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: Thank you for all the support. I love this story, and I love you guys.

Dedicated to Omslagspapper (the fabulously talented cover artist), Jewel74, Ginar369, Illusera, Jhiz, Michelle, and AGriffinWriter.

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.


"Missed a button." Buffy pointed to Spike's shirt, hurriedly patted her hair into place, and threw open the windows to let in the night breeze. "Can you stir the meatballs?"

"Your necklace is caught in the back of your dress, Pet." Spike buttoned himself and tucked his shirt in neatly. "You've torn my cuff!" He sounded genuinely aggrieved.

"I'm sorry, we'll sew it up."

"This is the shirt we got married in." He mourned.

"Oh. Oh, honey, I'm sorry." Buffy smoothed herself down once more and came to his side. "You look wonderful. I bet Willow can magic it good as new. As soon as she gets here."

"Where in the world are those two? Fancy a beer. Worked up a thirst." He gave her a playful, saucy smile. "Not that I didn't get plenty to drink."

"Drink! You better get that blood out of the fridge and eat before non-family members arrive."

"I will." Spike reassured, and tossed a mug of beef blood in the micro. "Gonna have my smoke real quick."

"Okay!" Buffy called from the hall closet, retrieving Dawn's gift.

"Bloody hell!" Spike had opened the door, and walked right into the embracing bodies of Xander and Willow. There was a thud and a curse.

"Spike?" Buffy shut the closet door with a puzzled frown .

"Uhhh. Hi guys. We're here." Xander waved with an embarrassed smile.

"I knew it! Bloody well told you." Spike yanked the couple inside, picked up the bag of ice, and shoved them into the living room.

"Hi. You two are right on time, can you help me- okay... what's with the weirded out expressions?" Buffy's rapid hostess instructions were replaced with a questioning look between the two new arrivals.

"Xander and Willow, sittin' in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g..." Spike beamed smugly. "Told you."

"You knew?" Willow gasped.

"I told you he knew." Xander sighed.

"You knew?" Willow pointed to Buffy.

"I told her." Spike kissed the top of the witch's head. "Pleased as punch for the both of you. Honestly."

"Me, too!" Buffy squealed and hugged both of her friends, causing the bottles of soda they were holding to crash to the floor, but fortunately not to explode.

"Wait!" Willow cried guiltily. "I can explain."

"What's to explain?" Spike popped open a beer and passed one to Xander, took one for himself and then clinked bottles. "You two love each other."

"Well- yeah. B-but I'm still gay." Willow pointed out fiercely.

"Always knew you were a bit of a girl." Spike smirked to Xander.

"Shut up, Blondie."

"No one's taking this seriously!" Willow whined to Xander.

"Would you like us to ask you a million questions?" Buffy asked brightly. " 'Cause we can, but it's so annoying."

"Honey, look. They don't care. Not in a bad way. Relax. Have a beer."

"I need cocoa." Willow whimpered.

"Comin' up, cocoa for the gay witch in love with the pirate wannabe." Spike pulled his mug from the microwave, drank it down hastily, and began to boil water.

"Spike!" Buffy slapped his head, mussing his sleek hair.

"I'm only havin' a bit of fun." Spike turned serious for a minute. "Don't mind me. If anyone deserves a break, it's the two of you."

Willow and Xander exchanged a look. "We're outed, Baby." He took her hand. "We're having a little- wiggedness with this. See, 'cause we love each other-"

"But not like we loved Anya and Tara." Willow hastily explained.

"No! I mean, Will, no offense, but you've got nothin' on Anya."

"And you- ugh. Compared to Tara, I mean." Will pulled a grimace, and then smiled lovingly at her best friend turned partner. "We're not soul mates."

"No judge-y!" Buffy held up her hands soothingly. "Comforting sex is good. I should know."

"Comforting sex is fine, but if you two would just try the love bit, it makes it better." Spike mumbled.

"We are in love." Xander said softly, firmly. "But we are not soul mates."

"We're life mates." Willow laid her hand protectively on his chest. " We think Anya and Tara are okay with it because, because they know it isn't like it was with them. No one else for us. We're relief pitchers until we get pulled out of the game and rejoin our home team."

Buffy and Spike exchanged a glance. "They lost me at the end." Spike confessed.

"Could you do that again? In English maybe?" Buffy stared at them hard.

"It doesn't matter. We're in love, and yeah, we're making with the smoochies." Xander explained.

"Who's smooching?" Dawn and Giles came in, laden down with flowers, two trays of brownies, a bottle of something alcoholic, Dawn's robe and mortarboard, and various items from the scavenger hunt. "Hi guys. My friends are coming over later. They went to Frosty's but I wanted to get home." She dropped all of her things in a heap, helped Giles with his bundles and then beamed around the kitchen. "So? Smoochies?"

"Oh. It's um, nothing really." Buffy tried to cover for her blushing friends. Spike gave a long suffering sigh and poured Willow her needed cup of chocolate.

"Aww. Come on. Tell me. Smoochies are of the good, make-Dawn-vicariously-happy variety."

"Vicariously? Where is my little sister?" Buffy hugged the young woman hard.

"High school grad. Hang out with smart people." She gasped through her sister's breathtaking hug.

"Let the girl breathe, will you? Didn't jolly well sacrifice hours on end tryin' to help her pass French so you could crush her windpipe." Spike pulled Dawn from Buffy's arms and into his own. "Proud of my Little Bit." Dawn hugged him back, head in the crook of his upper arm.

"Oh, Xander." Willow sniffled softly into his dress shirt.

"It's okay, Baby." Xander stroked her hair. "She's not going far away."

"You two! It's you two, isn't it? Giles! You owe me five bucks!" Dawn squealed and tore away from Spike, barreling into Willow and Xander. "You two are the smoochables!"

"Guilty." Xander confessed with a blushing grin.

"Incredibly guilty." Willow moaned and put her head on the counter.

"Still adjusting, are we?" Giles smiled knowingly and handed Dawn a five, which she tucked in the neckline of her tight white cocktail dress.

"Just a little bit." Xander held his thumb and forefinger an inch apart.

"Well, adjust later. This is Bit's party, not True Confessions, an' I will not have it buggered up! Watcher! Have a beer. Red, Xander, help Buffy in the kitchen, Bit, you go put on some music."

"And what are you going to do?" Buffy demanded.

"Gonna go have my smoke, like I tried to do ten minutes ago." He said through clenched teeth, and pushed out the front door.

"This is the bestest graduation present ever." Dawn yipped and hugged Willow and Xander again.

"Thanks, Dawnie. Just- don't get too excited, okay? I'm not really celebrating this."

"You should! You so totally should! Tara is so happy! I can feel her being happy." Dawn looked at Xander. "And Anya. 'Cause she knows you'd be back to her like a snapped rubber band. And they love you like that."

"She wasn't here for the earlier conversation, was she?" Willow asked Buffy with a surprised frown.

"Uh-no." Buffy looked impressed. "Guess Dawnie's all growed up and an insightful smarty pants."

"Nope. Smarty swan. Do you love this?" Dawn twirled in her white dress.

"I do, but Spike-"

"Oh, he can deal for tonight. It's my night, and he's all gushy. Maybe he'll even let me drive the De Soto!"

"Not bleedin' likely!" Spike shouted through the door.

"Stupid vampire hearing." Dawn muttered, as she switched on the stereo in the living room.

"Hey! My pearls! You have my pearls!" Buffy suddenly noticed what Dawn was wearing as she turned back around. "I didn't tell you you could wear those!"

"I didn't ask! You and Spike were getting all freaky in the training room and I was running late." Dawn explained, snagging a sandwich.

"We weren't 'getting freaky!'" Buffy hissed. "We were re-calibrating all the weight machines."

"In Dawnster's defense- it's really kinda hard to tell." Xander coughed and looked skywards innocently.

"Well, next time, check!" Buffy ignored Xander.

"You want me to call in to whatever room I hear puffing and grunting in and go 'Hey, are you having sex or just working out?' Really?"

"No. Just-just leave a note, okay?" Buffy put her hands on her hips. "Do you have my sapphire pendant, too?"


"I do." Giles snapped his fingers.

"You do? Didn't think it was your style." Buffy gave him a cheeky grin.

"You left it at my house last week, when you came to train with Dawn and I. You also left your aerobics noise CD. I won't call it music, Buffy, so don't ask me to." Giles said dryly.

"What's the big about the necklace, Buf?" Xander asked.

"Oh, nothing, I just wanted to wear one of them and instead I had to wear something else." She patted her neck.

"Honey! We've got guests!" Spike called suddenly in an abnormally loud voice, which meant, "Everyone stop talking magic and demons and pretend to be suburban America's poster children!"

"Jenna! Claire!" Dawn squealed.

"Pour drinks." Buffy hissed to Xander, and swept off to play hostess.

"My soddin' head hurts." Spike groused. "Is our girl friends with the entire senior class?"

"It only seems like a lot because they keep moving around." Xander, in rolled up sleeves and an unbuttoned shirt, stood next to Spike who was wearing the same. "Is your AC broken?" He fanned himself with a paper plate.

"No, it's on. But there must be 50 squalling brats in the living room alone."

"Ah, body heat." Xander sighed. "Speaking of hot bodies, where's Willow?"

"Oh my God, Dawn. Your brothers are so freakin' hot." One of Dawn's friends from drama club was fanning herself as she stared at the two well-muscled, open-shirted men in the kitchen.

"Huh?" Dawn looked startled. "Oh. Yeah." She shrugged.

"What's it like living with that piece of meat around?"

"Which one?" Dawn laughed cooly, hackles slowly rising.

"I don't care. Dark or white meat. It's all yummy." She said, eyeing up the pale blonde, and the slightly sweaty brunette.

"You know what, Nicole? I don't think I like you calling my family members animal by-products. You can go now."

"Wh-what?" The girl looked startled. Buffy, appearing behind the pair, tapped Nicole's shoulder.

"My sister said she doesn't like you comparing her brother-in-law and family in general, to meat." Buffy smiled with a saccharine tone. "Especially since the one you referred to as 'white meat'? He's mine."

"And the- the- the other one is mine." Willow joined in, blushing.

"Sorry. I think I'm gonna head out now." Confronted by two pissed off women and one uncomfortable but annoyed one, Nicole bolted.

Dawn waved her off with tolerant sigh. "Oh, that's just Nicole. She's a good actress, but when she has to think of her own lines, she totally fails." Dawn hugged her sister and Willow quickly. "It's getting late. Or early. A lot of these guys have to go. And I'm going to spend all day tomorrow and Sunday at parties, okay?"

"Okay. But keep your phone on. And leave me the names of the people you're visiting." Buffy reminded her.

"Yes, I got it, I know the drill."

"Okay, you're right, you do. I'm gonna go help the hotties in the kitchen, maybe send them on a soda run, get them away from teen lust." Buffy sighed.

"I'll go with you. Scared now." Willow fanned herself.

"Why are you scared, silly?" Buffy tugged her friend through the crowded living room to the kitchen.

"I just told someone Xander and I are- that he's 'mine'! Oh, that's so weird. I want a beer now." Willow tripped over someone's graduation program and landed firmly against Xander's side. "Hi." She looked up at him with a petulant pout.

"You can drink all you want." Spike passed Willow a bottle. "He'll still be yours in the morning."

"That's kind of comforting. And snuggly. I like that part." Willow took Xander's arm. "We need soda and patrolling." She handed the bottle back to Spike. "Give that to someone who needs it."

"You can't patrol in that. Either of you." Buffy protested, looking at Willow's dress and Xander's modified dress clothes. "Come on upstairs. I'm hot as hell in this dress-"

"You sure are, Luv." Spike grinned.

"I mean, I'm sweating into a state of dehydration. I'm gonna go put on some nice, not made out of non-breathable fabric clothing."

"I'll run home and get something. I don't quite fit into Fang's outfits."

"Will, you've got some jeans and a sweater you left here upstairs."

"Oh, okay." Willow waved to Xander and they went their separate ways.

"Will, help me." Buffy stood in her underwear, digging through her closet. "What looks like responsible parent-type wear combined with it's 1:00 in the morning wear?"

"Uhhh. Oh, this one." Willow pulled out a pair of neat black cotton capris. "And a nice polo shirt, and you're good."

"I don't own a polo shirt."

"Well, something like a polo then." Willow tugged her clothes on and left her dress on Buffy's bed. "That's a cool necklace. I never got to look at before."

"Oh yeah. Not really my style, but it had the whitish-bluish thing going for it." Buffy found a white peasant blouse and slid into it. She turned and held out the pendant to Willow.

"Hey, the symbol of the Amore Immaculate." Willow seemed pleased with herself. "I haven't see one over here. Ever."

"Say what?" Buffy looked startled. "Giles didn't even recognize this! Amore? Isn't that the pasta place off the South Garden exit?"

"That's not the only definition of the word."

"It's in another language, isn't it? I suck at languages. So speak to me, oh many languaged one. What does 'amore immacalate' mean?" Buffy and Willow headed down the stairs, both of them sighing in relief as they noted the herd of teenagers was thinning.

"Amore Immaculate." Willow corrected her. "You know, like the Immaculate Conception? The 'love immaculate' or 'immaculate love', although this was formed after that, kind of a namesake thing."

"Oh. That's kinda creepy. Angel gave it to me as a wedding present. The immaculate love? The clean, shiny love? Is that a jab at me? At Spike? Oh, eww. I gotta take this off. I never wore it before, and I am not wearing it again." Buffy unclasped the chain and prepared to hurl it to the ground as she and Willow pushed out the door to the porch, waiting for Xander.

"No! Wait, that's rare. I mean, it isn't the original one, but even a copy is pretty rare."

"You want it, you can have it." Buffy said quietly.

"Give it to Giles. It'd be a total gem for his weird magical object collection."

"Ohh. Alright. Be careful, Will. Come back after?" Buffy asked, waving at Xander, who waved at them as he rounded the walkway to their townhouse.

"Super zippy!" She nodded, and they hugged quickly.

"Giles! Present for you." Buffy tucked the chain into his hand.

"Oh, what? Oh, thank you, Dear." Giles said distractedly, as he was deep in conversation with two of Dawn's drama club friends. "What is it?"

"Something I don't want." She said stiffly, and tracked over to Spike. "Hi, Honey."

"Hi, yourself. What's wrong, Pet? Had enough of being the hostess?"

"Where's Dawn? I want this party over. Okay, not over, but back to just the six of us."

"I'll speed it up. Last call!" Spike shouted, and the guests stampeded to him.

"Oh, brilliant idea, Spike." Buffy squeaked.

"Shut up an' pour." Spike tossed her a bottle of soda and another packet of plastic cups.

"Dawn! Hey!" Matthew smiled at Dawn as she saw the last of her guests to the door. "Umm. I know we haven't always gotten along..."

"That's not true." Dawn smiled politely. "We act together just fine."

"No, I know that part. I meant- hey, last year? When I said your family was kinda-"

"You said weird." Dawn's eyes flickered suddenly. "And you didn't say 'kinda weird'. You said 'so weird'."

"I was trying to apologize." Matt said.

"Oh." Dawn blushed, and then collected herself. "Well, good. You should. They're not weird." She crossed her fingers behind her back. "They're the best family in the entire world."

"You're lucky to have a cool family like this. I think, now that I met them, they're really nice- even if they keep calling me Michael, not Matt, but um. Yeah. And you're really nice."

"Thanks. You're not a total jerk."

Matthew laughed. "You hold a grudge."

"You think I'm bad? Wait until you meet my sister."

"I just did. I'd like to meet her some more. Like, maybe when I come to pick you up to take you to the movies next weekend?" He asked cautiously.

Dawn blinked, and then smirked. Acid test time. "You have to get past Spike."

"Is that your brother?"

"Brother-in-law, really, but don't tell him that. I'm his baby sister."

"Well, I'd like to- is that the guy with the scarred eye, or the guy with the missing eye? Your family has eye issues."

"Spike. Scarred eyebrow. Bad temper. Major protective streak, like one of those trained police dogs that only has one handler and rips the arms off of anyone else." Dawn said with emphasis on the graphic violence. "You have to ask him first."

"Okay. I'll go in now. And ask." Matthew croaked. Dawn grinned.

"You don't have to. For real. That was the test. You must want to go see a movie pretty badly if you'll go in and face him." Dawn placed a hand on his sleeve. "It's really nice of you to ask me. But I just wanted to tell you, I know you're going to school in North Carolina. I'm not. So, I'm not into a 'dating' thing. Just a friend thing. Okay?"

"Oh. Okay. That's smart." Matthew nodded.

"Bit!" Spike shouted from inside. "Come open your prezzies." Dawn smiled genuinely at her fellow senior, waved goodbye semi-shyly, and headed inside.

Xander and Willow raced back to the house. "We are so, so bad. We were supposed to patrol." Willow whimpered.

"We patrolled. Got three. And a half, if you count that weird short, wispy thing in the cemetery."

"But the- us against the tree. That was bad! Very bad!"

"No more of that, then." Xander gave her a smile. "You want strictly vanilla, bedrooms and candles, I got it covered."

"I'm not saying that. I just mean-" Willow bit her lip. "I feel naughty." Her lip escaped from her teeth and curved into a smile. "And it was fun."

"This is amazing!" Dawn hugged Giles and held up her gift.

"It's a journal." Buffy said dryly.

"It's a Watcher's Diary. Look!" Dawn was almost in tears. "Look! Engraved! 'Dawn Summers. The youngest Watcher in history'." She rocked back and forth in Giles' arms. "Thank you for believing in me."

"Oh, sod it. I asked you to give her your present first 'cause I thought it was just some bloody book. Ours isn't gonna look like much now." Spike smirked and dropped a set of car keys into Dawn's hand.

"Noo wayy!" Dawn shrilled and leapt from Giles' arms to Spike's and Buffy's.

"It's parked 'round back of the leasing office. It's not new. It's not fancy. But it's yours."

"And I picked it out. It's baby blue, and has white Von Dutch pinstripes, just like you wanted. Oh!" Buffy dug around in the stack of gift wrap and envelopes, and held up a little gift bag. "Gotta have the fuzzy dice."

"I-wow." Dawn hugged them again, and wiped her eyes. "You're making a really big deal out of this, guys. No one else's families are going crazy like this."

"Yeah, but you're our own little Dawnster." Xander slipped an envelope into her hand.

"You're kind of the baby. But in a good way." Willow slid a bracelet up her wrist.

"You didn't!" Dawn leaped and jumped, and waved three tickets in the air. "It's tickets to the Fourth of July concert at Madison Square Gardens! Oh, my God! Oh, my God! " She hugged Xander, and then Willow. "Oh. And the bracelet is beautiful."

"Look at it harder. You studied this." Willow smiled encouragingly.

"It's- I know what this is." Dawn held up the bracelet and jingled the three charms on it. "The- Fates right? Clotho, Lachesis, Atropos."

"Um, would you like to explain for non-studying gal?" Buffy spoke up, leaning back against Spike's cool chest.

"The Fates, they spin the thread of life, and they measure it, and cut it. But some believe if you wear the symbol of the Fates, one for each sister, you're protected, and they can't cut your thread until your life's work is done."

"It's not a real one. It's more like a wish for you." Willow smiled.

"Your wishes mean a lot to me." Dawn said, and hugged Willow tightly. "This is the best day of my life so far."

"Would you like to make it better?" Spike jangled the car keys again.

"Test drive!" Xander shouted, and the three of them made for the front door. "Come on, Giles!"

"No, thank you, I think I'll stay here. Enjoy the quiet. Buffy, Dear? Tea?"

"Tea for three, coming up." Buffy bustled around, humming happily. "Giles, you can take off your coat and roll up your sleeves. It's just us now."

"Thank God. I do try and look respectable. Ever since Dawn made her little jest about the amorous nature of our relationship, I try to be as 'fatherly' as possible in front of her friends." He rolled up his sleeves, showing his tattoo, and then said "Bugger it." And took the shirt off completely, revealing a thin white tee shirt underneath. "Bloody hot." He pulled the already crumpled handkerchief from his coat pocket as he slung it over the chair, and mopped his brow. A faint metallic tinkling caught his attention, and something fell from his pocket to the floor. "Buffy? That little present you gave me, that's the necklace Angel gave you as a wedding gift."

"I know. I don't want it, but Willow says they're rare in this part of the world, so you can have it."

"Oh, d'you know what it is?" Giles held it out to Willow.

"It's the Amore Immaculate."

"Oh." He endeavored to sound like he understood. "The Immaculate Love? That's touching."

"Giles." Willow rolled her eyes. "You Watchers. You study the evil way more than the good."

"That is, unfortunately, what we must do." He said patiently.

"The Amore Immaculate is named after the Immaculate Conception. I mean, the real one is. This has gotta be copy, cause the real one was forged a looong time ago."

Buffy sat out three mugs and a box of tea bags. "Whatever. It's ugly. It's old. It's kind of a jibe at Spike and I, and I don't really want it."

"I do recall something about this now..." Giles squinted at it. "It's a fertility talisman, isn't it?"

"Yeah, the real one. If you had the real one you'd be guaranteed a child, no matter what your limitations were, as long as two people love one another."

The sound of broken crockery derailed Willow and Giles' discussion. Buffy slammed into the counter, and yanked the chain free from between their outstretched hands. "What? What did you say?"

"Buffy, the cups!" Willow started scraping up the pieces of shattered mugs.

"Screw the cups, what did you say this thing could do?" She asked desperately.

"The original one, Buffy. It's a fertility thing."

"How do you know it's not real?"

"I-I assumed. And it doesn't fit the description. The center is supposed to have a ball of blue light."

"Yours just has two small blue dots." Giles pointed out regretfully. "Look, Buffy, I know how hard it is, but there are-"

"Three dots. It has three." Buffy corrected him.

"Two." Willow gently disagreed. "It can't be the original one, Buffy, it's been lost for a long time, decades, maybe centuries." Her eyes widened. "Although- if anyone could get hold of it..."

"It would be someone who had dealings with the Powers, or some powerful, inter-dimensional force." Giles finished softly. "Like Angel."

Buffy reached over with her panther like reflexes and smacked Giles hard, right across the face. "What the bloody hell was that for?" He demanded in shock, rocked off the barstool and onto the floor.

"Some Watcher you are! You didn't even recognize this? This legendary thing?" Buffy grasped it passionately, hot, frustrated tears overflowing.

"I am sorry, but fertility talismans aren't part of the Watcher course work! It's hardly demonology, and certainly not the kind of wedding gift I'd expect Angel to send, to encourage you and Spike to create little Spikes and Buffys!" Giles cried defensively.

"Buffy! Giles! Calm down!" Willow begged, getting between them.

"For two years, Giles..." Buffy breathed hard. "I had the answer to our prayers sitting in the junk drawer of my kitchen."

"You don't know that this the true artifact, Dear." Giles opened his arms to her. "I'm sorry I never researched it for you. I should've done."

Buffy tried to calm herself. "It's my fault. No, it is. I'm sorry I hit you. I'm sorry I broke things." She sniffed. "And this thing doesn't even work. Spike isn't a 'person', not to the people who made it." She sobbed suddenly, softly on Giles' chest.

"Umm. Buffy? I- I don't wanna get your hopes up. B-but the Amore Immaculate. Isn't based on the 'person-ness'. It's based on a soul. I mean, you know the story. Human mother, Divine Father."

"Of course, you'd have to wear it, presumably, during the- the act. Of procreation." Giles said uncomfortably. "And we haven't verified anything."

"I never thought I'd say this, but can we research?"

"Now? It's been a long, busy day." Willow winced. "And I don't want you to get all excited."

"Excited! Excited? Will, I wore this thing today and Spike and I made love! Spike could be a dad already!"

"I what?" Spike pushed open the front door, leading a giggling Xander and Dawn who were arm in arm and looking windblown. "I'm sorry? I could what?"

Buffy's face clouded. She'd been so excited, she hadn't even sensed his approach. Now she knew exactly how Willow and Giles must be feeling. She would hate herself is she got his hopes up and then smashed them. "Oh- we were just saying something. Nothing, really. That we read someplace." Buffy tittered nervously.

Spike licked his lips and crossed the room to her, hands wrapping tightly around her wrists, shaking the chain loose from her her hand. "Once again, I'm askin' you." He said through carefully controlled pseudo-breaths. "What did you say? An' what does this little trinket from Peaches have to do with it?"

"It's- the necklace." Willow took over as Buffy seemed too torn to speak. "It's an ancient charm. There are certain gifts associated with it. But this is just a copy."

"What gifts?" Spike whispered, eyes locked with Buffy's.

"Children." Willow spoke in a mere breath, her voice a nervous ghost, appearing and vanishing in a blink. Dawn gasped and covered her mouth, Xander took three running steps away from the necklace, and Spike gazed deeply into Buffy's eyes.

She nodded once, shrugging. "I- we don't know yet. We have to research."

"Research. Yeah. Of course." Spike released her hands calmly and gently caressed her face.

"I'm so glad you're taking this-" Buffy gasped as Spike suddenly pitched forward and face planted into the floor, "calmly."

"Vampire's faint?" Xander asked as Dawn and Buffy fell to their knees beside the unconscious man.

"Apparently." Giles said, polishing his glasses.

"I'm fine! I'm fine." Spike sprang up in a few seconds,almost knocking heads with Buffy and Dawn who were peering anxiously over him. "Sorry, got a bit dizzy."

"Me, too." Buffy gave him a frightened smile.

"Well, forget sleeping!" Dawn helped Spike get up, and looked around the room with wide, eager eyes. "C'mon Giles! Watchers' research party!"

"You're far too eager for this." Giles sighed.

The other five occupants stared at him in horrified silence. "For the research! Heavens, I'm thrilled at the prospect. Slim though it may be."

"We won't know unless we do some diggin'." Spike rubbed his hands briskly. "Dawn, Buffy, you go get some rest. I'll do the book work."

"No way!" Dawn picked up her brand new Watcher diary. "This is going to be my first entry ever! I'm going to go get into my comfy clothes, and I'll be right over."

"I assume we're going to my house?" Giles picked up his coat and shirt.

"You've got the biggest library, mate." Spike said with an oddly subdued smile. "Buffy, please, rest? For me?"

"I love you more than life itself. But I'm going to go research. Now shut up and fill up a thermos with chocolate milk for me and get yourself some more blood." Buffy kissed him hard on the mouth, and started for the door.

"So that little v-shaped doo-dad is capable of making babies?" Xander refused to touch it, poking it across the table with a pencil. It was an hour after Spike's fainting fit and all six of them sat around Giles' coffee table, books and laptops in hand.

"Shh." Giles was on his cellphone. "I hate to wake him..."

"It's three hours earlier, and he's a vampire." Spike spat. "This is early for him."

"Hang on- Angel?" Giles laughed nervously. "Yes, yes, I know, it is quite late here. I'm not disturbing you am I?" Oh? Well, no, no if you're interrogating someone I'll leave you to it."

Buffy coughed loudly and Spike rose to his feet threateningly. "That is, Angel, I'll leave you to it after I ask you one quick thing. That necklace you sent to Buffy? What is it?" There was a pause. Giles twisted his silver ear stud absently. "No, I didn't recognize it." He said with an edge to his voice.

"Is it? Is it?" Dawn tugged his arm, and he brushed her hand off distractedly, listening with a concentrated frown.

"However, there are many replicas, Willow assures me that many white covens in South America, Central America, and Spain- I see. Are you- yes, of course you are. Thank you. No, I'll call back next week once I get the notes from Robson. Take care."

Willow asked the question that Buffy and Spike were unable to form. "It's the original?"

"It is. But-" Giles cautioned. "He isn't sure if it still works. The center stone was almost depleted. That's why he advised you not to use it much."

Dawn, who was also cautious about touching the necklace, although through their hour of frantic research, she knew it wasn't a matter of merely touching it, pushed the necklace's center stone gently. "This was all blue. Each blue light is one attempt?"

"And each attempt is guaranteed, if the couple has a pure love, a love immaculate." Willow whispered, much moved. "Even with the being Jewish, I still think it's a beautiful story about how the nuns made it for all those who prayed for the impossible."

"So. Hey, you two do have the whole pure love mojo." Xander shook Spike's hand. "Hang on a minute, Papa, I've got some cigars from your wedding somewhere, and I'm gonna go get them."

"Before you do that, Xander," Giles cautioned softly, "there is the matter of 'pure love'. Don't take this the wrong way, Spike, Buffy, but a vampire, even with a soul, is not considered pure. Angel is not sure it works with vampires."

"But our love is pure." Buffy whispered in a heartbroken murmur.

"I know." Spike smiled at her sorrowfully. "But you gotta admit, I am a rarity, Pet. And my offer still stands, it doesn't have to be me, to feel like it's mine."

"No!" Buffy said loudly, firmly. "No." She repeated more softly. "Your offer still stands, and so does my refusal." The rest of them looked on without full understanding, quiet at witnessing something so private, and saddened that yet again, something that millions took for granted was made difficult and a matter or public research for their family. "Giles. Willow. Isn't there a way to tell if this worked?"

"Presumably the stone looses one blue spark for each life it grants."

"Then it has worked. It had three, now there's two."

"Are you positive?" Giles asked pointedly.

"I haven't looked at it for nearly two years. No. I guess- I'm not." Buffy twisted her hands nervously.

"And it might not work regardless, 'cause of yours truly." Spike sighed wearily. "We've done all we can do. Read everything. Woken up Peaches. Called up and woken up half the wicca chicks in Devon and Pine Ridge, seen eight dozen websites and read ninety useless books. This is Niblet's night, an' we've gone clear off the rails."

"I don't mind! I- Spike, this is what I want to do, help slayers and good guys, most of all the family I love. I had the best day of my whole life, no matter what happens next."

"We'll just have to wait and see." Buffy tiredly rose. "Thanks guys. You've all stuck it out with us for life threatening stuff, and it was nice to look up something pleasant for once." Everyone made encouraging and positive remarks.

"Let's go home." Willow stretched.

"Second the motion." Xander yawned. The family dragged off in their separate directions, Spike and Dawn propping Buffy between them, Xander and Willow holding each other up, heads bumping together as they walked, and Giles forgoing turning the lights off or cleaning up the pile of empty soda cans and books, just heading for the sanctuary of his bed.

"Spike." Buffy whispered in the darkness of their room.

"Yes, Luv?"

"Are you okay?"

"Okay's a rum old word, Pet. I s'pose, yeah, I'm okay." He gave her a deeply satisfied, if exhausted grin. "Got you, don't I?"

"You'll have me forever." She whispered, and slid closer to him in the coolness of their cotton sheets.

"You a bit upset?"

"Maybe." She lay her head on his chest. "Part of me wishes Willow had never told me what that thing was."

"Remember when we used to sit, trapped in our little shadow realm, an' watch our other halves?"

"Yeah." Buffy looked up at him, not following his train of thought, and too tired to try and perceive it through their unspoken communication.

"Sometimes we wished we could never see 'em. 'Cause it hurt so much."

"But it gave us hope, it made us want to fight?" Buffy caught on.

"This gives us some hope, right? And if it doesn't work out, well, I won't be disappointed. I've got my Bit, and I've got you."

"You are a shameless liar." She whispered after a moment of silence.

"Part of my wicked charm." He kissed her cheek softly.

"I love you, Spike. William."

"And I love you. Sweet dreams, Pet."

"Sweet dreams, Buddy." Jim hung up the phone.

"Is he having fun?" Essie came up behind him, padding softly in her bare feet across the kitchen.

"He's spent the entire day riding roller coasters and eating popcorn. And he and Sean have plans to stage an all night pillow fight." Jim grinned and laughed.

"So, way big fun." Essie said knowingly. "It was nice of him to come down long enough to call and say goodnight."

"Well, at least he only has to make two calls now. One to the house, and one to Anna. Remember when he used to call my cell phone, then your cell phone, and sometimes threw in the house phone just for good measure?"

"I love that boy." Essie sighed.

"Me, too. But it is nice to have night to ourselves. Date night, Baby?"

"Order pizza and sit on the couch type of date night?" Essie wheedled.

"We can do that anytime. Let me take you out some place you wanna go. Oh, we could drive to Malibu. We could drive out to that bluff in Santa Monica. I bet it's actually beautiful when there aren't actors and techs crawling all over it."

"But..." Essie blushed. "I was hoping for a repeat performance of this afternoon."

Jim grinned wickedly. "Who says you have be home for a repeat performance?"

"What got into you?" She giggled as he suddenly caught her, picked her up and rocked her gently into the wall behind them.

"Just like being in love with you." He slowly worked his mouth over her neck. "We could go to Santa Monica, stay out all night. Watch the sunrise."

"I'm in." She gasped as the mouth found its way to her breast. "As much as I want this family to grow- I totally love when it's just the two of us."

"Ess..." Jim hauled her away from the wall and over to the couch.

"What are-"

"Santa Monica will still be there in a couple hours. This is one for the road." Essie made delighted noises as he ran his hands lower, over her hips, seeking her heat. He looked down on her, his squirming sweetheart, with her million dollar smile, vixenish and innocent all at once. "I like when it's just the two of us, too." He smirked.

"Good morning, Gorgeous." Spike warbled and sat down a tray beside Buffy's sleeping head.

"Good morning, Handsome." She smiled and stretched. "Is that French toast?"

"It is. Aaand-" Spike pulled a bottle of chocolate sauce from the back waistband of his black sweats, "I remembered you like chocolate on it."

"I think you remembered I like chocolate on everything." She giggled and sat up. "What's the occasion?"

"Just the two of us for the whole day. Niblet woke up about 20 minutes ago and screeched out of here in her new wheels."

"Did she-"

"Yes, she left a list of graduation parties she's going to hit, and yes, she ate something. She's off on her whirl of gaiety."

What?" Buffy squawked, instantly fully panicked. "I just thought all the boys were being scared off by you and your death metal look!"

"Good God, Luv, not 'gay' as in chasin' the birds, 'gay' as in festive, fun. She's off to all of her mates' parties!" He snorted at her lack of understanding. "Valley girl."

"Shakespeare wannabe." She pouted. He laughed again, and she changed the subject. "So she's gone, but the rest of the family-"

"Is otherwise engaged. Giles has a ream of meeting notes to type up and get out to Alliance members, and Xander and Willow, well, you remember how freein' it is not to hide your relationship, don't you?"

"Right. Sleep, sex, more sleep, more sex."

"Probably for a couple days, anyway." Spike crouched on the edge of the bed. "So it's just the two of us for today."

But it wasn't just Spike being "couple-y". Dawn, though she hadn't let anyone in on the "family business" secret yet, started finding reasons to hang out at the house, inviting her friends over most of the time, instead of going to see them, chilling at home, not even driving her graduation gift car much.

Giles took to bringing his laptop over, and an armful of books, saying he was beginning Dawn's training, but seemed to spend a lot of time in hushed conversations with Spike or Dawn, laptop and books closed and ignored.

Xander and Willow also contributed to the weirdness. "Guys, not that I'm not used to the locked doors and individual houses being a mere formality in this family, but what's the what?" Buffy, dressed in lilac shorty pajamas, finally demanded when they showed up one morning, only a few hours after patrol, carrying a box of board games.

"What are you talking about?" Willow asked with wide innocent eyes. "I-it's just board games, Parcheesi, Scrabble, ooh, Trivial Pursuits Pop Culture edition!"

"Which I love," Buffy sighed and welcomed them in, "but it's only 9:30 in the morning, and you guys just patrolled. And we were up all night researching that sect of hellhound worshippers. In fact-" Her brow creased, "I haven't been on patrol in three days."

"That must mean it's your turn tonight." Xander said with false cheer, and Willow coughed and cut her eyes at him.

"Okay." Buffy put her hands on her hips, eyes traveling between them. "What is it?"

"Hullo, all!" Spike came thundering down the stairs, bare chested and bare foot, having woken to find Buffy missing from their bed. "Oh, lookit, Slayer, Scrabble. Shall we play? Red, wanna give me a hand with some breakfast?"

"Sure, Spike. Xander, set up the Scrabble board."

"Uh, excuse me, hang on!" Buffy halted her three family members as they all walked past her, two to the kitchen, one to the living room. "We only got about four hours of sleep, and I know you two probably didn't get much more, probably less!"

"Hi, guys." Dawn, in a smiley face tee shirt and ripped sweat shorts appeared at the top of the stairs. "What's going on?"

"Scrabble, Dawnie!" Xander gave a huge cheesy grin and shook the box.

"Giles had us researching until 4!" Dawn grumped. "Buffy needs her rest!"

"Yes, Pet, she's right, you should probably go back up to bed."

"That's right." Willow suddenly agreed emphatically. "Buffy, you go on up to bed, Dawnie, take your sister up to bed." Buffy stared at the four of them open mouthed. "Spike and I will make you some hot tea, would you like that?"

"And I'll run up to the Pine Loft and get you those lemon jelly donuts you love." Xander squeezed her shoulder affectionately.

"That does it! I do not need to be watched every damn minute of the day and night! I can't not patrol!" Buffy shouted and slammed her fist against Xander's innocent arm, sending him rocking into the coatrack. Willow squeaked and Spike cursed under his breath.

"We're not 'watching' you, Buffy. Geez, self-absorbed much?" Dawn retorted with a flounce of her long brown hair and a disdainful sniff. "I'm a Watcher-in-training and even I'm not that interested in your every waking moment."

"Bit." Spike warned with a glare.

"No, Dawnie's right, Buffy. It's just, you know, we're just having some new familial stuff. Dawn's growing up and gonna be moving out soon, and we- we have some new stuff with the smoochie-side of our lives." Willow explained in a not entirely convincing tone. "We're feeling very family-oriented."

"So, no one minds if I go patrolling tonight, right? On my own?" She challenged.

"Well, we always go with you, Luv." Spike laughed easily. "Remember, it's what we get paid for."

"Oh. Okay." Buffy blushed. Maybe she was imagining things. She knew that the possibility of pregnancy, however unlikely, was weighing heavily on her mind, and she knew it was on Spike's, though he never mentioned it. Her friends were probably just concerned about the strain she'd been under, getting her hopes up and all, it wasn't like they were sitting around waiting for the stork to swing by. "Sorry, guys. I don't know why I blew up." She hugged Spike and he patted her back. Over her head, he and the others exchanged hopelessly hopeful smiles.

"Watch it! Watch it!" Spike tackled one of the hellhounds ravaging the park, and consequently, the park pedestrians. "Buffy, get out of here!"

"Why?" Buffy easily caught one of the beasts and flipped it to the ground, snapping its neck. "These aren't so hard to handle." She panted and raced after a second one.

"Willow! Look out, honey!" Xander threw one of his long-bladed knives with fairly accurate aim, especially considering his visually challenged status. There was a howling yelp, and he took a moment to cheer as Willow's spell finished off the wounded creature.

"Good job!" Dawn cheered from the sidelines.

"Yes, well done!" Giles encouraged, although he'd privately been alarmed with the knife throwing, and had a feeling that Xander might have had a lucky shot. He didn't focus on him for long. "Buffy- don't overexert yourself!" He cried before he could stop himself. Dawn smacked him with her flashlight. "Ow!"

" 'Don't overexert yourself'?" Her eyes flashed.

"I couldn't help it!" He protested, shaking his sore hand.

"Okay-" Buffy yanked a snarling hellhound from the path while shouting over her shoulder to Giles, " since when is dealing with a few-" she snapped this one's neck and tossed it in the heap. "evil puppies 'overexertion'?"

"Move, Luv!" Spike's voice bellowed inside and outside her head. Buffy relied on her senses to instinctually pick a direction, then tuck and roll away. Spike crashed to the ground a few inches from where she'd been standing, a two headed hellhound writhing under him. "Xan!"

"On it!" Xander fell in beside him and Willow picked off the last beast with her crossbow.

"Oh, that's rare!" Dawn pointed to the two headed, deceased hound.

"And problematic." Giles moved in to examine it. "An orthrus."

"A who-us?" Xander panted, helping Spike to his feet.

"Two headed hellhound. That sect of hellhound worshippers is getting more dangerous. This was a pack, a hunting pack, and they were able to raise, or call on, an orthrus. The next step is a cerberus."

"I know that one!" Buffy chimed in, starting to drag a carcass over to the pile. Spike wordlessly joined her and pulled the body over. "That's the dog with three heads that guarded the doorway to Hell in Greek mythology."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Xander, leaning against Willow, raised a questioning finger. "Doorway to Hell? Isn't that the same as a-" The group exchanged terrified glances.

"Hellmouth." Buffy sank to the grass.

"B-but this isn't a Hellmouth, right Giles?" Willow squeaked, arm tightening on Xander's.

"No. But if they can raise or call upon a cerberus, the cerberus may lead them to a doorway that they can turn into one. Not an actual one, not something like Sunnydale, but much, much worse than what Pine Ridge currently houses."

"Then I say we don't stop, we work in shifts until we find the sect's meeting place, torch it, and kill any non-humany types." Buffy drew her knees up to her chest, and Spike stood behind her, caressing her hair.

"It most likely will be humans who are contacting the demon world for pups, then raising them, possibly breeding the stronger creatures to create the orthrus." Giles leaned back against a park bench. "Whether or not we can talk sense into them..."

"I wasn't figurin' on talkin' to 'em, Rupes." Spike snarled. "Jus' beat them to a pulp while explaining the naughty thing they've done."

"Gotta say I'm likin' Spike's plan." Xander made a fist and smacked it into his palm. Willow shivered and beamed at him.

"Oooh, tough guy." She purred.

"Times two." Buffy grinned up at her husband. "Although you'd better not get carried away. I'll take the leader, we'll need him to explain how they got the first one, or the first pair, and if they're breeding them or just bringing them here."

Spike and Giles exchanged a glance. "Sure thing, Luv."

Buffy scrambled to her feet, pointing an accusing finger at both her Watcher and her husband. "What was the look? I saw a look, William Summers, don't you dare tell me I didn't."

"Pet, Buffy, listen, I just-" He shrugged helplessly, " wanted to keep you out of that, is all. Could be dangerous."

Buffy smacked him on the arm, hard, surprising both of them. "Dangerous? Are you stupid? I'm the SLAYER! I do dangerous."

"Not when you're all mommy-to-be." Willow protested, and then clapped both her hands to her mouth, looking wide eyed and miserable. "I mean-"

"Ah ha! I thought so!" Buffy crowed. "You're all treating me like I'm gonna break any second 'cause you think there's a bun in this oven."

"We just wanted you to take it a little easier." Dawn whispered.

"There's no record of a pregnant slayer, ever. Nikki Wood was called after Robin was born. I don't know how to handle it." Giles confessed.

"Maternity leave should be someplace in the Alliance policy on salaries and vacations, right, G-Man?" Xander gave a forced laugh.

"No one needs to handle anything. It didn't work, it couldn't have worked, 'cause there're stupid rules, and stupid forces in the world, and Spike and I are an exception to every rule. Stop watching me, stop trying to do my job. Save it for when something actually happens." Buffy began her speech angrily and impassioned, looking hard at all of them but Spike. She ended her speech muttering bitterly, and then stalking off alone.

Spike cast a pained look over his shoulder, and then ran after her.

"Unfortunately, she's probably right." Giles sighed. "Come on then. We've got to dispose of these corpses, and then we need to get to work immediately. We'll take this first shift, and then I'll contact Buffy and Spike with whatever we find and we'll go from there." The remaining three nodded their agreement.

"Buffy, don't you walk away from me." Spike seized her by the elbow. "Look, I'm sorry, I got carried away."

"I know. I know, and some part of me wants to believe you've got a good reason to. But it's too unlikely, and I can't spend two weeks waiting to pee on a stick and find out if the training room goes from the combat look to Mother Goose motif in nine months. These guys need to be stopped, and I need to do my job."

"Of course." He wrapped his arms around her. "We'll carry on as normal." He swallowed hard. "Although-" He cleared his throat. "You know you need to watch yourself, just in case?"

"I already thought of that." Buffy shook her head with downcast eyes. "If I get hit in the wrong place, then there goes the miracle of miracles, right?"

"Don't joke, Pet." Spike breathed in her ear. "Just be careful? Just for a few more days, Luv, just in case?"

"Why? Why do you wanna do this to us, get our hopes up?" She sniffled miserably.

"I don't want to." Spike confessed. "But I never thought I'd have you, and I do. I never thought we'd get out of our void for two, and we did. I never thought there'd be a way, but if all those other miracles can happen to a man like me-" He tilted her chin up and peered into her pink rimmed eyes. "Sometimes I forget myself, an' the hope seeps back in."

She took a deep breath and placed a hand on his cheek. "I'll be careful then. Until we have proof it didn't work."

"You're a brick, Slayer." He aid bracingly, kissing her forehead.

"Great. Building materials are now among my pet names." She laughed ruefully.

"Means your strong. My strength." He smiled dotingly. 'Although, if you like it, I could keep calling you new names, my sweet little-"

"No!" She pushed off his chest with a laugh. "I'll stick to 'Luv' and 'Pet', and 'Kitten'."

"Lamb. Goldilocks. Honey." He rolled the last word off his tongue with a sinful flick of his tongue against her wrist as he caught it and yanked it to his mouth. She giggled and he caught her in his arms. "C'mon home, Honey. Need your 'rest'." He winked.

"Honey, do you want to workout with me?" Essie looked up from her nest of pillows on the living room sofa.

"Huh?" Jim and Sul were practicing a duet in the corner. "Workout?"

"When you two are done." She smiled.

"We've got another twenty minutes of work left, and then yeah." Jim nodded. He repositioned Sul's hand around the guitar neck, and watched Essie from the corner of his eye. She got up, rubbed his neck, smiled at Sul, and headed upstairs, probably to change into workout clothes, Jim thought.

"Dad? You okay?" Sul pulled him back to the task at hand.

"Yeah, I'm fine, son." Jim shook out his own hand and repositioned it. "From the bridge."

Essie smiled as she listened to the beautiful-if sometimes choppy- sound of Jim and Sul's duets. She threw on her halter top and lycra shorts and gave herself a once over in the mirror. Still good. She was a little heavier, not working her tail off on a set every single day, but still toned and everything flat that should be flat, curved that should be curved. And Jim wasn't complaining, that was for sure.

Jim couldn't relax until he knew she was back downstairs. He listened intently for her footsteps, and his eyes constantly drifted off to the side, hoping to see her appear. What the hell is the matter with me? I haven't watched for her like this since that first week or so...

"Dad! That's your part." Sul reminded him pointedly.

"Oh, sorry, Sul. Do you want to wrap this up a little early, go call your mom?"

"Sure!" Sul kissed his father's cheek and left, carrying his guitar and still strumming. Jim slid his own back onto its stand and paced for a second before deciding he had to go check on his wife. Check on her? Why would she need to be checked on?

Essie was folding the laundry, carrying a large basket from the upstairs laundry room to their bedroom.

"Whoa, let me get that!" Jim sprang forward and took the basket.

"Don't have to tell me twice!" She laughed. "That kid goes through more tee shirts, we should seriously take stock in a cotton company." Jim laughed hollowly and Essie gave him a look. "What's up, Jimmy?"

"Just missed you." He smiled warmly and nuzzled her cheek, coming to stand behind her, his hands rubbing her torso lovingly.

"Aww. I missed you, too." She chirped. "Where's Sul?"

"On the phone with Anna." Jim nibbled her ear. "You're so soft, Sweetheart. All silky."

"Well, you know the magazines say I have the best skin ever." She giggled. "Airbrushed or not."

"For once, the media circus is right." His hands found their way lower, and she turned to face him.

"When I said workout, I meant spar, not sex." Buffy's double laughed.

"Can't we do both?" He purred.

"Yes, but sparring first." Essie proclaimed. Jim threw his head back and allowed himself to be led back downstairs, uttering many long suffering sighs and theatrical complaints. "Goofball. I miss working with you."

"I miss it, too Babe. At least we have some public appearances together this month." He followed her into the exercise room, and watched her with growing nervousness. "Do you want me to do some yoga with you?"

Essie blinked at him. "Uh. No. Sparring."

"Oh, right, you did say that." Jim watched her move across from her, go into her slight crouch, boxer shuffle starting.

"Gonna kick your butt, Jimmy." She teased.

"I doubt that, Baby." He replied in a cocky voice, slowly crouching into his shuffle as well.

They circled, she struck first, and he blocked. She kept striking, and he kept blocking, until Essie threw up her hands. "I need to practice blocking, too!"

"I know, I'm just wearing you down." Jim grinned. But his punches had no power, he never went into a full leg extension.

"You want me to bring the fight to you? I will, you know I can." Essie sped up her pace, and he returned to just blocking, eyes growing more wary all the time. "Do you think I'm out of shape, is that it?"

"No! Of course-" Jim took the foot to the solar plexus before he could finish the denial. He rocked back with wide startled eyes, and landed on his rear with a gasp, air escaping.

"Oh, my God! Jimmy, Baby, I'm so sorry." Essie fell to her knees next to him. "Aren't you feeling well? We could have waited!"

"Ess," he took her hands in his and pushed himself to his knees, "I can't land a kick, even a pulled one, until we know."

"Know what?" He gave her a significant look and realization dawned. She laughed. "Jim, we won't even know whether or not to test for another week or so. But babies at this stage are indestructible. They're only a couple cells, just chilling somewhere, nothing to hurt."

"I don't know if that's true, though." He mused. "And- I can't. I could never - not if you're carrying precious cargo."

"You are so silly." She kissed his head and pulled him up, ignoring his protests not to do any heavy lifting. "But it's sweet. I love you. Now, train with me? Punches only, high or low, no middle?"

"Essie..." He sighed regretfully.

"Spike'd do it." She taunted, and watched his eyes slit.

"Unless you want your ass kicked like Buffy's, shut up." He growled, sliding into a more aggressive stance.

"Ha! Spike is the one who always ended up on his back!" She swung into a full roundhouse and Jim caught her foot hard and pushed it down harder, knocking her off balance, making her have to take compensating steps, giving him time to trap her arms to her sides.

"Spike wouldn't pull his punches, either." He nipped her ear, and released her. "Take it easy, and we'll do this. As Jim and Essie."

"Buffy and Spike are all tense and wigged out." Willow said mournfully.

"Stupid enchanted necklaces. We live in a freakin' fairy tale where the prince has really bad hair and pointy teeth, and the knights in shining armor are a couple of geeks who got sucked into the evil fighting thing in high school and never found their way out."

"You don't want to quit fighting evil, you love that!" Willow poured them each a glass of milk and doled out some cookies. "Bedtime snack?"

"Bedtime at 3:00 in the morning. Wills, we're gonna have to take that vacation we talked about last year, and just use it to sleep, okay?"

"Deal." Willow collapsed on the sofa. "Giles thinks he knows where the sect is. And the coven is going to help set up a perimeter, keep the evil forces from leaking out, but we'll be able to get in."

"Great." Xander sat, and then paced, and then sat again. "I feel horrible for Buff. And Spike, but don't tell him I said that."

"You're back to the lack of little Buffys and Spikes, aren't you?" She sighed, and curled up into a ball, letting him put his arms around her and snuggle her comfortingly.

"Hellhounds, shmellhounds, we deal with the evil crap every day. Why can't we fight this?"

"We're not giving up, Xander." Willow whispered. "Dawn and I talked yesterday, If this doesn't work, we're taking a trip to Devon. We'll get the entire coven, both covens working on it."

"But what can you do if she won't accept any 'outside help'?" He put his head on top of hers. Willow looked at him quizzically. "What?"

"You were going to offer, weren't you?"

"Offer what?" He avoided her eyes.

"You were! You were going to be the 'outside help'!" Willow looked stunned.

"Only in the medical sense! I know she has major trust issues, and I figured there would only be a couple people she'd ever go to, and one of them is me." He shifted uncomfortably.

"You'd let Spike raise your baby?" She put her hands on her hips in disbelief.

"I love Buffy that much." He said simply. "It isn't like I'd never see it, I'd be its uncle. Maybe we'd even tell the kid about it one day, how Uncle Xander made a special contribution to the Summers' family."

"I think Spike would kill you, soul or no soul." Willow gaped.

"I think Spike would do anything in the world to make her happy." Xander argued. "But it's moot now. She only wants his. I'm never gonna be an uncle until Dawn gets hitched- and looking at all the Watchers I've ever met, I'm betting on that being right about never."

"I'm not saying rush into anything, Xander, but- you know- you and I..." Willow trailed off hesitantly.

"I couldn't ask you to do that. I'm not really into kids, you know? Anya wanted kids. And a house. And a puppy." He laughed softly. "My girl wanted the American dream, and I brought her the American nightmare."

"Tara would have been so fantastic as a mom, wouldn't she?"

"Oh, hands down, she's the one who should have had the kids in our little group. She was the most caring girl, Willow. I'm sorry, Baby, that we never got to see that." Xander pressed her hands between his. "You two would have been naturals."

"You'd have been good, too." Willow smiled softly, eyes filled.

Xander looked down at their joined hands. His were calloused and the knuckles were scarred, and they dwarfed her slim, strawberries and cream fingers. "You and I, Will?"

"I-I dunno." She blushed and her head went down as well, studying their clasped hands. He was stronger than ever. She was too. But no one in this little family ever came away unscathed.

"Not until we find some help for the Blondies." He whispered.

"I couldn't have one more thing that they don't have." She nodded. "And Xander- I'm not maternal. I'm not the 'girl' of a relationship, I'm just me."

"I'm no good with kids. Period. At all. Ever."

"But you know how to love with your whole heart. That's your super power." Willow whispered. "I think that's all you need."

"My parents were terrible. Yours weren't involved. The only role model I have for being a dad is Giles."

"The only role model I have for being a mom is Joyce. And we all know that it was pretty bumpy in the mommy-daughter department there for awhile."

"Will- you always come through." Xander raised her chin in his cupped hand.

"So do you." She whispered.

"It's too soon to think about this. We don't even know what we're doing. We don't know what we'll have to do to stop the hellhounds, or help Buffy and Spike get the one thing they want but won't ever really admit to. We have, to quote the poet dude, 'miles to go'."

"As long as you go them with me?" She asked with a hesitant smile.

"You know it." Xander reassured her. "Come on. Bed time."

He held her in his sleep. Willow smiled and kissed the spot below his sunken socket, and twined her fingers around the crystal teardrop pendant he always wore. The pendant that harnessed the strength of the wearer and the spell caster. He'll be safe.

Keep her safe, Spike knew she was awake, but she didn't move, not even twitch. He pulled her closer, back to his chest. She wordlessly pulled both of his hands down until they rested on her bare abdomen. 'Keep you both safe, Luv.' He whispered from his mind to hers.

'I know.' She responded, and slowly, slowly, let herself relax and fall into slumber.

Giles pulled the throw blanket up over Dawn's shoulders, and moved the book from under her head. "Sleep tight, Little One." He kissed her hair and settled her more comfortably on the couch.

"Love you." She murmured in her sleep.

"Love you." He muttered hoarsely.

"Love you, Essie, Love you, Dad." Sul snuggled deeper into the bed, cats cradled in his arms.

"Night, Little Man. Love you, too." Jim flicked off the light as Essie returned Sul's affectionate words.

Jim picked Essie up in a bear hug once they crossed the door into their own bedroom. "I love you, Baby."

"I love you, too." She let herself fall back onto the bed, feeling him press kisses all over her, trailing down her cheek to her neck, her torso, a ring around her navel and stop.

"Just in case anyone's in there," Jim smiled at her satin skin, and gave it a soft poke, "we love you, too."