"We need you to come down to the station and make a statement."

Buffy trembled despite the officer's best efforts to soothe her. "I… I don't know what happened."

"That's our job, Miss Summers. To determine what happened. But whether or not charges are pressed, you need to make a statement. It's best to document these things. Makes it easier to prosecute this 'Spike' if there's a pattern."

"How will I get home?" She didn't like the sound of her voice. Tiny and scared. Unsure.

"One of our officers will bring you home. Or you can call somebody to come get you."

She stood and shuffled to the closet to fetch a woolen jacket, despite the warm summer night. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Spike's coat on the stair rail, and she jerked her head away, eyes closed. "My mom. I want my mom."

At the station, she gave her statement in a flat voice, head aching. Describing the scene out loud, she wondered just what Spike's intentions had been. From where she'd stood, naked, vulnerable, shocked, things had seemed clear, but now… Was it possible she'd misread him?

"Can – can I see him?"

"Who?" the officer asked, puzzled.

"Spike." He hesitated. "I just… He's never… I mean, he's a jerk, but he's never made me feel… unsafe before. If I could see him, maybe I'd understand…"

Standing behind the one-way mirror, watching Spike, her confusion grew. He sat hunched on the floor in the corner of the room, arms wrapped around his legs, hands cuffed in front, head bowed and shoulders shaking. Crying.

Not the actions of a man who'd been intent on evil.

"Can I talk to him?" she whispered.

"I don't think that's wise."

Buffy gestured to the broken man. Without his usual puffed-up bravado, he looked smaller, almost childlike. "I think… I'm wondering if I overreacted. I mean, look at him."

The officer sighed. "Don't approach the suspect. Remain on the opposite side of the room. I shall remain in the room with you." She nodded, eyes glued to the man on the other side of the window.

Spike's head snapped up as she entered. He rubbed at his eyes, tear-stained face frightened and hopeful at the same time.

Buffy watched him back. "What were you doing there? In my bathroom."

When he answered, his voice was thick and hoarse. "Swear, I was just coming to talk to you. Apologize. Knocked to let you know I was there, and you said come in and…"

He darted a look at the policeman behind her shoulder. "Had too much to drink. Wasn't thinking clearly. You smelled so good and…" Spike dropped his eyes. "Wasn't going to touch you, I swear. Wasn't even going to touch myself. Was just… the waistband got too tight," he mumbled, head averted.

She sighed, and slumped into the nearby chair. "Right now, this is your chance to say whatever it is you wanted to say. Because I don't ever want to see you again. I don't want you near my house, my family, am I clear? You stay away, and I won't press charges."

Spike nodded, his features sagging with relief. "Fair enough."

"So what did you want to tell me?"

He looked away, unable to meet her eyes. "Was going to apologize. Tell you you didn't need to avoid me." He waved his hand, the other one forced to go with it by the handcuffs. "Make things right somehow. Instead it's all gone pear-shaped."

"If that's some strange British way of saying you screwed things up more, yeah. You did." She turned her back on him, her voice clear and steady as she told the policeman, "I'm done."

"No Mom, it's not his fault. You can't."

Twin spots of color burned on her mother's cheeks, and her hands shook, though her face was set in determination. "Yes, it is. He vouched for that man. Brought him into my home. Put my daughters in danger."

"I don't know if I was actually-"

"Buffy, when you're a mother, you'll understand this. Nothing is more important than the safety of your children. Nothing."

"So blame Spike. Not Giles. Giles is a good man, Mom."

Joyce's lips thinned. "From what I understand, Spike's behavior has been unacceptable for some time, and steadily deteriorating. What has Rupert done to put a stop to this?"

"I'm sure he's talked to him…"

Her mother sighed. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be putting this on you. You've been through enough. Let's just… do you want to watch a movie? Have some ice cream?"

"I don't think ice cream is going to fix anything."

"But it won't hurt."

Buffy smiled, though she had to force it. "Well then. Mint chip all around."

Spike had never had Ripper let loose on him before. He didn't much like it. To say he was terrified of his uncle right now was a bit of an understatement. He gurgled and wriggled his toes, trying to find purchase on solid ground that wasn't there. Giles had him pinned up against the wall of his office, hands fisted in his shirt, and the older man's eyes flashed with righteous fury.

"Barely three days since I had to pick you up from the police station, full of promises about how you were truly going to change this time, and now look at you. Drunk yet again, harassing my employees when I've already lost my best one due to your loutish behavior…"

Harassing was an exaggeration, though Spike wasn't about to point it out. Buffy still hadn't been back to the Bronze. Not that he blamed her. He blamed himself for everything. After three days of self-flagellation, he'd broken down, seeking solace in a bottle. Which had led to artificially improved spirits, and that had led to him flirting – persistently, it was true – with Faith. She'd been a good sport about it, but Giles had caught him trying to encourage her into a compromising position, and the older man had lost it, dragging his nephew by the hair to the back office, where he was laying into him now.

"You are nothing more than a self-centered twat who is throwing his life away, and ruining mine and everybody else's in the process. So you've had a few disappointments?" Ripper shook him, then slammed him back into the wall. His head bounced, and the windows rattled. "We all do. It's a part of life. Get over it. It does not give you the license to behave like a spoiled child."

"I was only-"

Ripper slammed him against the wall again, making him see stars. "You were only thinking of yourself, Spike. It's no wonder Buffy wants nothing to do with you. You're not good enough for her – or any other woman around here, for that matter. I never thought I would say such things, but I am glad your mother isn't alive to see what you've become."

"Because your parents were so proud of you, Ripper." He was playing with fire, he knew it. But bringing up his mother had hurt more than anything else his uncle could have said.

Giles leaned in closer, blue eyes like daggers. His voice dropped. "No. They weren't. And rightly so. They kicked me out on my arse and told me to come back when I was a man. I'm doing you the same courtesy. You, William, have done as you pleased the entire time you've been here, and I've ignored your antics, hoping you would come to your senses and remember how your mother raised you. But this ends now, before you further destroy my business and my relationships." He released Spike, who promptly slid down the wall.

Striding to his desk and reaching into a drawer, he pulled out an envelope. "There is a thousand dollars in here. That should be a sufficient amount to get you through a few weeks, until you find employment. I shall pay for your return flight to London as well." He held the envelope out to Spike. "Understand this is the last I shall do for you, until you've made a serious effort to clean up your act. I cannot help you unless you choose to help yourself."

His uncle stared at him a moment longer, and then his face softened. "Get help, William. Join AA, or something. Pull yourself together. When you are a decent man again, the kind of man your mother raised you to be, come back."

Spike took the proffered envelope. "I…"

He really didn't know what to say. What did you say when you'd alienated the last person willing to help you?

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry. Be the man you were meant to be."