Starting Over

By Sweetprincipale

Post Season 7- Non-canon beginning at the end of the final episode. No comics. Buffy and Spike find themselves trapped in a void between two dimensions, watching their mirror images acting out pieces of their lives in another realm. If both halves can find true love, choose each other, and make some other important choices, Buffy and Spike will have a chance to rejoin their world, and have a chance at starting over from the point where they perished in the Hellmouth.

Author's Note: Mainly Spike/ Buffy chapter. Major mushiness and smut. Lots of both. Also detail and wordiness.

Dedicated to Ginar369, Omslagspapper, Shadowcat802, KyanaM, Jewel74, and Alexiarrose

Nothing of Buffy belongs to me, except my sincere admiration. However, this story is all mine.

Part XII

"Essie's back!" Jim turned away from the chili he was making as he heard the garage door start to rumble. "Sul! Stop putting Stripes on the counter." Jim watched as Sully's face turned from mischievous to guilty and he pulled the kitten off the kitchen island.

"Where are my boys?" Essie caroled from the entryway.

"Kitchen, Ess!" Jim replied. Essie came in, carrying a pile of papers and some designer label bags. "Hey, you shopped?"

"No, the wardrobe people wanted me to wear this outfit and they let me keep it. Hi, kiddo. Hi, mousers. Hi, Handsome." She air-kissed Sully and the cats on top of their heads and then kissed Jim lingeringly on the lips. "They want us to come back and do another interview as a couple."

"Ughh." Jim groaned.

"Were you on another tv show? Can I watch this one? Pleeeease?" Sully wrapped his arms around Essie's waist and looked up at her with pleading blue eyes.

"Ohhh. Um, Sully-" Essie just about melted whenever her stepson-to-be asked her for anything and Jim was trying to train her to not give in. But Jim's eyes in Sully's little face...

"No, you can't." Jim picked Sully up unceremoniously and hung him upside down over one shoulder. "And you used the 'big blue eyes' trick." Sully chortled as his father's hand started poking him under his chin, trying to find a ticklish spot. "You know we have an awesome power that must only be used for good!" Jim turned him right side up, blew a raspberry on his tummy and plopped him down on one of the bar stools around the kitchen island. "Besides, we have guitar lesson after dinner."

Sully pouted, then grinned and ran off. "I'm gonna go practice!" Like his feline shadows, the cats raced after him as well. As he left, Jim turned to face Essie who looked extremely guilty.

"Essss-iee." Jim drew out her name warningly.

"I know! I know, I flunked the parenting test!" She clasped her hands anxiously. "What am I gonna do, Jimmy? The second he looks at me like that, I just- I can't refuse."

"Here's the trick. Think about what those baby blues will look like after he gets what he wants. I mean, that doesn't work in terms of extra ice cream or a hamster-" Essie winced at his pointed comment, "but it works for the big things. Like watching the show. Or watching the interview. Did they ask anything about the dark themes from last year?"

"Oh yeah." Essie sighed.

"Then you need to picture that little face looking confused and horrified." Jim looked grim. "And you didn't fail, Essie. You were just wavering."

"But I don't like wavering." She pouted. "Isn't there some pill I can take that makes me super stepmom?"

"Nope. But they say if you spend lots and lots of time with the father..." Jim pushed her lightly back against the counter and she giggled, wrapping her arms around him, letting her mouth find his. Letting her hands find- "Ess!"

She chuckled softly as her hand left it's perch and snaked up under his shirt, finding one flat nipple and raising it with her touch. "I've been a naughty girl today, Jim. You'll just have to give me some extra assignments to help me learn my lessons."

"I-" He felt a shiver run up his spine and shoot back down, making him throb almost painfully. He would love to be more erotic in bed with her. He'd love to just let go and stop worrying, and in the last few days he'd almost managed it. He was careful to never hold her wrists down, never push her legs down, and he always eased her clothes off gently, even if he was doing it in a frenzied passion. Those were the only things he consciously avoided or made sure to do, hold overs from disassociating with the bathroom scene. And he knew she was playful and happy when she asked him for "extra assignments". "I'll be sure to think of some lessons." He smiled, eyes closed so she wouldn't see the worry in them.

"Yummy. I'm going to go hang these up." Essie caressed his nipple again, making him gasp sharply in pleasure. She picked up the plastic bags and sauntered upstairs.

Jim opened his eyes. She was driving him crazy. He was supposed to show her nothing but love. He'd never hurt her in anyway, and he knew she wasn't asking for him to do that. But one piece of naughtiness leads to the next, and before you know it, he'd lose control. He'd never hurt her, but he'd push their limits. He shivered again. He was worried. Because he liked the idea. Because he wanted to push her limits until he'd found every thing he could ever do to her that would give her a second's pleasure, either of the light and innocent variety, or of the dark and passionate kind.

He returned to preparing dinner, catching sight of his reflection in the glass door of the sunroom. "What kind of man am I?" He whispered. When she looks up at me when I'm inside her, I know she sees Jim. But if she looks at me when I'm trying something deep and dark- will she see Spike? Does it matter? his rational voice asked. She already told you she loved you, and who you pretend to be. "But it matters to me."

Essie returned momentarily, and perched on one of the barstools in front of the papers. "One of the guys from the studio publicity team was at my interview. Hyping us. Hyping the final season. They gave me all these."

"What are they?" Jim asked, still keeping his back to her, head bowed over the oven as he stirred and spiced the chili.

"He said they were recent articles about us and the show." She shrugged. It was common for publicists to filter through the press coverage you got, taking out the highly distasteful or abusive. Neither she nor Jim liked to look at the magazines in the check out aisle or the bookstore, and even less did they like scanning the television. You never knew when you'd find a rerun of their own show, or a show with sexual violence. For their house, it was music channels, History, Discovery, and Cartoon Network all the way, baby.

"Want me to open it?" Jim offered, noticing that Essie was sitting in front of the stack of papers without moving.

"I can do it." She sighed.

"Hey." He came and sat down beside her, taking her hands. "You worried about what they say? You know they pull all this stuff out of their asses. It doesn't change you and me."

"I know." She stroked his hands with her thumbs, looking at him gratefully. "I know that." Essie resolutely tore open the first plastic covered magazine. "I just like how relaxed we've both been. And filming starts next week. I don't want to go back to that dark place just yet."

"Dark place." Jim repeated. "I don't want you to go in a dark place. I don't want to put you there. I won't put you there." His voice took on a fierce edge.

"Huh?" Essie stopped looking at a glossy photo of herself at red carpet event and stared at him startled. "You? What are you-"

"I'm not hurting you this season. Not-not like that. I'm not going to hurt you here, either."

"Jimmy! Jim, honey," Essie struggled past her perplexity, "you're not responsible for anything we do on the set! And as for here, you'd never hurt me!"

"But sometimes I want-" His eyes sought hers. "I want to push things. I don't know what we're comfortable with. Feel like this relationship has been about keeping the trust up and the tears down, and never letting go in case it crumbles."

"And you just want to let go?" She whispered. He bobbed his head once, adding a shrug. "Me, too. I already trust you, Baby. I know it's going to be good, whatever we do."

"I know you said couples make mistakes, and we're learning together. But I'm afraid I'll get caught up and forget to be careful." Essie slowly pushed herself from her chair to his, hooking one leg over his thigh, grabbing his shoulders to pull herself into his lap.

"I want you to take me upstairs tonight, and you and I will do whatever you want. Anything, anything in the world, as long as it's you and me. And I'll be honest if I don't like it. But, you know me so well. I know I'll like it."

She looked at him with such absolute confidence and love that he felt any worry slipping away. I've gotta be the man she wants, the man she needs. "Oh, you'll love it darling. I promise." He panted once in pleasure before he kissed her hard and deep.

Kennedy walked into the lobby. Still deserted, except for supremely bored-looking hotel staff. She marched up to the desk. "Hey. Just out of curiosity- the guy who was paying for the rooms? How many days did he pay for? How long do we have this hotel to ourselves?"

"Mr. Angel said you can stay as long as you like, but the hotel reopens to the public tomorrow at 2:30 for the day's check in." The clerk answered.

"Thanks." Kennedy nodded stiffly. Good. Gotta get out of here. No action. No quality time with Willow. Willow was hers, and she was getting tired of sharing her. Kennedy looked at the elevator, decided with her Slayer speed she could just run the several flights of stairs to Willow's room in less time than it would take the machine. With a self-satisfied smile, she raced up to see her sweet goddess.

Who wasn't in her room...

Kennedy slammed her fist down onto the bed as she examined it. Not even slept in. In fact, none of the new outfits she'd brought over to Willow's room that afternoon hadn't even been touched, they were all still in the plastic bag. With a grunt of frustration she grabbed the bedside phone and dialed the front desk. "Yeah, I need the room numbers of Xander Harris, Rupert Giles and Buffy Summers. I don't care if that's confidential! We came in together, are you freaking idiots down there?" Kennedy kicked the nightstand viciously, wincing as a chunk of wood broke off. "Room-? That's right next door to- thanks." Kennedy hung up and slowly walked down the hall. She didn't have far to walk. Xander's room was directly beside Willow's. Funny how neither of them had mentioned that.

Kennedy paused by the doorway. Laughing. Male and female laughter. A high pitched giggle and a deep relaxed rumble of enjoyment. Softly, she turned the doorknob and pushed the door open. Oh God. Four sets of bare feet hanging over the edge of the bed. A pile of clothes- some male and some female in nature, in the corner. And one of them was Willow's shirt. "What the hell is-" Kennedy burst fully into the room with a pissed off shout.

"Hi, Baby?" Willow, fully clothed, sat up from the bed.

"Oh. Oh, I was just wondering- what the hell- is the point- of hanging out up here, all cooped up, when we have plans to make?" Kennedy covered.

Giles, Buffy, and Xander also sat up slowly, clearly not buying it. Kennedy felt like a fool. So those four had always seemed unnaturally close. So they'd never allowed her to really penetrate the heart of the gang, be part of the closeness. Okay, so she was wrong and jumped to conclusions. They were close in the family way, not in the group sex way. Good God. She had just been so stupid. And no one but Willow was ever likely to forget she'd just acted like a jealous, suspicious, bitch.

"Oh, we've been making plans. Lots of plans!" Willow smiled brightly, taking Kennedy's hands. "We're driving to Vegas first. And then heading towards a city on the East Coast."

"Uh- what about Cleveland?" Kennedy asked in a tone that clearly indicated her friends were overlooking something major. "Y'know? Closed Hellmouth? Needs a Slayer?"

"No Hellmouth. Hellmouth bad." Buffy argued petulantly.

"You tell 'em, Buffy." Xander punched the air feebly.

"Here, here." Giles agreed. "But Kennedy does raise a point. We should get everyone together before making a final decision. Kennedy, did Dawn and Spike return with you?"

"No, they were headed to the mall. We split right after the bank." Kennedy focused her eyes on Willow. "We need to make plans. As in you and me."

"But- my plans include these guys, too. They're my family." Willow explained softly.

"Um. I should go. See if Dawn and Spike are back yet." Buffy stood up hurriedly, almost guiltily, even though she knew they weren't likely to be home yet.

"No, you guys stay. We'll go." Willow nodded with a tight smile. "Are we heading out tomorrow then?"

"Sounds like a plan. Xander and Giles are going to head out a rent a couple vehicles as soon as the rental places open." Buffy explained to Kennedy. "Although I still vote for the RV. Less chance of a crispy Spike."

"I've told you, we'll get a panel van." Giles reminded her somewhat irritably. "But one of you will have to come along. I let my American driver's license lapse, and they won't let Xander rent two vehicles."

"RV- one car, dark interior, fits all of us, see my point?" Buffy said sarcastically.

"Hell to park, difficult to navigate in crowded city traffic, not exactly inconspicuous. Plus all of us almost died the last time we drove one of those." Xander ticked off the negative aspects of her idea. Willow and Kennedy left unobtrusively from the room, heading back down the hall.

"Okay, what was that? The four of you planning our lives without even asking the significant others?" Kennedy demanded once the door shut.

"Oh no, not like that. We were just trying to see what we all want. Buffy and I want to finish school, and there are tons of colleges in the eastern metro areas. And Giles needs something on the East Coast, easier to fly to England, and less time zones to worry about when he has to call. And- and we think some of the bigger cities on the coast- might be more tolerant, and we'll be able to blend in better."

"Tolerant of the lesbian thing?"

"No, the practicing magic and needing to be out all night thing. Plus, Giles says there's usually more demon activity in metropolitan areas. So all of us will have work. And he says there are more covens on the coasts than in the midlands. So I'll make some new friends!" Willow beamed at her. "And aren't your parents in New England as well?"

"Yeah, they are! That's why I'm not going anywhere near there!"

"Oh- okay. Well- there's a whole lot of East Coast, all the port cities in the south. It's warm. I like warm." Willow tried to brighten her dark haired girlfriend's mood.

"Willow, what is this? You act like you have to stay with them! Don't you want your own life?"

"Yes! I want my friends in it, though." Willow's eyes flared.

"Do you want me in it?" Kennedy spat accusingly.

"Yes! Of course I do, how can you even ask that?"

"I don't know. Maybe it's the fact that you've spent every single minute since we escaped with Xander. And then Buffy and Giles. Not me. What kind of message are you sending?"

"I'm sorry! I just- we usually hang out together in the wake of apocalypses. Plus, Anya is dead. Xander's grieving and he needs his friends! Not to mention this is the first time we've ever been able to plan a normal life! EVER! I thought you'd be happy for us."

"You want to go back to a normal life? After this? You want me to give up my powers?"

"Huh? No! I want you to come with us. And patrol. In relative safety." Willow caressed her partner's hair gently. "With me. So I don't lose you."

"I am not ready to live in a nice, normal world, Will. I'm not ready to give up the rush! Man, I've got the gift to save people! I can't give it away, let it go! And you don't have to let it go either! Giles said you can work with a slayer, as a wicca. He didn't say which slayer. It doesn't have to be Buffy, you can work with me. We'll be together. On our own. In love..."

Willow looked up horrified. "Are you asking me to choose? Between them, and you?"

"I- yeah. I am." Kennedy crossed her arms firmly. "I love you, and I'm willing to share you- some. But you and them- it's weird. You depend on them too much. Like you aren't your own person without them."

"That's not fair! It's not true! I'm my own person because of them! They're the ones who never told me to stop doing what I wanted. They look out for me, and they love me just like I am, even when I was trying to destroy the world. At my worst, do you know who stopped me? Xander. He stood between me and the crucible for my evil- and just told me he loved me. He was going to let me try to kill him, because he loved me enough to believe in me, believe the good was still in me! He always believed the real me would win." Willow's voice had gotten soft and distant. He's part of what makes me, the "real" me. Kennedy jarred her back into the moment.

"Xander. Again. I am so not surprised!" Kennedy threw her hands up in defeat. "I guess the choice is clear! You choose the loveless Scooby gang rather than someone you can have a future with."

"I'm sorry you feel that way." Willow whispered hoarsely. " But I've run on abnormal for too long. And these people- are all the family I really have left. I want to go somewhere where I can be safer. I want to go somewhere with them. I want you to come, too." She held out her hands, her eyes pleading. "Don't make me choose..."

"I won't. I'll choose for you. I'm going. If I ever get tired of the rush, if I ever want to quit, I'll look you up." Kennedy brushed the back of her hand across her eyes angrily. "I love you, baby. You'll always be my goddess. If you ever change your mind- Giles will be able to find me." Kennedy squared her shoulders and marched to the door.

"Over? Just like that?" Willow squeaked, her voice constricting with tears.

"Over. But not 'just like that'." Kennedy bit her lip and fled.

Buffy opened the door after she caught the sounds of sobs and running footsteps, in reverse order. "Kennedy? Wil- Willow?" A soft thump collided with her. "Willow! Are you okay?"

"Why are you crying? Why is she crying?" Xander demanded, taking Willow in his arms as she sobbed noisily, babbling incoherently.

"Willow?" Giles peered at her. She made a pitiful little noise and buried her head more fully on Xander's chest. "Oh no."

"Kennedy." Buffy said with a cold grimace. "I'll be right back."

Buffy bolted from the room. Find her. Find the bitch and bring her back, tell her to stop being stupid and make Willow stop crying. She broke into a run.

"Hey!" Dawn's startled yelp and the sensation of them falling to the floor distracted Buffy from her mission. "Look around corners! You always told me to check around corners! And look at you, Ms. Screech-Around-the-Bend! What if I had been a demon?" Dawn lectured as she and Buffy untangled themselves.

"Dawn! Shut up!" Buffy kissed her sister on the forehead as she tugged her back to her feet. "Did you see Kennedy?"

"Yeah. At the bank. Like, two hours ago." Dawn looked at her sister patiently, "But I thought you knew that."

"She- Willow and she must have had a fight. They left in kind of a snit and then it must have gone major snit, because Willow's back in Xander's room, bawling her eyes out." Buffy looked around distractedly, running a hand through her hair. "Where's Spike? He can track her."

"Uh- he came up in the elevator. He was going to your room. B-but he had a surprise for you, so please don't go up there! And please, please don't tell him I said that! Oh my God, Buffy, if I ruin the surprise, he'll never speak to me again. Or he'll bite me. Or he'll bite me and never speak to me again!" Dawn panicked.

"B-but Willow." Buffy looked helplessly back towards the door. "I need to find Kennedy!"

"What would you do? Beat her up to make her be with Willow? If she wanted to be with her, she would be. Wouldn't she?"

"I guess. But- it's not right! Xander and Willow- they can't be alone. Not when I have someone now." Buffy was about to go on, but a noise behind her made her turn.

"B-Buffy?" A sniffling Willow and angry looking Xander stood a few feet away in the hallway. "Let her go. She- she wouldn't be happy with us right now." Willow burst into a fresh torrent of tears and Xander pushed her roughly into Dawn and Buffy's arms, herding them back towards the interior of his room.

"Stay!" He ordered. "SPIKE!" Xander let loose a howling roar.

"What are you doing?" Dawn hissed, rubbing Willow's back. Giles scratched his forehead worriedly, staring between the huddle of girls and the shouting young man.

"Xander-" Buffy began, but he shushed her.

"I'll find her. I'll find her for you, Will. SPIKE!"

"I'm comin'! Bloody hell! Is everything- oh, no Red, what's up?" Spike flew into their midst, duster flying, eyes wide. He took in the scene, Buffy's anguished expression, and Willow's tear stained face. "What happened?" He asked gravely.

"K-Kennedy and I- aren't going to be together right now." Willow gulped.

"Oh." Spike cast a longing look at Buffy. He had one hell of a night planned for them. But that was all shot now. Not with Red cryin' and the one-eyed boy radiating fury. He could literally smell and hear the boy's blood racing in rage. "Right then. Xander, c'mon."

"Good." Xander growled. For the first time ever, Spike actually felt a little fear of the klutzy boy. Don't mess with a man's heart. And Xander's heart, even though it wasn't in the typical fashion, belonged solidly to the witch.

"I'll get some chocolate." Giles said nervously, leaving Willow in Dawn and Buffy's capable arms. The three females looked up at him in puzzlement. "What? You think I haven't watched enough woman trouble in the last seven years to know what to do? I get chocolate and ice cream and one of those weepy Lifetime docudramas."

"And you get the hell out of Dodge." Buffy added with a cynical smile.

"Absolutely." He sighed and shut the door behind him with a thankful expression.

"I don't think I can track her past this station." Spike sniffed and shook his head regretfully.

"Try!" Xander commanded.

"I am tryin', mate." Spike looked at him, making his eyes do the talking. I'm trying to help her, I am. But we both know that if we find her it won't make it right. "I know it's hard to admit, but-"

"Don't say it. Don't say anything. If you can't find her scent, we'll have the Watchers trace her." Xander looked around helplessly, taking in all the trains leaving and coming, all the hundreds of women with dark hair and medium build.

"Okay. Good plan." Spike agreed.

"Are you agreeing with me?" Xander accused.

"Yes, for once. Look, I know we will never be friends. But you love Buffy, and Bit. An' I love 'em, too." Spike fought with himself. "Sod it. You know- I want to be a jerk about this! I'm s'posed to bad, right? But I kinda like Red. An' she's too good to get left like this, first by the wolf, then her bird stolen right out from under her by that madman's bullet. Now this. It ain't right. But what're we goin' to do? Force commando bitch back to her? She's a bloody powerful witch. She wants her back, she'd get her back."

"She wouldn't do that." Xander hissed, stalking off. Spike nodded emphatically, following him.

"Y'see? She isn't doin' it, why are we?" Spike mentally winced. He hated acting like he had any deep thoughts in front of anyone except Buffy. "Bringing Willow's lover back won't bring yours back." He said softly. The pavement rushed up to him, and he fell hard, right on his tailbone, which dead or not, soddin' hurt. "You punch pretty well for a man with one eye." Spike rubbed his jaw and bounced back to his feet.

"I'm not doing it for that! I'm doing it because one of us should be happy." Xander replied in a furious hiss.

"I know. I'm sorry." Spike let it go. The two men walked along in silence, heading back to the hotel, both of them slumping in defeat.

"You make her happy." Xander admitted grudgingly after several blocks in silence. "I hate you for it. I hate that she's always chosen someone other than me. But I don't want her anymore. I just want her to be happy. You make her happy. I hate you for that." Spike swallowed a chuckle as Xander finished his circular statement. "Shut up, Peroxide."

"Did I say a blessed word?" Spike asked in an injured voice.

"You were thinking really loud, Bleach Boy." Xander sniped. They took a few more steps in silence. "We talked a lot today. When you were out with Dawn."

"Yeah?" Spike resisted the urge to act like schoolboy and ask "What'd she say about me?". He struggled again, having to be civil to people - people he didn't much care for- after what seemed like years in near solitary confinement was difficult. "That's nice. I'm not tryin' to take her away from you lot. I tried bloody hard to bring her back to you! All I ask, is that you don't give her a hard time. I mean, you can hate me all you want-"

"Thank you for the permission!" Xander interjected.

"Welcome. Anyway, hate me all you want. In private, curse me to your heart's content, but just- don't make her feel bad. I know she shouldn't love me, but she does. And it does make her happy." Another tense silence as they walked, finding their way back to the hotel. Spike led the way by scent, trailing Buffy. Before, they had run like mad and neither of them paid a blind bit of notice to their route.

Xander let out an exasperated sigh and slapped Spike hard on the head. "Fine! Make her happy. And-ugh- she'll tell you herself of course, but she was pretty insistent about stopping in Vegas on the way to wherever we're planning to go."

"Vegas?" Spike cocked his head, rubbing it more out of force of habit than actual pain. "Vegas? Ohh." He took on an incredulous look. "Really?"

"Yes, God knows why!" Xander shrugged. Which was a lie. Buffy and Willow had been very detailed about why. They figured the hustle and bustle, cookie-cutter, assembly line style of Vegas would make for a nice, quick, easy to fool the judge or preacher wedding ceremony.

"Really? I mean, not that I care, of course." Spike bluffed, acting like it didn't matter. "I just don't want her to give up more than she has to. I don't think neon and drunken gamblers are her style." Spike rolled his head to Xander. "Don't you think so? You're her best mate."

"Hey- if I had the chance to marry Anya again, I'd do it in a gutter if I had to." Xander reached out and gave him a powerful shove in the shoulder. "Don't. Pass. It. Up."

"Don't. Worry. I. Won't." Spike shoved him back. "An' I'm not bein' your punchin' bag, just cause you're miserable."

"Good, 'cause I wouldn't touch you with a ten foot pole!"

"Good! 'Cause I wouldn't let you."

"Fine!" Xander spat.

"Fine!" Spike growled. "So. Vegas. Hrm. D'you wanna be the best man?"

"Sure. Jerk."

"Good, idiot!"

Xander blinked and clutched his head. "Did you just-?"

"No! Well, yeah." Spike looked at him from the corner of his eye. "Oh, bloody, buggerin' hell."

"And a big side of holy crap!" Xander added, as they pushed into the lobby of the Hyperion. "I feel physically and emotionally ill."

"How d'you think I feel? I'm the one that had to ask a prat like you."

Giles jumped up from one of the couches in the lobby. "Any luck?"

"No, but the Watchers can find her, can't they?" Xander demanded.

"Yes, they can. In time. But the question is, do we want to find her?"

"No!" Spike said as Xander cried, "Yes!"

"Well, it's tabled for now. Willow cried herself to sleep in your bed." Giles explained to Xander. "And I believe Dawn and Buffy are having a sisterly argument over a nose piercing?" He sounded puzzled and frowned as the words left his mouth.

"Hey! I talked her into waiting', told her once she was 18! She listened." Spike claimed.

"Yes, I know. She's trying to convince Buffy since you said no."

"Oh, well, that's a bleedin' lost cause." Spike flopped down in a chair. "I'm never gonna get this off the ground..."

"Now what?" Xander huffed. Spike looked at him with a petulant glare, eyebrow quirking.

"Not that it's any of your business, but Buffy and I had something special we wanted to do tonight. That's all. No matter, really. We can do it another night."

"Something special?" Giles inquired, removing his glasses. Spike shrugged, not looking at him. Giles exchanged a look with Xander.

"I'll take Willow. You take the teenager." Xander's words dragged from him slowly, painfully. "And I'm only doing this for Buffy, not for you!" He turned and pointed savagely to Spike. Spike looked at him briefly, then turned away.

"Oh, please! You take Dawn." Giles begged.

"When Willow wakes up, she'll start crying again..." Xander warned.

"Very well." Giles and Xander left without a backward glance. Spike waited a decent interval, long enough to make it look as though he didn't really care, and then swaggered off in the direction of his room, taking the stairs three at a time once he was sure he wouldn't wouldn't attract attention. He had a room to get ready.

She had the room ready. For what exactly, she wasn't sure. But she had candles. She had soft music. Guitar without vocals of all the songs she thought he'd like. And massage oil picked up from the pharmacy section of their local grocery was sitting on the bedside table. Sully was asleep, and Jim was lingering over him, making sure he was well and truly out. Essie couldn't blame him. One of her biggest stepmom-type fears was getting caught in the act with Jim by his impressionable little boy.

"Hi." Jim came in, gliding on bare feet, black sweats his only covering. His smile was soft, with a devilish twitch in one corner, and his hair was slicked back. Essie's breath caught when she saw him. The way he moved was just slightly different. A roll in his step, that indicated he wasn't acting in his usual affectionate and straightforward way.

"Hi." She smiled back. "Little man down?"

"Well and truly." He whispered, flicking off the bedside lamp as he came near her.



"You okay?"

"Why?" He couldn't do it. He couldn't let himself go. She would always watch him from the corner of her eye, think every fast advance was not so much a seductive prowl but a sneak attack. The passionate advance he'd had stirring in him deflated quickly.

"I don't know." She shrugged and closed her mouth. She had a thousand things she could say, and any one of them could trigger something to make him slip back into his cautious mode. And she didn't want that for them. She wanted it to be wholewith them, no little fears or worries clouding their lives or their loves. "I love you."

"I love you." He reassured- and then gave in. "Essie, I can't. I just can't. I can't turn on the bad boy, I can't turn off Jim."

"I don't want you to do that! Ever!" Essie gaped at him, her smile quickly twisting bitterly and she held up her ring. "See this? I'm marrying you! I love you! I love you!" She suddenly bit her lip and burst into tears. "I only love you, and I love all of you and I can't make it better. I can't make the scene go away! " Jim approached, arms widening to enfold her. "And don't hug me cause I'm crying, 'cause I hate girls who cry to get what they want!"

Jim grabbed her by her shoulders and pulled her off the bed. "Now you listen. I love you, too. And I'm hugging you because I want to. And you- you just- let me love you." He ordered, suddenly lifting her up, jaw set. "You're mine, Essie. And no one else's. You do still want to be mine, right?"

"Yes, yes." She clawed his back in passionate abandon as he kissed her with near bruising force. "Yes, this is what I want."

"Say it." He half ordered, half begged, one hand cupping her cheek, the other digging into her soft rear.

"I want to be yours." She gasped as he fell to his knees, her under him. Love and determination swept across his face, settling in his eyes.

"Good. I'm yours. And I'm going to show you so you never doubt again. I'm going to be in every part of you and fill you up 'til no one can ever even look at you without seeing me in you."

"And what about you? How are they going to know you're mine?" She whispered as her night gown went peeling off over her head.

"Oh, Baby." He rumbled low in his chest. "I'll be so drenched in you that no one could call me anything but your man." He hauled her up on to the bed after a moment's intense kissing, her legs splayed over his shoulders and his mouth busy in her rapidly moistening center.

Essie gasped out as his tongue, seemingly stronger than was allowable for humans, split her and delved into her and thoroughly defeated her. "Wh-what are you doing?" She moaned.

"I'm making you cum in my mouth, so I can drink you down. Before you return the favor." He quirked his eyebrow at her, thumb pulling her clit up so he could access it better with his devilish tongue. "Don't you like that idea, darling? You said you thought I'd taste nice."

She whimpered incoherently. Jim reached up, his palm turned up for her to take his hand. She understood. He wouldn't ask if he was being too rough. He wouldn't ask, because he wasn't going to ruin it. He wasn't going to doubt himself. But if she took his hand- it would be them acting together, partners. Equals, like they were meant to be. She grasped his hand and ground her nails into the skin on his knuckles.

"Make me cum." She purred. "Right on that hot, bad boy tongue of yours."

"Your wish is my command." He laughed into her.

An hour later, Jim got his second wind. Oh, he could have gotten it sooner, but he was too busy gloating. Essie was full of his essence and he could still taste her on his tongue. You don't get more possessive than that. More connected than that. More trust, more intimate than consuming each other.

And then she'd grabbed the massage oil and started drizzling it over him, all over his slightly hard cock, and down between her thighs. "Honey? We're already plenty wet." He pointed out.

Essie looked at him, her already pink cheeks instantly aflame. "Oh. Yeah, we are." She looked suddenly very vulnerable and didn't quite meet his eye. "I- um, I thought-"

"Oh. I'm an idiot." He slid closer to her on the bed, cradling her, pulling himself against her. "You want to?"

"Only with you." She admitted in a ghost of whisper.

"That's good. I only want it with you, too." He agreed.

"Do you think- that's like a- 'Buffy' thing?" She whispered.

"No, Baby." He shook his head. "Never in a zillion years do I think she'd trust him enough to do anything so remotely special. You have to trust someone and love someone completely to do that. Plus have a naughty side." He smiled at her, rubbed her arm, scooting until she was half under him, protective, loving, wanting.

She nodded mutely, kissing him, letting him kiss her until her body when limp and she rolled over on her belly, looking back over her shoulder at him. "Come here."

"What- why like that?" Jim hesitated, cursing himself for interrupting something so precious and special.

"Isn't this how?" Her cheeks flamed harder.

"No. Not this time." He spoke softly, pulling her back to face him. "You have done-" He stopped himself. Don't ask. It doesn't matter. It's the first time for us. "I love you more than ever. Every time I'm with you." He pulled her legs up high, far over his hips, but below his shoulders.

"Promise you approve?" She whispered.

"I approve very much." He smiled. He looked down at her, caressing her face, trailing it down to her stomach and then between her thighs. A sudden thought crossed his mind. Now this, this might hurt. If she hadn't. Well, even if she had. And for once, he was completely sure that he wouldn't let anything bad happen to her, that she wouldn't feel any pain. "I love, my Essie." He breathed, sinking his mouth to hers. "I'll never let anything bad happen to you."

"Spike?" Buffy pushed open the door to their room. It was dark but for the florescent overhead light in the bathroom, and a bright moon shining through the open curtains. Giles and Dawn had practically fled from her. And it wasn't like Dawn would leave in the middle of a throw down argument without a very motivating cause. For motivating cause read big, bad, brother vampire. That or shopping. And Giles wouldn't take Dawn shopping two nights in a row. Even he, patron saint of patient people, wasn't that tolerant. But surely Spike wouldn't have told them about the whole claim thing. She didn't think her friends would approve of claims, but she didn't think Spike'd let that stop him from claiming her. She didn't want him to.

"I'm in here, Pet. Got you some chocs and sweeties earlier." Spike came out from the bathroom, carrying an ornately wrapped box. "And a pink rose for my rosebud." He handed her a pink rose, in a water filled styrofoam cup. "Sorry, didn't stop to think about a vase."

"Aww! My sweet, evil vampire." She giggled. "No really, Spike. Thank you! That's so sweet. Do you know something- no one has ever given me flowers and chocolates before? Not at the same time, anyway."

"Whole lot of firsts tonight." He pulled her into his arms and kissed her. She blushed and then clapped her hand to head. "What is it, Luv?"

"I never got to the store today! I was gonna buy a nightie! A little- you know- skimpy thingy."

"Luv, I think you're damn sexy in anything. You know that." He swallowed and rubbed his fingers through his hair. "Before we get comfy, though, just wanted to tell you, I didn't have any luck finding the girl. And Xander didn't take it too well."

"It was kind of stupid to go chasing after her." Buffy shrugged.

"Yeah, well. That's me." Spike bluffed.

"I know why you did it." She smiled gratefully.

"Yeah. Bit of a chase. Been cooped up for too long." He smiled easily.

"And you're lying to me." She kissed him. "Maybe cause you like me thinking you're bad, when I know how good you are?"

"Maybe." He admitted. Then sighed heavily. "I know they mean well, an' you love 'em. So I tried to help. Figured the boy wouldn't rest 'til he'd done something. And God knows I don't wanna watch Red sobbin' her way through Steel Magnolias again."

"Again? You've seen her do that?" Buffy was incredulous, both that Spike would sit through it, and that Willow had shared their go-to tearjerker.

"Yeah. About five times. Her and Bit. When you were- gone." He swallowed around the lump in his throat that surfaced whenever he remembered the 147 days he'd been 'alive' and she'd been dead. The longest days of his life or unlife, the only pure form of torture he'd ever known.

"I love you." She marveled again at the things this man would do for her. "That's why I wanna be with you so much. For so long." She pulled her hair back from her neck and watched Spike twitch and then restrain himself. "Ready?"

"Not yet. Sit here, Luv." He motioned to a chair by the window. "Lovely moon. Should be the sun, since it's you. But I do the best I can." He gracefully sank to his knees before her, looking up at her with a slight smile, trying to mask his nerves.

"Spike- you-"

"Shh." Spike pressed a finger to her lips. "Now listen to me. And don't you laugh. I'm no good with words-"

"Yes, you are!" Buffy protested reflexively.

"Listen and don't interrupt." He said pointedly. "So- yeah. I'm no good with words so I'm just" he slid his hands from his chest out to her, palms up, defenseless, "speakin' from my heart." Her lips parted and he gave her a warning glare. She closed them quickly and nodded emphatically.

"I know I don't deserve you. Don't deserve anything so good, so pure, so wholly right, as you. But, I love you. I'll never leave you and I'll never let you down. Not when it counts, anyway. An' I won't lie- I'm bein' entirely selfish here. I'll never leave you so you can have a normal life, 'cause I wouldn't be in it, and I can't bear that." Buffy's mouth parted again, a single tear trailing from the corner of her eye to the edge of her mouth. "No, let me finish, Luv. I know I've hurt you, know I've made you miserable, know I've done the worst things a man can ever do, to either you or someone else. But I also know that because of you, I've done the best things a person can do. I've loved, I've saved lives, I've sacrificed, I've helped save the bloody world! I got a soul, just to try to give you what I could, what you deserved, even though I know I can never make a dent in all I owe you. So. That's all I've got to offer. My whole heart and soul, Buffy, such as it is. I love you. If you'll have me, I would love to be by your side. Forever."

Her mouth moved, formed his name, but no sound came out. She crossed her hands across her heart, tugging his hand up to twine with hers. She nodded frantically. "Yes." She finally squeaked out.

He'd known she would. She'd said it before, but this was real- the world, the ring, the fact that it could happen. He was thrilled- and needed to hear it again. "Yes? You did say that? You said yes?" Spike made certain before giving in to his surging joy.

"Yep." She smiled brightly, tears overflowing.

"YEAH!" He let out an explosive roar, picking her up and tossing her in the air before catching her, wrapping her in a tight hug, squeezing the breath out of her and then giving it back as he kissed her ardently. "Oh! The ring. Soddin' memory, I spent so ruddy long on tryin' to find somethin' to say and here it worked okay jus' wingin' it." He put her down unceremoniously on the edge of the little round table by the window and got the ring box out of his hip pocket.

"You bought me a ring?" Buffy looked awed. Then she realized she had no reason to. He always kept his promises. He was actually quite scarily good at keeping said promises.

"Told my girl she'd get her big sparkly. All bought and paid for. Not stolen." Spike added proudly. "Here, Pet." He popped open the box with a pleased smirk. "You like?" Her girlish squeal rattled the windows and he laughed delightedly. "I'll take that as a big yes, shall I?"

"It's beautiful! Is it real? What am I saying, of course it's real! Oh my God, I have a real ring! A real diamond engagement ring like a normal girl and I love it, and not that I don't love my other ring! I'll wear it on a chain around my neck unless you want it back, but oh my God I have a diamond engagement ring like a normal girl!" She launched herself at him knocking him flat on his back on the carpet, feeling him shake under her with peals of laughter. "What? What?"

"You- you rant when you're happy, Luv. Bloody charmin'. I love you. Keep both rings, wear 'em wherever you want." He looked up at her happily, caressing her hair. "I know you'll probably have to take it off on patrol. But you can wear it the rest of the time, yeah? An' I get to come with you on patrol? I mean, I'm not like soldier boy, I can keep up."

"Are you kidding? Look at the size of this stone! I can probably do some serious damage with it. I'm thinking it stays on. It might be the new weapon of choice for slayers." Her giggling grin faded and her face became serious. "You always come with me, Spike. You know how to keep up, you know how to watch my back, and you don't hog all the kills."

"Gotta let my girl get her slayin' in." He smiled happily.

"I'm thinking no more solo patrols. Ever. I mean, now that you, Xander, and Willow are all official parts of the team- it would be like me telling you not to come to work." She looked at his deeply satisfied expression and had to tweak it. They'd joked and traded barbs for too long, even though now there was no bile behind their words. "You always come with me. Unless Dawn needs help with math. Or driving. Buffy and math and cars are not good mixy things."

"Yeah, and plus I'm already dead, doubt the Bit could kill me with her drivin'." Spike tenderly slid the ring onto her hand, waiting until she had swapped the silver ring from left to right. "There. Mine."

"Yours." She agreed, feeling the almost palpable sexual spark that suddenly filled the room.

"Claim words." Spike explained with a predatory gleam in his eyes. "You just can't wait to belong to me, can you Slayer?"

"Nope." She admitted cheerfully. "And you can't wait to own me, can you?" She purred, reaching up, pushing him back so she could pass him.

"You'd let me think of you like that?" Spike whispered hoarsely, watching her draw the curtains, feeling his night vision kick in as the room darkened considerably.

"I can't control how you think of me." She hedged. He was behind her, gripping her arms hard, his breathing, such as it was, ragged with the effort of restraining himself. "But you can own me- if you want to."

"Oh, I do, Luv. But it's a two-way street. You'd own me, too."

"Mm, my very own vampire."

"My very own Slayer." He rasped before he pulled her to the bed. "I love you. My Buffy, my Slayer."

"My Champion, my Spike." She rejoined, hands tugging his tight black tee shirt up over his back, grinding her nubile body against him to urge him along.

"Here now, supposed to be all romantic, a claim's a one time deal, Luv."

"We can get more romantic once the clothes come off." She insisted, hands ripping his belt free. He wriggled, black jeans and black boots skimming to the floor, revealing his moon washed skin.

"Good plan. My brilliant little minx." He yanked her jeans open, apologizing under his breath as a button went flying, and apologizing again as her thin cotton underwear split in half.

"I'm glad Dawn bought us so much stuff." Buffy murmured, kicking her boots off and using her toes to push down his socks. She lifted her hips and let him remove her jeans completely. "But I like this bra- so don't-"

"Sorry." Spike actually sounded contrite. "About the others. You wear these little bits of lace and they- break so easily." He carefully unhooked the black lacy scrap around her bust and moaned as he saw the twin globes he loved so well. He dug his hands into her hips and put his forehead to hers. "I love you, Baby."

"I love you, too." Spike began trailing kisses across her face, her shoulders, pausing to nibble her sensitive neck and the spot behind her ear, before starting in on her breasts. He traced slow, exasperatingly slow kisses all over each one before finding the nipple and engulfing it, sliding two fingers into her slick, hot tunnel at the same time. "Unngh!" She cried, hips lifting off the bed.

"Oh, yes, Luv, Let me make you feel good..." He starting teasing his way lower, tongue darting to catch every inch of satin skin between her breasts and her taut stomach. He was surprised when she closed her legs around his hand, denying him access with his mouth.

"I love when you do that." She whispered.

"I had realized that, yes." Spike chuckled, trying to move her legs apart but stopping once the steel muscles clamped on his hand again. He looked to her for an explanation.

"I love it. But- I want to be able to look into your eyes, touch your face, for the whole time."

"That's a beautiful idea." He quickly agreed and slowly moved back up, leaving lingering kisses as he returned to settle above her.

"You don't mind? Just this time seems so special and I-"

"I think it's perfect." He nuzzled their heads together. "And there's no sight in the world I love more than your face. 'Specially the expression you get when you're cummin' around me."

At one time she would have broken his nose for that. She would have called him a pig for having the audacity to admit an undeniable truth that he was able to please her. That he was actually the only one who had ever pleased her fully. She remembered all those times and grateful tears filled her eyes. "I'm glad I didn't lose you."

"Made bloody sure of it, didn't you? Jumpin' in the bleedin' beam of heavenly justice after me?"

"No. Before. Or- or then. But I used to hurt you. Yell at you when all you did was love me. I'm so sorry! I'm so s-sorry." She suddenly gave way to tears and he wrapped her up in his arms, all his weight on her, smothering her. And it was the most comforting feeling she'd ever known. "I'm sorry. For crying. I'm ruining this whole thing."

"Hush." He growled in her ear, and he smiled where she couldn't see him, buried as he was in the crook of her neck. His growls made her blood pump, particularly the arteries racing down to her pussy. "You're here with me. You're wearin' my ring. On each hand come to think of it, and you want to claim me, want us to claim each other. I don't care if you have full on hysterics, Pet, as long as you don't want me to stop."

"Please don't stop." She whispered.

"I love you, Buffy. You have the purest heart I've ever seen. And you cry so much 'cause you carried a burden for too long. On your own."

"Slayer thing. We do that." She sniffled. He pushed himself up on his wrists and looked down on her sternly. " Used to do that."

"I'm willin' to bank on the fact that when you've a husband and mate to help you, when you'll accept help, you stubborn bint, that you'll cry much less."

"You're probably right, you irritating pig." Her nose crinkled adorably as she laughed up at him and he kissed her soundly. He used that magical tongue until she moaned and she reached down, finding his impressive hardness.

He groaned and bucked into her hands, momentarily ashamed that he couldn't play it casual anymore, that she had him dead to rights in every aspect, heart wise and sex wise, and every soddin' part of his existence. He delved into her entrance with his fingers and she squirmed. As long as it was mutual, he smiled. "Spike..." She whispered longingly and he gave in, sinking himself to the hilt in one neat dip of his pelvis, listening to the duet of their shuddering gasps.

"Y'know every time is better than the last time? How d'you do that?" Spike asked her in amazement.

"I was gonna ask you the same thing." She looked equally impressed. "You ready to own me?" She tempted, a faint blush on her cheeks.

"Oh yes. But not like you think." He grinned wickedly and started pummeling into her, burrowing, delving until he found the spot that made her writhe, and thoroughly massaged it with his tip.

"Baby." She gasped, clenching on him, squeezing her dripping pink muscles around his length. His eyes bugged as she used her slayer strength and crushed him inside. And she licked her lips in seductive pleasure when she heard the growl emanate from him and his vampire strength came boiling up.

"I love you. Love you more than anything." He ground out, his cock fighting her muscular walls, creating the most beautiful friction imaginable. "You're gonna pop me, you don't back off a bit, Luv."

"You're gonna tear me, you don't take it easy." She countered. And neither one of them budged. They redoubled their efforts, their growls and groans building, headboard slamming into the wall, sheets tearing. The outside observer would have jumped to the conclusion that two master fighters were battling to the death. But had they listened closely, they would have only heard the words "I love you" repeated over and over again in the midst of the noise.

"Okay- one more call and I'm supposed to go up there." Xander put the phone down with a sick expression. He and Willow were curled up together on his bed, locked in a comforting fetal position.

"Isn't that the manager's job?" She asked in a puzzled voice.

"Yeah, well, apparently Giles came down about 20 minutes ago and told the manager that anyone who wasn't a 'trained member of our team' would be killed if they attempted to interrupt the couple on the 7th floor." Xander laughed with an irritated snort. "He failed to mention anyone would be killed if they try and interrupt those two."

"Giles is their boss. He should take care of it." Willow decided, more out of cowardly self-preservation than anything else.

"Giles took Dawn to a movie. I can't blame him. I mean, we're on the 3rd floor, and I can feel the ceiling shaking. I can only imagine what it's like on the 4th floor and up."

"But no one's on the upper floors." Willow pointed out.

"Don't try to argue with the logic of the American manager, Will. He says it creates a disturbance, and therefore, it does."

"Hmm. Stupid jerks. Spoiling the much deserved love of our heroine and ex-bad guy." Willow smiled to herself. "Come on. I need to go to the 7th floor."

"Okay- that's just gross." Xander looked ill. "We have the adult movie channel if you-"

"Eww! No! I'm going to do a spell that muffles the noise!"

"Couldn't we do that in the lobby, so they just don't realize that a free-for-all is going on upstairs?" Xander pleaded.

"Oooh! That's an even less icky idea! Come on!"

"Thank God." Xander breathed and followed Willow out the door of 'their' room.

Spike chewed on her neck, his teeth still blunt, just bringing blood to the surface as he pounded inside her. "Here. Practice." He lifted her lips to his jugular. She traced it slowly with her pert little tongue. My Buffy. My Buffy's going to bite me- oh my God- He had to withdraw completely and rest atop her, panting.

"Why didn't you tell me that?" Buffy demanded in a highly annoyed tone. "That your neck was all erogenous zone-y! I could've been doing this for months!"

"Too- much to miss- if you did it once and then never again." Spike admitted through clenched teeth, shaking, trying to calm down.

"Oh. That's not a concern anymore, is it?" She asked rhetorically, and re-latched on his neck, thrilled at this new power over him. He moaned and whimpered. His neck twitched as if he couldn't decide whether to give her more access or shield himself. "Am I doing this right, or is it just this sensitive?"

"Both." He managed to gulp. "And don't you get cocky, missy." He suddenly tore himself away, slamming into her deeper. "Once you're marked, you'll feel the same way."

"I will?" She asked, wide-eyed.

"Like havin' your bleedin' g-spot in your neck." He grinned maliciously. She looked nervous suddenly and he could see her mentally picking out a high-necked wardrobe for the rest of her days. "Don't worry, Luv. Only works for your lover."

"Thank God!" She laughed and hugged him to her, gasping as his hips pistoned into her harder and harder. "I'm so close- again." She blushed.

"I know. I'm investin' in waterproof sheets when we set up the flat." He teased.

"Spike. Please- I want us to belong together." She murmured, stroking his jawline with one fingertip, letting it caress the moist patch she'd created on his neck.

"You know how it works?" He felt his demon pulling at him, begging to be let out, but he was forcing him into submission until the explanations were finished.

"You bite me, I bite you, you say mine, I say yours, lather, rinse, repeat?"

"You bite me- say 'mine', I reply 'yours'. Then I bite you, I say 'mine', and you reply 'yours'. You have to draw blood. You've got slayer strength in your jaws, and don't be afraid to use it."

"Do I have to drink it?" She asked softly.

He nodded. "Nothing bad'll happen to you. It's one little taste, an' you're not dyin' so it won't turn you. I wouldn't let anything hurt-"

"Spike. I can do it." He looked at her gratefully. "Then what happens? How will we know if it worked?"

"Well, I'm figuring we'll time it to coincide with our climax." He thrust in harder again, bringing that moment ever closer. "And then- if it worked- you'll feel me cumming and I'll feel you- not just the sensation of it, no, you'll feel what I feel. A double, feelin' your own, an' feelin' mine. Figured you couldn't ask for a better claim experience."

"Uh-uh." She agreed wonderingly. Her lips sought his neck again, and this time he gently turned her face, pointing her to the other side of his neck. Drusilla's siring marks. That side was far more sensitive, which was why he had refrained from offering it up originally, he hadn't wanted to erupt perfunctorily.

"Get rid of that pesky scar for me, will you Luv?" He whispered. He didn't want to belong to anyone but her, ever again.

"Oh, no problem there." If she had a demon, it would have burst forth just then. If his goal had been to motivate her to use her teeth to their full advantage and bite hard enough to draw blood, he had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. She'd obliterate any sign that dark bitch left on her man. Her man. "Oh God, Spike, Spike, hurry." She felt her loins burn and tighten with her impending release, but she wouldn't give in to it without him.

He nodded, too busy concentrating to speak. With a soft, slick hiss his face changed, demon taking control. He buried his head in her shoulder, trying to hide himself, just because he knew, some little part of him still thought, it was wrong for her to admit she loved the worst part of him. "Kiss me." Her voice was soft and insistent. He slowly turned his head, so she could see his profile, see the change.

"Kiss you, like this?" He asked in a doubtful murmur.

"Yeah. Like that." Maybe it was the pre-orgasm talking, maybe it was the unfathomable depths of his devotion, but she was saying whatever she wanted, without any thought, without any worry, or even a marginal filter. "Let me love him. Let him take me, I want all of you to own me, heart and soul. Oh God, Spike, just- kiss me!"

He obeyed with a fierceness that surprised and delighted her. He kissed hard and recklessly, because she was encouraging him to do it, clawing him, begging for him with her body. She could taste the blood in her mouth and she didn't even know whose it was, his or hers, as they kissed in a frenzy, fangs and teeth seeking to mark, not kill, not drain. He pulled away suddenly, mouth stained crimson.

"I love you." He said in the thicker voice his fang-obstructed mouth created.

"I love you, Baby." She stroked his face tenderly, no fear in her. Not like the last time she'd seen him this way, not even a hint of nerves.

"It's still me in here." He heard himself saying, reassuring his beloved one. Funny. A lifetime ago he would have denied that his human side even remained, a lifetime ago, he had claimed his demon was in control even when his human face showed. "Just me. It's only me." Because all of me is in love with you, he thought but didn't say.

"I know. She lifted her head to take his mouth again. "But don't think it matters. I love all of you- both parts. I trust both parts. I want to belong to both parts." She whimpered suddenly, and he felt her slick walls start their tremble.

"And I want all of you, slayer and woman, your super strength and your normal self. I love you, both parts."

"Here. Take care of this for me?" She twisted her neck slowly so he could see a bite scar on her neck. He knew it was from Angel, had heard how she'd almost died to give him her blood and save him when he'd been poisoned. And Angel hadn't wanted to, hadn't turned her, hadn't sired her, or claimed her. And she had loved him.

"No, Pet." His human face slipped down and back to demon in a blink. "Not the same as Dru-"

"I'm only yours. Own me. Claim me." She pulled his head low, looked into his amber eyes, speaking equally to the man inside as well as his demonic side. "Mark me as your mate, Spike, so no one else ever touches me again."

His inhuman bellow shook the room, and neither of them even noticed how it reverberated. He plunged his cock in hard, making her lose control, and bit into her in the same second, wiping out her old scars and giving her fresh proof of his undying love. "Mine!" He demanded around a mouth full of her blood.

"Ohh, God, yes. Yours!" She screamed out, her orgasmic bliss suddenly doubling, not from sensing his imminent release, but because she never knew a bite could feel so erotic. "Gimme!" She demanded, yanking his taut ivory veins to her lips. "You belong to me. Mine now!" She felt his demon urge her on, cry out for something dark inside her to come out and play, come out a love him back. She sliced into him easily and swallowed, not even tasting, just determined to complete this ritual. "Mine!"

"Yes, Buffy, yours." He agreed, losing his last vestige of control.

It was like being inside her body and her brain all at once. The thoughts and sensations overwhelmed him, he could feel what it was like when he made her cum, how she always struggled not to lose control and then let it take her.

She could feel it. It was different from how her climax built. She tried deny it, he tried to hold it, not to prolong his pleasure, but to give her more of himself, and to resist breaking the connection for as long as he could. She could see all the flashes of his memories, all the times they'd had sex, and his stamina seemingly knew no bounds, all because he was dying inside, knowing that when it was done, when she had used him, he would be left alone.

"Never alone again." She comforted and he nodded. And his mind switched back to the recent months, the feelings of love and peace they had together, a heart knowing happiness for the first time in nearly a century.

"You can see how much I love you, Baby?" He whispered, head wrenching back, shoulders stiffening, spine arching.

"Yes! See how much I love you?" She cried.

"God, yes!" He screamed it and he spilled.

"Oh, yes!" Her siren call rang alongside his and she exploded around him, acutely aware of him exploding inside her.

"You- are -a- lousy- witch." Xander, a bath towel and a pillow wrapped around his head to block the rumbling cries from the floors above, glared at Willow balefully.

"Mhmm." She whimpered, burrowing deeper under the quilt.

"You what?" Giles' shout poured through the lobby and made Buffy sink in her chair.

"Mr. and Mrs. for eternity, Rupes." Spike grinned cheekily. "And this as well." He held out Buffy's slender hand.

"Holy shit! Is that golfball?" Xander gaped at the diamond.

"Oh! Oh wow!" Willow screeched and Dawn, though she'd seen it before, joined in.

"No, no, NO! I will not be distracted by this- how many karats is that?" Giles momentarily belied his words and stared in awe at the hunk of rock on Buffy's hand. "No, never mind! Claims are serious! You've practically doomed yourself to immortality! You can't be killed unless he's killed, and then only if its in unison with your death, and that's pretty hard to do!"

"Ergo, she's pretty damn safe, right, Watcher?" Spike smiled and let out a relieved sigh as Giles backed up slightly, realizing the truth of his words.

"Er- yes, there is that." Giles rubbed his temples. "My world is crumbling."

"Already did that. Your world was being sucked into the pit of hell? Remember that?" Buffy pointed out tersely. "You get a nice, new world. Free of charge, thanks to someone wearing a sacred talisman and dying for you?" Spike raised his hand in recognition. "And now we get to plan a life together. So there. End of story. Don't all of us have work to do? I thought we were leaving today?"

Giles hugged the girl he considered his daughter close to his chest. "You're quite right. Con-congratulations."

"Thank you. You'll still give me away?" She looked up at him hopefully.

"I will." Giles acquiesced, a gentle half-smile crossing his face.

"And Dawn, Willow, will you be my maids of honor?" A fresh round of girly squealing caused the men of the party to wince and roll their eyes.

"And that means I've gotta be the best man, I know." Xander nodded, not meeting Spike's eyes.

"Guess so." Spike agreed, not looking at him.

"Thank you! Thank you, Honey! Thank you, Xander!" Buffy hugged both men at once, hard, banging their skulls together in the process.

"Yeah, yeah." They both said, pulling away quickly.

"No big thing." Xander huffed.

"It's not like I've got a lot of options!" Spike defended.

"So- wait. I missed some stuff yesterday." Dawn stopped bouncing and hugging long enough to peer at Giles and Buffy. "What are we doing? We're going to Vegas?"

"Yeah. But first- an RV." Buffy said firmly.

"No!" Giles, Willow, Xander, and even Spike shouted.

"Sorry!" She backed off. " Okay, so a panel van? And something with really dark tinted windows."

"Stop on the way and get some foil, will you?" Spike nodded to Giles.

"Yes. And some more blood. I need to go to the bank. And I'm sure we need some other essentials."

"No need for the blood." Spike stroked Buffy's back tenderly, and noticed the shocked glances of her friends. "Oi! Had a pint of beef blood this morning!" He didn't feel the need to mention that only a couple sips of Buffy's nectar could keep him running for days. The beef blood was more to keep him full than anything else.

"Right. Willow, Xander, come with me." Giles determinedly ignored the blonde couple who were beginning to grope as they held onto each other. "Buffy. Buffy! Will you fill Dawn and Spike in on what they need to do? We'll pick up some things and bring the cars 'round. Willow, I trust you have some sort of mental list of necessities created?"

"In my noggin." Willow smiled. "Laptops for all!" A silent gaze met her statement. "Uh- cell phones for all? Laptops for some?"

"Sounds like a plan." Buffy laughed.

Three left and three remained. "Where in Vegas? Are we getting dresses? Are we getting shoes? Tuxes? Wedding rings and those little heart shaped lockets that you give maids of honor?" Dawn tore into the newly claimed couple without preamble.

"Yes to the dresses, yes to shoes, totally need the rings, I don't know if I can find lockets. Tuxes?" She directed her last word to Spike.

"If you want, Luv." Spike sighed.

"No tuxes. A nice black shirt- maybe one of those sexy silk vest things?"

"A waistcoat? A vest is an undershirt, Luv. Think Giles'd stake me good an' proper if I met you at the altar in my skivvies."

"I'm gonna go get them to open the business lounge." Dawn stood up abruptly. "We'll find everything we need online."

"And you'd best find out what Red needs to make me look like Joe Normal, and confuse the registrar an' all."

"The registrar? The guy who schedules classes?" Buffy asked with a confused frown.

"British thing. The registry office- what you lot call the place to hold a civil ceremony. The registrar is the official who makes it legal."

"Oh, aren't you having a church wedding?" Dawn asked with pleading eyes. "'Cause that'd be so pretty!"

"Bit- little problem with holy water and crosses." Spike reminded her with a derisive laugh. "Still, we could find one of the chapels that doesn't go heavy on the religious imagery and risk it."

"I'll get them to open the lounge." Dawn repeated, gesturing to the glassed in room where four computers and a fax and printer sat. "This is the best research ever!"

"Thanks, Dawn. I'll get some paper." Buffy smiled at Spike with a sense of deja vu. Once upon a time, in a spell-induced state, she'd sat on his lap, feeling warm and safe, with his arms around her, and they'd planned a wedding. And when the spell had broken, she'd felt lost and disgusted. Partly because of who her intended groom was, and partly because she'd wanted all those things so much, and she knew as a slayer she would never be allowed them.

"I'll help. Seem to recall I enjoyed this the last time." Spike pressed his lips softly to her hairline and led her in Dawn's wake.

Meanwhile, Xander and Giles trailed in Willow's path, talking in strained, hushed voices. "Do you think we should find a family cell phone plan and ask for six lines? Or should we do individual contracts?" She called over her shoulder,

"Whatever you decide, your supreme geekliness." Xander answered in a falsely cheerful chirp. Then he turned back to Giles, speaking in a rushed undertone. "Giles, ease up. We're fine."

"Neither of you are fine, and I don't think it wise to jump into a new and dangerous career in your heartbroken state!" Giles hissed.

"Jump into? Hello! Fighting the evil for seven years, over a couple thousand served at McSlayers." Xander said hotly.

"But you won't cope with your grief if there's something to distract you from it. You've got to deal, I know." He met Xander's hostile denial with a grave face. "Believe me- I do know."

"Well, it might be easier to deal if Buffy and Bite Boy weren't tying the knot in our faces."

"I agree the timing is poor- however, I also see that they have a point. In their dimension, they were - well- imprisoned- for four years without any way to move time forward. Now that they're reunited I know they feel a sense of urgency to get things in motion. To us it's sudden." He sighed. "I can encourage them to wait, and I'm sure Buffy would be amenable-"

His reaction was fiery and unexpected. "No! No waiting! You've got a grab it while it's there or it's gone. Or she's gone. She's just -gone-Giles." He suddenly wheezed, frozen in mid step, all the energy gone. They both knew he wasn't only speaking about Buffy. A broken man was looking out from a disfigured, yet still somehow boyish face.

"Here. I know." Giles held open his arms and Xander walked into them with a few halting steps.

He said nothing at first, then began to speak in a low, desperate whisper. "She's not supposed to be gone! She- she always took care of herself. She knew how to stay alive, Giles! She can't be dead. She can't be!" His sobs started as a few tears and quickly reached the summit, Xander's head buried in Giles' shoulder. The older man hugged him tightly, British reserve fleeing in the face of need.

"I know, son. Makes no sense." Giles saw Willow turn back at the sudden outburst and waved her over. She trotted over, a heartbroken expression on her face.

"Oh. Oh! Xander." She joined the hug. "Are you okay? No, no of course you aren't."

"You're not so good either." Xander pulled himself together with an effort.

"Kennedy's not gone gone. She can come back if she wants. It's different when someone isn't-" Willow swallowed. "I'm so sorry, Xan."

"It'll be okay." Xander lied. His two friends nodded, knowing it was just what you say, just the lie you tell yourself so you don't fall apart all the time. A lie you tell yourself so there's one minute in the day when you can forget how bad it hurts.

"It'll be okay." Willow echoed.

Xander, Willow and Giles returned shortly before noon. "It's a four hour jaunt to Las Vegas." Giles put down a road map on the table. "All the gear we bought is in the panel van. Xander covered all but the essential spaces with foil. Do we have a definitive plan for after Vegas?"

"Honeymoon?" Spike smiled. Buffy cast him a quick, annoyed glance. "Right. Once we're set up in- where was it?"

"Wherever the coven finds the 'strongest locus point of evil energy'." Buffy recited Giles' words from yesterday. "Which still won't be a Hellmouth, so it should be sooo much easier.

"Yeah. That." Spike sniffed, steeling himself. He could be patient. He had her for eternity now. He could wait. "So, we'll take our little trip later, after we're all set up on the locus point thing."

"What? No! You go- go have your honeymoon!" Willow insisted, wide-eyed and horrified looking.

"I agree! Please! Please, in the name of sweet mercy, go have a honeymoon in a place far, far away from us." Xander panicked.

"Why are you guys so -" Buffy felt a sharp jolt of satisfaction that was not her own. She turned to see her lover looking supremely pleased with himself and she heard his voice in her head, clearly as if he were whispering in her ear. 'We were awfully loud last night, Pet. 'Specially you. Cummin' like a banshee with her demon lover.' "I was not that loud!" Buffy yelped.

"Did I say that out loud?" Xander asked in a horrified whisper, looking nervously around, hand flying to his lips.

"No." Spike laughed. 'Gonna have to learn to speak back to me, from inside your head, Luv.'

"How do I do that?" Buffy turned to Spike, still speaking out loud.

"Do what?" Dawn asked.

'It takes time. What we felt last night- soon it'll come natural, even when we're not havin' mind-numbin' orgasms and rippin' the sheets to shreds.'

"You're really good at it already! How come you're better than me?" Buffy pouted.

"Oh, Kitten, come here, Luv. In no way am I better at it- jus' knew what to expect, is all." Spike answered out loud, opening his arms to Buffy, who looked genuinely unhappy with herself.

"Just a minute, stop and listen!" Xander said firmly. "You guys- there was like- invisible talking happening, without us being involved. I am so confused."

"The claim. They can communicate without words. Effectively, Spike and Buffy are linked physically, emotionally, mentally." Giles explained wearily.

"That's so cool!" Dawn cried.

"I agree." Spike smiled.

"It's weird- but I like it." Buffy smiled softly, reaching for his hand.

"Let's get the rest of our stuff." Willow interrupted the touching moment regretfully. "We have a four hour drive- ooh! Although I could totally put a spell on the cars that would make cops oblivious to us if we want to speed!"

"Conserve your powers for good, Will." Xander encouraged. "Like making the undead pass inspection at the courthouse in Vegas." He slapped a palm to his forehead. "I just said that was for good. God, we are so messed up."

Buffy ignored his last comment. "Oh, no, not the courthouse. We picked the Chapel of the Flowers and we're going to see if we can get the Magnolia Chapel- oh we have so much to talk about! Will! You should drive with us in the van! We can talk about the dresses!"

"Uh- can I please ride in the other car then?" Spike pleaded. He felt, rather than saw, the longing in his mate, wanting to be together as much as possible, and wanting him to be included. "Jus' kiddin', Pet. We've all got cell phones now, right? I'll have to call Xander and Giles on the way, let 'em know all about our boutonnieres and silk waistcoats." He threatened, watching the men put on expressions of forced interest.

"Let me just get my satchel full of books and the dossier of papers Angel gave me yesterday. Oh, and I'll need to call him, give him our new numbers, in case of emergency." Giles nodded to the assembled and walked off.

Thirty minutes later and they still weren't on the road. Xander sat in a black sedan with nearly illegally blackened windows, and Spike sat in the dark recesses of the panel van. "This is ridiculous! Come on!" Xander beeped his horn and shouted out the open window.

"Bloody right!" Spike shouted his agreement from the van, aware that without opening the doors or windows, no one could really hear more than a muffled noise. He didn't feel like turning into a crispy critter, so opening anything was out. He concentrated hard for a moment, finding his mate. And stopped concentrating, too busy glowing that he had finally, after years of loving her, claimed her as his own. He could feel an answering beam of joy from somewhere near by, too far away to be clear, but close enough for him to get a sensation. 'Luv. Hurry up! The sooner you get in here, the sooner we can get our wedding off the ground. Mr. and Mrs., yeah?"

Faintly, like a badly tuned radio, fading in and out, he felt her reply. "Just- coming..." And he laughed to himself, because he knew, that somewhere in the hotel, Buffy was talking aloud to thin air.

Finally, they emerged, Buffy and Dawn looking somewhat less perky than usual. "Trouble?" Spike asked, shifting to avoid sunlight as they entered the van.

"No, we thought we'd try to call my dad. Just to see if he could meet us for lunch or something." Buffy shrugged.

"And?" He prodded. She gave another noncommittal jerk of her petite shoulders.

"He's in Europe. With the current secretary, and the temp didn't know how to contact them." She passed out some sodas and crunchy snacks she'd gotten from the snack machines, travel food. "No big." Spike bit back a sardonic laugh. No big. How neatly she put her father's complete lack of involvement.

"I'm not surprised." Dawn said bitterly. "He didn't even turn up for Mom's funeral, why should he come to lunch?"

Spike's eyes hardened. "Well, it's his loss. More of the Summers' girls to myself." He wrapped his arms around Dawn as she crawled into the back to put her shopping bags of new clothes inside. Buffy smiled at him gratefully and popped out to the other car, distributing snacks to Xander and Giles. " 'Sides, Watcher's all prepped to do the fatherly thing today." He gave her a half smile. "Don't worry, Bit. Big brother's not gonna run out on you."

"I know." She whispered. And then stared at him hard. "Try it and you'll get a flaming arrow in the heart."

"That's my girl." He chuckled.

Willow drove the first leg, with Dawn up front, and Buffy curled up in the back beside him, head on his chest, driving him crazy with her nearness. Not to mention the fact that she kept running her fingertips over his brand new claim mark, making him purr and shift uncomfortably in his seat, wishing his jeans came with an escape hatch.

His own fingers teased and worried the reddened punctures on her neck, making her whimper inside, which of course he could hear. 'Not stoppin'. You're drivin' me mad, an' I'm returnin' the favor.' He told her with his thoughts.

"I think pink dresses for us." Dawn chirped, oblivious to the internal struggles of the couple behind her.

"What? No!" Willow and Spike cried as one.

"Too frilly." Spike curled his lips in distaste.

"Not with my hair!" Willow yelped. Dawn and Buffy began to squabble.

"How about forest green?" Spike suggested, breaking into the argument. "For your eyes, Pet."

"No." Buffy replied softly. "I mean, it's a good idea, but- Anya and Xander had green dresses."

"Oh." He squeezed her tighter against him. "I'm sorry. I- forgot. I was there, but not really there, if you recall." She did. She had broken it off with him almost immediately before the event, and he turned up with some rebound chic and a broken heart.

"Sorry." She replied, pressing herself into him more deeply. "How about basic black? It looks good on everyone, and then we can use the dresses again?"

"With strappy silver sandals." Dawn tacked out enthusiastically. Willow groaned. "Silver flats for some?" Willow smiled in relief.

"Where do we get all this from?" Willow asked. "All the dresses and flowers? Are you getting your hair done?"

"It's Vegas. They have two businesses. Weddings and gambling. They have huge stores devoted to nothing but one-stop-shopping for weddings." Buffy smiled cheerfully and Dawn and Willow went back to talking, voices dropping. "Ooh, some people are keeping secrets!" She teased, trying to sit up and hear them better. Spike held her fast.

"I'm sorry." Spike whispered in her ear.

"For what?" She asked, surprised.

"Not bein' able to give you a proper weddin'."

"You're the groom, I'm the bride. We'll have dresses and flowers and handsome tux-like things. All my real family will be there. That's proper as it gets." She smiled up at him, eyes weary but content. "We get to get married. That's a miracle in itself."

"You are amazin', Buffy." He kissed the golden locks he had so often dreamt of tangling his fingers in, delighting he now could. He smiled with the sudden peace she always seemed to afford him. "Bloody wonderful an' amazin'."

He held her back against his chest in the shower, whispering in her ear. "Amazing."

"I agree." She hung her head bashfully. "Is it always that good?"

"I don't know, Sweetie. Not particularly experienced there." He admitted, pulling her gently down with him, sitting her in his lap as the water cascaded over them. He couldn't bear to let her go, stop touching her. This perfect being, this fire in a vulnerable human shell. "You blow my mind, Ess."

"I blow everything." She teased and he let out a low laugh against her shoulder. She cleared her throat, holding his hand in hers, tracing the pale sinewy fingers with care. "You- you have to know without any doubt now. Don't you?" She whispered. What he knew was left unsaid, but they understood perfectly. He would know she trusted him. You couldn't do that without trust. You had to let go of any inhibitions and be totally relaxed. You can only do something like that with the person who you think of as an extension of yourself.

"I do." He nodded. "And you can tell now- can't you, that I would never hurt you?"

"I knew that before, or I wouldn't have let you do it." She confirmed. His arms tightened around her, and she felt his lips work along her shoulder blade. "Jim?"

"Yes, Precious?" He replied reverently.

"I'm not tired. I mean, I know we only got a little bit of sleep, and we promised Sully we'd go spend the day at the beach. But I'm-" she led his hand from her waist to her sodden folds. "Last night was so good, but I'm missing something..."

"You need me inside?" He smiled into her hair. God, this was as good as it got. "Mmhmm." She rotated to face him, easily straddling him with her flexible limbs and lowering herself down onto his reawakened member.

"I'm never going to get enough of you, Ess." He looked up at her in awe. "You know that, right?"

"Yeah. But that's good." She sank onto him until there was nothing left to take, and hugged him, cleavage framing that chiseled jaw line that she wanted to devour with a thousand little nips and touches. "I can't get enough of you either, Jimmy." She squeezed him hard with her taut muscles. "I'm yours."

He pumped in her once, making her moan. "I'm yours." He echoed. "And you're all mine."

To be continued...