Author's Notes:I know. I know, I am a terrible, awful, horrible person and I cannot apologize enough for the lag in updates here. I knew that going for 'weekly' updates at the start was a mistake; writer's/editor's block ALWAYS comes to bite me. Gah!

FYI, there is likely to be another lag in updates again (I'm just warning you now); my muse screeched to a halt when I hit 'Inca Mummy Girl', and it's taking some time to kick-start. Rest assured though that until I say otherwise, this fic has NOT been abandoned. The plot bunnies are simply multiplying at a pace that Anya would likely appreciate (ie. not at all, haha).

THANK YOU for your patience, THANK YOU for being here, and I truly truly hope that you enjoy this chapter.


At the sound of her laugh, Spike felt the layer of ice crackle as it hardened around his heart. Little crystals expanding inward to slash at the long-dead hunk of muscle. He straightened up, shooting a look at the Watcher before following her out of the office.

When Buffy turned to look at them, he was sure he'd suddenly regained the need to breathe. His chest was tight. Painful. Like someone had strapped a wall of bungee cords to the surfaces of his lungs and was slowly cranking them inward on themselves. Hoping to make the soft tissue implode.

"So that's it, huh? I remember the drill. One Slayer dies, next one's called," she murmured. "Wonder who she is." She looked at the Watcher then, seeming to become aware of their presence for the first time. "Will you train her? Or will they send someone else? New Watcher for a new Slayer…"

"Buffy, I…"

"They say how he's gonna kill me?" she asked, chin wrinkling as the nonchalance she'd established already began to crumble. "Do you think it'll hurt?"

The first tears traced their way down her cheeks, and Spike wanted nothing more than to wrap her in his arms and promise her that they were wrong. Forget all the distance and barriers they'd placed between each other in the last couple of months. It all seemed so ridiculous now.

He wanted to hold her while yelling at the Watcher to find a way around it. To get out his damn books and dissect them until he discovered a contradiction, an inconsistency, anything that could assure them their Slayer… his Slayer… wasn't going anywhere.

"Buffy…" Spike whispered, her name snagging the edges of his vocal cords on its way out.

Sharp green eyes sliced into him. "Don't come near me," she snarled. "Were you even gonna tell me?" she asked then, focus redirected to Giles.

"I was hoping I wouldn't have to. That there was… some way around it. I…"

Angry as he'd been at the old man a moment ago, for even daring to suggest that Buffy was going to perish at the Master's hand, he couldn't hold on to it. It was obvious that this was ripping the Watcher apart just as much as it was him.

Guess that was why it was the norm for a Watcher and his Slayer to maintain a certain measure of disconnect between them. Made it a lot harder to lose her, to even think about losing her, when he saw her as a human being rather than an instrument.

"Yeah. Well. I've got a way around it. I quit!"

God, if only it were that easy. If only… "Slayer…"

"Stop calling me that!" Buffy yelled at him, hysteria scratching at the edges of her voice. A few more tears cut angry paths down to her jaw. "My name… is Buffy, okay? I'm not just some… some killing machine. I'm a girl. I'm a person and I… I'm not the Slayer anymore. Because I quit! I resign, I-I'm fired… you can find someone else to stop the Master from taking over!"

"I'm not sure that anyone else can. All the… the signs indicate-"

"The signs?" She sounded almost insulted that Giles would use such a ridiculous concept to justify this situation. Which, apparently she was, because she picked up a book and hurled it at him. "Read me the signs!" she screamed, firing another hardcover at him. "Tell me my fortune! You're so useful sitting here with all your books! You're really a lot of help!"

"No, I don't suppose I am," Giles muttered from where he was standing.

Spike hated this. Hated it. He'd never bought any of that prophecy crap before. Never cared what the texts had to say, or what mumbo jumbo some ancient scroll was spewing out. But now… this one… it was different. It was her. He felt like someone who'd chosen to stay in his home despite the fact that a hurricane was coming straight at him. Like he thought everything would be okay, but now that he could see the clouds and the rain and the whirling winds, he couldn't help but believe in the horror of it.

"Buffy…"

"No! You know what? You don't get to talk anymore. You're never gonna die, Spike, so what do you have to worry about?"

"Besides you?" He shot back, taking a step forward. "Dammit, Buffy. You think I want any of this to happen? Think I give a sodding damn about the world… about any of it if you aren't still gonna be alive to see it tomorrow, and the day after that?" This made her hesitate. She stared back at him, distracted for a moment by what he'd betrayed with such statements. "We've just… we've gotta find a way-"

"I already did," she snapped. "I quit, remember? Pay attention!"

Despite the venom in her words, he found himself falling just a little bit further for her at that.

"Buffy, if the Master rises…" Giles eased himself back into the conversation. Trying to focus her on the magnitude of the situation. On why this mattered so much, on why she would have to stop the Master, no matter how she went about it.

Apparently still stuck on the part where she was going to die though- and understandably so –she gave a sharp shake of her head, ripping her cross from her neck. "I don't care!" she yelled through clenched teeth. Took a few deep breaths. Spike could hear her heart rate slowing with that. Revved up, but a little less than it had been a few seconds before. Calmer now, she looked at her Watcher with a gaze that insisted her words were no longer borne from the chaos of panic. "I don't care. Giles, I'm sixteen years old. I don't wanna die."

Spike was a man- a demon –of many and continuous words. He couldn't remember ever being at a loss for something to say when someone offered up a verbal challenge. But this…

He didn't think he'd ever really thought about it before. The life of a Slayer. How brief and brutal it was… how soon it ended. He hadn't ever really cared. A disposable, renewable resource, they were. One girl snuffed it, the next was called. When he'd extinguished the life of the Chinese Slayer, it had been an event for celebration, not regret. Even when Nikki was killed, he'd had his moment of remorse, carried the guilt with him for being the cause of it, but… he still accepted that it was just the way things were.

Bloody hell though… sixteen. She was just starting out, just beginning to discover who she was going to be…

Fucking Christ, he didn't want her to die either. Didn't want her to die ever. Especially not now.

Buffy was already walking out though. Cross thrown to the ground, footsteps punching the floor with each stride.

Spike forced himself not to follow. Made himself believe there were cinderblocks tied to his boots. Figured that in her mindset, he'd probably only earn himself a solid fist in his nose. Instead, he decided to stay here with the Watcher.

And he wasn't leaving until they found a bloody loophole.

|#|+-+-+|#|

Buffy realized she must've been sleeping. A conclusion she was only able to draw because now, she was waking up. At four in the morning.

Waking up to the sound of knuckles drumming on her window. Rolling over, she saw Spike crouched on the roof outside. A little thrill of excitement went through her, until she remembered what they'd been talking about the last time she saw him.

The Master.

Prophecy.

Death.

"Slayer?" he said when she rolled back over, voice trickling in where she'd left the window open a few inches.

"What do you want, Spike?"

"Can I come in?"

"Sure, why not?" Apparently he and Giles had been making plans for her death behind her back. Things couldn't get much worse if he stepped into her bedroom, now could they?

She heard the window slide open behind her. When he climbed in, she could tell that he just stood there for a moment. Staring at her, or at things in her room, she didn't know. Didn't care.

Then he sighed, and stomped around the bed to face her. "Pack a bag, Slayer."

Buffy frowned up at him. "What?"

"Get your kit together, a few of your girly things… we're leaving. Town."

"Spike, what are you talking about?"

"Been at the library this whole time. Read through every book and scroll that mentions the Slayer, and they all say the same thing: your time's up. No way out. So you and me? We're gonna teach them a thing or two about free will, and get the hell out of Dodge."

"You… want me to run away with you?"

Spike glared down at her, as though she was missing the point. "I want you alive. So pack a bag, and let's get moving. Car's out front."

"You have a car?"

He growled. "Slayer!"

"All right, all right!" she said, sitting up. "I'm…" Buffy paused then, considering this proposal he was making, and whether she wanted to take it. Whether she trusted him enough, or had forgiven him for everything that happened earlier this evening. Then she decided it didn't really matter. She wanted to live, and he was with her on that. He was giving her a sure-fire way to make that happen.

She looked up at him, jaw set, chin raised in determination. "I'm coming."

|#|+-+-+|#|

Buffy didn't know where they were going. Didn't know how long they'd been driving, or have even the slightest clue as to what time it was. The clock on the dash was definitely broken, and with all of the windows blacked out, all she could see were little slivers of greyish black blurs as they whipped down the highway.

She realized something then. No view of the outside meant no way to see when the sun began peeking its nose over the horizon.

"So you know I don't have a driver's license, right?"

"Didn't exactly have time to go through your wallet before we left, pet," he responded with a smile. "Why do you mention it?"

"Well, it's just… you might want to find somewhere to pull over before the sun comes up." Suddenly she realized how weird this was. Barrelling down the highway with Spike, no destination in mind. Knowing that the next time she fell asleep, it would be in a lumpy bed of questionable cleanliness.

"Why's that?"

She frowned at him. "Um… hello? Did you forget that the warning label on every vampire comes with 'flammable' written in capital letters?"

He just smiled, glancing over at her. "Don't worry, Slayer. I've got it covered. This isn't gonna be my first time driving in the daytime."

"Oh. Um… All right then."

Buffy turned her gaze back to the passenger side window, despite the lack of scenery. She was glad that Spike hadn't made many attempts at small talk so far. Just a few comments here and there, a couple of questions. He wasn't pushing her to talk this out, wasn't demanding that she tell him everything she was thinking and feeling. He hadn't even mentioned the scene in the library earlier that night.

Which was good, because right now, her head was noisy enough without his voice chiming in with the chorus.

All this time, Buffy knew that she had an expiration date stamped on her forehead. Knew that every night she went out to patrol, she might never go home again. Was completely aware that each new demon she faced had the potential to kill her. Except, she'd been doing this for long enough, made it through enough fights, wiggled out of enough tight squeezes, that she was thinking it might still be a long time before Giles had to go and knock on her mother's front door and break the news. It was becoming easier to ignore the 'definitely fatal' disclaimer on her job description.

Walking into the library though, and hearing her Watcher declare her impending death with such confidence and finality… it had almost shattered her. Giles knew everything. He was the guy with all of the answers, and when he didn't have the answers, it never took him long to find them. So the fact that he seemed so sure, so filled with terrified certainty… well, it was tough for her to just laugh it off as an inaccuracy in his predictions.

Buffy was going to die. Without question, she would face the Master, and he would be the one to punch the time card of her existence.

There was so much she hadn't done yet. It sounded corny, and clichéd, the sort of line that was said at every funeral for every person whose life was snatched away from them before they reached the age of twenty, but… it was so true. So painfully, awfully true.

She would never drive a car, never go to college. Never suffer through the Hellish joy of having roommates, never have an all-night cramming session before a final exam because she'd stayed out partying the night before. Never get married or own a house or have children. Never wear dentures or be able to say 'I remember when I was your age…'

She'd never make love to anyone.

So, yeah. Given the choice between facing down that oncoming demise, and running away like some scaredy cat coward girl, she'd taken this route.

She just… she just couldn't face her own death. Not now. Not yet. Not willingly.

It wasn't fair that she even had to make such a decision.

Noticing that the interior of the car was a few shades brighter than it had been a few minutes ago, Buffy again found herself wondering what time it was. Wondering when her Mother would be getting up. What she'd think when she came into her bedroom to find it empty.

She realized she should've left a note. No matter how lame an excuse she gave for her absence, at least then Joyce would know she'd left the house voluntarily. That she hadn't been kidnapped or hurt or… or killed.

She laughed at that. Saw Spike glance at her, but he didn't say anything.

Buffy wouldn't have heard him anyway. Not when thoughts of her mother sent a cold, hard punch into the pit of her gut.

Mom

Willow, Xander

Giles

Their names and faces ricocheted through her mind. Accompanied by that of the Master.

The Master, who was going to rise. Who would decimate Sunnydale, and every last member of its population. Including those people she loved. And the ones she kind of liked. And the ones she hated.

One by one, he would find and murder them all. If it wasn't him, then it would be one of his minions.

Because she wouldn't be there to stop them.

Oh, God

All of those people would perish. Her own mother was going to die because… because she wouldn't be there to protect them.

Somehow, that frightened her even more than the thought of her own death.

Buffy was the Slayer. A warrior. She… she was destined to die at the hand of some monster. But her Mom? Willow… everyone in Sunnydale… when death took them, it was supposed to be when they were old and grey and tucked in their soft, warm beds.

Not… not with the adrenaline of fear pulsating in their veins, an animal unlike one they'd ever encountered at their throats.

Dammit. God dammit.

How was she supposed to choose? Between her own death and that of every person she knew and loved?

Who was to say they wouldn't die even if she was there? That she wouldn't be the Master's first victim, and that he'd be free to attack them all anyway?

Could… could she do this now? Could she keep running, even knowing the lives she was risking?

What kind of a person would that make her? What kind of person was she?

I hate this. I hate hate hate it.

I can't… I need to… I don't…

Mommy.

"Spike?" She spoke around a pound of gravel in her throat. Around a tight, fluttering feeling in her chest that made it hard to breathe. Made her gasp for air even though she was barely moving.

"Mm?"

"I… we need to…" It hurt so much. Took so much effort to say these words. Like pushing a boulder covered in barbed wire up a mountain. She kept going though. Had to get them out before she changed her mind. "I have to-"

For the first time since they'd gotten on the road, Spike became more than just a shadow in the driver's seat. He reached over and snatched her hand out of her lap. Laced his fingers through hers, and squeezed tight.

"I know, pet," he murmured. Without further instruction, he pulled a U-turn after only the slightest effort at slowing down, and headed back towards Sunnydale.

He didn't let go of her for the rest of the drive, and she didn't pull away.

|#|+-+-+|#|

Though she had no concept of how long they'd been driving during their outbound trip, Buffy knew that the drive back couldn't have taken more than a half hour.

"Spike?" she half-whispered, afraid to break the silence between them. "How… how did we get back here so fast?" It probably wasn't important, but she was willing to spend time focusing on the small details. A weak attempt to distract her from the fact that they'd returned so she could be murdered within the next twenty-four hours.

He sighed, picking at something on the steering wheel with his thumbnail. "I knew before we even left that you weren't gonna run away from this. Really run away from it, I mean." He looked at her then, wearing a look that was a mixture of amusement, admiration, fear, and affection. "Figured you just needed some time to suss it out. And that you probably don't know your way around that well, so… mostly drove in a circle."

Buffy looked at him, unsure of whether she should be angry that he would make these sorts of assumptions… deceive her like this… or be touched by the confidence that he apparently had in her.

"But you listen to me, Slayer," he said before she could come to a decision. He slid himself across the bench seat, the hand that was not still linked with hers coming up to cup her cheek. "Know you probably want some time alone, to spend with your Mum… your friends… But you are not facing this thing on your own. Know you're the Chosen One, the one girl in all the world, but… I'm not losing you to that bat-faced lunatic. To any of them. I won't. You understand?"

His lips were on hers before she could stop him. Soft and needy and desperate. Stealing gasps out of her mouth and sucking them down into his own lungs.

"Spike…"

"Promise me, Slayer," he urged, lips tickling hers as he spoke. "Promise me that when your Watcher gives you the where and the when, you won't take a step in that direction unless I'm at your side."

Okay, well, he'd officially managed to make her stop thinking about the oncoming death for more than thirty consecutive seconds. Instead she felt like someone who'd suddenly come to the end of a dark tunnel and found themselves bathed in sunlight. A bright glow that was huge and warm and felt so good but was also so overwhelming.

Three weeks ago they'd barely been on shaky terms with each other. Still separated by a canyon full of distrust and misunderstandings. Now here he was, saying that he couldn't stand to lose her, that he wouldn't allow her to face this on her own. Pressing his lips to hers in a way that made her almost certain that in the absence of oxygen, it was love he was breathing into her.

…And that was a whole different kind of scary than the one that was already confronting her.

Nodding, she began to pull away, reaching for the latch on the door. Afraid that if she stayed here much longer, she would tell him to start up the engine again and make a real run for it this time. "I… I promise. I will."

Bringing their joined hands to her lips, she glued a soft kiss to his knuckles as she opened the door behind her. "Thank you, Spike."

|#|+-+-+|#|

Buffy had spent the rest of the day in a sort of defiant mourning. Going about her Saturday as though it was one like any other. Eating breakfast with her Mom, skimming over some of her history homework, putting on the dress that Joyce had bought for her. But doing it with the knowledge that they might- probably would –be the last things she ever did.

Then her mother came into her bedroom. A look of panic on her face. Something about a story on the news, followed by Willow's name.

After that, sitting on her best friend's bed while she described the horrors she'd seen at the school, things had become so simple. So clear.

The world… her friends… they needed her to protect them. To stop this. Stop him.

Suddenly, she was at peace with the idea of becoming barely more than a footnote in history at the age of sixteen. Because they were worth it.

|#|+-+-+|#|

Although he'd been expecting the knock on his door for a while now, Spike didn't run to open it. He already knew that Buffy wasn't on the other side.

"Oh. It's you," he muttered when he found her male chum instead. Xanadu, was it?

"Mind if I come in?" he asked, but was already standing in the middle of Spike's living room.

"Make yourself at home," Spike answered, strolling inwards to square off with him.

"She's gone."

"What?"

"Buffy. She's gone to fight the Master."

"What?" Spike growled this time, blood boiling in his hard, dead veins. "She was supposed to-" he snarled, taking a deep breath as every muscle in his body clenched with frustration. Snatching a crossbow from the set of hooks at his front door, he crashed through it a second later. "Let's go," he barked to the other male.

"Wait… but where are we…"

"To get her, half-wit. Where do you think?"

"Oh, well… I mean, that was kind of the plan, but… I sort of had this speech that I was gonna…" Walking beside him now, the teenager pulled a cross out of his pocket, turning it over in his hand.

Raising an eyebrow, fighting the urge to flinch away from the invisible force field that surrounded the wooden object, Spike snorted. "Yeah. Guessing I'll be real sorry to have missed it. Put that thing away, Shaggy, and just try to keep up."

|#|+-+-+|#|

Spike had been itching to touch her since the moment she was revived in the Master's lair. Unfortunately, in the meantime there had been an apocalypse to avert, and then some victorious partying to do. During the latter, he'd remained more of a spectator. Content to park himself on a stool at the Bronze, anchoring down a table for the rest of the group. All he wanted was to watch his Slayer dance and laugh with her friends. To bask in the fact that the Master was gone, and she was still alive.

He and the Watcher, though still somewhat weary of each other, had shared a few long looks of understanding on the matter. Both of them glad that that Giles wasn't just a librarian now.

Spike had to force himself to stay off the dance floor. Keep some distance between himself and the little blonde warrior. He knew that if she let him take her in his arms, he wouldn't let go. Something he wasn't sure she'd appreciate.

When the music finally stopped and the club closed up for the night, Spike followed the lot of them home. Unwilling to leave his Slayer's side until he watched her walk through her front door. They'd stopped first at Xander's house, followed by the redhead's.

Now, he was alone with her. Just him and the Slayer. Few words were exchanged during the remainder of their trip back to 1630 Revello Drive. He asked her if he'd heard Willow correctly; that Buffy would be spending the summer with her father in Los Angeles. She confirmed that yes, he would have to endure two long months in Sunnydale without her.

"Unless you maybe come to visit…" she suggested.

"That a request, love?"

"No," came her coy response. "Just… thinking out loud."

Walking up the path to her front door, Spike felt his stomach clench at the thought of saying good night to her already. "Hold up, Slayer," he said, snagging her wrist and dragging her back to him.

"What is it?" she asked, head tilted back to meet his gaze.

Two fingers guided a few loose tendrils of honey away from her face, while the other traced an invisible pattern on her bare shoulder. "You and I never got to have ourselves a dance."

"Yeah, because you were being Mister Mopey on the sidelines all night."

He grinned. "Got me there. What say we remedy that before the night's over then."

A smile crept across her face, and at an equally languid pace, she circled her arms around his neck. "We don't have any music."

"Sure we do," he said, bringing his hands to rest on her hips. Tuning in to the sounds of insects chirping, of cars rolling down the street, people walking and talking in the distance, he smiled at her. "You just gotta listen for it."

|#|+-+-+|#|

Joyce perked up when she heard laughter bubble in through the front window. Laughter that sounded quite a lot like her daughter. The same one who'd been in a weird sort of fugue for the last couple of days. Barely eating, she'd been drifting through the house like a dust particle; moving wherever the currents took her. The most dramatic facial expression she'd made was the frown she'd worn while twisting the lid off the strawberry jam.

Curious, she turned around on the couch, nudging the curtain out of the way and taking a peek outside.

Buffy was there with the young man she'd brought home weeks ago. William.

Pressed together on the front walkway, they were slow dancing. He was smiling down at her, one hand making a starfish on her lower back. The other was reaching behind him to snag one of hers, which he brought down to his lips for a kiss. The smile reattached itself to his face in the next instant, and he tucked their joined appendages into the space between them.

Feeling as though she was intruding on something private, she chose to let the curtain drop, and turned back to the book she was reading.

Having met the young man only once, she wasn't quite sure how she felt about him. Or about the idea that he and her daughter were at least in the beginning stages of a relationship together. Especially since he obviously had more than a couple of years on her.

Clearly though, they weren't going to do anything scandalous on her front lawn. So Joyce decided to leave them be for another five minutes or so. She didn't want her daughter spending too much time with this boy before she'd had a chance to meet him, but on the other hand… she didn't want to cut short the miniscule measure of happiness she'd managed to achieve in the last couple of days.

|#|+-+-+|#|

Somehow, Spike found a way to pull her even tighter against him. Nose buried in the sunlight of her hair, he drank in a deep gulp of it. Delighted in the shiver that went through him, in having yet another of his senses confirm to him that yes, she was here. In his arms. Warm.

Alive.

"What made you do it, Slayer?" he whispered into her, the question suddenly bubbling up in his mind. Buffy pulled away to look up at him. His brows knit together, but he ordered them back into their neutral stance. He didn't want her to feel like was accusing her of anything. "You promised me…"

"Because you told me to promise," she said, voice equally hushed. A frown hung from her forehead as she appeared deep in thought. "And I meant it when I said it, but…" She fell into silence for another moment. Breath puffing out of her in a sharp exhalation, she glanced up at him with an equally serrated gaze. "Spike, you can't be angry at me for doing this alone. You get that I'm the Slayer, right? That I'm supposed to-"

"I do. I do, pet. And I'm not angry. Can't be angry when I've got you…" he laughed, stopping his little stream of poncy talk before it got any further. "It's just…" he was cupping her cheek now, thumb stroking over the crest of the soft mound. "Guess I don't understand why you'd want to go in there without backup. When it was written that you'd…" He couldn't say it. Even with her standing here, prophecy thwarted, he couldn't give life to the idea of her death.

"I don't know how to explain it," she finally answered with a shake of her head. "I even thought about going to get you, but…" Again she got that faraway look in her eyes. "Look, could we just… not talk about it right now? Could we… with the dancing?" Her eyebrows went up, smile appearing below them in a look of hope.

A big part of him wanted to deny her request, to continue arguing the point. Really though, she didn't owe him anything. Didn't owe him the chance to fight at her side, didn't owe him an explanation for not giving him that chance.

Besides, he wasn't exactly hating this.

So Spike nodded, pulling her to him again. "Of course, love." He rested his cheek against the crown of her head. Sighed with contentment at the feel of her nose tucked into the hollow of his throat. "Just don't know what I would've done if you'd…" The words escaped before he had a chance to run them through his mental proof-reader.

Her sharp intake of breath, followed by the shudder that rippled through her indicated that perhaps it wasn't his wisest statement of the evening. He squeezed her tighter. "Sorry, sweet. Shouldn't have said anything."

"No, it's okay," she whispered against him with a small shake of her head, fingers playing with the short hairs at the back of his neck. "I guess, it all just happened so fast. It still doesn't feel real."

"Yeah," he murmured, not knowing what else to say. Although he had experience in the being dead arena, it was the part where she'd come back to life after the fact that he couldn't identify with.

"Wow," she laughed a moment later, looking up at him with. "Don't tell me I've rendered Mister Motor Mouth speechless. Should I be calling the Sunnydale Times?"

"Quiet, you." He poked her in the ribs. Buffy giggled, the sound like music as it bounced against his eardrums. "So," he said, a little more serious, teeth folding over his lower lip. "Think you might be willing to give us a kiss before you turn in?"

"It's possible." Although it was mostly of a playful nature, there was some genuine hesitation in her eyes. "Maybe if you ask really, really-"

"Buffy?" Joyce's voice sliced through them like a cold November wind. She was standing on the top step of the porch, arms crossed.

The blonde turned in his arms. "Hey, Mom."

"Hello, William," Joyce greeted him next, her voice pleasant except for the lioness creeping around its edges.

"Mrs. Summers. Nice to see you again."

"Mm. How was the dance?"

"It was great. Very dancey."

"It must've ended pretty late for you to just be getting home now."

"Oh, well actually, it was over…" Catching on to the hinting tone in her mother's voice, Buffy stopped to make a quick recovery. "I'll, uh… I'll be in in a minute."

Joyce nodded. "I'll set the timer. Good night, William."

"G'night," he returned the nod, starting to realize that despite Joyce's gracious demeanour during their first meeting, Buffy certainly hadn't sprouted that ferocity of hers out of nothing. Definitely genetic.

"Well, that was… awkward," the blonde laughed once her mother had disappeared, speaking lowly since she'd left the front door open.

"Yeah," he chuckled with her. "Glad I get to head off in the opposite direction."

Buffy sighed, offering him a wry smile. "So… I guess… I'll see you around?"

"I can guarantee it." Before she could walk away, he pulled her close again, pressing his lips to her forehead. Wouldn't feel right doing anything more with her mother no doubt watching from the crow's nest, but he wanted her to be the last thing on his lips that evening.

"Good night, Spike." She squeezed his hands in hers. "William."

A little bit ashamed of the way his heart tittered at the sound of his given name on her lips, he ducked his head. "Good night Buffy."

She was halfway up the steps when he called out to her again. "Oh, and love? The dress… bloody gorgeous."

Glancing down at it, she grinned at him. "Yeah. Thanks." She tugged at the skirt with two fingers. "It was a big hit with everyone."