Three weeks later
The Desoto pulled up to the Hyperion sometime around midnight, effectively silencing the longevity of Rosie's demanding, "Are we there yet's." The first had occurred about an hour before in jest; a high point Spike failed to make until Buffy brought it to his attention. By that time, though, it was too late. His flare of impatience had inspired the child to continue in the same manner, thus stepping out of the car was the first breath of needed fresh air that they had thought to claim.
They weren't even granted ample opportunity to indulge the night air before Cordelia trailed out ecstatically. After hugging Spike to the point of suffocation—were such possible—she led them inside, aww'ed as Zack and Rosie enjoyed their reunion promptly before she was sent begrudgingly to bed.
Then it was story time. Cordelia plunged right into her adventures in Pylea. How she had gone from slave to royalty, been courted by something called the Groosalugg—a famed creature who turned out to be a hunka man of burnin' love to light her fire. And when pressed, she flatly denied the ridiculous accusation of having ever been tempted.
Spike laughed and eyed Wright, who fidgeted uncomfortably. "Right."
"Well," the Seer returned with a shrug. "He was cute, but Zack threatened to rip his head off and feed it to Angel."
"Man," Gunn commented from where he was reclined against the check-in counter, shaking his head. "You vamps are ugly as sin when you're all bumpy in Pylea. I thought seein' Angel in sunlight was wiggy enough."
"Did the lawyer end up goin'?" the platinum vampire asked.
"Nah. He's been whoring all his credentials to a bunch of law firms that are hungry for former Wolfram and Harters, especially since it's so unheard of," Cordelia replied, shrugging. "Last I heard, he got a helluva deal and a—like—thousand digit income. I think Kate was helping him move into his new place this weekend."
Buffy frowned. "Whoa. Slow down. Rewind. That's nice and all, but…what's this about sunlight?"
The Seer's eyes widened. "Oh, right. Apparently, some of the rules in Pylea were breakable."
"But trust me," Wright intervened, holding up a hand. "That was the only bonus. The place was irreversibly fucked up."
Gunn nodded. "Yeah. Imagine it. They made Cordy supreme ruler."
Wesley stifled a snicker.
"Then," the Seer continued after sending her colleagues death glares, "there was this thing where they were trying to storm a castle so Angel challenged Gru, because he was the king warrior or whatever."
"Excuse me." Zack arched a brow. "Who challenged Gru?"
"Angel did. Then you challenged Angel's challenge because you've got a white armor complex, and you two ended up beating the crap out of each other."
Spike sent a beaming smile to the demon hunter. "That's m'boy."
"Speakin' of the poof, did 'e scamper away or—"
Cordelia arched an eyebrow. "Yeah. Zack and Angel can barely be in the same room together. Add you to the mix and…well, let's just say I don't exactly want World War III to be here. We have enough to deal with."
Spike nodded his thanks; Buffy wasn't nearly as tacit.
"Where is he?"
"Caritas," Wesley replied. "Nikki insisted on going with him."
Gunn shrugged. "Told you the girl was gonna fall head over."
"I think it was more an excuse to stake him while we're not looking," Wright provided.
"An' I'm even beginnin' to like Nikki."
Cordelia waved a hand dismissively. "More likely, it was an excuse to get out of the hotel. Ever since we got back, she and Wes have been splitting 'Fred duty'."
Spike and Buffy exchanged confused glances.
"Oh, didn't we tell you?" The two vampires shook their heads in synchronic wonder. "Fred's the girl from my vision. Well, Winifred, I should say. The one that was sucked into Pylea. We found her and brought her back with." The Seer's voice lowered conspiratorially. "She's kinda loopy."
"She has a bizarre affinity for tacos," Wesley added. "But she's fascinating. Her mind is…once she pieces everything together, I daresay she will—"
"Word of advice," Gunn intervened, rolling his eyes. "Don't get him started."
"He has a bit of a crush," Wright added with a cheeky grin.
The former Watcher frowned as though affronted, but all the offense in the world could not hide the boyish blush that arose to his cheeks. "I most certainly do not. My interest in her is purely…scientific."
"Yeah." Gunn snickered. "His next scientific 'experiment' will likely involve modeling in a string bikini, just to see if she remembers how they fit."
Spike chuckled and shrugged. "Well, 'f it works, it works."
"Do we get to meet her?" Buffy asked, turning her eyes to the upper level as though she would appear on suggestion alone. "I mean, she sounds…ummm…interesting, and…do we get to meet her?"
The group exchanged a series of skeptical looks.
"Fred doesn't come out of her room unless she wants more tacos," Gunn said. "It's dark and cave-like. She feels safe there."
"Besides, people she doesn't know might wig her out," Cordelia observed. "Maybe some other time."
"Yeh. We'll drop in." Spike smirked richly. "I gotta make sure Zangy treats you right an' everythin'."
Wright snickered. "So, you two are off, then?"
The peroxide vampire smiled and turned his attention back to Buffy, eyes warming at the very notion. "Yeh. You know…places to go, people to avoid. Rooms to…break in."
"Loudly," Gunn added. "I definitely remember the loudly."
Buffy flushed and whacked Spike across the shoulder. He merely grinned.
"Any idea on where you two might stop first?" Wesley asked.
"'m tryin' to talk her into Vegas. She doesn' seem to be goin' for it."
"Good girl," Wright agreed, wide-eyed. "Stay away from Vegas. They have some freaky-ass demons there. Go somewhere nice and boring."
"Canada?" Cordelia volunteered.
The hunter stared at her. "Yeah. If they wanna be up to their ass in soul-snatching uglies, fine."
Spike raised a hand. "Don' have a soul."
"Well, I do," Buffy returned. "And I'd kinda like to keep it."
"Then don't go to Canada."
She shrugged. "Our game plan right now is to drive around and do whatever suits us."
"Which means they'll get as far as the backseat," Gunn said with a grin.
"Charlie! My lady an' I can hear you, y'know." Spike paused thoughtfully. "'Sides. That's bloody dangerous, what with the sun an' all. Even in my car. We'd at leas' need to make it to a broom closet."
Wright shook his head. "I shudder to think of what all you told my daughter."
Buffy waved a flippant hand. "Nothing ten to fifteen years of extensive therapy can't fix," she assured him.
"Ummm, if I may," Wesley volunteered. "With all the child has seen, if she hasn't needed therapy yet…"
There was a long, meaningful pause, and without forward indication, it was time for goodbyes all over again. Spike expelled a deep breath, determined not to make a big deal out of it. After all, goodbye was only goodbye for a little while. He and Buffy would return. Now they had nothing holding them back. No obligations to tend to on a whim. It was a fantastic revelation.
As though sensing his digression, Cordelia moved to give him another hug, pouring the full of everything into her embrace. "Well," she said slowly. "Don't be a stranger."
"Don' worry, pet," he replied. "The lot of you aren't anywhere near rid of me."
"Lucky us," Gunn drawled. When he earned a narrowed glance in turn, he shrugged. "You know you'll be missed, Bro. I just don't do hugs."
Wesley stepped forward to shake their hands in turn. "Best of luck," he told them earnestly. "You know you two always have a room here."
"Don't worry," Buffy replied. "We'll undoubtedly be taking you up on that."
There was another awkward pause. Spike met Wright's eyes and offered a weak smile. With that, there was too much to say. He owed the other man more than he cared to admit, and he never left a debt unpaid. It was something that could not be expressed with any measure of success in words. Thus, he refused to try.
It grew too tense, and the silence screamed a need to be broken. The demon hunter seized initiative, finally stepping forward with intent and reached into his pocket. "Here. I need to give you something."
Something pressed against Spike's palm. He glanced down curiously.
"It's a cell phone."
The platinum vampire rolled his eyes. "I can bloody well see that."
"Then why did you ask me?"
"I meant, 'What's this an' what's it doin' in my hand,' but I thought you'd be smart enough for the Cliff's Notes version. I was wrong."
The group snickered. Buffy whacked his arm again. And life was good.
Wright merely shook his head. "Just use it, all right? Call…and stuff." There was an awkward pause as the implications of the gesture sank in. He hurried to eradicate it. "Besides…" A wicked grin spread his lips. "We set up the account so that Angel will receive the bill. So don't hesitate for something long distance."
Spike's eyes twinkled at that, and he smirked in turn. "Outstandin'." With a nod of gratitude, he pocketed the phone, then reached out to shake his friend's hand. "Zangy…" He drew in a deep breath, considering his words. "Take care of the Bit an' don't die. Oh, an' 'f you hurt Cordy, I'll rip your throat out."
Wright nodded, expecting nothing less, and a dry smile painted across his face. "Don't die, and if you hurt Buffy, you won't be around to regret it."
They nodded their understanding. And that was that.
Spike didn't speak again until they were situated comfortably in the Desoto, adjusting seatbelts. His silence was indicative of his reservation; the same he would never confess aloud, even and especially to her. The last thing Buffy needed was a guilt trip. This was the way it was, and he was happy with it. He was happy as long as she was there beside him, and that was something that would always be. "So, luv," he drawled. "You got anywhere in particular you wanna head? I hear Paris's lovely this time of year."
"Isn't Paris lovely all times of the year?"
He shrugged. "'m sure there's an off-season in there somewhere."
Buffy frowned, nibbling on her lip in thought. "I'm not really in a Paris mood," she decided after a minute.
He smiled. Trust her to not be in a Paris mood when she couldn't even pinpoint exactly what a Paris mood consisted of. However, he would not argue. They had time for everything.
"Fair enough. Italy's lovely, too. 'm particularly fond of Rome, though I've heard 's gotten even filthier than it was the last time I was there." He tilted his head in consideration. "Florence 's great, too. Or we could skip the Europe thing altogether an'—"
"Actually, Spike…I kinda have something to tell you."
The platinum vampire immediately went rigid. There was something dangerous in her tone.
"What is it, sweetheart?"
"Ummm…I kinda already made reservations somewhere." She flashed a weak smile and shrugged. "Sorry I didn't mention it before."
Relief rolled off his shoulders. She had the way of making the simplest of revelations sound like the forthcoming of the next apocalypse. And while that was something he had and always would admire about her, it had the ability to scare the full of his unlife right out of his body at times. "Oh. 'S that all?"
"You're not mad?"
"Why would I be?"
She shrugged. "'Cause I didn't tell you."
Spike arched a brow. "You're tellin' me now, aren't you? That's good enough for me."
"So…where we headed?"
The Slayer bit her lip again and glanced down. "I got reservations at this hotel. Really big, historic, plenty of vacancies and the rooms looked fantastic the last time I was there." She glanced up slowly, waiting until realization flooded his eyes, enjoying the flecks of light that danced within the blue. "You see, the only problem is, it isn't an active hotel. It's sort've run by these—"
"Buffy…" He reached for her hand. "Are you…we din't have to—"
"No, Spike. We really did." She smiled, and that sealed it. The world in one smile. "Now…go. Pop the trunk and get our stuff. The manager told me that if we hurried, he'd give us a grand tour." He was still staring at her in wonder. "And the best part is, I have a guarantee from the other manager's girlfriend that we'll be the only sunlight-deprived residents."
"He owes us one, don't you think?"
There was another long, disbelieving beat.
Then a smile as wide as any she had ever seen spread across his lips. Spike reached across the seat and kissed her with more than love. He kissed her with everything that he was.
"Thank you," he murmured when they pulled apart.
"No," she replied softly, caressing his cheek with her palm. "Thank you. For everything." His expression grew tender and poignant. And it was worth it. Everything was so worth it. "Now…get out. Go see your friends. This is your vacation."
"'S our vacation, luv. An' those are our friends."
She smiled a watery smile. "Yes, they are."
Spike grinned and kissed her again, whispering a heartfelt, "I love you," before bounding out of the car.
This was it. This was right. This was everything. And it was only the beginning.
Buffy smiled to herself and followed. How long they would stay, she did not know. For everything she owed, for the same she knew he would never ask for, no amount of time would ever be enough. But this was the way it should be. If not forever, for now would work.
She was here with the man she loved, and he was happy. He was happy. That meant the world to her.
And for that, she realized, so was she. Buffy Summers was happy. The concept finally grasped her, cornered her, made her realize exactly what she had. Watching his happiness ensued her own. Today was only the first step of many. They had an eternity to explore.
So this was love.
"Buffy?" Spike was at the doorway of the Hyperion, watching her with a concerned frown. "Sweetheart, are you all right?"
She was more than all right.
"Yeah." She shrugged nonchalantly. "I just love you, is all."
He warmed her with his smile. "Love you, too."
"Why haven't you gone in?"
"Waitin' for you."
There was so much he could do to her with words. It made her ache to think of how she could have ever missed this. How close she had come to it. How much he had been made to sacrifice just for this.
His eyes told her without a word that he would gladly do it all over again.
And the really amazing thing was, so would she.
Spike waited at the door for her, eyes glowing the luminosity that didn't know a name. He birthed so many new feelings into the world without waiting for the old ones to catch up.
"You ready?" he asked, brushing a tender kiss across her forehead.
Buffy smiled. "Yes."
He nodded, and his fingers lacing through hers, palm-to-palm in holy palmer's kiss. "Then, let's go."
And that was it. The end of one and the beginning of a new. Hand in hand, they crossed the threshold.
A/N (conclusive): I really have nothing to say other than this has been an absolute ball from the beginning, and I'm already missing not-working on the story. It was one of the most trying to let go…I don't think I realized that it was going to actually end until it did. Again, I'd like to extend my thanks to everyone who took the time to read/review/email me/etc. You guys are the best.
And yes, overkill, but hey…again, I must bow my head in gratitude to Megan and Kimmie for all their help.
As far as a sequel…I have no plans for one. For now, I'm satisfied where this one has ended. If there ever is anymore, it'll likely be more in dealing Zack and the Fang Gang—likely in Pylea—simply because I grew very close to him and will miss him very much, as well as his close kinship with our favorite platinum vampire. (Kimmie still wants me to do the Zack Wright Chronicles; that's something that will have to be given some thought. I never say never…well, almost never.) For now, though, I'm happy to leave them as they are: close and with frequent visits from Spike and Buffy.
My sincere thanks again to everyone.