DISCLAIMER: All characters belong to their respective owners. I own nothing of worth, so it would be pointless to sue me. I have nothing, I tell you!

AUTHOR'S NOTE: It has been a very long time since I last updated. For that I deeply apologize. I haven't forgotten this story, it's just that life hasn't been very kind to me (not that I'm looking for pity). And then my Muse went on a very long sabbatical. And even then, she is only giving me inspiration sporadically. And the free time I did have, I became addicted to hockey Twitter, and Twitter in general. I'm hoping to get back into the swing of things now, but I make no promises...well, other than I fully intend to finish this story.

A/N 2: Any and all grammatical and punctuation errors are solely mine. I no longer have a Beta (anyone? Anyone? Anyone?), and I'm kind of dumb. *cheeky grin* If something horrendous should capture your attention, just let me know, and I will correct it.

**Song lyrics**

Tell It To My Heart:

10 minutes earlier:

Horatio pulled his car into Buffy's driveway feeling optimistic for what the evening would bring. He hopes her actions from this morning means that his feelings are being reciprocated. That isn't to say that there aren't still some lingering doubts and guilt about pursuing a relationship with Buffy, because there are.

Speed hasn't even been gone a full year yet. However, he honestly believes that Speed did come to him in that dream and gave him his blessing. And if he'd learned anything at all from his years on the force- and Speed's untimely death- it was this: tomorrow isn't guaranteed, so you had to grab onto any chance for happiness whenever you could.

As he got out of his car, he grabbed the bouquet of sunflowers he'd gotten for Buffy, before heading up to the house whistling softly. At the front door, he was about to ring the doorbell when movement in the glass panels caught his eye. As his brain registered what he was seeing, his heart began to break, but he was unable to look away.

Buffy was standing in the entryway, fiercely hugging a dark-haired man; and then to his horror, she moved to kiss him. Unable to watch any longer, he turned away from the tableau.

He had to get out of here. He didn't want to believe what he'd seen; and he certainly didn't want to go in and pretend that everything was fine when his heart was breaking. Numbly dropping the bouquet, he quickly made his way back to his car, intent on getting the hell out of there.

Consumed by his heartache, Horatio never noticed Faith coming in from the beach.

'It's good to be home,' Faith thought happily.

She'd spent the past two days working with one of those ladies who taught social graces and whatnot for debutantes. She was relieved to be finished with it.

Giles was of the belief that as the two senior Slayers, she and (to a lesser degree) Buffy needed to work on their diplomatic skills. Since there were now so many mini-slayers around the world defending humanity, he felt that the "Chosen Two" needed to brush up on politics and bureaucracy, so they could properly deal with the intricacies of subtle manipulations, and all that other boring upper management bullshit. According to Giles, they were "too old" to be relying on their "hit first, ask questions later" tactics. Apparently, it was "frowned upon" to beat up on the human criminals- no matter how deserving- to most of the alphabet agencies and local law enforcement.

Faith snorted derisively as she remembered Giles' long-winded speech about diplomacy and catching more flies with honey than vinegar, and blah blah blah.

B was right about one thing lately: Giles seriously needed his bottle to be uncorked. He was reverting to his stuffy, tweed-wearing persona of days gone by. Being in charge of the rebuilding and then the running of the International Defenders Council was talking its toll on him. No doubt if he didn't get laid soon, he was going to burst!

Faith was amusing herself with the funny, cartoon-ish ways that Giles could burst when a flash of ginger caught her attention.

What she saw was Horatio practically sprinting away from the house and to his car. She was set to call out to him when she saw his face. He looked like he was about to cry. And Faith wondered what could have happened that would cause the usually stoic man to break. From the little she did know of him, she didn't think that Horatio Caine was capable of crying.

Watching as he got in and backed out of the drive like a bat out of hell. As he was shifting into drive, she could practically see the tires smoking as he hit the gas. Now she was really dying to know what happened, and why he was beating such a hasty retreat.

Jogging up the path that lead up to the house, she saw the abandoned bouquet of sunflowers on the ground right in front of the door. Bending over, she picked up the flowers before she unlocked the door and went inside to question Buffy. And that's when she saw what had had Horatio running like the devil was on his heels. Buffy stood talking to a guy that she only vaguely recognized. He was definitely a hottie that much was clear.

'Surely Horatio didn't think that Buffy and this guy were getting horizontal? He had to know that Buffy wasn't that type, right?' Faith wondered.

Seeing Buffy still in the strange guy's arms, she barely kept a lid on her growing anger, demanding, "What the hell's going on here, B?! Who the hell is this guy?! Is there something you want to tell me?! No wonder H ran out of here like the devil was hot on his heels!"

"Huh? What are you talking about, Faith? It's Graham. You know, from back at UC Sunnydale? Graham Miller?" Buffy stressed when it looked like she wasn't getting the message. "He was with the monster squad back at UC Sunnydale? He was one of Riley's buddies."

Seeing the blank look on Faith's face, she shook her head as she continued, "Anyway, Graham was here to break some bad news to me. Apparently Riley and his new wife Sam just died in a tragic plane crash on their way to their honeymoon destination. I was offering him my condolences, as well as letting him know that we could use him at the IDC if he wants to join. He's just about to leave, anyway…" she trailed off, as what Faith said registered. "What do you mean, Horatio ran out of here like the devil was on his heels?' He's not supposed to be here until six-thirty… please tell me that it's not six-thirty yet?"

"No can do, B. Not only was Horatio here, I'm guessing he saw you with the stud over there, and he drew the wrong conclusion. I was walking up from the beach, when I noticed Horatio; and he looked so hurt, like he was going to cry or something. Does he even know how to? Before I could call out to him, he went back to his car and took off in a major hurry," Faith said.

Looking at her watch, and seeing that it was twenty to seven, Buffy swore internally, 'Crap! Crap! Crap! What must he be thinking? He totally got the wrong impression! He has to know that I would never do anything to intentionally hurt him, right? Oh mercy, I need to go and fix this right now!'

"Graham, I'm really sorry for being rude and abrupt, but I have to go and fix this situation immediately!" Buffy apologized, "It really was nice seeing you, and the job offer stands, but I have to go now!" And with that, Buffy grabbed her keys from the key basket and bolted out the door.

Fifteen minutes later…

'Oh, this is just fricking brilliant! Of all the times to get stuck in traffic,'Buffy fumed. She had tried taking a shortcut in an effort to beat Horatio to his place, or at least not be that far behind him. But that had backfired on her big-time, because there had been a serious accident on the route she'd taken, so she had gotten stuck in traffic instead. She wanted to bang her head against the steering wheel.

'Horatio must be so upset! What exactly does he think he saw?'she wondered. 'Oh, goodness, I hope he'll let me explain!'

Finally pulling up to his house, she jumped out of her car. Running to his door, she rang the doorbell. When she got no response, she tried a second and third time, with a little more insistence. When that got no results, she trotted around to the back of his house.

He was leaning against the railing of his second story patio, staring blankly into the distance, not paying any attention to his surroundings, which wasn't like him at all. What she saw as she got closer had her heart clenching in her chest: fat tears were making their way down his face. But when she heard the words of the song that was playing in the background, her heart dropped into her stomach and she felt infinitely worse.

**These arms of mine, they are lonely… lonely and feeling blue

These arms of mine, they are yearning… yearning from wanting you

And if you, would let them hold you… oh, how grateful I will be

These arms of mine, they are burning… burning from wanting you

These arms of mine, they are wanting… wanting to hold you

And if you, would let them hold you… oh how grateful I will be

Come on, come on baby… just be my little woman

Just be my lover, oh, I need me somebody

Somebody to treat me right

Oh, I need your arms… loving arms to hold me tight

And I, I, I need... I need your tender lips too

Hold me, hold me**

Buffy felt like a monumental jerk in that moment. She never imagined that Horatio could feel that deeply for her. She was now realizing how badly she had been taking him for granted, and all the times he was there for her whenever she needed him. Remembering all the times she'd called him from Cleveland, heartbroken and distraught over some memory of Tim that would besiege her. And how he would always stay up and talk her through whatever emotion she was struggling with during those dark, early days just after Tim's death. How he never once complained about being woken up because she couldn't deal. He never got annoyed with her, or made her feel like a burden, even though she must have been at times.

And when she came back to Miami, he would practically drop everything when she needed him. How could she have not seen how deeply he cared? Moreover, how could she have not realized how much she cared about him?

Faith and Xander were right. She was dumb.

Resolute, she decided that she was going to apologize to him about the misunderstanding, and then she'd lay all her cards on the table, and go from there. Hopefully, she hadn't screwed everything up royally.

She quickly made her way to his patio, using her Slayer agility to climb up and over the patio railing.

"Horatio, it wasn't what you think it was! Graham is just a friend! He was a part of that monster squad I joined back in my freshman year of college. He stopped by to tell me about the death of a mutual friend of ours. He was also telling me about his discharge from the military and so I was just telling him that with his skill, that we could definitely use him at the IDC if he wanted a job. I'm not seeing him like that! He's like a brother to me, that's all. It's you I'm head over heels for! I'm so, so sorry I hurt you! I would never knowingly say or do anything to hurt you! You have to know that! Please, please say that you'll forgive me?" she babbled.

Dumbstruck, Horatio stared at Buffy. One moment he was deeply lost in thought and devastation, and the next Buffy is standing in front of him babbling an apology and explanation at an almost Willow-like speed. Was he dreaming? Surely he was. Mentally shaking his head, he blinked. She hadn't vanished…she was really there. And she was pleading for forgiveness from him? Wait a minute… did she just say that she was head over heels for him? Surely he hadn't heard that correctly. Unable to form an answer, he continued to stare.

Buffy waited anxiously for a response from Horatio. As the seconds ticked by with no reply, she began to worry. Could he really be that upset with her? He was looking at her, but he wasn't saying anything. Waving a hand in front of his face, hoping for a response, she said, "Horatio? Are you alright? Answer me please? Horatio, you're starting to scare me. Please say something…anything."

Blinking at her hand waving in his face, he spoke, "Um… I'm fine, Buffy. Just surprised is all."

"Oh, I am so sorry for hurting you, Horatio! I know that things might have looked bad, but I promise you, nothing untoward happened," she swore. "Can you forgive me for hurting you?"

She looked so remorseful and miserable at the thought of the pain she had put him through, that he couldn't stay upset with her. Not that he wanted to, to be honest. "Of course I forgive you, Buffy."

"Oh, thank goodness! I don't know what I would have done if you didn't!" she exclaimed as she threw her arms around him in a hug. In her relief, she didn't hold back on her Slayer strength, and it wasn't until she heard him grunt in pain that she realized that she was hurting him and immediately let him go. "Oh dang, I'm sorry, H! Are you okay? I forgot to hold back!"

"Yeah, I'll survive," he replied, "I never realized how much you hold back in your interactions with normal people. For such a little thing, you're really quite strong."

"So, you're sure everything is okay between us?" she asked uncertainly, "Because I wouldn't blame you if you were still upset and all."

"Shush, I forgave you already. Let's just forget it happened," he said.

"So…are you still hungry? We can go back to my place. Dinner should still be in the oven. It might not be hot anymore, but it'll still be good," she asked shyly.

"I think I may have some leftover Chinese food in my fridge still, if you're hungry. Or we could call for take-out and talk here, if you would prefer."

"Alright, that sounds good to me. Let me just call Faith and ask her to put away the food. I'll just be a moment."

While Buffy was calling Faith, Horatio was thinking about everything that Buffy had babbled. The most important thing he'd heard was that Buffy was "head over heels" for him. He wasn't sure if he could believe his ears. He wanted to, but he had had his share of disappointment and heartache to let it go to his head just yet. Horatio wanted to confirm it once more with Buffy before he expressed his own feelings for her.

"Sorry that took so long, H. I also took the liberty of ordering us some Thai take-out, I hope you don't mind?" Buffy said as she stepped back out onto his patio.

"No, that's fine. Thai food sounds good. Can I get you a drink, Buffy? Perhaps a glass of wine for you? Or, maybe something else would suit?"

"Do you have any flavored sparkling water? I could definitely use some water, my throat feels kind of dry," she answered.

"Alright, just give me a moment. Why don't you have a seat while I get you your drink?" Horatio said, gesturing to the patio furniture as he stepped back into the house.

Buffy sat down in a chair, fidgeting nervously as she waited his return. This conversation was going to determine the future of their relationship. She prayed to God that she didn't mess it up. She didn't know where to start, exactly, but she was sure of what she wanted.

The sound of the screen door opening and Horatio returning broke her out of her musings. She sent him a smile as he handed her the bottle of sparkling water and a chilled glass. "Thanks, Horatio."

He sat himself down across from her and she nervously cleared her throat, trying to figure out how to start this conversation. After several moments, Buffy decided to just dive right in and say what was on her mind.

So, after a long sip of the water she began, "So, first, I want to apologize again about that misunderstanding with Graham, Horatio. He was a good friend to the Scoobies and I during the whole Adam fiasco. And he has the training that we look for in potential recruits for the IDC, so I knew that with his upcoming discharge from the military, he would be a great asset for us and I couldn't pass up on offering him a job, and he was just expressing his gratitude."

Horatio sat back in his chair as he contemplated what Buffy was saying. "I see."

"But, I don't think of him in romantic terms. I never have. He has always been more of a big brother type to me," Buffy explained. "Besides, I already have my heart set on someone else…" with a shy and uncertain smile, she confessed, "In case you were wondering still, it's you, Horatio. I'm head over heels for you. And upon retrospect, I have been for a while now. I just wasn't ready to acknowledge it. Even to myself. "

"I won't lie, Buffy, I was hurt at seeing you so cozy with Graham. However, now that I understand the situation, I'm not so hurt. Though I have to be honest and tell you that I have been in love with you for quite some time now, too. I didn't want to say anything, because I felt guilty," Horatio said. "Admitting my feelings for you felt like a betrayal to Speed's memory. And, until now, I wasn't sure how you felt for me. I didn't want to say anything, because I didn't want to scare you off, in case you didn't feel the same way."

"I do, though. It took an eye-opening conversation with Faith and Xander to help me see the truth; but I care so much about you, Horatio. I have for a while now. Though, I wonder how we should proceed. This is a bit confusing. I mean, we have known each other for quite some time now, but on the other hand…this is new territory for the both of us."

"I think that taking it slowly would be advisable. I'd like the chance to court you properly," Horatio admitted, "I know that it seems old-fashioned, but I feel you deserve the whole nine yards."

"I don't think there's anything wrong with the old-fashioned approach. In fact, I think it's sweet, Horatio. As you well know, Tim and I kind of went about it the wrong way," Buffy replied, grinning ruefully. "So, I think it would be nice to take the slow old-fashioned way."

As the breeze from the ocean started to pick up, Horatio noticed that Buffy was starting to shiver slightly, and he decided it would be best if they continued the conversation inside. "Let's head inside the house, Buffy. The breeze is picking up, and it'll be easier to finish talking inside." He stood up and moved to help Buffy stand, but she stood up before he got the chance. Instead, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders in a comfortable embrace as they made their way inside.

Buffy snuggled up close to Horatio on the couch, tucking her feet underneath her as they began to talk.

As Horatio was telling her about one of his cases when he was still with the Bomb Squad, Buffy couldn't help herself and she leaned up to kiss him. At first, he seemed stunned, but he soon shook it off and started kissing her back. 'Wow, I can't believe that this is really happening!' Buffy thought, 'I must be dreaming, because this is too good to be real!'

Horatio was in his own state of disbelief. He was finally getting his chance. Buffy was his. After so many months of dreaming and wishing for this, it was finally coming true. He planned to show Buffy just how much she meant to him, every moment of every day. He would never give her reason to doubt him, or his intentions.

The first couple of kisses were hesitant and cautious, but soon enough the kisses became quite heated, causing Horatio to reluctantly break away from Buffy. "As enjoyable as this is, I think that we should stop or else this may go further, faster than either of us intend it to. And I don't want to push this too quickly."

A part of her wanted to give in to her juvenile desire to pout, but the more mature part of Buffy knew that Horatio had a valid point. "You're right, H."

So, with some reluctance, they pulled apart. Although they did allow their fingers to remain entwined.