Strip Snap by Lilachigh

Final Chapter is Here! - William and Demon have both returned to their own worlds and now Buffy is facing a future having claimed Spike as hers. But how will he react to that situation?

Chp 22: In every possible way

High above Sunnydale, a million billion light years away, the stars swung in the sky, cold and uncaring of the turmoil taking place beneath them. Their light eased the darkness of the night: there was no moon to steal their thunder.

Buffy Summers sat on the top of the porch steps and gazed up at the night sky, wondering how many Slayers the stars had watched over in the past, how many they would see come and go in the future. She sighed and groaned, easing the aches in her shoulders. Had any of the other Slayers had such a weird life as hers?

Emotionally and physically exhausted, Dawn had finally gone to bed, collapsing into a deep sleep, still fully dressed. Buffy had looked into her room and pulled an afghan up over her. She hadn't even moved.

Dawn had been – surprising - this evening: surprising and astonishing. Buffy felt a surge of pride in her little sister. Though perhaps she should change that to "younger sister". Little made her sound insignificant and tonight Dawn had shown that she had the courage, initiative and loyalty of someone twice her age.

She knew Spike was standing behind her before he spoke but she didn't turn round. She smiled; certain she was the only Slayer ever who'd been happy to have a vampire at her back and not be afraid.

"Buffy, we need to talk."

She sighed. "Jeez, we're so not going to have all the jealousy crap, are we? Listen, I had sex with William, I enjoyed it, I was missing you – I thought I'd lost you - and he was you! Well, you before you were you. A sort of you without the you. End of story."

Spike sat down beside her on the step. "Ignoring the fact that you're trying to fry my brain, did I mention you and William and sex? Sounds like a guilty conscience to me."

Buffy glared at him. There was a suspicion of laughter in his voice. "I've nothing to be guilty about. I was a single girl with no ties. You'd turned into William, but it was still you. It felt – right."

"I know."

"How much do you remember?"

He reached over and ran a finger round her cheek, down her neck and across her collarbone, his touch feather light. "I've all of William's memories, pet. So – pretty much everything. Must admit, losing one's virginity for a second time is quite an interesting experience. Hard to remember I was ever that innocent. Well, hard is probably the wrong word to use! Mind you, it does explain my first time with Dru…"

"I so do not need to hear any more about – "

"I mean, I can remember she was astounded by some of the things I seemed to know instinctively what to do to her, but of course, she couldn't know that you'd already taught William – !"

He grinned and effortlessly caught Buffy's fist which was swinging, admittedly not at full speed, towards his nose. He wrapped his hand around her fingers and pulled her into his arms. Buffy went willingly, lying with her head on his shoulder, her hair spilling across his arm in a blonde cascade.

"Do you think William got back safely?"

Spike tangled his fingers in her hair and tugged gently. "He must have done, pet, otherwise I wouldn't be here, would I?"

"Was it weird, seeing your own body but hearing William speaking?"

Spike fell silent. How could he ever explain to her how that had felt? To be confronted by the person you used to be, to know what you'd lost, what you'd gained. He wondered if Buffy could understand what William must have felt – knowing that this was what and where his path in life would lead. Had he been horrified, disgusted or - pleased and excited? Being William, being a gentleman, he hadn't said. Spike's ability to say exactly what was on his mind at any time regardless of whether or not it was appropriate was yet to be. He realised that Buffy was still waiting for his answer. "Yes, weird, but listen, Slayer. We have to talk. What happened between you, me, William and – "

"I call him Demon."

"Bloody hell! Giving him a name doesn't change anything. He's the evil git who lives in my body and don't ever forget that. He's bad, Buffy, and he'll never be anything else. He might love us, but he's still wicked as sin. But we claimed you, Buffy. The three of us. And what's worse, you claimed us back. All of us and that includes Demon. Why? That's what I don't understand."

"We needed the three of you to do the charm to fight The Master," Buffy muttered. She didn't want to talk, she just wanted to sit here, feeling warm and secure and loved.

"You would have slaughtered him on your own, eventually. You've done it before."

"You're forgetting the "all Aurealians will die" bit."

"Would that have been such a big loss, pet? OK, I'd have popped my clogs but it would have got rid of a bloody large number of vamps scattered across the world. Oh - and Liam. I suppose that's why – Oooof!" He gasped as the hand that was trailing absently between his thighs flashed upwards and grabbed – hard.

"Jeez, so sorry. Did that hurt? Good! And the next time you start speaking nonsense, I'll do it again. It had nothing to do with Angel and everything to do with us. I claimed you all because – because I wanted to! Me, Buffy Summers. It was the right thing, the only thing, the most important thing I've ever done in my life."

Eyes watering, Spike was still trying to speak. "And neutering me is going to help how?" he gasped at last.

Buffy sat up and tossed her hair back defiantly. "You know I'm right. I can feel that you do. Why are you questioning us? Is it –" her voice faded and shook slightly – "are you sorry for what's happened? Is that it? Do you want to end the claim? Is that even possible?" She shuddered, her mind in turmoil. Men she loved left her; that was a given in her life. Angel, Parker, Riley, her Dad - There was something about her that sent them flying as far away from the Slayer as they could. So it wasn't that odd that Spike would want a get out clause from this problem.

How would he feel now that everything he felt was being shared by her? He said he loved her, but this intimacy could shatter that in a second.

Moving with the speed that could still confound her, Spike stood up and pulled her roughly into his arms. He tilted her face and kissed her, hard, thoroughly, giving and asking for no mercy. "You can't break a claim," he said urgently. "I've never claimed anyone, ever before, and I don't understand everything it means. But I do know that that's it for us now. We belong. But even if you could, I'd rather dust myself than give you up."

"Well, that sounds like a good option to us!"

Buffy spun round, startled. Xander and Willow were walking across the yard from the bushes that led out onto the street and, from the expression on their faces, they hadn't come bearing cakes and flowers.

Willow was clutching a small shabby book covered in tattered red leather – clutching it as if it was her most precious possession in the entire world. "Buffy – you're OK! And Dawn? She – well – she ran away from us, Buffy. We don't know where she went."

"And you've been busy hunting for her, of course." Spike's voice dripped with sarcasm.

"No one's talking to you, Bleach Boy," Xander said angrily. "Of course we've been looking for her – Anya still is - but we reckoned she'd come back here."

"She did and she's OK," Buffy said.

Willow gazed round the yard. "William and that creature - ?"

"William's returned to Victorian England and Demon's back where he belongs, inside me," Spike said.

"Oh, how did you… well, that's…that's good. I mean, I liked William…he seemed OK…I mean for a vampire…"

"It's a pity you didn't stay William once you'd been turned," Xander broke in.

Buffy felt Spike tense next to her physically and the anger and disdain rushed through the link between them. So this was what it would be like from now on. She would feel everything he felt, he would experience her emotions as strongly as she did herself. Was there a way of shielding each other from these sensations? Well, it was going to be interesting to find out.

"Buffy – we want to talk to you about the claiming thingy," Willow said, still nervously clutching the book. "I know how dreadful you must feel now. You had a good reason for doing it – but you don't have to stay trapped like this. I think I know a way of dissolving it – OK, it isn't absolutely foolproof and this is a very old book – but it's worth a try because at least it should lessen the dependence, free you from being dominated."

"I wondered how long it would take you to find a way!" Spike stared at the redhead, wondering just why she was so against him. The whelp he could understand – unrequited love could make you bitter – but Red – there was something underneath her concern he couldn't fathom, but it had to do with being the plain gawky 'friend' of a pretty girl, the 'good mate' to the man she'd loved for so much of her life. Becoming a witch, having an affair with Oz and now loving Tara – none of that made any difference to the angry, sad little girl inside who'd never really believed in herself. Sometimes he wondered what would happen when she did and a shudder ran through him.

"I'm glad you both came over," Buffy was saying and Spike felt the hairs on the back of his neck wriggle. There was a note in her voice he'd never heard before, an emotion coursing through her he'd never felt. "I wanted to talk to you both, too."

"Let's go indoors," Xander said cheerfully. "We can probably get it all done by morning. Don't let's keep you, Spike. I'm sure you've got some dirty little scheme you're aching to work on."

"Oh, out here's fine," Buffy said casually. "It won't take long."

Spike stared up at the pitiless stars. So, she'd made up her mind to try and end the claim. Why had he ever thought she wouldn't? For all her fine words about claiming them because she wanted to, when the first chance of escaping was offered to her – even if it was only half a chance - she was only too keen to see if it would work But perhaps her friends were right and what had happened was bloody tragic. All he wanted – all he'd ever wanted! - was for Buffy to be happy. The link that now existed between them – would this give her joy or untold unhappiness?

Willow looked worried. "Hey, I'm not sure about it being quick, Buffy. I mean there's ingredients to find and a spell to work out and – now let me see – "

She was busy turning over the pages, muttering to herself. Buffy watched her and Xander. These were her best friends: the powerful witch who'd once, many years ago, listened to all her hopes and dreams, and the man who'd never faltered in his courage when faced with a world in which he had no powers. Once she would have sworn a million times over that they would never hurt her, never betray her. But tonight – they didn't want what was right for her – they wanted what they thought was right.

And she felt the raw flick of guilt, because in some ways she was to blame. She'd never said anything as the years had passed, never stopped them interfering where they shouldn't. If she was honest, she'd enjoyed being the centre of their world, the one who got all the attention and care. Being the Slayer made her special. It had felt good to have her friends worry about her. So they'd become addicted to running her life and, like all addicts, they couldn't give it up. Whatever she said to them, it would make no difference. They would just rationalise her words, believe that Spike was controlling her, that Demon was somehow turning her evil. They would never believe that she loved Spike and wanted him to be part of her life.

"Buffy?" Spike's voice cut into her thoughts, and she sensed his warning and concern. How had he guessed that she was going to tell them exactly what she thought of their disloyalty, their betrayal of years of friendship? "Don't."

He could feel the anger inside her, building and growing, like water behind a dam that was just about to burst. And when it did, Willow and Xander would be swept away, demolished by the power of her hurt. Because what she hadn't yet realised was that now everything she did was boosted by his strength as well. And as much as he disliked them, he didn't want to see them destroyed.

"Will – Xander – put the book away and listen to me. There'll be no spell, no unclaiming, not now, not ever."

Xander's face changed, crumpled, then reformed into a determined mask. "You don't know what you're saying. You can't want to stay linked to Spike!"

"He's right, Buffy. Think what you're doing? Listen to us. Look, are you angry because we didn't help you earlier? Is that what this is all about, because, hey, not cool, Buffy. We're your friends, we only want to help."

Buffy was aware of Spike's fingers gripping her arm and bonds of love and care mentally holding her back. But she shook her head. This had to be done.

"If you really want to help, you'll both walk away and let me and Spike get on with our lives. You made a choice, Willow; you decided not to help me, to let Spike, William and Demon die. But don't you see, that would have killed me. Oh maybe not in a falling-over-flat-on-my-face sort of way, but inside I'd have been dead."

"Buffy, you're exaggerating. And anyway, we only did what was best for you." Willow was beginning to sound annoyed. Her eyes flashed and her lips thinned.

"But why do you and Xander get to decide that?" Buffy snapped. "Who died and made you two President? This is my life, Will, and I get to choose who I spend it with – me, no one else."

"Do we have to have this conversation in front of the vampire?" Xander asked angrily. "What's he doing to you, Buffy? Some sort of mind control, is that it?" He took a quick step forward, fists clenched.

Buffy stared at him and unexpectedly felt a sudden surge of pity that she realised with a jolt she was receiving from Spike. Poor Xander, poor Willow. They'd never know how this felt. Whatever loves they had in their lives or would have in the future were only pale shadows of what she was now experiencing with Spike. And her anger faded away.

"Go home, both of you," she said gently. "Xander – find Anya and tell her – that I'm happy. Thank her for looking for Dawn. But – " she drew a deep breath and searched for Spike's support. She didn't have to look far for it; there it was, inside, all around, everywhere. " – I still want to be your friend, but only if you accept me as I am. I don't try to change you – you can't try and change me or Spike. We're together, in every possible way, and that is never going to alter."

Xander turned and stumbled away without another word but Willow stood, staring at Buffy, her face white and angry. "You'll be sorry," she said. "Both of you!" And she flung the book onto the grass and followed Xander out of the yard.

Spike picked it up and stood, flicking through the pages. He glanced at Buffy, expecting to see tears on her face. But there were none. "You're one hell of a woman, Slayer. But have you ever thought they might be right? It's a weird and wonderful path we've put ourselves on and I don't bloody well know where it's leading. A slayer and a vampire – claimed! I bet your old pal Quentin Travers would give his right arm to experiment on us."

Buffy took the book from him and tossed it aside. She wrapped her arms round him and gloried in the strength of the man. "Are you worried?"

He bent his head and kissed her gently. "Do I feel worried?"

Buffy shut her eyes, revelling in the hardness of his body against hers and smiled. "Nooo. You feel – excited and definitely not neutered!"

Spike growled and swung her up into his arms. "I think we'll continue this discussion indoors, Slayer. There's the matter of your punishment for a certain very smelly bubble bath you made me take that needs my close attention."

Buffy grinned in anticipation, wondering just what making love while claimed would feel like and knowing it would be wonderful, amazing.

Spike was right, of course. The path ahead of them was going to be rocky and difficult and she had no idea what would happen. But for tonight she sent out a silent thank-you to William and Demon and hoped that somehow they would know just what they had achieved. She was sure they would, because they were as much part of her now as she was of them.

Love, desire and need. Whatever the future held in store, she and Spike had all three.


Author's Note:

I can't quite believe I have just written ends to this story. It has been one heck of a journey and like all good adventures ended up somewhere quite different to where it had originally been headed. How did my sexy birthday picnic story end up off canon with a claiming? I've no idea – they just took their story to that place and I followed, wide-eyed, writing it all down.

I know some people will not be pleased by Willow and Xander's treatment in this story, but I felt it was right in context of the plot.

Because I've never written a claiming episode before, I'm afraid I've put my own interpretation on how it might effect Buffy and Spike. As claiming isn't in canon, I think my ideas have as much validity as anyone else's!

I do hope you've all enjoyed reading this as much as I've enjoyed working on it. Thank you all for helpful and kind reviews. They made the task that much easier. Do let me know what you feel now the story has ended.

My next story will be much more light-hearted. Watch out for Alive or Dead, coming very soon.