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: Serious mushiness and some smut ahead. Also a ton of detail and wordiness. Just warning you. 75% Spuffy content. Picks up pretty much from where the last chapter ended.

Dedicated to Ginar369, Omslagspapper, Jewel74, Alexiarrose, ladypeyton, and starinyte

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

Part XIV

"Could we just fly home? I mean, we don't have to worry about exposure to sunlight and we have money." Dawn asked Willow as they sat up in their motel room outside of Denver.

"Think the weapons and creepy spell books and all the secret papers might cause a problem." Willow stretched. "Besides, it's just another couple days. If we drive at least 10 or 12 hours each day." She groaned.

"But- I wanna be home now! I wanna find my new school and find a house before Buffy catches up to us! We need to get her a wedding present! We need to shop! We have to make them a happy little home, they're newlyweds." Everything is going to be okay this time. If we all work really hard, maybe everything will be okay this time...

"I know, Dawnie. We'll drive fast, okay? We'll make 'em a nice little nest. For all of you, all three of you." Willow offered.

"You guys need stuff, too! Like- this is so bad, but so cool, but you need everything! It'll be like moving into a dorm, or our first apartment!"

"Scary, terrifying, expensive, and lonely?" Willow queried.

"It won't be as scary as last year." Dawn pointed out, hugging her knees.

"No. It won't be as bad as that. A-and it won't be lonely. We'll all find apartments near each other! Or- or maybe even in the same complex! Maybe even together."

"Ooh, you and me? Like college roomies?" Dawn squealed, swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, bounding to her feet.

"Uh, no. Sorry, Dawnie. I was thinking- Xander and I. You'll have Buffy and Spike. Xander won't have anyone. I don't want him to be alone right now. Not after..." Willow shrugged and Dawn nodded.

"Won't that be kinda weird though? Living with him?"

"Probably, but I'm not worried about it. All the time we've spent together..." She shrugged again and rose to her feet wearily. "As long as the place has two bathrooms and two bedrooms." Willow and Dawn did a quick game of rock, paper, scissors to see who went first in the bathroom. Dawn won, and as she left, Willow added a final disclaimer. "You know, that was just a thought, right? Xander probably so does not want a nerdy witch roommate, cluttering up the house with ancient books and crystals, bringing home chicks from covens. I just wanna look out for him." Dawn nodded, totally understanding. As the bathroom door shut, Willow added softly. "It's just, he's always looked out for me."

Xander staggered into the bathroom, bumping Giles' arm, making him cough and spatter toothpaste all over the mirror. "Sorry." He mumbled, pulling off his tee-shirt.

"What on earth are you doing?" Giles exclaimed in horror, wiping his lips.

"Showering. Little habit I picked up."

"Could you wait until I leave the room?" Giles demanded, spitting in the sink.

"Sure thing. You're the one who insisted on us doubling up. I could have had my own little room with my own little bed and shower, and not had to listen to you snore all night!"

"I do not snore!" Giles hissed angrily. "You, however, do. Like a walrus with a head cold!"

"You mutter! And not even in English all the time. Sumerian and Latin and strange whispery things!" Xander wiggled his fingers above his head as if performing a spell.

"You didn't say you wanted your own room. You suggested that two of you could share a room. I naturally assumed you meant you and I in one room, and the girls in another!"

"Well, I just thought- Willow shouldn't be on her own. With Kennedy bailing on her. Bitch."

"Xander..." Giles ran a wet cloth over his face. "Do you want to help her, comfort her- or are you looking for her to comfort you?" He held up a warning finger. "It's fine if you need her. She's one of your oldest and dearest friends, you just-"

"I just want to look out for her, give her some support! And yeah, I want her there for me, too." He looked hard at Giles. "I love her, you know. And I think we ask a lot of her, all the time. Magic this, magic that, keep in control, give it all you've got- back and forth like a ping-pong ball. Last time she lost the person she loved, she went down the darkest path you can find. I'm not standing by and letting it happen again." Xander pulled off his eye patch and hung it on the towel rack. "I'll talk to her about it today. But I'm not leaving her to cope by herself, just 'cause you think I'm hurting worse."

"Admirable." Giles nodded, and backed from the bathroom. He turned, looking back at the shirtless figure behind him. Much more battle worn and scarred than the youngster he had met in a high school library seven years ago. "Just in case I've neglected to tell you lately, Xander, you've grown into a fine man. A great man thinks of others first. I'm proud of you." He shut the door firmly behind him.

"Shhh, honey." Spike slurred his words slightly as he pushed open the door. Behind him, his wife, not entirely graceful off the battlefield, tripped over her own high heels and crashed into him, sending them sprawling to the hotel room in a black clothed heap. "You're not the subtle type, are you?"

"I'm quiet as a little mousey." She giggled.

"You're sloshed." He giggled back, roughly helping her up, "Mind your pretty frock, Luv. He brushed her down, kissing her hair sloppily as she leaned on him, pawing his chest. "No, stoppit, Pet. Gonna get me hard again."

"Like when you're hard." She giggled again. "Don't you want to have one for the road?" She bit his earlobe gently.

"If we stay here any longer, we'll be drivin' til nightfall. We leave now, we'll get to the Denver area before sunset, can get some kip before it's time to take you out an' show you off again." He tossed their newly purchased luggage from the floor to the bed, holding her up with one arm, wishing his slightly tipsy bride would stop making a play for his wedding tackle- just until they could sneak out of the hotel without paying for the damages they'd caused. "Hey! No fair!" He grunted as Buffy dropped suddenly to her knees, freeing his hardening shaft and slurping down on it.

"One for the road? Quick and hard, Baby?" She begged prettily.

"You know I can't refuse you anything." He tore his duster off, and she used a back kick to slam the door. " 'Specially not when you ask for it quick an' hard." He reached for her, offering to help her up. She smiled a feline grin and turned away from him, on hands and knees now. "Like that?" His mouth dried up as she offered herself to him.

"Isn't this how tigers do it?" She purred.

"God, yeah, Buffy." He fell to his knees, not even bothering to take his trousers the rest of the way off, just letting them bunch at his knees.

"Unzip me. I don't wanna drive to Denver in a glittery dress anyway." She led his hand to the tab at the nape of her neck.

He unzipped her with one hard swipe, and shoved the dress up and over her back, letting her work the rest of it off herself. He ignored the bra, and wondered briefly where her lacy black knickers had gone. Oh yeah. In his hip pocket. But at least they hadn't been lost this time. Now that she was open to him, he teased her with just his tip. She let out a growl of need and he softly kneaded her lower back. "Makin' sure you were ready for me." He kissed a trail down her spine and slammed into her.

"Oh, oh, oh..." Her little moans built right from the first stroke, driving him mad, driving him instantly to the edge. Didn't she know what she looked like, making love this way? Primal, animal, instinctual- hands and knees, grinding hips to her womanhood, clawing the carpet. Those noises- God, what a stunner. This was beyond a new position, this was a new feeling, intense, hot. This wasn't just making love, this was mating. And she'd never given him access to her like this, not in this form, not with these real, vulnerable, breakable bodies. He'd been behind her before, standing up though, never like this, on her knees. She wasn't ready to fight or fly. She trusted him. He knew that already. But he loved more proof of it.

"Harder, please, honey?" She asked for it. Asked him for it! He thought his heart would burst.

"Tell me you love me." He panted, slamming into her hard enough to knock her to the floor completely, belly to the carpet.

"I love you." She didn't struggle back against him, so he lay on top of her, still working in and out.

"This all right?" He murmured in her ear.

"Uh-huh!" She squeezed him back emphatically. The friction of the floor under her, roughly rubbing the top of her nether lips, made it better than okay. "Is this- something you like?" She groaned out, her hips bucking under him, pressing her cheeks into his groin harder and harder with each thrust.

"Yes! God, yes! I love you so much, Pet." He hoisted her up so he could put his arms under, protect her front from rug burn. "I'm gonna cum before you, Buffy, can't hold it, so bloody- in love with you." He gritted his teeth and spoke into her shoulder.

"It's okay. You'll get me later?" She moaned, grinding to him, nearly to the brink herself.

"What? No! Jus' want to push you along a bit." He raised her to her knees again, holding her up with one arm until her hands took over to support her. He reached up, tilting her head back to him, sliding two fingers into her mouth. She sucked them expertly, like she sucked everything of his. "Your mouth is a bleedin' natural wonder." He grunted, and then slipped them from her mouth to her clit.

"Ooohhhh." Her breath seeped out, and her muscles went rigid in pleasure.

"Not gonna cum 'til you do if I can help it, Luv. Gotta make you cum fast tonight, or I'll finish first. Don't wanna do that. Not- the thing for a man- to do." Her sudden scream echoed off the walls and she drained him, milked him as he massaged her swollen pearl and pressed himself hard to her sweet spot inside. They collapsed, her under him, smiling beatifically. "Good?" He asked with a spent chuckle. She nodded.

"Go change, Pet." He rolled off her with one more kiss to her sweating neck, and roughly rearranged his clothes, wiping her juices off his finger with a swift lick. "If the housekeeper didn't already spill the beans to the manager about the damage we've done, now he'll be on his way up here lookin' to find the pair who growl like panthers and scream like demons when they make love. Prolly woke the whole damn hotel."

"You made me." She squeezed his rear playfully as he began packing their belongings into their new brown leather knapsacks and duffle bags. She stifled a yawn and shimmied into a new pair of pajama pants that Dawn had picked out, and slinky white top, not caring that her black bra was clearly visible under it. "I'm sorry," she yawned and began helping him pack. "I think I'm gonna end up falling asleep in the car."

"No worries." He rubbed her neck, motioning for her to take care of the wedding gown and her new cocktail dress while he easily carried the rest of their hastily gathered belongings. "Sorry it's so roughshod, Luv, we'll pack proper when we stop for the night."

"No worries yourself." She used one of his favorite phrases and they shared an in-love smile. The kind where you know everything would be corny to the outside observer, but you don't care, because in your rosy world, there are no outside observers anymore. She prepared to open the door, and Spike put his hand on her arm. "What is it?"

"Stealthy." He cautioned. He looked at her feet. Now shod in running shoes, the heels slung carelessly into a bag. "No trippin', no loud gigglin', and I suggest Slayer speed."

"You don't have to teach me." She said in a rancorous tone. "I can remind you of some not-so-neat entrances or exits you've made!"

"You're right. I'm sorry, Baby." He nuzzled her cheek with his lips, looking into her eyes with his crystalline sapphires. "Forgive me?"

"Yes." She replied, breath temporarily on hiatus. That whole expression of utter devotion and humility, wrapped in that hot as hell package undid her every time. "C'mon, race you to the car." She licked her lips. "Winner gets to choose tonight's activities."

"Figured we'd try the posh restaurant hunt again-" She froze him with a look. "Ah. Other activities." She nodded once, silently, lips freshly glossed with a dart of her little pink tongue. Imagining a night getting to tell her exactly what to do with her bountiful talents... Not that they needed a contest to help them express their desires, but it did make it a lot more fun, especially for a uniquely competitive pair such as themselves. "You're on, Slayer." He pumped her hand once, and shoved her backwards, not enough to make her fall, enough to make her lose her balance for a second, and then ran.

She still beat him. And he'd pissed her off. "You are so gonna pay for that tonight." She threatened as she slid into the car. Spike looked at her stern expression and she thought she saw a flicker of actual worry in his eyes. "You'll like it. I promise." She softened. He shrugged easily. "Spike! You weren't actually worried I'd... after all we tried out the year I came back-"

"No! Not like that." Spike screeched into reverse and jerked out into the Vegas strip as Buffy flipped through stations, trying to find something that would keep them alert at quarter to three in the morning. "Jus' don't want to make you mad at me. For real. Not anymore. Know I will, jus' not lookin' forward to it."

"That wasn't mad. And you know that, you big doofus! Me, angry at you, ends up with my fist in your face. That was- playfully irritated." She leaned against him as he drove, peering through the magical gray film Willow had left behind. The bright lights were reduced to a streaky water color. "Never worry about making me mad." He jerked an eyebrow up in disbelief. "You should avoid making me mad at all costs," she twirled his hair beneath her fingers as she leaned more deeply into his shoulder.

"That's more like it." He rested his head on hers.

"But don't worry about me hurting you or something. More than a swift kick to the head." I'm not like that anymore... We're not like that anymore.

"An' that's just foreplay for us." He teased back. He put his foot down to the floor, bolting through Vegas, eager to be out on the highway, planning to drive as fast as possible, as long as possible, until they got to the Denver area at least, if not the next big city.

"I had a really nice time with you tonight." Buffy snuggled sleepily against him.

"My sweet girl." He breathed, eyes focusing inward. She was so beautiful in that shiny black number, little bits of reflective stuff all over her dress, making her sparkle, making every man in the room look at her, and see her on his arm. Openly, unashamedly, on his arm.

"I love this." She whispered in an even drowsier voice.

"What's that, Luv?"

"Listening to you think about me. Kind of like a bedtime story. Keep thinking about tonight?"

"It's all I can bloody think about." He admitted, and willingly let his mind wander back. First hint of dusk and they were out of the room. They had found a butcher's, he'd drank two solid pints of beef blood straight down and chased it with a whiskey from the nearest casino. Then they walked, slowly, looking at all the lights and the happy, drunken, silly people, walking hand in hand or arm in arm until they reached a row of boutiques and shops. She'd seen the dress in the window and her feet had frozen. 'Can I get it for you, Pet?' He'd offered, loving the chance to buy her a gift, buy her something real and simple, a pretty outfit, a box of candy, a little handbag, whatever. Wonder of wonders, she accepted it.

"Of course I did." She protested aloud.

"Hey! You tell the story then." He insisted. She opened her mouth and he tapped her nose. "No. From in here. Practice makes perfect."

"We'll be able to be all super sneaky on patrol." She smiled at him, pleased with the idea. A frown settled on her face as she tried to 'think' to him. The frown intensified and she let out a huff of frustration. "I can't do this!"

"You're tryin' too hard. Just think. Just remember. Let me tap into you.

She settled into her seat, finding the power recline button and suddenly yelped as she went all the way back. He laughed helplessly, reaching over to rub her stomach in tender circles. "Just stay there, Buffy. Sleep if you like. Just think on our night together, would love to see it from inside your mind."

I put on the dress and you rolled up my clothes in your pocket. The next store that sold luggage, you bought us each a duffle and knapsack. 'Bugger the price, this is ridiculous, haulin' all this gear about in plastic shoppin' bags.' But of course then we had all sorts of stuff to carry so we walked back to the hotel, put everything in the car, and left again, in the opposite direction.

She realized she wasn't so much thinking of events as telling a story inside her head, and it was nowhere near as nice and relaxing as Spike's flowing memories. She shook her head and started just recalling events, disjointed and out of order maybe, but uniquely hers.

We go to a fancy place, the place you need a reservation for, but we get in. With Spike, you always get in. He has that effect on people.

"Too right I do." He chortled aloud. Buffy, delighted that this nonverbal communication was clicking, returned to her trip down memory lane.

And here we go- we find out- that I eat like a guy. I want a burger. All the fancy food on the menu looks awesome and intimidates the hell out of me. I know my husband wants to educate me and class me up-

"I want no such thing! You'd be daft to even try to put another ounce of wonderful on a girl like you. Want to give you all the good things in life is all." Spike said hotly.

"I like how you sent the appetizer back, took the bottle of wine, and left before the waiter could come back." Buffy giggled, switching back to speaking aloud.

"My girl wants a burger, she gets a burger."

"Probably only in Las Vegas do they have B.Y.O.B. burger joints. And that was our big night. Burgers and my first bottle of actually respectable wine."

"You forget, dearest, our night of dancin'." Spike added with a smirk.

"And yet more wine."

"Which leads to you- loosenin' up in beautiful, beautiful ways, Luv." Spike closed his eyes and rolled his head back, remembering. They ended up behind the potted plants off the stage. Speakers bloody near killed them, but at least they covered the noise.

"I've danced like that before! I can dance just fine without alcohol." Buffy protested, words still blurring slightly with drink and tiredness.

"But not with me." He pointed out in a soft, burning voice. She laid her head on my chest. She looked at me, not at any other bloke in the place. And that dress was molded to her, but she did her damnedest to get it melted onto me. And that girl can dance...

"You're not so bad yourself." Buffy squeezed his hand as it lay on her chest. That was true. He radiated masculinity and sex when he was on the floor. All burning blue eyes and tight rippling muscles, holding her close. Holding her from the front, the side, behind, always his hips locked with hers. This is sex, he seemed to tell her, all of us, always, it was always sex. See, if you had only danced with me when I asked, we could have done it this way, instead of that violent game we played for so long...

She gave off sensuality from every inch of her. She didn't have to press into him like that, although he was bloody glad she did, but it was all in her eyes. She looked up at you and she didn't "undress you with her eyes" as the phrase was. She wrapped you up in them, pulled you in and told you what it would be like when she loved you, when she was wrapped around you. Then she did wrap around you, hands round your head, lips on yours, legs tangling in and out without hesitation, perfectly in rhythm with you.

"I lied earlier." Buffy looked up at him. "I'm not a very good dancer. But it wasn't the wine that did it. It's you. I've always known how to move- when I'm with you."

"They only need me to go over a fight scene with Ellie." Jim explained. "We'll be in and out by lunch. And Sul and I are going to have a practice, and we're going to make our girl a special dinner."

"I'm making the dessert!" Sul proclaimed.

Ess and Jim lay side by side on mats in the exercise room, the miniature, sandy haired version of Jim was perched on the windowsill, munching his bowl of cereal and looking down at them. "Do I get to see you two fighting today?"

"I don't think so." Ess said quickly. "I'm gonna grab a shower." She stretched once more and pulled herself up, offering Jim a hand as well. He rose, pressed her into his arms and a kiss. Sullivan groaned and hopped off the sill.

"I'll get dressed." He sighed.

"Do you think we're going too heavy on the smooching?" Ess asked worriedly, watching the six year old take off. "He'll be gone in four d-"

"Stop." Jim clutched his stomach. "Just don't say it. I feel sick every time I think of it."

"I- I'm sorry." Ess ran her hands over his head, pressing him closer to her. Last year, had he been like this? Had she even noticed if he was miserable at work? Not really. He'd been very into his work last year at the beginning of the season. Plus Sul had gone home earlier, maybe he'd had more time to cope. "I didn't mean to-"

"No. I'm sorry, You'll miss him, too." Jim sighed. "You called him your little boy yesterday, did you know that?"

"Yeah." She admitted softly. "And I want the rest of this week to be awesome for him. Should I- stop pawing you so much?"

"No. Happy parents who show affection make for kids who are loving and stable themselves. Now, you mentioned a shower?" He curled his tongue behind his teeth, jaw jutting slightly as he tempted her.

"Jim! Sul's right upstairs!" She giggled.

"Then you'd better hurry, and you'd better be quiet." Jim warned.

"Jimmy-" she hesitated, and he pulled her along behind him.

"I need a shower too, you know. The fact that your hot, wet body happens to be between mine and the soap is of no consequence." Jim lectured, ignoring her yips of laughter and protest.

Sul and Jim met up with Ellie in the training room. "Sit in this chair, Sullivan. And don't move." Jim said in his most threatening fatherly tone.

"Are you going to fight?" Sully bounced on his toes as he sat in a corner folding chair. "Hi Ellie!"

"Hi yourself." Ellie, Anya's character, smiled sweetly.

"No, Sul. Not fight so much as get a lot of instructions and practice a few times. Isn't Ess in on this fight?"

"Yeah, but she's finishing up the basement stuff today so they can spend all day tomorrow on location." Ellie pulled her hair up in a bun, and Jim shook out his arms. A ten second brawl- thirty minutes of practice, and thirty minutes or more of filming. His not to reason why...

The trainer came on and all was seriousness. He and Ellie practiced their brief battle, laughing slightly as he grabbed her by the shoulders, practiced their skids and their fake glides through the air. The trainer dragged several sturdy pieces of wood in place to represent tables that Jim would jump onto. Sully almost died with excitement when Jim told him about the flying cables they'd use for the real filming.

Fairly quickly, Jim and Ellie were given the trainer's seal of approval, ran the scene once more, with dialogue, which Ellie edited once or twice since a minor was there, and were pronounced free to go for the day.

"We'll just see if Ess's free and then-" Jim was saying to Sully when the lady in question came in, a nervous expression on her face.

"The corpse boy lost his cloudy contact lenses and then his whole face fell off. Doug's pissed. They're making him up again, and they sent me over to run the fight scene with you and Ellie real quick."

"Okay..." Jim looked over at his son. "Is Max around?"

"No, he and 'corpse girl' are practicing their fight on the girls' room set." Ess replied, arms crossing protectively over her chest. "We don't have long."

"Figures." Jim sighed. "Sul! You get your wish." He said in a falsely bright tone. "Daddy and Ess are gonna duke it out."

"Yayyy!" Sully crouched on his knees in his seat, clutching his sides in glee. "This is gonna be so cool. Ellie, did you ever see them fight before? They do it all the time in the exercise room."

"Sparring." Jim and Ess amended. Ellie looked amused.

"I've seen these two fight a lot. They're good. Way better than me." She laughed.

Ess pulled off her white blouse to reveal a white cami underneath. "Okay, let's do this."

"Try it with dialogue if you're in a rush. Jim is already pretty solid in his moves." The trainer suggested.

"Right." Ess agreed. "Um- Spike calls Anya something." She whispered to Jim who rolled his eyes. "I know-"

"I know my lines. I'm gonna call her something else instead." He patted her arm quickly.

"Let's go! Ellie, Jim, up first! Ess, hang back to where camera left would be."

They began again, and Jim knew he had to forget Sully was there, or he couldn't get into it, and he couldn't be sloppy in his stunts. Sloppiness equals a wrongly timed punch, a misplaced kick, someone's pain, maybe yours, maybe your co-star's. And if the partner was Ess, there was no earthly way pain was tolerable. Ellie grabbed his arm, hard, for real, and he cried "I said, 'you shut up'!", punched her, pulling it, but she fell and slid like it had connected.

"I'm so gonna kick your butt." She hissed at him, leaping up.

"Right, witch! Round and round we go-"

Ess grabbed his shoulders and he put his whole body into the turn, letting a snarl crease his face in the absence of his vamp makeup. Her face was hard, eyes furious, just like Buffy's would have been. "You haven't changed a bit, Spike." she spat, pounding into his chin. He threw his head back as if her hand had connected and returned the blow. Ess gathered up her strength and hit him, again, again, again, walking him back, the trainer calling "Left, right, left, Jim- big lean back and then -"

He was in her face, neck craning to sneer at her, arms open at sides, challenging her, daring her to take another swing. "Working out some personal issues, are we?" He continued to use his character voice.

Ess and he exchanged another volley of realistic punches and kicks, until the trainer cued him to speak. "Hey, I guess this'll be first contact since... you know when. Oh, up for another round in the balcony, then?" Spike would have no trouble throwing that in her face, Jim thought, and he loathed his character right then. And maybe Ess did, too. There was more brutality in both of them as they "fought". She shoved him hard to the floor, and he regrouped, stood, laughed in her face. "Right you are, Luv. Haven't changed. Not a lick. And watching your face, trying to figure me out was absolutely delicious."

"That's when Max comes in." Ellie called, and Jim and Ess relaxed.

"That's really good. Ess, just remember he'll have the game face on, so keep the contact to the cheeks light."

"I know." She said with an exasperated groan, tired of being reminded at the beginning of each season for the last six years, as if she'd forgotten everything over the summer.

"Daddy?" Sully's voice was low and constricted. Ess and Jim whirled from the trainer and Ellie to face him. He no longer looked thrilled.

"Sul!" Jim covered the distance in a second and dropped to his knees. "Sulster, what's wrong?" Ess was kneeling beside him now, and Sully looked between them, confusion and worry on his face.

"Are you- mad at each other? Are you gonna get a divorce? Or a de-" he pointed to Ess's hand. "Oh no! The ring isn't on!" Sully's mouth opened in a stricken quiver and Jim took him in his arms.

"Oh, no, no, sweetie." Jim rocked him, motioning Ess to come in and assist.

"I take my ring off so I don't lose it. It's so precious to me, Sully. It's right in my dressing room. And when I come home tonight, it'll be back on my hand. I promise. It'll never come off and stay off."

"You're not mad?" He asked again, tearfully.

"No!" Jim cursed himself, cursed television, and wondered why he hadn't stuck to Shakespeare and Chekhov, where no one under the age of ten understood anything anyway. "You know this is an act, Sul. You see us 'practice fight' all the time. It's so we don't get hurt. Ess and I never actually hit each other, we just put our hands on softly. Essie, hit me, right on the cheek."

"C'mere, Sulster, stand with me, put your hand on my arm." Ess drew back and hit Jim in slow motion, holding him around the waist, making sure his hand stayed on hers so he could feel the force and feel when it slackened off. "See how it stops as it touches the other person? No force behind it. I love your dad. I'm never gonna hurt him." Sullivan nodded, but looked reticent.

"Your faces changed." Sul said accusingly. "All mean. You don't do that at home."

"You're right. But this is real practice. We have a script, and it tells us how to act, what expressions to use. Our characters are angry at each other right now, in the show. In real life, I love Ess and she loves me. And we both love you."

"Kiss?" Sully asked for one final proof. Jim grinned widely and mouthed "Told you so" to Ess before kissing her hard and deep. "Okay." The little guy appeared reassured. "No one kisses like that when they're mad at each other. It's too gross unless you love the person, right?"

"Absolutely. And you remember that when you're thirteen." Jim urged. "All better?"

"Yeah." He looked between them and nodded. "I'm okay. I didn't mean to get scared."

Ess just had a flashback. "Hey, Sul! I just remembered something! When you were just a baby- not even two, your mom brought you to the set. Your dad had forgotten something at home, I guess." Jim looked at her expectantly. "Your dad had his vampire face on. And you were so freaked out at first."

"I was?" Sul looked at his father for confirmation and he nodded, eyes aglow as he recalled that day.

"You were. You looked at me and were about to start wailing when Mommy put you in my arms. And then you stopped. You looked at me. And you recognized me, even under all the bumps and fangs. Even though you were a little, tiny guy then, you knew it was me under the mask." Jim looked at Ess and then back at Sully, speaking gravely, "Sometimes masks aren't made out of rubber and paint. Sometimes it's just the way we arrange our expressions. But it's always us inside." He tapped his chest lightly, and Ess nodded, hands tracing nervously over her heart. "Trust what you know, not what you see. You know we love each other and we love you."

"I love you too!" Sully threw his arms around Ess and Jim' necks suddenly. "I'll stop watching your faces so hard." He smiled up at them. "I'll try to remember you at home instead." He tugged Jim' wrist. "Can we go home now?"

"Let's." Jim kissed Ess goodbye, and Sully hugged her hard around the waist before they left.

The three of them sat around the table that night. Greek chicken and pasta was pushed to one side of the table as the three figures bent over a a hand of Go Fish. In the center of the table was a plate of oddly square cookies. Sullivan's first foray into the world of dessert was persuading Jim to buy him pre-made dough squares and let him pop them off their little sheet, onto an aluminum pan, and bake them himself.

"Best cookies I've ever had." Essie smiled at him.

"Thank you." He blushed. "Do you have any Louie Lobsters?"

"Darn, you're good!" The petite blonde exclaimed and forked over two cards. He took the cards, an extra wide smile on his face as he noticed, for the hundredth time that night, that Essie still had her ring on. Jim caught the look and winked.

"We're staying together, Sul. Count on it."

"Are you actually driving 110 miles per hour?" Buffy cried. The clock radio said 8:30. She had dozed off, after all. Now, struggling with the reclining function on her seat, she strove to sit up and read the speedometer.

"Well, well. Look who's awake an' back to abidin' by the rules." Spike grinned.

"Spike! Slow down! You're gonna get us killed!"

"Can't kill us, Baby." He purred easily. "Besides, we're makin' time hand over fist here. I'm thinkin' we'll overshoot Denver and stop at the next good sized town with a nightlife worth seein'."

"I don't need dancing every night. We could try the fancy restaurant and find a nice hotel again."

"That's good to know, but I still plan on takin' you out, an' showin' you off. I love you. Wanna give you the best honeymoon I can, an' here we are on a bleedin' road trip because yours truly can't risk a plane ride exposin' me to Mr. Sun."

"Hey, no beating up my vampy husband." She pouted. His look spoke volumes, a lot of them about the massive size his ego would swell to if she called him her husband in that cute, possessive tone. She changed her demeanor. "Besides, everyone else is driving, why should they be the only ones to suffer? Oh! I should call them! They must be frantic!" Buffy fumbled in her purse for her cell phone. "And I really need to stop and use the bathroom."

"Need gas again anyway." Spike swerved into the right lane. "Exit in a few."

"I can't find my phone!" She muttered angrily.

"Take mine and call yours." Spike reached into the cup holder and fished out his cell, passing it to her, eyes still ahead as he raced around a tractor trailer. "God, I've missed havin' a car. Wonder if I can find an old De Soto wherever we're headin'."

"Seriously? How about something not so old?" Buffy suggested.

Spike swallowed his retort. He could do something nice here, prove himself to her again. He wanted to do that as many times as possible, now that he had a chance. "How about a black Jeep, Luv? Like your Mum's?" He risked a look at her. She had dropped her hand from her ear to her lap. "Pet?" She nodded silently. "I'm sorry, Buffy. I thought it was a nice idea." He sighed. Bollocks. He wasn't as good at being thoughtful as he'd supposed.

"It is! I love that idea! I love you. You keep doing so many nice things for me. And I act stupid over you having a car. I bet you had your car forever." She pushed herself up on her knees and leaned over to kiss his cheek. "Let's get something you like. You know I'm not large with the driving. I'm strictly pedestrian."

"Yeah, an' strictly an easy target for the beasties in our new town if it's a big city. You learn to drive, Luv." She opened her mouth in protest. "No, Buffy, not just know how to drive, actually really get good at it."

"Is that an order? 'Cause I didn't promise to obey." She said feistily.

"No, it isn't. An' I didn't ask you to." He said in a carefully controlled voice. Then smirked and muttered, "I'm not a bleedin' idiot. Askin' you to obey is like askin' the soddin' sun not to move east to west."

"Hey!" She punched his arm, causing the car to swerve and he rumbled out an annoyed curse. "I guess you're right though. Not exactly the 'do-as-I'm- told' poster girl."

"Which is why you're with me, Luv, and why I love you so much." He sidled into the exit ramp and gave her a meaningful stare as they stopped in the flow of early morning commuter traffic. "I'm not givin' you orders. I'm your husband, though, Buffy. I meant my vows. Swore I'd protect you. Learn to drive, Pet, get good at it. Jus' in case you ever need it. I promise I'll be a good teacher." He added his last line seductively.

"How did I resist you for so long?" Buffy demanded after a moment of cathartic silence.

"Ah, Precious. Mystery of the universe, that is." Spike rolled the car to a rest stop parking space, and pulled his duster up over his face, tucking his hand up the sleeve. "Take your time. Get some snacks for the trip. I'll wait here til you get back, then we'll fill up." He peeked over the edge of his collar.

"I'll tap on the glass before I get in so I don't dust you." She informed him. "Oh, call my phone. I want that in there- in case. I feel weird, Spike. Shouldn't something bad happen to us by now?"

"Prolly, Luv. But-" he grabbed his phone and dialed hers, waiting to hear the ringing begin. "I figure the bads'll be here in no time, might as well enjoy the happiest time of my life or death." He smiled as Buffy found her phone, in her purse, naturally, and she gave him a radiant smile.

"You're right. Trouble always finds me anyway. Why tell it to hurry up and get here, right?"

"Right. 'Sides, Pet. You come with a side of trouble now. Maybe the bads got wise."

"You are pretty vicious when you want to be." She smiled. Then stage whispered, "But I don't think you're exactly evil repellent. Trouble's waiting for us somewhere."

She slid out the car door in a flash, slayer speed and agility in use. Probably alarming the hell out of the other patrons, Spike thought with a soft laugh. He closed his eyes for a moment, finally admitting to himself that he'd been awake for most of the last 24 hours. He rested, a happy smile on his lips. Trouble was waiting for them all right. Trouble wasn't much of a bother now, not being nearly immortal, with a crack team of wiccas and good guys on your side. Ah. Yes. Trouble. Came in many forms. He groaned and his peaceful smile was replaced with a look resembling a sudden twinge of toothache. Surviving living with Niblet. And the whelp. And Rupes. And Red. Not so much Red, but whoever Red's next bird would be.

Xander and Willow were sprawled in the very back of the van. Giles was driving, singing "Stairway to Heaven" in a voice that melted the ladies (and made Xander feel strangely icked -it should be illegal that a dusty old guy could make women go all gooey). Willow was propped up against a door, and he was propped against her, head in her lap. Silent. Both silent.

Willow's silence was quietly reflective. Here we go, self. Off to do my dream job in a new, exciting city. At least, I think it's exciting. I bet it is. Big evil mojo headwaters. Gotta be exciting. And I'm with all my friends. Her internal monologue ended abruptly. Not all her friends. She stroked Xander's hair comfortingly.

His silence was different. Not deep or thoughtful. Simply empty. You can put the hollowness of a missing half away for only so long. If you're busy, if you need to survive. If someone keeps you going. He looked up at Willow. A ghost of a smile surfaced on his face, much paler and thinner than it had been only three days ago.

Why eat? Anya wasn't eating. Was she even in heaven? Maybe she was waiting for him. Would he find her someday, would he get the rare second chance? Willow's eyes captured his again. They were haunted, worried, concern for him pooling up in those eyes. "Not leaving here, until you go with me." He whispered suddenly. Her eyes flashed in distress.

"L-leaving? You're leaving? Leaving?" Her voice rose to a frantic whine in a split second. Dawn slurred something in her sleep and Giles cast an anxious look towards them in the rearview mirror.

"You know how people get second chances, Will?"

"Yeah?" She asked in a shaky voice.

"I know it's probably supposed to be for the one great love of your life, but I think I'm gonna take it with my best friend."

"Xander, you're not making sense." She hissed. "Giles, could we-"

"Finding a rest stop!" He shouted back.

"Peeing isn't going to change this." He laughed weakly. "I was just thinking. Sometimes, in life, we get these special second chances."

"Like Spike and Buffy?"

"Yeah. Or like you and me. We both survive something that should have killed us all. And Anya- Ahn didn't." He swallowed the pain in his throat and pressed on. "I bet I could look for her forever, and not find her. I can't navigate a singles' bar, how would I do with dimensions?"

"It'd be icky." She whispered, a tiny grin on her face.

"So- I figure, maybe she'd want me to be safe. She was very big on me being safe." He shook his head in amazement. She put me first- when it counted. Always when it counted...

"This is true." Willow admitted. "She loved you with her whole heart."

"And I love her with mine." He whispered, a single tear overflowing, unbidden. "And I love you with my whole heart, too. Must be a freak, one eye, two hearts. But I'm thinking, maybe we can get the second chance? We can live for a little longer, be happy. Stay with our best friends? And then, when we think we've got this roadmap to the cosmos down, we can go find Anya and Tara together."

"Xander, I don't think I can ever get that kind of magic down..." She explained gently.

"I know that, Will." He answered, just as quietly.

A shuddering sob burst from her suddenly and his own was a half minute behind. Giles did his impression of a grand prix ace and floored them in and out of cars until they jerked into a weigh station just over the Nebraska border.

"We- didn't even have a funeral for her." Xander choked out. "For any of them."

"We will, I promise we will. A memorial service. An-and we'll plant a tree for each one. We'll plant a rosebush for Anya. 'Cause, you know, she was all prickly and irritating- but she had something beautiful about her?" Willow gasped out in between her own sobs.

"And a willow for Tara." Xander stroked her hair, clutching it, tugging it as he clung to her in the wave of his despair. " 'Cause she was yours. And she'll always be yours. They'll always be ours, no one can take them from us in here." Xander clutched his chest and Willow nodded her agreement, crying too hard to speak, a long wail reverberating off the metallic ceiling of the van.

Dawn woke up, startled, screaming, "Buffy! NO!", which only caused an upswing in the crying that filled the air. "Oh my God." Dawn tripped over luggage, books, and laptops and landed in the far back with them, frantically hugging, sobbing as well. "What happened? Who else died? It was a dream, wasn't it? She's really gone- again!" Willow choked out a reassurance that Buffy was fine and continued to weep. Dawn confused, hugged both of her sobbing friends harder and looked for Giles to step in and make sense of things.

Giles surveyed the cluttered path between him and the huddled figures, and jumped out of the van. He wrenched the door open from the back and peered in, looking at his passengers as if they were all insane. "Dear Lord! Are you both all right? I thought you were asleep! And then this weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth! " Giles ripped off his glasses and pressed a hand to his chest. "Are- this is such an inadequate question- you okay?"

"Just missing Anya." Xander whispered. Dawn hugged him more tightly.

"Don't cry, Xander." She tried to comfort him. "No! I mean- cry if you need to. I- I see a lot of dead stuff, and I don't think I'm getting better at comforting. Giles- can the Watchers teach a course in comforting at the new Academy?"

"They're British." Xander said, precluding Giles fumbling answer.

"I resent that! No, it's just- we're no better equipped than anyone else, Dawn. We like to pretend we are. But all we are is a lot of rather reserved individuals who know a bit more than is customary about the seamier side of existence. We have no special insight into the human heart." Giles put his glasses on, and stepped into the van. " Now- I'm not actually good at this..." he warned, before hugging them all, Dawn at his chest, Xander and Willow under one arm each. "I've never been a father, and yet sometimes I'd swear I had three daughters and a son." After a moment of emotional silence, the three youngsters he was patting awkwardly started crying afresh. "Dammit. I did tell you! I'm not very good at this..." He rolled his head back and looked at the ceiling of the van. I wish Buffy was here. Heaven forbid I say that aloud, I'll drown. God, I even wish Spike was here. He'd have them all too annoyed to even think of crying.

"Fill 'er up, mate." Spike stuck two twenties out a slit in the window. The attendant tried to peer inside and was met with a flash of black leather and a glimpse of a pretty pair of green eyes. "What'd you get, Luv?" Spike rolled up the window and blew on his fingers that had been about to combust.

"I got some spicy buffalo flavored chips for you, and a coke for each of us, and some popcorn for me. And some water bottles." She peered out the window and fiddled with the radio. They would have to learn to find something between easy listening and punk if they were both awake in the car. Or argue and insult each other's taste in music for the next six hours or so. Either way could be fun...

"Keep the change." Spike yelled through the window, knowing at best the change would be a couple dollars. He tooted the horn once and drove off, tearing into the bag of chips as he shrugged out of his duster.

"Do you even know where we're at?" Buffy laughed as she watched him maneuver onto the highway, speedometer already climbing past 80 mph.

"Know we crossed into Colorado over an hour ago. Oh, and you? When you sleep? You dream about me..."

"I do not." She blushed. She had been awfully damp when she woke up.

"No shame in it. You're all I bloody dream about." He smiled at her rosy cheeks.

"Oh, Spike..." She rubbed his arm lovingly. And then stopped herself. "I dreamed about you and me. And dark restaurants where the menu was in Italian or Greek or something, for some reason..."

"Means you love me an' you were hungry. An' you're scared of poncey waiters." He licked his lips suggestively. "Prolly also means you want a chunk of Spike to fill you up for dessert." She moaned softly and rolled her hips in her seat.

"I'm gonna call Dawn."

"What? Wasn't expectin' that." He muttered at the abrupt change of subject.

"Purely self-preservation. If I don't get my mind off it, I'm going to ask you to pull off and let me love you all over."

"But that sounds like a very tasty idea." He hinted, licking his lips. "And I'll return the favor..."

"But that puts us behind and you at risk of extra crispiness. With my luck I'll kick out a window and end up making love to Spike flambé." Buffy ended her tormented, longing thoughts about burying his beautiful paleness inside her quivering pink slit, watching him turn from moon silver-white to a dusky cream when he soaked up her heat.

"Buffy..." he could pick up her thoughts. "God, Baby..." He started to unzip.

"I gotta call Dawn! First." She punched in her sister's number frantically.

"It's Buffy!" Dawn snapped open her phone, disentangling herself from the heap of sad people. Giles sighed in relief, muttering,

"About bloody time!" They were back on the road, hell bent on reaching Illinois today.

"Buffy! We're so glad you called! Are you okay?" Dawn squealed.

"We're good. Safe. No problems. Are you guys okay?" Buffy replied with a smile in every syllable.

"Just had a major cry-fest. But now were mostly okay."

"Oh no. Xander? Willow?"

"Yeah. You know." Dawn changed her topic, not wanting to immerse anyone in more misery. "So- how's the honeymoon so far?"

"Nice." Buffy blushed, and even though Dawn couldn't see her sister's face, she knew her well enough to know that she was bright pink.

"Just nice?"

"Very nice." She amended.

Dawn's voice dropped to a whisper. "Did you guys- you know?"

"Uh- well, yeah. I mean, Dawn, you know we did that before, right?"

"Oh, I know you used to have crazy obnoxious sex, I just meant did you actually-" Dawn dropped her voice even more, 'til only someone with extrasensory hearing could perceive her words, "love each other? Like- like, are you gonna make me say it out loud?"

"Oh. That. Of course we did." Buffy's voice was soothing. "You know he loves me, and I love him. It won't be like before."

"I figured it wouldn't be." Dawn's tone reverted to that of a perky 16 year old.

"And just how much do you know about this?" Buffy's voice became accusatory and parental.

"What's up, Luv?" Spike asked with concern.

"Dawn's talking about sex." Buffy snapped.

"WHAT?" Spike sounded completely unhinged for a moment before leaning over and screaming into the phone. "Niblet! What in hell are you playin' at?"

Dawn just giggled. "Hi Spike." She cooed. " You guys are, like, so old. Of course I know about sex. Hello, lived with horny twenty year olds for the last two years."

"But you haven't?" Buffy forced herself to ask, promising herself she wouldn't vomit on her shoes if the answer was yes.

"No! Sunnydale guys are so icky. Besides, I wanna wait til I find someone like Spike or Xander. The long haul guys."

"But not undead, right, honey?" Buffy pleaded, ignoring Spike's frown.

"Hopefully not." Dawn giggled. "Come on! Tell me what you did after we left. Not the- bedroom stuff- but the other couple-y things."

"We went dancing at this amazing place, they had waterfalls inside. Made the Bronze look like a dive."

The sisters exchanged some light and fluffy conversation for awhile. Spike wouldn't admit it to anyone but his other half, but he was delighted just to get to sit beside his girl and listen to her talk. About the mundane things. Like normal. Like she wanted.

"Dawn, hand me the phone, please?" Giles' polite voice wavered through and in a moment Buffy found herself speaking to him. "Buffy, I hear you're quite well. And from Dawn's ear piercing shrieks, that you danced in a new black dress under a waterfall?"

"Miscommunication. Slightly, anyway." Buffy laughed. "So, what's new on the Watcher front?"

"Well, we've identified our new 'hometown', as it were. Pine Ridge, New York. It's the beginning of a locus line that has immensely evil properties. It's about an hour above New York City, and it connects four major populaces, all of them feeding the line, and vice versa. We've not had time to research it yet, but Willow suggested earlier that we book into a place with internet access for all of us, and we'll start finding out information. Strange crimes, high mortality rates, unusually competitive pricing for funeral homes, that sort of thing."

"Great. All business as usual." She sighed. "Could you look up some other things?"

"Of course, Buffy. Magic shops, libraries, training facilities?"

"I was thinking more like community college and what are the schools like, and two bedroom apartments with washer/dryer hook up, but yeah, those things are nice, too."

"Right, the basics. I'll pass you back to Dawn, then." Giles handed the phone back.

"I'm gonna go on realtor websites right away! How much was your check? Can we get a house with a pool?"

"No! No house-buying. Not yet, we need to find a house that all of us really like and can live with. Focus on an apartment. Two bedroom. Maybe three, if it's cheap up there. Which it probably won't be. And then if we change our minds and don't like it, at least we can get out of it easily. Get something in a basement if you can. Or at least without a lot of natural light."

"Oi!" Spike leaned in closer to the phone. "None of that! Just 'cause I'm a ruddy creature of the night doesn't mean my girls are gonna live in darkness! Bit, you get an apartment that's on any floor you like, with as many windows as you please. Just get some heavy drapes."

"And I'll find a butcher's." Dawn laughed. "Oh! And cigarettes! Well, I can't buy them, but-"

"No one's buyin' them, Dawn." Spike sighed, words seeping out like a shameful admission. "I'm cuttin' back." Buffy looked at him, all soft and sweet, touched and about to blubber about his goody-goody tendencies. "Here, now. Not like I'm quittin'. I'm just not-" He raked his hand through his hair in frustration. "It's your fault! You two, with your lungs an' breathin' an' all. Can't let a bloke enjoy one of the few perks of bein' dead!"

"Awwww!" Buffy and Dawn rejoined and Spike slammed his fist down on the dash, denting it.

"Sod it all!" Spike seethed. "Look, Luv, I need to talk to Rupes for a mo', pass me over, will you?"

"Spike?" Giles asked hesitantly after a second or two.

"Rupert. We're fine, and your girl's in one piece. All looked after, okay?"

"Well done." He replied dryly. "Did you just want to reassure me?"

"No, I wanted to ask you how to get to the new homestead. I'm headin' for Denver now, what's the route like after that?"

"Oh, we stayed in Denver. It was lovely, they had flurries this morning. I haven't seen snow in the states for almost five years."

"Lovely. Regular meteorological joy, but what about the roads, mate?"

"Stay on I-80 East until you reach Chicago. Then you take- oh dear, is it I-35? Xander! Is it I-35?"

Spike didn't wait for Xander's mumbled reply. "I know my way to New York from Chicago. Had some very nice times in the Big Apple." Spike tried not to think of the city as his killing ground, as the place where he'd solidified his reputation as the slayer of Slayers, killing his second Slayer in the subways. New York had been fun. Loud music, wild parties, hundreds of amazing things to see, things to learn. "We stoppin' off in the city for a bit?"

"We plan to head straight to Pine Ridge. But you two, you do what you'd like. It is your-special time together." Rupert forced the final phrase out.

It would kill Giles, probably for always, that his sweet, sunny girl had fallen for a monster like him. But he was, in his own formerly psychotic way, a solid chap. Dependable, loyal, to death and after. He wouldn't let Buffy down, and if she would only find happiness with Spike, he'd tolerate Spike.

"Thanks, Rupes. Something tells me the missus will want to head straight home to the rest of the family. We'll see you there in one week, as promised." Spike handed the phone back to Buffy, who chirpily demanded to speak to Xander and Willow.

Xander and Willow hung up when Buffy's cell phone died. "She forgot to charge hers last night. They were all with the distracted." Willow explained to Dawn and Giles. "They're making really good time, Spike said they'll be in Denver by noon. She'll have her phone charged as soon as they get to a hotel. And in the meantime, Spike's phone is at full battery. We can call him if there's an emergency." Giles nodded wearily and Xander and Willow exchanged a look. "One of us could drive now." She offered.

"Or me!" Dawn chimed in.

"NO!" Said the three adults present.

"Wait 'til the next lay by and we'll switch." Giles nodded over his shoulder. "And really, since all of you are disregarding the seatbelt laws anyway, clear up the mess you've made! At least make a path through the rubble." He ordered.

"Someone's cranky." Xander muttered, but he began picking up the assortment of wrappers and bags left on the floor and cleared off the back bench seat that he and Willow had been using as a couch.

At the next space wide enough to pull over, Giles stumbled out of the driver's seat, headed straight to the far back, whipped off his glasses and lay down with a blanket over his head.

"I think that's the international language for 'Don't wake me unless someone's on fire'." Willow explained with a laugh as she and Xander climbed up front. From under the blanket came the muffled confirmation as Giles called "Bloody right!" and in moments began to wheeze out soft snores.

"I'm gonna call Janice and Melinda- they made it out, they left town before-" Dawn stopped and shrugged. "They probably don't remember me or something. I mean, I know the news called it a natural phenomenon, world's largest sinkhole or something, but I bet everyone's forgotten everything that ever went on there. I'm gonna call anyway, and just give them my new number. In case."

20 minutes of high-impact giggling and squealing later, Xander turned to Willow with a miserable expression. "So much for not remembering her. Does she only have one setting when she's talking to Janice? High-pitched shriek?"

"Mr. Grumpy Pants." Willow mumbled at him. She looked over at him and pouted. "Be nice. I'm glad her friends still remember her. And that they still have cell phones with the same number."

"Guess that means that my parents remember me. Probably holed up with Great Aunt May in Boca Raton. Actually, Aunt May can drink my parents under the table. They probably don't even remember their own names. I'm safe!" Xander gave a mock cheer.

"My parents have been spelunking in South America for a couple months. I'm glad they're safe, but it kinda bugs me they haven't even tried to call and see how I am..." Willow trailed off.

"Ah yes. The joys of dysfunctional families." Xander leaned back in his seat. "I can't even remember a time you weren't my family." He confessed.

"We had to be. Geeks stick together. Plus, the whole parental non-involvement thing." Willow gave his elbow a comforting squeeze.

"I talked to Giles this morning." He said as he returned the gesture with a pat on her arm. "He's fine with us rooming together in the hotel, as long as we get a room that adjoins with Dawn's, or as long as his does. I even offered to take the sofa or sleep on the floor so you two could each have a bed and the three of us share, but I guess he's worried it might raise some eyebrows and the last thing we need is anyone giving us the hairy eyeball."

"It does seem kinda weird." Willow said, not because it did, just because it was probably the right thing to say.

"Yeah, well so did about forty people living in Buffy's house and being one of three or four males in a sea of girls."

"You loved it, you know you did." Willow teased.

"Maybe, but I'm just saying that living with female roommates doesn't seem that odd to me. Not if they're family. Totally never wanting to live with so many teenaged female strangers again in my LIFE, but I'd be okay if it was you or Dawn."

Willow looked at hims sideways, reading his face. "That's nice. I think- I'd like that."

"What, being roomies?" Xander was partially surprised that she had spoken aloud the same thought that had been tossing in his mind all last night and most of today.

"Yeah. If, you know, you don't think it'd be bad." "Shy Willow", "High school dweeb Willow" emerged from her shell of "confident woman Willow" as she waited for his response.

"Oh, I think it'd be just horrible!" He cried in a loud exaggerated tone. "Will! You big dummy! That'd be awesome!"

"I don't know, Xander." She poked his arm playfully. "You have this thing for attracting evil women." Too late she realized the untimeliness of her remark, but Xander shrugged it off.

"Oh yeah, and my paltry little forays into dating evil are so much worse than you turning completely nutso and trying to destroy the world."

"Oh, the gloves are off, huh? You might still be able to drive and fight with one eye, but can you hit the bowl when you pee?"

"You're attacking the man with one eye?" Xander would have tickled her but he knew not to when she was driving. "I think you're just worried cause you'd bring home your hot little wicca buddies and they'd all be wanting a piece of the Xan Man."

"As if!"

"Totally if!" She smacked his leg hard and he stuck his tongue out at her. "Not to mention, who wants to live with all those scary crystals and finding eye of newt in an unmarked bottle in the fridge?"

"I dunno, maybe the same guy who can repeat every commando movie since 1960, word for word!"

"Witch!" He tried to keep the giggle out of his voice.

"One-eye!" She spluttered.

"Lesbo!" Facade cracked completely and he let out a braying guffaw.

"Loser!" She shook as she let herself laugh.

"Ummm, Janice? I'm gonna call you back. My friends are insane or they're imploding." Dawn hung up her phone. "Are you two fighting?"

"Us? No!" They replied as one and laughed even harder.

"Are you- crazy?" Dawn asked hesitantly.

"Yeah!" Again in unison. Willow jerked into the shoulder of the road suddenly.

"Gotta- calm down- laughing- too hard." She gasped. "Oooh. And I have to pee now."

"Sul, can I talk to Mom now?" Jim took the phone from Sully. He looked at the back of the utility bill that he'd written the flight information on and prepared for his ex to become businesslike, get the info, and get off the line.

"How are you?" She asked, tone not nearly as glacial as before. Jim heaved a sigh of relief.

"Really good. And kinda miserable, you know, with Sul going home. But he'll be so glad to see you." He tacked on hastily. The last thing he needed to do was piss her off and make her think he was being ungrateful for the extra time he'd gotten to spend with their son this summer.

"I've sure missed him." Anna admitted.

Jim kept quiet. Every time she said those words, he had a short surge of rage. You miss him? You have him for over 9 months of the year. I'm the one who effing misses him. "Yeah, he missed you, too." He said at last. He sighed. You know if you reversed it, you'd love it, but it'd hurt her. His son was bound to miss whoever wasn't around. So there wasn't a winner in this situation. "Thanks so much for letting him come out earlier and stay a little later." He said gratefully. "I've never had him for this much of summer vacation. I loved it."

"You're welcome." She replied, and Jim could hear some appreciation in her voice. At least she noticed that he was trying.

He hesitated. He hated himself for thinking this, for having the blind stupidity to ask questions that might upset the delicate balance of civility they had finally attained, but he was going to do it. Plunge right in. Blunder in. Like Spike. And if that thought didn't quell him, nothing would. "Anna? Is anything going on?"

"Like what? Am I getting married?"

"No, not like that- although if you are-"

"I'm not. Although, yeah, I date. I'm not a nun. But it's just dating. I haven't found someone special, like you found Ess." She laughed. "Nothing's going on- I guess. Maybe I've started moving on. He's in full day school this year, and he's flown across the country a ton of times since the split. He's not a baby anymore."

"He's always gonna be your baby, Anna, you're his mom." Jim comforted.

"I'm not saying he isn't my baby. Just that he's not totally dependent on us every second. This summer was nice. By myself. Getting to know, getting to be, me again, instead of just 'someone's mommy'."

Jim laughed. "Good for you. You deserve it." There was a pregnant pause on the phone. "You there?"

"Nothing. Nothing right now anyway." She sighed and the old friend Jim had seen for five minutes dissipated. "I need Sul's flight information."

"I have it." Jim said in a flat monotone, and robotically read her the numbers and listened to her questions. Not even three full days. And he'd be on his own again. He rubbed his sternum where a sudden ache had formed. Not on your own, a comforting voice reminded him, you'll have Ess, too. She won't replace him, but she'll ease the hurt. The ball of pain under his hand released slightly. "Nice talking to you." He smiled slightly as she said her goodbyes, then hung up the phone.

The sounds of badly twangy music and a sweet little voice stirred him to action. "Sulster! Straighten your third finger!"

"I AM!" Sully sounded annoyed. "Can you come show me?"

"I'm coming." Jim smiled to himself. And then frowned. Who was gonna supervise him, make him practice, take him to lessons? Oh, I don't know, maybe his mother? sniped his caustic inner voice.A jarring pluck made him pick up the pace. I'll just pay for lessons completely, and then she probably won't mind so much about the practicing. Besides, she's a talented actress herself, she'll want him to take an interest in the arts. The boy has already been to more performances than I had by the time I was in high school...

It just hurts. When he's gone. Jim rubbed the spot over his aching heart again. It was always like this when he left...

"Turn left! That's it!" Buffy bounced up and down in her seat and Spike smiled indulgently.

"You're sure about this? That Hyatt Regency sounded like it was close to all the night life, Luv."

"I know, but this one is all Victorian!" Buffy shook a Colorado tourism pamphlet under his nose. "Four poster beds, and claw foot tubs! Even the dining room has those wooden antique-y chairs!"

"I never figured you'd like all those bits and bobs, Luv." Spike swung the car into the right hand lane of traffic. An impressive brown stone hotel suddenly loomed in front of them, like a massive tribute to the roaring twenties erected in the middle of a bustling space age town. "Although, your mum probably taught you all about art and antiques."

"Uh- she tried." Buffy conceded. "Not so big on the paying attention. Kinda tuned her out."

"Then why-"

"For us. For you. It's romantic and it's in the middle of the city but it's very quiet and tranquil inside. See, look. 'A quiet, peaceful haven conveniently located in the heart of-' "

"Save the infomercial, Precious. We can keep goin', you know, we're farther ahead earlier than I expected." He wheedled. In truth, this was going to bring his poetic, nancy-ish side to the front. All the Victorian, "Aren't we old-world?" pictures in the pamphlet and on a nearby billboard already had him reminiscing. Sunshine. Walking in the garden. Writing poetry while sitting in his wicker chair in the lawn. That was what gentlemen scholars did then. He had quite enjoyed it- when he was just William.

That wasn't him. Not any more. And his girl, no, his wife, needed him strong, needed him to be her champion, her partner, the little bit of 'monster' that added spice to her 'man'.

"Please? Please?" She tugged his heartstrings, not caring if she was playing dirty. He knew how to play dirty, just with a whisper in her ear. "I thought- it would be like a little piece of your old life. Can't I share it with you? Just for a couple days?"

Bloody woman. Playin' him like a soddin' virtuoso. Share his life? Of course she could, it was all he'd ever wanted, from anyone, and above all from her. All the times he had begged for her to let him share her world, and she was askin' for two days in his? "You're my Sweetlet, you know that? My soft spot. My bloody salvation and my downfall all at once. Fine, we'll stay here, Luv. But if I go all poncey and poetic, it's on you. Not me. Understood? An' there'll be no mockin' me about it!"

"No. No mocking. And- I don't mind your 'soft' side, Spike." She blushed and looked at her hands. "I'm not really that good with normal guys, you know?"

"Yes, I have to admit I've noticed it." Spike said dryly as he pulled into the canopied valet station, grateful that the awning was wide and would help him stay only slightly "sunburned". He took his pale hand and fondled the back of her neck, lightly touching her claim, not enough to make her uncomfortably needy, just enough to make her start contemplating that need, and who would satisfy it. "I'm not what you'd call normal, Buffy."

"I know." She whispered, leaning into his touch. "But you're like me. We both remember normal. Before we changed."

"My normal was a long, long time ago." He reminded her quietly.

"I still feel safe when I want to pretend I'm 'normal' with you." She looked up at him, green eyes snapping with the confidence and safety he gave her.

"Then that settles it. Let's go check in, Goldilocks, and I'm all yours, however you want me."

"I know. I won the bet earlier, remember?" She winked and helped him pull up his duster. He bit his lip and stifled a groan of lust, pushing open the door and bolting into the interior of the opulent and elegant lobby, feeling like a heel as Buffy came in behind him. "Sorry I didn't get the door."

"Uh-hello? I so totally prefer chivalry to be dead than you."

"Chivalry isn't dead, Precious, just only comes out at night." He motioned to a porter, relaxed confidence in every line of his black jacketed body. He stood with an easy slouch, one arm around his girl, the other hand reaching for a cigarette, taking a detour, and landing in his belt loop instead. "Get the bags, there's a good chap." He beckoned a valet over as well. " Black sedan in the front. The keys are in the ignition, I'd like 'em back once you've parked."

"Yes, Sir." The young men chorused as they smiled, gave the couple a second look and shook their heads.

"Oh, Spike!" Buffy nervously ran her hands through her hair. "Why didn't you tell me how I looked? We look like punks or white trash! We look like punky white trash!" Buffy scraped her fingers through her sleep tangled hair again and crossed her arms over her thin white shirt, knowing her black bra straps were still plainly visible. And in totally slinky pj bottoms. God.

"You look smashing, Buffy." He said firmly, and dared her to argue with him. Which of course, it being her, she attempted. "No. You wanted to share my world? The wife listens- and the husband adores and pampers." He cupped her cheek, looking into her eyes. "Only woman in the world is you..." he whispered, pulling her along with him, under his spell. Momentarily, they both wondered if he had somehow learned to cast a thrall, and immediately realized it wasn't something conjured, simply the supernaturally strong force of love. "Most beautiful woman in the world, Buffy." He led her to the concierge, looking only at her. "Pure sunlight, Luv. That's you." His voice was that dark honey, the luring, entrapping tone that had so often made her weak, made her do things she felt guilty and ashamed of. Now there was no guilt. She took her place beside him, pressed against him, proud to lean on this man who loved her unashamedly and monumentally.

"May I help you?" The woman at the desk had a courteous and friendly voice, despite the half-amused smile she gave them.

"We'd like a suite. One of your better ones, preferably the bridal suite, for my wife an' I." He explained, but never looked at her. He had eyes only for his lover, despite the amazingly beautiful surroundings and the milling people surrounding them.

"I'm sorry, we don't have a bridal suite, but we have some lovely suites, ranging from the modern to the -"

"We'd like something old-fashioned." He interrupted, looking for the first time at the clerk, training the power of his startling blue eyes and razor sharp features on her, smiling with barely concealed animalism. The woman fumbled through a few clicks on her computer and wordlessly handed him a key and a car registration form. As Spike filled out their names and the basics of the car, both the porter and valet came to stand beside them. Spike tossed the room key to the porter. "Bags up to that room, mate." He said with a casual but authoritative tone. "And thank you." He took the dangling car keys from the valet's hand and pushed a pen and a crumpled bill into it. "Be a good fellow and finish fillin' in the muck about the car. Pleasant evenin' all."

Buffy followed him in a pleased haze. He was quite a guy, her husband. Husband! Wow, she still couldn't believe it. He flashed her a cocky smile as he pulled her towards the old fashioned decorative lifts. He couldn't believe it either, but he was certainly going to enjoy it.

Their room was on the 10th floor. Spike tipped the porter and shooed him off. He kicked the door open wider with one booted foot and grabbed his bride, kissing her roughly, carrying her over the threshold again, and depositing her inside the doorway. "There now. Happy honeymoon, Buffy." He stood back in the hallway, watchful of the sunlight that poured through their windows, smiling as Buffy took in their temporary home.

"I wanna spend two days here. Maybe more. Maybe right up to the moment that we have to leave to make it to Pine Ridge on time." Buffy said with determination as she looked around the room, trotting to the windows. She quickly shut the heavy brown brocade curtains, then slowly walked around the room. Spike leaned against the door, watching her. She ran her hands covetously over the thick cream quilt and plush pillows, up the dark wood of the headboard posts. Facing the rest of the room, her eyes looked wonderingly around at the Tiffany lamps, old fashioned leather sofas and high backed chairs flanking a fire place. The only thing that looked oddly out of place in the rustic setting was a television in a mahogany entertainment center. Spike walked over to the cabinet and enclosed the offending note of 20th century realism. "It's beautiful."

"Yes, when you're in it, it is." He agreed. He tipped his head back and peered in the bathroom. White porcelain everything, and polished floors. Old fashioned lighting sconces in that opaque glass, giving a gaslight affect. The bathroom had one of those huge claw and ball foot tubs that she'd been so keen on. Wrought iron racks hung from the walls, sporting two plastic wrapped bathrobes and stacks of fluffy white towels. "Look at this." He motioned her over. She gave a squeal worthy of Dawn and rushed to the bathtub, crouching beside it.

"See? See? It has the foot thingys!" She pointed to the clawed feet supporting the tub.

"Yes, I see." He came in and stood beside her, rubbing her back. " Long, hot soak? For the long day of driving?"

"Mm, yes." She nodded and started the water, flipping the stopper into place. "And you wanted to keep driving." She smiled, stretching up to meet him, kissing him.

"Denver didn't sound like a very romantic place, is all. Full of ski freaks, and if the Watcher liked it..." He let out a snort of derision.

"Don't you know what they call this place?" In truth, she hadn't really known until looking at the tourism pamphlets picked up at the rest stop, but she felt superior, since he usually knew quite a bit more than she did. Not that she'd admit it readily. She stopped her musing, he was answering her.

"Can't say I do." Spike shrugged, fiddling with the hem of her shirt.

"The Mile High City." She looked at him suggestively.

"Thought it put a bloody great strain on the engine, gettin' up here." He guided her hands to his waist, and as if they had been doing it for years (which he supposed, in some form, they had) she started working his belt open and his shirt up.

"Well, you can't fly in a plane- not a commercial one, maybe someday a private one, or maybe in the cargo hold on a regular flight, but I didn't like that idea."

"You've lost me." He confessed, whisking her shirt off and easing his fingers down the silken skin of her back, coming around to the front and beginning to feel his way to the sweets she had hidden under that skimpy scrap of black nylon.

"The Mile High Club." She hissed, feeling stupid. "Maybe you've never-"

"Oh no. I have. I've heard it plenty, just not lately, I s'pose. All those damn films on late night cable- stewardess, business man, loo the size of a bread box? You're a bloody genius, Pet. Join' the Mile High Club without a plane." He smiled into her neck and licked her claim, almost sinking to the floor when she grabbed the back of his head, twisting his throat to her mouth suddenly and began sucking hard on his. "Oooh, God, woman!" He shoved her pants down, thumbs tightening in disbelief when they connected with the soft supple cheeks, unhindered by underwear. "Minx." His fingers moved forwards and teased her soft patch of curls.

"Tiger." She retorted, stroking him hard. Her foot came up and stepped into his sagging pants, pushing them the rest of the way to the floor. "Take off the boots, bad boy. You're getting in the tub with me."

"You get to plan the whole night, Luv." He reminded her. "Just tell me what you want."

In moments, they were standing bare in the steaming tub, cuddling, hands scraping and clawing in their unfettered passion. "Sit." She panted into his mouth. He sat, wincing slightly, then relaxing as the hot water engulfed him. She sank down in front of him, touching him, massaging his hardness, letting his fingers sneak between her thighs, finding the wet bundle of swollen nerves. She whimpered, starting to straddle him, and then stood up.

"And what are you doin'? He asked. She hesitated, wavering, stepping closer, then backing away slightly. She was quiet and she started to step out of the tub. "Buffy!" He grabbed her ankle. "Where're you goin', Luv?"

"To get the lights." She whispered. He didn't let go of her.

"Why's that, then?" He challenged. The room was already pretty well romantically lit, the old fashioned lighting sconces had the same affect as oil lamps.

"I was- I was gonna-" She stroked his hair and hesitantly pressed his cheek to her leg. She was going to stand over him and let him lick her, lap her up, basically ride his mouth into oblivion. He'd begged for it a hundred times, for her to just be above him - in a good way. He wanted to look at her, taste her fully, play with new angles. He told her a thousand times, but she always hesitated. Today, for for some reason, she was feeling brave. "Let me get the lights." She gestured towards the wall.

"Why? Nothin' in here I haven't seen a hundred times before, Sweetlet." He didn't relinquish his grip on her ankle. "Nothin' I don't wanna see a million times more."

"I know, but-"

"No buts. It's perfect, it's beautiful." He stroked her wet calves, dripping handfuls of water on her as he scooped and stroked up, each time getting higher, slowly working his way to her hips, keeping his hands on her insistently so she wouldn't back away. "Buffy, don't you know how much I love it, love you, every bit of you?" He whispered.


"No buts!" He shook his head angrily, not at her, but at several others. Her others. Angel he could forgive. She was a virgin, one time thing, probably hadn't wanted to stress her out with tryin' something beyond the basics that first, and it turned out only, time. Parker had been a slug and worthy of bitin' and bleedin' to death in his opinion. Take a beautiful girl, probably use her solely for his own needs that one, and again, only, time. No, it was Captain Crewcut he was hating right now. How in God's name were you with a girl for almost a year and never manage to show her she was a goddess? Especially a girl like this one? Being angry wouldn't help though. "Buffy-" he said gently, looking up at her with adoring eyes. "Can't you see how much I love you? Can't you see how much I want it? Want what you've got? Particularly wantin' it right now, because you make me feel like I'm somethin' special, like maybe I'm the only one who's ever had it, had you, this way." He knew that wasn't true, in the sense of the act itself, but maybe with this particular intimacy and intensity.

Carefully choosing words that wouldn't earn her an interruption, she whispered. "I know you do. Sometimes I just don't know why you do. Other people-" She talked over his sudden snarl and a flash of fangs. "Other people enjoyed it, but it was tentative. I've never been pushy about it."

"That's true." She'd always accepted his pleasuring her, first as a dirty enjoyment and then as an act of love and intimacy that was equally shared. She trusted him and let him explore, let him see, let him taste and feel. But she hadn't ever asked for it like this. Standing above him, riding and writhing on that tongue until her legs buckled and she'd have to admit what he did to her, that he made her weak.

'But you admit that all the time, Luv.' He probed into her mind. 'An' so do I! Look. See how much...' And he showed her, a hundred images of his adoring eyes gazing up at her, his alabaster cheeks buried between her legs, contentment, fulfillment, pure, unadulterated erotic bliss. 'Don't even care if you don't return the favor, Luv. I like makin' you feel so good.' He shivered and she could feel it mentally and physically. 'When you do return the favor, Precious-' He shook his head, blown away by memories of it. 'so amazed that someone like you could love me like that. Workin' on me until I feel like I'm in heaven- even when I knew heaven'd never let me in. You're my heaven, Buffy.' He had been steadily drawing her closer, sliding slowly down, tipping his head farther back, lips moistening for her. "Let me in, Pet?" He whispered aloud.

She dropped to him, letting his hands catch her back, her fingers tightening on his strong biceps. As his tongue started to move, she forgot her temerity, clutching him with both hands, pulling him into her deeper, scoring his scalp with her fevered fingers.

She tried to pull back before she came and he growled a warning. "No." He dug his hands into her cheeks and held her in place.

"But you-"

"Godammit!" He jerked his head back, looking up at her with glistening lips and chin, and a thoroughly debauched smile. "Would you let a man drink in peace?"

"Drink?" She gasped as he plunged.

"Not gonna stop until you've made enough juice for me to swallow. An' swallow. An' so on." He felt her go limp and he crossed his arms around her back to brace her. "Nope. Not on, Luv. Can go soft as you like, but I'm not budgin' until you're good and proper taken care of."

But this was supposed to be about her gaining something, feeling more confident, more brazen. He wasn't taking that away from her. Mouth still attached to her flower, he started thinking to her. Hard thoughts, animalistic thoughts- let his demon talk- unless it was in danger of coming out to play.

'You own me now. Claimed me. You're a vampire's bride, Luv, you're full to the brim of the dark stuff, and you know you want to show me.' Chuckled into her as her hands tightened forcing his mouth to grind to her clit. "Yeah, that's it, that's the way it goes...' Her hips bucked and she let out a quick breath. 'You call me the tiger. You know what that makes you, don't you, Luv?' Her back spasmed against his embrace and he jerked her forward, tongue darting in deeper than ever, determined to find new spots to entice her with, keep her coming back for more and more. 'Tigress. Tigresses hunt. They've got claws. They've got prey.'

Her howl made the water ripple and he drank her juice down greedily. She made as if to get off, but he held her on. She seized his wrists in a fierce grip and glared at him. "I'm not done! I'm getting into a different position." She hooked one leg over each side of the tub, his upper arms supporting her this time, her sweet secret on display at mouth level. "Okay. Continue." She winked with a saucy smile. He eagerly obeyed. "Oh yeah. You know what else tiger's have, Baby?"

"Hmm?" He asked, mouth full.

"Fangs." She licked her lips.

"What? No. Not a safe spot, Pet, believe me-"

"Your demon's been calling out to me for the last couple minutes, Baby. Whispering all those yummy seductions to me- and you won't let him taste?"

"Oi. Pointy teeth. Soft, incredibly delicate pieces of Buffy. Not a safe combination, Luv."

"But I trust you. And if it gets too pokey, I'll stop you, okay?" She said with such innocent persuasion. Spike nuzzled into her deeper. You'd think she was asking to go for a picnic, not let his vampire side emerge and give her an orgasm while dicing about with his fangs. "You said I was a vampire's bride..." She parted her lips with two fingers, rocking against his mouth insistently. He pulled back again and looked up at her, feeling the urge over take him. "How can I be a vampire's bride until he's had me like this?" She asked in her most fresh, innocent voice, prying herself open wider,

"Oh bloody, buggering-"The rest of the words were cut off. As soon as he changed, she took his mouth prisoner. Unable to speak at the moment, he cast a nonverbal reminder. 'Stop grindin', Luv, less you want some nicks in uncomfortable places.'

"I don't know what I like unless you let me try!" She groaned. "Your arms-or lips- aren't getting tired are they?" He cocked his head at her with a look that plainly asked '"Are you stupid?". She laughed. "Love that about you. You keep up with me. You can take me."

'God, Baby, lean back a little more, an' you'll see just where I can take you.' He promised.

To be continued...