The phone in Angel's office interrupted the third argument of the morning. Still using the tone of voice he usually reserved for Spike, Angel snapped, "Yes?"


"Let me talk to him."


If Angel could have gone any paler, he would have.  As he hesitated and began to stutter, the voice on the other end said, "Now!" 


He sighed and handed the phone to Spike, who took it with two fingers as if afraid it would bite him.  He already knew who it was, even if he hadn't heard her voice, the look on Angel's face would have given it away.


"H--hello, Buffy. It's good to hear--"


"I wasn't lying, you stupid vampire!"


Spike stared at the phone, the dial tone having now replaced the slam that still vibrated in his ear.  He set the receiver down and shrugged at Angel.


"That went well, don't you think?"


"That's what she wanted? To tell you she wasn't lying?"


"Well, that and, apparently to break my eardrum." Spike rubbed at the offended ear and did his best not to put too much into her words.  She hadn't, after all, said that she did love him now; just that she'd meant it when she said it months ago.


"What, exactly, did you accuse her of lying about?"


Before Angel could pursue the question, the phone rang again. Both vampires stared at it, their fear palpable.


"It could be somebody else..." Angel said hopefully.


"It could be," Spike agreed with a doubtful nod.


Neither one made any attempt to pick up the still ringing phone, sighing in matching relief when it stopped.


"You can't avoid her forever, you know."


"Don't plan to. I just need some time to...to..."  Spike stopped and stared at Angel suspiciously. "Shouldn't you be tryin' to talk me out of talking to her?"


"I should be.  I would be if I didn't think it would earn me a stake through my heart."  Angel exhaled loudly and walked over to sit behind his desk.  He took a sheet of paper and wrote on it, holding the paper out to Spike wordlessly.


"What's this?" Spike took the paper, frowning at the string of numbers.


"It's her cell number.  She...I...we talked last night." He ignored Spike's soft growl and shrugged.  "You need to call her, Spike. I might have been wr..." he mumbled under his breath, then continued in a normal tone of voice. "She's been grieving for you.  Mourning your worthless ass.  And I let her do it for far too long.  It was selfish of me and— look, just call her, all right?"


Without another word, Spike spun around and headed for the nearest empty office. Once there, seated behind the desk and staring at the phone, he froze.


She'd been mourning him? He'd let Buffy grieve for him when he was actually not gone? Even when he'd been a ghost, he'd been here. Not solid, and maybe not permanently, but not completely gone. He could have asked someone to dial for him and he could have at least spoken to her.  With a groan, he put his head down on the desk.


Fuck. I can't call her now. What can I say to her? Sorry, love, didn't think you'd really care that I was back? Thought you'd rather have a dead hero than an undead whatever I am? Yeah, that'll go over well.  I am such an arse...


He sat up and dropped his head back to stare at the ceiling.  Even if he hadn't believed her when she said she loved him, he'd known he had a place in her life - in her heart.  Only the most selfish of idiots wouldn't have let her know that he was still in the world; would have let her continue to think he was gone forever. Would have let her grieve unnecessarily.


He slammed his head forward onto the desk, then threw it back, giving a roar that brought Harmony running towards the door, only to be stopped by Angel as she pushed it open.


"Blondie bear! What's wrong. Is something hurting you?"


Angel tugged on Harmony's arm, pulling her away. 


"He's just realizing what a jackass he's been and how badly he hurt Buffy after promising he'd never hurt her again..." Angel knew his shrewd guess was correct when he saw Spike's shoulders jerk.  He pushed Harmony away and said softly, "Just call her, Spike. You owe her that. If she rips you a new one...well, you'll have it coming, won't you?"


"Right. Face the music. Take it like a man. That's the ticket."


"And grovel. Don't forget to grovel."


Putting aside for the moment the incongruity of Angel's being the one to tell him how to appease Buffy's justifiably hurt feelings, he sighed heavily and picked up the phone.  Before he could chicken out again, he dialed the number Angel had printed so carefully and mentally held his breath.  The phone was answered before it had finished a second ring.


"What took you so long?"


"I'm sorry, lo- Buffy. Had to work up my courage, didn't I?"


There was silence on the other end, then: "How could you do that to me? How could you let me..." Her voice trailed off and he heard her blow out an explosive sigh.  "I'm sorry, Spike," she said in a suddenly brisk tone of voice.  "I'm sure you had your reasons.  I didn't mean to whine about it.  I just--"


"Got every right to whine, love," he said, his own voice almost cracking. "Or yell, or scream or whatever you need to do. I was a complete wanker. There's no reason worth hurting you for.   I was an insecure, selfish git and I don't deserve even one of the tears you shed over my worthless body."  He waited, but there was no response except the sound of her breathing.  "I'm just surprised you don't want to stake me for it."


"Did I say I didn't want to stake you?  'cause I'm pretty sure that was my first reaction when I found out you'd been back all this time."


"Do you still want to stake me?  Know I deserve it, but--"


"I think the jury's still out on that." In spite of her words, he could hear the reluctant smile in her voice and he exhaled in relief.


"Don't suppose you'd be willing to settle for kicking my arse black and blue?"


"I think that's pretty much a given," she muttered.  "I just haven't decided if you're going to survive the beating yet."


"Fair enough, pet.  Are you coming here, or am I going to come to you?"


"Angel said you could borrow the Wolfram and Hart plane. So, I guess you're coming here." There was a long pause. "Assuming you want to, of course. You don't have to if you don't--"


"Don't be bloody stupid, Slayer."


There was another silence, broken finally by her soft, "Okay, then. See you when you get here."


"I'm on my way, love."


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