Dreams of Loneliness

by Mariah

Rating - Like the show.

Disclaimer - Nothing is mine (sorry, I'm just tired of repeating it every time). You know who it all belongs to...*sigh*

Spoilers - "The Harsh Light of Day" and "In The Dark" (a mention, not real spoilers), and season 3 of BtVS+"Becoming". Mostly just B/A generals.

Synopsis - This fic is mostly about how Buffy deals with Angel's loss, and having to raise Liam without his father. It takes off when Liam is six. Buffy is still alone, and still can't stop grieving. The only one that holds her strong seems to be her only real best friend (and if you read part 1 of the series, you know who that is), until a mistake is fixed, that changes her life forever...

AN - Spike is in no way romantically involved with Buffy. Just for the record, Spike is my most favorite character ever (after B/A, that is), and I don't want to ruin me loving him by making him involved with Buffy (I don't want Joss to do that either, but that's wishful thinking...as we all know...:().

AN2 - 'Hero' never was, which means Doyle isn't dead. Hell, in my fics Doyle's never dead, and I still hate those morons for killing him out of the show. Are they actually going to kill EVERYTHING that's good there? (first go B/A relationship, then goes Doyle, what goes now? Actually, on second thought, what's left there?)

AN3 - Willow isn't a lesbian, and there is no Dawn, and no Darla, and there is no End of Days, and no Joyce dying.

AN4 - The couples are: Cordy&Doyle, Xander&Anya, Joyce&Hank...................and the end I'm not telling:).

Part One

But the plans I make still have you in them
Cuz you come swimming into view
And I'm hanging on your words like I always used to do
The words they use so lightly
I only feel for you
I only know this cuz I carry you around
I'm in the background

- Third Eye Blind, "The Background"

"Liam!" Buffy shouted from the bottom of the stairs. "Get down here right now, or you're gonna be late for school!" She glanced one more time up to the second floor and seeing no movement whatsoever yelled again. "Liam, now means now!" she peeped at her watch. "If I don't see you here is five minutes, you'll be walking to school today!" With that she strode back into the kitchen.

She sat by the table and sipped at her coffee, while going through the newspaper. *Same old Sunnydale…* Buffy was often searching for articles of the 'Vampires killed my neighbor' kind, but was finding none. She didn't even know why she was looking for them to begin with, it probably just amused her to no extent to see how oblivious the people in Sunnydale were, or pretended to be…

"Morning, mom," Liam greeted her, while pacing casually into the kitchen.

She raised her eyes from the paper and surveyed his looks. Ever since he turned five, he stopped letting her dress him, and had been insisting on doing it by himself. Sometimes, he wasn't very good at it. But this morning Buffy approved his clothes. She smiled. "Morning, honey," she put down the paper and approached her son, kneeling before him. She put her both hands on his shoulders. "Ready for your first day in school?" she asked with a smile.

He nodded, but not too enthusiastically. Whenever it came to do with school, he was VERY MUCH like her when she was his age, and afterwards too…

It was Liam's first day in elementary. And the school he was going to was the rebuilt building of the old and very famous Sunnydale high.

She playfully touched the tip of his nose with her index finger and beamed. "You'll do fine. It's not as bad as it seems. Anyway, as long as you don't tell anyone you're my son, they'll love you," she chuckled, "I don't have a very flattering history in that school."

He giggled. "That's where you burnt down the gym, right?"

She laughed. "No, honey, that's where I blew up the entire school. But, now really. Don't worry, okay? You'll do great, and you'll meet tones of new friends in no time," she smiled, but suddenly, her smile died, and her eyes gazed at him a bit woefully. She sighed melancholically. Buffy sniffled, drowning in the tenderness of his dark eyes. She could feel the threat of tears again.

"Mom?" his voice was careful, soft.

She jerked her head slightly and blinked, like a person who's trying to shake off a reverie.

"You're having that look again."

Buffy strove to feign a grin. "What look?" she abstractly wiped her somewhat moist eyes.

He beheld her sensitively. "The look you have every time you look at me and see dad."

Buffy averted her eyes and swallowed. She let go of his shoulders and rose to her feet. "I'm sorry, honey," she whispered, while walking back to the table and picking up her car keys.

"Mom, I didn't mean to hurt you," he apologized gently.

She smiled. If he didn't know her better, her smile could pass for a genuine in his eyes, but he did. "You didn't hurt me," she said, "it's not your problem, it's mine. And you, and your grandma, and everyone else are absolutely right, just because I live in someone's shadow, it doesn't mean you have to do the same."

"I never said that," he tailed her, "just because I didn't know him, doesn't mean I don't miss him too," he pointed out obviously.

"I know," Buffy sighed, "I'm sorry. Let's just forget it ever happened, okay?" she beamed. "I don't wanna ruin your first day in school. Come on, let's go."

He sighed and grabbed his schoolbag, following Buffy out into the driveway.

As they reached the car, Buffy turned to him. "Liam, I'm not gonna be home for two or three days," she told him.

"Why?" he asked, while climbing into the vehicle and fastening his seatbelt.

Buffy got in too and started the engine. *It's good he knows everything about vampires,* she contemplated with somewhat relief, *I don't have to hide anything.* "Your uncle Doyle had another vision, and it seems like something serious, so I'll be staying in LA for a while."

He nodded in an adult understanding. "Be careful."

She grinned at him through the mirror. "I will be, honey. Don't worry."

He cast down his eyes. *That's probably what dad told you…* "Okay."

"Liam, your aunt Willow's gonna come and stay with you while I'm gone, alright?"

He smiled. He liked spending time with Willow. Liam inherited his father's curiosity and the thirst for knowledge, and Willow was always teaching him new magic. "Can uncle Xander come too? It's always funny when he comes."

Buffy giggled. *Don't I know that?* Although there were times even she couldn't understand her friend's overdeveloped sense of humor. "Of course, he can come, just promise me you'll call him only after you'll finish your homework, okay? Because with your uncle around, there's no chance you'd ever do them at all," she sent him a knowing look.

Liam grinned. "I promise. But can I ask him not to bring aunt Anya? They always come together, and she always tells her stories from the time she was a vengeance demon. It's just too weird sometimes. Even for our family."

She grinned, partly sympathizing with what he was talking about. Anya's stories were definitely a one-of-a-kind phenomenon. "Come on, Liam, don't be a baby, you know you love your aunt."

"It's the demon she was that I don't love," the boy winced, reminiscing of the story Anya told him only yesterday, "she's scary."

Buffy laughed. "Well, you're gonna have to talk to your uncle Xander about it, but I have a feeling you'll change your mind."

Liam shrugged. He knew his mother was right. He loved it when his aunt Anya visited. Her stories might have been scary sometimes, but he still liked hearing all of them.

"Oh, honey, before I forget, grandma called yesterday."

Liam groaned, too loud.

"Lose the attitude, Liam," his mother berated him, "she's your grandma."

"She hates me," he murmured under his breath.

Buffy caught that. "She doesn't hate you."

Liam met his mother's eyes in the mirror. "Yeah, she just hates dad. I heard her when she talked to you one time about why you never date. She said it's all dad's fault. She said he's ruining your life even in his death. AND I heard you cry for hours in your room afterwards. And when I walked in later to check on you, I found you sleeping curled on your bed, and cradling dad's picture."

Buffy sighed. Liam had always been too mature for his age. One of the reasons was more than likely that he didn't have a father, therefore needed to figure out many things by himself. She knew she could never completely replace his father, no matter how hard she tried. Sometimes, his maturity was good, but sometimes, it wasn't. It granted him the ability to understand things a six-year-old shouldn't know. Mostly, she hated the fact she could never answer him when he threw remarks like that one on her. There was just nothing to say. He was right, after all. "Anyway, she said grandpa needed to be out of town for the weekend, but if he doesn't, they want us to come for dinner. Think you can handle it?"

"Whatever." When Liam leaned back on the seat in frustration, and folded his arms on his chest, he reminded Buffy so much of herself. He didn't want to go for that dinner, but he knew it probably wouldn't take place anyway. His grandfather was always 'out of town'. He loved his grandpa Giles a lot more, even though he wasn't his real one, and was living in England. "Is Fish Boy's gonna be there too?"

Buffy's eyes widened. "Where did you hear that?" she asked with astonishment, suppressing an inside laughter.

"Heard what?" Liam queried innocently, although knowing exactly what his mom was referring to.

"Liam?" she demanded.

"Uncle Xander," he breathed out, "he DOES look like a fish, by the way...sometimes."

Buffy craved to let that snigger out, but controlled herself nonetheless. "I don't want to hear you calling Riley names, Liam."

"And why not? At least one of us should," he added the last phrase more silently.

"What was that supposed to mean?" There was no chance Buffy's ears would miss it though.

He sighed and rolled his eyes. "Nothing."

"What, Liam?"

"I'm just tired of him. He's a pain."

"I don't remember Riley ever hurting you, Liam."

"Oh, no, he doesn't," he mocked sarcastically, "he's ALWAYS wherever you are. ALWAYS. Does EVERYTHING to make you at least aware of his existence. He buys me all those stupid gifts that I throw away the next day, and pretends he cares about me, while all he wants is for you to like him! He acts like…he acts like…" his voice turned into a whisper, "he acts like he's my dad. I have a dad," he added, in an uncharacteristic little boy's voice.

Buffy swallowed. "Riley will not be there."

They didn't speak the rest of the way to school.

As Buffy opened the door into Angel Investigations, the sight that greeted her was the same one to greet her nearly every morning. Cordelia and Doyle, in the heat of their make-out session on Cordelia's desk.

The two broke apart the moment they heard Buffy come in, and straightened up.

"Hey, Buffy!" Cordelia greeted her, TOO cheerfully.

"Hey!" Doyle repeated the same mistake in his tone. "What's up?"

Buffy beamed. "Guys, for the thousand time, you DON'T have to do that. I'm a big girl. I can handle seeing you kissing, you know. I'm not gonna go all hysterical. In some point, you're gonna have to stop hiding your feelings every time I'm around. You gotta stop protecting me from whatever it is you're trying to protect me from."

Cordelia swallowed and looked down with slight discomfort. "That's not it, Buffy. It's not that we think you can't handle it. It's more like…well…we just don't wanna hurt you."

Buffy smiled sorrowfully. "Angel wouldn't want that, guys. You'll honor his memory best, by going on with your lives and making the best of it. He wouldn't want you to stop living because of his death."

"That's what you do," Cordelia mumbled.

Buffy's sharp hearing perceived that small comment, however. She shook her head. "He'd want you to be happy, he'd never want his death to destroy the lives of his friends," she took a deep breath. "My case is different. He WAS my life," she closed the office's door behind her.

"She's killing herself," Cordelia commented softly, painfully.

"No, Delia, she isn't," Doyle put one arm around his girlfriend's shoulders. "Her love for him is too strong, in an undying kinda way. THAT'S what killing her."

Cordelia inclined her head on his shoulder and he stroked her hair. They were standing in complete silence for several moments, and then she drew back. "I should go," she muttered, "I gotta turn over my last update about the case."

Doyle put a solacing hand on her arm. "Not now, princess. Leave her alone for a spell," he gesticulated towards the office. "She's probably talking to him again. You know how she gets now and then. Most of the time, she doesn't show it, but neither one of us is hurting like her. Put yourself in her place and picture how it is. I doubt you'd be able to stand it for a moment, while she must live her whole life with it. Just give her a few minutes, okay?"

Cordelia nodded. "Okay. I'm...I'm gonna fix some coffee, you...you want?"

"Sure," he smiled, "I'll give you a hand."

Buffy was sitting in the large leather chair in her office, her legs cradled to her chest, and her eyes staring far away into nowhere in particular. She leaned aside, and retrieved a framed picture from her desk, inclining it on her knees, and mildly tracing her fingers over his gentle smiling features.

"Hey," she whispered to him softly. Her voice caressing, but broken, with already almost dry tears. She giggled bitterly. "Things are kinda crazy around here, you know. With Cord and Doyle, I mean. It's like, they're doing their best not to get all couply around me, cuz they think it's hurting me, and they're becoming more and more ridiculous with time." She groaned, "it's not that it's hurting me to see them like that. I know they love each other, that's why they should use every moment they have together. I should know. You never know how quick it can all be over," she caressed his cheek with her fingertip. "They should savor it, but they don't seem to get it, and I…I can't understand how, or…or why. You know, I know that's stupid, but sometimes they hurt me more, when they're trying not to hurt me. I guess, I'm making no sense. Sometimes, their behavior is actually funny. Well, kinda. And sometimes…I don't know. Maybe, they know more about me than I know about myself. Or maybe, I'm just trying to remain undiscerning to that part in me that's being torn into pieces every time I see a happy couple," a tear trickled down her cheek, as she continued stroking his face. She took a deep breath and smiled. "Liam is starting school today. He's so big now," she sniffled, "I'm so proud of him, Angel," her voice turned into sobs, "he's such a great boy. He's so mature, and…and he's so smart, and so handsome…when I look into his eyes, into your beautiful eyes, I feel like I look at you," she cried. "It's like I have a miniature you in my life, and sometimes…sometimes, it makes the pain less," she put the picture aside, and brought her hands to cover her face, as the fall of tears only became stronger.

After a couple of minutes, she looked up again, and put the photograph back on her knees, her tearful eyes gazing at his handsome face. "He's such a joy to me," she continued, still crying, "he's the light of my life. He's you…the only 'you' that I have to comfort myself with every time I feel like dying. You would have been so proud of him, Angel. You would have loved him so much…" her sobs increased, and she lowered her head and slowly reposed it on the photograph, encircling her knees with her arms. "I miss you, my love," she murmured, as she cried on and on.

Outside the office, Cordelia turned her eyes from the crying Slayer, and buried her own tears in Doyle's arms.

Part Two

After something that seemed like an eternity, Doyle finally picked up the phone.

"Hello?" he greeted indifferently, but then his tone changed. "Hey, little man, what's up?" he asked with a smile. "Yep, everything's fine... Aha... Big bad demon... Nope, this morning actually, hey, how's school?... Well, don't worry, it happened to me too. Oh, by the way, don't tell them who your mom is," He chuckled. "Oh, she already warned you about that? Oh, great... Yep... No, no, she's okay... Yeah, she'll be home tomorrow... In one piece, kid, I promised I'd look after her, didn't I? Okay, I pretend I didn't hear that," he grinned, "but just for the record, I left my bottle at home for that one... Yes, I DO leave it there occasionally... Well, I don't care if you believe me or not, kid... Ha, ha, very funny. You know, sometimes I wonder which one of your folks did you get your sense of humor from... Right. I told you, she'd be home tomorrow... Yeah, she's fine... Really, really fine... Oh, but you know, you might not recognize her once she comes, cuz several parts of her body are still blue hued..."

"Give me my son, Doyle," Buffy snatched the phone from him with a giggle.

Doyle leaned back against Cordelia's desk, and folded his arms on his chest, beholding the Slayer, with an amused grin on his face. He motioned towards his temple, to indicate Buffy where to put the ice bag in her hand to assuage the welt, chuckling to himself.

Buffy stuck her tongue out at him, but moved the ice to that spot. She rolled her eyes, smiling, and turned her attention to Liam. "Hey, honey, how are you?... No, I'm okay... I'm really okay... No, Doyle didn't lie... Yeah, I'll be home tomorrow... Yeah, we STILL have a dinner at grandpa and grandma's... Well, sorry you don't want to, but you're still gonna have to be there... Okay, fine, so, how was school?" Suddenly, her eyes widened, half stunned, half amused. "Oh, God, Liam, already?... Liam, come on, I thought you knew better than that, you've just started school..."

Doyle giggled and Buffy kicked him in the shin, shooting him a warning look. "No, don't you even think of giving me the 'he started it first' speech, it doesn't work with me, buddy, DON'T even think about that," she took a deep breath, "Liam, for starters, how many times have I explained to you, that YOU are different. You can never just FORGET who your parents are... No, Liam, it doesn't work that way... No, I DON'T beat up people for fun..."

Doyle sniggered and Buffy kicked him again. "Liam, I fight demons. DEMONS, NOT people, is that clear?... No, your father WASN'T beating up anyone... Because I just know," she took another deep breath. "You know what, Liam? I really thought all the talks we had, when I explained to you everything about your strength, had contributed something, I guess I was wrong... No, Liam, I WAS wrong, because apparently you weren't listening to a word I was saying. You can't start fighting with other kids, Liam... No, you can't... Yes, even if they're starting it first... Ignore them... Why? Well, for starters, because you're much stronger than their fathers and big brothers... No, Liam, I think it IS a reason... Okay, we'll talk about it at home... No, we WILL talk about it... Because I said so, maybe then you'll finally understand. Alright, what else?... They did what?! Oh, God," she rolled her eyes in frustration, groaning.

"What?" Doyle mouthed.

"Riley paid us another visit while I was gone, and he and Xander started fighting," she whispered.

Doyle giggled. "Oh, boy."

Buffy chuckled, turning back to the receiver in her hand. "What... He did WHAT?! God, can't I leave the house for a MINUTE without something like this happening?"

"What?" Doyle mouthed again.

"Xander broke his nose."

Doyle strove to suppress a giggle.

"No, you CAN'T kick Riley's ass... Wait, where did you hear that phrase?... Give him to me... Liam, I said, NOW... Don't worry, I CAN'T kill your uncle before I get home," she groaned angrily. "What the Hell do you think you're doing?... So, he might have deserved it, like I care... So, what if he's a..." she chuckled, "Xander, THAT'S IT. That was the last warning. The two of you obviousely haven't grown up yet. Next time you wanna deal with Riley, you take it outside. If I ever hear about you pounding on him IN MY HOUSE, and in front of MY son... Yes, he might be a jerk and I'm sure he shares the same opinion about you, but Liam doesn't have to witness you two settling it... MY GOD, are you sure you're twenty-six, and not SIX?! Xander, which one of you is the child?... Sure, it's not YOUR six-year-old son who asks you if he can go and KICK RILEY'S ASS! What are you teaching him, Xander?" She rolled her eyes. "So, what if I'm the Slayer?! So, that means he can walk around beating up people?... No, don't even try to defend yourself... Xander, you're a grown up man, for God's sake, I'm expecting more from you," her voice softened suddenly. "Look, all I ask from you is please don't forget you're the only father figure in his life. Act like one. I'll see you all tomorrow." She hanged up.

Buffy tiredly placed the received in its cradle. She tossed the almost liquefied ice bag to the floor in frustration, perched down into Cordelia's chair and closed her eyes, tilting her head backwards. "I wish Angel were here," she murmured.

Doyle gazed at her with understanding in his eyes. *Me too, princess. Me too.*

After a few moments, Cordelia's cheerful voice plunged the silence. "Hey, everybody!" she entered the room. "Look who I found on my way over!"

Buffy opened her eyes and beheld the person who came in with Cordelia, with utter astonishment. Then, she leaped from the chair and launched herself into his welcoming arms. "Spike!" she shrieked happily, and wrapped her arms around his neck, as he swung her in the air.

"Happy to see you too, beautiful," he beamed, and put her back on the ground, "how's life?"

Buffy quickly ignored that question, and pulled Spike to sit with her on the couch. After they sat down, she spoke. "Where have you been?" she inquired enthusiastically. "You left like... four years ago, what have you been doing all that time?" Her expression shifted from happy, to hopeful. "You're not leaving again, are you?" she asked in a small voice.

"Nah!" Spike waved his hand. "I'm back for good for my favorite Slayer, her poof, and my little brother. I've had my share of hanging for this lifetime and the next..." his voice died due to Buffy's mien. "He he hasn't come back," Spike read it on her face. *Please, make me wrong,* a little voice in him prayed. Spike loved Angel, in the same way you love a friend. He would never admit it to anyone, especially not to Angel, but he respected him, more than he did anyone else. Angel made Spike who he was, and that indication wasn't to the vampire that he was. Spike would never deny it. He used to tease Angel once for having a soul, and for acting like human, but deep inside, he had had the utmost appreciation for the ensouled vampire. And after Spike had finally come to peace with the irremovable chip in his head, he became closer and closer to his human side, no longer repressing the true feelings he might be having towards one. The 'humans' he once thought as shallow, became his closest friends, and especially his little Slayer. And Angel...so many things he'd never get to tell him...

Buffy looked away, tears welling up in her eyes. "I was there, Spike. He's dead."

He didn't believe her. *No, not him. Not our Angel,* he couldn't believe her. Spike rose from the sofa, and started pacing the room. "No...no, he can't be dead," he muttered, "stupid, you stupid worthless human...why did he have to go and fight that thing?!" He yelled out the last part, more to release his own anger, than to be mad at someone specific. Then his gaze met Buffy's. Spike could clearly see her broken heart and vacuous soul through her teary eyes. He had never felt for a being, like he felt for this little woman. For the first time in almost two centuries, he felt like crying too.

Buffy stood up and put a gentle hand on his arm. "Let's take a walk, okay?" she suggested.

Spike nodded, and they left.

"So. I always thought there was only one Gem of Amara," she remarked, while they were strolling through the park, hand in hand.

"I thought so too, but then I found this one," he showed her the ring again.

Buffy smiled. "You deserve it. I know I would have never said this before, but you deserve it," she gestured towards the sky, and the shining sun above them, "all of it. I'm happy for you."

Spike smiled, and released her hand, to encircle his arm around her shoulders.

"Why did you leave, anyway? I missed you, you know. I wasn't even thinking you were ever coming back," she leaned into his embrace.

He shrugged. "I don't really know. I guess, I needed to clear my head or something. You know, to be alone for a while. I missed you too, and Liam, and..." he quieted.

Buffy understood. "I know how you feel."

Spike kissed the top of her head. "I know you do, pet."

"Well," Buffy put a new smile on her face, "where are you staying?"

"I don't know. I don't really have a place. Why, is that an invitation I hear?" he grinned.

"You bet, it is!" she hit his chest playfully. "You're our family, so you're staying with us. End of story," she beamed.

"Well, in that case, I can't refuse. When are we heading home, then?"

"Umm...I guess, tomorrow morning, if that's okay. I'm kinda tired to leave today," Buffy gestured to the deep cut on her temple.

Spike somehow hadn't noticed it before. He touched it gently with his fingers. "Hey, who dared to touch my favorite Slayer?" he asked. "Tell me, and I'm gonna rip them apart," his tone was only half serious.

Buffy laughed. "I'm your only Slayer, and you can't rip them apart, Spike, I killed them."

"Oh!" he reinstated his arm around her shoulders and they continued walking. "Well, then I'm very proud of you," he smiled contently.

"Thank you," she kissed his cheek. "Anyhow, so I'm kinda beat after the fight. I think I'll be sleeping for the rest of the day, and the night."

"Okay. Hey, can I take over the couch?"

She beamed. "You're very welcome."

Abruptly, they stopped their pace. Spike's gaze wandered after Buffy's to the large tree to their left. "What is it, pet?" he asked.

Buffy didn't hear him. She just stared at the tree.

Spike tried to locate the exact spot she was looking at. After a moment, he did. He pulled her closer to his side, as a single tear languidly made its way down her cheek.

// "What are you doing?" Buffy crept up to him from behind and wrapped her arms around his neck, stretching her head over his shoulder to see what he was so preoccupied with.

"Don't do that," Angel replied, still focused on his work. "If you make me move, I'll ruin it."

She wasn't even thinking about getting off his back, and reclined her chin on his shoulder, nipping at his earlobe. "You know, etching on trees is wrong," she whispered charmingly.

He smiled. "If you keep doing that, I won't be able to concentrate, and I might accidentally write someone else's name."

"And we wouldn't want that to happen, would we?" she mumbled, while kissing his neck.

Angel sighed, but maintained his beam. "Get off," he requested lightheartedly.

"Don't wanna," she moaned, still kissing his neck, "make me."

Angel turned his face to her, and she smiled sweetly. He pressed a heavenly kiss to her lips and gently shoved her off him.

"You're mean," Buffy muttered, lying back on the grass.

Angel only smiled at her, and went back to work. "You know what they say about trees?" he queried, while gingerly carving in the stem.

Buffy turned on her side and faced him, propping her head up on her elbow. "What?"

"They say, trees live longer than any person. They can live for thousands of years. Millions of things can change, millions of people can die, and the tree will still be here, still standing."

Buffy listened carefully, and smiled. She loved it when he spoke in his centuries-old sagacity.

"That's why...what I do now, will last too," he went on, "long after we'll die, it will still be here, and our grandchildren, and their children, and their grandchildren, and many many others, will come here, and see how much I love you." He put down his pocketknife, and beheld his creation. "What do you think?" he asked her, with a loving smile twinkling in his dark eyes.

Buffy beamed, and moved closer to him, as he wrapped his arms tightly around her. She reached her hand and touched the engraving. "I love you," she whispered, and angled up her head to meet his lips in a sweet kiss. "I think it's beautiful."

Angel smiled, and fully turned her to him, as they both fell to the ground, tightly embracing one another, and engaged in a fervent kiss. //

Buffy kneeled down on the grass, and mildly traced her fingers over the heart-shaped carving, with the inscription 'In love forever, Buffy&Angel', lingering on his name. "It's still here, Angel," she whispered through the tears, "just like you said. Long after you're gone."

Spike put a comforting hand on her shoulder, and she turned to him, her eyes tearful and lost.

"Why?" she asked him in a small voice. "Why?"

Spike held her as she cried silently. What could he tell her, when he didn't know the answer for that himself? He could just listen to her heart breaking. Again.

Part Three

Buffy climbed into the bed and just sat there, leaning her back on the pillows. She folded her knees and encircled her arms around them, waiting to hear the door closing after Cordelia and Doyle as they were leaving the office upstairs. Her eyes stared aimlessly at some spot on the wall of the dusky and windowless underground room, as her hand customarily reached for a picture that was standing on the nightstand. Buffy brought it to her face and placed a tender kiss on his smiling lips. She put the photograph face up on her knees and folded her arms on it, resting her chin on them. Her eyes remained dry, longingly staring into space.

Sorry I never told you
All I wanted to say
And now it's too late to hold you
Cuz you've flown away
So far away

"I miss you," she whispered after a long moment of silence, "I miss you so much, and it gets harder every day, every hour, every minute…every second I'm without you. There are so many things I didn't tell you, Angel. So much I didn't give you, and God knows I should have. I should have, because you deserved it all and even more. But how could I know, Angel?" she felt her tears rising in her throat. "How could I ever know…that just the second all of my dreams would come true, they would be shattered? How could I know that this happiness wasn't to last? How could I know that the next time I wake up, you wouldn't be there? How could I ever know, Angel?"

Buffy sighed and wiped her moist eyes. "Sometimes, I feel that…that I never told you 'I love you' enough, that I should have told you more. Or sometimes it's even worse, sometimes, I feel like I did tell you, but I didn't really mean it. That telling you 'I love you' was such a pattern for me, just like telling you 'good night', or 'good morning'. I should have never taken for granted what we had, but in a way, I feel as if I did, and it was the most horrible mistake I've ever made. I know what you're probably gonna say. That I shouldn't blame myself, that I'm wrong… You're not saying much lately, my love. Before, when I used to talk to you, I felt you always listened, that you always understood. I felt your presence, and it comforted me to no end. Just the feeling that you were there, and that you were near, even if in a way you weren't. But now…now, I don't feel your presence anymore sometimes, and it scares me, Angel. It scares me so much, because it means you're fading away. And I can't let that happen, Angel, I can't let you go." The tears were running down her cheeks, and Buffy didn't even bother to brush them away or to obstruct them. She let them fall freely on the glazed surface of the photograph.

"Does it make sense to you, Angel? Does it make any sense at all that I can't let go of a person who died six years ago? That I still love you so much and that instead of dying out, the pain only grows? It does, Angel. It only grows. Every morning I wake up, and every night I fall asleep, I see just how much it has grown. And it hurts, Angel. It hurts every time," Buffy took a deep breath, and swallowed more tears.

"I've lost people before, Angel. I've seen deaths. I've seen many deaths in my twenty-six years, even too many some might say. I've seen people die…I have killed some myself. Well, they weren't really people, but even taking a demon's life begins to feel weird as well. Everything feels weird…different. Everything has changed, Angel, everything has changed since you died. Or maybe it hasn't, maybe the world has actually stayed the same. Maybe the only thing that has changed…is me. Grief does horrible things to a person's soul, most of them I still haven't found out, and I afraid to. Some I already know, and some I'm learning right now. At the beginning, right after…right after it's been several months, and you still hadn't come back, I had to start coming to terms with that you were dead. I felt almost like I felt right after I killed you. Actually…no, sometimes it felt worse. I simply wanted to die. I didn't want to live…in a world without you. I wanted so badly to reunite with you, that I would have done anything needed to be done. If death were what was needed…I would be ready and welcoming it. Sometimes, it even came to a point when I would sit during the day, and plan how I would kill myself tomorrow. And I hated myself for it, because in the same time, I knew just how selfish it was. I wanted to stop my pain, Angel. I wanted to be with you again, and I would do anything. All I wanted was to stop my pain."

Never had I imagined
Living without your smile
Feeling and knowing you hear me
It keeps me alive

Buffy buried her face in her hands, crying. "And then I knew I had to stop," she spoke again, looking up, "for Liam's sake, I had to. He couldn't have a father. Never. And I hated myself for this too, because I knew I could never marry. All I could do was to give him at least a mother. A mother who would be there for him, and not one who's so wrapped up in her grief. He was just a baby. He didn't need to understand this. I couldn't let him know. I tried to keep him innocent, Angel. For as long as I could, I tried to shelter him from all the bad things in the world. I didn't want to tell him until I had to. I told him about you, Angel. He knows who you are…what you were…who I am, but he knows only facts. I could never talk to him about you, and I'm so so sorry. I'm sorry because it's my duty as a mother, and because I want him so much to know. I want him to know everything. I want him so much to know what an incredible and rare person his father was. I'm so sorry he'll never get to meet you, and you to meet him. It isn't fair, Angel. You're his father, he's your son…and you haven't even once seen each other. You could have been such a wonderful father, my love. You would have been perfect. You would have loved him so much, I know it, and he already loves you. He's so much like you, Angel. You would have had so much in common. He's so smart, and so intelligent, and understanding. He's a little you. He wants to know everything, and learn whatever new thing he can. He knows so much already. He took it all from you, Angel. All his curiosity, all his thirst for knowledge. You know me, I've never been a book worm. He likes reading," she sniffled, "you could have read to him…sometimes…" she blubbered.

And I know you're shining down on me from Heaven
Like so many friends we've lost along the way
And I know eventually we'll be together
One sweet day

"I can't talk to him about you, Angel. I try to, I swear I try, but I just can't. Every time, I start crying. Every time I remember something from our past, I cry. I tried to control it, it doesn't work. But at least, when I talk to you like that, I cry alone, and no one can see me. I don't ever want to let him see me cry. He doesn't need this extra pain. But sometimes…I just can't contain myself. Even when I only look at him, I see you. He has your soft chocolate eyes, your gentle bright smile, every time I see them, my heart skips a beat, and I can't help it," she groaned. At least the tears seemed to have stopped. It felt easier.

"I should have gotten over it by now, I know that. I should stop it, and get my life back on track, but I wish it were that easy. It's been six years. A forever without you. I know you will never come back, I know it wasn't meant to be. I'm not stupid and I'm not crazy, even though sometimes I wish I were both, because this way I'm sure it would have been so simple. I wish you were here. I wish you wrapped your arms around me, and I wish you held me, as tight as you used to. I wish you whispered a soft 'I love you' in my ear, and I wish that your photograph wasn't the only way to see your face. I wish I could kiss you again, at least once, because it seems to me like the memory of your lips on mine is slowly fading. I don't know what I'll do if I lose my grip on it completely."

Darling, I never showed you
Assumed you'd always be there
I took your presence for granted
But I always cared
And I miss the love we shared

"You remember how we liked to stroll on the beach whenever I came to LA to visit you? I go there sometimes by myself. I like just sitting there on one of the huge boulders, and let the surfs lap at my feet, like we used to do, together. I can sit there for hours, and just gaze at the ocean. It's so serene there, and so beautiful. I look at the combers, and sometimes I feel if I jump in, they'll carry me to you. But I know I'll never do that, so I just keep sitting there. Do you know how ravishing the sunset is there? And the sunrise?" She chuckled, and smiled down at the picture on her knees. "You probably do. When I see all those colors, of pink, tawny, crimson…all those numerous tints, I imagine sometimes I take a glimpse on Heaven, and that I see you. I know you're in Heaven, my love. You are the most beautiful angel there. You deserve Heaven. Heaven is the place for heroes. I hope you're happy, my love. I hope you're smiling down on me, and on Liam, and that you like what you see, that you like your family…that you love us, because we love you. We love you so much…"

And I know you're shining down on me from Heaven
Like so many friends we've lost along the way
And I know eventually we'll be together
One sweet day

She burst into tears again, kissing the picture with trembling lips, as her bitter tears continued dripping on it. "I sometimes make up I can see your smile when I look at the sun, but I know I'm fooling myself, because it's never as bright. I miss your smile, Angel. I miss your smile so much. I miss your embrace, and your kiss, and your voice, and the way you could hold me and never let me go, the way you could promise and keep…the way you always knew the right thing to say," Buffy lay down on the bed, wailing, and embraced the picture to her heart as tight as she could. And her tears proceeded to fall… She sniffled, and pulled the comforter over her shaky shoulders. "I'm going home tomorrow. Spike is coming with me, and it's good, because I need him. I need him to hold me strong, because I can't do it by myself. I will never stop talking to you, and telling you everything, don't worry. You will always be a part of our lives, Angel. I hope what I said tonight didn't hurt you, but I really do feel you're not listening anymore. Not as you used to, at least. Good night, my love." Buffy kissed the picture again and put it back on the nightstand, facing her. "I hope you'll visit me in my dreams," she whispered, before falling asleep.

Although the sun will never shine the same
I'll always look to a brighter day
Lord I know when I lay me down to sleep
You will always listen as I pray
And I know you're shining down on me from Heaven
Like so many friends we've lost along the way
And I know eventually we'll be together
One sweet day

Part Four

Unaware but underlined I figured out the story
No, no, it wasn't good
But in the corner of my mind I celebrated glory That that was not to be
In the twist of separation You excel at being free
Can't you find a little room inside for me?

- Take That, "Back for Good"

Buffy opened the door into the house and walked in, followed by Spike, who closed it behind him. She hanged her jacket, and proceeded inside, waving for Spike to come too.

The blond vampire gazed around in search for someone, as he walked after her.

"Where's the kid?" he finally asked.

Buffy checked her watch. "He should be back from school any minute now," she replied, leading him to the second floor.

"He goes to school?" he inquired with amazement.

Buffy smiled proudly. "He started this week."

"I see I missed a lot," Spike observed, with slight disappointment.

She beamed. "You'll catch up."

Buffy opened the door to one of the bedrooms and they walked in. "Make yourself comfortable," she told Spike, gesticulating towards one of the two beds, "that's gonna be yours. I'll talk to Liam later today, and he'll make you some room in the closet."

"Hey, no need," Spike protested, "the couch will do, pet. I don't wanna take the kid's room."

Buffy smiled and reposed a reassuring hand on his arm. "Spike, you don't wanna sleep on the couch, believe me. And besides, he'll be thrilled to have you in his room. Anyway, just wait for the weekend and then, if you want to, I can give you the guest room. The thing is that it needs lots of cleaning and all, cuz we normally never get to use it, so in the meantime, just stay in Liam's room."

He gazed at her skeptically. "You sure he wouldn't mind?"

She nodded. "He's been missing you like crazy. He was always asking when you're coming back. It'll be a dream came true for him," she contemplated over something for a moment, "umm…unless, you might want privacy, cuz then it's your choice…"

Spike smiled. "No, I'm out of the market, love. Wanna be alone for a while. And anyway, even so, I'm not gonna bring them here," he assured.

"Okay, then. I'll leave you to settle, and meanwhile go and fix something for dinner. Umm…Spike, by the way, speaking of dinner. Do you have blood with you? Cuz I really got none in the house. It's not like I knew you were coming or something."

"Got it covered," he motioned towards his bag, "anyhow, I'm open to human food too, you know. I had lots of time to adjust."

Buffy grinned. "So, I take it you'll be joining us for dinner?"

"I will be. What're we having?" he asked curiously.

"Umm…I'll check and let you know, okay?" She started leaving through the door. "If you need anything, I'm in the kitchen."

On her way into the kitchen, Buffy heard the doorbell.

She had to put all of her efforts not to burst into hysterical laughter at the sight of Riley's broken nose.

"Hey, Riley," she greeted him, "what are you doing here?"

Riley only leaned forward, and caught her by surprise when he placed a kiss on her cheek.

Before she could say anything, Buffy saw Liam pushing his way through Riley into the house. For some reason, he was hugging his schoolbag to his chest.

"I decided to give him a ride from school," Riley explained, his mien giving the impression he counted on receiving some kind of a special award just for that.

Liam made his way further into the living room, angrily mocking Riley's reply to himself. After leaving his bag in there, he came back to the hallway to hug his mother.

Buffy returned him a strong hug and kissed his cheek. "I missed you, sweetie," she whispered.

"I missed you too, mom. I hate it when you have to go and fight all those monsters, because then I always worry about you," he said sincerely. "Are you okay?"

She nodded and smiled. "Very. And I brought you a surprise too."

His face lit. "What?"

"Hey, sport," Liam turned to the sound of a familiar British voice coming from the stairs. "Who's your favorite big brother in the world?"

Liam sprung into Spike's arms, and the vampire lifted him up.

"Missed me, ha?" he asked the boy. "I see you're all grown up now," he propped up his chin.

Liam nodded and smiled. "You're not leaving again, are you?"

Spike shook his head. "No. Don't worry."

"What the Hell are you doing here?" Riley glared at him.

"Shut up," Liam replied.

"Liam!" Buffy stared at him with disbelief, inwardly noting to herself to have a VERY long and serious talk to Xander the sooner the better.

The boy turned away from her to Riley. "He's my brother, and he's staying with us," he stated.

"He's a hostile! A vampire!" Riley's eyes turned to Buffy for support. Even though he hadn't been a part of the Initiative in years, he still couldn't stand vampires, and certainly the mere idea of seeing them equals to himself sickened him. "I thought you've grown out of that crap! That you were through with it years ago! How could you have invited this thing into your house?!"

"This THING is my family," she said simply, "unlike some people, he's always wanted and welcomed here."

Riley didn't catch the not so subtle implication, or chose to ignore it. "You can't possibly let him near the boy!"

Buffy sighed. She had given up a long time ago trying to turn Riley into a person. It was like talking to a wall. *Only you get more from a wall,* she remembered Angel's words about Faith from long ago. Oh, how they fitted Riley... She had come seeing Spike as a part of her family, especially after the two years following her son's birth, and Liam had grown seeing him as a big brother, and she wasn't going to allow her lover-wannabe to trash him in HER house. "He's his brother, whether you like it or not, and you bet I'm gonna let him near Liam. If you got issues, you'll deal with them alone, OUTSIDE this house, understood? Because I won't tolerate any name callings such as those towards ANYONE in my family."

Spike peered at him triumphantly.

"Mom, can Spike stay in my room?" Liam requested, still sitting in Spike's arms. "Please?"

Buffy smiled. "He is staying in your room, honey. But I don't wanna see you awake in the middle of the night." That comment was more for Spike than for Liam.

"We'll behave, ma'am," the vampire promised.

"I can't believe you're doing this," Riley voiced.

"Well, tough. Don't you have to go home Riley?" she asked him. "Thank you for picking Liam up from school, but we're about to have dinner in three hours or so, and I'm sure Spike is tired and wants to rest." *Okay, it's lame, but what the heck.*

Riley grinned, still not seeing what was so obvious behind her words. "I thought I'd stay for dinner. If that's okay."

*Great, now he's inviting HIMSELF for dinner.* "Sure," she replied nonchalantly, "suit yourself."

Spike and Liam both rolled their eyes in blunt exasperation, and without any further words, Spike carried Liam upstairs.

"I'm going to the kitchen, you can go watch TV or something," Buffy told Riley. When he opened his mouth to say something she rose her hand in protest. "No, I DON'T need your help in the kitchen."

But when she left to cook the dinner, Riley still followed her. She groaned. The entire situation became more and more childish over the years. They had been playing a sick game for about seven years now, in which Riley would be the one to offer Buffy everything a man ever could offer a woman, and Buffy would turn him down steadfastly. Under different circumstances, she would have said yes ages ago...but these circumstances weren't normal, and Riley refused to understand, hence wouldn't take no for an answer, and the game would go on.

He watched them. He was standing too far to hear them, but he could watch. He watched as she and Spike arrived home, watched as Riley pulled his car in the driveway, as he and his son came out of it and entered the house, where Buffy and Spike welcomed them. He saw the way Riley kissed her, and how the child ran happily to the vampire, and how the vampire lovingly hoisted him in his arms. The way Buffy smiled at the sight of the two of them, that same genuine and bright smile he loved so much. Then, he saw how Spike and Liam went to his bedroom upstairs, and Buffy and Riley went to the kitchen to fix dinner. *A family. Just what she deserves. A family of her own. A husband she loves, and a father for Liam. Just like they deserve. And even Spike,* he chuckled sadly, ironically, *even Spike is a part of it.* And all he could do was stand outside, and watch…

Hours had passed, and they all were assembled around the table, eating their dinner.

Riley raised his head from his plate, and examined Buffy's amused look. "What is it?"

She beamed at him. "Okay, before I say it, I know you're gonna hate me forever after this, but," she finally released her laughter, "it's just TOO funny. You and Xaner...I mean, God, and to think you two were supposed to grow out of it, by now" she giggled.

Liam was soon to join her, but stopped receiving a look from his mother.

"You and I are still gonna have that talk, buddy," she reminded him.

"Very funny," Riley muttered, returning to his food.

Buffy touched his arm. "Riley, I'm sorry," but her giggle betrayed her apologies.

He just smirked.

"Mom, I brought something for you," Liam informed her.

"What, honey?" she inquired curiously.

Liam stood up and left the table. He returned after a minute, with his schoolbag held mindfully in his arms.

Buffy peered at him carefully. "What do you have there?"

Liam approached her and opened the bag, taking out a small white puppy with a red ribbon around his neck, and cradling it in his arms.

Buffy halted her breath, and her eyes widened to its sight. She wasn't able to speak for a moment, while everyone around the table stared at her with concern. Buffy felt the tears running down her cheeks again, and quickly brushed them away. "Where," she swallowed, "honey, where…where did you get it? Who gave it to you?"

He smiled. "Dad gave him to me," he was so sure of himself, that Buffy's heart skipped a beat.

She placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, trying her best not to touch the dog. "Honey…your dad…Liam, your father couldn't have given him to you," she closed her eyes against more tears, "Liam, you know your father is dead," she said softly.

"But he did give him to me. I know how he looks, mom, it was dad. He told me to give him to you. When I asked him what his name was…" he gazed down at the puppy, "he said you'd know how to name him."

Buffy felt like a huge lump had materialized in her throat, and she couldn't breathe. "When?"

"Today, after school."

She shook her head dismissingly. "Honey, it's not possible. You know it just as I do, your father is dead," she was crying now. Riley put a hand on her shoulder, and she was too confused to shake it off of her this time.

"But…but I know it was dad," Liam tried to protest desperately, hugging the tiny dog to his chest, "I could feel it."

Buffy shook her head. "No…" But her tears choked her and she couldn't continue the sentence.

Riley gazed at the puppy. "Liam, throw that dog out. You see it's upsetting your mother," he ordered in an imperious voice.

"You won't tell me what to do!" Liam objected. He was almost crying too now.

"Liam, please. I can't…just listen to Riley this time. Take him outside for the night. Tomorrow, we'll go back to where you found him, and leave him there," Buffy requested, "please."

"No, I can't," he refused, "mom, dad gave him to me, it was dad, I can't…please, don't make me. He said…he said you wanted him. He said you knew how to name him."

Buffy turned away. She couldn't look at him. "Liam please, take him away," she sobbed, "if you want a dog so much, I will buy you a dog, I promise. Just not this one...please, Liam."

"Do what your mother says, Liam," Riley said again in an authoritative tone.

"You're not my dad!" Liam yelled at him, hugging the puppy closer to his chest.

"Honey, please," Buffy pleaded.

Liam looked down. "I'm sorry," he whispered to the dog, and walked away, rubbing his face against the white fur.

A second later, they heard the door being opened and then closed, leaving a scratching and yowling puppy outside. Liam ran up to his room, and Spike followed him.

"Go home, Riley," Buffy said, as she stood up, "now."

She went up to her room, and Riley obediently went home.

He was watching, still watching, only now there were tears in his eyes. He cried, as his last hopes were cruelly shattered before him. He saw how they started eating, and how Buffy started laughing, so happily and freely, probably about something that Riley had said. There was happiness in her eyes, that once used to be there when she looked at HIM, but no more. Now, she looked at Riley. Their perfect family. They didn't need him interfering in their lives. He had missed his chance. It wasn't his fault, but he had missed it, and now, the two people he loved more than life, were lost on him forever. They had another man sitting in a chair that was supposed to be his by the table. Another father, another husband. They didn't need him. They didn't WANT him. He had that confirmed by how Buffy started crying at the sight of the puppy. *You moron! Why did you have to remind her?! Why did you have to hurt her like that?! She was happy!* No, there was no point. He should just go away. Go, and leave them alone. Go, and never come back. She threw him out. He finally gave her that dog they both planned to have one day, and she threw him out. She didn't want him. She didn't want EITHER OF THEM. She had built a home for her and her son. He had no right to barge in and destroy what they had. Why did he do that to begin with? He knew why. He wanted to see her, to see their son. So, he so stupidly got that dog and met him after school, and told him to give the puppy to his mother. *Why did I do that?! Why?!* Because he loved him. Because he loved HER. But now, he could have neither of them. So, he stood there and cried. And yet, he kept watching. Watching as Riley left somewhere, as she locked herself in her room, as Spike and Liam disappeared in his…

Buffy locked the door of her bedroom from the inside, and collapsed to the bed face down. She curled in a ball, and embraced herself as she blubbered. Her heart was so helplessly confused, and so much in pain, she couldn't concentrate on anything but that pain. Anything but that pain, and one distant memory.

// "I want a dog," Buffy contemplated, snuggled tightly in her love's arms.

Angel gazed at her with misunderstanding.

"Don't tell me you don't know what a dog is."

He giggled. "I know what a dog is, Buffy, I just don't understand your sudden need for one."

She shrugged. "There's nothing to understand. I just feel like I want a dog."

"Aha. And where exactly will you keep him? In the dorm?"

"In your office, actually," she grinned.

"You want me to raise a dog in my office? You understand it involves Cordelia having a heart attack, or a nervs breakdown, don't you?" he asked with an amused smile.

"It's your office. Our dog. She'll deal. I hope," the same smile now flikered on her face.

He chuckled. "So, it's OUR dog now."


"Right. So, what kind of a dog do WE want?"

"Ummm...a white dog," she decided.

"A white dog," Angel echoed obediently, as if making a list in his memory.

"Right. And it has to be adorably cute."

"A cute dog."


"And...it has to come with a huge red ribbon around his neck."

Angel eyed her and chuckled. "What's the ribbon for?"

Buffy beamed. "To make him cute."

"I thought he already was cute."

"Then to make him even more cute."

"Oh, okay. So last question."

"Ask," Buffy nestled in the crook of Angel's arm, shifting herself into a more comfortable position, as he was tenderly stroking her back.

"What's gonna be his name?"

"Okay..." she pondered, "umm...name, name, name, name...ummm...that's it. Snow."

"Snow?" he asked with disbelief. She had never stopped to astound him. "You actually want to name a dog 'Snow'?"

"Why not? He's white anyway."

"Okay, you do know that naming a dog 'Snow' borders animal abuse, right?"

She gave him a look. "He's white," she said firmly.

Angel couldn't hold his laughter in anymore, but altogether with that, he knew there was no point in arguing with a pregnant woman when she said she wanted something. "Yep. You definitely raised a point there."

Buffy laughed too. "So, are we buying a dog?"

He sighed but kept his smile. "We're buying a dog."

She tilted her head up to kiss him. "Great," she murmured. //

Buffy took a picture of the two of them from her nightstand and held it in her hands, smiling at him through her falling tears.

"What's happening to us, Angel?" she asked the photograph. "What's happening to me? Am I completely losing it, or maybe there's the chance my dreams aren't shattered just yet?" she stroked his face with her fingertips. "Was it you, my love? Was it my imagination going wild again? Did I even see that dog?"

There were as many questions she wanted to ask the person in that picture, just as there were so many answers she knew she'd never receive. She embraced the picture tightly, and closed her eyes to the sound of the whining puppy outside.

And he still watched. And after approximately ten minutes, he watched as she came out and gingerly picked up the puppy and embraced him in her arms, returning into the house with him. The last twinkle of hope sparkled in his heart and he beamed albeit his tears.

Part Five

Spike sat next to Liam on his bed and patted his shoulder. "How you doing, big guy?" he asked.

Liam sat up and quickly wiped his eyes. "You believe me, don't you, Spike? You believe me it was dad, don't you?" he inquired pleadingly.

The vampire smiled. "Sure, I do."

But Liam studied his eyes. "You're lying," he laid the truth open.

Spike gathered him in his arms and seated him on his knees. "Your dad tricked death once, and came back to your mom. Everything can happen, sport. You can never know with your dad."

Liam smiled, visibly satisfied with Spike's reply.

"You miss him a lot, don't you, kid? Me too...which's strange," he recalled a time he used to practically hate his Sire. "But I guess it feels stranger missing so much someone you don't even know," he contemplated.

Liam nodded in assent.

"And how's your mom doing?"

The intelligent brown eyes gazed painfully at the vampire. "Doing? She's not doing. She pretends she's okay every time when she's around people. That's if she has the strength in her to pretend. But when she's alone, she's sad all the time, and she cries. She tries to be happy around me too, because she doesn't want me to be upset. And every time she thinks I don't see her, she cries. Sometimes, she can't hold it in, and she cries when she's not alone. I hear her sobbing in the middle of the night, and screaming dad's name in a dream, and I want to do something, but there's nothing I can do, because I can't bring him back. Sometimes…I find her sleeping with dad's picture in her arms, and it hurts me to see her like that, clinging to nothing. I wonder sometimes, how she makes it through the day, without falling apart. I'm looking for ways to stop it, and I know there aren't any. She's so busy trying to protect me from everything all the time, and I can do nothing to protect her. There are times, when I don't know which of what I do will make her cry, because something always does. Even when she just looks at me, I sometimes see tears in her eyes. She tells me I look so much like him, and that she sees him when she looks at me. I guess she's right," he peered longingly at Angel's photograph next to his bed, "I guess I do look a lot like him. I think sometimes…maybe if she didn't have me, she wouldn't have to deal with a living reminder of him, and she'd be okay. At least her pain would be less."

"No," Spike patted his back lovingly, "don't blame yourself, junior. Believe me, her pain wouldn't be any less, if she didn't have you. If anything, it'd only grow. She loves you, kid. You have no idea how much she loves you. You're all she has. You know, you're a big boy, and a very smart one, but still only six years old. You don't know what it's like to really love a girl yet, do you?"

Liam shook his head, inwardly, not really sure what Spike was referring to. He didn't even like girls. He'd never play with girls, after all, he was a boy. Well...maybe...there was one girl, actually. Her name was Melanie. She had long blond hair and blue eyes. Liam liked her. He even brought her some flowers he picked up once, and she smiled. But he would never admit it to anyone that he liked a girl, because then all of his friends would laugh at him. He was sure of that.

"Right. But you will, one day. And you know what, just between us guys, you're gonna completely resemble your father when you're grown up, and believe me, you're gonna be one major heartbreaker," he chuckled.

Liam smiled.

"Yeah, well, so back to the point. You will love a girl one day, really really love her. And when you do, pray for this love to be like the one your parents shared, although sometimes I doubt there is anything like it out there, because if it is, you can count yourself the luckiest bastard in the world. You know, your dad…he was two-hundred-and-forty-three when he first met your mom. He hadn't known love before he met her."

"Tell me about him?" Liam requested. "Mom tried, but then she started crying, and I never asked her to do it again. No one else talks about him. Will you tell me?"

Spike nodded. "Sure thing. Where do you want me to start?"

"Start at the beginning of what you know."

"Nah!" Spike jerked his head. "That wasn't your dad, back then."

"What do you mean?"

"There are two types of people, kid. One, who receive respect cuz others afraid of them, and the other, who receive respect cuz they deserve it. Your dad was the second type. He was the greatest person I've ever known, and the demon he had been for a century and a half had contributed nothing to create that image I hold of him. It's the years after he was cursed, that made him the person I'm so proud of having met. He's appraised according to those years only. Before…that was nothing but a demon in your dad's body. It's not even worth reference to. You don't want, and don't need, to hear about that."

Liam grinned. "You sound like my dad was your hero."

"Hero...truth is, your dad and I haven't been exactly on the best terms for decades, we could barelly tolerate each other. But in the end of the day...yeah, I guess he was," Spike admitted, with no lag whatsoever. "It's just that I was a too much of a fool to realize it until after it was too late. If it weren't for your dad opening my eyes, I would still be a bloody waste of space, you know? His curse, that I was deriding him for, was actually his blessing, because it gifted him with a soul. I look back on the times when I used to plague him for that because he wasn't as EVIL, and all I see is wasted years, because he was ten times a man I'd ever be. While I despised him so much for behaving as a human, a little part in me wished I had a soul too."

"I wish I could have met him. I wish I could have seen him, at least once. And I was so sure it was he," he mumbled disappointedly.

"You're not sure anymore?" Spike's hearing didn't miss his murmur.

"It's not that. I…I don't know. You know, it's not only that he looked like dad, it's that I could feel it. I could feel something. Inside," he reposed his hand on his chest.

Spike grinned, and filled a mug with blood from one of the containers in his duffel bag. "I told you before. You're a smart kid, Liam, even too smart. If it weren't you, I'd just dismiss it all like it's crap, but BECAUSE it's you…I honestly don't know."

Liam shifted in Spike's lap, to make more comfortable, and wrapped one small arm around the vampire's shoulders. "Tell me about him, and about my mom," he appealed, "they all never talk about them. Especially about anything that concerns my dad. They don't even remind his name except for those times when I overhear my uncle Xander say he did this and that wrong."

"Your uncle Xander has always been a bleeding idiot, and don't tell your mom I used that word. There wasn't one second in his entire life when he wasn't jealous of your father."

"I think...I think they all hate him. They think I don't see it, but sometimes it seems to me they wish he'd never met my mom, especially my grandma. And besides, when I ask them to tell me something, they say they don't know their story."

"Oh, they all know the story. They know it even better than I do, because I heard most of it from your mother, while they were THERE, almost every minute of it. Hell, the red was the Slayer's best friend and now she doesn't know the story?" Spike sighed. "They just don't have the slightest dignity it takes to forgive a person even after his death, even though they all know there's nothing to forgive," Spike sipped from his blood, patting on the boy's back, "I'll tell you what I know, and what your mom told me."

Liam nodded in agreement, grinning eagerly. "Okay."

Spike smiled. "It all began in a dark alley behind a night club called the Bronze. I'm sure you heard about the place, it's here in Sunnydale…"

"Spike?" Buffy whispered, as she treaded silently into the room, finding Spike sitting on Liam's bed and drinking his blood and staring off into space, while the boy was slumbering like a baby in his arms.

Spike looked up at her.

"Could you come out? I need to talk to you."

He nodded, and placed the cup on the nightstand. He removed Liam from his lap and tucked him in, careful not to awake him. Then, he took his drink and left the room, closing the door on the sleeping child.

"How're you hanging, pet?" he put one arm around her shoulders, as they were slowly pacing towards her bedroom.

Buffy sighed heavily.

They sat down on the bed, and she gestured towards the tiny puppy sleeping on her pillow, curled in a ball.

"You took him in, after all," Spike observed, "what changed your mind?"

Buffy chuckled dryly. "Do you know what Angel and I talked about once?"


"Having a dog. We wanted a dog. A small white puppy, with a red ribbon around his neck."

Spike's eyes widened in cognizance.

Buffy nodded at it. "We decided to call him 'Snow'. Well, technically, I decided, but that's not the point now."

"Nice choice, Slayer. I was this close to assume it was Angel's idea," he tried to joke.

Buffy smiled weakly.

Spike let out an unneeded sigh. "Love, you're not thinking what I think you're thinking now, are you?"

"Why not?" she threw her hands up. "NO ONE knows about it. No one, just Angel and I. And now…Liam brings THIS dog. You wanna play an expert regarding the supernatural? I wanna see you try to explain this! And how're you gonna try to explain the fact that Liam SAW his dead father?! We have pictures of him allover the house. You CAN'T blame it on longing, or on a child's trauma, because of which, he might have IMAGINED he saw his father, cuz he misses him. No, Liam KNOWS how his father looks like, and EVEN IF he were really imagining, he'd drop it after a spell, but you saw how obstinate he was. I don't know what to do, Spike. I don't know what to think!"

He placed his hand on Buffy's back in a comforting gesture. "Try to think rationally for a moment. Do YOU think it's possible? Do YOU think he could come back?"

"I don't know! That's what I'm trying to tell you, I honestly DON'T KNOW! I mean, he did it already. He cheated death. He came back from Hell, for God's sake!"

Spike took in another unnecessary breath, and another sip from his blood. "He came back after several months, Slayer, not six years, there's a difference. Trust me, I want to believe this whole mess as much as you do, but we gotta use reason for this case. We can't ASSUME, cuz too much is on stake. Believe this, love, I've seen things in my life you can't even imagine, and even I gotta admit this is just TOO odd, even for me."

Buffy sighed and leaned into his embrace. "I wish I had a clue. I wish I had SOMETHING to hold onto."

"Listen, here's a thought. Why don't you call the Watcher? Ask him. It can't harm, it can only help. Perhaps he can find something in his books. It's worth the shot," Spike shrugged.

Buffy shook her head. "Not likely. You should have seen his face when Angel first came back from Hell. He couldn't believe it was possible. No, I don't think he'd have anything to tell me. I think he STILL thinks dead can't come back to life, even AFTER he witnessed Angel do just that. I don't think he can be a help."

"Okay, listen. Why won't you sleep it over, ha? It'll all become a lot more clear in the morning, and besides, you're too upset now to think it through rationally."

"No, I can't. I can't sleep. I think I'll go patrolling instead. It always helps to take my mind off everything."

"Are you sure? You're not in a state to go out alone, pet. Want me to come with you?"

She smiled and clasped his hand. "No, you stay here. Keep an eye on Liam."

He nodded.

Buffy stood up, and grabbing a stake and a jacket, strode out of the room.

On to Part Six