Primarily Spuffy, with a little bit of the obligatory Bangel and quite a bit of Spangel sprinkled in. There's a warning for the fic that I'll post in the endnotes.

He was floating on air, feeling a rush like he never had before. This was perfect. This was heaven, a connection to the girl he loved unlike anything else, he inside her in a more intimate way than he'd ever dared dream of- his fangs, embedded in her throat, drinking in the elixir of both Slayer and lover, the greatest medicine of all.

So it was only natural that he'd want to continue it even further, now that they were entwined, locked together by the magic of the blood. It was only natural to extend the connection, to dig deep into the recesses of long-forgotten vampire lore and murmur the instinctive word that came in the throes of ecstasy. "Mine!"

"Yes!" she cried out. "Oh, god, yes!"

He didn't realize what he'd done until long after.

"It's quite unprecedented," Giles said, wiping his glasses almost frantically, his eyes so deeply focused on his book and avoiding his Slayer's eyes that Angel was almost concerned that the Watcher would have a nervous breakdown. "I can't tell you much."

"Giles!" Buffy jumped up, her eyes pleading, and Angel could feel her desperation through their newfound bond. He tried not to take it personally, to just see it as a girl worried about consequences instead of a rejection of their bond, but it was difficult. Not with insecurities rising up with every passing sentence. "I just mated with a vampire. You can't tell me that you've got nothing! This is your thing, not mine!" She squeezed Angel's arm gently, instinctively trying to convey calming feelings over the bond. But her own thoughts were roiling, and Angel felt her calm as the false mask it was.

Giles shook his head, still staring beseechingly into the book as if it could give him the answers if he looked hard enough. "Claiming isn't a matter most Watchers even consider- or are at risk of worrying about." Buffy's sheepish amusement at that came as a relief to Angel. If she could still laugh, maybe she wasn't as upset as he suspected. "In fact, most of us had considered it a-a myth, a legend that had cropped up without any basis in fact."

"But what does it mean?" she asked imploringly. "Are Angel and I going to keep feeling each other's emotions? Because it's way weird. And kind of uncomfortable."

"I believe so," Giles said apologetically. "There may be other side effects, as well. Distance, perhaps, between the two of you, may be limited, although that remains to be seen."

Buffy nodded. "I was a little nauseous during graduation. Like Angel was too far away from me."

A selfish part of Angel wanted to crow with victory, exult in the fact that he couldn't leave her anymore. That he would stay with her forever. He'd felt the relief from Buffy when she'd heard it, too, the knowledge that he wouldn't- no, couldn't leave her after all.

Giles nodded. "It might be even stronger if you're forced apart or captured, and if one of you doesn't want to leave the other. There may also be enhancements to your abilities. But I can't say anything for sure. There hasn't been a claimed pair like this in recorded history."

"And it can't be broken?" Buffy asked anxiously.

Giles shook his head. "Not unless one of you dies."

A rumbling growl rose in Angel's throat at the idea of Buffy dying, and Giles hastily amended, "Well, I believe that Buffy's immortal now. So Angel is at far greater risk of death. Er…further death."

Buffy tightened her grip on him. "That's never going to happen." She smirked cutely. "Till death do us part and all that?"

Angel felt her move to acceptance as rapidly as she'd moved to panic, and felt a wave of glee that he didn't let the Watcher see. His girl would always be his.

The next few days were a blur of motion, and the months following them were a tranquil relief from the busy time surrounding graduation. Buffy had packed up her belongings and moved to the mansion with him, enrolling in online college courses so that they wouldn't have to be apart for long. At night, they'd patrol together, spending more time drinking each other in than hunting enemies, but it didn't matter to them. They were together, and that was the important thing.

Sometimes, he could feel Buffy's restlessness, though, and it scared him more than he'd ever admit. Losing his mate was a nightmare, and so he tried to encourage her to go out, have fun with her friends, see her mother… He was always there, a shadow in the background, watching the formerly bright, sunny girl be consigned to the darkness with him. At certain times, he'd become miserable, certain that he'd doomed Buffy and that all he did was bring her down. And when she'd sense it, she'd snuggle up next to him and whisper words of love and reassurance in his ears, allowing herself to be closer to him than she normally would otherwise, despite the threat of Angelus still hanging over their heads.

It was at one of these times when Angel felt the tingle of a different sense, not the claim at all, but a completely different bond that he hadn't felt in ages.


So he'd risen, Buffy at his side, and pulled open the front door of the mansion to find Drusilla's get hunched over and shivering, his skin pale and stretched from lack of blood. "Help…please," Spike had whispered, and collapsed into Angel's arms.

Now, he was sitting on the couch, holding the frail vampire in his arms as Spike drank from his wrist with the tentativeness of a baby first nursing from his mother. Angel tightened his arms around the younger vampire, feeling a surge of protectiveness toward him. And a faint yet insistent sense of annoyance and disapproval through the bond.

Buffy watched from the doorway with her arms folded. "He's evil," she said finally.

"He's sick," Angel said simply.

"He'll kill us both if he has the chance."

Spike's fangs tugged harder at Angel's skin, and he stroked the younger vampire's arm reassuringly. "He won't."

"How can you be so sure?" Buffy challenged him.

"I'm his sire," Angel said simply.

Her eyes narrowed in frustration. "I'm going to go train." Buffy stomped out of the room, her irritation coming through even stronger now, and Angel had to work hard not to let it overwhelm him.

Spike lapped at the bite for a few more moments before returning to his human face. Angel made no move to let him go, and Spike showed no inclination to pull away. "Trouble with you and the missus?" he asked sardonically.

"You cause the trouble," Angel told him, rolling his eyes. "Now give me one good reason why I shouldn't kick you to the curb and make Buffy a very happy girl."

Spike looked away. "I can't bite."

Angel raised an eyebrow at the two deep punctures on his wrist. "You seem fine at it to me."

Spike shook his head. "Not you, humans. I was kidnapped by some organization- I thought it was the Slayer at first, but apparently not- American government, you know how those wankers can be. They did something to me. Now I'm…broken." He vamped again, attacking Angel's wrist with newfound viciousness, but Angel saw it for the mask it was. One last attack by a helpless man with nowhere to go. "I can't bite humans, I can't even hurt them! I've been neutered!"

Angel ran his fingers down Spike's neck and shoulder, feeling the other vampire shiver at his sire's touch. Another member of his family, the one he'd always suspected to have more humanity than was acceptable in their circles, suddenly having to live the bagged life? He felt a surge of hope, completely overpowering the disapproval coming off of Buffy in waves. Another vampire, like him in action if not intention. "I'll take care of you."

"I'm not a child," Spike grumbled, but he licked up the blood on Angel's arm with a gentleness that belied his true emotions.

"You can stay here," Angel offered. "There are extra rooms, bagged blood, a microwave to heat it up… we even have a training room."

There was a muffled curse from the latter, and the speaker appeared in the doorway moments later.

"Angel?" Buffy said sweetly. "Can we talk? Privately?"

"I'm getting you in trouble again," Spike murmured as Angel lifted up the still-weak vampire and gently set him back down on the couch.

"Always a gift of yours," Angel smirked back.

Buffy waited impatiently until Angel finally joined her. "I don't want him living here!" she argued, drumming her fingers against her knees, infuriated. "He's evil! He's tried to kill me more than a few times, and who's to say that this thing the government has done to him will last?"

"I'll take care of him if that happens," Angel assured her. "I wouldn't let him hurt you."

Buffy snorted. "Yeah, you seem really quick to kill the guy you had curled up on your lap and feeding him your blood," she said sarcastically.

Angel struggled to decipher the lightning-quick emotions that were flying through the bond. "Are you jealous?" he asked, mildly surprised.

"Of Spike?" Buffy said disbelievingly. "No!" She sighed. "Well, not exactly. I just want things to be the way they were, you know? No houseguests. Especially not him."

Angel stroked her hair lovingly. "I love you, Buffy. But Spike…he's family. And he's vulnerable right now, and I don't want to lose him. Not when he came here for my help."

"You want to teach him," Buffy said wonderingly, finally understanding. "You're going to make him like you."

"I can't give up a chance like this," Angel told her softly. "Please, Buffy."

"Alright," she said reluctantly. "Bleach Boy can stay. But don't expect me to play nice."

Buffy hadn't been kidding, Angel realized the next night when he came down for patrol and found his mate and his childe squaring off in the sitting room.

"That's disgusting!" Buffy said, grabbing at the remote in Spike's hand. He dodged her, laughing, his eyes no longer dulled but alive and glinting with amusement. "I swear, if you think that you can just watch porn while I'm in the room-"

"Well, it's not like you're getting any from the Poof," Spike retorted. "Not with separate bedrooms!"

Buffy popped him on the nose, and Angel felt a rush of irrational protectiveness for the younger vampire. And Buffy'd been protecting his honor. Go figure.

"What, you don't think your bloody Angel watches this stuff?" Spike taunted, licking at the blood pouring from his nose.

Angel hastily made his way down the stairs, making his presence known before Spike successfully destroyed any relationship that he and his mate had. Spike looked up at him guiltily, like a child caught with his arm in the cookie jar. Angel chose to ignore him, dipping Buffy down for a long, deep kiss. He could feel Spike watching him with…longing? Of course it was longing. Spike hadn't expected Angel to be living with Buffy. He'd come to be with his sire, and instead found himself intruding on what was ostensibly a married couple. Well, without the sex.

But he had to be punished for his words to Buffy, and Angel was certain that this was painful enough for Spike.

When they parted, Buffy's eyes were cold. "Don't use our relationship to teach him a lesson ever again," she hissed, turning away from him.

Spike watched them expressionlessly. Angel felt a surge of spite, and he wasn't sure which one of them it was directed at. Spike had succeeded in pushing all the right buttons, but Buffy was practically asking for it and she'd hurt the helpless vampire. Finally he made his decision. "Let me see that," he said, gesturing at Spike's nose.

"It's fine," Spike said, shaking it off.

"You don't need to lose any more blood," Angel admonished, touching the other man's nose gently. "Come on, I'll make some blood."

Buffy watched them silently, her rage, insecurity, and hurt melding into an emotion almost toxic in its intensity. Angel tried to send her reassuring thoughts, but he could feel her trying to close herself off from him, to hide her pain.

He sighed, trying to conceal the sudden feeling of pleasure at the concept of being fought over by his charges, and instead focused on helping Spike. Buffy was strong. Spike needed him.

Spike's eyes followed him as he prepared the blood and approached, and when Angel finally bent over to hand him a mug, he made his move, vamping out and going for Angel's throat, knocking his sire down to the floor as he sank his teeth into Angel's neck.

There was a strangled growl, and suddenly, Buffy was throwing Spike off of Angel, positioning herself on top of her mate protectively. She regained herself almost immediately, but crouched in front of Angel, her eyes tracking Spike with unconcealed hatred. "You see?" she said to Angel, swishing long blonde hair in his face as she turned to follow Spike's movements. "Give him an in and he tries to kill you!"

"I wasn't trying to kill him, love," Spike corrected her.

"He was trying to dominate me," Angel explained. "Put himself in charge." He didn't mention that Spike's bite's goal was also to shatter the claim- or possibly break into it. Buffy wouldn't take it well, even if it were impossible. Theirs was the strongest of claims, and nothing could destroy it.

"You don't touch him," Buffy snapped, stalking toward the blond vampire. "Ever. Got it?

"Oh, like you can stop me?" Spike objected, meeting her halfway. "I'd like to see you try!"

They glared at each other, Slayer and vampire, millimeters away from each other, as though they were about to kill or kiss. And Angel didn't particularly want to see either one. "Buffy, let's go patrol."

She moved away from Spike almost reluctantly, helping Angel up and linking her arm with his, giving him a soft kiss on the cheek. "Yes. Let's."

She tossed a glance back at Spike, and to Angel's surprise, the emotions that came with it were protective, yes, but also speculative. Huh. Maybe they could all get along after all…

They didn't. Spike still found every opportunity to try to usurp the claim, and Buffy reacted with hostility to his every move.

When Buffy studied, doing her homework alone in one room, Spike would train with Angel, attempting to seduce him in his own violent way. The instant Angel's lust rose to the surface, though, Buffy was in the training room, fighting them both with speed and grace and making sure that she wasn't in danger of losing her man. Their battles never ended well, especially since Spike couldn't hurt Buffy and was thus constrained to attacking Angel alone, and Buffy had no such compunctions when it came to hurting Spike.

Early one morning, Angel, fed up with the two, excused himself to sleep and left them alone, hoping against hope that the two might not kill each other if left alone. When he awakened in the late evening and headed downstairs, worried at the silence, he heaved a sigh of relief and bit back his amusement at the scene before him.

Spike and Buffy were curled up together on the couch, almost certainly unconsciously, Spike's arms wrapped around Buffy's waist, nuzzling her neck in his sleep, as Buffy buried her face in his chest. It would have been endearing if not for the fact that Spike had his fangs! near Buffy's neck.


He let out a low warning growl, and Spike stirred instantly, his eyes widening at his position. He jumped away from Buffy as though he'd been burned, seeking out Angel's gaze in meek submission. Angel ignored him, lifting a still-sleeping Buffy up into his lap instead. She nestled into his chest sleepily. "Angel?"

"You fell asleep," he told her, tightening his grip around her.

"I had a good dream," she told him, smiling. He scowled, wondering just who it had been about. "Love you."

"Love you, too." The words came out automatically now, and Angel pushed down his worries about his two housemates in favor of some happiness with his mate.

Spike watched them sullenly. "Try not to get too happy, Captain Forehead," he muttered loud enough for both of them to hear. Angel groaned inwardly.

As he'd expected, Buffy rounded on the other vampire immediately. "Would you give it up already? Your jealous little boy-crush on Angel isn't going anywhere. He's my mate, Bleach Boy. It's a forever deal."

"Not if you die first," Spike smirked, and Angel turned on him with a growl.

"Get out of my house!" Angel ordered. Spike had crossed the line when he threatened Angel's mate. "Now!"

Spike shrugged, standing his ground. "I'm sick of this little love fest, anyway. I'm out of here." He headed out the door, grabbing his coat on the way.

Buffy and Angel stared at each other uncomfortably. "He'll be fine," Buffy said finally. "He can hurt demons, right?"

"Yeah." But it wasn't. They tried to sit together, train together, talk together like they had before Spike had fallen into their lives, but it wasn't the same. Not without Spike's snark and sarcasm. It brought out the liveliness and playfulness in Buffy and forced Angel out of his brooding shell. Without him, what were they? How had they gotten along before him? Angel had been content, he remembered, but had Buffy? Not like she was now. A rival had brought out the best in her, and now she was uncomfortable alone with her own mate.

They finally went to their respective beds, where Angel lay sleeplessly and felt Buffy's own restlessness through their bond. Where was Spike? Was he going to be okay? Had the commandos gotten him? Could he defend himself?

"Angel." Buffy stood in the doorway to his room, her eyes emotionless. "Come on."

"What?" He couldn't believe that she was the one to go after Spike first.

"I can feel your worry." Buffy held a hand out to him. "You're not going to be okay until we find him, anyway. And the sun's going to be up in a few hours."

He took her hand gratefully, sitting up and pulling on a shirt. "Thank you."

She looked away. "Whatever."

Angel tracked Spike down easily, following the scent of his childe to Willy's bar.

Buffy threw Willy against the wall. "Where is he?"

"Who? I don't know!" Willy protested.

Angel loomed behind her. "Spike. Now."

Willy looked even more afraid than before. "He was out back. I had nothing to do with it, I swear!"

Buffy tossed Willy across the room violently, running to the back exit of the bar with Angel right behind her.

She froze mid-step. "Oh, god, Spike…"

Spike was on the ground, bloody and beaten, his body covered with a latticework of darkened bruises and open wounds. He was unconscious, and Angel was grateful for that, at least. As long as he wasn't dust, there was still hope. But he still felt the rage surging up from both of them for their housemate, broken like that. He started to crouch down beside Spike, but Buffy beat him to it. "Spike? Spike, can you hear me?"

Spike's eye opened halfway, as much his wounds would allow, and tried to smile at her. She stroked his hair back behind his ear, worriedly surveying the damage to his face. "What happened?"

"Humans…" he croaked. "They said I cheated at poker…I couldn't fight back…"

"And I bet you did cheat," Buffy said darkly. She looked up to Angel worriedly. "He needs blood."

Angel was in complete agreement. "If we move you, you might fall apart," he observed, holding out his wrist to Spike, just as a different, feminine wrist was extended to his childe. "Buffy?"

"Slayer blood. It's pretty strong," Buffy said quietly.

"No!" Angel immediately felt his proprietary right toward Buffy, rising up again at this threat. It was good that Buffy and Spike were starting to get along. But getting blood involved? Definitely not. Buffy was his mate, Spike his childe. The two didn't mix.

Buffy felt his anger through the link and glared at him. "Don't do this, Angel."

"No," he said firmly, and there must've been something in his voice that warned her off, because she reluctantly moved away from Spike, letting him take charge of feeding the weak vampire.

It was Angel who carried him home and fed him and treated his injuries. But it was Buffy who stayed with Spike through the night, resting on a chair as she gave him blood each time he woke. Something had changed between Buffy and Spike that night. And Angel didn't know if he liked it at all.

Later that week, once Spike was starting to look better, Buffy insisted on taking him with them to the Bronze to "hang out."

"He's getting cabin fever. We've got to let him out some of the time," she told Angel as they sparred. Spike was watching Passions in the next room, and presumably couldn't hear them. "And I'd prefer if he comes with us and stays far away from where those commandos go. Where better than the Bronze?"

Angel agreed reluctantly, feeling how much Buffy wanted it and unable to refuse her it. "Just make sure your friends know not to stake him." He was relieved that Buffy was confiding in him again. She'd been oddly distant since he'd refused to let her give Spike blood, and her emotions had been closed off or hadn't made sense at all. And to make matters worse, Spike's attack had made him fairly reticent as well. Angel wasn't used to the other two being so silent, and it worried him.

Buffy held on to Spike the entire way to the Bronze, and yet, to Angel's surprise, Spike didn't whine about being coddled at all. Angel was concerned for his childe, but Buffy's warm hand slipped in his kept him calm as they walked together. Once they reached the club, though, Angel wound an arm around Spike's waist to make sure he'd be okay standing.

"Sod off," Spike muttered, pulling away. Angel felt Buffy's embarrassment and wondered what it meant.

Xander and Willow had come to see Buffy, and Angel sighed through the initial sidelong glances at him and Spike. Xander's date was refreshingly blunt about it. "So you've brought another vampire along. Does that mean you're evil?"

He forced a smile. "No, I'm not evil. I haven't been evil in a long time."

The girl- Anya, was it?- cocked her head. "But sexual intercourse is supposed to make you evil. And you're living with two very attractive people. You don't have sex with them?"

"Let's dance," Buffy said quickly, standing up.

"I don't dance," Angel answered, but she was reaching out to Spike, not him, and she pulled the other vampire onto the dance floor instead.

"So are they having sex?" Anya wondered, following Angel's gaze to the dance floor. Spike was murmuring something into Buffy's ear, and Buffy was laughing softly, her eyes shining. She looked happier than she'd been since Angel's claim had clipped her wings.

"No." Angel turned away from them, studying his glass instead.

"It seems very wasteful," Anya grumbled. "All those superpowered beings, all that stamina, and no sex."

"Ahn, let's talk about something else," Xander cut in, but Angel was already leaving the table, heading to the bar for more drinks.

He stopped midway, feeling the tug of the claim. Buffy needed him. He recognized that strange mix of love and lust and desire all at once as her unconscious call for him, crying for her mate to help with her needs.

He spun around and scanned the club for where Buffy and Spike were dancing, and found them in a darker corner, slow-dancing, Buffy's head resting on Spike's shoulder. Angel cut in smoothly, tossing Spike a grin and pulling his girl close to him.

She blinked up at him with wide eyes. "What are you doing?"

"Helping," he managed, channeling her own lust into his. He danced them out of the club, feeling her confusion but drowning it out with desire until she cried out in relieved freedom and kissed him gently, but she still felt troubled. When they sat down again, taking their seats on either side of a booth where Spike was drinking something rank, Buffy's mood changed to embarrassment. Angel suddenly understood. Buffy was better than what they'd done outside, and now that Spike could smell what had happened, she probably was realizing that.

"I'll make it better for you once we get home," he said, leaning around Spike to murmur it in her ear.

Spike's glass shattered in his hand, and Buffy was suddenly cooing over him, worrying over the shards of glass that had punctured the skin. Angel frowned at his mate. Spike was his, not hers. His responsibility, and he'd help him heal. So he reached to pull out the first shard, and Spike punched him in the gut.

A few days had passed, and things were getting tenser. Angel had tried to initiate something with Buffy again, knowing that she wouldn't get any more unless he anchored his soul somehow, but she'd refused him time and again. He never should have done that to her in the alley; it seemed to have turned her off the idea altogether. Spike was still acting more and more distant, opening up only when Buffy was around, too. Angel wasn't sure why. Had it been the rejection, when he'd told Spike to leave the house?

So to try to calm things down, he suggested that they all see a movie together. Buffy and Spike spent more than enough time together in front of the TV, so they were both game for the idea. Angel sat between the two in the theater, his right hand idly stroking his mark on Buffy's neck, making her gasp each time he touched it, and his left hand running through Spike's soft hair, massaging the back of his neck and shoulders, too. Both of them were resting their heads against his shoulders after a few minutes, but he could still feel Buffy's restlessness through the bond.

Halfway through the movie, Buffy got up to go to the bathroom, and when she returned, she took the empty seat next to Spike. Angel called for her through the bond, and she sent him calming thoughts, joining her hand to his in Spike's hair. Their fingers danced around each other, stroking Spike's soft hair as he sighed in contentment and moved his head to Buffy's shoulder. Angel let go of Spike, annoyed, but Buffy ignored his sudden emotions and continued playing with the back of his head.

When they got home, though, Angel deemed the trip a success when the three of them all curled up together on the couch and talked.

"Are you making any headway with the patrolling?" Spike asked Buffy. Angel had made sure to take the middle of the couch, between the two of them, and they were both nestled in comfortably next to him.

Buffy shook her head. "Willow thinks that the commandos might be based near the college, though." She sighed. "She's been really depressed lately. Her boyfriend left town a little while back."

"The werewolf?" Spike asked, frowning. "There was a werewolf, right?"

"Oz," Angel put in, feeling the need to contribute to the conversation.

"Yeah. It was awful. There was this other werewolf skank on campus, and she tried to kill Willow because she wanted Oz… Oz had to kill her. I guess he realized that he needed to get the wolf under control."

"I'd hate that," Spike mused. "Not having control of your demon…"

"It's not like that for you?" Buffy asked in surprise.

Spike shook his head. "It's more like the man and the demon work together, complementing each other…I think of it as less of another person and more of a personality trait. There's happy Spike-" He leered, and Buffy swatted his head playfully. "-And angry Spike, and demon Spike. Just another Spike."

Feeling uncomfortable like he always did when thinking about his demon as compared to Spike's, Angel got up to get some blood, listening to the conversation from the kitchen with half an ear.

"So you could just…not eat someone?" Buffy asked skeptically.

"Yeah. Look at me now, pet," Spike pointed out. "Do you think Angelus would be playing house with the Slayer if he had something stopping him from hurting humans?"

"Maybe he would if we were claimed," Buffy argued weakly. Angel slowed down the preparation of the blood, hoping they'd finish this before he came back in.

"You are claimed," Spike said in a voice so quiet that Angel had to strain to hear. "Man and demon, the love of your life is still Angelus, too."

"I wish we weren't," Buffy whispered, and Angel nearly choked on his blood. "I wish…"

"There's no point in wishing," Spike murmured. "It won't come true."

"And yet…" Buffy breathed, and then Angel couldn't hear anything more.

Then he was retching, an insane nausea filling the bond instantly and forcing up all the blood he'd just drunk, trying desperately to purge something horrific from his body. He could hear Buffy vomiting in the sitting room, too, and he ran to her, trying to take her in his arms and find out what was wrong…

She pushed him away, backing up, her eyes wide with fear and another emotion Angel didn't recognize at first. Guilt.

"Buffy?" he said quietly, staring at his mate and the vampire that stared defiantly back at him. "What happened?"

She looked away. "Nothing. I just felt sick suddenly."

"You're lying to me," he said with certainty. That was something she'd never really done to him, lying, and he knew that it went even deeper. "What happened?"

And then he looked, really looked at Spike and Buffy and he suddenly recognized the signs. The flushed cheeks on his mate, the stubborn glare of his childe… "You kissed him!" he accused her, feeling the guilt and humiliation and hopelessness and defiance through the bond. "You kissed Spike!"

"Actually, technically, I kissed her," Spike objected, his eyes steely and his face set. "It's my fault."

And Angel was suddenly ready to say the words he'd sworn he wouldn't repeat again. "Get out of my house," he growled, fury filling him as he charged at the smaller vampire. Spike just stood still, letting himself be punched and slapped and bitten-

"Stop!" Buffy ordered with watery eyes, her tiny body suddenly wedged between them, protecting Spike from Angel's blows. "Please, stop hurting him!"

Angel didn't want to listen to either of them anymore, not after the nauseating sensation of his beloved mate with someone else. "Get to your room, now!" he snarled at Buffy.

She stood her ground. "Leave Spike alone! It's not his fault!" she protested, backing up until she was pressed against Spike.

Angel growled, a little bit of Angelus seeping through at the anger he felt at being betrayed, and with one hand, threw Buffy across the room. She hit the wall and didn't get back up.

Spike's eyes flashed with anger and he jumped onto his sire, aiming for the throat like he had just after he'd first arrived. "Stay away from her!" he shouted, and it took all of Angel's strength to shake him off and knock him unconscious.

He lifted Buffy easily, draping her over his shoulder and heading for his car. He still had a good six hours until sunrise, more than enough time to get to LA, at least. Far, far away from Spike.

When Buffy awakened, they had just parked in a gas station only a few miles from Sunnydale. Instinctively, she looked around for Spike, and Angel felt her disappointment and fear when she didn't see him in the backseat, as tied up as she was.

"He's still in Sunnydale," Angel informed her. "We're leaving."

"For good?" Buffy asked, defeat seeping through their bond.

"For as long as it takes," Angel responded, the unspoken until you love me again implicit.

"I love him, Angel," Buffy said, staring blankly out the window at the UPS truck parked next to them.

Angel felt a jolt of pain at that. "You can't love him," he said automatically. "He has no soul."

"He doesn't need a soul," Buffy retorted. "We both know that."

"Do you need anything in the store?" Angel asked, abruptly changing the subject. It was far too painful.

Buffy nodded. "Can you untie my hands so I can write a list? If you're dragging me to LA, I want at least some toiletries."

Angel tried to read her through the bond, but she had carefully guarded her feelings and all he could get was a kind of hopeless resignation. So he untied her hands and left for the gas station store with a list almost a page long.

He'd found half of the objects when he felt the start of a familiar nausea, and another emotion leaked through: hope. He dropped his purchases and ran to the car.

The passenger seat was empty, the ropes he'd used to hold Buffy ripped and coiled on the floor of the car. The UPS truck was gone.

Cursing, he climbed back into the car, heading for Sunnydale at top speed. He reached the town in time to see the UPS truck halt several streets ahead, and he raced to catch up to the little blonde girl who'd exited the truck as soon as it had stopped.

Buffy was crying when she saw him so close. "Let me go, Angel, please!"

"What do you think you're doing?" Angel demanded, shaking her. "We can't be apart like that. What, did you think you could spend your entire life dying inside just so you could be with Spike?"

"I'm dying inside no matter what!" Buffy sobbed. "I can't do this anymore, I can't be with you and him, I can't be without him…"

It had never been about him, Angel realized suddenly, holding his mate in his arms. It had never been Buffy and Spike, fighting for him. It was Buffy and Spike, fighting a growing attraction and hiding their feelings behind feelings for their mate and sire, respectively. He was the one who brought them together, but now they'd moved past him and found each other instead.

And he loved them both too much to destroy them like this.

Maybe selflessness would be his redemption in the end. Not living his life and fighting for good, but giving the epitome of good the one thing she desired most. Maybe it was giving a vampire who'd never quite been good at the evil thing the chance for a redemption more complete than Angel's would ever be.

"Angel?" Buffy asked tentatively through her tears.

He kissed her, kissed her and Spike all at once, his love for the two of them overwhelming him in its intensity. In that kiss he passed all his feelings to her, his knowledge of what had to be done and the gift he was about to give to them.

When he parted from Buffy, he was holding the stake she always had hidden in her waist clip.

She gaped at him through her tears. "Angel, what are you doing? No!"

And he thrust the stake into his own heart.

Spike felt it happen, felt a link in the line of Aurelius go dead. And he wept for Angel, who had loved him more than Spike had suspected, and he knew what Angel must have done.

When the knock at the door came, he took her into his arms, and they cried together.

End Notes:

Warning: Character death