Chapter 17

Within twenty-four hours of Buffy's arrival, Spike was up and about again. They decided to travel back to London. The next day was their first wedding anniversary – Christmas Eve – and they wanted to spend it in Spike's home.

When they arrived in Kensington, they found that Spike's housekeeper, Mrs. Atkins, had surpassed herself. Not only was the flat beautifully decorated for the season, but the fridge was full of festive fayre that needed only minimal preparation. Once she had seen them into the flat, she quietly left them alone.

Spike and Buffy woke late on Christmas Eve. Spike insisted on bringing them breakfast in bed and got up to prepare it. When he returned, he had a tray containing coffee, toast, croissants and a present. He slipped into bed beside her, laying the tray on the table next to the bed. He picked up the parcel and handed it to her. "By rights, you should have had this a year ago. But I only found it recently. Happy Anniversary, Mrs. Stevas," he told her, kissing her.

Buffy opened the parcel. Inside were two boxes. She opened the larger first, using the key Spike handed her. Inside was the set of jewellery she had seen in the painting of his mother. It was all set with diamonds, and she couldn't even begin to guess at its value. She opened the smaller box. Inside was the sapphire set. This was much more suitable – much more wearable. She laughed as Spike insisted on fastening the necklace around her neck. "These are the Stevas family jewels," he said pointing to the larger box. "They are always given to the wife of the eldest son on her wedding day. Except, you're getting them late. The smaller set, my father gave to my mother when I was born."

Buffy smiled at Spike. She didn't need jewels to make her happy, Spike was all she needed. But, this made her feel a real part of his family. She would never know his parents or his brother, but somehow, she felt them welcoming her into the fold. She felt as if she belonged here as well as in Sunnydale.

The whole day was spent in a haze of being back together again. Spike was certainly not completely healed, but neither of them found that to be a significant disadvantage.

The next morning was special too. A year ago they had spent Christmas day with Dawn before leaving for a short honeymoon. This year they planned another day spent alone together. They exchanged gifts in front of an elegantly decorated tree. Buffy was surprised when Spike produced a large, flat box. She opened it to find a black leather coat – as nearly identical to Spike's as he had been able to find, but made to fit her perfectly. Her gift for him was in a much smaller box. It was a signet ring engraved with both their initials.

Their plans for a day spent alone were rather quashed when Giles rang just after the Queen's Speech. Spike had insisted they sit down to watch that at 3pm, immediately after their Christmas dinner. "It's traditional. You're married to an Englishman. You can't not watch."

Fortunately, the speech was not very long.

Giles had phoned to tell them he intended to pop in and see them. He implied that he would normally just turn up at a friend's home on Christmas afternoon, but had specifically decided to warn them, 'just in case'."

"Just in case of what?" Buffy asked Spike when he hung up the phone.

"I think he meant, just in case we're not, well, dressed," Spike replied, grinning.

Giles didn't spend long with them. He gave them their gifts and asked them to deliver some to Sunnydale. He had a long list of visits to make that day. He did pause long enough to ask about Spike's recovery. When Buffy explained that she had shared her life energy to heal him, Giles looked concerned. "You do understand," he explained, "that you may have given up the advantages that being the Slayer gave you? If it was an excess of life energy which gave you your strength, endurance and healing ability, you may be much closer to the rest of humanity now."

Buffy nodded. "I didn't think of anything beyond healing Spike at the time. But, yes, I did think about that after, and it doesn't matter. I'd still have done it if I'd known that could happen."

"Well," Giles continued, "for what it's worth, I understand. I'm not sure Quentin Travers and the rest of the Council would consider it a fair trade, however. I suggest you don't mention this to anyone else for the moment. When you get back home, you can restart training and you can see how you get on. Remember, a part of the strength of the Slayer is the fact that evil fears her. We need to maintain that fear at all costs."

Later they spoke to Dawn. She was well and reported that Xander was improving daily. "He's really soppy about the baby," she reported, giggling.

When they spoke to her, Willow had news. "Riley phoned yesterday. Apparently when he got back from Sunnydale, Cara was really angry with him for almost getting himself killed, and the only way he could calm her down was to ask her to marry him, and she said 'yes'."

Buffy was happy for Riley. He knew Cara would be good for him. She was intelligent, warm, and there would never be any doubt which of them was physically stronger. She smiled when she remembered how important that had been when they were together. She wondered how long Riley would be able to remain in his current line of work before Cara suggested something safer.

Buffy and Spike had arranged to return to Sunnydale in time for the New Year. Two days before they left, Buffy asked Spike to take her to Stonehenge. She had been aware of his view of it, but most of the time she had been concentrating on not being killed, so her memories were sketchy. They drove down during the morning. The weather had turned a lot colder, but was crisp and clear. The two of them walked around in matching coats as Spike explained what had happened and where. As they reached the centre of the circle, Spike sat on the ground pulling Buffy down to sit between his legs. They sat there for a time, lost in their own thoughts. Suddenly, they both jumped, as if electrocuted. The sharp feeling was replaced with a gentle tingling. Somehow, they both knew they were in no danger. This was a place of ancient power, and somehow it recognised them and what they had achieved, and perhaps what they had lost to achieve it. When the sensation stopped, they both felt renewed.

It felt good to be back in Sunnydale. The old routine was comforting; even if the lack of vampires made patrolling each night seem more like a romantic walk. Admittedly, only a Slayer and an ex-vampire could think walking around cemeteries was romantic. Reports from around the world confirmed that a significant proportion of the vampire population had disappeared at the time of the 'New World Event' as it had been named by the Watcher's Council.

Neither Spike nor Buffy was aware of any diminution in their physical strength. In many ways, they both felt better than at any time before. They both knew, however, that only a real test against real evil would convince Giles. In the meantime, they made up their minds to enjoy their virtual 'holiday' for as long as it lasted. They didn't know how long that would be. There was still evil in the world. The vampire-controlling chips were still out there somewhere. Riley had made it his mission in life to ensure that they were destroyed as soon as possible, but it was going to take some time.

Life in Sunnydale continued without major incidents until March, when Anya had her baby daughter. Xander was more or less recovered by that time, and the arrival of a completely helpless baby into their home ensured his complete recovery. He was simply too tired to dwell on the guilt he felt any more.

Angel continued working in Los Angeles. Even without his extra physical strength, his knowledge of demons, built up over his long life, was invaluable. There were even suggestions from Wesley, that he and Cordelia were no longer 'just friends'. Buffy smiled when she heard this. There had been a time when this news would have hurt her. But that was before Spike. She knew they shared something really special. Many couples can claim that, and in their way, they are right. But Buffy knew now that she and Spike were destined to be together, just as she was destined to become the Slayer. She was surprised at how her view of destiny had changed. When she was called, she resented her destiny. She resented the fact that her teens were taken away from her. She resented the fact that adult – and more than adult - responsibilities had been thrust onto her shoulders. There were still times when she longed for a 'normal' life, but truth to tell, there were many things which were not normal which she would never give up. The top of this list was Spike. They belonged to each other in a way she would at one time have found stifling. Now she realised it was right. And, those responsibilities, which had felt so heavy when she was sixteen, were so much more bearable when they were shared, as she shared everything, with her partner, her husband, and her love.