Three weeks later, at Neil's Cafe:
"Hey!" Buffy greeted cheerfully as Tara took the seat across from her.
"Hey, Buffy, so…sorry I'm late." Tara replied.
"No prob, I'm just glad you decided to meet me. I'm sorry for laying out all my problems on you...I just…there’s not one else…the others wouldn’t understand."
"No, Buffy," Tara cut her off. "It's ok, we're friends and friends are always there for each other. Always, no matter what," Tara smiled and Buffy returned it, as she pondered why Willow and Xander couldn’t think the same way. "So how have you been?"
"Ok I guess, three weeks clean, no Spike action whatsoever," Buffy said with a smile she found she had to force, which Tara instantly took note of.
"You miss him?" Buffy just looked at her friend with sad eyes, unable to say anything, for fear her words would betray her carefree, Spike free facade. "It's ok if you do, believe me I understand," Tara said as she looked down at her hands.
"You miss Willow huh?" Buffy asked and Tara nodded her head.
"But we...we talk now. I mean she calls and we talk for hours. I think it's easier over the phone. So, have you talked with Spike since...?” Buffy hurriedly cut off the question with the shake of her head.
"No, I thought it would be better if I didn't see him at all. I've been avoiding his crypt like the plague."
"His cr…crypt?" Tara questioned as she threw out a confused look.
"Yeah, you know the place he dwells until sundown."
"Oh, uhm Buffy, ah…Spike isn't there anymore." Buffy looked at Tara slightly stunned. "I went by to get his help with an English report, he did that while you were…away, he was very helpful to all of us. And well who better to help me with my English report then an Oxford English professor?" Tara asked around a goofy smile. "Anyway, I went by last week and he was gone."
"Gone?" Buffy repeated as she stared down at the table.
"Yeah, all of his things were gone. I...I thought you knew. I mean I had assumed he would tell you." Buffy just slowly shook her head. "Oh," Tara said as she too then lowered her head to look at the table, waiting for Buffy's response, which came after several long moments.
"So, he finally left. After years of me telling him to, he finally does." Buffy said with a sad faraway look on her face, which she quickly covered with another forced smile. "Well, good out of sight out of mind right? Now that he's gone I won't be tempted, and I can go about having a normal life, with normal healthy relationships." Buffy said in a perky tone, which Tara could see was just an act. "I just remembered I have to help Dawn study for a history test, so I'm gonna go now," Buffy said as she stood and pulled money from her pocket and tossed it on the table. Tara also stood, wanting to say more, seeing that Buffy was in obvious hurt.
"Ok, but Bu...Buffy if you need me..."
"I'll call you later." Buffy said with a small smile and then quickly embraced and released Tara. "Thank you." Buffy then rushed off down the street leaving Tara to stare after her sadly.
Buffy entered the backdoor still stunned and still in a daze after hearing the news that Spike had left.
"Hey Buffy!" Willow exclaimed as she stood at the stove making pancakes.
"Hey Buff, we're having pancakes and bacon for dinner, and maybe in the morning we can have steaks and mashed potatoes." Dawn said cheerfully. Her smiled quickly faded as she took notice of the look on Buffy's face. "Buffy, what's wrong? What happened?" Buffy stared at her little sister as she searched for the words to tell Dawn that Spike was gone. She knew how Dawn felt about Spike. Dawn had never had trouble expressing her love for the vampire. Buffy knew it was going to devastate Dawn to learn that Spike had left, just like all the 'others'.
"I don't know how to say this, Dawnie." Buffy began.
"Talking usually helps." Dawn said jokingly. Willow turned the stove off and moved closer to the counter.
"Buffy, did something happen?" Willow asked now curious and slightly concerned.
"It's Spike, uh...he left. I went by his place and it's cleaned out. He's gone Dawnie," Buffy finally said and then stood awaiting her sister's wrath, for she knew her sibling would blame her, and with every right too. Buffy knew she was the reason Spike had left.
"Oh." Was all the Dawn said as she looked at Buffy nervously.
"Oh? That's it?" Buffy questioned.
"Uhm yeah, I kind of already knew Spike left his crypt." Dawn stated.
"You did?" Buffy asked now confused.
"Ah, yeah we helped him move out." Dawn stated causing Buffy to shoot a look to Willow.
"'WE' did?" Buffy posed to Willow.
"Ah, uh…yeah…we as in me, Dawn, Xander and Anya, we all helped. I mean it was the least we could do, he did help us all summer while you were..." Willow’s guilt still wouldn’t allow her to mention Buffy’s time in heaven.
"I see," Buffy said as her brow furrowed and she sat on the nearby stool. "And you guys what, forgot to mention it to me?"
"We didn't think you'd care." Dawn answered making Buffy instantly go on the defensive.
"I don't," Buffy said with her chin up. "It's just that you're acting all secretive and stuff."
"Sorry, but it's not like Spike left town or anything." Dawn added and Buffy snapped her eyes onto her.
"No, he just moved into an apartment, a townhouse, a very nice townhouse too." Willow responded.
"He did?" Buffy asked as confusion seeped back in.
"Yep, Spike said it was time for a change of scenery, and he had some money saved up so he bought the townhouse, and furnishings. We helped him decorate." Dawn stated cheerfully. "He said he was gonna start over, a fresh start, at first I thought he was leaving town, but he said he wasn't leaving, that he'd never leave us...like all the others."
"So where is this new place, I'd like to check it out." Buffy said trying to hide her relief and happiness at hearing Spike hadn't left town.
"Oh, well uhm," Dawn began and Willow continued.
"He doesn't want you to know where he lives, and he made us promise that we wouldn't tell."