Chapter 4

Three days later, Angel and Xander were still scouring the town, hunting for Spike. He was nowhere to be found—not in the demon quarters that Angel knew so well, not at Willy's, not in his crypt. Angel had ripped open the trapdoor, but the lower area was empty and even his scent there was days old and fading.

"He's found another lair somewhere," he snarled. "But it's a small town. I'll find it."

Buffy said nothing. She didn't know why she didn't tell the two of them where Spike was. She rationalized it by telling herself that she didn't know the exact address. But she did know the street and, if she had been standing on that street, she would have known exactly which house was his. She could have led them right to it. Even telling them that it was a house instead of a crypt or a factory would have simplified things for them.

Something in the black hole that was her memory of the last two weeks, something was keeping her from telling them where he was. She didn't know what it was. She knew he had tricked her, taken advantage of her loss of memory. But something in her balked at the idea of staking him. He deserved it. Absolutely he deserved it. But she couldn't make herself take action on that thought.

Dawn knew. Dawn had spent that first day curled up in a ball on her bed, waiting to be told that Spike was dust. The second day, she came out of her room, looking inexpressibly relieved. Buffy realized that Dawn knew that Buffy was aware of Spike's whereabouts. It was the thought that Buffy might tell Angel and Xander and so be personally responsible for Spike's death at their hands that had added an extra dimension of horror for Dawn.

Now relieved of that particular terror by Buffy's silence, she went about the house, watching Buffy thoughtfully.

Giles too had apparently had second thoughts. About an hour into the search, he had suddenly disassociated himself from Angel and Xander and gone home. He and Anya were now very busy with new consignments at the Magic Box. Anya couldn't understand why Xander was so upset over Spike sleeping with Buffy. She didn't think it was any of his business and wasn't taking his homicidal fervor on Buffy's behalf very well.

Xander had demanded that Willow and Tara do another locator spell on Spike, but both of them had refused. If the first one hadn't worked, they said reasonably, a second one wouldn't either, and they weren't going to put themselves to all that trouble and effort for nothing. Xander had promptly accused them of being on Spike's side, Willow had yelled back at him, and tempers were short all around.

For someone nowhere in evidence, Spike was certainly causing a whole lot of trouble. Buffy could just picture him sitting there, smirking at the lot of them. The thought made her want to kill something, made her go flying out of the house in a rage at all hours of the night. Several demons had already paid the price of her foul mood and the survivors were now prudently keeping low. Willy's bar was deserted when she dropped in on it and Willy gave her reproachful, accusing stares, but kept his mouth sensibly shut.

Having nothing to kill put her in an even worse mood. She was still prowling around, looking for victims in Restfield cemetery half an hour before dawn, unable to sleep out of sheer frustration and wrath.

Something moved among the gravestones. She stepped forward, smiling grimly.

A white-blonde head glinted in the moonlight. A pleasant baritone sang, "'Never could understand how eagles fly, never could understand the rising tide...'"

She blinked, jolting to a stop. Spike. Here in Restfield, which was the last place he should be with Angel and Xander looking for him. Singing. Something from the sixties from the sound of it.

"'...but I absolutely understand the rising of the sun...'"

"Spike! What the hell are you doing here?"

"Slayer." He gave her a wide, mocking grin and patted the side of his crypt. "Live here, don't I? My crypt. Bit messed up, but mine. What are you doing here this time of night? Come for a little nookie?"

She gritted her teeth and drew a deep breath, ready to tear him into little bits. He laughed at her and put out a hand to brace himself against the wall of his crypt.

"Still on a rampage? Got to Willy's just after you left. He said you'd driven all his customers away. But I made up for that." He saluted her with a bottle.

"You're drunk," she realized. He was massively drunk, weaving on his feet.

"Getting there." He upended the bottle, took another huge swig, leaned back against his crypt and started to sing again. "'Many things I'm never sure of, never understood. Things that man will do to man—in the name of good...'"

"Spike! For God's sake, will you stop that stupid song already? You can't stay..."

"'S a good song, Slayer. Has a point." He started caterwauling again, the chorus apparently this time. "'The sun will rise tomorrow morning, eastern skies of rain are gone and you and I-I-I-I will be reborn.'"

She flew at him, grabbed the lapels of his duster and thumped him against the wall of the crypt.

"You moron! Don't you understand? You can't stay here!"

"Ooh, Slayer. Do that again. It feels good." He grinned at her provokingly. "Can't keep your hands off me, can you?"

She had the stake at his heart the next second.

"Go on," he said. His eyes were very dark and he was smiling crookedly.

She shoved him away in frustration and he staggered and nearly fell.

"That's your solution to everything, isn't it, Slayer? Can't deal with something, just stake it."

"I should kill you!" she snarled.

"For what, Slayer? For fucking you? You wanted it. You came on to me, pet."

"I wasn't in my right mind! And you knew it."

"So? I should turn down a perfectly good shag because of that? It was great sex, Slayer. You're a bloody animal in bed, you know that?"

"God! Why are you pushing me like this?" she yelled at him. "Do you want me to kill you?"

"Don't care." He saluted her with the bottle again before taking another swig, laughing. "Already lived for sodding ever. Be a new experience, yeah? Gonna meet up with a lot of old friends down there in Hell. Might be fun."

"You are the most..."

"Why aren't you killing me, Slayer? What's holding you back?"

She didn't know. She put her hands up to her head.

"You're just a demon," she muttered. "You don't know any better."

"Yeah. Evil. No soul. Can't love. Don't know right from wrong."

"Shut up, Spike! Can't you see I'm trying to cut you some slack here? Just get out of Sunnydale, okay? Just get out and don't come back. Or I really will kill you."

"No point. Might be nothing for me here. But there's nothing for me out there either." He leaned back against the side of the crypt. "I'm tired, Slayer. Come to the end of my rope. Don't care any more."

"Look. Look, you idiot. I might not be able to kill you. But Angel and Xander are looking for you. And they most certainly will kill you."

"Wouldn't give them the satisfaction." He slumped against the crypt, his eyes closing. "Sleepy. What was I saying? Oh, yeah. Least you'll get something out of it if I dust, Slayer. Got it all set up with Wolfram and Hart. They'll know if I dust. They'll take their cut, send the rest to you."

"What are you talking about?" She caught him as he started to slide down the side of the crypt. "Spike, wake up! Send what?"

"Hm? Money. Got some. Lived a long time. Compound interest accumulates."

Her jaw dropped and she stared at him, horrified. "I can't profit from your death, Spike!"

His eyes opened hazily and he heaved himself higher on the wall. "Can."

"I'll refuse it!"

He gave her a tight, cold smile. "Got that covered too. You refuse, it goes to Dawn. In trust. Pay the mortgage, give her a college fund."

"Goddammit!" She shook him hard and he laughed. "Why are you doing this, Spike?"

"You wouldn't understand, Slayer."

"This is crazy, all of it. What the hell am I going to do with you? None of this is making any sense. Come on. It's almost morning. We've got to get you back to that house of yours before Angel and Xander find you."

"I'd like them to find me. Take care of Angel proper this time. Wasted my opportunity last year with that Gem. Should have killed the wanker." His eyes were utterly cold and lethal. "Do you really think he could hurt me? He's a vamp. I can fight him. Never really did before. This time I will. Do for him, I will."

She saw with a shock that he meant it.

"Hurt you," he said. "Keeps on hurting you. Ruining things. Everything's good until he shows up. Then everything fucking hits the fan. No more."

"Spike, no. Xander's with him and you can't fight Xander."

"Can't I?" He laughed. "Forgotten, have you? Chip's dead. I can tie Xander into a pretzel. Bury him deep. I will, if he comes at me."

She jerked away from him in horror. "The chip's..."

"Dead. Fried. Kaput." He snapped her earlobe with his fingernail, taking her by surprise.

"Ouch!"

"No zap. See? Wanna stake me, Slayer?" He spread his arms out against the wall, presenting his chest to her. "Come on."

"When?"

"Two weeks ago."

"Have you..."

"Eaten anybody? No. Promised you I wouldn't. Come on, Slayer. Aren't you going to stake me?"

Her head was whirling. She pressed her hand to her forehead, trying to find stability in the middle of all this confusion. He shrugged.

"Well, if you're not going to kill me, just go away, okay? Got a bottle I wanna finish." He grabbed the roof of the crypt and swung himself up to sit comfortably swinging his legs and warbling, "'I know the sun will rise tomorrow morning...'"

"Will you stop with that stupid song?" she yelled. "It's giving me a headache!"

"'...And you and I-I-I-I will be reborn.'" He snickered. "Well, not exactly. But close enough."

"Oh, Christ, the sun is rising!" The first rays were just coming over the horizon. "Spike, come down!"

"Why?"

"You're gonna burn up!"

"Go away, Slayer." He upended the bottle, finished off the remaining quarter in one long chug-a-lug, then flung the bottle away and flopped onto his back on the roof of the crypt. "Wanna get some sleep."

"Not up there, you moron!"

She grabbed his ankle and yanked until he came slithering back down onto the ground again. He pulled away from her irritably.

"Le' me alone, Shlayer."

She grabbed the lapels of his duster and dragged him into the crypt despite his strenuous resistance, kicked the door shut behind her.

"Why the hell am I doing this?" she muttered, shoving him along to the trapdoor at the back. "I must be out of my mind. I should leave you out there to fry."

"Mush be my irresishtible charm an' good looks."

God, even totally sloshed, the man still had to crack wise.

"Go down the ladder. Go down the ladder, Spike," she repeated patiently as he wavered.

He went obediently down a couple of rungs, then lost his balance and fell.

"Spike!"

She hurried down after him and found to her relief that he was unhurt, having fallen with the rubbery, ragdoll bonelessness of the truly drunk. She heaved him up onto his feet and dragged him over to the bed. The back of his knees hit the bed and he staggered and lost his balance again. They both thumped down on the side of the bed, sat for a moment staring at each other.

"She's gone, isn't she?" he said suddenly. "Kept hoping and hoping..."

"What?" she asked, bewildered.

He reached out and touched her face with aching delicacy.

"My girl's gone. Never coming back."

The depth of misery in his eyes shocked her.

"No point in anything," he said and turned away from her and fell flat on his stomach on the bed, his face buried in his arms.

She found herself putting out a hand to him, then stopped.

After a few minutes, she got up and went to the ladder. He didn't move. She climbed the ladder and stopped to check the latch on the trapdoor. The latch was useless, broken when Angel had wrenched the trapdoor open. There was no way to secure the trap. They would just have to take the chance that nothing would discover him here until she could get back when the sun went down this evening and talk him into going back to his safe house once more.

Both Angel and Xander were at her place when she got back.

Xander's eyes were alight. "We've got a break."

Her voice went high in panic. "You found Spike? You know where he is?"

"No," said Angel, frowning. "You sound...Don't you want us to find him?"

"No," she said flatly. "I don't. This is between him and me."

"You'd let him get away with it, for some weird reason," Xander said scornfully. "He has to pay."

"Do you know where he is?" Angel asked, coming towards her.

She backed away from him, terrified that he would smell Spike on her.

"No, I don't know where his lair is." Carefully phrased.

He wrinkled up his nose. "Why do you smell of whiskey?"

She realized with relief that the pungency of the whiskey was masking Spike's scent from him.

"I stopped at Willy's bar." Again carefully phrased to be the truth. She drew a deep breath. "Listen to me, both of you. I want you to leave Spike alone. This is none of your business. Angel, go back to L.A."

"No." Angel's eyes were cold with dangerously repressed rage. "I've had it with Spike. This time, he's gone too far. He's been a thorn in my side for over a century. I'm putting an end to it."

"Yeah, and we've got a break, Buffy!" Xander exclaimed gleefully. "Wesley found this thing. It's called a Duhartic Wand. It can track a person down by his scent. Kind of like a super bloodhound. Wes will bring it this evening. By tonight, we'll have the bastard. By tonight, he'll be dust."

Buffy put her hands to her head. It was aching painfully, the headache that had started with Spike now hammering at her.

"Go away, both of you," she muttered. "Do what you like. I don't care. You won't listen to me anyway."

"Buffy..." Angel stepped towards her, frowning, and she shoved him away.

"Get out of here." She gripped her temples tightly. "God, my head is killing me. Just go, will you?"

They went reluctantly, looking back worriedly at her over their shoulders.

Her head was splitting apart. Three Tylenol made no difference. She went and lay wretchedly on her bed, still fully dressed, her arms wrapped around her head.

"My girl's gone," said a voice desolately in her head. "Never coming back."

She put her hands over her ears. Exhaustion hit her like a fist. She had been up all night. She fell into a fitful sleep, troubled by nightmarish dreams.

"Oh, my girl," he said softly and she relaxed, the nightmares fading away, safe with him, happy with him. "I love you so much."

"Know this is wrong. Don't care. If you should stake me for it right this moment, it would still be worth it."

"Not asking for forever. Not asking for promises or a claim..."

"Get my fangs in you, I'd do it...To claim you would be to take away all your choices. So, no."

"Maybe if you want it enough, you'll remember."

"I want it," she said and woke up with a jerk.

Her head was clear. The headache was gone. In its place...

All the memories were there. Every moment of the missing weeks. Every word, every look, every touch. She remembered everything that had happened between them.

She was still Buffy. But she did remember. And she couldn't let Angel and Xander kill Spike because of something that was more her fault than his.

She sat up slowly. Outside, the sun was close to the horizon. She had slept away the whole day. In only a couple of hours, the sun would be down and Angel and Xander would start hunting Spike. And this time, they would find him—either still passed out and helpless in his crypt or at that safe house with that wand thing of theirs.

She could hear voices downstairs. She jumped off the bed and ran downstairs, not caring about her disheveled appearance. Tara and Willow were with Dawn in the living room. They all looked around, concerned, when she came flying in.

"Buffy, are you all right?" Dawn asked. "You slept so long, I was getting worried."

"Getting my head together." She shoved her hair out of her eyes. "Guys, Wesley's bringing down some sort of wand thing for Angel that'll track Spike down."

"A Duhartic Wand," Tara nodded. "Xander told us about it."

"Will it work?"

"Yes. It's very effective."

"We've got to stop it."

Dawn was on her feet, her eyes shining. "You remember!"

"Yes. And it wasn't Spike's fault. He didn't take advantage of me. I practically jumped his bones. It's not fair that Angel and Xander should be after him. We've got to stop them."

"How?" Willow had jumped to her feet as well.

Buffy smiled at her. "You with me, Will?"

"This whole vendetta of theirs has been bothering me. It's no one's business but yours." She gave a wry smile to Tara who smiled back. "Right. So what do we do?"

"Well, first of all we've got to get Spike somewhere safe. He got humongously drunk last night and he's over at the crypt, probably still passed out. Really easy to find if they're looking for him. I can take care of that part. The place where he's staying is spellproof and should block the wand. It's getting him there that's the problem. No good being somewhere spellproof if the wand can track him right to it. Isn't there some way to defuse that thing?"

"I know a spell that will confuse it," Tara said. "It's in that red Modus book at the Magic Box."

"How long will it take? We've got to do this before the sun goes down."

"Not long. I should have it done by then. I'll just need the book and some ingredients."

"I'll get those," said Willow. "Just give me a list, Tara, and I'll get them while you get set up here."

"Right. You get started," said Buffy, "and I'll get showered and changed."

She ran upstairs again.

Tara tapped at her bedroom door as she was zipping up a fresh pair of jeans. "Buffy, do you have anything scented that we could spray on Spike?"

Buffy grabbed a perfume bottle at random from the dresser and tossed it to her and Tara promptly vanished again.

"Right," said Willow an hour or so later. "Just spray this on him. It'll throw the wand right off and they won't be able to track him."

"And here," said Tara with a grin and handed Buffy another little spray bottle. "Anti-hangover. It takes a massive amount of alcohol to get a vamp drunk, so the hangover's probably going to be a bitch."

"Thanks, guys! Will the two of you stay with Dawn? I don't know how long..."

"Sure we will."

"My cell's over at Spike's place, but we'll be there in about half an hour. Keep me posted about anything that happens, okay, Dawn?"

"Abso-fucking-lutely. Now go," said Dawn, pushing her out of the house.

Buffy laughed and went. It was half an hour to sunset.

Spike was still flat on the bed. He had yanked off his duster sometime during the day, but otherwise he was still fully dressed, down to his boots. She shook him hard.

"Spike, wake up! Come on. Wakey, wakey."

He rolled over and opened one bleary eye. "God, Slayer. Can't you let a man die in peace?"

"Get up."

He heaved himself into a sitting position, braced on one straight arm, then nearly folded over again.

"Oh, God, my head. My bloody head. Oh, God, I'm sober." He looked as if he were nearly going to weep at the thought. "Shit, Slayer. What did you have to sober me up for? Now I've got to do it all over again."

"Do what? Get drunk?"

"Yeah. Oh, Jesus, somebody please cut off my head."

She spritzed Tara's little hangover remedy into his face. He jerked away and gasped, involuntarily drawing it into his lungs, then immediately started to look less green.

"Oh, that's better. What was that?"

"Hangover cure." She sprayed some more and this time he breathed it in.

"Should patent it." He eased to the side of the bed and sat there, his head hanging. "What's going on?"

"Got to get you back to the safe house."

"Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber coming looking for me? Let 'em come. Might get a surprise."

"I don't want any one of you getting hurt or killed. Stand up, Spike."

He did so obediently, not looking at her, braced himself against the wall with one straight arm. He looked utterly defeated and dejected.

"What now, Slayer?"

"Stand still." This time, she sprayed him with the anti-wand potion.

"What the fuck!" He jerked away and nearly fell. "Slayer, stop it! What the bleeding hell is that stuff?"

She stalked him inexorably as he tried to get away from her, spraying him from the top of his head to the toes of his boots. He twisted away, throwing an arm across his face, but that only let her get his back as well.

"It'll hide your scent from Angel," she explained.

"Fucking A, it'll hide my scent! Christ, Slayer, couldn't you at least have made it vanilla instead of jasmine? Angel gets a whiff of this on me, for sure I won't have to worry about him any more. He'll just keel over dead from shock."

She couldn't help grinning at the disgusted look on his face.

"Come on. The sun's low enough for you to get to where you've hidden your car."

He picked up his duster and followed her. She noticed with amusement that he was holding the duster well away from him, not putting it on, not wanting to get it contaminated by the scent.

"Keys," she said when they got to the DeSoto.

"No."

"You're still squinting and you're not that coordinated yet. I don't think it's safe for you to drive."

"Slayer, either I drive or we stay right here. Don't mind peacefully waiting for the sun to come up to dust, but don't want to end up mangled in the kind of accident that's just waiting to happen if you get behind the wheel."

She said nothing for a moment, her suspicions about last night confirmed. He was rubbing his face with one hand, unaware of what he had inadvertently given away.

"I'm not that bad," she said, deciding to ignore it for the moment.

"You're worse."

In the end, he drove. He was silent all the way, never looking at her once, his face remote and still. She watched him out of the corner of her eye, worried at how quiet and subdued he was, wishing she knew what was going on in his head.

"Now what?" he asked, once the DeSoto was hidden away in the safe house's garage and they were heading into the house itself.

"Now we wait to see whether Tara's spray really works. Wesley found this Du-something wand for Angel that supposedly locks in on your scent and tracks you down. Tara says this spray should confuse its radar."

"Duhartic Wand," he nodded. "Heard of that." He paused before shutting the door. "You don't have to stay, Slayer."

"Want to be here, in case it doesn't work and Angel shows up."

He shrugged, then closed and locked the door. "You realize that all you're doing is putting a band-aid over the problem. I can't stay in here forever. Won't."

"Working on that," she said quietly.

He frowned down at the floor, still not looking directly at her. His mouth started to shape the word 'Why?' Then he changed his mind before articulating it and shrugged.

"Make yourself comfortable then. There's stuff in the fridge you lik...There's stuff in the fridge."

She knew what was in the fridge—all her favorite foods, with his blood packages tucked discreetly into the opaque vegetable crisper where she wouldn't have to look at them.

"Help yourself," he was saying curtly. "I'm going to take a shower. Can't stand this scent a minute longer."

"Yeah, it should be okay to wash it off now that you're in here where it's spellproof. And that combination of booze and jasmine is really weird."

"Tell me about it," he muttered and went off into the bedroom.

After a few minutes, she heard the shower turn on. The curtains in the living room were drawn so that no one could look inside. She got up and went to make sure that the ones in the bedroom were closed as well, then remembered the cell phone that she had dropped.

It was no longer on the floor beside the dresser. The previously cluttered top of the dresser was now bare, all the things that she had left lying about gone. She frowned at that, wondering whether he had thrown them all out in a fit of temper, then opened the top drawer to find them all carefully laid out there, with her cell phone neatly to one side. The backs of her eyes hurt suddenly. She bit her lip, took the cell phone out and laid it on top of the dresser where she would hear it if it rang.

The bed was just the way she had left it four days ago, its coverlet thrown across a chair. He hadn't changed the sheets. She remembered him saying a while back that he liked sleeping on sheets that smelled of the two of them and sex.

She bit her lip even harder and retreated into the safety of the living room.

The shower kept running for a long, long time. Long enough for the hot water to run out. Vamps didn't react to heat or cold, staying consistently at room temperature, so it wouldn't bother him that the water was cold. She wondered whether he was waiting for her to get bored and leave. Before falling through the portal, she probably would have, wouldn't even have been here in the first place.

Finally the shower stopped. Even so, it still took him quite a while to come reluctantly back into the living room. He stopped in the doorway, leaning his shoulder against the jamb, his thumbs hooked into his belt. He was wearing a fresh T-shirt and jeans, and his feet were bare. His skin looked chill, so she guessed the water really had gone cold. A muscle jumped diagonally across his cheek as his jaw clenched.

"Still here, Slayer? Thought you would have left by now." So he had been trying to wait her out.

"Angel will have barely gotten started."

"If you're gonna stay until you think he's given up, it'll be a long wait, luv. He's a persistent sort of bugger."

"Dawn's going to keep us posted on my cell."

He looked automatically over his shoulder at the bedroom, towards the dresser visible through the open door, saw her cell lying there and shot her a brief, edgy glance before looking quickly away again.

"Why won't you look at me?" she asked.

"Looking at you, pet." And now he was. But his eyes were tense, wincing a little, as if he had to force himself to look at her, as if it hurt him. His lips were pressed into a tight, straight line, their corners pointed with strain.

"What are you seeing, Spike?"

He frowned. "Buffy Summers, the Slayer. What else?"

She rose and came towards him and he drew back, as if her nearness were a torment to him.

"Not your girl?"

His eyelids creased in pain. "She's gone."

"Is she?"

"You don't even remember her, Slayer."

"I remember."

His gaze came up and his eyes widened. "What?"

She took his face in her hands. "You said maybe if I wanted it enough, I'd remember. I wanted it enough."

"Buffy!"

She kissed him.

His whole body jolted against hers. Then he was kissing her desperately, devouringly, his arms crushing her to him so tightly that she felt their bones would fuse together.

"Love you, Spike."

"Oh, God."

He was shaking against her. She felt him start to slide, then all of a sudden he was on his knees, his face pressed to her stomach, his arms tight around her. She wrapped her arms around his head, holding him fiercely, her face buried in his hair.

"I'm Buffy and I'm your girl."

Her legs gave way as well and suddenly they were both sitting on the floor, their arms tight about each other.

"This can't be happening," he said blankly. "That's why you didn't stake me, innit? I wondered why you weren't staking me."

"Couldn't. Something kept stopping me. I think I was remembering all along."

"Oh, God, Buffy, I love you so much."

"I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry I forgot. Even for a little time. I hurt you. I never ever wanted to hurt you."

"Doesn't matter. Doesn't matter. You're here now. You're mine now."

"I'm yours."

Their hands were drifting over each other's faces, tenderly, lovingly; their lips clung in slow, deep kisses.

"Want you to claim me," she said and he caught his breath.

"Buffy!"

"You said you would if I wanted it when I had my memory back. Well, I want it. Want to be bound to you. Want you to be bound to me."

"Buffy, are you sure? It's for all time. Irrevocable. Death's the only thing that can break the bond and...and the death of one always means the death of the other. And who knows what might result with a bond between a Slayer and a vampire? Might be all sorts of side effects. It's a huge thing to do."

"I want it," she said quietly, then kissed him for that look on his face, that look of pure joy, of utter happiness. "How do we do it?"

"Show you." He lifted her to her feet and drew her into the bedroom. "Gonna do this right."

They undressed each other slowly, leaning against each other, hands and mouths drifting over every inch of skin as it became exposed. He laughed when he realized that she wasn't wearing any underclothing.

"Planned this, did you?"

"Yes," she laughed back. Her mouth slid along his collarbone from the hollow of his throat to the point of bone on his shoulder. "If you can go commando, so can I."

"You have the most romantic ideas," he mocked, quoting her.

"Don't I." She tongued his nipple, pushing the soft nub inwards and smiling when it hardened.

"Oh, well, if you're going to go there..."

"Ohh..." she sighed as his mouth found her breast, arched to him, her arms wrapping around his head.

He lifted her onto the bed, settled beside her, his mouth and hands drawing intricate patterns on her skin. But she had learned from him, her mouth working down that lickable sixpack, sucking at the hollow of his pelvis, first one side then the other, biting him just below his navel, so that his whole body bucked.

"God, Buffy! How am I gonna make this last if you keep doing that?"

"Don't want it to last. Want to do it again. You can make the next one last."

He laughed helplessly. "Insatiable."

"Oh, yes." They coiled around each other like snakes. "Can't get enough of you."

"Oh, Buffy."

Laughter fell away into passion, his mouth greedy and demanding on her, her nails raking down his back.

"Oh, yes," she sighed as his weight came on her. They both moaned at the contact, bodies rubbing together.

"God, you're so wet. You're so wet for me."

"Always. Ohh..."

He came into her hard. And it was perfection. No one had ever been so perfect for her as he was. He filled her, stretched her to the utmost. She gasped and gasped again, losing her breath, just as he was groaning at the resistance of the tight Slayer muscles of her sheath. She had lost control, clenching upon him, arching and writhing under him as he pistoned into her. But he was still in control, his eyes intense as he drove her higher and higher, his breath shuddering against her face, a diagonal muscle in his cheek jumping and his jaw clenched with effort.

"Oh, God, Spike, I'm gonna..."

"Come for me, baby..."

His head dropped as she started to fall over the edge and his fangs slid smoothly into the vein at the side of her neck.

"OhmiGod!"

The sensation when he drank was incredible. An unbelievable rapture flooded through her, an unbearable ecstasy. Through the mad pounding of her heart, she heard him whisper:

"Mine."

"Yes! Yours," she choked, then bit hard at the base of his neck. Tasted his blood coppery on her tongue. "Mine," she said fiercely.

"Yours," he gasped. "Always yours."

She felt him pulse within her, felt him shudder violently as he came. Felt something lock into place between them, irrevocable and sure. Perfect.

"Oh, God, Spike!"

She felt him smile against her skin, his weight heavy on her, his lips dreamily moving over the bite marks on her neck.

"Yeah," he whispered and licked the marks to seal them. She shivered helplessly, the sensation was that sweet.

He slid sideways, pulling her with him, and they lay facing each other, their hands tenderly stroking each other, lips murmuring love words against each other's faces.

"Don't think I've ever been this happy," he breathed. "This is the best day of my entire existence."

"Mine too."

"Oh, luv."

She grabbed the hair at the back of his head suddenly and yanked his head back. "Last night, did you mean to dust?"

He looked completely embarrassed. "It didn't start out that way," he muttered. "Just meant to go on a bender. Then a ways into it...I dunno...Just suddenly seemed a good idea at the time."

Alcohol was a depressant and he had swigged down a massive amount of that.

She shook him fiercely hard. "Don't ever, don't ever..."

"Swear." He kissed her intensely. "Wouldn't want to now."

The cell phone rang. They both groaned.

"That will be Dawn," she sighed, reluctant to let the outside world in again. "Don't want to get up."

Spike whipped suddenly out of bed, grabbed the cell phone from the dresser and was back in bed against her the next second, dropping it into her hand. He wrapped himself around her again and gave her a smug look.

"Smooth move," she grinned and flipped the cell open. "Dawn, what's up?"

"Just keeping you posted," said Dawn. She sounded very smug. "Tara's spray worked. The Wand's like totally screwed up. Angel and Xander are going postal. We're all heading down to the Magic Box to have a conference. Real serious stuff."

"Sounds like fun. I think Spike and I will join you."

"Buffy! Is that safe?"

"Time to have a confrontation. No more of their freaking games. No more not listening to me. I'm done." She flipped off the phone.

Spike was grinning from ear to ear. "Angel and me gonna have a little chat? Yeah, about time. Gonna enjoy that, luv."

"No killing," said Buffy sternly.

"Can I just beat him up some?"

"No. It's time to put all the cards on the table."

His brows rose. "Even the one about the chip being gone?"

"Spike. We're claimed."

"Well, yeah..." He stopped and his eyes widened suddenly. "Bloody hell! Did you plan this, luv?"

She leaned over and kissed him. "No. But it just occurred to me right now that that was the answer to everything."

He flung his arms wide and laughed exultantly. "This is the best day!"

When they got to the Magic Box, they could hear the yelling and the shouting even from outside. They grinned at each other, then Spike threw open the door and they walked in.

A dumbfounded silence fell.

"Hey, guys," said Buffy happily.

"Spike!" snarled Xander. "You were with Spike? All this time we've been running around this fricking town and you were with Spike?"

"Pretty much," nodded Buffy. She cast a meaningful glance at Tara and Willow, and they faded unobtrusively back against the wall, drawing Anya and Dawn with them. "I told you that you should leave Spike to me. It's not my fault you two made fools of yourselves."

"Angel!" yelled Xander.

Angel was already coming forward, his eyes fixed on Spike who was grinning widely.

"Peaches! How's it hanging? Still pretty uselessly, I'll wager."

"You..." Angel stopped abruptly, sniffing the air. "My God! Buffy! I can smell him all over you!"

"I wish you guys would stop doing that," Buffy complained. "Certain things a girl likes to keep private."

"You mean...You let him...!" Xander was spluttering. "Even now? I knew there was still something wrong with your head!"

Angel was staring at Buffy's neck. "He bit you!"

"He bit her?" shrieked Xander.

"Really don't need the Greek chorus thing, Xander," remarked Buffy. "Yes, he bit me, Angel. He claimed me."

Angel looked shocked beyond belief. "Oh, you little fool! He's tricked you! Don't you understand? That claim gives him power over you! You'll never get free of him while he's alive!"

"Yeah, that was the point," said Spike softly and provocatively.

"We have to break the claim." Angel's eyes had gone black with rage. "I'm going to kill you, Spike."

"You can try."

Everybody yelled as Angel threw himself at Spike and the open area in the middle of the shop suddenly became a killing zone for two snarling, furious vampires.

Xander grabbed at Buffy. "You're not going to protect Spike!"

She brushed him off scornfully. "He doesn't need protection."

She was right. Spike slammed Angel against the wall and held him there despite his struggles. Everybody stared in shock.

"How...?" choked Angel around the hand at his throat painfully constricting his gullet. He was bigger, stronger. This should not be happening.

"Slayer blood. Powerful stuff."

"You let him drink from you?" Xander yelled at Buffy.

"Really adds something to the sex. It's a real rush."

"Oh, yes," agreed Anya and Buffy smiled at her. "Been th..."

"Anya!" But Anya just shrugged at Xander when he glared at her.

Spike was giving Angel a tight, vicious grin. "Mutual claim, poofter. Can't be broken."

He dragged down the neck of his T-shirt, exposing the human bite mark at the junction of his neck and shoulder. Angel gasped and sagged against the wall. Spike let him go with a contemptuous flick of his hand and stepped back.

"What? What?" gasped Xander. "Angel, kill him!"

Angel didn't move.

"All right, then," snarled Xander. "I will."

He jerked around and reached for a stake.

"Oh, this is going to be fun," said Spike.

He knocked the stake easily away and grabbed Xander by the throat, lifting him right off the ground and holding him there with one straight arm, despite all his struggles.

"Chip's dead, asshole. Can't play kick-the-Spike any more. Push me and I'll rip your lungs out."

"Don't kill him, Spike," said Buffy from where she was leaning against a table, her arms folded. "He's been one of my friends for a long time."

Spike tossed him disdainfully away and dusted his hands. Xander landed with a thud on the floor and struggled to his feet, gasping.

"The chip's dead? It's dead? My God, why aren't you guys staking him? What's the matter with all you people?"

He whirled and scrambled for a crossbow.

"No!" yelled Giles and Angel at the same time.

Giles reached Xander first and knocked the crossbow out of his hands. Xander fell against a table and stayed there, his mouth open in shock.

"But...But..."

"They're linked, you fool!" Giles shouted at him. "If you kill Spike, you kill Buffy!"

"What!"

"That's what a mutual claim means. It's more than a marriage. They've literally linked their lives together."

"But...but...if the chip doesn't work...We can't let him go around snacking on people!"

"Don't need to do that, wanker." Spike hooked a hip onto the table beside Buffy and pulled her into his arms. He dropped his head to her neck, smiling, and licked the bite mark. She shivered and leaned against him, purring. "Got Slayer blood right on tap here."

Xander was appalled. "You'd let him drink from you? Buffy, that's horrible!"

"It's not like he'll be taking a lot," said Anya. "Slayer blood is powerful. All he needs is a couple of sips every time they make love. And they'll probably be making love a lot. Vamps are really impressive in bed. Got a lot of staying power and the vamp refractory period is a real plus. But I've guess you've found that out already, haven't you, Buffy?"

"Oh, yeah," said Buffy and Spike laughed.

"And the biting really intensifies their orgasms."

"TMI! TMI, for God's sake, Anya!" yelled Xander.

"Oh, yes, quite," said Giles, bright red with embarrassment. "Buffy, I know that it's a little late to be saying this, but have you thought this through carefully?"

"It's very simple, Giles. I love him and he loves me. We decided to get married, just like everyone else."

"Not quite like everyone else," muttered Giles.

"Spike said there might be side effects because I'm the Slayer. Would there be any way to find out, Giles?"

"I can certainly look it up. But, um, I do know of a couple. The bad one is, of course, that you die if he dies and vice versa. The good ones are that you might pick up the vampire ability to stay young and live forever, and he might be able to walk in the sunlight."

"What?" said both Buffy and Spike together.

"I'll need to look it up, but I'm pretty sure. That doesn't mean you're invulnerable. You can still get killed and he can still get staked but, barring accidents like that, well..."

Buffy looked at Spike dazedly. "When you said we'd be linked together forever, I didn't think you meant it literally."

"This just keeps getting better and better, doesn't it, my love."

Dawn, Willow and Tara were performing a fandango in the corner. Xander was sitting stupefied on a table, with Anya amusedly patting his shoulder. Giles was polishing his glasses. And Angel was stalking out of the Magic Box, with a grim, furious look on his face, on his way back to L.A.

Buffy and Spike had no attention to spare for any of them. They were kissing intensely, their arms wrapped around each other.

"My girl," said Spike with profound satisfaction.

"For always," said Buffy and laughed with pure joy.

The End