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Out of the Past

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I’m so, so sorry.

I know how much you love me, and I think you know how much I love you. I should tell this to you in person, I know. But you know me well enough to agree that I’m not so good with talking about the emotional stuff face to face. I don’t want to hurt you more than is necessary, but I also don’t want to cave in when I see your pain. So I’m writing you this letter to make sure everything gets said the way it needs to be.

The truth is that I’ve finally figured it out. And, while I love you so much it hurts sometimes, there’s another man I love even more. A man I’m meant to be with. I know this will be hard for you to accept, but I really do love him – I have for so long – and he makes me happy in a way that no one else can. It feels like all the pain of my past is gone when I look at him. He heals me, makes me whole, and I love him. I hope you can understand, even if you don’t approve.

And I do know you won’t approve. I know how you feel about him even if I don’t know your entire past together. But I’m really hoping you can look beyond all that and see just how happy he makes me. I’m trusting that you won’t try to dissuade me or make things difficult for us. Please, we love each other, and we just want to be together…

I know this will be hard for you to accept, and I’m so, so sorry. But the right woman for you is out there somewhere, and she’s so lucky that she’s going to have the love of a wonderful man like you. I envy her at times. And I’m sorry she couldn’t be me. I hope this doesn’t mean goodbye for us, but if it does, I’ll understand.

My love and thanks for all you’ve been for me,

Buffy

* * *

Spike had been staring at the letter for over four hours now, sitting numbly on the edge of their bed, checking time and time again to make sure that it was indeed his wife’s flowing handwriting and not some cruel forgery. He’d examined the date at the top of the letterhead at least a dozen times now, but each time it was the same. May 23rd, 2006. Two days before they’d been married. And only one day before Angel had…

That was the most damning. He remembered those few hectic days only too clearly. The apocalypse to end all other apocalypses. The Shanshu Prophecy finally fulfilled…not just for one, but for both. Cordelia’s recovery, her quick engagement to Angel, Buffy returning right as the ceremony was about to begin, and…

Oh, he’d wondered back then. When he held her sobbing in his arms while Angel married another woman in the next room. The way she’d clung to him as if her world really was ending. And then her soft request when all the festivities had ended, two soft words that had so completely overwhelmed him that he’d thrown all hesitation and caution to the wind: “Marry me.”

But he’d suspected over their years together. Every so often she’d get a far away look in her eyes, and he couldn’t help but wonder if she was thinking of him. Of how she’d had to settle that day ten years ago and claim her consolation prize instead. Lucky for her, she’d never had the chance to give him this letter…

Because to finally have this proof? God, he wished he’d never found it. Why, oh why, had she hidden it in the same drawer where she kept the business forms he’d needed? I mean, what kind of stupid bint leaves a letter like this lying around where some hapless, deluded sod can just stumble upon it? He wished he’d never found it. Things could never be the same between them now. All those years she’d been lying to him, deceiving him… God, had she ever even loved him at all? Had she just been saying what he wanted to hear every time they’d made love for the past ten years? Had she looked upon their children and wished that she’d had them with another man?

Tears stained his eyes, and the paper crinkled beneath his clutching fingers. God, it was one thing to worry that she’d actually wanted Angel all these years, but to finally have the proof before him… The tears didn’t fall this time, though. He’d already spent as many as he had left this afternoon.

Far away, he heard the sound of the front door opening and closing. The happy “I’m home!” and the excited laughter of their children. He wasn’t able to react to it, however. He felt distant, numb, like he was living in another world…

“Hey, sweetheart,” Buffy entered their bedroom with a smile, coming up to brush a soft kiss across his forehead before she set about to changing out of her work clothes. “How was your day?”

He managed a polite nod, watching her as a thirsty man would watch the ocean. So tempting but only bringing deeper pain…

She groaned and cracked her neck, tossing her skirt onto the armchair as she pulled on a pair of comfy sweats instead. “Dylan seems to be feeling all right again,” she commented, slipping into an old, worn t-shirt. “Just in time for the weekend,” she added slyly. “If he says he feels sick again right in time for school on Monday, he’s got another thing coming…” She picked up her brush from the nightstand and began running it through her shoulder-length golden hair. “Joycie wants to go to a slumber party this Saturday at the Alkin’s. I’m thinking it’s a good idea because Alex has that karate tournament this weekend, and she always gets so bored at those. What do you think, baby?” She paused to look at his reflection in the mirror, and for the first time noticed how hollow he looked. She frowned and turned towards him. “Honey?” she asked, concerned. “What’s wrong?” She sat down beside him on the bed and began lightly massaging his shoulders.

He couldn’t even bear the pain of looking at her. “Do you love me?” he finally managed to gasp out, squeezing his eyes tight against the tears.

A shocked look crossed Buffy’s face. “Of course I love you, Spike,” she insisted vehemently. “More than anything in the world…”

“Did you love me when—?” he cut off mid-syllable, unable to even say the words out loud. In a way, that would make them more real, at least to his broken heart…

“Spike, look at me,” she pleaded, turning his chin to face her. Empty blue eyes seemed to look right past her. “I love you,” she repeated, pressing her lips to his in a tender kiss. He didn’t even respond. “You’re my husband, my love, my naughty sexy poet…” She cracked an affectionate smile.

Oh, she was good. She’d seemed to suddenly realize how much he liked being given pet names after she’d returned, that little extra thought every time she addressed him, how it made him feel all warm and wanted inside… Of course, she’d never bothered once back when they’d been ‘together’ the first time…

“I found it,” he finally said blankly, dropping the crumpled letter in her lap. “You can drop the act, Slayer.”

Buffy bit her lower lip. ‘Slayer’ was a bad sign. He only called her that when he was really mad, when something had hit him so hard that all his love recoiled and hid behind those iron walls he erected around his emotions to keep from being hurt. She smoothed out the paper…and frowned. “So?” she demanded, confused.

His eyes narrowed. “So you don’t hafta live a lie anymore, pet,” he countered harshly, rising with a jerk. “Don’t hafta touch me, pretend you want…” God, he was absolutely not about to cry! Damn, where was the tough-as-nails demon when he needed it? Oh right, he’d given it up to be with her… He took a deep breath. “’m thinkin’ maybe I should leave for the night,” he finally concluded raggedly. “You’ll explain to the kids?”

He looked so lost and forlorn in that minute than any anger Buffy had dissipated. She’d long ago accepted it as a fact of their life together that he had some deep wounds in his heart that would occasionally break open and bleed. And he’d accepted it about her, as well. It was what their marriage meant, working through all the pains of the past and savoring their love for each other…

Her eyes suddenly widened when the realization struck her, the missing piece of the puzzle about why he was so angry. She let out a little put-upon sigh. So typically Spike. Her sweet Spike, always so sensitive, so afraid of abandonment…

“You know,” she commented in an even voice, “one of these days you’re really going to have to get over this absurd jealously of Angel.” She got up and walked over to her desk, opening the bottom drawer where he’d found the letter, routing around in it.

“‘Absurd’?” he countered harshly. “Knowin’ all these years that you wanted him to be the one stickin’ it to you?”

She glared at him. “Crude much?” she exclaimed. “And I married you, you idiot.”

“Only because your grand plan of dumping me failed. Finally know why you were so broken up about Cordy comin’ back now. Buggered up your plan of ridin’ off into the sunset with the Grand Poof right proper, now din’t it?” he accused.

“I was sad because I always cry at weddings, and Angel and I have a lot of history,” she said matter-of-factly. “It was hard letting go for good, and I was lucky that you were there to get me through it.”

“Also lucky you din’t drop me this before you had a chance to hedge you bets,” Spike countered, waving the letter before him angrily.

Buffy sighed and pulled a paper from the drawer, right above where the letter had rested. “I love you,” she repeated firmly. “I want you. Since long before I had the courage to say the words…” She held out the paper so he could see. “Do you believe me now?” she asked softly, taking a step closer so that she could slip her arms around his waist. “You’re the only one for me, baby,” she whispered passionately, resting her head against his strong chest.

And, just as quickly as it had formed, Spike’s anger dissipated. “Oh Buffy…” he murmured into her hair, sorrow and regret filling him. “’m so sorry, luv. I jumped to conclusions and—”

“Shh,” she cut him off with a finger to his lips. “I understand. I know…I know you, Spike.”

“Forgive me?” he pleaded.

“Already done,” she assured him with a smile. “Still love me?”

“Always will,” he agreed, leaning in to press his lips against hers.

“Good, because I love you, too,” she told him just before their lips met in a passionate kiss.

And, as the two lovers stumbled to the bed together, renewing their vows of forever, a single piece of paper fell to the floor. Or, more accurately, an envelope. The one that had originally held that fateful goodbye letter that never need be given for obvious reasons. And, as the envelope fluttered to the floor, the two healing words printed neatly on the front became visible:

For Angel.