"What's he doing here?" growled Xander, glaring at Spike.
"I want him here," said Buffy curtly as she and Spike stepped into Giles' flat Friday evening.
"What's with you and the Evil Dead these days?"
"What's with you and demongirls?" Spike mocked, nodding in a friendly fashion to Anya who smiled back.
"She wasn't for a thousand years. Killed a lot more people than Angel and I put together ever did."
"You were amateurs," agreed Anya and looked nostalgic. "I had a very good kill-count."
"Anya!" Xander snapped repressively and Buffy gave him an amused look.
"She's proud of it, Xander. You're sleeping with someone who used to be a demon. Face up to it. What was your biggest coup, Anya?"
Anya had to think about it. "The Russian Revolution, I think. Or maybe the time I made Napoleon invade Russia. Tons of deaths on both sides. Russia was always good for deaths."
"Was that one of yours, pet?" Spike asked with interest. "How'd you fix that?"
Anya beamed. "Oh, well, see, I made Nappie..."
"We don't want to hear about it!" Xander snapped.
"I do," said Spike wickedly. "Watcher, you wouldn't have any booze around, would you?"
Giles sighed, but poured him some Scotch.
"Let her talk, Xander," said Buffy. "We're all in the in. And she would love to talk about it."
"No, she wouldn't!"
"Of course, I would," said Anya, surprised. "Except you won't let me."
"Yeah, you keep stepping on her, Xander," said Buffy. "It's not kind. If you want a human girl, go find a human girl. If you want Anya, accept her as what she is and stop trying to change her. Grow up, for Heaven's sake."
Xander did an excellent imitation of a goldfish and Anya beamed. Spike grinned and Giles looked resigned.
A tap on the door heralded Willow's arrival. Giles let her in.
"We just have to wait for one more person," he said, then went over to where Spike was listening with interest to Anya's tale of dalliance with Napoleon. Giles didn't want to miss that; it would make such an interesting addendum to his Watcher's diaries.
"How'd your Wicca meeting go?" Buffy murmured to Willow as they went to get a couple of soft drinks from the fridge.
"Kind of a bust," Willow sighed.
"So, not stellar, hunh?"
"All talk, no walk. Blah blah Gaia, blah blah moon, menstrual lifeforce power thingy. You know, after a couple of sessions, I was hoping we would get into something real, but..."
"No actual witches in your witch group?"
"No. Bunch of wanna blessed be's. You know, nowadays every girl with a henna tattoo and a spice rack thinks she's a sister to the dark ones."
"I'm sorry it was a bust. I know you were looking to go farther in that department."
"Well, at least Giles has got this tutor coming. And there was this one girl there who seemed to have something. Girl called Tara..."
Willow blinked in surprise. "You know her?"
"Uh, seen her around. Really nice, even if she's shy." Buffy smiled at Willow. "You should bring her around sometime."
Willow looked pleased. "Yeah, I think I'll do that."
Giles was at the door again, this time letting in a tall, slender woman who looked to be the tutor Willow had been expecting. Everyone surveyed her with interest. She was casually, but elegantly dressed in a long-sleeved, black, scoop-necked top and a calf-length, black, pencil skirt, her only adornment the thick wave of black hair falling like a mane to her waist. She wasn't exactly beautiful, but she was striking, and all three males in the room instinctively straightened up to their full heights.
"Er, this is Regan Forbes," said Giles awkwardly. "She was going to move to L.A., but has been persuaded to settle in Sunnydale instead."
"The Hellmouth is so interesting," explained Regan, smiling around at all of them.
Buffy had stepped back towards Spike who lifted his brows at her mockingly before going back to studying the witch appreciatively. Buffy kicked his ankle and he grinned.
Giles was making introductions, automatically starting with Xander who was standing closest.
"I'm the All-American, ordinary guy in the group," said Xander modestly.
"Er, yes," said Giles, while Anya stepped quickly forward and wound her arm pointedly around Xander's.
"And I'm his girlfriend, Anya."
"A demon," said Regan thoughtfully.
"Ex-demon," said Xander at once.
"One of the issues," murmured Buffy.
"I see. And you're the Slayer. Buffy Summers."
"That's me." Buffy shook hands warily.
Regan's gaze had gone past her to Spike who had his scarred eyebrow up challengingly.
"Spike. A new addition," muttered Giles.
"Not part of the group," said Xander quickly.
"Temporarily part of the group," corrected Buffy firmly. "He won't hurt you. He has a chip that keeps him from harming humans and he'll be leaving Sunnydale in a little while. He is not to be harmed."
"Unless you really want to," said Xander under his breath,
"Not," repeated Buffy flatly, giving him a hard stare.
"Yes," said Regan with no expression at all. It was clear that she knew Spike's name and the whole 'Scourge of Europe' connotation.
"And this is Willow," Giles said hurriedly.
"You do have talent," said Regan, looking her over with interest.
"Really?" Willow smiled jubilantly. "All I've done so far is float pencils."
"You're capable of much more."
"Oh, yeah," muttered Buffy. They were all awkwardly taking seats, Giles making with the hospitality and Willow talking nineteen to the dozen, excited and happy.
Spike had backed up to sit on the stairs, deliberately keeping a distance from the group. Buffy came to lean against the wall beside him, then dropped a hand so that her fingertips brushed his knee. He gave her an upwards glance from under his eyelashes.
"Opinion?" she muttered.
"Power," he said simply. 'Keep an eye out,' that meant.
She was aware of Regan studying her as the others talked. Willow and Xander were explaining how they had become caught up with the Slayer; Anya was telling her how she had lost her powers. And Regan kept watching Buffy thoughtfully, her Wiccan sense for esoteric forces probably picking up an anomaly.
"Why don't you come over here and join us, Buffy?" Willow said in surprise after a while.
"Yeah, and get away from the Evil Dead," muttered Xander.
"Comfortable here," said Buffy without moving.
"Vampires attract her more than the living," snarked Xander, emboldened by Regan's presence. "Lack of a pulse seems to be a turn-on, from past experience."
Buffy's eyes narrowed.
"Getting awful brave, the whelp," Spike remarked under his breath. "Suddenly got balls, now that he thinks he's got a real witch to back him up."
"Slayers do tend to pair with vampires," commented Regan.
"Pair?" gasped Xander, gagging at the very thought. "Pair?"
"If they survive long enough to be looking for a potential mate."
"Ma...Do you have to use these loaded words!" Xander looked sick.
"Humans can't keep up, can they?" Anya remarked sympathetically to Buffy. "You always have to hold back. And that vamp stamina and refractory period? That's a real plus."
Xander was horrified. "Buffy's not...! She's not...!"
"May I remind all of you that my personal life is none of your business?" said Buffy coldly.
Giles was looking at Regan. "What do you mean, Slayers tend to pair with vampires? I've never seen that in any of the Council's books."
"They don't want you to know. Slayers have an affinity to vampires, perhaps because of what Anya said. It's a moot point. Most Slayers die early. Others have been indoctrinated so much by your Council that they never actually talk to the vampires they slay, the only communication between them being stakes and fangs. Buffy here is one of the rare cases where circumstances have allowed intercourse on a prolonged basis."
Xander turned purple. "Inter..inter..."
"Conversation," said Regan patiently. She raised a brow at Giles. "He seems to have a very one-track mind."
"Buffy is not sleeping with Spike!" yelled Xander.
"Yes, I am," said Buffy suddenly. Spike looked up at her, surprised and pleased, then got to his feet warily. Their hands linked.
Xander seemed to have no breath. "Y...y...!"
"I'm sleeping with Spike. We have a relationship. I'm happy. I like it that way. And no one has the right to interfere."
Xander jerked a stake out of his pocket and leaped at Spike. Buffy slapped the stake away and gave him a hard shove that sent him tumbling back onto the couch.
"The next time you make a move like that, I'll break you in half," she said in such a dangerous voice that everyone stared at her in shock.
"What's wrong with you?" Xander whispered. "What has he done to you? You're not acting like yourself at all!"
"Well, that's the thing." She looked around at all of them. "I'm not the Buffy you know. That's one of the things Giles called us all here to discuss."
Giles nodded. "Yes, I think you'd better tell them."
Buffy laid it all out—her death and return, the battle with the First, Spike's sacrifice there in the Hellmouth, her determination to change all the bad things that happened.
"So I'm not going to let you hurt Spike," she finished. "He's too important to the future. Plus, he's chipped now and no danger to anyone. And anyway he's going to be leaving Sunnydale in a little while."
She hoped they wouldn't notice that important and leaving were mutually contradictory statements in this context. They didn't. Spike was no longer what they were worrying about.
"You're not our Buffy?" Willow whispered, breaking the stunned silence.
"I am Buffy. Except I'm Buffy with four years more experience and knowledge about the future."
"But what about our Buffy?" snapped Xander. "What's happened to her?"
"I don't know! I'm Buffy, Xand."
"You don't act like her! You're saying things, doing things that...that..." He cast a hate-filled glare at Spike. "Things she would never do!"
"I learned, Xand. I grew up."
"Is it possible?" Willow asked, looking helplessly at Giles. "Giles, is this at all possible? Do you accept it?"
"I don't know," Giles admitted.
"She could be a demon!" Xander said. "It could be a demon taking possession of Buffy's body! Look at the way she's acting! All we know is what she's telling us. She could say anything and we wouldn't know whether it's true or not!"
"She can't be a demon," Anya said. "She has a soul. I can feel it."
"Is there any way to find out who she is and whether she's telling the truth?" Willow asked.
Giles looked at Regan. "There might be."
She nodded. "The spell is set. I just have to activate it."
"That's why you wanted me to tell them about this today," Buffy said to Giles. "When Regan was here."
"I'm sorry, Buffy. But I had to find some way to verify your story."
"Damn the verification!" Xander snapped. "Is there any way to get our Buffy back?"
"Wait!" Willow exclaimed. "If we get our Buffy back, what happens to this one?"
"She goes back to the future where she belongs!" said Xander.
"But she died in the future! We'd be killing her by sending her back!"
Spike snarled into gameface. "You're not going to hurt her!"
Buffy caught him back before he could forget himself and spring at them. "Spike, no!"
"You want this Buffy around, don't you?" Xander flung at him. "You get to fuck this one! Our Buffy would never let you touch her!"
"I'm not going to let you kill her!"
"She'd go to Heaven, wouldn't she?" Anya interjected. "Isn't that a good thing?"
"You'll be taking away her life!"
"Regan," said Giles grimly. "Do it."
A golden sphere of light suddenly snapped into place around Buffy and Spike, englobing them where they stood. Spike looked up at it and snarled. Buffy held him tightly from flinging himself at it.
"It doesn't matter," she said to him fiercely. "I've done what I came here to do."
"I don't care what you do to me," she said to Regan. "I won't fight you about that. But don't you dare hurt Spike! You may be a very powerful witch. But I'm the Slayer. I can still do a lot of damage before you can stop me. And if you even try to hurt Spike, I will."
"I have no intention of harming him," Regan said. "He is not my concern. You are."
"All right then."
"Spike," she said softly against his ear, so quietly that only he could hear her. "If I disappear, if they bring the other Buffy back, I want you to get out of Sunnydale. They can handle everything else that needs to be done. But I want you to leave and never come back. Promise me."
"No," he said and looked down at her. His eyes were golden and blazing with rage, the pupils narrowed to pinpoints. Predator's focus. Killing focus. He would be seeing in tunnel vision right now.
"Spike, snap out of it! Listen to me!"
"No! If anything happens to you, I will do everything in my power to kill everyone in this room. That's what I promise!"
Despite the chip in his head, he could probably do it. And that chip in his head would kill him if he did it. But he didn't care. Her blood turned to ice.
"I will," he said and his voice was deadly. He kissed her bruisingly hard, then glared at Regan with those killer's eyes.
"Step out of the circle, vampire," Regan said calmly, ignoring that focused gaze.
"No!" He was holding Buffy so tightly that even with her Slayer strength it hurt.
"It doesn't matter," said Regan. "It just makes it a little harder, that's all."
"Giles," said Buffy steadily. "Remember my diary."
"I will," said Giles.
"Some switch, isn't it?" Spike flung at him bitterly. "Watcher killing his Slayer. Vampire trying to protect her."
Giles' face looked white and sick, but he was grimly hanging on to his duty.
"Oh, don't!" Willow begged. "Please don't! It's Buffy!"
The sphere flared. Buffy felt something pressing and pulling at her.
"Well, it's not a demon," Regan confirmed. "It is your Slayer, Buffy Summers. Now let's see..."
The pressure grew, a strain on every cell in her body, like claws tearing at her. She caught her breath, trying not to cry out in pain, because she knew that would send Spike right over the edge. But he could feel her pain through the link. She could feel him fusing himself to her, taking the strain, trying to keep it off her.
"Don't," she said to him, because he was trying to take it all, trying to get between her and whatever Regan was doing. But he wouldn't stop.
"It's more difficult than I thought," Regan muttered. The stress was visible on her face. "Why isn't it working? Something's interfering."
"Damn right," Spike muttered.
"Not you, vampire, though I know what you're doing. Something else. Something's holding her here. She's linked to something on this plane."
Buffy felt Spike's hands tighten. He looked down at her, smiling grimly. She smiled breathlessly back.
The sphere was starting to fray. It flared even brighter suddenly, so blindingly that everybody gasped and flung up their hands against the light. Then it collapsed, rushing inwards so abruptly that both Buffy and Spike jumped. The painful pressure clicked off, like a switch being thrown.
Then there was only Regan, sitting weakly on the couch, all the energy drained out of her.
"There's no separation," she said in a faint, exhausted voice. "One mind, one body. All one piece. No separation possible."
Spike gave a snarling laugh of triumph.
"But it is Buffy, isn't it?" Willow exclaimed.
"It is Buffy Summers. If there were two, they've merged now. They can't be split. I guess the Powers That Be want it this way."
"Well, all right!" said Spike. "No going back!"
Xander looked at him with hatred. But everyone else was looking relieved.
"I need to lie down for a few minutes," murmured Regan wearily, trying to rise.
"Take my bed upstairs." Giles came quickly to help her.
She staggered to her feet, holding on to his arm for support, then looked at Buffy. "Don't be angry. It was necessary."
"I'm not angry," said Buffy. But Spike was growling dangerously at her shoulder. She reached back and gripped his wrist hard. "I do understand. And it didn't work, so, hey, no big."
She looked around at the others as Giles helped Regan up the stairs. Both Willow and Anya were looking relieved, but Xander was still scowling. She could feel Spike vibrating with rage behind her. She had to get him out of there before that broke loose.
"Can we call it a night?" she said as Giles came back down the stairs again. "I think we've all had enough for one day."
"Yes," agreed Giles. "Buffy..."
"It's all right, Giles. You only did what you had to do. I know that. I'm just glad it worked out the way it did."
"So am I!" said Willow and Anya nodded.
"What's that on your neck?" Xander asked suddenly.
"What?" Buffy put a hand to her neck, surprised.
"It's a bite mark!"
"Oh, that!" Buffy laughed and Spike gave them a nasty grin.
"He bit you? You let him bite you?" gasped Xander, horrified.
"Oh, yeah. It's a real rush."
"Very pleasurable for both of them," Anya nodded and both Xander and Giles gave her appalled looks.
"It really is." Buffy gave them all an amused glance. "See you tomorrow, guys. Spike and I are gonna go home and relax."
"Been a slice," said Spike with bitter contempt.
There was a dead silence as the two of them left.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Xander demanded of Giles.
Giles didn't answer. He was pulling books off the shelves.
"What?" asked Willow and Anya together.
"What if he can control her through that bite?" Xander had his hands clenched into fists. "That would make sense of the way she's acting!"
Anya was frowning. "If it were a minion bite, yes, he could control her. But she's not a vamp, so she can't be a minion."
"Isn't there any other kind of bite? A...a thrall type bite?"
"Well, there's something called a claim. I don't know very much about it. But she'd have to agree to that and I can't see her doing that."
"Claim," Giles muttered. "That's the word I was searching for. I know I read something about that a long time ago. Where did I see it?" He glanced up at them in exasperation. "Well, don't just stand there. Start looking."
Everyone reached for books.
"Here's something about a claim," said Giles some time later. He skimmed rapidly through that chapter, then sighed in disappointment. "It's talking about a mutual claim, which seems to be something like a marriage. Can't be that. That gives them equal power over each other. Anybody else find anything?"
They all shook their heads.
"Ask Angel," Xander said suddenly.
"That might not be such a good idea," muttered Willow.
"He's a vamp. He's been a vamp for over two hundred and forty years. If anyone should know about controlling someone through a bite, he would!"
"Don't you ever give up?" asked Willow, aggravated.
Xander thumped a fist on the coffee table. "What's with you all of a sudden, Will? Don't you care that Spike might have some kind of power over Buffy?"
"I don't think it's that kind of power," mumbled Willow.
"What else could it be?"
Willow opened her mouth, then thought better of it. That speculation would enrage Xander even more. She glanced at Anya who gave a tiny shrug.
Giles had been staring into space, frowning. "Well, it can't hurt to ask," he said finally and reached for the phone.
It took a few minutes to get through to Angel and explain that the reason that he was calling was because Spike was in town and had been for quite some time. Angel was immediately concerned.
"He's dangerous!" exclaimed Angel. "Why is he still around? Why haven't you dusted him?"
"We can't," said Giles and explained about the chip. Then he had to wait until Angel stopped laughing. That took a while. "Yes, I suppose it is amusing. The end result, though, is that he's helping Buffy fight demons now."
"It's a scheme!" said Angel at once. "Spike on the side of light? Never! Don't trust him!"
"Buffy does. The reason I called is, well, we just found out that he bites her."
"What!" Angel's yell was so loud that Giles had to jerk the phone well away from his ear.
He brought it back cautiously just enough to speak into it. "We were wondering...is there any way that he could control her through a bite?"
Everyone jumped—the sound came through so clearly, full of fury and hatred. Then the line went dead.
"Guess Spike can," said Xander blankly.
Spike was still quivering with rage when he and Buffy got back to his place.
"Spike, calm down."
"They're supposed to be your friends!" He slammed his fist against the wall. "Those...!"
He went off into a passionate stream of invective which rapidly reached Shakespearean heights. Over the link, she could feel his anger and his fear. She had never felt his emotions come through over the link as vividly as this before.
"Spike, I know you were scared, but they really were trying to do the right thing."
"Scared? I was bloody terrified! They'd have got their sodding version of the Slayer back. But I'd have lost you!"
He whirled and caught her to him, crushing her so tightly against him that she felt their bones would fuse together.
"Can't lose you. Can't. You're my Buffy! Mine! Whatever Buffy they'd have brought back, it wouldn't have been you! You would have died!"
"But I didn't."
"No thanks to them."
His hands were sliding over her—her face, her hair, her back, as if he had to touch to take in that she was still there with him. She knew what he was feeling: she had felt like that when she had seen him on Thanksgiving, needing to touch to know that he existed.
"I'm still here," she said gently and kissed him. "Still your Buffy."
"Mine." He kissed her over and over again, painfully hard, mouth demanding.
A surge came over the link—love, devotion, tenderness. Everything that she had used to see in his eyes in that other reality suddenly there in him here.
"I love you," he said.
"Oh, Spike, no! You mustn't!" But her arms closed about him, holding him as tightly as he was holding her. "I told you not to!"
"Yeah, well, I don't take orders very well. Never did."
The link was suddenly opening, deepening, dragging at both of them. His love and fear crashing over her in waves across the link, which was tearing wider and wider. She was drowning in him, his emotions, the demands of his body.
"And you love me," he said in sudden triumph. "I can feel it over the link, what you were holding back."
She had been holding it back for fear he would return it. No point now. She could feel that love and passion and tenderness in him, see it once again in his eyes. Fear for her had triggered it, laid that last brick of realization in place for him. And with that realization the link flared wide, as if it had been waiting for just that moment, a flood tide of feeling drowning them both.
"Oh, what's happening?" she gasped.
"The claim," he muttered. "The claim. It's starting to really take."
His mouth was in the hollow of her throat, cool lips that set off a blaze of fire in her veins.
"Oh, yes," she murmured, pushing at his duster. He let it fall behind him, stripped away her own jacket. She could feel him heel-and-toeing out of his boots.
The link had flared wide. They could feel each other vividly, both emotions and sensation. They stumbled blindly into the bedroom, pulling at each other's clothes, their bodies needing to fuse together as much as their minds were.
"Need you," he muttered. "Need you with me always."
"I'm with you," she gasped. She was.
He pulled her tank off, dropped it on the floor beside the bed, reached around her to unsnap her bra. She yanked his T-shirt over his head. Her bra was gone, her sneakers. He bent her back over his arm, his mouth moving and suckling upon her breasts.
"Oh, God, Spike!"
She clutched at him and they staggered against the bed, lost their balance and fell onto it.
"Oh, yeah," he purred and she arched as that vibration shivered through her body as he lay upon her. The link threw him her pleasure and she felt him smile as his mouth slid back and forth over her ribcage and his tongue slid into her navel. She ran her hands down his back, bit his shoulder and felt his pleasure. The link was deepening, tying them together, every caress doubled and redoubled, a delirious rapture.
Her jeans were gone and so were his. He moved over her, fitting himself to her, and she held him fiercely, skin sliding against skin, bodies rubbing together, mouths twisting, minds linking.
"God, I love you so much!" he muttered.
It was everything she wanted, everything she had thrown away, and desperately tried to prevent from happening again for his sake. Given to her as a gift in the other reality, a gift she had rejected, offered to her again now. She couldn't refuse it a second time. That would be tempting not only fate and providence, but the Powers That Be.
"I love you, Spike!"
She saw his face helpless and open and vulnerable to her, more naked in that moment than his body, felt how much he had wanted that, wanted to be loved all those decades and never had it happen.
"I do," she whispered and the link confirmed it for him. "I do."
"Have to..." he panted. "Must..."
"Oh, please, yes!"
He came into her hard. He filled her, body and mouth and mind. Nothing but him. Nothing that mattered in the world but him and their bodies thrusting and straining and striving together. She saw his face above her, so beautiful, so beautiful, in its pleasure, eyes watching her with that dark, helpless intensity of wonder and delight, lips parted and gasping as he drove into her.
Their minds fused as their bodies fused, in rippling surges, deeper and deeper into each other, all their separate pieces fitting together and interlocking, sensation ricocheting back and forth, sweeping them higher and higher until she thought every nerve in her body would burn to cinders under the pure, agonizing perfection of it. She lost herself, drowning in it, in him. They were no longer two people but one when her climax crashed over her like a tsunami.
She came drifting up out of the well of shuddering delight, slowly finding herself again.
"Oh, God! That was..."
"Yeah," he sighed. "Didn't think it could possibly get better than it already was, but it did. Just keeps getting better and better, doesn't it, pet?"
"God! Is it supposed to do that? The claim?"
He raised his head from where he had been burrowing contentedly between her breasts and looked down at her with tender amusement.
"Buffy, did you bite me?"
"I keep trying not to, but I keep doing it." She rubbed at the fading teeth marks on his shoulder. "Sorry about that."
He grinned. "Love it. But that first night. Did you bite me?"
"Back then?" She blinked. Her head was so muzzy with happiness that it was hard to remember. "Yeah, I did. You had bite marks all over your shoulders and neck."
"Any still there?"
"Just one. Kinda like a scar."
"And didn't you ever wonder why that one didn't fade away like the others?"
"I did wonder. But, you know, that was the deepest one, so I thought it would take longer..." She looked at him with sudden suspicion. "Okay, what are you trying to tell me?"
"When you bit me, did you say anything?"
"I...Oh, God, I did! I said...I said, 'You're mine too.' And you said..."
"Yes. I must have said yes. Mutual claim, sweet."
"But that's...like a..."
"Marriage. Permanent link."
Her jaw dropped. "By accident? Something like that can happen by accident?"
"Not exactly an accident. The claim, it reads desires, intentions. Love has to come before the link."
"But you didn't love me then!"
"I was more than halfway there. I wanted it, pet."
She stared at him. "You did?"
"Claim picked up the desire. Made the connection, then hung fire, waiting, getting stronger and stronger the closer I came to realizing that I loved you. Tonight it took over."
His hands were moving over her body.
"Wait! Stop that. Ooh!" She shuddered against him and he laughed. "But you have to leave..."
"Can't now, kitten. We're linked. Permanently."
"But I don't want..."
"Won't burn," he said, picking it up out of her mind. "If I die, you die. Believe me, I'm gonna take that amulet off. Not gonna let you die."
"I don't understand."
"It's one of the disadvantages of the claim. It links us so tightly that if one of us dies, the other one dies too."
"That's not a disadvantage," she muttered. "I like it. I don't want to go through that again, living when you're dead."
"Buffy," he said helplessly and kissed her. "God! Don't even know how to say..."
She kissed him back tenderly. "Don't have to. I can feel it. Just like you can feel me."
She had him again. The way she wanted him—loving her again. She had been willing to give him up. She'd finally learned to make the necessary sacrifice for his sake, as he had for hers. She would have made any sacrifice, up to and including her life, just as he had. Oh, yes, she'd learned. She matched him now in depth of feeling.
And then to find that she didn't need to make it after all! She swiped at the tears spilling helplessly from her eyes.
She had it all now, everything she wanted, right here in her arms. The rest—all of the other things that had to be fixed? They'd fix them. Together. It would be easy. Nothing could possibly hold out against the two of them working together.
The PTB had given her everything she had yearned for. A free gift. Which she truly didn't deserve any more than she had the last time. But this time she knew not to throw it away. She held him fiercely tight.
"Love you," she whispered, glorying in being able to say it. "Love you so much."
They moved together again, unable to keep apart, sinking into each other. The world spun away.
"I think my brain's fried," she muttered hours later. "But you're still up for it. God!"
"Slayer blood," he purred, his eyes dancing. "Think we broke another record."
Something crashed against the front door.
"What the fuck!" snarled Spike.
"Whoever it is, I'm going to kill them," Buffy muttered. "What time is it?"
"An hour before dawn." He was reaching for his jeans. "Oh, Christ! It's the sodding poof!"
"Angel?" Buffy reached for her own jeans and tank top. "What the hell is he doing back in Sunnydale? I told him to stay in L.A."
"Someone may have told him about us." Spike was grinning like a shark. "Oh, I'm going to enjoy this!"
The door burst open just as Spike was zipping up his jeans and Angel smashed through, murder in his eye. Spike bounded happily into the living room and hit him solidly. Angel crashed onto his ass and skidded backwards across the polished floor to the doorway where Xander had to jump to avoid falling over him.
"Gotta love that Slayer blood," Spike murmured as Buffy came out of the bedroom, pulling down her tank.
"See, I told you he was feeding off her!" Xander yelled at Angel, pointing to the bite mark visible on Buffy's neck.
"Is that what this is about?" Buffy's eyes widened as Giles panted in, followed by Willow and Regan. "Geez, bring the whole town, why don't you?"
"Whoa, what happened to you, Spike?" gasped Willow.
Everyone stared at the claw and bite marks across Spike's naked torso. Then Giles looked away hurriedly and Willow blushed in realization. Spike looked down in surprise, then grinned.
"Oh, the usual fun and games. Kitten's got claws."
Xander made a choked, snarling sound and whipped up the crossbow he was carrying. Buffy leaped in front of Spike. But Regan was even faster—a flick of her hand and a transparent barrier formed in front of Buffy and Spike. The crossbow bolt struck it and bounced harmlessly away.
"Thanks, Regan," said Buffy.
"I dislike stupidity," Regan nodded in acknowledgment and they both smiled.
"So do I." Buffy began to move towards Xander. "I think I'll break Xander in half. Told him I would if he ever tried to hurt Spike and I like to keep my promises."
Xander gasped and leaped behind Giles who held out his hands to keep Buffy back.
"Do I have to deal with you too, Giles?" Buffy asked dangerously.
"No, Buffy, listen!" Giles waved his hands at her. "It's Spike! He's put something called a claim on you! Angel told us about it. He can lay commands on you..."
"Yeah, that's why you're acting the way you are!" Xander yelled from behind the shield of Giles' back.
Angel was clambering to his feet, his eyes fixed on Spike. "You son of a bitch! You son of a bitch! You're not going to get away with this! I'm going to tear off your head! That'll break the claim!"
"Well, come on then," grinned Spike.
"Everybody stop!" Buffy snapped, then struck Angel on the breastbone with the heel of her hand when he failed to obey. Angel slammed back against the door jamb, then had to clutch it to keep from falling again.
"I told you, Angel. If you hear about something happening in Sunnydale that you don't like, call me instead of coming in and nuking the landscape." She looked around at the rest of them. "Are you all here for the same ridiculous reason?"
"Angel went all Rambo," sighed Willow. "Regan and me, we were just trying to stop it. But the concept of talking things out so doesn't seem to translate."
"For God's sake, Buffy!" Xander yelled. "Didn't you hear what Giles said? Spike's put a..."
"Claim?" Buffy smiled sweetly. "Oh, yes, he claimed me. But it gets better. I claimed him back."
Spike turned a little so that the human teeth marks on his neck showed clearly and grinned triumphantly at Angel.
"Mutual claim," he said and laughed with complete satisfaction at the horror dawning on Angel's face.
"Buffy!" Angel whispered. "Why?"
"Because I love him," said Buffy simply. She wrapped her arms around Spike's waist, he dropped his around her, and they both laughed at the thunderstruck company.
"You can't! You can't!" gasped Angel.
"Oh, but I do." She looked sternly at Giles. "I told you we had history, Giles. I told you I cared for him. And that was before the claim. Now explain to that idiot behind you just what exactly a mutual claim means."
Giles sagged down onto the arm of a chair.
"Essentially, it's like being married," he said weakly to Xander. "Except the important part is that we can't hurt Spike."
"Their lives are linked. If we kill Spike, we kill Buffy."
"Checkmate," murmured Regan and Willow laughed.
"And now you gits can take it elsewhere," growled Spike. "Slayer and I wanna go back to bed. Bit short on sleep here. Been kinda occupied the last several hours."
Xander regarded him with loathing and Giles looked resigned. Angel turned and stumbled blindly out of the door.
"Now that really felt good," murmured Spike to Buffy as he watched Angel go. "Shoving it to him like that."
"Did it make up for two decades of shit?" she murmured back.
"Oh, yeah. And the best thing about it? It's the gift that keeps on giving. It's gonna rub him the rest of his life, every time he thinks about you loving me. Couldn't be better!"
Willow was shooing a downcast Giles and Xander out. Regan paused to run a hand across the broken lock of the front door, magically repairing it. Then she leaned out to check that the other three were really gone before turning to face Buffy and Spike.
"I can take that chip out for you, Spike," she said. "Not right now because I don't have the spell ingredients with me. But tomorrow, if you wish."
They both stared at her and she spread her hands.
"I have issues with the sadism implicit in that kind of forcible restraint. The chip's not really needed anymore, is it, Spike? She's the only restraint you need. If you're going to fight beside the Slayer, it's better if you can defend yourself against all enemies, including humans." Regan shrugged ruefully. "And it's a way for me to say sorry for what I had to do before."
"Thank you, Regan," said Buffy softly.
Regan nodded, smiling, and left.
"Slayer?" breathed Spike.
She gave him a teasing look. "Well, I don't think human necks are that much of a temptation now. You'll be drinking from me and Slayer blood's a lot more tasty, right?"
"God, I love you!" exclaimed Spike. He caught her up and whirled her in a circle. "But I get to be the one to tell Harris!"
"You really are still evil, aren't you?" grinned Buffy.
"Count on it."
"Oh, I do," she murmured, her arms tight about his neck.
"Better still," he purred, "come back to bed and let me prove it."
Buffy laughed and did.