Title:  Greenwich Mean Time

Author: little_bit

Summary: You can't force destiny.  But you can't run away from it either.

Rating: R

Pairing: B/S

Spoilers: Post AtS 5.8, Destiny

Word Count: Oh, god.  Too damn many.  6,960.  Eep.

Feedback: If you must – little_bit2ca@yahoo.com

Archive: Yeah, sure, whatever, just ask.

Disclaimer:  Joss, et al.  I own a tiny condo and a VW Beetle, nothing more.  I make no claims on the characters within.

The Challenge: Written for sarah_p who requested: Spike/Buffy.  Shippy.  Their first meeting in AtS S5, after Sunnydale (and Spike) went boom.  Oh, and Spike already recorporealized. 

Notes:  Originally written as part of sallyanne's livejournal Fanfic Junk Drawer Challenge #2.  Beta help came from angelchicken, mrmonkeybottoms, lunakornkid, and sallyanne.  As always, by 'beta help', I mean much handholding.  If it sucks, blame me, not them, they did their best.

Completed: 18/01/04.  Revised 22/01/04.

*****

Wasn't quite how Spike imagined.  Then again, not many of his plans saw successful fruition.  He was pretty good at the planning part.  Too bad neither demon nor soul had the patience or common sense to see things through to the end.  Suppose that was why his plans always blew up in his face.  Like Wile E. Fucking Coyote, he was.

Witness Buggered Up Plan # 687957:  Commandeering a Wolfram and Hart corporate jet to London and showing up on the Slayer's front step. Unannounced.

The 'unannounced' part was the tricky bit.  Hard to give proper warning when you got yourself immolated six months back and spent the last five months doing your best impression of Hamlet's dear old dad.

How do you tell someone you're back from the dead when you were dead to begin with and you don't remember the being dead?

Spike really wasn't made for stuff like this. 

Buffy saw him.  He rose from her front steps and Buffy stared at him with those big luminous eyes.  It was wonderful because he was looking at her and she was looking at him.

At least she was.  Until she ran away.

Not the grand Hollywood ending of the original plan.  Not even close.  Because in the Hollywood ending, Spike had the girl in his arms during the tasteful fade to black that everyone knew led to wild, passionate shagging.  

He had considered other possible outcomes.  There could be hugging.  Handholding would suffice.  He admitted an "I'm happy you're back, Spike, let's talk things through" was the most likely conclusion. 

But no worst-case scenario handbook prepared him for the reality of seeing Buffy again.  He waited for her.  He existed for her.  And when he walked back into Buffy's life, all she said was, "No."

*****

Okay then.  Deep breaths.  Smile on her face.  She could do this.  She could open her front door and see Spike and not run off like a frightened colt.

Well, not again, if that counted for anything.

Buffy blew it.  She knew this.  Valley-girl pedigree and Slayer self-centred tendencies aside, she could admit when she'd screwed up royally. 

Who could blame her?  Spike, the bane of her existence when trying to kill her and as her best friend, sat on her front steps like some Greek statue by way of Vivienne Westwood.  Was she supposed to jump for joy and immediately make with the smoochies?

Um, no.

It was more complicated than that.  Spike?  Was dead.  Not 'vampire dead' or 'Buffy dead' but I-watched-him-burn, dust-to-dust dead.  And as much as it pained her, Buffy accepted the deadness with a calm and clarity that scared everyone she knew.  She was proud Spike died a hero.  In those final moments, Spike finally understood her and she finally understood Spike and it was a really fitting if kinda sad end to it all.

So the being alive?  More than a little freaky.  Thus the denying his existence and running away and looking like a fool. Then there was the standing at her door for a half hour when she knew that if this Spike was still her Spike he knew damn well that she was on the other side just like she knew he was inside and, wow, Buffy really needed to work out some issues.

Out of the frying pan…

*****

"I walked into the bloody fire for you!  You and the Scoobies and the Slayerettes!  Thought maybe you'd care I wasn't blowing in the wind but you take one look at me and run away!  And, and –"

She laughed.  Buffy, the glorious bitch who'd taught him new meanings of pain and love, laughed at him.  Despite the fact Spike knew he should keep up the outraged act, he couldn't.  Buffy was lovely when she laughed.

Defeated, Spike sank down beside her on the couch.  The righteous indignation was a waste of time, especially after Buffy apologized profusely for the botched meet and greet.  How could he stay mad at a girl who knew where to buy blood in London in the middle of the night?  A girl who also bought him a week's supply as a peace offering?

Spike hoped all that blood meant he was staying.  He already had an invite in and an offer of a room.  Truth be told, wasn't so much an offer as grudging suggestion.  Having witnessed Spike's dark figure on the steps as rejected by Buffy, Dawn shrugged off his back among the living status with a, "Guest room is upstairs, third door on the left.  You're out on your ass if any of the new Slayers show up though.  And keep the noise down."

Easier said than done.  Spike pounced the moment Buffy came in, pretty much desperate to talk after her two-hour disappearing act.  More like two hours and six months, give or take.  Not as if Spike counted the days.  Anymore.

He had a lot to say.  Some of it was loud.  Wanted to explain how he was back.  How he missed her.  How Angel hated his guts. Why even though he thought all this destiny stuff was bollocks, he still wanted it to be true.  With an almost suffocating intensity, he wanted a destiny.

First, however, he yelled at Buffy for running away, then -- right on schedule -- he caved, knowing his re-existence was understandably off-putting.  Plus, there was the laughter, which was much more productive than the yelling.  It resulted in Buffy taking his hand in hers, a shuddering first contact that made the fumbled attempts at verbal communication unnecessary.  Deeds, not words, seemed to work best with them.  Knew they'd talk, really talk, eventually.  Just wasn't the time yet.  Now was for simply being.

After everything, it came down to this: the two of them on a couch in a posh flat on the Embankment, looking out towards the Palace of Westminster and the lights dancing on the Thames. 

"I'm happy you're back, Spike."

"Me too, love.  Me too."

*****

Buffy fell in love with London.

Not immediately, of course.  London was simply a convenient home base for the new "Slayers of the World, Unite!" campaign.  There were the remnants of the Council to scavenge and easy access to the continent.  Quick trips to Bath for Giles and the coven for Willow.  Being in London made sense.  It didn't hurt that London was hip and fashionable with plentiful supplies of kick-ass Jimmy Choo boots.  Or that Kennedy's richer-than-sin parents fell head over heels for the rah-rah-girl-power Slayer bit and offered to pony up a healthy amount to support the New Slayer World Order.  Thus the shoes and the enviable apartment and the many visits from new Slayers.

Despite all these wonderful things, for Buffy, London remained a place to live. That was, until Spike showed up and London started to feel like home.

Early on, Dawn tried hard to carve a hominess out of their strangers-in-a-strange land routine, replicating old recipes as best she could, buying large, overstuffed furniture and making Willow magic up a few family photos.  Giles protested a bit at that, saying it wasn't wise to create false mementos, until Dawn gave him her best annoyed teenager hair flip and reminded him that anything about her pre-2000 was as magic'd up as you could get, pictures included.  And since Giles lived in Bath, why did he care what they put in their home anyway?

All of Dawn's efforts were much appreciated.  Unfortunately, as Buffy watched her sister grow more accustomed to another country, she still felt adrift.  Seven years of destiny and prophecy fulfilling had their toll, and she admitted she actually missed that particular monkey.  Her back was completely free now and Buffy had no clue how to just live a life.

Spike certainly had ideas.  In between rants about being a ghost and what a prat Angel was and how muscle tissue being burned from bone tingles at first, he told her to get out more.  Explore London; see the sights beyond Oxford Circus.  Offered to show her the city's greatest hits, vampire style. 

Definitely tempting.  And that was the problem.  Having Spike back made her comfort level skyrocket, made her really love her new life.  He made it okay for her to simply be.  But the past three days also brought new meaning to the term 'awkward phase'.  While they talked about almost everything, they still practiced their patented form of dancing.  Around a big gaping hole labelled "I Love You."

Oh, she thought about it.  Knew Spike thought about it.  Knew Spike knew she thought about it.  Knew he knew she knew he thought about it.  And so on and so forth until they talked around the issue so much they were left with nothing to talk about but the 'I love you' and neither one of them wanted to talk about that.  Because right now was as close to a honeymoon stage as they'd get.  Bringing up more emotional baggage was so not going to help.  Not when Spike still made her tingle all the right ways in all the wrong places and dear god, was his bottom lip always that full?

Thank goodness Dawn acted as buffer, intermittently complaining about Spike's mugs of blood between playing hands of cribbage with him.  There'd be no inappropriateness of the verbal or pelvic variety with her baby sister in the house.

"I'm going to Devon."

Well, crap.

"What?  You can't go to Devon.  You have school and, and stuff."  Buffy stared at Dawn's packed bags and Spike smoking on the balcony and back to her sister, who was leaving.  Leaving her alone.  With Spike.

"So I miss some school.  Like that's never been done before in our family."

"But, but…School!  Plus, Spike just got back and-"

"Buffy, Spike's not here for me.  And if I have to see you two give each other that look one more time, I'm locking you in a room with a stake and some handcuffs to have at it."

"Dawn!"  Sex talk with Dawn was still a Buffy no-go zone and there was a look now?  "What look?"

Stunned and defenceless in the face of Dawn's determination, Buffy allowed herself to be pulled in front of the hall mirror for inspection.  Dawn slung an arm around her shoulder and met her gaze in the mirror.

"This look."

"There's no look."

Dawn smiled and leaned in to whisper in Buffy's ear.  "Spike's back from the dead."

"I-"  Buffy planned on saying 'I know that, Ms. McObvious-Pants' in the flippest voice she had.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the snarking.  Dawn said Spike's name and Buffy watched her face change.  Her head tilted invitingly, her eyes became wide and bright, her lips softened in a whisper of a smile.  A look she was very familiar with.  Spike sported it like a second skin.  Stupid perceptive Dawn. "I…Yeah.  I'll call you a cab."

Dawn left, and Buffy got ready to fall in love in London.

*****

"Said you needed to get out, see the sights, pet.  But this?" Spike gestured with disdain at the twinkling lights on the "showboat" currently cruising eastwards along the Thames, a middle-aged and middling crowd settling in for the soon-to-start karaoke cabaret.  "Not what I had in mind."

"Aww, come on Spike.  You lived through all this music.  Don't tell me you were never a Broadway baby."   Buffy sidled up beside him to lean against the rail, humming along with the Lloyd Webber shite that passed as entertainment on their little adventure boat.  And Spike didn't know what was more confusing: that Buffy was obviously flirting with him or that he knew this song was from the second act of Aspects of Love

It had been a strange two days.  With the Bit off to visit Willow, whatever was going on between him and Buffy amplified and contracted into an odd domesticity.  Buffy got up early in the morning and went out to do whatever it was she did to keep in touch with the new Slayers.  Late afternoon found him on the couch watching Ready Steady Cook.  Waiting for her to come home; waiting for whatever he'd put into motion by showing up on her doorstep to start.

First step was patrol.  A tad surprising to find out that a responsibility-free Buffy still went out on patrol.  Spike joked with her, asked if the denizens of London Below gave her much hassle, but Buffy only smiled and said she still felt the itch to get out and kill things.  A vampire could respect that, if not her knowledge of literary allusion.

Falling back into their patrolling pattern was easy.  The concentrate-real-hard-to-get-in-one-punch thing had grown old, fast.  Solid violence was the way to go, particularly when there was a hot little slayer by your side.  Bonus points for the fact Buffy still patrolled in leather pants that showed off her ass to perfection.  Combine that with the high kicks and witty quips and he loved her more than ever. 

Even if he never told her again.

Spike had stumbled upon a Buffy in transition.  Weight of the world lifted, she excelled at the mentor role.  Funny that, how just as Buffy learned to live without a clear path, Spike latched onto the idea he could have a road of his own.  One where love may prove to be irrelevant.  Or mildly inconvenient at the least.

Shanshu was a touchy issue to bring up.  Could have lived out his days patrolling and playing cards and not once mention beating Angel with a lead pipe.  But he had to explain what he did after re-corporealization and it was either talk about the Shanshu or the sex with Harmony.

Shanshu it was.

He spoke about bearing the burden; his chances at humanity.  How for some reason, it felt right to want it.  Buffy seemed a bit pensive at first, probably stuck on the human Spike versus human Angel conundrum.  She didn't, however, try to talk him out of it, or make a case for Angel deserving it instead of him.  Buffy only smiled, told him she already knew he was a champion, and she was proud of him.

Bugger.

How could she be so sure?  Spike wasn't.  Damn right he wanted something, anything, but for so long it had only been Buffy.  And now, being with her again, he didn't care what happened with his future, as long as he was with her.  Needed his girl, not a living life.  Needed her to help him make sense of the world.  Being human wouldn't make that any easier, would it?

Of course, he noted the dreamy look in Buffy's eye when he mentioned becoming human.  The look that spoke volumes, of dreams she was finally letting herself have.  Marriage.  Children.  Could be him.  Could be Chuckles.  Could be Xander for all Spike knew.  But Buffy wanted it, which made the destiny mongering even more complicated.

And it didn't help that right now, she was holding his hand.

The sea cruise was Buffy's idea of seeing London.  She came home flush with shopping bags and demands to "Make yourself pretty, we're going out."  Spike attributed her good mood to too much caffeine.  Or dreams of babies.  He didn't know what to make of suddenly touchy-feely Buffy, not when they steered clear of the issue of love.

Spike looked out over the Thames, to the city that gave him life and death and eternal life again.  Only right that here was where he'd decide his future again.  Just…not tonight.  He dropped Buffy's hand and pointed across the water.

"See that there?  That's the type of sightseeing I meant.  The Cutty Sark.  Sailed from Shanghai to London in 110 days.  Quite the sensation in 1870.  Made the world a smaller place, brought the exotic to your door.  My father, he was fascinated by ships.  We came down  to see her moored…"

Buffy took his hand again, and squeezed ever so lightly.  Spike turned to meet her gaze.  She had that look.  Sort of amused and amazed and just this side of weepy.  Hell.  Spike knew better than to talk about his human life.  It was like some sort of verbal story-time crack for Buffy.  Maybe more so now that she knew about Shanshu. 

"'Course, within a few years I was using ships as a regular feeding ground.  Suppose I ran through more sailors than a syphilitic whore."

Buffy dropped his hand and furrowed her brow.  "I don't know whether to be outraged or take a bath.  You're aware that isn't exactly great date conversation material."

Right.  Comparing one's killing sprees to whoring also not a topic to bring up around Buffy.  The off limits pile now included love, humanity, Angel, killing, and whores.  What was he supposed to talk about now?  Demons?  The weather?  Lesbians?  The latter had potential, but, wait.  This was a date?

"Is this a date?"

He wondered what he looked like at this moment.  Off Buffy's grin, he assumed he looked like a ponce.  She leaned into him, hip to hip, and slung an arm around his waist, just high enough to keep things PG-13.

"If you want it to be."

Well.  Oh.

Best turn of events since being re-materialized, Spike wagered.  With a short chuckle, he pulled Buffy closer, kissed the top of her head and said, "That'd be grand, love.  Just grand."

*****

Giddy Spike was a sight to behold.  He'd taken her confirmation of official date status and run with it.  There was handholding and cheek caressing and hair behind the ear brushing.  It was a vast improvement over the all talk, no action-ness of the previous days.   And it was scary as hell.

Sure, Buffy was the one to come up with the whole clandestine date plan.  And she was the one to initiate the touching.  But to admit, for the first time ever, that Spike was pretty much her boyfriend?  Big with the scary leaping forward.

Those last few days before Sunnydale went boom, Buffy did her best not to name what she had with Spike.  It was new and fragile and so very confusing.  Plus, not a lot of time to put into relationship building when you're trying to prevent world-into-hell suckage.  But she'd been prepared to deal with it later.  Told Spike as much.  Then he died and she didn't get the chance.

Her life was fraught with lost opportunities.  You could almost set your watch by "Buffy Misses Out on Something" time.  Which was why with Spike back, with a chance at a future, a human future, she decided to stop wasting time and simply go for it.  Be with him.  The vampire, the man, the…guy who knew a lot of seemingly useless information.

Seemed Spike had decided to dazzle her on their first date with a history of Greenwich.  Not that Buffy could see much of it at night aside from the lights on the big, funny-shaped dome and the boat named after the guy on Alias.  And while not a topic Buffy would usually pick, Spike's current thesis on time was appropriate.

"This is where it all starts and stops.  This is the place that makes sense of the world."

"How's that now?"

"The meridian, pet.  Greenwich Mean Time.  Place that gives the world time."

"Please to be explainy."  Pulling her chair closer to his, Buffy leaned on his shoulder and sing-songed, "Teach me.  Teeeeeeeeeaach meeeeeee!"  She loved being on a date.

Looked like Spike loved it, too.  He gave her a grin so wicked, her heart leapt.  Then Spike called over a waiter.  "Oi, need a pen here."

Pen in hand, Spike cleared the clutter off their table and started to draw on the pristine white tablecloth.

"You can't do that!"

"Buffy, three years ago you told me I'd never have a chance with you.  Your track record on 'can't do's' doesn't inspire confidence."

Buffy wanted to scold him, but it was funny.  And Funny Date Spike was surprisingly persuasive.

He worked in silence for a few moments, sketching a segmented globe.  Then he explained the world to her.  How time was made by man, by choice; how no matter where you are in the world, you're always connected to this one spot whether you know it or not.  London time, Sunnydale time: eight hours wherein her life could change.  Spike made the world make sense when she hadn't even known she was lost.

It wasn't so much what Spike said, it was how he said it.  Pen in his left hand, adding new lines now and again for emphasis, he wrapped his other arm around her waist to pull her close.  Buffy went willingly, all the better for Spike to whisper his lesson in her ear, lulling her into a lovely place where there was no boat, no water, no time at all.  There was only them.  It was a nice place to be.

"There you have it.  Time in a bottle.  Courtesy of England."

Buffy smiled into his neck.  "Hubris.  Also courtesy of England, huh?"

"Missing the point, love.  It's not really anything at all.  An imaginary line, but it brings definition.  Creates order out of chaos.  Everyone needs it.  Just lucky some bloke decided to find it for us."

"And if he hadn't?"

"Dunno.  World would be different, I reckon.  A little wilder, maybe."

"It's still wild."

"Yeah."

"But it has an anchor."  She took his hand in hers, lined their fingers up.  "Everything is connected.  Everyone has something to come back to."

He gave her that utter adoration look.  Maybe it was because Spike was pleased she understood his lesson.  Or maybe it was because she gave him the same look in return.

*****

"I wasn't going to come here, you know.  Thought maybe it'd seem like I didn't mean it.  That if I came running back to you, I didn't really understand what it meant to die for all the right reasons."

"You're an idiot."

"Well aware of that, Buffy."

She pushed a wayward lock of hair back from his forehead.  "I'm glad you changed your mind."

"Not a strong man, darling.  Love you too much to never see you again."

Spike held Buffy close, curled up together in her bed.  The evening had followed the Hollywood romance formula so well Spike was waiting for the wacky misunderstanding to pop up and tear them apart.  Maybe Angel would burst in and announce he had a brain tumour.  It would explain the massive forehead swelling.

So far, their luck held.  A strategically spilled wine glass covered his tablecloth doodles.  The screeching singers eventually buggered off so the band could play something resembling music that let him dance with Buffy.  And they held hands the entire walk home.

But there was no kissing.  No fevered touching besides some quality cuddling.  Once home, Buffy yawned and tugged him up to her room, where she pulled him onto her bed, wrapped her body around his, and proceeded to doze.  Each time one of them shifted or moved the other flowed in tandem.   They created a quiet, sheltered place for each other, where nothing else mattered but being close.  Then there were lucid moments like this, when he whispered to her all the things he'd been afraid to say since coming back. 

Like how much he loved her.

He figured, since they were together now, he could tell her he loved her.  Didn't expect it in return.  Wasn't disappointed when she didn't say it.  He was surprised, however, when Buffy leaned up to feather her lips across his.  Spike froze, a moment of uncertainty breaking his calm, until Buffy coiled her fingers in his hair to pull him to her, murmuring all the while, "Closer."

That he could do.

Loved kissing her, with those soft lips and sweet little tongue.  Her hot, breathy gasps for air as their noses brushed.  The way she rested her forehead against his and gazed into his eyes.  Fuck, she was beautiful.

Not sure how far this was going, Spike let his hand wander under her shirt to caress her, gentle touches up and down her back, her sides, her stomach, until one hand lightly cupped her breast.  Buffy arched into him.  When her own hand found its way under the waistband of his jeans to grab his ass, Spike took that as the go-ahead for more than just a make-out session.

Drove him crazy, she did, with her leg locked around his hip to drag him on top of her.  Spike settled between her legs with ease and proceeded to lavish attention on her neck before working his way down to her cleavage.  He nosed her silk blouse aside and kissed the tops of her breasts, then traced a path back up to her mouth.  Yeah, kissing.  Magnificent stuff that, especially with the girl you love moaning underneath you.  Could kiss her for days and never tire of it.  Didn't need any more than her li-

Buffy reached between them to cup his erection.

God.  Too much, too fast.  Wanted her more than anything but if she kept touching him like that Spike knew he'd burst in his pants like a teenager.  Not very romantic.

"Spike."  Buffy yanked a handful of hair so he was forced to look at her.  Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.  Her grip relaxed as her gaze swept downward.  The shy-by-way-of-vixen routine was endearing.  He waited her out, until she finally looked up at him under tender lashes.  "Spike, I love you.  Make love to me."

"Oh, hell.  Buffy."

There were no words.  He fell on her, kissing everywhere he could.  His hands in her hair and her taste in his mouth and she wanted this as much as he did, he could feel it. 

Couldn't get her naked fast enough.  Their clothes tossed haphazardly around the room, Spike let himself tumble head first into joy.  Buffy giggled at his clumsy eagerness and he placed that at the top of his Things Buffy Should Do In Bed list.  He'd made her scream in pleasure a thousand times before, but watching her radiate with elation from nothing more than his Tarzan rumble as he pulled off his shirt and threw it aside was the sexiest thing he'd ever seen.

Well, maybe the second, because her charming little pink lace panties weren't exactly slouching off in the sexy department.

Sliding down her body to scrutinize the garment, Spike traced the delicate flower pattern with whisper soft fingertips.  Buffy shivered in response and he grinned against her thigh.

"These are very pretty, pet.  Were you planning on seducing me?"

Buffy gave him a coy wink in response, and ever so slightly arched her hips.  Spike got the message, but was having a bit of fun. 

"You know, these are rather apropos-"

Buffy's hips dropped back to the bed.  "Spike, if the next words out of your mouth compare any part of my anatomy to a pink flower, you can so forget getting laid tonight."

"Right then."  Cutting off further protests, Spike pulled the panties down Buffy's legs and replaced the flowers with his mouth.

"Oh."

He remembered everything she liked, knew the rhythms of her body.  Kept it slow, a stroke of his tongue to get a gasp, slight rasp of his teeth for a moan.  His pattern was ever changing, never lingering too long in one spot.  This was how she loved it.  Told him so by twisting up to meet him, working with him to build her pleasure.

When Buffy came, she didn't call out Spike's name.  She chanted "Love, love, love, love" over and over until Spike was above her again, kissing the words from her lips.

"Buffy, love.  Making love.  Not getting laid.  Not fucking.  Making love."

"Yes, yes, yes.  Love.  Love you, want you.  My Spike."

Bodies entwined, Spike watched in fascination as Buffy guided him inside her.  So sweet, his girl.  Eyes closed and lips parted, she begged to be kissed.  So he did.  Kissed her as he rocked into her, feeling her, loving her.  Made her his as Spike gave himself to her, body and soul.  Until finally Buffy broke free of his lips, panting for breath but never breaking the hypnotic rhythm of her hips against his.  He hitched up slightly to gaze down at her.  She cupped his cheek and he smiled, grinning even more when the goddess below him smiled in return, then in one smooth motion flipped him on his back.

Sitting up with a hip shimmy, Buffy set a slow pace, riding him with intense awareness, as if she wanted to memorize every second of their lovemaking.  Spike understood how she felt.  His hands roamed across her thighs, hips, stomach, breasts, re-mapping her body.  He finally settled one hand on her hip to guide her movements, his right hand grasping her left.

Buffy stopped moving.  She stared at their interlocked hands with fascination. 

"Buffy?"

Another smile, and she pulled him up to meet her.  Pressed tightly together, her legs locked around his waist, Spike guided her gentle bounce, her breasts coasting across his chest.  Being close like this – soft and slow – yeah, this was the way it was meant to be.  This was home.

He kissed her as she came again, eyes open to watch her face.  And when her sighed "I love you" passed across his lips, Spike followed her into bliss.

Not a lot of movement afterwards.  They settled back together under the covers, Buffy safely tucked at his side.  Just the way he liked it, the way he'd always wanted love to be.  Now he had it.  Wonderful, that.  Only underneath all the happiness and cuddling, Spike couldn't shake the tiny ache that maybe, just maybe, the other shoe was going to drop.

"I meant it, you know."

All focus on his girl, he traced patterns on her arm.  "What's that, sweetness?"

"When I said I love you."

"I know.  Love you too."

"No.  The first time."

Was this the other shoe?  Because he could handle this.  Not much more than a slipper, really.

"Knew that too."

"Then why-"

Taking a moment to consider his answer, Spike distracted Buffy with butterfly kisses to her face and neck.

"Told you, that night in the house, what it meant.  Saying I love you doesn't always mean in love, right?"  He waited until she nodded to continue.  "When I say I love you, I'm talking about you, not me.  Telling you something about yourself.  Your strength, your goodness, your heart.  Yeah?"

Another nod.  "Yeah."

"I knew, when you told me, you weren't talking about in love."

"But I-"

"Ssh, pet, let me finish.  You were telling me you knew my strength.  Knew my heart.  Telling me you were proud of me.  What I needed to hear in that moment.  I love you Buffy, but I didn't die for you alone.  So it meant something in that last moment to think you knew that too."

"I did."

"Good.  Because I did appreciate you saying it.  Thanked you, didn't I?"

Buffy rolled her eyes dramatically. "Just what a girl wants to hear when she declares her love.  Thanks!"

"Hey, no complaining.  All worked out in the end."  Spike kissed her, making more talk obsolete.

"Oh, yes."

*****

Buffy woke up alone.

Well, not really.  The first four times she woke up that night, Spike was there to make love to her over and over again.  Odds were at some point she'd wake up and he'd be out on the balcony for a smoke.  This was that one in five.

Settling herself into the pillows, Buffy allowed herself a moment to wallow in the sickening happiness of being in love.  And the close, sexy intimacy that went with it.  They were so, so good together.  Sure, the sex was great before, but it was all surface, pure physical sensation.  The stuff they were doing now?  God, just, wow.  It was pretty amazing to realize that loving Spike made fucking him a thing of the past.  They could still do all the crazy, wild, bendy stuff to each other, but now the empty feeling afterwards was gone.  The void that stabbed at her heart since she was seventeen vanished.  Buffy could make love again and it was the best feeling in the world.

She just didn't know how often she'd get to feel it.

Spike drifted back into bed after carefully closing the curtains to avoid very unsexy pile of dust calamities.  He wrapped his arms around her and buried his face between her breasts, before mumbling sleepily, "Gonna make sweet, sweet love to you all day long."

Curling her fingers in his hair, she got lost in the moment, not wanting to be the one to ruin it with questions of the future and where they were going with this.  Because despite knowing exactly what had to happen, she wasn't sure she had the strength to let Spike go again.

"When will you go back to L.A.?"

He rested his chin on her chest to look at her.  "Huh?  Not going back.  Staying in this bed forever.  So are you."

"Spike."

Dammit.  She said his name more harshly than she'd planned, and now he flinched away in protest to lie back on the other side of the bed.  He was going to be difficult about this and that was the last thing she needed. 

"You know you have to go back."

"Fine, kick me out."

"Spike."  This time her tone was gentle, measured, and full of understanding.  Knowing he had to go was one thing.  Buffy needed to hear the reasons from him.

He sighed and played with the fringe on the blanket.  Refused to look at her as he spoke.

"Spent a long time trying to force a destiny.  First with Dru, then again with you.  Never quite felt I belonged to anything, you know?  But this Shanshu thing, Buffy, if it's for me-"

His hand settled across her belly, full of unspoken longing.  She wanted to cry. She'd stopped thinking about a future like that a long time ago.  Now she had a clear path to whatever she wanted, and Spike was just beginning his journey, his dance with destiny.  Buffy knew that burden all too well.

"I love you, Buffy.  Want to be with you, always.  All ways.  S'just, if I ignore this…I'd like there to be one thing in my life I don't regret.  And I'd regret not sticking around to find out.  To see if I can be the man to give you what you deserve."

This was hard.  And not fun.  Buffy knew they could very easily ignore everything and run off to start a life together.  Live in London.  Travel Europe helping the new Slayers.  It was a lovely dream.  One that, honestly, could wait awhile to see where the prophecy was going.  Buffy wasn't willing to start out on the wrong foot and have it come back later to bite her on the ass. 

"Spike, you're right.  You can't force destiny.  But you're forgetting something I had to learn the hard way:  you can't run away from destiny either.  You're capable of so much, and I don't want to stand in the way of that.  This thing, for better or worse, is between you and Angel.  You need to see where this is going.  You need to be there to see it through."

"And I need to do that alone?"

"Not alone.  Just…at a distance."  Buffy closed the space between them, straddling his waist and letting her hair cascade around his face the way she knew he loved.  "I can be your anchor, the place you always come back to when your world needs meaning."  She kissed his nose.  "After all, you're been that to me for years."

Spike ran his hands up her back, pulled her closer.  "I try."

"And, don't forget all the fringe benefits of a long distance relationship.  Sex will always be hot reunion sex.  I'll be travelling a lot, so there can be indecent rendezvous all over the globe.  Oooh, you could send me letters filled with poetry!  Plus, phone sex."

He laughed, one of those rare laughs that was free of scorn and lit up his face.  She wondered if he knew how pretty he was when he laughed.  Her pretty vampire boy.

"So, what you're saying is, despite the eight hour time difference, we'll still be connected."

"Exactly.  A connection that can't be broken."

To illustrate her point, Buffy connected with every part of him she could.    He responded in kind, and the conversation quickly devolved into fevered pants between kisses and increasingly bold touches.

"If it's not me?  If it's Angel?"

"You'll still be the one for me."

Rolling her beneath him, Spike tickled her sides. "If it doesn't happen in time for the happily ever after bit?"

"That's okay.  I'll still have you."

"We're all sorted then?"

She brought his hand to her breast.  "I'm good if you're good."

"You do realize you're sending me to spend my days working for Angel."

"Nah.  I've got an idea."

"Yeah?  So've I.  Does it involve this?"

Helpless under the onslaught of Spike's lips and hands and tongue, Buffy decided destiny could wait at least one day.

*****

All in all, it was a brilliant trip.  Toured the old stomping grounds, made some decisions about the future, shagged his girl so much he could still feel her.  Yeah, only word for it was brilliant.  Lucky that, since Spike didn't know when he'd see Buffy again, or how long it would take for this destiny thing to sort itself out.  That was the trouble with prophecies: no respect for calendars or a vampire's busy schedule.

"Where the hell have you been?"

Then there were those things that happened right on schedule.  Spike set his shoulders and turned around with a flourish, making sure to put on his best cocky grin.  After everything that happened with Buffy, he reserved the right to use the cocky grin as often as he saw fit.

"Angel!  You look piqued, mate.  Been working too hard here at Evil Incorporated?"

Barrelling down on Spike until he invaded his personal space, Angel ground out, "You stole my jet."

Spike stepped back and tilted his head in consideration before responding.  "Weren't using it at the time, were you?  Do a bloke a favour once in awhile.  Your soul still recognizes a good deed, doesn't it?"

"Running off to see-"

"Buffy? Yeah.  Sends her 'regards.'"  Spike took great pleasure in air quoting the words.  Not his usual style, but worth the look on Angel's face.

"Not here to stay, just wanted to drop this off.  Denzel and his legal eagles should probably take a look."

Smirk still in place, Spike left Angel holding a large white envelope.  Inside was the outline of his future.  Buffy was a sly one.  Came up with the entire thing on her own.  He had to admit it was inspired.  Something he could do, definitely had the knowledge and the skill for it.  And it would keep him on the right path, one that hopefully ran right alongside Angel's in the quest for Shanshu.  Wasn't going to let that get away from him.  If it was his, he was going to fight for it in the right ways.  And in Buffy's plan, that meant staying as close to her as possible.  Knew he loved her for a reason.

Spike waited for the elevator, listened to Angel muttering behind him.

"What does this mean?  The Council of Slayers?  Did you put her up to this?  Taking into consideration your firm's recent change to 'non-evil status'," Angel's voice rose as he read on.  The elevator rang for that floor. "…we'd like to extend the hand of friendship and formally introduce our new L.A. representative, Spike.  He has the title 'Watcher-at-Large' and has full Council authority to train all local Slayers.   Their mandate to deal with district evil…please extend every courtesy…  Harmony, go get Gunn."  Spike stepped onto the elevator, and as the doors closed behind him, he indulged in another smirk as Angel yelled, "Spike, I want to know what you think you're doing."

Spike planned on meeting destiny halfway.

*****

"Oh my god, you broke up?  You guys are so lame."

Buffy jumped at Dawn's voice.  Four days alone with Spike followed by two days on her own lulled her into a quiet existence. Dawn's teenage exuberance was a sharp contrast.

"Hi, Dawnie.  Did you have a good trip?"

"It's Devon in December.  It was cold and it rained.  Who cares?  What happened with Spike?"

What happened with Spike.  Everything.  They'd found each other, loved each other, respected each other enough to let things play out the way they had to.  What happened with Spike was the beginning of the rest of her life. 

"He went back to L.A."

Dawn flopped down beside Buffy.  "Like I said, lame."

"It's not like that.  Trust me, it's all good.  It's all very, very good."

Buffy tried to relay her best reassuring look.  She knew exactly where she stood with Spike, but wasn't ready to share the shattering intimacy of their time together, not even with her sister.  Dawn seemed to understand, giving in with a brief frown.

"So what's this then, a parting gift?"

Dawn pointed to the globe that sat in the middle of the coffee table.  Buffy leaned forward to give it a spin, stopping it once to trace a finger over England, stopping it again to glide over California.  She gave Dawn her brightest, happiest smile.

"No, it's a reminder.  Even when we're half a world apart, we're still connected."