A/N Our story so far:

After Spike burns up in the Hellmouth, Buffy demands that the Oracles bring him back. Unable to do so physically, they place her twenty-three-year old mind in her younger body, just before she first meets Spike. If she wants things changed, she will have to change them herself. Buffy does, winning over a startled and initially reluctant Spike. Angel leaves Sunnydale, taking Dru with him, and Buffy and Spike claim each other.

Chapter 1

"So where do we go from here?" Spike asked.

He was lying on his side, his head propped on his bent arm and his free hand sliding in intricate patterns over Buffy's naked body. She shivered. Her nerve endings were still quivering from the intensity of the claiming that had just taken place between them.

"I'm not quite sure. We should tell people we're mated. But that's going to cause a lot of hysteria, so I don't know whether..."

"Word's going to get around," he said, bending down to nip at her stomach. "Can't hide it, luv, even if we wanted to. Vamps will know the minute they see your bite mark on my neck. Master of Sunnydale claimed by the Slayer. The challenges will start right away."

Her eyes widened. "Challenges?"

"A Master who allows himself to be taken by the Slayer has to be weak. Minions will want to test me, see whether it's their big opportunity to move up the ladder, maybe become Master in my place. Demons will try to move in on my territory. They've never thought much of vamps anyway. Consider us half-breeds. Tainted by being turned from and having the form of humans. They'll think it'll be easy."


He grinned at her. "Not to worry, luv. I'm the biggest Bad around here. They won't take me. Smart ones will stay on my side. The dumb ones? They won't be around after I'm through with them."

"That's all we need," she sighed, arcing unthinkingly under the slow kneading of his hand on her stomach.. "A battle over territory and pecking order raging through Sunnydale."

He kissed the hollow of her throat. "Better now when things are quiet than later when we're in the middle of an apocalypse or something."

She dug her fingers into his thick hair and pulled his head up so that she could see his eyes. "You'd help me with that?"

"I would. Won't let you go into something like that alone. Minions won't and I don't have the right to drag them into that. Can't force them to side with the light. If whatever it was became a direct threat to their interests, they might do it. But only then. Gotta remember they're creatures of the dark."

"I wasn't thinking of them. Aren't you a creature of the dark?"

"Don't know what I am now," he sighed. "Did a one eighty degree turn bonding with you. Straddling a totally irreconcilable chasm here, having a foot on both sides like this. Sure would make it easier if all the minions ran. Headed for parts unknown, way the hell out of Sunnydale. I'd just be on one side then. Your side. Thing is, I'd still be Master. Even if there wasn't a minion left, I'm still Master. If a vamp came into Sunnydale, he'd have to challenge or submit."

"No pax?"

"For what purpose, luv? A pax is a temporary thing, a truce intended for vamps passing through my territory and not planning to stay. Think I can keep any vamp from feeding? Can't. No more than you could prevent me. Best I can do is order my minions to do catch-and-release. No killing, but they'd still feed." He looked at her seriously. "Is that enough for you, Slayer?"

"God, this is getting so complicated! I guess that's good enough until we can figure out something better. But if I come across them, I stake them, whether they're your minions or not."

"Fair enough." He dropped his head against hers, then purred contentedly as she stroked his chest and stomach.

Her eyes widened suddenly. "Hey! I can feel that!"


"I can feel you feeling me touch you."

"Oh!" He laughed. "Claim starting to kick in."

He bent his head and mouthed her breast. She caught her breath sharply. She could feel not only his lips and his tongue working her breast, but the sensation he felt doing it and the sensation he felt coming from her as he did it. It was like two mirrors set to reflect each other: the feeling flashed back and forth, intensifying with each pass.

"Oh my God!"

"Wait till we start making love," he grinned. "Or when I drink from you."

"I think I'll die."

"What a way to go, huh? Empathetic connection," he explained. "We'll pick up each other's feelings, sensations. Might even end up being able to talk to each other in our heads. Happens sometimes. We'll have to ask your Watcher what else could happen. Bond between a Slayer and a vamp could have all sorts of side effects."

She caressed his side and back, and felt his pleasure across the link. "Oh, I like this."

Even better was feeling his happiness. She had made him feel so unhappy in her own time. It was lovely feeling his joy now, the depth of his contentment.

"Might be a problem tomorrow," he said suddenly. "I'll have to cement my position with the others. You're gonna sense me taking on the challenges. Sense me fighting."


"You'll do nothing," he said flatly, catching her intent over the link. "Think, Buffy. I have to be Master of Sunnydale in my own right. You can't help me without undercutting my position. What kind of Master would I be if I have to have the Slayer help me hold on to the title?"

"But the only reason you need to defend that title is because you're bonded to me!"

"Doesn't matter. Either I hold it on my own or I lose the lot."

"Do you have to be Master?" she asked plaintively.

"Either I rule or I'm a minion. That's the way it is, pet." His face was hard and grim. "Won't be anybody's minion. Won't submit to anyone."

"Can't you...?"

He shook his head, guessing what she was about to say. "Can't even abdicate, pet. No such thing. Only way to abdicate is to dust. And the new Master would then throw everything he had against you."

"I could handle that," she said sulkily. "If it wasn't for the dusting part."

He grinned at her. "Would kinda put a crimp in things, wouldn't it? Stick that lower lip out just a little bit more, luv. Yeah. Just like that."

She giggled as he sucked on her lower lip. "Stop that. We've got to discuss this."

"Nothing to discuss, pet. You can help me if I have to take on demons. That kind of turf war is right up your alley. But you can't help me take on my own minions. You feel that happening tomorrow, you stay out of it. That's the only way you can help."

"All right, damn it!" she growled, seeing how stern and grave his face was and sensing how important this was to him over the link. She didn't like it one bit, didn't like the idea that, after all they had gone through, she might lose him tomorrow. And to be barred from doing anything to prevent that happening was insupportable. "There are so many of them!"

"Mostly fledges. I brought the ones who had some experience with me on Parent-Teacher night and you dusted them. Two-thirds of the lot are left and they're mostly fledglings. The Anointed One collected too many around him. Way too lax. Quality's more important than quantity. Time to clean house a little bit."


"Worry about it later." He bent and sucked lightly on the claim mark on her neck and felt her shudder against him.


He smiled against her skin. He knew how to use the claim and had no compunctions about using it. She was a fast learner, though, and would know how to use it soon enough. But right now, at this critical time, he had an edge and he was going to use it to keep her safe.

He could feel her pleasure and knew she could feel his. The claim intensified everything. Their hands ran over each other, kneading and caressing, each touch reverberating back and forth through the claim, nerves firing off and echoing and not having time to settle before the next shuddering tremor started, bodies sliding and coiling around each other, friction setting off a spiral of sensation that just kept rising and rising until it was well-nigh unbearable. He took her hard and she arched under him, then bit the claim mark on his neck in retaliation. He yelled, he couldn't help it, it was so agonizingly sweet, felt her convulse under him, around him, clenching upon him.

'God, this is going to kill us!' he thought blankly, spurting into her in blind ecstasy, and heard her scream through the shuddering euphoria of his mind and body.

He was feeling ten feet tall when he stalked into the factory the next day. King of the world, let alone Master of Sunnydale. Let 'em come. He was ready for anything, could take on a horde of Polgara demons, forget about one pack of raggedy-assed vamps.

He'd put the call out over the minion link and they were all gathered when he arrived. He walked through their ranks, noting the ones who would give trouble. Not too many sharp ones. Way too many thick-brained lunkheads, male and female. The Anointed One had been indiscriminate, or perhaps it had been the Master before him. The two of them had wanted numbers, planning to take over Sunnydale and make it their own blood production line. Brilliant. As if that wouldn't call attention to Sunnydale, bring down retaliation in no time.

Power over the world. Make the world safe for vampires, humans only cattle to be herded and eaten. Yeah, yeah. Like that was ever going to happen. Several billion humans and how many vamps? Gimme a break here. No, cunning was what was required, not brute force.

Living well. That was what it was all about. He had never been into power. All he had ever wanted was to be happy—fighting, feeding and fucking. The simple life. He grinned. Got it now. And was gonna keep it, by God.

He threw himself into a chair, tossed one leg casually over its arm and smirked nastily at the faces staring at him.

"Right then. Got an announcement to make. Some of you been around since the Master was here. Most of you got turned when the Anointed One was in charge. 'K. They're both dust. I'm Master now and there's gonna be some changes made."

"Like what?" growled a vamp on his right. He was one of the ones Spike had been keeping an eye on, a big beefy vamp with delusions of adequacy, who thought size was the key to everything. Spike hadn't even bothered to learn his name. 'Bonehead' would do.

Time for the shock. He grinned and pulled down the neck of his T-skirt, baring the claim mark at the junction of his neck and shoulder. There was a collective gasp.

"Mated with the Slayer last night. Maybe some of you know we've been keeping company."

His amused glance ran over the various expressions of shock and horror, interestedly noting the couple of faces that had thoughtful attitudes instead.

"That bitch!" exclaimed Bonehead to Spike's satisfaction.

Spike flicked his hand. The stake that he had up his sleeve flew across the intervening space and buried itself neatly in Bonehead's heart. The vamps on either side jumped back, horrified, as Bonehead poofed into dust.

"Don't like insults to my lady." Spike's gaze ran the others. "Any one else wants to test who's got the biggest wrinklies 'round here, step on up."

"Traitor!" someone shouted and the place disintegrated into chaos.

Spike was out of his chair in one gleeful, twenty-foot leap that landed him right in the middle of the pack. The weight of sheer numbers should have pulled him down at once. But they were fledglings and he was a Master vampire with a hundred and twenty years of joyous experience in fighting behind him. A stake in each hand, he whirled, taking them down even as they threw themselves on him.

After a while, he realized that the pack was thinning. The circle that had been focused on him was now splintering into separate fights, little pockets of struggle breaking off from the main fight. It looked like some of the pack were declaring themselves for him. The smart ones. The ones who saw the potential in what he had done. He grinned and went on staking opponents.

Seven, then five, then three trying to surrender. He staked them anyway. If they weren't for him, they were against him; and he didn't want any half-hearted followers ready to turn on him the first chance they'd get. Here was an opportunity to clear the decks, get everything set up the way he wanted, and he was going to take it, ruthlessly.

All gone. He stepped back, taking a deep breath of satisfaction, and looked around. There were five other vamps looking back at him amidst the clouds of vamp dust just settling to the floor. The ones he had expected, the smart ones, among them Brian and Dalton. He reached out and grabbed Dalton by the back of the neck, shook him affectionately.

"Bookworm! Had it in you, didn't you?"

Dalton beamed and resettled his glasses, out of breath and chuffed that he had won a fight all by himself.

"Cream rises to the top," Spike said, grinning at them all. Four males, one female. The survivors. The ones who would think and listen. "Break out the booze and let's go over some new rules."

He could feel Buffy over the link, worrying about him. She had felt the violence of the fight, of course. He sent her reassurance and a cocky, mocking, query-feel that stood for, 'Well, of course I won; did you think it would be otherwise?' Her response came back and he laughed. She had slapped herself upside the head so that he would feel it. And with it, came a rush of love, a warmth enfolding him. His heart melted and he sent it back.

"Only six of us now," Brian said as they settled themselves around the table and passed the bottle around. Spike was glad that Brian was among those that survived. Light, quick and clever, he would be useful. "We'll need more."

"Why?" Spike leaned back in his chair, feet on the table and ankles crossed comfortably. "Quality is what I'm after, not quantity."


"Think about it. Thirty, thirty-five odd vamps means that many kills a night, just to feed. Which means the Slayer would be forced to come after us to reduce the number. And she would. Just because she's bonded to me doesn't mean she gives a fuck about you."

"Point," muttered Rafe. He was a tall, lanky drink of water who looked like he had strolled out of some old western.

"New rule. No kills. Catch-and-release." He looked around at their shocked faces. "We've been going about this all wrong. Don't need the death, do we? Just need the blood and the life force. Take a drink, then send 'em back home with a happy and no memory of the bite. Might have to do two or three a night to get all the blood you want, but, hey, that's no problem for us in a town this size, as long as they don't remember. Just don't bite the same one every night, people. Give them a week to make up the blood loss. Sunnydale becomes a sodding buffet for us, only six and no competition."

The thought was sinking in.

"But there is competition," Price protested. He was a quiet, capable, black vamp who had so far proved himself efficient at anything Spike had asked him to do. "There's loose vamps on the street."

"And the girls in the bite-shops," Carla added, pushing back her red hair.

"We move 'em out. They leave or we dust them. Sunnydale's ours."

"Shit." The possibilities were beginning to unfold.

"Demons," said Price, not protesting, just bringing up a problem factor.

"Slayer and I will take 'em out. Not the quiet ones like the Krasevics or the Brachens, any of that type. They keep to themselves anyway, don't cause any problems. It's the ones that muscle in on our turf that I don't want around. You see them, you take care of them. Or, if you have a problem with that, tell me where they are and the Slayer and me, we'll take care of 'em."

"Son of a bitch," said Brian, awed. "The town will be ours. The six of us. The Slayer okay with this?"

"We're helping her, aren't we? But don't bring yourself to her attention until I have a chance to introduce you properly. Slayer has a tendency to dust first and ask questions later."

"Noticed," muttered Rafe and a ripple of amusement ran around the table.

"'Nother thing. No turning. Annoying One had you gits turning people all ways from Sunday. And guess what? Ninety percent of the new fledges were useless. He wanted muscle. Which meant a lot of brain-dead jocks with nothing but bone between their ears. Most of which we've just dusted."

"Steroids. Yuck!" Carla shuddered.

"See what I mean? Didn't even taste good. You leave the turning to me. I want someone turned, I'll turn him. But I'm not going to do it unless there's good reason. Gonna be for merit, a sodding badge of honor it'll be, if I ever do it. But I'd rather have it just us six."

"I can see it," Brian was muttering. "I can see it."

"Could have a good thing going here," Spike said. "Don't screw it up, people."

They all nodded.

"Um," Dalton blurted suddenly as Spike tossed back the last of his drink and started to get to his feet. "Something happened. Drusilla..."

"Angel came 'n picked her up?" Spike grinned when Dalton looked relieved that he wasn't mad. "Yeah, that was settled last night. Right then." He nodded to all of them. "You gits put the word out, get things moving. I'm going to have another word with the Slayer."

Buffy had sensed the fight. It was utterly frustrating to feel him fighting and not be able to help. She didn't even know how things were going: Spike wouldn't ever acknowledge defeat, not until it actually happened, and then it would be too late for her to do anything about it. Fear for himself was not in his nature and he loved fighting, so all she could pick up over the link was a gleeful roil of violence and enjoyment.

When his triumph and reassurance came over the link, she had to sit down and put her head in her hands, she was so weak with relief. She sent her exasperation over the link and felt him laughing at her. Damn, cocksure, egotistical vamp! So sure he'd win.

"Buffy?" Giles said in surprise, opening his front door and seeing her sitting on the bench outside. "What are you doing out here?"

"Just taking a breather. Um, Giles, there's something I have to talk to you about."

If she dropped the whole thing on him, he'd probably die of shock, so Buffy thought she'd just take it step by step. First things first—that she wasn't his seventeen-year-old Buffy.

"Twenty-three years old? From the future? Future mind in this time's body?" Giles poured himself a massive jolt of Scotch and knocked it back in one go. "Er, um, Buffy, I won't insult you by asking whether you've made this all up, but..."

"Yeah," sighed Buffy. "Been there. You need proof. I don't have any. But if I say that you dabbled in the Black Arts when you were a young man, called yourself Ripper and have an old enemy called Ethan Rayne who'll be turning up in Sunnydale in just a little while, would that help?"

Giles' mouth was opening and closing like a fish. He looked totally flummoxed.

"Ripper...Ethan..." he said in a squeaky voice, then caught himself and coughed to clear his throat.

"Have another drink," suggested Buffy.

"I think I will." He did so, then took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. "Um, why are you telling me this?"

"Well, you're my Watcher and you're going to notice when I start acting strange. Know things I shouldn't. Act older than I am. I'm not a kid any more, Giles. I'm an adult and I'll be making adult decisions. And some of them you're not going to like. But I know what I'm doing and I've got the knowledge of six years worth of future events in my head. I don't want you calling out a wetworks team to take me out just because you think I'm suddenly acting weird."


"I know about the Council, Giles. I know how they operate."

"Oh, good Lord." He polished his glasses furiously. "It's not all the Council. It's just..."

"Quentin Travers. He's got a lot of power and he uses it badly."

Giles was staring at her as if she had suddenly grown two heads. "You know...too much."

"I do."

"Is it an apocalypse? Is that why you've come back?"

"No. There were apocalypses and, yeah, maybe I can prevent some of them now, fix some of the really bad things that happened. But we won the big one, Giles. The one that really mattered. And we're in the clear now. Only...someone died whom I couldn't live without. That's why I came back."


"Tell you later. I want Willow and Xander to hear it as well. Right now, I want you to help me tell my Mom about my being the Slayer. I have to be able to function freely, without have to sneak around about going on patrol and getting grounded because Snyder thinks I'm a troublemaker."

"All right." Giles was starting to get his bearings back. "Shall we tell her about your being from the future?"

Buffy shook her head. "She'll never believe that. Not yet. I think my being a Slayer is enough of a bomb to drop on her head right now."

"Quite. Rather shell-shocked here myself," muttered Giles as he started to collect reference books.

While he was doing that, Buffy called Willow and Xander and asked them to meet her at her safe house for a Scooby meeting in an hour. They took down the address, exclaiming in surprise, and she promised that she would explain everything when they got there.

Joyce didn't take even the Slayer part very well and Buffy knew she'd never be able to explain the rest to her for quite a while. She had to demonstrate her Slayer strength several times, and Giles had to point out all the relevant references about Slayers in his books before Joyce came anywhere close to believing them. Giles left the books with her when the two of them went off to the safe house, and Buffy only hoped Joyce would have come to accept the unpleasant truth by the time Buffy returned home.

The hardest part, though, was coming up now, when she would have to tell Giles, Willow and Xander about Spike.

"Why do you need a place like this?" Giles asked as Buffy led him down the stairs to her hidden flat.

"Need a place to be me. And to train," she added as her neat little gym was revealed when she opened the metal door at the bottom. "I'm way past exercises in the library now, Giles. Need a proper workout these days. Among other things," she murmured with a grin, thinking of Spike.

Giles was impressed by how professional everything was. He walked around, studying things, while Buffy unpacked the weapons she had liberated from Giles' weapons locker and laid them on the table before finding places for them in the cabinet she and Spike had constructed. Before she was halfway through putting them away, her Slayer hearing picked up the sounds of Willow and Xander arriving and then hesitating in bewilderment at the broken-down doors upstairs. She went up to let them in.

"Place of your own? Awesome, Buffy!" Xander enthused once he saw her flat. He was clearly visualizing wild parties well away from parental interference.

"You'll find there are a few drawbacks," murmured Buffy, amused.

"I don't understand, Buffy," Willow was saying as she looked the place over, surprised and a little concerned. "Why do you need a place of your own?"

"Aw, c'mon, Will!" Xander exclaimed. "Even a computer nerd's gotta know..."

Willow waved a hand at him in exasperation. "Got that, Xand. Not that dumb, for Pete's sake. But this is something more."

"Yes, it is." Buffy saw Giles settling back against the pommel horse, his arms folded and a tiny, anticipatory smile on his face. Nothing like having company when one realizes one hasn't exactly put one's best foot forward on something. "It's like this..."

Willow's and Xander's reactions to Buffy being back from the future were all Giles could have hoped for and more.

Once the shouting and exclamations and protestations were over and Buffy had flatly refused to tell Xander anything about his future to his extreme disappointment, Willow asked the crucial question: "But why did you come back, Buffy?"

Buffy drew a deep breath, then lost it entirely as the front door opened and Spike sauntered in.

"Got my bunch sorted out," he said blithely. "How about yours, pet?"

Willow screamed and grabbed for the bottle of holy water beside the weapons bag. Both Xander and Giles flung themselves at the weapons on the table.

"Claimed!" Buffy yelled, trying to get between them and Spike. "We're claimed! Mutual claim, Giles!"

Giles froze, the axe he had snatched up falling out of his hands. But the words were meaningless to Xander. He had a crossbow in his hands and was already cocking and firing it.

Buffy flung herself in front of Spike. But he caught her and spun so that his back was towards the crossbow, throwing the two of them to the floor. He wasn't quick enough for the shot to miss entirely; it was all happening so fast. The bolt from the crossbow hit him, slicing along his jaw before burying itself in the wall.

"Married! We're married!" Buffy screamed at Xander.

"Married? To him?" gasped Xander. There was a long pause while he turned white as a sheet. Then his eyes rolled up and he passed right out cold.

"Idiot," muttered Buffy as he hit the ground with a thud. She pushed Spike away. "And you! That bolt could have gone right through your back and into your heart."

"It was headed for your shoulder. Wasn't going to let it hit you, luv," he said flatly.

She shook him hard. "You could have...you could have..."

"Well, I didn't." He grinned suddenly. "Survived thirty odd vamps and damn nearly get killed by a wanker of a teenage human. How's that for irony?"

"You have a sick sense of humor." But she hugged him fiercely hard. "You moron! You weren't supposed to get here until eight."

"Past that now, luv."

"Oh." She hadn't realized how much time had gone by. "Willow, there's a first aid kit on the kitchen counter. Would you get it for me?"

Willow set down her bottle of holy water and went numbly over to the counter. "I don't see it, Buffy."

Buffy and Spike helped each other to their feet, then Buffy came over to the counter herself.

"Where...? Oh, I remember. I put it in one of the cabinets."

"You're...married?" said Willow blankly as Buffy pulled a cabinet door open.

"We claimed each other. It's like a marriage, except more so. It's a vampire thing. Our lives are linked together. He dies, I die. And the other way around. That's why Giles stopped."

"But, Buffy...That's Spike! Y'know, vampire, no soul, killed two Slayers, Scourge of Europe, that Spike!"

"Yeah. But I love him." Buffy found the first aid box.

"Oh," said Willow weakly. "Well, he is majorly hot."

On the other side of the room, Spike turned and grinned at her. "Thanks, Red. You've got taste."

Willow blushed vividly. Buffy laughed.

"Vampire hearing's very acute." She took the first aid box over to Spike, pushed him down onto the arm of a chair and pressed a gauze pad against the gash along his jawline. "Hold that there."

"Bleeding's almost stopped. It'll heal."

"Yeah, well, let's get some tape over it anyway." She cleaned the cut, then taped it to hold the edges together so that it would close up properly when it healed.

Willow got a cushion and pushed it under Xander's head where he lay on the floor.

"Uh, pet?" Spike murmured to Buffy. "Remember what I said about heart attacks all around? Looks like your Watcher's having one."

"What!" Buffy ran to Giles who was sitting on the table, staring blankly into space, his jaw hanging. "He's not breathing." She thumped him on the back. "Giles! Breathe!"

"Cuh-cuh-cuh-cuh..." stuttered Giles. "Cuh-cuh-cuh-clai..."

Willow looked from him to Xander flat on the floor and gave an involuntary snort of laughter, then clapped both her hands over her mouth to choke it off.

"I'm evil," said Spike softly in her ear. "What's your excuse?"

Willow gave him a wild-eyed look and bit her lip hard to keep from breaking out in half-hysterical giggles.

Buffy glared at both of them. "Come on, you two! It's not funny! Giles. Get a grip."

"Claimed!" Giles gasped. "You're claimed?"


"But he...He's..."

Buffy sighed. "He's a vampire. He doesn't have a soul. He's the Master of Sunnydale and the Scourge of Europe. He's killed two Slayers. But...he's also helped avert three apocalypses and died saving the world in the fourth and major one."

"Four apocalypses?" asked Spike interestedly. "Busy sod, wasn't I?"

"He did?" asked Willow, her eyes wide.

"Yes, he did."

"Talk about being a bloody git," muttered Spike. "You really had me by the balls, didn't you, Slayer?"

She grinned at him. "But you like that."

He grinned back. "True."

"He's the one you came back for," Giles said slowly. "The one who died, you said."

"That's right."

"And now you're claimed. The two of you. Vampire and Vampire Slayer." Giles made a despairing gesture. "It's unheard of. It's never happened before."

"Can you research it, Giles? Find out what the ramifications are, what the side effects might be?"

"Yes. Yes, of course. I must." He shook his head dazedly. "I have to tell the Council."


"But, Buffy...!"

"Quentin Travers will send his wetwork squad after me. Kill me or capture me for study."

"What?" said Spike dangerously.

"He wouldn't do that!" protested Giles.

"Oh, yeah? One word, Giles. Cruciamentum."

"Oh, Lord! They put you through that?"

"What's a Cru-cruciamentum?" asked Willow.

"It's what they do when a Slayer turns eighteen. They drug her so that she loses all her Slayer strength and powers, then they put her somewhere where she has to outwit a vamp using only her brains."

"Well, that's moronic, innit?" Spike commented. "Your Slayer finally gets experienced, then you put her to a test like that and lose her. Doesn't make sense."

"Oh, yes, it does," Buffy said softly, staring at Giles. "If you get a nice, submissive Slayer, like Kendra down in the West Indies, you give her a fledgling, an easy test. If you get an independent, free-thinking one who doesn't do everything you say, you give her a vamp that's guaranteed to take her out, so that a new, hopefully more obedient Slayer will then be called. The vamp they gave me was a psychotic, dangerous even to his own kind."

"This Travers? This Council?" Spike asked. Buffy nodded and he turned his head to look at Giles. "You don't tell your Council about the claim, Watcher."

Giles frowned. "Don't tell me what to do, vampire."

"Anything happens to her because of you, Watcher, I'll kill you." His eyes had gone yellow. "I'll fucking kill you slow, Watcher."

"I'm not afraid of y..."

Spike reached out, grabbed his shirt with both hands and yanked him off the table. "Don't count on the 'she dies, I die' thing. It takes a while. I'll get you if it's the last thing I do. And if I can't for some reason, I'll put a bounty on your head. You'd have every vamp and demon in California and points east coming after you."

"Spike." Buffy caught his arm.

"I wouldn't do anything to hurt Buffy," Giles said flatly. "If you think I would, you're a bloody fool."

They stared at each other for a long moment, then Spike let him go with an irritable flick of his hand.

"All right then."

Giles dusted himself off and resettled his shirt with dignity. He was watching Spike thoughtfully, with wonder.

"You really care for her."

"Damn right. I love her."

"Vampires can't..." Then he stopped. "That's the Council talking, isn't it?"

"Yeah. Demons can love, Watcher. Council won't let you believe that because it's easier to kill us if you believe we have no feelings. Demons are to be exterminated, right? But what about the ones like the Krasevics or the Listers who don't do any harm? Always exceptions to any rule. Loved Dru a hundred and twenty years. Will love my girl here forever."

Buffy smiled at him. Their hands met and clasped tightly.

On the floor, Xander stirred. Willow went to kneel beside him. He opened his eyes, found himself staring at Spike and scrabbled backwards frantically.

"Spike! That's Spike!"

"Here we go again," sighed Spike. "Watcher, you try."

Willow and Giles got Xander off the floor and into a chair. Then Giles explained the claim to him, very carefully and in words of one syllable.

"You mean we can't kill him?" Xander looked at Giles pleadingly. "There's got to be something you can do!"

"There's nothing that can be done. They've claimed each other. It's permanent and irrevocable."

"But...but..." He stared at Spike and Buffy. Spike had hooked a hip on the table and had pulled Buffy into his arms and was now nibbling her ear while she laughed. "God, that's disgusting!"

Buffy and Spike both glared at him.

"Can I eat him?" Spike asked.

Buffy gave Xander a stern look. "If he keeps that up, I might consider it. Only, you might not like the way he tastes."

"That's true," said Spike, contemplating Xander distastefully. Then he brightened. "I could tell one of my minions to eat him."

Willow giggled and Xander curled tighter into himself in his chair, rather like a snail withdrawing into its shell.

"Shutting up now," he muttered.

"Keep it that way," said Spike coldly. "Tolerate you because Slayer wants it like that. But I tell you right now. I hold no brief for you. Give me a hassle and one of my people gets a nice snack."

"And while we're on that subject," said Giles. "What about his people, Buffy? Are you going to let thirty or forty vampires have the run of the town, killing freely, just because you're mated to their Master?"

"Giles! As if I'd do that!"

"It's a legitimate question. What about his minions?"

"Only five left," said Spike. "Had a bit of a shake up in the organization, like. And those five have their orders. No killing, no turning. Catch-and-release, just like you wanted, Slayer. Rest of the vamps in Sunnydale? We're running them out now. Won't be any left but my five in a couple of days. That good enough for you, pet?"

Buffy nodded. "Good enough."

Spike grinned at her. "Have this town run our way in no time."

Giles was staring at them. "No vampires in Sunnydale except your five?"

"I'm Master. No vamp comes in unless I let them. They move on or they get dusted."

"But...this is unheard of!"

Spike shrugged.

"It can't be that easy," muttered Giles.

"It isn't." Spike glanced at Buffy and she nodded wryly back. "Slayer's still going to be busy. There's still the demons. I have no control over them and the Hellmouth draws them in flocks. But the two of us, we can take care of them."

"The two of..." Giles took off his glasses and reached for his handkerchief. "You're going to help Buffy destroy demons?"

"Think I'm gonna let my girl go up against them alone? Not a chance."

Giles looked as if he were in shock. Willow was grinning a little as she looked at him and then at Xander who looked as if he were going to be sick any minute.

"I think it might take a little while to get accustomed to all of this," she said diplomatically. "Why don't we all sleep on it and we can discuss it in the morning? I'm sure Buffy and Spike have other things to do right now."

Xander looked even sicker at the thought, but Giles just nodded absently and wandered off up the stairs, still in a brown study. Willow dragged Xander after him.

"Nice little bird, your Red," said Spike appreciatively. "Has her priorities straight."

Buffy grinned at him. "You only say that because she thinks you're hot."

He shrugged off his duster, kicked off his boots and flopped into an armchair, pulling her down with him in a tangle of arms and legs.

"Certainly endears her to me. But I was thinking more of her tact. Bright little bint knew I wanted to be...alone with you."

She laughed. "That wasn't what you were going to say."

"In you, pet. In you."

He pulled her camisole top over her head and threw it away, bent to run his lips over her breasts where they swelled over the cups of her bra.

"Whoa! Wow, Spike! What's gotten into you?"

"Feeling good. Was a great day. Wanna celebrate."

"By taking me by storm? Oooh!"

Her bra was gone. He had her bent back over his arm, lips moving and suckling over her breasts.

"Operative word is 'taking.'"

A dizzying wave of emotions, feelings, pictures was coming over the link. His excitement and laughter and arousal. What he was doing to her, what he wanted to do, what he was going to do...

"Whoo! I'm getting pictures now!"

"Feelings are better."

She suddenly got a vivid, sensory feel of what he would feel like inside her. Her thighs clenched involuntarily.

"Bed, Spike! Now!"

They were both laughing in between of eating each other alive. He scooped her up and headed for the bedroom, walking blind because they couldn't stop kissing.

"This can get dangerous," muttered Buffy against his mouth as he jarred his shoulder against the doorjamb. He laughed, deep in his throat.

"Great feeling, innit?" He dropped her onto the bed and fell on top of her, knocking out all her breath. She laughed and bit his shoulder in retaliation. "Oh, yeah."

She wound her legs around his hips, pulled at his T-shirt. "Shirt off. Shirt off."

He yanked it over his head and threw it away. They both purred at the feeling of skin against skin.

She caught his hands and stretched them out on either side of them. Their fingers interlinked and tightened; their bodies moved sinuously, torsos rubbing sensuously against each other.

"Are you trying to slow me down?" His open mouth ran down the side of her neck, lingered on the claim mark. She shuddered.

"No, you just feel so good." She rubbed her face against his jaw, smiling. "You feel so wonderful. Tip your head back."

"Like this? Mmm," he purred as her mouth ran along the underside of his jaw from under the corner of one ear right around to the other, then sucked down his throat. His hands tightened on hers. "Have a thing for throats, don't you? Shoulda been a vamp."

"Just yours. Love your throat." She did. Her lips moved back and forth over the fine, supple lines of his throat. She could feel his pleasure over the link, the way he immersed himself in the feel of her mouth upon him. It was one of the things she liked most about him, the way he threw himself into the moment, drowned himself in it and in her, the whole world shoved away except for her and the sensations she gave him.

He slid down a little bit until he could mouth her breast. She arced to his mouth, her nipples hardening almost painfully as his tongue flickered over them, hands clenching on his.

"And I love your breasts," he muttered, suckling on them. "Could play with them for hours."


"So what else do you like about me?" he murmured after a while. He had pulled his hands free and was now sliding them all over her torso, kneading and stroking, just as she was stroking his back and chest and stomach, caressing him.

"Hmm?" Her brain wasn't working properly, lost in sensation. His mouth was sliding everywhere across her ribcage. He repeated the question, laughing against her navel. "Oh. Too long a list. It would take hours."

He smiled against her skin. "Then try it the other way. What don't you like about me?"

He was easing her jeans off, his mouth following them down over her hip and then the top of her thigh. Then her jeans were gone and he was kicking his own off, sliding back up, his mouth drifting over her stomach, using his fangs now in tiny pinpricks that were hopelessly erotic. She was writhing helplessly.

"Well?" he asked.

"I'm thinking. I'm thinking."

They both fell into laughter.

"Love you, kitten."

She pulled him up until she could kiss him. They kissed deeply, tongues weaving, mouths twisting. Her fingers dug into his hair; her arms wrapped around his head. The claim picked up her pleasure, threw it to him, picked up his delight in her, threw it to her. They shuddered helplessly, nerve ends vibrating more and more intensely as the claim flashed every sensation, every emotion, back and forth over the link.

"Oh, God, Spike!" Her legs came up to grip his hips; her body arched to him.

"So hot..."

He came into her hard and every nerve flared. They both gasped, eyes closing in ecstasy, open mouths sliding across each other's faces, bodies straining against each other as the slow, deep drive of his cock thrust them relentlessly higher and higher. It was voluptuously sweet, agonizing in its intensity, the claim blazing through every cell of their bodies until she thought they would fuse together.

'Oh, God, we're never going to survive much more of this,' she thought helplessly as her climax crashed over her like a tsunami.