Oh My God!! It's finally all done.

I need to take this opportunity to shout out some thank yous. First of all, massive hugs to skybound2 for contributing the most wonderful banner and story specs I could have had. I really hope that you've enjoyed reading it. Thank you also to spuffyhaven for hosting the competition.

I am of course indebted as always to my wonderful betas, each of them contributing something different and hopefully all teaching me better ways to express myself. hollydb, slackerace and schehrezade1--you are all three infinitely fabulous and I'd be lost without you.

Lastly, thank you all who have read this and even more to those that left me feedback. I know I don't always get back to you but everything you say means so very much. Now, for the final curtain.


"Oh. My. God. Did you have to cut off its head like that?" Buffy stood completely covered in yellow slime, her hair plastered to her face, her body shuddering with revulsion.

"But, pet," Spike gasped as laughter fought his words. "You look bloody priceless."

Buffy glared before swooping down on one of the mutilated appendages of the thing she'd spent the better part of forty minutes fighting and proceeded to club Spike about the head with it. "You are far from funny, vampire!"

Spike snorted loudly, then tripped backwards over the corpse, laughing even as his head struck the ground. "Don't…need to…be….luv. You're bleeding hilarious enough without me."

Eyes narrowed dangerously, Buffy stomped on Spike's fingers and left, strutting up the path that led to the cemetery gates and beyond it to home.

"Damn irritating pig," she muttered furiously.

"Oh come on, Buffy," he whined, and the Slayer melted. She couldn't help it. Every time he used his voice like that she was like putty in his hands, even when the tone betrayed frustration.

"Come on what? I wore my best pants tonight!" she pointed out, her voice adopting that annoying wobble it did when she was doing her best not to cry. "We were going out—somewhere special, you said. Now everything is ruined."

"Oh sweetheart." Spike hazarded a step toward her and cupped her chin, that mouth-watering soft look glazing his eyes. "We'll get you all cleaned up and everything will be fine."

Buffy was suddenly wondering what would be fine. Her brain was caught on the promise of getting 'all cleaned up' and hoping Spike was bringing the rubber ducky and a sponge to this impromptu play-date.

"Do we need to go out?" she wheedled, and the grin he treated her to was so hot she burned.

"Not at all," he promised, putting on a burst of speed to get her home all the quicker.

He ploughed through the front door as if it was invisible and Buffy giggled as she was dragged up the stairs. He shoved her under the needle-like cold spray of the shower, using his hands to scrape as much of the goop off as he could. "Hot water makes stuff shrink, yeah?"

"I'm not worried. Cold water would so not be most men's friend. You, though, are the exception to the rule," she teased with a saucy wink. "Besides," she added balefully, "I think the leather's history no matter which way you look at it." Still, hot water might have made the pants impossible to be shimmied out of.

"Good thing your mum's off visiting your aunt for Thanksgiving. Your slime-covered self might have scared her witless," the vampire kidded as his hands worked through her revolting, tangled hair with a spontaneous shampoo.

"And you molesting her daughter wouldn't have shocked her at all," Buffy returned in an identical tease.

He stripped her and it felt like magic had returned to her house. His hands swept over her skin and Buffy sighed.

"I love you, you know."

It had taken a year for her to realise it, but once she had Buffy could have kicked herself for being so stubborn. She'd seen the love that could exist between them with her own eyes but she'd been too young—too scared or too stupid—to accept it for the gift it was.

"An' I love you too, you deranged bint."

Buffy giggled. Once upon a time she'd have been offended by Spike's long list of British profanities, but now she found them almost endearing. Her eyes danced as she turned to face him, pouting distractedly at his unclothed form.

"Can we have the warm water now?" Buffy asked hopefully, her skin covered in goosepimples.

"We can have anything you want now, Princess," he said, bending forward to kiss her gently. Buffy curled her fingers in his hair, loving the feel of his slicked-down curls as she unruffled them.

"Have I told you how glad I am the Powers made you my talisman buddy?" she whispered, overcome with emotion for this vampire in her arms.

"Only every time I make you come screaming." He nibbled at her lips as his hands massaged her rump.

"You are so bad," Buffy approved as she curled her naked body tighter against his. "Hey…do you think there's some way we can get in touch with Otherworld Buffy and tell her we did like she ordered?"

Spike looked at her in wonder. "Not that one of that bunch won't be back for a visit again soon—took us a bleeding month to force Harris back after his last visit—but what was it exactly she ordered us to do?"

Buffy looked deeply into her boyfriend's eyes and knew that whatever happened, it was true. She was in the place she belonged and she never planned to leave.

"To be happy."

He smiled indulgently. That was exactly what they were.