Spike took a deep breath, the words of his poem still echoing through his ears and the applause that followed.
He was outside the bar now. The phone box he stood in was filled with graffiti and smelt of beer, puke and pee. Money from the machine littered the floor from when he had smashed it open to get enough to make a call.
The phone had been sitting in his hand for nearly five minutes but he couldn't bring himself to dial the number. Her number was engrained into his memory from the countless times he had spent staring at it on Angel's computer screen, debating whether or not to phone.
What should he say? Hi Buffy, it's Spike. Guess what, I'm not dead!
It was times like this that he wished he had told her earlier, when he had first come back. Or after Andrew had found out. Or if he had seen her in Rome.
Maybe then things would be different. But they weren't. As far as the woman he loved was concerned, Spike had burned up the day Sunnydale had been destroyed.
Did she cry? Andrew said she was upset but then, Andrew himself was pretty overwhelmed.
But she must have been at least a little sad, even if she only felt the loss of a friend, or an acquaintance.
How long did she grieve? How long did she wait until she hooked up with the Immortal? Spike liked to think it was at least a month or two.
Maybe it was a bad idea to call. Buffy had moved on, got a new life, without him. It wasn't fair to interrupt that or ruin it. For all he knew, he could be dead this time tomorrow. He couldn't tell her he was 'alive' and then die again so soon. He wouldn't let her grieve again.
However, he couldn't bear to die without her knowing that he still loved her, that he still thought about her every minute of everyday, that he would do anything for just one more day with her.
For just one more kiss.
Buffy had to know. And if Spike didn't tell her now, he might never have the chance.
Before he could change his mind, Spike's fingers punched the number into the phone and lifted it to his ear.
Beep beep. Beep beep. Beep beep.
"Hello?" Her voice hadn't changed. It was still as calming as ever, yet filled with a toughness unlike any other.
The vampire's mouth opened but no sound came out, like a gaping fish.
"Hello?" The slayer asked again.
"Hello, love," Spike whispered, his voice finally finding the courage to work.
On the other end of the line there was a short, sharp intake of breath. Then silence.
"Buffy? Are you there? Buffy?"
"Spike?" she asked. She sounded nervous, as though if she said his name and it wasn't him, the whole world would come crashing down.
"It's me, love."
"But...but you died. How..? You were incinerated. I saw it happen," she stuttered in disbelief.
"And I felt it. But someone wouldn't let me stay dead," Spike explained.
Buffy paused. "When? When were you...?"
"Resurrected?" Spike finished. "19 days after Sunnydale."
"What!" Buffy yelled down the phone. "You've been alive for months and you didn't tell me!"
"Buffy, I wanted to, I just-"
"How could you Spike? When I died, you wanted me back more than anything. Don't you think I feel...felt the same?"
"I...I didn't think about it that way," Spike said quietly. "I'm sorry." Spike paused, hating himself for letting her grieve for so long when he could have taken that pain away. "How long have I been gone?"
"154 days yesterday. 155 days today...except-"
"Except today doesn't count?" Spike suggested, remembering their conversation almost three years ago, when it was Buffy who had come back from the dead.
"No, the last 125 days haven't counted!" She snapped.
Spike sighed, regretting interrupting Buffy's new life. "I'm so sorry, I just didn't know how to tell you. I thought 'Hi, Buffy, I'm alive' would be a bit of a shock."
He could feel Buffy smile at the other end of the line. "I guess that would have been hard."
"I never stopped thinking about you, always asking Angel how you were and-"
"Angel knows you were resurrected?"
Spike grinned, realising that he'd got the pounce into trouble. "Yeah, I appeared in his office, along with that bloody amulet." He stopped, wondering what else to tell her and what to skip. He didn't know how long he had until all manner of demons were attacking them. "We came to look for you, you know. In Rome, Angel and I had some other business but you...um...you were busy with your new boyfriend."
"My new..? Right, actually, that's a long story but...it isn't serious."
"Not at all. Actually, now I've settled in Scotland at the moment."
"Oh...well, we tried to talk to you but we got caught up in something else," garbled Spike, attempting to hide his delight. "I'd planned everyhing, how to tell you what happened but..." He trailed off.
"So why now?" the slayer asked, "Why tell me now?"
Sighing, Spike switched the phone to his other hand and rested his chin on his left. "Maybe you heard but...some stuff is about to go down in LA and...I don't know if I'll survive." Spike took another unnecessary deep breath. "I wanted you to know that I...I..." His voice caught in his throat and his hand swiped at a tear rolling down his cheek.
"Spike?" Buffy asked tentatively, "Are you-"
"I'm fine," he hastily lied. "Listen, I needed you to know that I-"
"Buffy?" Someone on the other end of the phone asked.
"Not now, Dawn!" Buffy called back.
"Is that the Niblet? She sounds older," Spike remarked.
"She's had to grow up quickly," Buffy said sadly.
"She's not the only one," the vampire reminded her.
"Buffy, we have a slight problem," Xander shouted.
Buffy's breathing sped up. "Just one moment!"
"Buffy, I needed you to know that I love you. I think I always have, even if I didn't know it. And...and I would do anything to see you again, to-"
"Buffy, please! We've got a Code 4!" Another voice roared.
Spike wished they had more time. "It sounds important, if you need to go..."
"They'll have to cope without me," Buffy insisted. "Just tell me."
Blocking out the noise from the streets around him and the shouts he could hear on Buffy's end, Spike closed his eyes. Why was this suddenly so hard? "Buffy, I love you."
"I love you too," she told him without a moment's hesitation. "And I'm not just saying that because it's what you want to hear or what you need to hear. I'm saying it because...because I do. I mean it." The tears streaming down her face were audible to Spike now too.
"Spike, I'm so sorry it took your death to realise it, but I did. Maybe you've moved on or-"
"I could never move on. I've loved you ever since I was human, even if I didn't know it. I couldn't never find the right girl and the slayers fascinated me. Perhaps I've been waiting for you for my entire existence."
"Spike, I have so much more to tell you," she told him as Willow yelled in the background: "Buffy, they've penetrated the magical defences. Kennedy and Amanda are down."
"Willow, please," Buffy begged. "I need to do this."
"Hurry up!" The whelp shrieked.
"Spike," the slayer said into the phone, "I don't care what's going on there. Please, stay safe, I need to...there's so much more to say."
"Love, if I have you to fight for, I'll do everything in my power not only to survive, but to bloody win!"
He was about to say farewell, possibly for the last time, but Buffy stopped.
"Phone me, on this number, this time tomorrow. Then I'll know you're alive."
"What if I just get delayed? Or if I-"
"Then try the next day, and the next and the next. I'll never stop waiting. Please, Spike. I need to know you're safe."
Roars mixed with sirens in the LA streets and Spike knew it was starting. "Buffy, love, I have to go. I love you."
"I love you too," she vowed.
"No," Buffy ordered. "Not goodbye. It's too final."
"So what should I say?"
"Nothing. Just...tell me you love me again."
Spike smiled as another few tears trickled down his face. This time he didn't wipe them away, but let them drip onto the cold, shaking ground.
"I love you, Buffy." He whispered the words like they were final.
"I love you, Spike."
She was gone again.
Spike never felt so alone.
Slamming the phone back down onto the receiver, he flung the phone box door open and swaggered out.
Big bad was back, and looking for a little hell.
Now he had something to fight for, a reason to survive. He had to be back tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.
He would always come back until he had Buffy in his arms.