This is a quick one-shot I wrote out when I should have been taking notes in class. I'd like to think that, had the episode Tabula Rasa ended only slightly differently, the whole course of Spike and Buffy's relationship might've changed for the better.

Sometimes she couldn't believe her life. Every time she thought she'd had the absolute worst day, something even more horrible came along. Dying had sucked. Being brought back was worse. And every night, more crap got piled on. Like her life wasn't hard enough already.

Buffy snorted as she slurped back another shot of something clear and cinnamony, choking when it burned her nose. Sounded an awful lot like an excuse to her – a whiny excuse for sitting alone at the bar of the Bronze, holding herself apart and drinking faster and far more than she should.

God she hated being alone. It wrankled; she knew that – being who she was – solitude was par for the course, but she'd been spoiled, surrounded by family and supportive friends for years. Now she couldn't stand being around them at all, and still she couldn't deal with being alone.

So she drank.

Picking up her little shot glass, she tipped it over her head, her lower lip falling into a pout when she realized it was empty. Smacking the glass down on the bar, she sighed in frustration. Probably for the best – she really shouldn't be drinking anyways. But dammit! It made her feel good; at least for a little while. Made her feel… content, just for a few minutes, when it made her forget. And didn't she deserve that? To be content? It wasn't all that much to ask, and if alcohol got her there, was it really so bad?

"I deserve it," she mumbled sullenly, leaning forward as she prepared to flag down the bartender.

Just then, a flare on the periphery of her senses had her twisting on her stool, turning to look for the vampire who'd intruded on her pity-party of one. She stilled.

It was only Spike.

He approached her cautiously, his faced tilted downwards towards the floor as he looked up at her with gentle question and concern, and it jangled on her nerves. He offered her such quiet companionship, such solace at times that she felt like she was being drowned. Like when she'd first come back and he'd stood at the bottom of the stairs, gazing up at her with so much love and adoration burning in his eyes that she had almost believed. Or the time when she'd escaped the Magic Box into the alleyway and he had been there, offering to leave her despite the blazing sun; instead listening silently as she confessed her wrenching pull from the heavenly realm.

She knew it was wrong. Knew she shouldn't feel this way. Surely he knew it too.

'This, with you, is wrong. I know it. Not completely mental.'

So how dare he? How dare he keep showing up and offering her exactly what she needed, exactly what she wanted? How dare he be the only one of them all that she felt… content with?

Buffy turned her face away.

From the corner of her eye she saw pain flash across his face before he hid it with a disdainful scoff, throwing up a dismissive hand before he turned and stalked away in a swirl of angry black leather. Turning back, she watched him walk away, the resounding throb in her chest growing with each step that he took.

Buffy frowned, tearing herself away to contemplate the bottom of her empty shot glass.

'Would it really be so awful?' she wondered. To take solace where she could find it? She deserved that small degree of contentment; did it really matter if she found it in Spike?

Leaping from her stool she charged after him, not even bothering with her tab. It didn't matter to her. Dashing madly across the floor, she didn't notice the wooziness of the alcohol settling in, her feet still sure as she pushed herself through the crush that had swallowed the blonde vampire. She caught him just under the stairs, calling out his name and snagging the sleeve of his duster, pulling him back beneath the risers.

"Spike!" she said again, some small desperation in her voice as she looked up at his carefully composed face and suddenly realized that she had no idea what she was going to say to him.

He raised his scarred eyebrow at her but didn't speak, soft concern given away in his eyes despite his proud and indifferent stance. She opened and closed her mouth a few times, entirely unsure of him, even more unsure of herself. Finally the words came, unknown to her even as they left her lips.

"Could you just… maybe walk me home? Please?"

Surprise danced over his face before he once again stowed it away, his posture softening as his care for her shone through.

"Sure luv," he said gently. "Think I could swing that."

He didn't know what this meant. Wasn't sure he wanted to. She had asked so tentatively, so shyly, almost like she'd been afraid he would say no… It had almost killed him. He could see the pain in her, the sadness, could almost taste it. And it was killing him. He'd seen it tonight, when the spell had broken, when they'd gone from being the relatively friendly Randy and Joan back to plain old Spike and Buffy. Seen the memories come flooding back, bringing all their emotional baggage with them. She's immediately shut down, walking away from her friends like a zombie, and what with the way she'd been downing her shots earlier, he wasn't surprised that she was starting to stumble.

He wondered if that wasn't a bit of his fault. He thought that maybe he'd spooked her a little; confessing to being a vampire on the side of good, with no intention of harming her, when he had no memory of who they were or why he might do such a thing. Might've been a bit too much ice water truth for her. And if he was honest, he hoped it had been. Did she believe him; believe what he'd told her when they weren't themselves, enough that he might have even half a chance?

Spike frowned as they walked the deserted streets, their feet reliably carrying them home without guidance from their preoccupied minds. Suddenly, Buffy's feet seemed to give up on her, rebelling as she went stumbling forward, tripping over thin air. His hands flashed out, catching her as she lurched forward, saving her just inches from the pavement.

"Sorry," she muttered as he set her back on her feet, her voice slurring the word softly.

"No worries pet," he replied, smoothing his hands over her shoulders and down her arms. "Almost home."

Turning away to continue their walk, his un-beating heart almost leapt into his throat when he felt a small hand curl around his elbow; a tipsy Slayer looking for guiding balance as they made their way through the dark.

'Keep it together mate,' he warned himself desperately. 'She's just drunk. She's just drunk.'

He couldn't bring himself to look down at the hand on his coat sleeve for fear it would disappear, but he couldn't stop moving, drawing her close, their bodies brushing as they walked arm in arm, intimately and innocently connected. He could have been back in Victorian England in that moment, could've been in Nirvana. To be so simply, quietly close, to just be… content in each other's company…

And that was how it felt. Silent, accepting companionship on a walk home in the dark, being content in not being alone. As he looked up at the stars shining coldly down on them, the vampire and the Slayer, he thought that even if this was all he ever got from her, that maybe it just might be enough.

The walk was over far too soon, and he found himself standing beneath the burning porch light of 1630 Revello as Buffy juggled her keys clumsily. He chuckled lightly when she fumbled them, snatching them out of the air just before they could hit the deck and sliding the right one smoothly into the lock. She tossed him the barest ghost of a smile as she ducked beneath his arm, but he couldn't help remembering the last time he'd dare hold a door for her. Her out-of-hand rejection of him, grating so brutally on the feelings she told him he didn't have…

He shifted awkwardly on his feet, handing her back her keys across the threshold.

"Guess I should go then," he said softly, looking down at his boots.

"You don't… have to."

Spike's head jerked up harshly, staring intently at the top of a blonde head bowed in bashfulness. He could just see the blush of pink that spread over the crest of her cheeks, quite a sight in itself, but in that moment he wanted nothing more than to look into her eyes and know. Was she asking him to stay?

"I mean, if you have somewhere to be…"

"Nowhere to be pet," he responded carefully. "If you want me to stay…"

After what seemed like a lifetime she raised her head, staring at him with unreadable hazel eyes. "I think there's some cocoa in the kitchen," she said.

Spike could only stare after her as she turned and hung her jacket, disappearing inside the house as she moved towards the kitchen. Cocoa? She… she wanted him to stay? She hadn't said it, but… it seemed like that was what she'd meant. Shaking himself out of his reverie, he stepped inside and closed the door gently behind him, taking a moment to listen carefully to the quiet breathing of the house. There was a sort of heavy weariness in the air, the kind that came after high emotion had run its course and the wellspring of tears had run dry, and it hung in the empty hallway like a shroud.

Stepping through to the living room, he was surprised to see Buffy already returning through the swinging kitchen door, a blue ceramic mug held in both hands. She gave it over silently, though from the way her breathing hitched Spike knew she had felt the little zing of electricity between their brushing fingers same as he had.

"Thanks pet," he murmured, lifting the cup for an obliging sip. The cocoa was warm and sweet, burning a path down his throat into his belly, and he was surprised to find a handful of little marshmallows floating on the surface of the rich, chocolaty drink.

"I know you like them," Buffy said quietly.

Spike looked up, one eyebrow raised. Apparently his surprise had shown on his face. Either that or she could read him better than he thought. It did something to him; knowing that she knew something so little, had taken note of something so slight as how he liked his hot chocolate. A little thing to be sure, but to him it meant the world.

"It's so quiet," Buffy whispered, looking up and around at the edges of the ceiling.

"Red and the Bit are asleep," he said softly, placing his mug down on the coffee table. "Seems Glinda's split for now. Can't say's I blame her."

Buffy crossed her arms, folding them tightly across her chest, and Spike saw a shiver run down her spine.

"You cold luv?" he asked, shrugging out of his duster even as he spoke. It wouldn't be all that much, him being about room temp himself, but it would hold her close where he couldn't and warm her up fast. He draped the long leather jacket around her, half expecting her to throw it off, but instead she surprised him once more, slipping her arms easily through the sleeves as though it were as natural for her to accept it as it was for him to offer. He watched as she pushed the cuffs up to her elbows, only for them to slide back down again, her hands disappearing as he lightly straightened the lapels.

"Slayer's jacket for a Slayer," he murmured without thought, immediately flinching when he realized what he'd said. She'd certainly throw him out now, but it couldn't be helped; it did strange things to him to see her in his jacket, in a Slayer's jacket, swamped in the leather and just a bit glassy-eyed, the very picture of vulnerable and hurting.

Buffy sent the shadow of a sad smile in his direction and it hit him like a brick. How much was she hurting that she'd let him get away with that, how much pain was she in that she was too distracted to break his nose for reminding her of just who he was?

"Buffy, pet, are you ok?" he asked carefully, not wanting to push her away but unable to let such a grievance lie.

A dark, hysterical little chuckle bubbled up out of her, and in a nerve-rending motion she snugged his jacket tight around her middle, fighting off chills. Shaking her head to ward away the question, she looked up at him with wide, miserable eyes. He'd never seen her so depressed, but he thought he might see something like hope there too. He just wasn't sure if it was buried to deep to retrieve.

"I really don't wanna talk about it Spike," she answered stiffly, pulling him back from his contemplation of her gaze. "But… it means a lot that you're offering to listen."

"Right," he replied, once more shifting in his boots, unsure of his place in her house, in her misery, in her life. "Look, I should go. Let you get to bed, get some sleep."

He started to move towards the door, unwilling to leave her like this but ready to do it if she didn't stop him.

"I can't sleep," she whispered, only just loud enough to reach his ears and stop him in his tracks. Looking over his shoulder, he found she'd turned her back to him, her head bowed as she spoke. "I'm scared. Scared that if I go to sleep, I'll be back in that box when I wake up. Or worse."

"What could be worse than that luv?" he probed gently. But he had the horrible feeling that he knew.

Turning back around, Buffy lifted her face, tears streaking down her cheeks. "Worse," she whispered hoarsely, "Worse... I'll dream of heaven."

And there it was. The knife in his gut, the iron fist wrapped around his aching heart. "Because then you'll have to wake up," he murmured.

A sob broke out of Buffy's lips, ragged and pained, and before Spike could even open his arms to her she'd thrown herself into his embrace, burying her face into his chest as she wept. Spike enfolded her gently, holding her close as her body trembled against him, felt her slight frame shake with the wrenching agony of her quiet tears. He would never name it, never speak it aloud, but it was the greatest honor of his long life to stand there in the middle of her living room and hold her while she cried, to be allowed to witness this weakness in the girl who was only ever strong. It spoke of a deep-seated trust in him, even if it was subconscious, and it was everything.

Finally Buffy's sobs slowed and she pulled back, swiping roughly at her eyes and sniffing loudly. "Sorry," she muttered, smoothing her hand over his chest where her tears had dampened his t-shirt.

"Nothing to apologize for," he said, catching her hand in his and holding it against his heart. "Not for feeling Buffy. Not to me. Never to me."

A gentle tug had him releasing her, and even though he wanted nothing more than to pull her in for what he thought was a much needed follow-up hug, he let her take a step back.

"I'm so tired Spike," she warbled, raking a hand through her mussed up hair. "God I must look awful," she chuckled sadly, her fingers caught in the tangles.

Spike hooked a finger under her chin and tilted his head from side to side, taking in her flushed cheeks and running mascara, the sad, sad hazel eyes that hid just the suggestion of a chance. "You look beautiful Slayer," he smiled.

Buffy blushed, looking away. Spike followed her gaze to the couch, an idea breaking through the hopeful haze that had filled up his brain ever since she had asked him to walk her home. "Wanna try for a nap luv?" he asked. "Could watch some tv, see if the sandman pays you a visit. Could stay until you nod off." Buffy looked up at him with her eyebrows drawn together, and he immediately began to backpedal. "I, I mean, if you want, I could…"

"Spike?" she cut him off in a quiet voice, "Maybe… maybe you could just sit with me for a little while?"

Spike had to bite down on the inside of his cheek to keep from breaking into a jaw-cracking grin. "All night if you want luv," he answered her.

Doubting that she would make the first move despite the night's shocking pattern of her doing just that, Spike moved to the couch and settled into the corner, wedged against the arm so that she would have as much room as she liked to stretch out at the other end. Leaning forward, he picked up the remote and clicked on the television, turning it to an old black-and-white movie and turning the volume almost all the way down before sitting back against the cushions. Buffy still stood stiffly on the other side of the table, watching him carefully but making no move to join him on the sofa.

"Come on pet," he smiled, patting the cushion at his side, "I won't bite."

Buffy lifted her eyes to his, staring at him closely for a minute. "I know Spike," she said simply.

And of all the things she'd thrown at him tonight, those three simple words struck him dumb. Sure she'd shown some tendencies lately that she might be trusting him a bit more, but what she'd just said… she'd practically admitted it. Practically said it out loud.

Suddenly the couch dipped beneath him, and he looked down in surprise to find Buffy snuggling against him, her head resting against his side just below his ribs, one arm slung over his lap as she hugged his waist. She had curled up as close as she would get, half leaning against him, half lying at his side, blanketed in his leather duster. Frozen in shock, Spike could only watch as her eye fluttered shut, her breathing deepening and evening out as she began to relax against him. Swallowing hard, he brought his arm down rested his palm hesitantly on her arm. When she didn't shrug him off, he felt the tension leech from his muscles, easing down into the sofa.

"Go to sleep Buffy," he murmured, certain the girl was already asleep. "I'll keep you safe."

"I know."

The half-whisper had him squeezing his eyes shut and swallowing hard. This girl seemed intent on destroying him, slowly, from the inside out – showing him a glimpse of exactly what he wanted when it couldn't be that she'd offer it to him. She had been drinking and in immeasurable pain tonight; he knew that, pain she couldn't take to her friends. She might show him a good turn tonight, in this quiet, shrouded house when all its occupants slept, a kind word and the briefest touch, but tomorrow she'd be back, herself once more and ready for a fight. So he'd do her a good turn back; he'd be gone before she woke up.

But for now? For tonight? Well for tonight he would take what he could get, and find a little contentment in the presence of the girl he loved.

I would like to thank all the people who've read and reviewed my work and are sticking with me as I begin my graduate studies. I appreciate it immensely, and will do my best to do right by you and update as regularly as possible. I hope to have a few more chapters out for you this weekend, but can't promise anything. I hope this makes up for it a bit.