Work Header

Still Crazy After All These Years

Chapter Text


It was late, but Tara was still up and listening to some music while going over a chapter for her Psychology class tomorrow. Willow was out on a late night tutoring session with a friend of theirs who was frantic she wasn't going to pass an English Lit. test in the morning. That had cut into Tara and Willow's romance time (Tara wanted to try inventing the game that combined sex and Scrabble), but they could always try again tomorrow night.

Tara looked up from her book and frowned when there was a knock at the door. It was after midnight, an unusual time for a visitor.

"Who could that be?" she muttered to herself as she got up from her desk. She put her hand on the doorknob, but then hesitated -- this was Sunnydale, after all, you never knew who or what could be knocking. "Um... who's there?" Tara asked uneasily through the door.

"It's Buffy."

Tara blinked in surprise, this couldn't be a social call, not so late at night. That meant something bad had happened... maybe something was wrong with Dawn or Joyce. She quickly opened the door and gasped a little at Buffy's appearance. The Slayer looked terrible -- she was positively soaked to the skin from the rainstorm, her hair was plastered to her head, her face was pale and drawn, and she had a haunted look in her red, puffy eyes.

"Buffy... are y-you okay? What's wrong?"

"I didn't know where else to go..." Buffy said despondently. "I didn't want to go home. Can I come in?"

"Yeah, of course. Please..." Tara stepped back and let Buffy enter.

Buffy came in, but stopped after a few steps, looking down at her feet. "Oh, no... I'm dripping all over the carpet... I'm sorry." Her voice sounded so strained, like she was liable to start weeping at any moment.

"Th-that's okay, Buffy, don't worry about it," Tara assured her. "Let me get you a towel, you're drenched!" She hurried back with a towel and handed it to Buffy.

Buffy dried her face and hair. Then she took off her jacket, pouting as she hung it up. "I just had to wear the suede one tonight... it's ruined." Her chin wobbled and tears shone in her eyes. "Ruined... just like everything else I touch."

"Oh... it'll be okay. You can get a new jacket. Willow and I can get you a great new jacket, maybe as an extra, late birthday present." Tara patted her on the shoulder. "Buffy... why are you so upset? Is it what happened with Xander tonight?"

"That was just the start... I think... I think I'm possessed or something, Tara." Buffy looked at her, sad and afraid, tears brimming in her eyes. "You have to do a spell, do something to make it go away... please just make it go away..." she pleaded.

Tara's eyes widened. "P-possessed? What makes you think that?"

"There was a voice in my head... talking to me, saying terrible things, making me see terrible things. It wouldn't stop."

"Is it... talking to you now?" Tara gulped at the thought of being alone with a possibly demonically possessed Slayer.

Buffy tilted her head, listening, then shook her head no.

"Well... that's good. M-maybe it went away? Look, why don't you get into some dry clothes and try to relax? We'll get you warmed up and then we can figure out what's going on. Okay?"

Buffy nodded mutely, then looked around the room. "Willow's out this late?"

"Yeah, she's tutoring our friend Melissa for a test tomorrow. She'll probably be gone most of the night. You want me to call her? I'm sure she --"

Buffy shook her head. "No... that's okay. I wouldn't want to be responsible for your friend failing her test. Willow's always been the go-to gal for emergency studying... Only call her when you find out for sure that I'm possessed by an evil spirit."

Tara's brow furrowed in worry. "L-let me get you those dry clothes," Tara murmured softly, going to her bureau.

Tara and Buffy weren't the same size, but she had a pair of gray sweats and a matching top that she thought would fit the petite, blonde Slayer pretty well. As Buffy changed into the clothes, Tara silently speculated about what might be wrong, assuming it wasn't demonic possession. She wasn't getting a 'possessed' vibe from Buffy, thank goodness. Did something happen to Spike? Maybe he was killed... That might account for Buffy's frame of mind. Or maybe the Slayer and vampire had had a huge fight after they left the shop and broke up.

Buffy sat in the big wicker chair by the window, taking one of the throw pillows and hugging it to her chest as she brought her legs up, sitting in a fetal position.

Tara got her a glass of water from the sink, then sat on the floor next to the chair. Having a natural talent for seeing auras, she concentrated on Buffy. There were dark hues and signs of extreme emotional distress, but nothing that indicated an entity had invaded Buffy's body.

"Your aura doesn't show any... presence other than your own," Tara told her. "I don't think it's p-possession."

"I'm... not possessed?" The frown that had been on Buffy's face since Tara had opened the door deepened. "That can't be right. Are you sure?"

"I could do a demon or spirit detection spell -- I'd rather wait for Willow to try that..." If an evil spirit or demon did appear, Tara wasn't prepared to deal with something like that by herself. "But, no, I don't think you're possessed." Tara wondered why that didn't seem to make Buffy any more relieved. "That's good news... isn't it?"

"Yeah... great," Buffy droned. "That means it's just me... and I've lost my fucking mind." Buffy closed her eyes, bowing her head. But her head shot back up a few moments later. She sniffled and more tears appeared in her eyes.

"What's wrong?"

"The song..." The stereo was still on from when Tara had been studying, the song that just started caught Buffy's fragmented attention.

"It's 'Count On Me' by Jefferson Starship, one of my mom's favorite bands of all-time. Have you heard it before?" Tara hadn't turned off the stereo when Buffy came in, and until Buffy pointed it out she hadn't realized music was still playing. She'd been too focused on Buffy and finding out was what was wrong.

"God, what are the odds?" Buffy groaned. "I'd never heard this song before tonight... We, Spike and me, we danced to it tonight. Spike said... he could've written it for me... but the guy went back in time first..." Buffy rested her forehead on her knees, touching her charm necklace and quietly shedding a few more tears. Buffy could see the emotion in Spike's eyes when he told her that... see the love in them -- then her vision morphed into a confused and hurt Spike... God, what had she done?

Tara wasn't sure what that last part meant, but didn't press for an answer. "I'll-I'll turn it off." Tara started to stand up.

"No!" Buffy said vehemently. Then much more softly, she mumbled, "...Don't turn it off... I want to hear it. So pretty..."

"Tell me what happened tonight, Buffy." Tara gave her a gentle nudge.

Buffy relayed the story to Tara, having to take several breaks to sip at water and also wipe away tears. Buffy told her about how she and Spike talked and were okay once they got to the cemetery, how they'd slain some vamps on patrol, about the picnic and the poetry book.

When she got to the part where Spike gave her the book, Buffy startled Tara by jumping up from the chair and sprinting to where her jacket was hanging. Buffy searched the pockets of her jacket, bringing out the CD Willow had made for her, and the poetry book. The book had gotten a little wet, which made Buffy sob again, but she was slightly relieved when she found that the envelope inside was still dry.

After Buffy went back to the chair and curled up again, she read the poem for Tara, who said she thought it was lovely as well as very sexy.

Buffy continued the story where she'd left off, at the sudden downpour that had forced her and Spike indoors. And then Buffy got to the dancing and making out portion of the evening.

"Spike started the CD and we danced... it was so romantic... We started kissing... and it got hotter and heavier by the minute. You know that 'special' night I was planning with Spike, when I felt everything was perfect?"

Tara nodded; she and Willow had helped Buffy buy a thing or two for that special night.

"Tonight was pretty close to perfect -- except for the thing with Xander. But the parts where it was just me and Spike..." Buffy sighed, smiling a bit as she remembered the good moments from the date, "...those parts were awesome. The only thing missing was me being in love with him... I still wanted that perfect night I planned, but I just... I didn't want to stop. He made me feel so good, the things he did... It was incredible and I kept wanting to go further, wanting more... God, I wanted Spike so much..." Buffy closed her eyes and took a shuddery breath.

Tara sat patiently, letting Buffy compose herself, and waited for the Slayer to continue.

"We were naked, Spike was on top of me and we had our hands on each other's..." She glanced at Tara, a dark blush spread over Buffy's face. Tara blushed a little too from the mental picture she got in her head. "Sorry, too much information. You get the picture... I really wanted to have sex with Spike right then and there, but..."

When Buffy paused for more than ten seconds, Tara asked, "But?"

"That's when the voice really started torturing me... I'd heard it a few times before me and Spike started seriously making out, but it sounded like my normal insecure thoughts, I was able to ignore it. I tried not to pay attention to it... but it got to the point where it was driving me insane -- it was the only thing I could hear."

"We all have an inner-voice... and sometimes it does try to sabotage us by reinforcing our fears and preventing us from taking a risk that might be worth taking. Like when Willow and I first started hanging out, my inner-voice kept warning me not to tell Willow how much I really liked her, that I liked her as more than just a friend -- but it was only my fear that she might reject me. Are you sure it wasn't just your inner-voice being paranoid and fearful?"

"This went way beyond what it was ever like before," Buffy admitted, shaking her head. "I was actually having a two-sided argument with it -- it talked back to me. It wouldn't stop, I begged it to stop... but it just kept saying and making me see those things. So if I'm not possessed, I have to be out of my mind... right?"

"I don't think you're crazy, Buffy," Tara reassured her. "What did the voice say? What did it make you see?"

Buffy told her about seeing scenes from her past being re-run in her mind, the men she'd cared for who had humiliated her and broke her heart. And she told Tara about her inner-voice's relentless criticism and negativity.

Buffy concluded, "I felt like that guy in 'A Clockwork Orange', with my eyes pried open and strapped to a chair... being forced to watch and listen to nauseating things."

"The 'voice' sounds kind of like your bitchy doppelganger from your dream," Tara pointed out. Buffy had discussed the dreams with Tara, hoping she could help her make sense out of some of the symbolism (and the Cheese Man).

Buffy thought about that for a minute, then nodded. "You're right... at first the voice was just fearful, but then it got cruel... putting me down, and it kept making me relive moments with Spike when we were still mean to each other. Spike and I had a lotta fights, physical and verbal, so there was a lot of material for the evil voice to work with..."

"And then what happened?"

"I... I couldn't feel Spike touching or kissing me or any of the goodness, I just felt like I was being pinned down, held under water -- I felt like I was suffocating. I totally wigged out... I was crying and yelled for him to stop. I practically threw him off of me, picked my clothes up, and ran away... I had to get away, I had to make the voice and memories stop." Buffy put a hand over her eyes, trying to stifle more tears. "I keep seeing Spike's face when I told him to get off of me... he didn't know what was going on. He looked scared and confused... and hurt. God... I feel horrible. But I couldn't think... I couldn't breathe... I just had to... run."

Tara frowned in sympathy and rubbed Buffy's knee. "I'm sorry your night with Spike had to end like that, Buffy. It sounds like you had a major panic attack."

Buffy shook her head and snorted softly. "Panic attack... me, the mighty Slayer."

"It can happen to anyone, even Slayers. You feel like you have to be strong and in control all the time... that kind of pressure would wear anyone down."

Buffy dropped her face into her hands. "God, Tara... I made such a fool out of myself. I've never been so embarrassed or ashamed of myself in my life... I worried about everyone else chasing Spike away, but I think I did a damn good job of that all on my own -- he'd have to be crazy to want to be with me now. Buffy the Relationship Slayer strikes once again..."

"Do you still want to be with Spike?"

"Yes," Buffy replied without hesitation. "I'm just... I'm so afraid of being... rejected again. If Spike rejected me after everything we've been through... I don't think I'd be able to handle it. I can't compare to the giant hoes he's been to bed with, they had lots experience and probably knew all kinds of fancy stuff... He calls me his 'golden goddess', and he's been fantasizing about me for a long time... I'll never be able to measure up."

"That is what they refer to in the psychology biz as 'stinkin' thinkin''."

Buffy snorted again and rolled her eyes, laughing despite feeling completely miserable. "That's obviously a technical term... you must've studied years to learn that," Buffy commented, glad for the small diversion from her misery.

Tara smiled, happy that she could snap Buffy out of her melancholy for a moment. "You have to counter those negative thoughts right away with positive ones when they pop up. You tell that negative voice 'Okay, that's what you think, but I'm gonna do what I want to do anyway.' You and Spike have a bond now, you're learning how to be friends, and you'll learn, in time, how the other likes to be touched and... other stuff, too."

"I tried countering and ignoring the negative shit, but the voice wouldn't stop, it argued with me," Buffy sulked, flashing back on some of the more devastating things the voice had told and showed her... 'You keep making notches in the headboard but eventually they get up out of the bed and run off, don't they?'.

"That negative side of yours is pretty strong, huh?" Buffy just nodded, trying to shake the echoes of the 'old Spike's' voice from her mind again. "Have you talked to Spike about your... lack of self-confidence?" Tara asked kindly.

"Kinda... sorta..." Buffy heaved a sigh and looked down again. "I guess I haven't... told him how insecure I really am, I didn't want to seem too... pathetic. Spike knows I'm paranoid that he'll leave me, and he knows I've thought I'm just unlovable. We talked about some of that stuff... But he doesn't know how the ghosts of my exes haunt me...

"I didn't even realize how damaged I was by everything that's happened to me... until I got closer and closer to being with Spike in every sense. I'm terrified to take him all the way inside me..." She looked up at Tara, biting her lip. "Um, I didn't mean for that to sound dirty at all. I meant, I'm afraid to take him all the way inside my heart..."

Tara smiled kindly. "I knew what you meant."

"Although... let me tell ya," Buffy pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows, "he's very impressive. My eyes almost popped right outta my head."

Tara laughed and blushed dark red. "I figured he had to be so... cocky for a reason. Spike doesn't have a shiny, red corvette or carry around a big gun, the usual compensations for a lack of... impressiveness." She noted that Buffy's aura started to pulse, the reds, pinks, and blues flashed and sparkled brightly. It was plain to Tara that Buffy lusted for Spike, and another emotion was also suddenly very clear.

Buffy sighed, reflecting on how Spike looked, his sculpture-perfect body all muscle-y and lean... and how his smooth skin felt under her hands... the way his blue eyes sparked with passion, how his lips and tongue meshed perfectly with her own. "God... he's just so beautiful. And the things he said were so..." Some of the sweet, swoon-inducing things Spike had said came back to her. Why couldn't she have focused on those beautiful, romantic words while they were making out instead of the bad memories and ghosts from her past? The frustration was enough to drive her insane, assuming she wasn't there already.

Then Buffy forced her mind away from Spike's impressiveness and got back on topic. "We, um, we haven't talked much about our exes. Spike doesn't want me to bring up the guys I've been with, and I sure as hell don't want to hear that he's thinking about any of the evil bitches he's been with... We did talk a little about Harmony tonight, and I nearly gagged at the thought of them being together... I hated thinking of him touching her... or her touching him."

"You have to be open with each other. I know it's hard... but if you're not honest about things that are nagging at you, bad stuff, like what happened tonight, will keep happening. Spike might have things he worries about and wants to talk with you about, too."

"I'm sure he has lots of stuff worrying him right now... like how he could let himself get involved with a schizoid Slayer," Buffy sniffled again, shaking her head. "How could I hurt him like that...? In all the bad experiences I've had with men, none of them ever ran away into the night screaming and crying. Well... Angel kind of did... but that was after I'd fallen asleep. He only ran away because he lost his soul, not... because of me... well, it was sort of because of me, I guess. I've probably traumatized Spike for life, and for him... that could be a very long time..."

"Running away wasn't a conscious decision on your part, Buffy. You didn't do it on purpose to hurt him, you were just overwhelmed and panicked."

"But I did hurt him. Just like I didn't 'mean to' hurt him when he ran face-first into the anti-vamp barrier at my house... I keep hurting him. It's like some part of me is trying to drive him away..." She took a Kleenex from the side table, then wiped her eyes and blew her nose.

"Why don't I love Spike yet, Tara?" Buffy went on, sullenly. "He's done the most romantic things for me, and we've had some great talks where he said the most touching, amazing things... Every little thing he's done and said has made me all warm inside, every day I've cared about him more and more... So why don't I love him yet? If my other relationships damaged me to the point where I can't love a guy like Spike who's head-over-heels for me, what hope do I have? What if I can't love anyone? Riley knew it... he knew I didn't really love him, even though I'd convinced myself that I did. What if the part of me that can love... is broken?"

"I can't tell you how you feel, Buffy, only you know that. But... you said you were afraid of being rejected by Spike?"

Buffy raised her eyebrows and nodded firmly.

"You wouldn't be so afraid of him rejecting you, afraid to the point where you panic, if you weren't at least very close to being in love with him. The fear that he'll reject you wouldn't be nearly as big a deal to you if all you felt for Spike was simple affection or just lust. People we love have enormous power over us... it makes us vulnerable -- it is scary to let someone in and give them that power.

"If I hadn't been brave enough to tell Willow how I felt about her, I wouldn't have the amazing thing I have now. I'm in the best relationship I've ever been in, and I've never been happier. But it wouldn't have happened if I didn't take that giant leap and risk getting hurt... risk rejection." Tara added with a smile, patting Buffy's knee, "Plus, I got some great new friends out of the deal. Taking risks with your heart can really payoff."

Buffy smiled slightly. She pondered what Tara said, and saw the truth in it -- she was close to loving Spike and that part of her (represented by the Evil Twin in her dream) that still resisted being with him was making one last-ditch effort to ruin everything, kind of like what Xander had done at the shop. It was as if Insecure Buffy and Evil Twin Buffy joined forces and formed a tag-team to drive her crazy and destroy her relationship with Spike.

"Now," Tara continued, "by giving you all this advice, I don't mean to sound like I think I'm perfect -- I'm far from perfect. I don't take a lot of risks or speak up when I should, and I've let other people walk all over me way too often... I've still got big problems with shyness and st... stuttering when I'm nervous. But because I let Willow into my life and heart, I'm battling my inner-demons and making progress. Loving Willow's given me strength I didn't even know I had. I even kinda told Xander off after you left the Magic Box..." Tara admitted, ducking her head.

Buffy smiled wider this time. "You? Sweet, shy Tara got all up in Xander's grill?"

Tara nodded and they laughed.

"What'd you say to him?"

"I basically told him to give you and Spike a break. I pointed out -- and Willow congratulated me on getting in a good burn -- that Xander was wrong about Spike kidnapping you, so why couldn't it be possible that he's wrong this time too. And before that, Mr. Giles called Xander a 'selfish little ponce' for causing that whole scene." Tara giggled at the memory.

"Sorry I missed that." Buffy laughed, wishing she could've seen Xander's face.

After they got done giggling about that, Buffy gave Tara's hand a grateful squeeze. "I was telling Spike the other day about how glad I am Willow has such great taste in women... I'm lucky to have a friend like you, Tara."

Tara gave her a crooked, watery smile. "I feel the same way, Buffy."

After a few quiet moments, Buffy's voice turned dejected again, "I wish you could wave a magic wand and make me not an emotional basketcase..."

Tara grasped Buffy's hand. "It breaks my heart to see you doubt yourself so much, Buffy. You're a kind, brave, strong person; I admire you so much. You can't let what happened with your other boyfriends wreck your future, you deserve to be happy."

"I know... and I've tried to stop worrying that history will repeat itself... not hard enough, obviously..." Buffy sighed. "I've really tried to put those bad things out of my mind. But it was impossible to ignore when Spike and I were... y'know. I just kept seeing their faces and hearing them say the things that hurt me so much... and then they easily morphed into Spike, and he was saying those things and looking at me like I was an irritating bug buzzing around his head... And there was the stuff that Spike actually did say to me in the past that really stung..."

"This thing you have with Spike, it's different than your other experiences, right?"

Buffy nodded. “Yeah, I think so... I mean, no one’s ever made me feel like he does -- no one’s ever loved me like...” Buffy’s voice trailed off as she thought about that. It was true, no one had ever made her feel like Spike did... he was funny and smart and romantic and strong -- he was perfect. So why couldn’t she accept his affections? Why couldn’t she return them like he deserved? Maybe she really didn’t deserve him... maybe she didn’t deserve anyone.

When Buffy didn't finish her thought, Tara continued, "Every relationship is different -- just because you got hurt before doesn't mean it will happen with Spike. You've learned from mistakes, and I'm sure he has too. Spike wants to make you happy, and you have to give yourself permission to be happy."

Buffy tried concentrating on her biggest fear -- the fear that drove her out of his bed and into the rain. "What if I'm just no good, Tara? In... bed, I mean. Spike's dreamed about me for a long time -- the real me is going to be a huge letdown. I wasn't enough for Riley, for God's sake..." Buffy said with an eyeroll.

"Almost everyone worries they won't be good enough in bed, you're not alone in that. Do you believe Spike loves you?"

"Yes... but does he love me enough to put up with me if I'm a terrible girlfriend? He's never said this to me -- he doesn't have to say it -- but I know sex is a very important part of a relationship to him. The only reason he was with Harmony was for the sex... and it had to be really good sex for him to endure living with that mental midget."

"Spike does love you, Buffy -- I see it every time he looks at you, and I see it in his aura."

"What does his aura look like?" Buffy asked curiously.

"Well... there's a lot of black and gray, that's typical in the vampires and demons I've seen. But there are warmer colors in his, much more like a human than a vampire. When he's around you it pulses, the colors become more vibrant and alive. So I do believe he really loves you, and that means he wouldn't consider it a deal-breaker even if -- and that's a big 'IF' -- you aren't a dynamo in bed. Real love is unconditional."

"But then he'd be unfulfilled and just tolerating being with me." Buffy pouted. "I wouldn't want him to stay with me because he feels some kind of... obligation to stay. He'd be miserable with me... or I'll be finding him with whores too." Buffy's eyes brimmed with tears at the thought of finding Spike with someone else... someone to fill those of his needs that she couldn't.

Tara shook her head. "You're jumping to conclusions. The best thing to do when you doubt your... prowess is to talk with your partner about it. When Willow and I first became... lovers," Tara hoped she wasn't blushing too much as she thought about her first time with Willow, "she was really worried she wouldn't know what to do because... well, because she'd only been with a man before. We talked about it, about what I especially enjoy, and Willow felt much more confident after that. And she did great, by the way..." Tara couldn't help blushing hard.

Buffy smiled sadly, blinking back her tears.

Tara shook off her swoony-ness and focused back on Buffy's problem. "The point is, if you have open and honest communication, you can find out what pleases your partner most and become a great lover if you aren't already. Do you feel comfortable enough with Spike to talk to him about that stuff?"

Buffy took a nervous breath. "I-I'd feel so stupid... What if he laughs at me?"

"Do you really think he'd do that?" Tara asked doubtfully, giving the Slayer a 'come on, you know that's not true' look.

"I don't know..." Then after a moment, Buffy shook her head and said, "No, probably not... no, he wouldn't do that. The old Spike would've, for sure..."

"The things Spike's done in the past still obviously upset you... Do you think you can get over that?"

"I know I can get past all that old, less than pleasant stuff that happened between me and Spike -- practically everyone I know has tried to kill me or mess with me at one time or another, and I was able to forgive and forget. Well... I still remember but I don't hold any grudges against the people I care about."

"You believe Spike's changed, he's not exactly the same person who tormented you," Tara pointed out.

Buffy nodded. "I can see the real Spike now, and I like him... a lot. I don't want to sound stuck on myself, but falling in love with me opened his mind and heart, it's made him a better person. He's got that bad, dark side, but there's so much more to him than I ever thought possible... Spike told me at the coffeehouse how much he regrets the things he's said and done to me, and I really do believe he's sorry and would take everything back if he could; he's changed a lot since those days. I guess he'd be sweet and understanding about my self-doubt -- especially about sex stuff -- now... I'd still feel dumb telling him about my childish insecurities, though."

Tara shook her head. "No, you shouldn't feel dumb for doubting yourself, everyone feels insecure about one thing or another. And just think of the rewards you'll get by having that difficult conversation with him. There's nothing wrong with asking your partner what they like to do, and what they like to be done to them, in bed."

"All this sex-talk probably doesn't even matter... Spike doesn't want me anymore..." Buffy closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. "I fucked everything up..." her voice wavered, on the verge of tears again.

"You're putting words in his mouth. You need to talk to Spike, Buffy. Call him. Let him tell you what he wants instead of your inner-voice."

Buffy did want to hear his voice and let him know she was okay, but she was so embarrassed about what happened. She hugged the pillow in her lap tighter. "I-I need a little time first."

Tara nodded. Switching to a different topic, she asked, "Are you still mad at Xander about what happened at the shop? I'm so sorry you had to go through that tonight, too."

Buffy started ranting, putting her energy into being mad at Xander rather than herself. "Oh, I was soooo mad! He's lucky I didn't punch him in the face. How could he talk to Spike like that? And the stuff he said about me? How the hell would Xander know how I feel about Spike? Xander can be such an asshole sometimes, I swear! He doesn't know what's in our hearts, he doesn't know what Spike and I have been through together. Since that night at the mansion, Spike has been nothing but sweet and kind and loving with me. It changed everything. Why can't Xander just trust me -- I know Spike's changed and I know he'll be good to me. He really does want to be a better person, I know in my heart he does. I love Spike and it hurts so much to see him being treated like shit by my friends, after all the..." She stopped when Tara broke into a smile. "What?"

"Buffy... did you hear what you just said?"

She frowned and thought back, but didn't know what Tara was referring to. "Um... the thing about Xander being an asshole?"

Tara helped her out. "You said 'I love Spike'."

Buffy's eyes rounded. "I did?" She re-ran what she'd said in her head, and realized Tara was right. "I... did. That's the first time I've said it... or even thought it."

"Was that just a slip or is it how you really feel?" Tara questioned, pretty sure she already knew the answer.

"I... love Spike," Buffy said again with a slow smile of realization. "Oh, wow..." She took and released a shaky breath. Her eyes were swimming with tears, but these were tears of happiness and comprehension. All the warmth she'd felt for Spike for days wasn't just a deep affection, it was love. When she'd nearly staked Spike during patrol, she'd been terrified because she'd almost accidentally killed and lost the man she loved -- it was all so clear to Buffy now. Why couldn't she see it before? "I am in love with Spike," she announced to Tara, her eyes wide with wonder and joy.

"I could see it in your aura, but I thought you needed to come to that conclusion on your own. You were too afraid of getting hurt to let yourself say it or really feel it until now -- it couldn't come out until your emotional walls were down. Now that you know you love him, you can work out the problems."

"But..." Buffy fretted, her joy suddenly turning to despair as she worried her bottom lip between her teeth, "what if Spike wants nothing to do with me after what happened tonight? I wouldn't blame him, I hurt him... and I acted like a crazy person -- and he already dated one of those for a hundred years. I finally realize I'm in love with him only to have him realize he can't take all the baggage and craziness that comes along with me..." Buffy put her hands over her face and mumbled, "Oh God, that would be something that could only happen to me..."

"One way to find out," Tara said, nodding toward the phone.

Buffy peeked through fingers and stared nervously at the phone, she gulped. "What if he tells me to go to Hell... or to go get stuffed, Tara?" she asked in a small voice, staring at the phone like it might jump up and attack her at any moment.

"I really don't think he'll do that, Buffy. Spike's probably hurt and confused and worried about you... you need to explain what happened."

"What if he..." Buffy began.

Tara interrupted her. "'What ifs' will get you every time. Remember, tell that inner Insecure or Evil Twin Buffy, 'Thanks for your opinion, but I'm doing what I want to do. I deserve to be with the man I love.'"

Buffy closed her eyes and nodded. "You're right..." She felt emotionally drained and physically exhausted, but she had to call Spike before she could even think about sleeping.

Buffy got up from the chair as Tara also stood up, then she gave the kindhearted, blonde witch a big hug. "Thanks, Dr. Maclay. You're really good at this talking stuff... I feel like I should write you a check for the hour I was on your couch... or chair."

Tara laughed lightly and patted Buffy on the back as they hugged. "I'll waive my usual fee -- but only for you. You get the Slayer's Discount."

Buffy checked the messages on her phone, putting off talking to Spike for a minute longer. There was a message from Spike, he'd apparently called about an hour after she'd fled the crypt. She took a breath, held it, and played the message.

Spike's voice sounded tired, rough, and full of sorrow. “Buffy... I know I'm the last person you want to hear from right now, but... I'm so sorry. God... I didn’t mean to hurt you, pet. I thought... I thought you were showing me you were ready. But you weren’t, and I... I rushed you and made you feel like you had to... Please believe me, I didn’t mean to hurt you, I'd never force myself on...” Spike's voice broke and he cleared his throat, sounding like he was trying not to cry. “I’m just sorry... for everything. I promised I wouldn't hurt you anymore, but I keep doin' it, don't I? Maybe my demon's stronger than I thought it was... I won't bother you again..."

Buffy made a whining sound at the end of the message, trying to keep from crying again.

Tara had gone back to her computer, but looked over at Buffy when she heard the unhappy sound the Slayer made. "What is it?"

"Spike left a message... He thinks he hurt me and forced me to... Oh God..." Buffy rubbed her sore eyes, "I didn't think it was possible for me to feel worse about it..."

"It'll be okay... just call Spike back and tell him the truth."

Buffy breathed deeply a few times, working up her courage, then called Spike's number. She wanted to tell him she loved him, but saying it for the first time over the phone wasn't how she wanted to do it; that was a face-to-face kind of thing. After the phone rang a few times, it went to voice mail. Buffy groaned, she didn't want to leave a message, she wanted to talk to Spike directly about what happened. Why wasn't he answering?

"Spike... it's me. I'm so sorry about what happened... You didn't do anything wrong, please don't think you forced me to do anything I didn't want to do or that you hurt me. What happened was all me and... and... See, I'm a Slayer, not a Ghostbuster and... my ghosts just refuse to die... well, actually, I guess ghosts are technically dead, but these are like live ghosts and they just won't shut up... and now I'm rambling... God, I suck at leaving messages... gift-giving and leaving messages are things I suck at." Buffy paused a moment, shaking her head and sighing heavily before getting her thoughts back on track. "I was afraid... not of you, but of... of being with you like that, because of how I've been hurt before. It wasn't fair to you, and I'm so, so sorry for hurting you by acting the way I did...

"I care about you so much, Spike... I don't want to lose you, I can't lose you. I hope you can forgive me and we can... I don't know, start over again? Give me another chance, okay? We'll get it right one of these times," Buffy joked anxiously. "Um, I'm probably running out of message space, so... please call me so we can talk. You know the number, right? Of course you know the number, you gave me the phone -- and you called me on it after our first date... being all adorable."

Buffy had to stop for a moment to get her sniffles under control. Spike calling from outside her house was such a sweet memory, but it upset her to think they might never have moments like that again.

"If you forgot the number it’s...” Buffy thought for a moment then pulled the phone away from her ear to look at it, but it just had Spike’s number on the screen. “Shit! I don’t even know my own phone number,” she moaned, putting the phone back to her ear as realization hit her. "...Oh, I guess it's probably right there on your screen like yours is on mine so you probably don’t need me to give it to you again and... God, I need to shut up now. Please call me, I... I'll be waiting."

Buffy hung up and heaved a sigh, bowing her head. "Why didn't he answer? Maybe he just doesn't want to talk to me..."

Tara went to her, rubbing a hand up and down Buffy's back. "Don't assume the worst. He'll call. Maybe he just needs a little time to prepare himself in case what you want to say is bad and hard for him to hear. It seems like Spike assumes the worst a lot, just like you."

Buffy knew that was true enough -- one more thing they had in common.

"Did you hear your phone ring when he left the message for you?" Tara asked.

"No... I put it on vibrate and I guess I was so busy crying, panicking, and feeling sorry for myself that I didn't even feel it."

"You should go home and try to get some sleep," Tara suggested, seeing how exhausted Buffy looked.

"How can I sleep? I can't sleep until I talk to Spike..."

"He might need some time... or be afraid of waking you up. He might not call before morning... and you need to rest, Buffy."

Buffy sighed, nodding slowly, suddenly feeling completely exhausted and wrung out. She really did need to sleep; she wouldn't be any good to anybody for anything if she didn't get some rest.

"You could crash here if you want," Tara offered.

"No, I need to go home... Mom will be worried if I'm not there in the morning."

"Okay. But you can call or come back here if you need to."

"You mind if I wear your sweats home? My clothes are still wet."

Tara shook her head. "Not at all. Let me get my keys and I'll drive you, it's a long walk from here and it's still raining. You'll catch pneumonia if you're not careful."

Buffy sniffed to keep from crying again at the mention of 'pneumonia', that's what she'd said to Spike when she suggested they take their shirts off. She really had to be in love if something silly like the mention of the word 'pneumonia' made her weepy. "I... I couldn't ask you to do that, Tara." Buffy cringed as she pulled on her ruined suede jacket. "You've put up with enough of me and my craziness for one night."

"You didn't ask me to drive you home, I offered. And I haven't been 'putting up' with you, Buffy. It's okay, really. You're my friend, and helping each other is what friends do."

Buffy reluctantly, but gratefully, accepted Tara's offer. She hadn't been looking forward to walking all the way home in the rain.

Tara left Willow a note in case she got back while she was gone, and then gave Buffy a lift to Revello. She hoped Buffy and Spike could patch things up. Tara had a strong hunch that the blond couple really would be good for each other if they could just get past the roadblocks on their way to happiness.

Buffy gulped as she opened the door and entered the crypt, she felt like her heart would beat right out of her chest she was so nervous. Spike was sitting in the chair and watching TV (he'd been watching 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure'), but he stood and switched off the set when he heard her come in.

He turned to face her, his expression stony. "Well... look who's come back to the scene of the crime."

"Spike, I'm so sorry about what happened..." Buffy began.

"I'm not," Spike said as he casually lit a cigarette. "I'm glad it happened... 'cos now I know you're not worth all the bleedin' trouble."

Buffy frowned, her voice became more unsteady and an invisible fist squeezed her heart as her worst fears appeared to be coming true. "Spike, please don't say that..."

"Why not? It's the truth. You think I'm gonna go to all that bother again, gettin' you all hot and frothy, just so you can jump up and run out the door with your virtue fluttering?"

"Please let me try to explain what was going through my head. Can't we just talk about..."

Spike shook his head and dropped his cigarette, grinding it out under his boot. "I'm sick to death of talkin' to you -- that's all we fucking do! Well, until last night... but that didn't end too well, now did it?" He gave her a cruel smirk, raising his scarred brow, then he flicked a slender finger at her like she was a bug. "Go back to your sad, loveless existence and leave me the bloody hell alone. I've had enough of you to last ten bloody lifetimes."

Buffy recoiled, anger and hatred were coming off of him in waves. "Why are you being so... cold?" She knew Spike reacted to being hurt by lashing out and hurting the person who'd hurt him, but it was still a shock for him to speak to her this way; this was more like the 'old Spike', not the sweet, thoughtful Spike she'd come to know of late. "You have to know I didn't mean to hurt you... D-don't you love me anymore?" she asked meekly, her face screwing up in pain as tears welled in her eyes.

Spike gave her a frosty look. "You killed whatever it was I felt for you, Slayer. Bugger off. I'm leaving you and Sunnyhell behind me for good. Dru probably went back to Brazil..." He looked up in thought, pursing his lips, folding his arms across his chest and tapping a finger slowly on his chin. "I might still be able to find her down there -- I reckon she'd take me back if I asked nicely and let her torture me a bit."

Buffy shut her eyes tightly for a moment, fighting to hold in a flood of tears. "You don't mean that. Please... stop being so --"

"Don't tell me what I mean and what I don't, Betty. I'm through doin' what you want me to do. Think I'll start tryin' to track Dru down now -- there's no time like the present." Spike pushed past her, heading for the door. "Like to say it's been fun, but..."

"Spike, don't go!" Buffy grabbed his arm and spun him back around. She swallowed hard and looked into his eyes. "I... I love you."

Spike snorted, smirked and started clapping. "Bravo, Slayer! What a breakthrough. As if you could ever love anyone but your precious Angel? Everyone knows the Magnificent Poof is still the apple of your eye."

"No, that's not true!" Buffy protested, shaking her head back and forth. "I'm not in love with Angel anymore, what I had with him is over. I love you, Spike, not him! You want me to call Angel right now and tell him that I'm in love with you to prove I mean it? 'Cause I will."

But Spike was unmoved by her offer. "You think you can string me along a while longer by dangling your love in front of me like a bloody carrot in front of a donkey? Think again, sweetheart. You get off on torturin' me, but I've finally had enough. I'm not playin' your game anymore."

"It's not a goddamn game! Stop being such an asshole!" Buffy yelled. She sniffled, going from angry to heartbroken in the space of a few seconds. She blinked to clear her vision as tears overflowed from her eyes. "I'm in love with you, Spike... I really am. I know you're hurt, I know you're angry -- you have every right to be -- but can't we just --"

"Thanks ever so for giving me permission to be angry, how big of you," Spike sneered sarcastically. "You really are a piece o' work... well, you're a piece o' somethin'. Too little, too late, Slayer. You love me, eh? Well..." he moved in close and shouted, making Buffy flinch back, "I don't bloody care!"

Buffy sobbed, it was getting hard to breathe; she felt like she was being crushed, squished like a bug. "Stop it! I know you don't mean that!"

"Hmph, how's that for irony? You finally want me, but I don't want you anymore," Spike laughed. "I really shoulda listened to Angel. He knew you weren't worth all the bloody aggravation... how did he put it? Oh yeah, 'not worth a second go'... well, maybe I did get off easy, after all."

"Stop talking like that!" Buffy cried, putting her hands over her ears like a child to block out his acidic words. "Why are you doing this to me?!"

Spike yanked her hands away from her ears. His blue eyes were icy, his lips curled into a cruel sneer, he gripped her wrists painfully and shook her. "'Cause it's the way a cold bitch like you deserves to be treated. I'm startin' to believe you did cast a spell on me, just like Dru said. All that bloody time I wasted on you, and that I was actually daft enough to choose a worthless insect like you over my Drusilla, my dark goddess... it makes me want to heave!"

Buffy stared at Spike with watery eyes; she couldn't believe the horrible, drastic change in him. He was behaving like when Dru had hypnotized him at the mansion. His eyes held no warmth or feeling (besides hatred and contempt) for her. This is what her rejection had done to him... the Spike she loved was gone, she'd killed him... she'd killed him just as sure as if she'd shoved a stake through his heart.

Spike shoved her backwards, Buffy stumbled and fell down hard on her ass on the stone floor. She looked up at him, wishing she would wake up from this nightmare. "Stop," she begged through her tears. "I didn't mean to hurt you!"

Spike shook his head. "You weren't even good enough for Riley bloody Finn -- you really thought you'd come close to bein' good enough for me, Slayer? Thank God I didn't have to discover what a frigid cunt you really are and have my fantasies destroyed, least I still have those. I reckon puttin' it to you'd be like stickin' my cock in a block of ice..."


Buffy gasped awake, finding herself alone in her dark bedroom. It really was just a nightmare...

She swung her legs over the side of the bed, rested her elbows on her knees and dropped her face into her hands. She breathed deeply and wiped away her tears, trying to shake off the fear, misery, and heartache brought on by the nightmare.

Buffy went to splash some water on her face and get a cold drink in the bathroom. Dream Spike was not the same sexy/sweet/loving guy who usually visited her in Dreamland. Where was the tenderness, the love, the romance? Where was the hot sex? Why couldn't she have another dream like the 'ravishing Spike when he was tied to a chair' one? Now she couldn't even escape to her dreams for some happiness and wish/fantasy fulfillment. Why did her subconscious hate her so much? What had she ever done to it?

"It won't happen like that. Spike won't react that way... he loves me, I know he does." She prayed that wasn't another Slayer dream...

Buffy was afraid to go back to sleep after her nightmare, but she did manage to doze off again for a while. And, thankfully, there were no more nightmares. Thinking about the dream and seeing it play out again in her head made her feel sick... But she wasn't going to let that, or any other, bad dream keep her from going after the man she loved. It was like Tara said, sometimes you had to risk being crushed to earn happiness. Buffy had to have faith in Spike and what they shared; he wouldn't turn on her because of her moment of weakness.

She'd left her phone on her nightstand in case Spike called... but he didn't. Buffy checked the messages again in the morning, but there wasn't anything new from Spike. She listened to the one message he'd left last night a few times, just to torture herself. Hearing his voice sounding so emotional and roughened with sadness tore her up inside... and to know that that sadness was caused by her and what she'd done last night made it even worse.

"He'll call... just needs some more time," Buffy told herself as she slid out of bed and prepared for the day. "He wouldn't really leave town... he wouldn't really go find Dru... I know he wouldn't." Buffy tried to assure herself that the nightmare was just that -- just a dream, just a figment of her Evil Twin's evil imagination.

Buffy did her best to pretend she wasn't upset when having breakfast with her mother. Joyce could tell there was something wrong, though -- those psychic Mom powers again. For one thing, Buffy wasn't going on and on about the date.

"How did your date go last night?" Joyce asked as she stirred her coffee.

"I had a great time." Buffy put on her best fake smile. "Spike gave me this necklace, isn't it pretty?" She held out the charm necklace for her mother to see.

Joyce leaned forward, smiling as she glanced at all the little charms. "That was sweet of him, it's lovely."

Buffy nodded and buttered a piece of toast for the third time. "He said he's going to be working for his friend Clem, mostly just so he can buy me nice things. I told him I didn't want him doing that just for me, but he said he likes giving me things... he likes making me smile. Spike's always doing such..." Buffy sniffed, trying to keep tears from falling, "...he does such amazing things for me. He makes me feel special."

"Why do you have that unhappy little crease between your eyebrows? I know that crease -- it's the same one you got when you unwrapped that encyclopedia on Christmas morning. Something else happened last night. Do you want to talk about it?"

"Um... okay, there were parts of the date that weren't so great," Buffy confessed. But she wasn't going to tell her mom about the panic attack -- and she certainly wasn't going to tell her mom what she'd been doing when she'd had the panic attack. "Xander was an ass when Spike and I went to the Magic Box. He said some really... terrible things to Spike and Spike tried to punch him."

"Oh, no..." Joyce grimaced. "Is everyone alright?"

"Yeah, everyone's fine... the chip kicked in before Spike could hit Xander. And then I yelled at Xander, and then Spike and I left."

"Were you angry with Spike for trying to hit Xander? Did the two of you have a fight?"

Buffy sighed. "I was kinda mad at Spike too at first, but Xander intentionally provoked him. I don't blame Spike at all for wanting to punch Xander. I heard what Xander said and I wanted to slap him, too."

"I guess that spoiled your night?"

"It was... We... Spike and I made up, but he was still upset when I left him... I'm just worried about him."

Joyce bought that excuse. She could only imagine how tough it had to be for her daughter wanting to be with a man whom her friends didn't approve of. She put her hand on top of Buffy's. "It'll be okay, honey. Spike loves you and your friends love you, everyone will start getting along... eventually." She added silently, 'Or I'll give them all a piece of my mind -- I'll be damned if I'll let them make my baby girl miserable.'

Buffy tried smiling again. "Yeah... everything will work out."

"I'd better get ready to take your sister to school," Joyce said, noticing the time.

"I'll take her, Mom," Buffy volunteered and stood up.

"But you didn't finish your breakfast." Buffy's eggs and toast were virtually untouched, except for the super-sized helping of cholesterol on her toast.

"It's okay... I'm not really that hungry anyway."

After Buffy dropped Dawn off at school, her phone rang. Excitement and anxiety made her heart start to race. She both dreaded and was eager to talk to Spike. It was going to be hard to explain her fears without sounding totally juvenile and silly... that's if he even wanted her to try explaining. Maybe Spike would just tell her to 'get stuffed' and hang up on her...

Buffy shook her head. "No, I can't let those 'what ifs' make me afraid... I can make it right between us again."

As she prepared to hit the 'Talk' button, Buffy remembered if it was Spike calling her, she would've heard the 'I Wanna Be Sedated' ringtone. She sighed, her heart rate returning to normal, and answered the phone.

"Buffy, are you okay?" Willow asked, concerned. "Tara told me what happened last night."

"Yeah, I'm okay... I guess. I'm not too much of a crazy, weepy mess so far today. I still haven't talked to Spike... he won't call me back."

"Well... um, he sleeps during the day, being a vampire an' all," Willow said, wanting to give Buffy some hope. "He'll probably call when he wakes up around dusk-ish. Try not to worry."

Buffy rolled her eyes and sighed again. "Easier said than done."

"I know... just try to hang in there. Spike will either show up at your house or call you. He's always popped back up when we thought he went away before."

That made Buffy think of those Bozo Bop Bag inflatable toys, the kind that always sprang back up when you punched them. Spike would probably be even more pissed with her if he knew he was being compared to a children's punching bag that looked like a clown, but the fact that you couldn't knock them down for long sounded a lot like Spike -- no one could keep him down, he always righted himself and got up in your face again. When Buffy thought about it, it was another thing they had in common... no matter how many times they got knocked down, they both kept getting back up... that should’ve made her feel better, but it only made her feel worse. How many times could he take getting knocked down before all the air got knocked out of him and all that was left was a deflated shell where his love used to be? She doubted even Bozo could pop back from a dagger to the heart...

"Yeah, but the difference is that now I actually want him to pop back up. Spike's nothing if not a walking, talking antonym."

A few seconds went by without them saying anything, Willow wasn't sure what else to say. Then she had a thought.

"Hey, you want to meet at the Espresso Pump at noon? Tara and I will be in desperate need of our caffeine fix by then. It'll do you good and take your mind off of things for a while, and then before you know it, Spike will call and you crazy kids can sort everything out."

Willow made it sound so easy -- but nothing was ever easy for Buffy.

Buffy wanted to say no to meeting Tara and Willow, she didn't feel up to socializing; she'd be on pins and needles until she talked to Spike and they worked out their problems... if they could work out their problems. But Willow was right, it might be good to get her mind off of her troubles for a little while, at least. Talking to her friends might help her feel better and they might be able to give her some good advice. "Sure... if me being mopey won't bother you."

"We're your friends -- we're here for you in happy and mopey times," Willow assured her.

"Thanks, Will... I'll meet you guys there. But I'll let you know if I can't make it. If Spike calls and wants to talk to me... it may take a while for me to convince him I'm not loony tunes. I'm still not convinced I'm not loony tunes."

"You're not crazy, Buffy. I know how relationship stuff can make you feel crazy, though. You'll talk to him, you'll get back on track, and then you'll be your normal self again. That mean inner-voice of yours will learn who's boss and leave you alone."

After they said goodbye, Buffy checked her messages again. There was still nothing new from Spike.

Her negative inner-voice whispered, 'He's not going to call. He knows what a basketcase you are now. He knows the real you and he hates you, just like he did in the dream.'

Buffy countered, 'Spike loves me and he *never* gives up when there's something or someone he wants. Go away, I'm not listening to you anymore.' That seemed to shut the voice up, at least temporarily.

Buffy called to leave Spike another message, and suddenly waiting until dusk seemed much too long to wait; she needed to talk to him now.

"Spike, it's me again. Why haven't you called me back yet? You're making me nervous... I realize you might be sleeping since it's daytime... but I don't want to let any more time pass without talking to you. I need to try and explain why I acted the way I did. It wasn't because I don't... want you or care about you, I care and want you a lot. I already said that in the last message, didn't I? So... I'm on my way to the crypt right now. See you soon..."

She hung up and pulled out into traffic, heading for Restfield.

Buffy had promised herself she wouldn't chase after Spike and try to track him down all the time, but this was a special case. She'd made a spectacle of herself last night and had to have hurt Spike's feelings badly... She needed to make things right with him. She needed to apologize and tell him she loved him. Hopefully her declaration of love would make Spike happy and more willing to give her another chance.

Buffy looked around the upper level of the crypt, wide-eyed and alarmed. A broken sarcophagus lid lay against one wall, there were several dents in the stone walls, everything that could be knocked over was knocked over, and there were traces of what looked like blood all over the place.

"What happened here?" Buffy whispered. Had Spike been attacked by someone? Demons, vamps, or one of his crazy exes? Or maybe Xander had come by to get rid of Spike? She dismissed that last one -- Xander wouldn't do that (at least she hoped he wouldn't.). Buffy's mind raced, there was no end to the list of Spike's enemies.

"Spike?" Buffy called out anxiously as she pushed aside the trapdoor and began climbing down. "Spike, are you here?"

She searched the lower level, but Spike didn't appear to be home. His duster wasn't hung up where she'd seen it last night, which hopefully meant that Spike was just on the move and using the sewers to travel during the day and he hadn't been attacked. But then, why was the upper crypt in disarray -- or rather, more disarray than usual? Maybe Spike had done it himself... Had he been so enraged and heartbroken after Buffy's apparent rejection of him and his affection that he'd gone crazy too?

Buffy looked at the bed, tears threatened to overflow from her eyes again as she relived what happened last night. She'd spoiled something that would've been beautiful and fulfilling for both of them. "We'll talk and it will be okay, the ghosts will stop haunting me... I'll make it up to you, I swear. Where are you, Spike?"

Buffy didn't know where else to go to look for him. She didn't know where he went during the day. Maybe he went to her house? She decided to go home -- maybe she'd get lucky and find Spike waiting to talk to her there.

She climbed back up the ladder, then took out her phone and called Spike again. He still wasn't answering, she had to leave another message.

"Spike, I'm at the crypt right now. Where are you? Something obviously happened here between the time I left and this morning... Please let me know you're okay. I'm heading back home, I hope you're there waiting for me. Something tells me you're not... but I'll keep my fingers crossed."

Spike wasn't at her house waiting for her like Buffy had hoped, which really didn't surprise her, but she was disappointed all the same. But she couldn't just sit by the phone chewing her fingernails down to nubs and worrying all day, she'd go crazy... or crazier. Buffy didn't want to go to the Magic Box. She was afraid she really would hit Xander if he smiled (or looked in any way pleased) when he found out Spike was missing. Buffy sorted some laundry, cleaned the kitchen, and then started on her bedroom.

Joyce was busy on the phone all morning, talking to friends, and her boss at the gallery, planning for when she'd be going back to work. But she noticed Buffy behaving unusually -- namely, cleaning. She thought there was something more to the story than Buffy had told her, but she wouldn't press her daughter for details. If Buffy needed to talk, she'd come to her -- pushing Buffy generally just made Buffy push back.

Buffy went to meet Willow and Tara at the Espresso Pump at noon, she vowed to try to not be too depressing and bring them down.

The three friends had some coffee and talked about the previous night. Buffy thanked Tara again for giving her the sweats to wear home, and gave the washed, clean clothes back to the compassionate witch. Buffy went on to tell Willow what happened after her and Spike left the shop. Buffy wasn't happy about rehashing the upsetting part of the night, but her friends couldn't give good advice if they didn't know the details.

Then Buffy told them about how she'd gone to see Spike and found the upper crypt trashed. "I'm really worried that something happened to him... I left Spike another message, I don't know what else to do."

"Do you know some other places he likes to go?" Tara wondered. "Maybe we could check his usual hangouts and find him."

Buffy thought about it. "There's Willy's, the garage where he's working on his car... the, um... I'm drawing a blank," Buffy started, shaking her head as she tried to think. "There aren't a lot of places Spike likes to go... Oh, The Bronze -- but that doesn't open until this evening; he wouldn't be there."

"You want us to do a locator spell?" Willow asked enthusiastically, always ready to work some magick. "We could find out exactly where he is so you won't have to search for him blindly."

Buffy smiled, liking that idea, but her smile faded quickly. "I should wait to ask you to do something like that. If Spike's not answering his phone, he doesn't want to be found. I've already upset him enough... I'm afraid I'll do more damage if I track him down and he's not ready to talk to me."

"But you said the crypt showed signs of a fight... you don't want to make sure he's okay?" Willow persisted.

"Yeah... I am worried. But he's probably okay and will just get angry that I wouldn't leave him alone."

"It's up to you, Buffy. I'll do the spell if you want me to."

Buffy bit her bottom lip. After a few seconds she said, "Okay... do the spell. If he's mad, I'll deal with it. I need to know if he's alright."

"Great." Willow grinned. "We can do the spell when we go back to the dorm. Do you have something that belongs to Spike? It helps to have a personal object to focus on."

"Um..." Buffy patted down her pockets as she considered the question. She could go back to the crypt and get something of Spike's, but that would take too long and she wanted answers fast. "Would something he gave me as a gift be okay? I've got the necklace on that he gave me. And the poem." Buffy had the poem folded up in her wallet, wanting to have it with her to remind her of Spike's love, desire, and devotion.

"Something that's his would be better, but I think it will work with a gift he gave you."

A few minutes later they were on their way to Willow and Tara's dorm room.

Buffy sat on the bed, nervously chewing on a thumbnail, while the Wiccans cast their spell on a map of Sunnydale. They used the poem Spike wrote for her as the personal object; Willow thought it would work better than the necklace since Spike had created it from his own thoughts and feelings.

Buffy leaned forward when a bright spot appeared on the map. "Where is he?"

Willow looked closely at the street names surrounding the spot of light. "It looks like he's... around Crawford Street," she said, looking up at Buffy.

"The mansion..." Buffy felt cold inside. "Spike hates that place, he wouldn't go back there voluntarily. Maybe Dru came back and took him there... I have to go!" She jumped off the bed and started for the door.

"Buffy, wait!" Willow called, making Buffy skid to a stop just as she reached the door. "If Dru's back, you can't go in there alone."

"It might be a trap Drusilla set for you," Tara cautioned. "You said she had wards put on the mansion when she kidnapped you -- she knows you have witch friends, she'd know you might try finding Spike through magick."

Buffy tried to calm down, breathing deeply a few times. They were right -- if Dru was back, she might be using Buffy's feelings for Spike to lure her into a trap. The thought that Dru could be doing something horrible to Spike right at this moment made Buffy sick and afraid. But she had to stay calm and think things through, not just go rushing headlong into what could be another dangerous situation. "Okay... I'll be stealthy and check it out before I go storming in. I'll call you if I need backup."

The witches were still uneasy about Buffy going anywhere near the mansion alone, but the Slayer was out the door too quickly for them to convince her to reconsider her plan.

Anger began to overwhelm Buffy's fear as she started up her mom's Jeep. If Dru had dared touch one platinum hair on Spike's head... there would be hell to pay.

Buffy needn't have worried, there was no indication that Dru or any of her minions had been back to the mansion, it was completely deserted when she got there. If Spike was here a half hour ago (and Willow's spell hadn't gone wonky), he wasn't here now. Buffy found an empty whiskey bottle and spent cigarette butts on the floor near the couch, she was pretty sure Spike had left those here very recently.

Buffy called his name loudly for a few minutes, hoping he'd slink out of the shadows. But, of course, he didn't. She'd almost hoped Dru was back -- that would mean it wasn't Spike's choice to stay away and not call her back.

"Why would you come back here?" Buffy wondered aloud. She remembered how Spike couldn't wait to leave the mansion after Dru left. He'd said that some of the worst days of his life were spent in the mansion, so why would he want to come here?

Buffy called Willow on the way back to her car, filling her in on the situation. "Can you do another spell? You've still got the poem, you can do it again, right?"

"Yeah, we're still set up. Hang on."

A minute later, Buffy heard Willow speaking in Latin. Shortly after that, Willow came back on the line.

"Okay... geez, he moves fast! He's all the way across town. The map shows Spike being near Church Street, in Espenson Cemetery."

"What would he be doing there?" Buffy asked, more to herself than Willow.

Willow looked more closely at the map, seeing there was a church under the dot of light. "It looks like he's in or very near a church... Wasn't the old church where Spike did that restoration ritual for Dru in Espenson cemetery?"

Buffy had to think about that for a minute. "Yeah... it was. That's the church he's in now?"

"I think so, yeah."

That was where she'd beaned him with that censer which led to him being crippled and confined to a wheelchair. Buffy thought, 'It can't be a good sign that Spike went there... Is he reminding himself of all the reasons he should hate me?'

"Okay, I'm gonna go check it out."

"Be careful," Willow advised.

"I will. Thanks for your help. I'll call you after I find Spike... or I'll call you if I don't find him... either way, I'll call you."

Buffy was frustrated to find that Spike wasn't still at the church by the time she got there. The church was a burned out shell, the place was falling apart. Buffy wondered why the city wouldn't tear down a building that was barely standing like this one, even if it was a church. Sunnydale had forty-three churches at last count, there were plenty more.

Buffy stopped near the area the church organ had fallen on Spike years ago. Imagining Spike buried under rubble, in pain, burned and unable to walk, made her want to cry again. Back then, Buffy might've smiled with satisfaction if she'd seen him lying there, after what he'd done and tried to do to Angel, she would've been pleased to see her archenemy so severely wounded; in fact, she most likely would've put him out of his misery and dusted him right then and there. But things were very different now than they were almost four years ago... very, very different.

This place conjured up some unpleasant memories. Spike had been in full-on evil mode back then, a remorseless, vicious predator who only looked out for himself... and, of course, Dru. His caring, sensitive side had been reserved only for Drusilla, everyone else was expendable.

Spike had changed since then, and Buffy, too, felt like a different person from the girl she'd been the last time she was here in this church. She'd been so young... so naive. Her world had revolved around Angel, being with him and keeping him safe were all she thought about; she'd been ready to kill Spike to prevent him from hurting Angel. Buffy was relieved now that she hadn't gone right back into the church and made sure Spike was dead; she hadn't staked Spike... she'd only crippled him.

Knowing what Spike must've been thinking about when he was here not a half hour ago increased Buffy's dread. Worrying about which Spike she'd get -- evolved, thoughtful, romantic, loving Spike or evil, hateful, cruel Spike, like the one in her dream -- when he finally did call or approach her, was going to drive Buffy crazy. Buffy took a deep breath to try and stay calm, then sent a silent prayer to the PTB, begging them to make that nightmare she’d had just a dream, not a portent of things to come.

Buffy looked around as best she could and yelled Spike's name a few times without getting a response. "If you're here and just being lurky... come out and let me explain what happened last night." She sighed. "But you're not here, and I'm talking to myself again... and I called Dru insane..."

Buffy called Willow and told her the bad news.

"I'd do another spell for you, but I really have to get to class," Willow apologized. "I wouldn't go, but we're having an exam today..."

"That's okay... Put the poem somewhere safe until I can come and get it."

"You don't want me to do the spell again after class?"

"No... twice is enough. I'll just... try to wait for Spike to let me know when he's ready to talk," Buffy said forlornly. She decided to stop chasing Spike all over town. He obviously hadn't been attacked and wounded by an unknown party, he was moving around town fast. That meant he just didn't want to talk to her. Buffy would have to be patient and understanding and let him come to her... though she was afraid of what he'd say when he finally chose to speak to her. Buffy had trouble waiting for anything, she much preferred to take action instead of sitting around -- that was another thing she had in common with Spike.

Willow spoke, bringing Buffy out of her thoughts. "We were gonna go to the Bronze tonight for an 'after exam' celebration, you want to meet us? I can give you the poem back there."

"I'm really not in a dancin' kinda mood, Will."

"Yeah... I guess not. Sorry. What about the Magic Box? You could stop in and --"

"Uh-uh." Buffy shook her head, though Willow couldn't see it over the phone. "No way am I facing Xander with things being the way they are with me and Spike. I'll likely kick him in the 'nads if he laughs or seems happy about it... then Anya would freak out... it wouldn't be pretty."

"Ah, okay... right, no Magic Box."

Then Buffy reconsidered about the Bronze, thinking that maybe Spike would be there. It wouldn't be a case of her chasing him down if she 'just happened' to be there at the same time as him. "What time were you going to the Bronze? I could stop by before patrol."

"Around eight o'clock."

"Okay, I'll see you then. Thanks for the help, Willow. I really appreciate it."

"I just wish my help was... you know, helpful," Willow said with a sigh.

"What you've done has been helpful," Buffy assured her. "I'm not afraid someone or something hurt Spike at the crypt after I left. I'm the only one who hurt him... Spike must've caused all that damage I saw himself. So now I'm not worried that he was attacked, I'm just worried I hurt him so much that I made him go crazy. I seem to have that effect on men... and not in a good way."

Willow's heart went out to Buffy, she wished she could do more to help her friend. "I could do a spell that would keep him from leaving wherever he is until you get there," Willow ventured. "It would freeze him -- not the cold kind of freezing -- to the spot he's standing on until I release him."

"Can you imagine how pissed Spike would be about that?" Buffy asked, shaking her head no. She remembered Spike taking strong objection to them suggesting using a truth spell to make him remember and divulge details about the Initiative; Buffy knew he wouldn't take kindly to being manipulated by magick. And then she'd have a whole new subject to have an unpleasant discussion with him about -- she had enough of those already. That night at the mansion, Drusilla hadn't thought twice about manipulating Spike (physically or psychically), Buffy didn't want to be guilty of that; she never wanted to hurt Spike again. "It's tempting to make him stay where he is until I get there, but it would only make things worse... if that's possible."

That night, Buffy got to the Bronze at 8:30. Spotting Willow and Tara, she went over to their table and sat with them. After the usual 'hellos' and 'how are yous', Willow gave Buffy the poem back, apologizing again for not being able to help her find Spike.

"You tried," Buffy assured her as she carefully tucked the poem back into her wallet. The poem might be the only thing Spike ever writes for her, it may be the only piece of his heart she’ll ever have now... she wanted to protect it. If only she’d worried about protecting his actual heart as much... if only she’d realized she loved him sooner... if only she’d been strong enough to fight Evil Twin Buffy and Insecure Buffy or...

"You haven't heard from Spike yet, huh?" Tara brought up the subject with a sympathetic frown, pulling Buffy from her thoughts.

Buffy shook her head. "Nothing. I don't know what to do... I can't stand the thought that he's out there, somewhere, hating me or thinking I hate him. But he could just need some time before he feels ready to talk to me about what happened, and if I track him down before he's ready it might make things worse."

Tara and Willow sighed and nodded, not envying the Slayer her position.

"I was kinda hoping I might see Spike here tonight," Buffy admitted, glancing around. "But I have patrolling to do, I can't sit here all night waiting to see if he comes or not." She felt guilty seeing the mopey expressions on her friends' faces, she didn't want to depress them too. Buffy joked, "Maybe I should set up a box trap using a blooming onion and spicy wings as bait to lure Spike out from wherever it is he's hiding."

The witches smiled, glad that Buffy was trying to keep her sense of humor.

"We'll call you right away if we see him while we're here," Tara promised.

"Uh-oh..." Willow muttered, looking over Buffy's shoulder nervously.

Buffy looked where Willow's eyes were directed and saw Xander approaching their table. She groaned, closed her eyes and let her head droop down.

"Please don't kick him in the... um... privates, Buffy," Willow pled anxiously, afraid Xander would say or do something stupid again... the odds of that happening were pretty good.

Buffy looked up at Xander as he got to the table. "No promises."

"Hello, ladies." Xander sat down with them. Anya was working, so he was glad to see his friends here; it was depressing to be at a club all by yourself. And Xander was glad to see Buffy in particular, he needed to talk to her. "Any good bands playing tonight?"

Buffy sighed. He hadn't started an anti-Spike rant yet, but she knew it was just a matter of time. "Not in the mood today, Xander. Don't start."

"What? All I said was..." Xander paused, seeing how tired and unhappy Buffy looked. "I wasn't going to start anything, Buff. Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm great. I've gotta get going." Buffy started to stand up.

"Wait, Buffy." Xander motioned for her to sit back down. "I promise I won't argue with you again, but there is something I need to say."

She sat back down and crossed her arms. "What?"

Xander began to talk, then cleared his throat and started again. "I wanted to, uh, tell you I'm sorry about yesterday."

Willow and Tara both slumped a bit in relief; they'd been certain Xander was going to say some unkind things about Spike again. And, with the mood Buffy was in, he surely would've gotten knocked on his ass for it.

Buffy raised her eyebrows, wondering if he truly was sorry and what exactly he was sorry for. She stayed quiet, letting him continue, sure that if she gave him enough rope, he'd hang himself with it -- he usually did.

"I... I acted like a jackass. I swear, my motives were good, but... I didn't mean to get you so upset."

"You deserved to get punched, you know that don't you?" Buffy asked. "If someone said things like that to you about you and Anya, you wouldn't've let them get away with it."

"Yeah..." Xander looked down guiltily. "I got... carried away. I wanted to make Spike attack me so you'd see the real him."

"That was so stupid, Xander." Buffy shook her head. "And it was really insulting to me -- like I'm too stupid to choose my own boyfriends? You really don't think I've thought about the possible risks and dangers of getting involved with Spike? It was like you were spitting in my face."

"I know what I did was stupid... and disrespectful to you, and I really am sorry for it. I still think you dating Spike is a mistake..." At Buffy's dark expression, he quickly added, "But that's your choice, not mine. You've been good to me and respected my decisions, so... that's what you deserve from me too."

"Well, it's about damn time you started thinking that way," Buffy snapped testily. Then her expression softened as she realized it was a good thing that Xander was at least apologizing for what he did. Nothing would ever get any better if she acted all huffy and unforgiving. "...Better late than never, though. I hope this means you're not going to give me a hard time about Spike anymore and you'll be nicer to him?"

Xander nodded. "I'll find a way to get along with him. The only reason I did what I did was... I'm afraid you're going to get hurt again, Buffy. You've been kicked around so much... I was trying to protect you the only way I could."

Buffy smiled sadly. She knew Xander loved her; they were more than friends, they were family. His heart might've been in the right place, he'd just gone about it in a really stupid, mean way. "Oh, Xander," she said, patting his hand on the table, "you sweet, stupid, misguided ass."

He looked at her questioningly, not sure if she was forgiving him or just insulting him. Well, she said he was 'sweet', that part was good.

"I love you for wanting to protect me, but I'm a big girl. I'm capable of choosing my own boyfriends and what's best for me. You can't treat me or the man I love like that, Xander. You have to at least be civil to Spike or I'll go completely insane."

Xander's face went blank. "Did you say 'the man I l-lo'..." He couldn't quite get his mouth to form the words.

Buffy hadn't meant to admit that in front of Xander, but it felt so natural to say it now. After the breakthrough with Tara last night, Buffy had no trouble saying it out loud (and, more importantly, really feeling it). She'd find out for sure if Xander meant what he'd said, now that the 'love' cat was out of the bag.

"Yeah, I did. I realized I'm in love with Spike last night. Got something smart or mean to say about it?" Buffy challenged, raising an eyebrow. "Was your apology and promise just some bullshit you said to make me not mad at you anymore?"

Xander took a few moments to gather his composure. He couldn't let his emotions take over his mouth, he'd say something to upset Buffy again. He thought, 'Oh God, what I did made her feel closer to Spike... I think I'm going to be sick... I pushed her right into his arms! Nice goin', Xander, you idiot! I've got no choice now, I have to... accept Spike or I'll lose Buffy as a friend.'

"I don't have all night, Xan." Buffy looked at her watch then back up at him expectantly.

"You l-love him, huh? That's... something." He swallowed hard. "I'll really try to get along with him... for you."

"Thank you," Buffy replied. She really hoped he meant it. But Xander's reluctant acceptance might be for nothing, Spike might not even want her anymore... like in that horrible nightmare.

"Are we cool again?" Xander asked hopefully.

Buffy smiled and nodded. "Yeah, we're cool. But you have to apologize to Spike too -- and you still owe him a pint of blood or beer from the last time you owed him an apology."

Xander grimaced for a second at the thought of apologizing to the snarky vamp, but he nodded. "Yeah... I'll apologize with the actual words 'I'm sorry'. Is he here?" he asked nervously, looking around. Part of Xander still railed against apologizing to Spike -- it just didn't seem right -- but in the interest of keeping peace, he'd do it. It was going to be hard to not bash Spike's head in when he smirked that self-satisfied, annoying Spike-smirk of his...

"No, Spike's... Spike's doing his own thing tonight," Buffy hedged. "It's good for couples to spend a little time apart, it makes them... miss each other." She didn't feel confident enough to tell Xander what was really going on with her and Spike. He still might smile and she still might have to kick him in the balls. Buffy gave Willow and Tara a look that said 'I don't want Xander to know what's going on', and they nodded to show they got the message.

Xander joked, "Y'know, I thought about calling you on your cell phone last night to apologize, but I couldn't remember your number. The only number I could think of was 867-5309 -- damn that Tommy Tutone."

Buffy smiled and snorted softly, laughing along with Willow and Tara. Everyone relaxed a bit more and they got a round of drinks. Buffy thought it couldn't hurt to hang around the club a little longer, just in case Spike got peckish for one of those onion thingies.

"Buffy, can I ask you something?" Xander asked. She nodded. "You weren't really going to get in Anya's face last night, were you?"

Buffy sighed and shook her head. "No, I wouldn't've said mean things to Anya because of what you did. I was just... angry and frustrated. I wanted to scare you and make you think about how unfair you were being to me and Spike."

"You definitely scared the bejeezus outta me... And then Tara, Willow, and Giles said some stuff to me," he said, glancing at the two witches. "One of the nicest people I've ever met pretty much called me an asshole, that kind of thing makes a guy think."

Tara blushed and looked down, still surprised with herself that she'd had the nerve to say what she did to Xander. She was glad she'd said it, though.

Xander finished, "I did do a lot of thinking after that."

"You still hate Spike and think he's all wrong for me though, right?" Buffy asked.

"Well..." Xander stopped himself from saying 'That's right, I hate Spike and you're way too good for an evil, undead jerk like him'. "I told you I'll be... friendly. I'm going to keep my eye on Spike, but I won't push him like I did yesterday. No more fighting, that's my promise to you. I don't want to upset you again, and... I guess, since he says he loves you, Spike feels the same way."

Buffy sighed, and said, "Spike and I talked about this before and he told me how it is between you and him. I know you and Spike have a... complicated relationship, and I know you two enjoy sticking it to each other at every opportunity, so I'm --"

Xander held up his hands. "Whoa, what's Spike been telling you? I do not enjoy, nor have I ever, stuck it to him -- or vice versa!"

Buffy groaned and rolled her eyes. Why do men automatically think everything is about sex? "'Sticking it to' -- as in insulting and being mean to each other."

Xander relaxed and lowered his hands. "Oh... okay, yeah... we do do that a lot."

Willow lightly kicked Xander's leg under the table, looking at him with her red brows knit.

"Ow!" Xander frowned and rubbed his leg. "Hey, what was that for?!"

"Are you saying there's something wrong with two people of the same gender 'sticking it to each other' in the other sense?" Willow asked accusingly.

"N-no... of course not! There's just something wrong with me and Spike sticking our... uhhh... sticking anything anywhere near... each other," Xander stammered. 'Other than a pointy stick...' his mind added involuntarily, making him wince at the visual that conjured up.

"Can someone start talking about something else please? Here are a few, more pleasant subjects we can discuss: war atrocities, dead puppies, or how I walked in on my parents playing naked Twister when I was eight and the resulting nightmares I had because of it."

Willow giggled. "You're so easy to guilt! I was just kiddin'."

"You're pure evil, Will," Xander said, shaking his head. "It's not nice to guilt us poor straight people."

"Okay guys, I've gotta go for real this time." Buffy stood up from the table. "The town ain't gonna patrol itself... be nice if it did, though."

"You want some company?" Xander asked.

"Thanks, but I'd rather go it alone tonight. See ya, guys." They said goodbye as the Slayer made her way through the club.

Before she went for the front door, Buffy took a detour to the bar. It wouldn't hurt to ask a bartender if they'd seen Spike.

A female bartender with short, black hair and a nametag that read ‘Bridget’, asked Buffy, “What can I get you?”

“Uh, hi. I don't want a drink. I have a question, if that’s okay?”

Bridget shrugged. “Shoot.”

“Do you know a guy named Spike? He comes in here a lot.”

“Spike?” The bartender thought about it as she fixed a drink for another customer. She shook her head. “No, don’t think so. Sorry.” She started to turn away.

Buffy added, “He's a British guy with platinum blond hair, he's fond of spicy wings and blooming onions. Usually wears a long leather coat?”

The bartender smiled. “Oh, that’s Spike? I never caught his name. Mmmhmm, of course I remember him. The hair, cheekbones, accent, and those heavenly blue eyes -- how could I forget him? He’s sex on a stick.”

Buffy pushed aside the jealousy that rose up inside her at the woman’s obvious attraction to Spike. “Yeah... he’s a hottie. Have you seen him tonight? I’m looking for him, it’s important.”

"He was in here a little while ago, maybe a half hour."

“Dammit,” Buffy muttered under her breath, slapping a hand down on the bar. “Did you talk to him?”

“I served him a beer, that’s about it. It didn’t seem like he was in the mood for conversation, he looked pissed off about something. He usually flirts and gives me a sexy smile to see if he can get a free drink, this time he was just... kinda broody. You know if he's seeing anybody? Maybe he just needs the right gal to come along and 'cheer him up', if you know what I mean." Bridget raised and lowered her eyebrows.

Jealousy burned in the pit of Buffy's stomach; she did not like the fact that Spike apparently made a habit of flirting with other women. And, of course, those other women responded favorably to the flirty-ness of a gorgeous English guy. Buffy got a mental image of herself punching Bridget in the throat and saying, 'Spike's mine, don't even think about touching him, bitch!' But Buffy made an effort to keep a friendly smile on her face and rein in her hostility. She needed information from this woman, and info would be hard to come by if Bridget was clutching her throat, writhing around on the ground and gasping for breath.

"Yeah, he's seeing me," Buffy answered, somehow still keeping a smile in place and managing to not sound as annoyed as she felt.

"Oh... well, congrats." Bridget sighed. "Sorry about that 'sex on a stick' comment... All the hot ones are either taken or gay. I should've guessed he wasn't available..."

Buffy reminded herself of her objective: To find Spike. Being jealous would have to wait. “You think he might still be here?” she asked as she looked around. Her pulse started to race, she might finally get to talk to Spike in person.

"I think he went out the side door, not sure though. I'm busy working, I can't just watch the hot guys all night -- as much as I'd like to. Now that would be a great job, huh? Good luck finding him." The bartender went to the other end of the bar to take more orders.

"Shit," Buffy mumbled. She stood on her tiptoes, trying to see over people's heads and hoping to catch a glimpse of hair as bright as the sun. But Buffy wasn't wearing heels, her shortness was a problem.

She thought, 'Maybe I can *sense* him if I concentrate? I was able to feel when Angel was around sometimes, maybe I can feel Spike too.'

Buffy closed her eyes and focused her mind on Spike. She pictured him smiling at her and couldn't help smiling a little herself. She recalled his scent, inhaling deeply through her nose. She extended her Slayer senses around her. But Buffy wasn't getting anything that said 'Spike' -- no tingles, no whiff, no nothing.

Buffy sighed and her shoulders drooped in disappointment -- she opened her eyes and blew out a long breath as she headed for the side door where Bridget said Spike had gone. She already knew Spike wouldn't be there, but she had to check anyway. As she expected, the alleyway was deserted. There were some cigarette butts near the mouth of the alley, Spike's brand.

Memories flashed in her mind -- this was the first place she'd spoken to Spike. After she'd killed that minion, Spike had emerged from the shadows, clapping his hands.

"Nice work, luv."

"Who are you?"

"You'll find out on Saturday."

"What happens on Saturday?"

"I kill you."

That hadn't been a very promising way to start their relationship...

Buffy remembered her first thought at seeing him, 'Hello, salty goodness!' That attraction had been squashed almost immediately, of course, once she'd understood that Spike was a new threat and not just some hot, new British guy in town. Over the years Buffy had gone from thinking Spike was gorgeous, to hating and fearing him, to tolerating (but still hating) him, to being back to thinking he's gorgeous, and now being in love with him. Spike's feelings for her had gone through the same kinds of phases, only he'd gotten there first and a lot sooner. Buffy's heart had finally caught up with his, but she couldn't find him to tell him.

"Dammit, Spike..." Buffy muttered as she walked out of the alley. "Where the hell are you?"

Buffy patrolled and did her job, but she was just going through the motions. Her heart just wasn't in slaying baddies tonight. She stopped to check the crypt again, but it didn't seem that Spike had been back since the last time Buffy was there.

Buffy took out her cell phone, leaving another message for him.

"Are you doing this to punish me? Then consider me punished! I've been sick worrying about you and what you'll say to me. I keep wondering if the right thing to do is call you and try to find you or if I should give you some space -- I still don't know which one is right.

"Not hearing from you is making me crazy, Spike... I know you must be angry and hurt, and I hate that I made you feel that way. We've been through so much together, we've both changed so much to get to where we are... don't let it end this way.

"Why is it that when I hated you I couldn't get rid of you -- but now that I... now that I want you around, I can't find you? Give me a chance to make it up to you. Do you want me to beg? Okay, I'm begging... please call me."

With a sigh, Buffy left the crypt and went home.

Buffy hung her jacket up on a hook near the front door.

Dawn was on her way up to bed when Buffy came in. "Hey, Buffy. Did you have a good patrol?"

"Yeah, I guess," Buffy replied unenthusiastically. "I dusted a couple vamps."


As Dawn continued up to her bedroom, Buffy took her cell phone out and checked for any messages from Spike again. Buffy paled and stared at the cell phone. "Oh no..."

Dawn stopped and turned on the stairs. "What?"

"My phone's dead... I forgot to charge it. Spike might've been trying to call me!"

Dawn wondered why Buffy seemed so upset. "He knows our regular phone number, doesn't he?"

"Did he call here?" Buffy asked desperately.

"No... I would've told you if he called. What's going on?" Dawn asked. "Don't tell me you guys are fighting again?"

"Go to bed!" Buffy snapped angrily.

"Geez, sorry! I guess that's a 'yes'." Dawn made a face at her. "Another misunderstanding, huh? What did you do to him this time?"

"Shut up!" Buffy scowled and went into the living room.

Dawn waited until Buffy disappeared into the other room before giving her the middle finger. If Spike were her boyfriend she was sure there would be no 'misunderstandings'... ever!

Joyce was watching TV on the couch, she looked up when Buffy came into the living room. "What are you and Dawn fighting about now?" she asked with clear disapproval.

Buffy plopped down on the couch, pouting and crossing her arms. "Nothing."

"I heard you say Spike's name, and you sounded upset."

Buffy sighed, sinking down onto the couch cushion. "He won't talk to me and it's driving me crazy, Mom." Buffy was just too tired and frazzled to pretend things were okay.

Joyce turned off the TV and turned to the side to face Buffy. "You want to tell me what happened?"

"I-I don't know if I can." Buffy fidgeted. "I'd feel... weird talking to you about it."

"Weird?" Joyce's concerned frown turned into a look of understanding. "Does the problem you're having with Spike involve... sex?"

Buffy fidgeted again, answering Joyce's question without words.

"Oh. I know it's weird talking to your mom about love and sex, I was extremely uncomfortable talking to my mother about things like that, too. But you can talk to me about anything, even things that might make us feel awkward." She reached out and put a hand on Buffy's shoulder. "I let you down before by not being able to give you advice, I don't want to do that again. You can talk to me, Buffy."

"Last night... I realized I'm in love with Spike."

"That's... well, I was going to say it was great... But something went wrong?"

Buffy sniffled. "I think Spike is either really angry and hurt or he hates me... I don't know which one because he won't talk to me."

Joyce was confused. "But... I thought Spike would be overjoyed if you told him you loved him. That seemed to be what he wanted most in the world when I talked to him."

"I didn't tell him yet. I didn't realize it until... later. I had a talk with Tara, she helped me figure some stuff out. But that was after... a bad thing happened." Buffy brought her legs up on the couch, progressively curling into a smaller ball.

"What happened, Buffy?" Joyce asked gently.

Buffy took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. "I made a fool out of myself. Spike and I were..." her eyes darted to and then away from her mother, "we were, y'know... fooling around." She ducked her head, feeling like she might (and kinda wishing she would just) burst into flame with embarrassment.

Joyce put aside her natural parental tendency to be squeamish at the thought of her baby having sex. She reminded herself that 'her baby' wasn't a baby anymore. She nodded then waited for Buffy to continue.

"It was great for a while... but then I totally wigged out. I pushed Spike away, I couldn't stop crying, I felt like I couldn't breathe. I ran away like a stupid kid... Tara said I had a panic attack, I guess that's what I had."

"What made you panic?" Joyce asked.

"I couldn't stop thinking about the bad things that happened in my other relationships... I just kept hearing and seeing all the bad stuff that's happened until I couldn't take it anymore. I was afraid the same things would happen with Spike if I let myself get too close to him. I should just join a convent, I'm no good at relationships."

"Honey, you just had some bad luck, that's all. You're a beautiful, sweet, smart girl, the right man will see and appreciate how special you are."

"That's the thing... I found the right man and I pushed him away. I've called Spike, I've searched around town for him... he doesn't want to see or talk to me. For all I know, he could've left town by now. He looked so hurt and afraid when I ran away... I see that look on his face every time I close my eyes."

Joyce hugged her. Buffy leaned against her mother, resting her head against her shoulder like she'd done when she was a little girl and needed comforting.

"Oh sweetheart, it'll be okay," Joyce said, stroking Buffy's hair. "Sometimes when men have their egos bruised, they have to go off somewhere and lick their wounds for a while. But I believe Spike will be back. You'll have your chance to explain, and, if he's the man you think he is, he'll understand."

Buffy sniffled, nodding slightly and telling herself it would all work out somehow and trying her best to believe it.

"Does the thought of letting yourself be close to Spike still scare you like it did last night?" Joyce asked, still soothingly stroking Buffy's hair.

"Yes and no... I know I love him now, there's no going back from that, but I'm still afraid I'll get my heart broken again. I don't know what I'll do if I lose Spike."

"I was married to your father for seventeen years, and I was absolutely terrified about having to start all over again. I didn't feel pretty or the least bit desirable. I didn't think any other man would ever want me -- and if one did, I didn't know if I could ever trust someone like I trusted Hank in the beginning. I know how getting hurt or betrayed makes you want to avoid putting yourself out there again."

"What gave you the courage to try dating again?" Buffy looked up at her. She wanted to ask, but didn't, if her father had cheated on her mom with another woman. Buffy didn't want to think even less of her father than she already did.

Joyce sighed. "I don't know... I guess I just didn't want to shut myself off from that part of life. The need to love and be loved is one of the things that makes us all human. If we don't take the risk of getting our hearts broken, we won't get hurt -- but then there's also no possibility of closeness or love. You have to risk the bad to have any chance of the good, Buffy."

Buffy nodded. She was still scared, but ready to take that leap of faith. She was now more afraid of losing Spike than she was of getting hurt. "I've also worried about how... y'know... experienced Spike is compared to me. I want everything to be perfect... I don't want to let him down."

"Oh..." Joyce cleared her throat, pushing those unsettled Mom feelings away again; her daughter needed advice. "You're afraid you'll be... not good?"

Buffy nodded again, not able to look her in the eye. "Um, actually... rewind! Forget I said that -- we can talk about something else."

"No, if that's bothering you then we can talk about it. While I'm sure that's part of what Spike wants, I don't think that's all he wants from you. You don't have to be 'perfect', Buffy. I got the impression that what would make Spike happiest is for you to show you trust him enough to be vulnerable with him. He put his feelings out there... he opened up to you and made himself vulnerable," Joyce pointed out.

"Yeah... but being vulnerable is scary for me," Buffy admitted.

"It's scary for everyone, honey... you just have to go on faith, trust that he won't hurt you," Joyce advised.

Buffy sighed and rubbed wearily at her eyes. "I do trust Spike, and I'm as ready as I'm ever gonna be to be Vulnerable Girl. But now that I'm ready, he's nowhere to be found... he's probably off somewhere sticking rusty pins in a little Buffy-doll. He hates me, I just know it -- he may never talk to me again, and I really can't blame him. I have the worst damn luck..."

"He'll be back, honey," Joyce reassured her. "I doubt Spike hates you and never wants to speak to you again because of what happened. The things he said when I questioned him about your relationship... that wasn't a man who was going to give up. Love like that doesn't just disappear because of an unpleasant experience, and I do believe he loves you. I don't know what's going through Spike's head right now, but I know you'll hear from him or see him again soon."

"I hope you're right."

They were quiet for a minute.

Joyce asked, "Did I tell you I might be getting asked out on a date soon? I'll be taking another one of those leaps of faith."

Buffy smiled and pulled away to look at her mother. "No, you didn't tell me. That's great, Mom! Is it a cute doctor you met at the hospital? If he's a cute, rich doctor, you have my permission to marry him. And try to slip into conversation that I never got the pony I wanted when I was little." Buffy winked at her.

Joyce laughed and shook her head. "He's not a doctor, but he is cute. His name's Brian and he works at a publishing house. I met him the other day when I stopped in the gallery to say hello to everyone. I must've looked like I was working because he came up to me and asked a question about these antique cameos. I didn't know anything about them, Carol's done the ordering while I've been out sick. But he didn't know anything about them either, so we had a lot to talk about."

"Did he ask for your number?" Buffy sat Indian-style next to her on the couch, happy and interested to hear this news. For a few minutes, she had something good and positive to think about instead of dwelling on her own problems.

"I think Brian's a little shy, which is so adorable. It turns out he's friends with Carol," Joyce explained. "She wants to play matchmaker; she invited me out to dinner with her, her husband, and some friends -- including Brian -- tomorrow night. She said Brian likes me." Joyce suppressed a girlish giggle. There was nothing like an attractive man taking an interest to make a mature woman feel like a blushy schoolgirl again. "Carol also said I should expect him to ask me for a date by the end of the night."

"Ooh, he likes you," Buffy teased, poking Joyce on the arm. "So, I take it you said yes to the dinner invitation?"

Joyce nodded. "It's been a while since I had a night out or got together with my friends... and it's been even longer since I spent time with a handsome man. I'm looking forward to it, but it does make me kinda... shaky."

"It'll be fine, Mom," Buffy said, giving Joyce's knee a pat and a rub. "And you so deserve to go out and have fun."

"However things turn out with Brian -- if we make a love connection or we find out we don't like each other as much as we thought we would -- I'm going to take the risk, because that's living. Life is full of danger and pitfalls and possible heartbreak... but there're so many good things too. If we don't take chances, we never find out what might've been. Life really is too precious... too short, to not take those chances while we can. If you don't reach for the brass ring, you'll never have any chance of grabbing it."

Buffy smiled, knowing her mother was right. And if her mom was brave enough to keep taking chances (after a divorce, and a brain tumor), then Buffy could follow her example and live while she had the chance... reach for that elusive brass ring of happiness.

"Listen to me..." Joyce sighed, shaking her head. "We're supposed to be talking about the things that are upsetting you, and I'm going on and on about a possible date."

"It's okay, Mom. It's more than okay. You don't know how happy it makes me to hear you talking about regular stuff like cute guys and possible date-age." Until Joyce had gotten a clean bill of health, Buffy was afraid her mother would never get to resume a normal life... let alone start dating again and going out with her friends. Her mother's life wasn't all hospitals, doctors, medications, and tests anymore. This was a very happy occasion.

"It's nice to talk about things that have nothing to do with hospitals," Joyce joked.

Buffy nodded in agreement.

"It feels great to be getting back to my old self again." Joyce held Buffy's hand, her eyes getting a bit shiny. "I couldn't have gotten through the last few months without you, Buffy. You've been wonderful -- I'm so proud of you for how strong you were for me and your sister. You had us and the house to take care of on top of your Slayer duties, and school... I don't know how you managed. I'm so sorry I had to put you in that position."

Buffy's eyes were getting a bit shinier too, she gave Joyce's hand a gentle squeeze. "Please, Mom, it's not like you chose to get sick." College hadn't been a priority for Buffy for some time now; at best, she went to a few classes a week. And when she did go, she felt completely lost and out of sync with the other students. But, as much as she regretted not living the college life, being close to home with her mom and Dawn was the most important thing right now -- school had taken (and would take) a backseat in Buffy's life a while longer. Her mother was almost all better now, but Buffy figured she'd better wait until the situation with Glory was settled to resume going to classes full-time. "I'm just glad I could help. You're the one who had to go through the whole thing... I'm proud of you -- you're a tough chick."

Mother and daughter hugged each other.

"I love you, Buffy Anne. I'm lucky to have you for a daughter."

"Love you too, Mom," Buffy responded, her voice cracking with emotion.

"You need to talk about Spike some more?"

"No... I think I'm okay now. All I have to do is wait for that stubborn, broody vampire to finish licking himself -- licking his wounds, I mean -- and then I can try to fix the problems."

They released the hug and smiled as they wiped away their tears.

"So, you think you and your sister can whip up dinner by yourselves tomorrow?" Joyce asked.

Buffy rolled her watery eyes. "Mom, I've made dinner lots of times over the last few months. I'm a grown woman, I think I can make one little meal."

Joyce raised an eyebrow. "You want me to leave you money to get takeout from Madame Chow's?"

"Would you?" Buffy grinned. "Just because I can cook dinner doesn't mean I won't weasel out of it if possible."

Buffy took a bath and then got ready for bed. The talk with her mother made her feel more optimistic, but it was wearing off a little now that Buffy was alone with her thoughts and worries again.

She left another message for Spike, calling him from the regular phone in her room.

"Me again. My phone is recharging. I thought maybe you tried to call me... You can call the house if I don't answer my cell phone.

"If I don't hear from you by morning... well, I guess there's nothing I can do. It's been over twenty-four hours since I heard from you... can't you just call me to let me know if you're alright? Can't you do that one little thing for me? Maybe I don't even deserve that much... but... please, Spike, I'm really worried about you."

Buffy sighed heavily. "That's all I have to say... for now. Call me."

After plugging her cell phone into the charging unit, Buffy picked up Mr. Gordo and climbed into bed wearily. She turned onto her side, pulling her knees up to her chest, and hugged the stuffed pig tightly. It had always made her feel better to have her favorite stuffed animal with her, it reminded her of simpler times, when the hardest decision she had to make was whether to have Cocoa Puffs or Cocoa Crispies for breakfast and her biggest heartaches involved not having any Hershey's Syrup to go on top of her ice cream after dinner.

Buffy tried to clear her mind of conscious thought. The pitter-pat of raindrops on the window caught her attention.

"Raining again?" Buffy muttered. She didn't recall it raining as much as it had the past few days in Sunnydale; it certainly seemed to match her mood, though -- gloomy and gray. 'Spike's out in the cold rain alone again...'

She groaned and rolled over onto her other side. "He'll come to me... I just have to wait until he's ready," she tried to assure herself. Waiting really wasn't her strong suit, but she had made Spike wait... now it was her turn to find her inner Buddha and be patient.

Buffy started to drift off to sleep when she suddenly felt a tingle run down her spine. It was the kind of feeling she'd been hoping to get when she was in the Bronze looking for Spike. Could she be sensing that he was nearby?

Buffy jumped out of bed and went to the window. Condensation from the rain had fogged up the windowpane. She rubbed a clear circle in the glass with her hand and looked out at the tree she used to catch Spike under all the time.

Lightning flashed as she searched the area around the tree, hoping to see Spike. But there was no one there.

Buffy heaved a sigh, resting her forehead against the cool glass for a moment. "Guess it was just wishful thinking... dammit."

She got back into bed, holding onto Mr. Gordo and the hope that tomorrow would be a better day -- she'd get to talk to Spike. Buffy thought she'd have to fight the urge to punch him for making her a nervous wreck for an entire day. Nope, no punching or kicking (no matter how much she'd want to slap him by the time he finally came out of hiding). She would throw her arms around him and kiss him, and tell him that she loved him. They'll talk about what happened and why, Spike will understand about her fears and he will still love her.

Buffy dozed off, thinking positive thoughts.

Buffy felt someone kiss her shoulder. She gasped and turned her head to see Spike lying next to her in bed. He was under the covers with her and spooned against her back. He was shirtless, and bottomless too from what she could feel pressed against her butt.

Spike smiled at her as he continued pressing soft kisses to her shoulder.

"Spike... what are you doing?!" she whispered with wide eyes. Buffy was shocked to discover him in bed with her... but her body was already responding in a very positive way.

"What's it look like I'm doin'?" he asked with an amused smile, lifting his scarred brow. "Saw you lookin' adorable, all warm and cozy... snug as a bug, and couldn't resist climbing in with you."

"I-I couldn't find you, I looked everywhere... I thought you left me."

His fingertips stroked slowly up and down her arm, he kissed her cheek. "Shame on you, Buffy. You've gotta have faith. I'll always come back to you, pet. You should know by now, I can't stay away for long... I start havin' Buffy withdrawals. I love you... need you..." his voice became rough with passion, "...want you too bloody much to stay away."

"God, Spike... I want you too," Buffy breathed, turning over onto her back. She put her arms around his neck and kissed him desperately. "Is this... is this a dream?" she asked between kisses.

Yeah, Buffy realized, this was a dream. Spike wouldn't just sneak into her bedroom late at night, take off his clothes and get into bed with her -- especially not after how she'd freaked out when they'd gotten close to having sex last night. Buffy also knew she hadn't gone to bed nude, and yet she wasn't wearing a stitch of clothing at the moment.

Spike smirked and shrugged as he pulled the cover down to reveal Buffy's naked torso. "Dream or reality -- let's just go with it." He put his hand on her hip, skimming his fingertips up her body to surround a breast, then kneading it gently.

"I hope me realizing it's a dream doesn't make me wake up..." Buffy fretted. But a moment later she was swept up in another passionate kiss. This was a helluva lot better than her last Spike dream, she'd definitely go with this one. Her subconscious was finally giving her a break!

Buffy breathed in large gulps of air when Spike's mouth moved to her neck. He kissed and lightly sucked at the skin along her jugular vein.

"Do you trust me, pet?" Spike mumbled against her skin.

"Yes." Buffy moaned, running her hands over his back. She'd needed this so much -- feeling Spike on top of her, his smooth skin under her hands, his perfect, naked, muscular body pressed against hers, his scent surrounding her. "Trust you... love you."

Spike raised his head, looking at her with golden eyes. He touched his fangs with the tip of his tongue. "Still trust me?"

Buffy touched his cheek and gazed at his demonic visage. His amber eyes were kind of spooky and disconcerting at first glance, but Buffy could see Spike's love and passion for her shining in them. "Yes." She turned her head, exposing her neck to him. She had a feeling Spike would be able to bite her in this dream... but she trusted him not to do it. Hopefully, this dream version of Spike wouldn't turn on her like the last one had.

Spike dipped his head down, licking a long, slow line up the side of her neck. Buffy moaned and shivered, getting hotter and wetter by the second. There was a little fear, but that only made it more exciting. He gently took her earlobe between his sharp teeth and nibbled.

"I love you," Buffy whispered.

"Love you too, Slayer," he whispered back. Spike trailed his tongue back down her neck, continuing down to her breasts. After giving them a few licks and nibbles, his mouth moved down her stomach. "Need to taste you, Buffy," Spike murmured, then circled her belly button with his tongue.

Buffy parted her thighs, inviting him to move further south. Spike settled between her legs, placing kisses to her hipbones and massaging her thighs with his hands.

Buffy tapped on the top of his head. "Um, Spike?" She bit her lip nervously when he looked up at her. "I still trust you and everything, but... could you go back to your non-pointy teeth while you're down there? I don't want any unintentional piercings."

Spike laughed, morphing back to his human features. "Better?"

Buffy grinned and nodded. "Mmmhmm. As you were," she said, gently pushing his head back down.

"Ohh yes," Buffy moaned and wriggled at the first touch of his tongue on her slit. "Make love to me, Spike."

Spike growled lustily, taking her ass in his hands and driving his tongue into her channel.

Buffy gasped and arched her back. "Ohhh! Ohh good dream -- very good dream!" She continued to buck and moan wantonly as Spike fucked her with his long, nimble tongue. This was yet another wet dream where Spike went down on her... she mused that her subconscious must really want it. Her conscious mind wanted it too, of course, but it was the subconscious that kept reminding her about it.

"Ohh yes, Spike... Mmmmm, yes! Eat my --" Buffy turned her head to the side, her heavy-lidded eyes flying open when she saw someone standing next to the bed -- it was the Cheese Man. "Argh! You again! Get out of here!" Buffy yelled, swinging her right arm at the intruder. She wasn't able to hit him though, he was standing just out of reach.

Spike raised his head, looking confused. "What? You want me to leave?"

"No, him!" Buffy pointed to the mysterious Cheese Man while pulling the covers over her nakedness. "If you say something bizarre about cheese, I'm gonna --"

"The cheese stands alone," the man said enigmatically, shaking a slice of cheddar cheese at her.

Buffy woke up sweaty, alone, and very horny. She groaned. "That weird guy just had to show up and spoil a good dream..."