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: Extreme mushiness warning! The long awaited wedding scene is here! Also- pardon the heavy emphasis on music, but weddings and music go hand and hand to me.

Dedicated to Omslagspapper, Jewel74, AGriffinWriter, Ginar369, Illusera, JojoMRP, ladypeyton1, and Silverdoe42.

Direct quotes from shows or songs are obviously not mine, but belong to the enormously talented people who created them.

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

Part XXI

"This makes the Exodus look like something Moses threw together on a whim." Ashley's boyfriend greeted Jim as Ashley flew past him and into the house, her dress in a long white bag over one arm, her shoes and makeup bag clutched in the other. She called hello as an afterthought as she ran up the stairs.

"If everyone would just stop showing up at the same time." Jim said in response, waving haphazardly at the flying redhead. Their long curving drive was loaded with cars. All the female members of the party, including mothers, would be remaining at the house, all the men were supposed to take their gear and meet at the church, but not for several hours.

"Why so early?" He asked, stepping inside.

"Because apparently, even though the wedding doesn't start until 4:00 pm, women need from ten in the morning to get ready. Any minute makeup techs and hair stylists are arriving, and God forbid I need anything from upstairs because it's off limits to any men."

"And boys. And cats." Sul grumped down the stairs, holding a cat in each arm. "They shed. And Aunt Monica is crying in my bathroom."

"Yeah, if you want the facilities, you can hold it until we get to the church, or you can use the basement bathroom or the half bath off the exercise room, because the four full baths upstairs are full of giggling, crying women."

"Jim! Can you go help Ellie parallel park?" Essie's voice drifted down.

"She speaks! Where is she, Ess?"

"She's in the driveway! She's trying to park between Gwenn's car and the salon van."

"I got it!" Jim groaned, but smiled.

"I'm going to go, get out of the way. You want the men at church at 1:00 right?" "Right. We'll get dressed, help each other on with those da-darn boutonnieres," Jim caught his near expletive, "and get all the boys only photos done. That should help us get to the reception before all the guests leave." Jim walked out the door. "Sul, stay in here, I don't want you near the driveway, it's too hectic out there. And put Mist and Stripes away in the sunroom."

"Okay." Sul quickly obeyed his father's request, but then snuck back up the stairs. He wanted his guitar from his bedroom. And something else.

"Can I please come in? I have my eyes closed." Essie heard a little voice outside her bedroom door, which was half open.

"Hey, you." Essie pulled her white terry robe tighter around her body, and walked to the door. "You probably need to go downstairs, honey. There are gonna be women running all over the place in nothing but underwear and robes."

"Ick." Sul peeped through his fingers. "I know Dad can't see you, but can I?"

"Yes, you can." Essie smiled and crouched down beside him, waving the hair stylist away, motioning her to take one of the other girls instead. "What's up?"

"Nothing." Sul kicked at the carpet. "I just- you and Dad are gonna be busy all day. And then you're going away for a week."

"We're not going to be too busy for you." Essie comforted.

"Okay. But I can't come up here soon. I know. So- um. Can I hug you now?"

"You can hug me whenever." Essie clasped him in her arms. "You know you're a big part of the reason I'm so happy today, right?"

"I am?" He sounded impressed.

"You totally are. I'd love your dad no matter what. But when most girls get married, they just get a husband. You make me special. When I get married, I get two people to love."

"I love you. You're going to be really pretty, and..." Sul searched his brain for a piece of advice that he could give. It seemed to be what the grown ups around him ended their conversations with these days. "And if you eat something, eat something white. In case you spill."

Essie laughed, and looked at him with rapidly brightening eyes. "Okay. And you take care of your dad for me. Don't let him get nervous."

"He'd feel better if you kissed him."

"It's bad luck for the bride to see the groom on the day of the wedding, until the ceremony starts." She explained. And then shook her head with a sigh. Bad luck, my ass. "I'd feel better if I got a kiss from him, too."

Sul got his guitar and held Essie's hand as they walked down the stairs.

"Sul? Sul?" Jim was calling.

"I'm coming!" Sul cried. Jim whipped around and startled as he saw Essie beside his son.


"I need to kiss you before you leave." Essie smiled softly. Jim strode over to her and pressed his forehead to hers.

"You're sure? Right? Not going to change your mind once we get there?" He whispered his unspoken fears aloud at last. That all the sudden she'd blink, and when her eyes reopened she'd see someone she had acted with, and that's all it would be. The reality would vanish, and this had all been one more show.

"I trust you. I love you. We belong together." Essie whispered back. She gasped as Jim kissed her ferociously, lifting her off the floor, hands skimming up her back to her neck, thumbs under her chin. She felt herself get wet and tingly and knew she shouldn't. Brides were supposed to be pure and girlishly excited, not heatedly lustful.

"I love you. I'll see you there." He murmured, releasing her.

"We look damn fine." Max slicked his brown hair back and teased the bangs into a slightly rakish sweep.

"Stop hogging the mirror." Daniel, gel and comb in hand, elbowed him out of the way.

Jim mussed his own hair into the sexy tousled curls that Essie loved, plus this way the dull roots of his hair, now more blonde than platinum, didn't show through as obviously.

"The photographer's here!" Sul burst back in to the church's all-purpose room. "And all the flowers are put up. I need help with mine, it fell off." Sul held out his white rosebud with its single stalk of lavender-colored heather.

"I've got it." Jimmy's brother took his nephew's outstretched hand and deftly began working the boutonniere back in place.

"Patrick- tell me the truth. Do I look okay in the tie?" Jim turned to Patrick, the only one of them whom he trusted not to placate him with false compliments under the guise of trying to calm the groom. He shrugged in his black and gray overlay vest, tugged on his cuffs and tried to straighten his plain black silk tie for the fourth time.

"You look fine, mate." Patrick stood up and paced. "Wish Gwenn would get here early."

"She won't, you know. They're all in the limos together." A voice pointed out.

"Da- dash it." Patrick caught Jim's warning glare. "What time is it?"

"Make him stop asking that!" Sammy groaned and buried his head in his hands.

"They'll be here pretty soon." Max comforted. "In the mean time, let's get our pictures taken. The studs of sci-fi." Paul cleared his throat softly and gestured to himself, and the three non-acting children. "The studs of sci-fi and friends!" Max corrected belatedly.

"Just- just go out the door." Jim muttered intensely, and lead the way.

The photos were taken, and the guests began to arrive. The musicians began playing their eclectic mixture of classical, old school rock, and alternative rock. The minister rushed in for comforting words to calm the groom, and then the group of men dwindled.

Jim's nephews went first, off to their ushering duties, then Patrick, off to corner Gwenn and then to play father of the bride. Lastly, Sul had to go, he wouldn't be entering from the side, he would walk out with the flower girl, so he had to get to the back of the church.

"Do you know what to do? Are you okay?" Jim tied the prop rings on more securely to the little black pillow, kneeling down beside Sullivan.

"I think so. I walk up, I get between you and the best man, and then he slips the real rings inside the little pocket?" Sul asked with wide eyes, tugging on his own tie, a mirror image twitch of his father's.

"That's it. Be good. Stay with the girls. Don't hug anyone too hard, or mess their hair up. Okay?" Jim took him firmly by the shoulders, locking eyes.

"Okay." Sul leaned into his father's arms, carefully keeping his flower out of squashing range. "I love you, Dad. You- you stay with Uncle Patrick and Uncle Max and all your friends. It'll be fun. You get to kiss Essie, and there's cake later."

"I know." Jim kissed his forehead, smoothed his hair once more and gave him a little shove to get him started. Max and Paul also embraced him, and the other men waved warmly.

"God, I love that kid." Max smiled as they watched him go.

"Well, feel free to visit him this week. Perk him up." Jim said gruffly.

Essie walked out of the limo on her mother's arm, clutching the simple white skirt of her dress as the limo driver shut the door after them. "Am I okay? Is it wrinkled?"

Ashley smoothed her hands gently over her best friend's wedding gown, a creation of smooth tight silk on the bodice held up by magic and some adhesive. She fluffed out the skirt, consisting of long, flowing handkerchief tiers of white silk and sheer fabric. "You look so beautiful. Oh, Essie." Ashley held out her arms and coughed back an emotional sob.

"Don't cry. I'll cry if you cry." Essie hugged her back, both of them tilting their heads far apart, keeping the white lily and orange blossom hairpieces separated.

"I'm calm. I'm calm." Ashley sounded a lot like Willow, voice high and slightly panicked.

"Let's get inside, dear. It's almost 4:00." Essie's mother smiled gently.

Essie delicately stepped in, now flanked by her bevy of lavender cloaked attendants. "Make sure it's safe." She hissed to Monica, who ran in ahead.

Patrick stepped outside the floral festooned door of the church and stopped dead. Essie came up to him slowly, a playful smile dicing on her lips. "Hi."

"My Lord. Look at you." He breathed, sounding more like Giles than himself. "Look at you, Essie." He kissed the air above each cheek. "Jim won't be able to speak when he sees you."

"Are you sure? He's hard to shut up." She laid an affectionate hand on his cheek. "You look good, too. Hot for an old guy."

"Watch it, Missy."

"Thanks for doing this for me. For Mom and me."

"Anytime. No. No, only this once." He said firmly. Essie nodded.

"I promise. Only this once."

"Good. I'll be listenin' for that."

Monica came trotting back out. "It's clear. Let's get in."

"Here we go." Essie set her shoulders and regally aligned her head. "Come on, ladies."

"Sunshine of Your Love! That's it! Move, move, move!" Daniel had gone into his director mode and was cueing the silently pacing groom.

"Here we go." Jim's tension melted. Here we go. We made it through two years of emotional disasters, and she still wants me. He stepped out with more swagger than he meant to, and eased into place to one side of the minister, taking in the packed congregation, ignoring the snaps and clicks of a dozen cameras. One by one, his brother and the best friends he'd ever had in his life took their places beside him.

"That's it! Bouquets up!"

Sul sprang to Essie's side like he was magnetized and she was metal.

"You look pretty." He said for the third time in the ten minutes since he'd seen her. He hadn't let himself hug her, she looked so clean and special, like something he wasn't supposed to touch. "Uhh- good luck?"

"I need a good luck hug." Essie bent and held her bouquet out to the side, giving him a brief one armed squeeze. "You okay?"

"I'm okay. Are you?"

"Very much." Essie straightened back up. "Get ready to go, you're up soon." She waved to Ashley, who gulped and clutched her white and lavender bouquet with a death grip and walked out.

"Ready?" Patrick took Essie's arm and wove it through his own.

"Uh-huh." Essie was suddenly breathless. Sul and his cousin started down the aisle. "Oh no. Patrick! What if I trip? I could trip, I saw it on all those funny home movie shows, where the -"

"You can do a fight scene on top of a shaking caravan, complete with sword play. You won't trip on your soddin' heels. Shoulders back, deep breath, you're beautiful. We all love you. None more so than Jim. Just keep your eyes on him." Patrick smoothed his hair back nervously, and placed his free hand over hers as it lay on his forearm. "Now. Left, together, right, together."

Jim had the sudden, unbidden thought that he had just developed new empathy for Spike. He couldn't breathe and he was fairly sure his heart had stopped beating. "Wow." He heard the men beside him make appreciative, breathless gasps. But he couldn't make a sound. I've seen her in everything, and nothing. The finest dresses and the hottest outfits, plus everyday casual clothes. And she always looks so beautiful. But now- oh God. He couldn't even blink away the tears that were springing to his eyes. That little, ordinary girl, his partner, his best friend, his happiness on the dark days- was now walking up to him, looking like a cross between a goddess and a fashion model, and when she arrived beside him, it would be to say she would be his forever. You can't love someone or trust someone more than that, than to say you'll be bound to them as long as your lives last. He got that now. He wouldn't make the same mistakes a second time.

"Who gives this woman to be joined to this man?"

Jim controlled his hands for just another few seconds, his fingers itching to take hers. "I give this woman, to this man, on behalf of her mother, her family, and her friends." Patrick said gravely, kissing her cheek and passing her hand to Jim.

His fingers sparked against hers and they twined tightly together. "Most beautiful thing I've ever seen." He whispered, turning to face her. She blushed and inclined her head, lashes glimmering, face beaming.

Essie wasn't aware of the words the minister said, not all of them anyway. She was staring at Jim, lost in his happy eyes, his relaxed smile, the chiseled features looking almost sleepy in their contentment.

"Jim and Essie had a working relationship first. A relationship that made them friends and then tested the strength of that friendship." Jim and Essie's eyes suddenly went back into focus, ears tuning back in. Jim's jaw was tightening. This topic could get 'touchy', to say the least. "And those tests only made it transform. Like coal turning to diamond, Jim and Essie had to be under intense pressure, go through many figurative fires, to generate the heat and intensity needed to develop their relationship into love. Out of something very dark, came something that shines the most brightly. Jim and Essie would like to exchange their own vows that they've created for this occasion."

Jim swallowed. That guy hit it right on the head. The thing that had made him want to die, the darkness enveloping him and Essie, had turned into the thing that made him want to live forever, just to be with her one more minute. And now he had to tell her. In front of everyone. Ha, he laughed cockily inside his head. That didn't seem like a problem anymore. He almost expected to see the sound and video guys in the congregation whip out the booms and raised cameras.

Essie passed her bouquet to Ashley so she could put both of her hands in Jim's. She saw Sul step forward, but his uncle pulled him back. Not time for the rings, not just yet. She was glad Jim was going first. If he didn't cry, she wouldn't cry. Probably.

"Essie. I promise to work with you every day. On or off camera, to make our life together happy. I can't promise to be perfect, but I promise to learn from my mistakes. I promise to love you forever, no matter what the real world throws at us. That's my promise- 'cause I love you, Ess." He hadn't meant to add that, but it felt right.

Oh, well. She dabbed at her eyes with her forearm, not taking her hands from his. "I promise to work with you, every day, on or off camera, to make things work, and never stop working. I promise I won't let you down, when you trust me so much." She tilted her head to Sul and smiled at him, and he beamed, thrilled to be getting a mention. "I promise to love you and trust you as much as you love and trust in me. You're my comfort and my strength. I love you, Jimmy."

Well, of course everyone was bawling, by now. Patrick and Gwenn had to compose themselves enough to sing. Patrick was perched beside the pianist on a high wooden stool, his acoustic guitar resting on his knee. Gwenn passed her bouquet to Ellie, dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief unsheathed from the V of her shimmering lavender dress.

Jim and Essie turned to face their friends as they gave them this musical gift, Essie slipping her bare shoulders under his arm. "Gwenn wouldn't tell me what she was singing. Still. And Patrick looked sneaky this afternoon when I asked him." Essie whispered.

"Ohhh no." Jim breathed. "Think of the only major musical experiences those two have had together."

"They wouldn't dare!" Essie gasped.

"It's Patrick, Honey." Jim fixed his British mentor with a gimlet stare and tightened his grip on her shoulders. Essie bit her lip.

"Let me jus' say- that this a song for Essie and Jim, but also for the characters they played together. We weren't sure how they'd like it, but we hope that they'll appreciate it. Some of the words fit you two, whether you like it or not." Patrick said by way of introduction. Gwenn came up beside him, almost leaning against him, adjusting her mike. Patrick strummed the opening chords or a song Essie found familiar, and Jim relaxed.

"I can't think of what it is, but at least it isn't from Rocky Horror." Jim whispered from the corner of his mouth.

Gwenn began to sing in her sweet, breathy voice, and they forgot to speak, forgot whether the song was one they'd have chosen. Just listened and watched, as Gwenn put her entire body into the words, her soft soulful eyes looking straight at the bridal couple.

Is love so fragile

And the heart so hollow

Shatter with words

Impossible to follow

You're saying I'm fragile

I try not to be

I search only

For something

I can't see

I have my own life

And I am stronger

Than you know

But I carry this feeling

When you walked into my house

That you won't be walking out the door

Still I carry this feeling

When you walked into my house

That you won't be walking out the door

Essie and Jim exchanged a glance. How true the words were, particularly about the house. From the moment they had let each other in, there had been no going back.

Patrick joined in with Gwenn on the refrain, his high tenor mellow but crisp under her soft fluting tones. He was still strumming softly, smiling as Jim and Essie were beginning to sway with the words, arms around each other now.

Lovers forever

Face to face

My city or mountains

Stay with me stay

I need you to love me

I need you today

Give to me your leather

Take from me

My lace

Gwenn fell silent, her hand resting on Patrick's shoulder as he took his part of the duet. She gave her friends and co-stars a playfully sweet stare. Jim and Essie weren't exactly the leather or lace types, but that was Spike and Buffy. The leather coat was the hard shell he wore, half the swagger he carried was carried in that duster. And he'd turn it over to the girl he loved in a second. Just like Jim. Anything he could give to Essie, and anything she could give to him, they would exchange without question.

You in the moonlight

With your sleepy eyes

Could you ever love a man like me

And you were right

When I walked into your house

I knew I'd never want to leave

Sometimes I'm a strong man

Sometimes cold and scared

And sometimes I cry

But that time I saw you

I knew with you to light my nights

Somehow I'd get by

Gwenn rejoined him for the last refrain. Jim pulled Essie to him more tightly. How could she love a man like him, indeed? She saw the real him. She loved the real him. He sighed and rested his jaw against her brow.

Lovers forever

Face to face

My city or mountains

Stay with me stay

I need you to love me

I need you today

Give to me your leather

Take from me

My lace

The song faded away. There was silence, as it didn't seem appropriate to clap in the midst of a wedding, after so touching a song. However, Sul didn't get that and clapped twice loudly before he realized no one else was. Essie and Jim quickly joined in, Jim whistling, and the rest of the congregation joined in. Patrick and Gwenn clasped hands and did a little bow before they took their places, Gwenn back in the line of bridesmaids, and Patrick in the second pew with his wife and daughters.

"The rings, please." The minister intoned, and Sul eagerly stepped up and thrust his pillow between his "parents". The minister gestured to the rings and spoke to the congregation. "These rings are symbols of that which is most precious, solid, and enduring. And like the marriage which they represent, these bands are perfect circles, having no end."

Jim took Essie's hand and slipped the ring on slowly as he repeated after the minister. "I, Jim. take you, Essie, to be my lawfully wedded wife, in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health, to love you, honor you, cherish, and keep you, from this day forward, as long as we both shall live." He hoped he looked happy. His heart was gonna burst. He hoped he looked serious. This wasn't a joke, this wasn't an act. If he could have had the words engraved on her hand instead of just putting a simple platinum band on it, he would have done it.

"I, Essie, take you, Jim, to be my lawfully wedded husband-" Here Essie lost her composure and started to weep happily. She had to clear her throat to keep going. Jim gave her a steadying squeeze and mouthed "I love you." Essie smiled tearfully and continued, "In plenty and in want, in sickness and in health, to love you, honor you, cherish, and keep you, from this day forward, as long as we both shall live."

"You may kiss the bride."

Jim slid both of his hands along her delicate jaw, one hand ending tangled in her hair, as he tilted her face up to his. She smiled at him and they kissed, laughing into it, smiling so hard they could barely keep the kiss steady enough for the photographers to capture.

"I present to you, for the first time as husband and wife, Essie and Jim!" The minister had been told not to announce them in any other way. They weren't changing their last names at this point, although Essie would sign her name with "Mrs." in front.

Cheers erupted as everyone stood. All You Need is Love began to play, and Jim and Essie led their smiling attendants out to the back of the church where the receiving line formed. "Everybody sing!" Patrick and Max stirred up the guests, and soon the place had devolved from the relatively serious recessional into a mob of laughing, crying, singing, dancing people, no one laughing and kissing more than the bride and groom.

"Oh, Sul! We did it, man! We got her." Jim pulled Sul into him with one arm, the other still fastened on Essie. "I could never have done it without you, Big Guy."

"You both did really good. You only cried once, Essie, good job!" Sul hugged her hard, and she hugged him back with equal enthusiasm.

"I was only crying 'cause I'm happy. God, I'm so happy." She hugged both of her men. Her men. Mine, they're both officially part of my life, my family, she smiled.

The photographers tried to take the posed shots quickly, to get on to the reception, held at one of villas in the Palisades. They never had to tell anyone how to stand or how to smile, not once. They were dealing with the happiest bridal party they'd ever encountered, and the one most comfortable in front of the camera.

"Move over, Patrick. Gonna stand next to my wife." Jim grinned as the photographers rearranged the groupings.

"My husband." Essie breathed with a thrilled heart.

"I think you might need to get over here." Dawn paced in the kitchen, whispering to Giles on her cell phone.

"Why? What's the matter?" Giles stopped his frantic scribbling of his notes from his last Alliance meeting. His biggest fear was that someday, some dark element would come to seek out Buffy and Spike, knowing that she was the original Slayer of this generation, and that he was her greatest ally. Actually, he knew that many such creatures had tried, but with the dozen Slayers between coasts, and the newly partnered covens assisting them, so far they had not succeeded. "Is something- someone at the house?"

"Yeah, Mr. and Mrs. Second Honeymoon. Buffy and Spike have been sitting on the couch ever since I got home, watching, and re-watching their wedding DVD. And I don't even want to know what they were doing before I got home, but I bet their bedroom looks like a tornado hit it."

"That doesn't seem so bad." Giles pointed out.

Dawn cast an eye to the couple on the couch, spooned up together, Spike behind Buffy, his hand lifting her hair up and draping it over her shoulder, mouth paying constant homage to the skin. She watched as Buffy's head lolled back, then forward, and Spike's fingers teased the shirt down lower on her back.

Dawn turned away abruptly. "It's not bad, I guess, I just don't-"

"Spike." A ragged little moan, and a thickened voice replying "My wife."

Dawn pulled her coat off the back of the chair and her book bag with it. "Never mind, I'm coming over to you. I'll be at Giles'! Call me when it's safe to come home!" Phone still up to her ear, Dawn left hurriedly.

"What in the world is the matter, then?" Giles demanded, still on the other end of the phone.

"I don't know. And I know they wouldn't get too cuddly in front of me- but I'd almost swear Spike was going to start biting Buffy, and she wanted him to. Is that possible? Does that make sense?"

Giles blushed and winced. "Erm. Yes, yes, I suppose it could be possible."

"Would that be a spell? Sh-should I call Willow?"

"No..." Giles said slowly.

"Oh." Dawn paused on her way between her court and Giles'. "Oh. She likes it?"

"I believe it's rather an addictive rush."

"Li-like Riley? Like a junkie?" Dawn looked utterly stricken and turned resolutely back towards her house.

"Dawn- I assure you it isn't like that. Buffy likes it, because she's claimed by Spike. Only the two of them together would create- that feeling." Giles winced and left his desk. He needed tea. Hot, strong, possibly three sugars.

"It's just like making out?" She attempted to understand.

"I think so. I don't actually know, Dawn, and only Buffy could actually tell you what it's like. If you'd like to ask her?"

"God, no! But, umm, they're still all lovey-dovey. Can I come over and work on my homework for a couple hours?"

"Of course, dear. I've just put the kettle on. Tea for you?"

Dawn poked her head in the front door as she hung up. She loved being so close to her family members. "Do you have cookies to go with it?" She asked.

"I baked a cake last night." Giles grinned, leaning back from the kitchen counter, head protruding into the front hall so he could see her face.

"Cake sounds yummy." Dawn smiled at her surrogate father and shut the door behind her.

"Time to cut the cake!" Max's wife yelled loudly.

"Sul! Daisy!" Patrick's wife called two of the children to order.

Jim and Essie glided to the cake, a three tier creation with thick white frosting topped with fresh light purple orchids and ringed with white rose buds. "Not messy." Essie hissed as they took the silver cake knife in their joined hands.

"Aww, come on. I'll clean you up, Ess." He whispered darkly.

"Stop it! No naughty thoughts until we get to Florida."

"Or the limo?"

"Jim..." He nipped the nape of her neck, before fixing his features from amorous into proud and happy. Essie and her groom paused, smiling into the camera as they cut the first slice. They neatly fed each other, although the way Jim lapped the icing off her finger tips was far from photographable, or neat. Wet and sensuous was how she'd describe it, and was relieved when he stopped, since it was having the affect of making her feel quite wet and sensuous herself.

"Ladies and gentlemen... while the cake is being cut by the awesome catering staff, I'd like you to clear the dance floor for Jim and Essie's first dance as husband and wife." The DJ spoke up from the corner of the candlelit reception hall. Ocean breezes and a gorgeous June sunset cast the perfect feeling of beauty and relaxation across the hall. Couples snuggled together at tables, children lazily leaned on parents or grandparents, and the music changed from the languid instrumental works to Led Zepplin.

Essie had let Jim do most of the musical choices, since he never failed to pick something good. She was surprised when she heard him say a Led Zepplin song might be a first dance for them. Now, as she heard All of My Love, with its slow, pulling, half-melancholy, half-sweet melody, she thought it was perfect.

He led her around the floor, whispering the lyrics in her ear as her head rested on his chest. "I'm so glad we did this." He sighed.

"Mm, me too." She purred. "You know- this wasn't as bad as everyone said it would be. Just relax, take things as they come."

"No way is that Essie. What happened to the perfectionist who scared the hell out of me for the last four years?"

"She met this nice guy. Kinda cool. Kinda laid back about life, but pretty intense and passionate about what matters."

"The 'he' is me, right?"

"Yeah, 'he' is you." She laughed. "I guess I started taking my cue from didn't get worked up much about today."

"It's important to me, Baby, please don't think-"

"Oh, yeah, I know it is. But the vows, the family and friends, the minister. Those were important. The rest? Not so much."

The song ended, and Patrick stepped up to take Essie's hand, which Jim gave him with a handshake of his own. "The father-daughter dance, Luv? Sure you want to?"

"Yeah, as long as your girls don't mind."

"They're just waiting for you to turn your back, and they'll be all over Jim. I mean 'Spike'." Patrick gallantly took her hand and positioned it on his shoulder.

"Ohh, I love this song! I forgot we picked it." Essie smiled up at him. They'd tried to find an upbeat tune that sounded more like a friendship song than a father-daughter piece. No songs about letting your little girl go, or always being daddy's girl. And even though Patrick started their dance off as a slow sway, he quickly turned it into some cross between slouching along to jazz and doing the twist, singing loudly along to Just the Two of Us, the Bill Withers version.

Essie laughed and kept hold of one hand, lifting her skirt with the other, twisting and churning beside him, trying to out crazy the crazy man. "How much have you had to drink?" She squealed as he spun her around.

"Not a lot." He answered and beamed at her. "I'm high on happiness. Got my wife and my girls with me, going home and got a nice piece to do in the West End, and you and Jim made something good out of something bad."

"The show wasn't bad!" Essie punched his arm.

"I know what the catalyst was. For you two." Patrick momentarily lost his smile, and Essie lost hers. Jim's hackles suddenly went up and he stopped leaning casually with Sul against their table. "Smile. You and Jim- you'd do it all again, wouldn't you, if you could have each other?"

Essie opened her mouth in protest. She had said that many times to Jim, and he vehemently denied it. He might have changed his mind lately, but they didn't often talk about that day, about the scene that forced them to seek each other out in a new way. However, she knew what her feelings on the subject were. "I'd do it in a heart beat."

"That's all that matters." Patrick whirled around hard and fast, sending her into Jim' arms. "She's all yours now, mate. Better you than me!" The room laughed and Essie stuck her tongue out at him. Jim put a possessive arm around her waist.

"Yep, she's all mine." He kissed her cheek and she smiled back happily.

"Jim- you might have to let go of her for a little bit- there's one more special dance before we throw open the floor." The DJ smiled. Jim nodded and smiled, heading towards his mother.

"C'mon, Mom." Jim took his mother's hand. "Once around the floor."

"You know I don't like dancing." She protested, rising anyway.

"Mom..." He sighed.

"I'm coming, I'm coming." She rolled her eyes, gave a long-suffering look at Essie's mother, and gave in.

Jim, knowing his mother absolutely hated calling attention to herself- hence her letting Jim be a complete ham for his entire life, take acting classes since 4th grade- had tried to find a nice, laid back song that she wouldn't hate him for. Finally, he'd given up and let Essie choose. Despite her near-panic about being branded as a failed daughter-in-law if his mother hated the song she selected, Jim thought she did a great job.

The music started, and his siblings started snapping pictures.

"Is that Mama I'm Coming Home? By Ozzy?" Daniel leaned over to Essie and asked incredulously.

"Only the instrumental version." She whispered. "It's so pretty. And kind of twangy, in a nice way." Essie leaned back against the table, and felt herself tearing up. "I need a tissue. I need a tissue!"

"Here, here!" Daniel handed her a cocktail napkin that had an intertwined E and J on it.

"This is the mother and son dance, right?" Sul asked Essie. He heard the term being said and something in his mind registered it as something for him. He was a son. Essie looked down, and saw that Sul was suddenly beside her. He was there the whole time, Essie realized guiltily, and she hadn't even said hello since she'd come back to stand near their table.

"Yeah. I think your dad looks really happy." Essie stroked his hair.

"Aren't you gonna dance with me?" Sul inquired, looking supremely nervous.

"I- I'd love to." Essie was beyond shocked, and moved, plying her napkin furiously.

"I don't know how to dance. But I don't think Uncle Patrick does either, so..." Sul shrugged and Essie laughed. Sul pulled both of her hands out and held them awkwardly.

"Here, try this." Essie put her hands on his shoulders and put his hands on her hips. "Then we just rock forward a step, and back a step- and circle- oh, sorry." She hopped back as her toes collided with his.

"Jim. Look." His mother whispered. Jim turned his head, and his jaw dropped.

"What in- what is he doing?" Jim gasped softly.

"The DJ may have said 'mother and son', I'm not sure. And Sullivan is unusually smart. He takes after your father and grandfather."

"What are you saying, Mom, that it skipped a generation?" Jim laughed.

"You know, I don't think we have to be out here." Essie said tactfully, as Sul bit his bottom lip in concentration, trying to look at his feet and move them at the same time.

"No, we have to! Unless stepmom and son doesn't count?"

He called me stepmom. Referred to me that way. Oh, my God. I'm gonna bawl. I can't bawl. "It counts." She croaked out.

"Good. You looked kinda sad. 'Cause Daddy wasn't dancing with you."

"I was happy that he was dancing with your grandma, though. I'm just happy. I cry when I'm happy."

"You're crying again."

"I'm happy again!" She hugged her new stepson.

"Oh. That's good?" He couldn't keep the questioning note from his voice as he hugged her back, chin pointing up at her as she looked down at him.

"Very good."

"Wonderful." Jim came up and put an arm around both of them as the song ended.

"Wonderful evenin', Luv. No interruptions. Jus' you an' me."

"Remembering..." Buffy looked up into her husband's sparkling blue eyes as they made their way around the training room, dancing without music.

"Do you know what our first dance was to?" He caressed her shining hair.

"Did we have a first dance?" She knew they had been dancing at the club in Vegas, but there was no special moment where they paused and recognized a song as their "first dance".

"I dunno, I know we danced."

"We've got music up here. Do you want some?"

"Hardly romantic." He scoffed.

"If it's us, it's romantic." She laid her head on his chest, quivering when he touched the delicately raised flesh between her shoulder and neck, wounds that wouldn't scar, but that still evoked a powerful longing.

"Like that, Pet?"

"Mmhmm. But- no more nibbling me in front of Dawn."

"I told you, I didn't even realize she was watchin'. Was too busy watchin' us. God, I am pale, aren't I? But pretty handsome." Spike sighed, thinking back to his appearance on their wedding DVD.

"Sinfully delicious." She corrected. "It was nice we both wanted to do that today. Watch the video and eat popcorn."

"Wanted to do other things, too, Luv." His hardness strained his soft black sweats an he pulled her rear against him. "Wanna go again, Precious? Dawn isn't back from the Watcher's yet..." He tempted.

"Dance first. Whatever we play- it's gonna be our song." She frowned, reconsidering. "Unless it's techno. Or your hard punk rock crap."

"Or your bleedin' little hippy chicks, with their long skirts and whiny, whispery voices. Rather have a soddin' banshee singin' than some of those birds."

"Deal. Unless we both hate it." Buffy flipped on the radio and adjusted the tuning.

"I've never heard this one. Like the beat. Good for fightin'. Good for lovin'." Spike pressed her suddenly to him, hard, jerking her back against his chest, his jaw pushing forward as his tongue curled in lustful smirk.

"But how is it for dancing?" Buffy pushed him back slightly, locking eyes with him. "And the words have to mean something."

"Then shut your mouth an' listen." He growled softly, closing her mouth with his own, and letting her guide them in a hard, pulsing rhythm.

Well I took a walk around the world to ease my troubled mind

I left my body lying somewhere in the sands of time

But I watched the world float to the dark side of the moon

I feel there is nothing I can do, yeah

I watched the world float to the dark side of the moon

After all I knew it had to be something to do with you

I really don't mind what happens now and then

As long as you'll be my friend at the end

"Watched you go dark, Luv." Spike whispered.

"Watched you go light." She countered.

And if I go crazy then will you still call me Superman?

If I'm alive and well, will you be there holding my hand?

I'll keep you by my side with my superhuman might


"Oh, God, yes, this is us." Buffy cried. Hadn't they both helped each other through mental anguish, even outright craziness? "You were always my superman."

"Wasn't. But you've always been my kryptonite, Luv. Ever since I met you." He rasped, hands suddenly gripping her hard around her shoulders. "My only bloody weakness..."

You call me strong, you call me weak

But still your secrets I will keep

You took for granted all the times

I never let you down

"I'm sorry, Spike." She moaned softly. Their dancing had now become more of a standing, swaying grope, clothes starting to lift or sink as they kissed more and more fervently.

"For what?"

"Never realizing all the times you didn't let me down. All the secrets you kept for me. For Dawn. To protect us. Oh God, Spike, with Glory- wh-what you did for us..."

"Shh, Baby. Let you down so many soddin' times, don't fret about when I managed to do the right thing." He soothed, her shirt and bra passing smoothly over her head as he cradled her bare top to his.

You stumbled in and bumped your head

If not for me then you'd be dead

I picked you up and put you back on solid ground

If I go crazy then will you still call me Superman?

If I'm alive and well, will you be there holding my hand

I'll keep you by my side with my superhuman might


The song's refrain repeated twice more, softer each time. Buffy and Spike were no longer on their feet by the time the song ended.

"This is so not a first dance." Buffy groaned as he slid into her.

"This is our dance, Luv." Spike disagreed. "This is our song. No arguments."


"You can find somethin' else soft an' sweet for us if you'd like. But this will always be a song for you an' me." He forcefully pinned her shoulders back before worshipping her neck and throat with his mouth and blunt teeth.

"Spike." Her voice was pointed, losing its husky, whispering tone.

"Luv?" He looked up from his work, finding her eyes.

"You're my kryptonite. My only weakness. Y-you have to know that when we were fighting the First, and you were-"

"Killin' innocent people and not even bloody aware of it?" He stopped his steady movements inside her, eyes sliding to the side. The guilt burned into him, ate him up, back when he still hadn't gotten a firm handle on having a soul, when his mind was still so troubled. Now, he was rarely, if ever, troubled by his past crimes. He knew he was doing everything he could to make up for it, to atone for his sins.

"So many times they told me to- to take you out." Buffy clasped his neck and directed his eyes back to hers. "Even you asked me to."

"I know. I know, Baby." And sometimes he'd thought that she should have done it.

"You're my only weakness. You and Dawn. I- I just wanted to make sure you knew that."

"I know that, Luv. And don't think that every day I'm not amazed by it."

"This is the most amazing day of my life." Essie sighed contentedly. "I don't want it to end."

"We can stay as long as you want, Baby. My mom can take Sul home, and our luggage is in the Mustang. We just have to swap it into the limo before Max drives the car back for us. But the night is ours."

"What time does our flight leave in the morning?" Essie shouted over the suddenly blaring music and the crush of bodies dancing on the floor.

"11:30." Jim shouted back. "Time for us to sleep in."

"Who's going to sleep?" She winked.

"Jim, are you seriously going to hog her the whole time? I haven't seen her much in three years." Sammy came up and interrupted the dancing couple.

"C'mon. He hasn't had one dance with me yet. Go get one of Patrick's girls. Give her a thrill." Essie nudged Jim away.

"Hell, no." Jim laughed. " They're teenagers, and I think they've rapidly gotten over the 'Spike lust' since they met me as Jim. And besides, my nephews are making short work of Patrick's girls. The ol' big blue eyes trick..."

Patrick, dancing past with his own wife overheard the comment, and corrected him. "It's not the eyes, mate. It's my girls. The accent. Pulls 'em every time."

The reception went on, the sunset fell, and a perfect full moon rose and turned the accents of the room from gold to silver. Soon, only the bridal party and immediate family was left on the dance floor, and the children were snoozing and snacking on the benches lining the terrace. Patrick and Gwenn were giving the DJ a break, singing together and alone, Patrick with his guitar on his knee, and then Sul, awake and back for another piece of cake, joined him, watching the guitarist eagerly.

"He's gonna be great one day." Essie murmured into her husband's shoulder. "Like you. Do you ever think you'll give up acting and do music?"

"Not full time. Not until all the kids are out of school. Acting in movies and shows is gonna put them through any college they want."

"All the kids?" Essie blushed.

"Well- not right away. I didn't mean- No pressure." Jim stammered. Essie laughed.

"Do you know how much I make per episode?"

"No, but I know it's a lot. And you don't know what your next job will be, so save your money."

"Our money." Essie corrected firmly.

"It doesn't matter. I want to make sure I can take care of us. And- any little pieces of us we happen to create. Someday. If you want to."

"I want to. But right now I'm pretty thrilled with the little piece of you you're letting me share." She nodded towards Sul.

"Dad! Can you do this?" Sullivan pointed to Patrick's flying fingers.

"Probably." Jim laughed and sauntered up to his son and friend with his new bride on his arm.

"Probably a lot better than I can at this point, mate. Only saw you do a champagne toast, but I've been making good use of your open bar."

"Not as good use as you would have without your girls here. Thank God." Jim muttered, and held out his hand.


"Can I borrow your guitar, man?" Jim flipped his fingers impatiently. "I'm gonna play for a minute. Everyone wanted me to, and now I am. Can I borrow it or not?"

Patrick passed it over gladly, and vacated his chair. Jim sat and cleared his throat. "Alright. This one's for the two most important people in my life, Sul and Essie. Love you, Baby. Love you, Little Man. You're all that matters to me." Jim started to play, swaying, eyes closed at first. He was always more afraid to sing than to show his body. To act. To sing was to put yourself out there, show your heart, not just what you could do with your physical form.

So close, no matter how far

Couldn't be much more from the heart

Forever trusting who we are

And nothing else matters

He opened his eyes and melded them with Essie's. He began to sing louder. She's the one I trust, I can sing to her, whatever I want.

I never opened myself this way

Life is ours, we live it our way

All these words I don't just say

And nothing else matters

Yeah, trust I seek and I find in you

Every day for us something new

Open mind for a different view

And nothing else matters

He turned his gaze to Sul's blue eyes, the clearest proof that this child was his own. And this boy was something that he had never doubted. Never really been worried that Sul, with his bright, innocent mind behind bright, innocent eyes wouldn't be able to see Essie for what she was. See how she would fit in their lives.

Never cared for what they do

Never cared for what they know

And I know

So close, no matter how far

Couldn't be much more from the heart

Forever trusting who we are

And nothing else matters

The rest of the room was silent. Couples were locked in each others' arms as they listened, and Sul stood with his head resting on Essie's side. They were all he could see, the rest of the room was in shadow to him. The people he trusted were surrounding him, ringing him, he could feel them all around, but those two, nothing else mattered nearly as much to him.

Never cared for what they do

Never cared for what they know

And I know, that's right

Hadn't they been wrong to go down this path? Yes, this trip all started with the worst day of his life, of her life, with both of them plunging into a new relationship and smashing the old ones all to hell. And from the chaos, something right had come.

Trust I seek and I find in you

Every day for us something new

Open mind for a different view

And nothing else matters...