"Are you alright?" Cordelia asked as Buffy ran down the stairs, sniffing furiously.
"I'm fine. Just in a hurry."
"Xander said you were leaving. What about Spike - he's not even up yet."
"No," Buffy said. "He's not coming."
Cordelia blinked. "But I thought you two-"
"Wait, you're leaving?" Dawn said, and Buffy whipped round to see her coming out of the breakfast room.
"Yes. It was nice to meet you-"
"What about my dad? Is he going to leave without saying goodbye to me, or-"
"He's staying," Buffy said, and Dawn looked confused.
"But I thought-"
"Apparently so did a lot of people," Spike said, appearing at the top of the stairs in only his breeches, the white bandage on his shoulder stained with blood.
Dawn groaned. "Put some clothes on - wait, your shoulder!"
"Healing wounds bleed when you open them up," Spike said, looking right at Buffy.
"I guess they do." She tried to look nonchalant. "Goodbye, Dawn, and good luck with your marriage. Cordelia, thank you for all your help."
"But-" they both began.
Buffy turned and walked out, ignoring Spike who stayed right where he was, scowling horribly.
Cordelia ran after Buffy, and Dawn turned to her father. "What was that all about? What did you do to her?"
"I didn't do anything." He sat down on the top step, and leaned against the railing, suddenly exhausted. His shoulder was bloody killing him. He shouldn't have taken it out of the sling.
No, he shouldn't have let Buffy stick her fingers in it.
He shouldn't have let Buffy do a lot of things.
"But last night - you said you were going with her. You must have done something."
"I didn't do anything," Spike snapped. "She was playing with me. The whole time. She was just playing. Killing time while she got her memory back."
"Her what?" Dawn said, just as Angel appeared at the end of the corridor. He saw Spike and frowned in surprise, then he came a few steps further and saw Dawn scowling, and hesitated.
"What did I miss?"
"Buffy," Dawn said, and Angel started scowling, too.
"She did you too, mate," Spike said, and Angel sat down beside him.
"Did what?" Dawn demanded, and blushed when they both looked at her. "Oh. Oh."
"Bloody bint," Spike said, and she could tell he was trying hard not to cry. She turned and ran outside, round to the stables, and found Buffy arguing with Cordelia.
"You broke his heart," Cordelia was saying.
"That's his fault," Buffy said.
"You did it on purpose," Dawn said. "He loved you."
"Well, that's his problem-"
"The hell it is," Dawn spat. "You did it to Angel, too."
Cordelia glared at Buffy. "Is this some sort of game to you?"
"Yes," Buffy said, and looked up as Xander and Anya came clattering round the corner on their horses. Doyle was leading a third for Buffy and she darted for it, swinging up into the saddle before either of the girls could catch her. "It's a game. You can ask Angel."
She rode away before either of them could say anything else, and Xander and Anya had to ride hell for leather to catch her up.
When they did, she'd stopped crying and the pinkness around her eyes was easily explained away as the wind stinging her eyes.
But Xander wasn't fooled. "What was that back there?"
Buffy kept her eyes straight ahead. "Nothing."
He exchanged a look with Anya. "You made Dawn cry."
Buffy's heart wrenched. "Good. She's an annoying little brat."
"I don't want to talk about it," Buffy said, tight-lipped, and Anya looked over at Xander and said, "I'm so glad we're going to live with her."
Buffy ignored her and rode on.
It was on the fourth day, when they were not too far from the plantation, that Xander eventually wore her down. They were in an inn, the last people in the bar, Anya snoring upstairs after the day's long ride and the inn's bad food, and a drink or two had loosened both Buffy's muscles and her tongue.
Her misery came flooding out.
"I had to do it," she sobbed on Xander's shoulder. "I had to make him hate me. Don't you see? If he still loved me he'd come after me."
Xander stared at her. "That's it? You were trying to make him hate you?"
"I can hardly remember what I was saying to him," she sniffed. "I was telling him anything - I made up other lovers and told him he was no good in bed and that I'd been bored and I'd lied and, and..."
He patted her shoulder. "He doesn't know about Snyder?"
"No. He couldn't know. He'd get all foolhardy and brave and follow me and then they'd kill him. And it's better we're apart than he's dead. I couldn't bear it if he was dead."
"Well, no," Xander tried to think of some way to comfort her, but nothing came.
"And now he really hates me," she sobbed. "Now he thinks I'm a heartless fake and I just sleep with men for a game. So he can't have ever loved me, can he, if he thinks that of me? How can he have ever loved me?"
How can he not, Xander thought. He loved Anya, he was sure of that, but he looked at Buffy and saw her strength and her beauty and her compassion and her intelligence - well, okay, maybe that last one was hiding right now - and he knew that Spike had loved her completely.
And that he was coming after her.
Or he was a complete fool.
Days passed darkly, blearily for Spike. He went home, and he drank. At some point his daughter showed up with some smooth-talking git of a lawyer and said she was going to marry him. He only had one hand, Spike noticed through his haze of cheap rum and whisky.
"Wha' happened to your-" he gestured vaguely, having forgotten the right word. "With the fingers 'n' stuff."
"My hand?" The lawyer held up his folded cuff. "Had a run-in with a highwayman. Maybe you know him? Calls himself Angel."
Spike thought that was hilarious and laughed for several hours, until Dawn asked in faint disgust if he was coming to the ceremony, and the thought of marriage reminded him of love, and love made him think of Buffy, and he was miserable again.
It was three days until his rum ran out, and when he hollered to Dawn for some more, she stomped in and threw a bucket of very cold water over him.
"You are a disgusting excuse for a human being," she said.
"I'm mizzerble. Leave me 'lone."
"No. Sober up or I'll shoot you."
"So shoot me. Lemme out of my misery," he slurred, starting to feel a hell of a hangover come on.
"Oh, for God's sake," Dawn said, and went out to get more water. But as she passed the front door she saw someone sliding elegantly off a horse, and realised it was Darla.
"Dawn," the blonde gave her a cool smile. "Is your father at home?"
"Barely," Dawn said, and jerked her thumb at his study. Darla swayed over and pushed open the door. She recoiled only slightly at the stench coming from inside, and Dawn was impressed.
Darla shut the door. "For God's sake," she said. "This is disgusting. What, have you been drinking since you left?"
"No," Spike said, hauling himself to his feet and feeling so awful he toppled back over again. "Since before then."
"Still over Buffy."
"Bloody cow," he slurred. "I loved her. You understand? I sodding loved her."
"Do you still love her?" Darla asked.
"No," Spike said, but he didn't sound very convincing.
She sighed and looked for somewhere to sit down. There was nowhere. All the flat surfaces were covered with bottles and sticky circles of alcohol. "Look, I wasn't going to tell you this, but... All right. Buffy had news in that letter that - Spike, are you falling asleep? Spike!"
It took Darla and Dawn a while to get him sober enough to understand what Darla had to say, but once she'd told him about Snyder and his army, and what she and Angel had worked out about Buffy's stupid, stupid plan, he was stone cold sober.
With the worst hangover in the world.
He stumbled onto a horse and when he looked back down at the ground, it seemed very far away.
"Darla," he said before he rode out of his stableyard.
She looked impatient. "Yes?"
"Why are you telling me this?"
Her eyes shifted away. "I'm getting soft," she muttered. "Must be motherhood."
Spike and Dawn stared at her.
"Yes, I'm pregnant," she snapped. "I came up here to ask if you wanted to be godfather. But now I'm not sure if I want my child to have a drunken outlaw for a godfather."
"Why not?" Dawn said. "He has one for a father."
Spike was laughing as he rode away.
It was hell, because his hangover lasted for two days, and halfway through the second one it started raining and didn't stop for another seventy-two hours. He'd lost count of the days and nights when he found himself in the nearest town to the Summers plantation and saw a poster with his face on it, tacked up against a tree.
He changed direction, checked his pistol, and asked the first person he saw for directions to Snyder's house.
When Snyder answered the door, Spike blew his brains out.
Then he rode back out of town, pulling off his mask and letting it flutter to the ground as he rode. Buffy's house swam into view, blurring through his tired eyes, and he got to the front door, spied Anya talking to a dark man, and fell off his horse.
He woke to shouting, and winced.
"I'm tired, I'm dirty, I'm still hungover, and I'm tired," he said. "Can we have less shouting, please?"
Then a voice, still far away but close enough to recognise - he'd always recognise it - said, "Spike?" and he opened his eyes.
There was Buffy, pushing through the press of people around him, looking divinely pretty in a sprigged muslin dress and a wide-brimmed hat, looking down at him in amazement.
He tried to sit up, but every muscle he had complained, so he stayed where he was and moaned, "I think I'm dying."
"Oh God," Buffy said. "Fetch the doctor-"
"No," he grabbed her skirt as she turned away. "I'm fine. Stay here. I'm fine."
She turned back and looked down at him, shading her eyes. "Spike?"
Anya looked around and said, "All right, everyone, get back to work. Leave them." Her voice was steely, and Spike spared a smile in her direction as she shepherded everyone away.
Buffy flopped down, straddling him, and grabbed his dusty shirt front to pull him upright and give him the sweetest kiss in the world.
Then she let him fall back with a thud.
"You complete idiot," she said, "don't you know the whole colony is out looking for you? Snyder will-"
"Snyder's dead," Spike said, rubbing his head, which hurt, like the rest of him.
"If not, then he'll have a hell of a time finding a wig to cover up that big hole in his head."
"Darla told me," he said, and she slumped in defeat. "And I think you're a bloody simpleton for trying something like that on me."
"Worked, didn't it?"
"Until the rum wore off and I realised the only time you'd ever played me was when you said you were playing me."
Buffy looked sulky. "You believed me."
"You were good," he admitted, and then he grinned at her and shifted his hips where she was sitting on him. "But I'm better."
Buffy sucked in her breath and looked down at him warningly. "Not here."
"You're the one who's sitting on me, love." He reached up and pulled her down to him, leaving dirty marks all over her pretty dress, but Buffy didn't seem to care as she kissed him as hard as he was kissing her.
"God, I've missed you," she sighed.
He touched a loose curl of blonde hair. "Tell me you didn't mean it."
"Any of it. It was all to make you hate me."
"Oh, I do, pet," he said, and she stared. "Almost as much as I love you. It's just the other side of the coin. I need you, Buffy. Half an hour apart and I can't finish my sentences. I was like a bloody shipwreck without you."
"Can't have been that bad," she said, with feeling.
"Wanna bet?" He ran his hand up her leg, under her skirt, and Buffy caught her breath. "I rode through three days of rain and two days of hangover and a lot of other days and a lot of other nights," he said. "To see you. To be with you. Sod Snyder and his posse. They can't pin anything on me."
"My son-in-law is the slipperiest lawyer there ever was," Spike said. "So if Dawn ever forgives me for being a drunken twat while I didn't have you, then maybe he'll help me out."
She looked down at him, stroked his cheek, and smiled. "I'm sorry for what I said."
"So you bloody should be." He peered at her, and amended, "I mean, I forgive you."
She laughed. "Spike - William-"
Yes, Spike please, Buffy thought, and said, "I never loved anyone but you. Not ever."
"You love me now?"
He kissed her again, and only stopped when she pulled back, hearing her name called.
She sat up, belatedly realising that she was sitting on top of a dusty, hot man on her own front path.
"Erm..." she turned, and saw one of her neighbours coming up the path, maid in tow, basket in hand. Kathy. Buffy tried not to shudder.
"Buffy, whatever are you doing?"
Buffy looked up and gave Kathy her brightest smile. "Kathy, this is William. My husband."
Spike stared at her, and then he raised his hand for Kathy to shake. She did, looking faint, and when he released her gloved palm she wiped it on her skirt.
"William...?" she looked down her nose at him as if expecting Buffy not to know his surname.
"Darling," Buffy supplied, and grinned, adding, "My darling."
She went back to kissing him, ignoring Kathy who eventually ran away, ignoring the servants who stood and laughed, ignoring Xander and Anya who got inspired and ran upstairs to their bedroom.
And when she'd finished kissing him, he looked up and said, "About that husband thing..."
"You didn't... mean it, did you?"
"Oh, no," Buffy said. "I think I'd prefer to live in sin, wouldn't you?"
He looked at her, frowned, and said, "You've been holding up coaches, haven't you?"
She blushed. "Maybe one or two..."
Spike laughed delightedly. "That's my girl."
Yes, Buffy thought. Your girl. "Anya's fallen in love with this place," she said. "She runs it better than I ever could. So, I was thinking..."
"Staying in one place is so boring..."
"It can be, pet."
"How about we take to the roads..."
She grinned. "I was thinking..." She trailed her fingers along his cheekbones. "Ho about going out west? Undiscovered country. Lots of Spaniards to rob. Frenchmen too."
"How far out west?" Spike asked guardedly.
"As far as we can go. To California," Buffy waved her arms expansively. "Let's conquer the west."
Spike looked up at her and wondered if there was anything he could refuse her. "All right, but I just have to ask one thing of you first…?"
Thinking he was going to beg for sleep or food, she nodded.
Spike sat up. "Stand and deliver!"
She laughed then, and he laughed too, and then she wriggled forwards and kissed him. "Well," she said, "if you insist."
So how was that? Happy with the ending? Surprised? Annoyed? Want to know what my next great scheme will be? Answers on a postcard, please. Or a review form, whichever takes your fancy