Part II

Chapter Thirteen

There was silence while everyone gaped at her, and then they all began to talk at once. Giles allowed the babble to continue for a few minutes before he cleared his throat and tried to get their attention. After the talking had tapered off, he cleared his throat again.

"You can do that?"

"I think so. I'd have to research the original curse, but if I can find it, I think I can restore his soul. Buffy would not have to kill him, just capture and contain him until we could do it."

She looked around expectantly and saw a myriad of reactions. Xander looked annoyed; Willow eager, Giles conflicted, Buffy tentatively hopeful, and Spike thunderous.

Before anyone else could speak, he growled, "So, you're going to put the soul back and what? Trust he isn't going to go running after Dru again?"

"You could take her away," Buffy said quietly. "Isn't that what you planned to do? Make her better and then leave? If you went far enough away, maybe he'd be willing to stay here. With me," she finished in a whisper.

Reactions from the men in the room were surprisingly similar. Spike's demon burst to the fore, sending everyone except Buffy and Giles shrinking away in fear. The watcher's face wore a look that no one had ever seen on it – his normally gentle eyes were cold and hard, his mouth set in a tight line and his fists were clenched at his sides. Even as Xander moved away from the demon sitting by his friend, he was spitting out his fury that Buffy would even consider allowing her former boyfriend to live, let alone continue to hang around.

Jenny was taken back by the negative reactions of the three men, but kept her eyes on Buffy as she repeated softly, "I'm sure I could do it. If he was truly chosen by the Powers to be their champion and to help the Slayer, then wouldn't that be a better solution than turning him to dust?"

"And of course, this has nothing to do with wanting the poof to continue the suffering your ancestors wanted for him," Spike said sarcastically.

She met his amber eyes firmly, if with some easily visible fear, and responded, "That would be a happy side effect; although since the original goal was to make him dust himself after years of torment, I don't think it would matter to them. It should be Buffy's decision. She is the Chosen One."

The Slayer looked from her angry watcher to her glaring friend and finally into the amber eyes of the vampire whose lover was responsible for their current situation. She knew Willow would be supportive whatever she decided, and Jenny seemed genuinely willing to leave the decision entirely up to her.

She spoke slowly, clearly still working out her decision while she did her thinking out loud. "He hasn't actually hurt anyone yet—" a strangled snarl from Spike followed by a grunt of surprise from Giles stopped her in mid-thought and she colored with embarrassment as she stared at the only partially-healed vampire with abject apology.

"Oh my God, Spike," she reached toward him, cringing visibly when he jerked his arm away with another snarl. "I'm so sorry. I meant… I didn't…."

"You meant he hasn't hurt anyone human," he growled. "Yet."

Even with the demon still to the fore, it was possible to see the way her words had hurt him. He moved away from her and went to stand by the kitchen, effectively taking himself out of the conversation.

She looked helplessly from the angry vampire to her watcher, finding no help there as he looked at her with open disappointment. Willow's face was scrunched into her most sympathetic look but she wavered back and forth between Spike and her clearly distraught best friend. There was no one in the room who didn't understand that Spike's unwillingness to kill Buffy had contributed to the damage Angelus and Dru had inflicted on him. Nor, that he couldn't have dragged his depleted body from the warehouse and hidden someplace safe rather than coming to the school to warn them of Angelus' return.

Leaving until later the task of convincing Spike that she wasn't discounting his own suffering at the hands of Angelus, Buffy squared her shoulders and continued.

"I meant that he hasn't started feeding on Sunnydale's population


"As far as we know," Xander grumbled, earning a glare from Buffy.

"—and if I can get to him before he can get to any of you, then he won't be able to… distract… me by hurting anyone I care about… again."

She shot Spike an immediate glance to see if he'd heard what she said, but he stubbornly refused to look at her, instead turning away to get the last bag of pig's blood from the cooler.

She sighed and turned back to Jenny.

"How long do you think it will take you to get the curse ready?" she asked her. "I can't leave him – them – running around Sunnydale for very long."

"I'll get on it as soon as I get home," she assured Buffy.

Spike spoke up before anyone else, avoiding looking at Buffy as he addressed the teacher and her librarian boyfriend. He really didn't give a rip what happened to the other humans in the room, although he had to admit that the watcher had been surprisingly accepting of him and he felt he owed the man something.

"If he has any idea what you're tryin' he'll be coming after you too," he said forcefully. "And he's got Dru to see things for him. You can't be sure he doesn't already know."

"Dru? See things?"

He rolled his eyes and shrugged as he grumbled, "Thought those books told you all about us. They didn't tell you Dru's a seer? Was before she was turned and she still has it. O' course you can't always tell what she's talking about, but anytime I could figure it out she was always spot on. She'll be right interested in any plans to put that pesky soul back into her precious 'Daddy', " he added bitterly.

Giles spoke up firmly. "I will go with you to get the materials you need and you can bring them back here to work on it. If we leave now," he checked his watch quickly, "we can be there and back before sundown."

"What do you want us to do, Buffy?" Willow was eager to help, even though she had no idea what she could do against two powerful vampires.

"Actually, Willow, I had hoped you might help me work on the spell to put the soul back," Jenny said with a smile, earning the redhead's gratitude and devotion for the rest of her life.

"Well, I for one, refuse to participate in anything that doesn't involve three piles of dust," Xander spat out. "If Angel can't hang on to that soul, then he needs to be someplace he can't hurt anybody – like a vacuum cleaner bag. And that ho-bag of a girlfriend of yours," he glared at Spike, "she needs to go with him."

"That's two piles of dust, whelp," Spike said slowly, beginning to move toward the boy. "Jus' what did you have in mind for the last one?"

Xander grabbed the large cross lying where Giles had dropped it the night before, holding it in front of him defiantly as he said, "The last one should be you, Deadboy Jr. I don't know what kind of thrall you've worked on Buffy, but you aren't fooling me. You'd kill me in a heartbeat if she wasn't here."

"I'm seriously considering killin' you while she watches," Spike growled, slipping into game face and knocking the cross out of the suddenly terrified boy's hand.

Xander screamed and retreated behind the couch, shouting for Buffy to "Do something! You see? He's a blood sucking fiend just like the rest of them!"

Spike continued to stalk toward the couch, waiting until the jibbering boy had been reduced almost to tears as he begged Buffy to save him before shaking off his demon. As the vampire walked back toward the kitchen, he snarled at a bewildered Buffy, "Keep him away from me, Slayer."

Giles sighed and rolled his eyes as Xander's babbling changed from fearful entreaties for someone to help him back to a litany of reasons why Spike should be dust. He had little respect for the boy's intelligence as it was, but to see his small mindedness demonstrated so blatantly just reminded him of the incongruity of the relationship between Xander and the two girls who were his best friends.

"Shut up," he hissed at him. "You brought that on yourself. I'm tempted to let him eat you if you don't stop that stupid babbling."

Spike looked up hopefully, but the watcher shook his head to indicate he hadn't been serious. Giles pulled Xander up by his collar and said resignedly, "I suppose you had best stay here with Willow. Lord knows you are too bloody stupid to be out and about by yourself."

Now that he realized that Spike was not really going to attack him – at least not in front of Buffy or Giles – Xander's anger came back and he pulled away from Giles roughly.

"I'm not staying here to watch you people try to come up with a way to save those bloodsuckers from a well-deserved dusting. I'm going home and I'm going to stay there until somebody gives me a good reason to come out! Like that there is no more Angelus and his evil family," he added with a final glare at Spike.

The vampire's only response was a flat stare that promised eventual retribution and was somehow more frightening than if he'd snarled. With a final epithet aimed at Spike, Xander slammed out the door and into the afternoon sunlight.

His departure left an uncomfortable silence until Jenny broke it by reminding them that the afternoon was advancing quickly and if they were to get where they needed to go and back before dark, they had to get going. Agreeing quickly, Giles offered to drive Buffy and Willow to Revello Drive so that Willow could do the disinvite spell at Buffy's house before evening fell.

With a final lingering glance at the vampire, who still refused to meet her gaze, Buffy sighed and left the house with her watcher, her former keyboarding teacher and her best friend. She tried to focus on the importance of safeguarding her house from Angelus and finding a way to restore his soul rather than the obviously still-angry vampire now lying on the couch in Giles's apartment.

As the door closed behind them, Spike allowed his hurt feelings free rein and he indulged in several minutes of creative swearing in several human languages and one demon. When he'd vented enough of his anger at Buffy's casual dismissal of his injuries to be able to think clearly, he flopped back onto the pillow that still bore lingering traces of her scent and remembered what she'd so bravely done to help repair those injuries.

With a sigh, he admitted that her actions were not those of someone who didn't care about him; comforted, he relaxed and indulged in memories of what it felt like to have that soft but incredibly strong body in his arms. It wasn't long before his reminiscing had him growing hard again and he groaned with the remembrance of how it had felt to have her warm hands stroking him with inexpert enthusiasm. As his pants became tighter and tighter, he gave up the fight and opened them to give himself some relief from the condition the Slayer seemed to inspire even when she wasn't physically present.

This is just a physical thing I've got for the Slayer. Demon's hot for the power she carries around in that perfect little body, that's all. It's not like I would give up my ripe, wicked plum for her or anything like that. I mean, yeah, poncy little William thought she was all that and more, but he also thought she was a bloody elf, so what did he know?

I'll just take whatever I can get from her before I take Dru away and that'll be that. I'm entitled – after having to listen to Dru shagging the poof for hours, if she says anything… she'll get over this obsession with Angelus once I get her away from here and show her how much I love her. Leave the soulful poof to the Slayer if she wants him… I hope she doesn't want him. He doesn't deserve to have that sweet little mouth, those hot little hands, that amazing body… no… can't waste that wonderful… not on the great poof… know she'd feel wonderful… can imagine how tight she'd be… squeezing me with those slayer muscles… Buffy!

With a shudder, he came into his hand, thinking not about his cold, lush-bodied lover but rather of a small, strong body with warm, soft lips and innocent eyes. I am so buggered, was his last thought as he slipped back into a healing sleep.

Chapter Fourteen

Buffy and Willow went all through Buffy's home, making sure that neither Angelus nor Drusilla had already been there before Willow sat down on the living room floor to do the disinvite spell. Buffy doubled-checked the basement, knowing that it would be the most likely place for a vampire to hide during the day, but she found nothing and her vampire radar never went off.

When they noticed it was nearing dusk, they quickly left the locked house and hurried back to Giles' apartment. Buffy was anxious to see how Spike was doing and to find a way to apologize for her thoughtless words earlier.

Foot-in-mouth Buffy is alive and well, I guess. I WAS just thinking about humans – and not just any humans, I was only thinking about the ones I care about. How bad a Slayer does that make me? I know Drusilla can go out and hunt now. She could be feeding him innocent citizens of Sunnydale every night I'm not out there patrolling. I don't care what Spike and Giles say. I have to go find them tonight – before they have time to kill anyone else.

Newly determined to capture Angelus immediately and hold him until Jenny could do the spell, she set off at a pace Willow was hard put to match. They reached the apartment with Willow panting and complaining about her legs, just in time to see Giles and Jenny returning from their trip to get supplies and research materials. Jenny had also brought her own laptop with her to do more research online and Willow shook her head in admiration.

"Look, Giles! We don't have to do all our research in your musty old books. We can do it on the computers."

The watcher looked offended as he cleared some space on the table for all the books, as well as the laptop, but he just nodded silently and moved out of the way. Spike was already up and searching the kitchen for any overlooked bags of blood. He still ignored Buffy, although he could hear her heart beat increase every time she looked at him.

Finally, she could stand it no longer and she grabbed him by the sleeve, pulling him toward the door and saying, "We're going to go get more blood for Spike and do a quick patrol. Giles, you need to have the chains ready in case I find Angelus and can bring him back with me."

Spike's jaw clenched and he said angrily, "I'd like another day, Slayer. I'm still not up to full strength."

"I know," she said calmly, "But then, neither is Angelus, right? So the longer we wait, the stronger he'll be. All you have to do is keep your girlfriend from getting in the way while I fight him."

"And then?" He kept his voice carefully neutral.

"And then I'll drag his sorry ass back here to be re-ensouled, and you can…." Her eyes met and held his for a second. He softened as he saw the sadness and conflict there. "And then, I guess you'll…."

Buffy blinked rapidly, not wanting anyone to see the tears that she couldn't explain as she realized that if all went according to plan, Spike was going to leave Sunnydale that very night.

"Right," he said gruffly, sensing the impending tears and fighting his own unwanted disappointment. "Let's go get that blood and then we'll play it by ear, yeah?"

With admonishments to take care and stay in touch if at all possible, Giles watched anxiously as his Slayer went out into the night in the company of one of the deadliest vampires in recent times. He hoped that his gut feeling about Spike's lack of interest in adding Buffy to his list of dead Slayers was to be trusted as they closed the door firmly behind them.

They walked through the darkening evening silently for a while, communicating with gestures when they needed to change direction in order to reach Willie's. Buffy shuffled her feet with embarrassment when they got there, reminding him that she was too young to go into a bar – even one with demons as its primary patrons. Relief flooded her body when he smiled for the first time since she'd unwittingly hurt him and said, "Not to mention having the Slayer drop in might have a dampening effect on his customers' fun."

She nodded in sheepish agreement, smiling back gratefully when he touched her shoulder before turning to go in by himself. He stopped at the door and looked back to where she was standing as unobtrusively as possible at the corner of the building, saying softly, "You'll still be here when I come out, won't you, pet?"

Relaxing at his first use of one of the generic nicknames she'd become so used to already, she nodded happily and gave him a little wave. He smiled back and went into the bar. He quickly reminded Willie that he was the current Master of Sunnydale and that, if he wanted O Neg instead of his usual Jack Daniels, then it was in the man's best interest to see that it was forthcoming immediately.

As soon as he had picked up his bags of fresh blood and nodded at a few of the demons he recognized, he left the building, looking immediately toward the spot he'd left Buffy standing. His stomach clenched briefly when he didn't see her, but he quickly relaxed when she came around the corner, putting her stake back in her waistband and dusting herself off.

"Sorry," she said, ruefully. "Had to go to work for a minute."

"No wonder you're not welcome here, luv," he said, falling into step beside her. "Really not good for business, are you?"

"Not in my job description," she muttered.

"No, I suppose not," he answered quietly.

And, with that short exchange of words, the reality of the abyss between Buffy's world of slaying vampires and demons and Spike's world of murder and mayhem slammed into them both.

With a strangled cry, Buffy whirled to find that he was already reaching for her; they came together with a desperation and despair that refused to be denied. Her arms went around his neck as he picked her up, holding her to his body with a strength that would have broken a normal human girl. Disregarding the public arena, Buffy fastened her lips on his, hungry for the bone-melting oblivion they could bring.

Growling softly, he poured all his conflicting emotions into the kisses he wasn't sure he could give up, even for Drusilla. William's adoration and childlike belief in her goodness fought with the demon's determination to make her his own, and the adult man just wanted to feel her around him one time before he had to leave forever.

Time seemed to suspend its passage as they clung together on the sidewalk, bodies pressed tightly together and lips and tongues saying all the things neither one was willing to put into words. Eventually, the desire sweeping through their bodies was too much and they reluctantly parted long enough for Buffy to gasp, "My house. Nobody's home."

He nodded and they turned as one to move in that direction, their hands clasped tightly together as though to stop touching would mean a return to their senses and an end to the prospect of quenching the fires raging through their powerful bodies.

The Harris household was quiet for a change. Xander's father was out somewhere, no doubt drinking himself into a stupor before stumbling home. He often wondered how his parents had managed to live as long as they had when they spent so much of their time too drunk to take the normal precautions anyone born in Sunnydale should take without thinking.

His mother had taken her own bottle and closed herself into her bedroom, grateful to have the opportunity to get quietly drunk without having to defend herself. She ignored the ringing of the front doorbell, knowing Xander was home and would hear it eventually.

An afternoon and evening of stewing over the way his concerns had been dismissed by the few people that he knew he could consider friends had put him in a foul mood and his first inclination was to ignore the ringing. When it didn't stop, he thought perhaps it might be Willow or Buffy coming to apologize and he reluctantly got up and made his way to the front door.

He looked out to see a frightened-looking woman in a strange-looking dress and glanced around quickly to see what might be threatening her. Knowing he was safe inside, even if there were vampires nearby, he opened the door cautiously and peered out at her. He was immediately caught in her dark eyes, losing himself in them completely. It was unnecessary for her to ask him to "be in" her, as he was already hers as soon as their eyes met.

Without a thought, he willingly left the house and followed her down the sidewalk, nodding agreeably as she told him how happy her 'daddy' was going to be to see him. When he seemed to falter for a moment as a little voice inside his head began screaming at him, she quickly sent him visions of her naked body climbing on him as he writhed on an old-fashioned looking bed. The voice was instantly silenced as his sixteen-year-old libido led him into the night.

Chapter Fifteen

Oblivious to anything but the need that was consuming them both, Spike and Buffy fell through the front door of her house, her gasped "come in" barely slowing them down as they made it no further than the living room floor before collapsing in a frenzy of questing hands and hungry mouths.

Muffled whimpers from Buffy were matched by heartfelt gasps from Spike as her hands crept under his shirt. His own hands were ripping at her blouse, popping buttons all over the floor in his haste to reach the firm mounds hidden by a barely-there piece of lace. He dropped his head to fasten his mouth on one nipple, suckling through the lace even as his other hand reached to unfasten the flimsy bra.

When his lips fastened themselves on her nipple, Buffy arched into his mouth, sure that she was reaching the pinnacle of pleasure. She fell back against the rug, her body lax as she reveled in the things his mouth and talented hands were doing to her.

"Want you so much, love," he murmured around his mouthful of breast. "Want to love you the way you deserve. Want to give you—"

The touch of her hands on his aching cock caused him to lose his train of thought as he growled his pleasure at her touch.

"Yes, pet. Yes. Touch me. Hold me. Let me feel your warm little hands on me again."

His hands went to the waistband of her pants, unzipping them quickly so he could reach the treasure waiting inside. Buffy shivered and moaned, trying to spread her legs to give him better access.

When he pulled his hand back out without touching her, she whimpered in protest and he murmured against her mouth, "Jus' for a second, love. Need to get them off you if I'm going to see to you the way I want to."

Coming out of her lust-induced fog, Buffy stopped moving and fixed her gaze on the man whose hands she expected to produce more pleasure for her virginal body. Her sudden lack of participation finally got Spike's attention and he stopped his assault on her tight pants to look back at her solemn face. Completely misunderstanding the thoughtful look there, he immediately turned back into William and stopped trying to undress her, beginning to stammer apologetically.

"I'm sorry, love," he whispered, "I told you I wouldn't push you and here I am ripping at your clothes like a—"

"Shhhh," she said, touching her fingertips to his mouth. "I just thought maybe we should move this to someplace more… comfortable."

"And that would be?"

"I was thinking my bed might be good." She blushed as she said it, sure that he would think she was some kind of slut. "I mean, not that I ever… but if I did, I always thought that's where I…."

"Your bed it is, love." He tried to hide how affected he was by her invitation into her bed, but the warmth and reverence in his eyes was unmistakable. One look at his face and she knew that she was making the right decision. Carefully moving away from him, she stood up and held out her hand.

"Come up to my room, William. I want to… I want you to make love to me."

She blushed furiously, aghast at her own boldness, but he gave her no time to rethink the invitation, flowing to his feet gracefully and scooping her up in his arms.

"Which way?" he growled, already heading for the stairs.

"S—second room on the right," she stammered. Her heart was hammering as he took the stairs three at a time, reaching the door to her room before she had time to reconsider.

He deposited her gently on the floor beside her bed, letting her slide down his body until her feet were touching. Capturing her mouth in his, he swept his tongue around it, teasing and tasting while his hands finished removing her blouse and bra. When she was naked from the waist up, he stepped back to look at her in the reflected light from the streetlights outside.

"Beautiful," he whispered in reverence as she squirmed uncomfortably under his admiring eyes. "No, don't… please," he begged when she reflexively tried to cover her breasts. "They're perfect. Just as I told you they would be," he added with a smile.

He pushed her gently back until her knees hit the bed and she sat down abruptly with a little squeal. Kneeling at her feet, he quickly pulled off her boots and began tugging on her pants. To his surprise and dismay, she grabbed at the waistband and blurted, "No!"

"No?" He couldn't hide the disappointment in his voice and she giggled softly before adding, "Not until you…." She gestured at his coat and shirt.

Understanding lit up his face, and he quickly stood up and shrugged out of his coat, peeling off his borrowed tee shirt as well. Buffy's mouth went dry at the sight of his flat stomach and the faint trace of fine hairs leading into the jeans riding so low on his hips. She smothered a little mew of unhappiness when instead of taking off his pants he sat down beside her to unlace his boots first.

When they were both wearing nothing but their jeans, he turned to her and ran a hand softly over her cheek. He could feel her heart pounding and sensed her nervousness as his hands ghosted over the hard peaks that were her nipples.

He teased her with soft, gentle touches and open-mouthed kisses to her face and neck until he felt the nervousness retreat, replaced with growing desire and need. He suckled eagerly on one breast, enjoying the whimpering encouragement coming from the girl in front of him. When she grabbed his neck and pulled him up for another tongue-thrusting, hungry kiss, he finally pushed her gently backwards and pulled her legs up onto the bed.

Still moving slowly and carefully, never taking his mouth off her demanding lips and tongue, he began to push her pants down over her hips. His smothered growl when they wouldn't go anywhere brought a small giggle from the now more relaxed Slayer and he took his mouth off hers long enough to grumble, "Do you always wear such tight pants?"

"Look who's talking," she snarked back as she unzipped his jeans and tried to push them down far enough for her to reach the velvet covered hardness she'd fondled earlier in the day.

He grinned and sat up, sliding to the end of the bed and taking hold of the hems of her pant legs. With short, anxious tugs, he worked them down her hips until he could see the darker curls showing through her thin underwear and he could inhale the heady aroma of her arousal as it was released into the air. He leaned forward, planting a light kiss just over her lace-covered mound and earning another squeak from the surprised Slayer. With a rakish grin, he yanked her pants the rest of the way down her legs and crawled back up until he was hovering over her body.

The sight of Spike crawling like a big cat, his jeans open to show the trail of curls leading to his still-hidden cock caused more moisture to seep out into Buffy's already soaked panties and he smirked in satisfaction. Lowering his head, he buried his nose in her damp underwear, laughing when the surprised girl gasped in shock. Before she had time to wonder what he was doing down there, he ripped through her thin panties with his teeth and stuck his tongue into the damp warmth he found there. Using it as easily as he would have his fingers, he ran it over and around her folds, working his way into the center and his ultimate goal.

A strangled mew was all Buffy could manage as he set about showing her what 125 years of practice and the lack of a need to breathe could permit a man to do. She'd thought the things he'd done to her with his fingers had been the height of sensation. Now, she was finding out what he'd meant by "seeing to her the way he wanted to."

Using his strong, agile tongue, his soft lips and his blunt human teeth, he had her twisting and sobbing, begging for she knew not what until he pulled her clit into his mouth and began to suck on it. The orgasm that swept over her made the one earlier in the day pale by comparison and she lay beneath him shuddering and trembling long after she'd screamed her pleasure into a pillow.

Spike moved slowly up her body, one hand pushing his own jeans down his legs, until he was poised at her entrance, nudging the warm wetness there but waiting for her to recover enough to give him permission.

When Buffy realized what was poking at her still-quivering vagina, she took a deep breath before looking at the lust-filled blue eyes boring into hers and nodding slowly. She raised her knees, using her feet to push his jeans the rest of the way down his legs, and was caught by surprise when he used that opportunity to nudge his way further into her.

He pulled her legs around his waist, tilting her hips up towards him and saying in a ragged voice, "I want you so badly, love. I can't wait any more. Got to feel you around me…."

Buffy pushed back against him, saying bravely, "Do what you need to do – I…I want you too." She blushed lightly then tensed as he pushed against the small fleshy barrier in his way. Fighting his demon for control, he tried to stretch her slowly, trembling with the effort to hold back. He moved the head of his cock slowly, edging his way in bit by bit until Buffy looked at his anguished face and rolled her eyes dramatically.

"Slayer, here, Spike. High pain threshold. Just do it."

She grabbed his muscular butt cheeks with both hands and pulled him towards her just as he slammed his hips forward and broke through the only barrier to being where he wanted to be. As he pushed himself all the way in and felt her contract against him, he sighed in relief and happiness, content for the moment just to revel in her. He remained still as long as he could, giving her time to get used to the intrusion and for the pain to go away. He could smell the faint trace of her blood on the air, mixed with her arousal and sweat.

Buffy gave one little "eep!" when he broke through, then was lost in the incredible sensation of having a large, hard cock buried inside her. She unconsciously clenched around him; then at his groan, tried frantically to relax, afraid that she'd hurt him. She tried to apologize, only to have him chuckle into her mouth as he kissed her over and over, murmuring that she could squeeze him like that all day long, but that if she did, he was afraid the whole thing could be over with much more quickly than he'd planned.

He began to move gently in and out, keeping his thrusts short and watching her carefully for any signs of pain on her face. All he saw was a growing awe as the movement of his hips started a whole new buildup of tension in her lower abdomen. When he experimented with swirling his hips at the end on each stroke, he soon had her arching into him and repeating his name as he hit a spot inside that sent sensation throughout her entire body. Feeling the strength in the arms and legs wrapped around him, he finally permitted himself to let go and began pounding into her, reveling in the Slayer's ability to take what he was doing and urge him on to do more.

As she approached another climax, and her breathing turned into the little gasping whimpers he was coming to recognize as signs that she was about to come, he urged her on with his voice and body.

"That's it, love. Come for me Buffy. Want to feel you coming around me. Squeeze me tight, Slayer. Let me feel your… Aargh!"

The powerful muscles surrounding his cock contracted over and over as Buffy rode out another powerful orgasm. She buried her nails in his back and grabbed his shoulder with her teeth as she spasmed against him, riding his cock like it was her salvation. The forces she was exerting on his body were too much and with a roar, he spurted into her, his hips continuing to jerk long after there was nothing left to expend.

For long minutes there was no sound in the room but Buffy's ragged breathing and Spike's totally unnecessary gasps for air. He lay on top of her, reluctant to move until she forced him to. For her part, she was more than happy to have him covering her body with his; she was sure that she would never feel anything as right and satisfying in her life as the comforting weight of his body on hers.

Her legs were still wrapped around him, although they had slid down from his waist to drape over his thighs, and he was still buried inside her, only partially softened, in spite of having had one of the most powerful orgasms of his unlife. Finally, he raised his head and asked her softly, "Are you alright, pet? I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"If by all right, you mean do I think anything will ever be able to top that? That would be a big 'no'. If you mean, am I glad we did it—" She looked up at him shyly. "—that would have to be a big 'yes'. Even if it does mean you've ruined me for anybody else. I don't think I'll ever be able to—"

Schooling his face not to show what the thought of another man touching her was doing to him, he said sadly, "Yes, you will, love. Some bloody unworthy wanker will come along and steal your heart and you'll forget all about poor old Spike. You've got an amazing amount of passion in that powerful little body and you're going to want to enjoy it. And you should," he rumbled, hiding his face in her hair. "Promise me you will," he whispered softly. "Promise me you'll have a long happy life with some undeserving bastard and you'll make him pleasure you every day."

"Is that what you want?" Dismay was clearly evident as she stiffened under him. "You want me to go out and find some other man and have sex with him, like… like I was some kind of slut? Is that what you think this was? That I'm just so over-sexed that I'd jump the first vampire who—"

"Shhh, pet, shhh," He tried to soothe her agitation, cursing himself for his words. "I'm a stupid git, if that's how I made you feel, because that's not what I meant at all. I know you're not one to take this lightly. 'S why I feel so honored that you would let me be the one to…Bloody hell, Buffy. Can't you tell what this meant to me?

"Fell in love with you when I was nine years old, didn't I? Even when I thought you weren't real, I couldn't stop thinking about my 'warrior elf queen'. You were my ideal woman. Can't tell you how many poems I wrote about you. Even after I thought you were a figment of my imagination, I compared every woman I met to you. Wasn't until I got older and you'd faded a bit that I was able to think about falling in love with anybody else. Then I met Dru and I—"

"Forgot all about me?" Her lower lip came out in a pout and he growled softly as he took it in his blunt teeth and worried at it before answering her.

"Never forgot you, pet. Just thought you were a romantic boy's daydream."

"This is just a dream, isn't it?" she said, turning suddenly serious.

'Feels pretty real to me, pet," he leered, wriggling his hips and showing her that he wasn't done yet. "What do you mean, just a dream?" he asked, when she didn't respond to him the way he'd hoped.

"This. Us. The Slayer and a vampire. Right now is all we'll ever have. Miss Calendar will put Angel's soul back and you and Dru will go away and someday this will all seem like a dream too."

"Don't really see any other path, love," he said carefully. "I'm not all soul-having and goody-goody like the poof is—was. And, I don't see Heaven's Chosen One leaving her duties to her watcher while she spends her time shagging a vampire. Not that that wouldn't be an excellent idea, mind you," he added quickly. "Jus' don't see it happening."

"So this is all we'll have," she whispered sadly, unconsciously clutching him tighter.

"Then I think we should make the most of it, don't you?" he asked, tacitly agreeing with her statement.

Chapter Sixteen

She felt his cock jump inside her as he spoke, and she giggled in spite of herself. Shaking off the sadness she felt at knowing he would be gone soon, she squeezed him with her internal muscles and murmured, "How would we do that?"

Spike concentrated hard and without moving his hips, began to move his cock so that it bumped against her womb, providing just enough stimulation to make her gasp and whimper. In retaliation, she began rhythmic contractions of her muscles; contractions that soon had low, rumbling growls coming from his chest. The growls vibrated throughout Buffy's body, adding to the sensations already being created by his still active cock and bringing accompanying hums from her own throat.

For long, ecstatic minutes, they stubbornly kept up the unspoken contest to see who would move first. Buffy was gritting her teeth, refusing to give in to the urge to begin rubbing her pelvis against him, while Spike fought down his demon and its demands that he pound her into the mattress. Without either of them realizing what was happening, they gradually began moving together. Slowly at first, small, barely perceptible motions that gradually developed into harder and harder thrusts until Buffy was clinging to the headboard with both hands while Spike pushed against her with his full vampiric strength.

Buffy's head was thrown back as she felt another earthshaking orgasm building and Spike's eyes were drawn to her throat and the pulse pounding there in rhythm with the motion of his hips. She opened her eyes to see, not the soft blue eyes she was expecting but the amber lust-filled gaze of the demon she'd first met at Back to School Night.

With a growl of her own, she pulled his face down to her neck, gasping, "Do it."

There was no pause as his fangs elongated and slipped through the soft skin on her neck. As soon as she felt the first long pull on her blood, Buffy began to tremble. With a muffled shriek, she fell into a pattern of orgasm after orgasm with every deep pull on her throat. Her slayer senses, which should have been telling her to fight the demon, instead were reveling in the sense of complete surrender to the vampire drinking her life's blood.

With the first draught, Spike's demon began screaming for him to drain this woman beneath him. As each swallow of powerful Slayer blood reached his body, he grew stronger – the last of his wounds closing and his muscles bursting with new strength. When he felt her begin to spasm around him, he let go, pouring that strength back into her as he pumped his lifeless sperm into the waiting womb and fighting to suppress the claiming words that trembled in his throat.

When he felt her heart slowing down, Spike snapped out of the lust-induced fog and immediately withdrew his fangs from her neck, licking the wounds closed and nuzzling her anxiously.

"Slayer? Buffy? I'm so sorry. Talk to me, love."

"Wow?" she offered weakly. "What the hell was that?"

"That was me being a selfish wanker and taking advantage of the situation," he responded, relaxing now that he knew she was all right and rolling off to the side. "I am so sorry, love. You have no idea how that-"

"Okay, I'm thinking I kinda have an idea. Feeling a little woozy here. But, come on, Spike. I asked you to do it – and, all things considered? Not dead and definitely feeling the happy factor. I'm surprised I didn't lose my soul after that little performance."

He laughed ruefully and agreed. "Got to admit, pet, if I live to be a thousand, I don't expect to ever feel like this again. That was bloody… If I try to put it into words that poncy William is going to come out spouting poetry. You are absolutely amazing."

"Not so bad yourself there, Vampire." She smiled at him, her eyes sleepy.

She curled into his side, sighing comfortably when he pulled the covers up over them and put his arms around her.

"I'm just going to take a little nap now – and then we'll go kick soulless vampire butt…"

"You're not kicking anything tonight, pet. Not until I know you're back to full strength."

He dropped a kiss on her forehead and began to ease out of the bed.

"Where're you going?" she whined without opening her eyes.

"Going to find you something to drink. I'm too full of Slayer blood to sleep right now. You rest and I'll be back before you know it."

There was no answer as Buffy fell into a restorative sleep, her Slayer healing working hard to replace the blood she'd lost. While Spike pulled on his jeans and walked downstairs, she snoozed peacefully feeling completely sated and relaxed.

Spike let her sleep for several hours before dropping his jeans on the floor and trying to wake her with another kiss as he slipped back into the bed. When she didn't respond immediately, he began whispering in her ear. His murmured endearments flowed into her still sleep-logged brain, the words not really registering as much as the warmth and caring in his rugged baritone. Eventually she responded, turning over to blink into his worried eyes and smile reassuringly.

"Ah, there you are. Was beginning to worry a bit, pet. Been here for quite a while trying to get you to wake up."

"I heard you," she yawned, "I just didn't feel like waking up. It was nice. Hearing you tell me…." She opened her eyes wide, suddenly remembering some of the things he'd been murmuring into her ear and staring into his embarrassed face.

"Yeah, well, had to say something, didn't I? I mean there you were, dead to the world with a vampire leaning over you…"

His voice trailed off as she reached a hand up to stroke his cheek, almost as if she was trying memorize the shape of his face. He studied her, anxiously trying to decipher the look she was giving him.

"Yeah," she agreed finally, "I guess you had to say something." She sat up, stretching her arms over her head and blushing at the admiring look he was giving her now-exposed upper body.

He grinned lasciviously and licked his lips before reluctantly turning away to reach for the large glass of orange juice he'd brought up with him. "Here, love. Stop tempting me with those perfect little bosoms and drink up. Need to replace your fluids, Slayer healing or no."

They leaned back against the headboard in companionable silence while Buffy obediently drained the whole glass of juice. When it was empty, she held it out to him with a questioning look and he immediately grabbed it and stood up to go get more. A barely perceptible sound outside the window brought his head around and Buffy was surprised to see him go immediately into game face, snarling viciously.

Her head snapped around, her mouth forming an "o" when she saw a furious Angelus snarling back at Spike from just outside the window. They remained in a frozen tableau for long, tense seconds, the soulless vampire on the roof glaring at his naked former girlfriend and his equally naked grandchilde.

Buffy grabbed the sheet, automatically pulling it up to cover the breasts Angel had never seen before, while Spike stood up, completely comfortable with his nudity as he walked over and yanked the drapes closed.

Furious over what he'd just seen, as well as his inability to get into the house and do anything about it, the older vampire raged through Sunnydale, grabbing anyone and anything that did not appear strong enough to fight back and ripping out their throats with no regard for whether he actually needed the blood or not. So great was his rage that he was unable to take his usual cruel enjoyment in killing his victims slowly. He ripped and tore until he'd worn himself out, leaving Sunnydale awash in the blood of those unfortunate enough to have crossed his path.

He returned to the warehouse to find Drusilla sitting patiently beside a pale, drained Xander, waiting for her newest toy to wake up. It was obvious from the marks on his body that she had amused herself for quite a while before finally draining and turning the boy. Even though Angelus had planned to kill the first one of Buffy's friends he could get his hands on, and even though he had sent Drusilla to look for one of them while he checked on the Slayer, his disgust at seeing which one she'd come back with was palpable.

Angelus grabbed her roughly, yanking her dress over her head and lifting her onto his hard cock. Even as she growled and screamed in delight, she was watching him shrewdly and reading his mood. With a vicious swipe of her claws, she left four bleeding slashes across his face as she hissed, "You are wishing I was her. That dirty little slayer that has taken my William. You have seen them!"

Her sire ignored her except to backhand her for scratching him, dropping to the floor and pounding into her until he was done. Then he rolled off and pointed at Xander's still immobile body.

"I don't know what possessed you to turn that worthless piece of shit, but since you have, I know what his first meal will be. I'll show her what it means to defy Angelus. And I'll make that childe of yours pay too. No one takes what's mine and lives to brag about it."

When Drusilla refused to listen to his insistence that Xander would not be waking up until the following evening, he left her in disgust and went into the makeshift bedroom to sleep until all the blood he'd taken had worked to bring him back to full strength.

Drusilla waited quietly beside Xander's body, talking occasionally to one of her dolls and watching carefully for any signs of consciousness.

Chapter Seventeen

Spike spent the day in Buffy's bed; reluctantly kissing her good-bye as she insisted that she had to go to school, if for no other reason than to see Giles and Ms. Calendar and find out how the re-ensouling spell was coming. After a shower that took much longer than expected, due to Spike's joining her in the bathtub, she finally was able to dress and leave. In spite of his insistence that he was too pumped on Slayer blood to sleep, she could see the advancing daylight causing his eyelids to droop, leaving her no doubt that he would be sound asleep a few minutes after she left.

He gave a grumbled assent to her instructions not to answer the phone, lest it be her mother calling from San Francisco, and forced her to promise she would eat a hearty breakfast and drink a lot of water all day. With one last, lingering kiss, she let herself out the door and hastened to Sunnydale High School to do her best imitation of a perfectly normal seventeen-year-old virgin.

In the library, Giles and Jenny continued to work on the spell needed to reinstall Angelus' soul. Fortunately, it was a slow day for the computer teacher and with few classes, she was able to concentrate on her work. With Willow's record as an "A" student, she had no trouble getting the novice witch released from class to "help" her in the library.

She felt sure that she would have the curse spell figured out and ready to go within a day or two and she praised Willow's enthusiasm and research abilities, as well as commenting on the magical potential she could feel in the excited redhead.

"Buffy! " Willow greeted Buffy's arrival at lunchtime with an excited squeal. "Miss Calendar says she can feel all kinds of magic in me. She thinks I'm going to be a very powerful witch. Isn't that awesome? Think of the ways I'll be able to help you then!"

Buffy smiled indulgently, happy that her friend had found some confidence even as she found herself wishing they were alone so that she could share her own exciting news about the loss of her virginity. Somehow she was sure that information was not anything her watcher either needed or would want to know, particularly considering that the man in question was not one of her schoolmates but a 124-year-old master vampire.

"That's great, Will. We're going to be unstoppable. Like the three musketeers – or maybe the two musketeers? Have you heard from Xander? He wasn't in class."

"No. I haven't seen him either. I guess he's still mad at us." Willow's excitement over her newfound skills was tempered somewhat as she remembered how angry her oldest childhood friend had been when he slammed his way out of Giles' apartment. "Maybe he stayed home today so he wouldn't have to see us."

"Sure, that's probably it…." Buffy's voice held just the slightest tinge of fear. She'd never known Xander to stay angry for more than a couple of hours and she hoped that their friendship wasn't going to be ruined over her decision to restore Angel's soul rather than dust him. "You don't think he would have gone out… No, that's ridiculous. Xander is too smart to go out after dark – especially with Angelus and Dru out there somewhere."

Giles raised his eyebrows at her insistence that Xander was "too smart" for anything, but kept his own counsel about the young man. Knowing how much the two girls cared about the boy, he sincerely hoped that they were right and that Xander was just staying home to nurse his anger.

Packing their books, computers and supplies up for the trip back to the watcher's apartment, the adults offered to drive Willow and Buffy home. Buffy blushed slightly as she said she had to go back to her house to get Spike. Her watcher's jaw tightened as it became clear that the vampire was sleeping at the Summers home, but he held his tongue, just asking mildly, "And what is the plan for this evening?"

Blushing again, Buffy stammered that Spike was completely recovered and that they intended to confront Angleus and Drusilla as soon as the sun went down, catching them in the warehouse before they had time to begin the evening's hunt. There was no argument from anyone about the necessity of ending their brief reign of terror as soon as possible. The news had been full of stories about the many citizens who had met a bloody and untimely end the night before, and no one doubted who was responsible.

Speaking up timidly, Willow ventured that maybe they should move the spell casting to Buffy's house. With her mother out of town for the rest of the week, and the basement a perfect place to chain up a vampire, it seemed to make more sense than the Watcher's small apartment.

When Buffy agreed, they all decided to meet her back at Revello Drive when they had picked up what they needed for the night. Willow went with Giles and Jenny so that she could pick up some clothes before going to Buffy's for the night, and Buffy told them she was going out to pick up Spike and go after Angelus and Drusilla. She promised to leave the door unlocked if they were gone before everyone got there.

After assuring Giles that she would be bringing either Angelus or his dust with her when she got back, she waved cheerfully as she set off for home. Excitement and anticipation fed her energy and she made the walk to Revello Drive in record time.

Letting herself into the house quietly, she cast a look over her shoulder to see that the sun was still a good twenty-five minutes from being down far enough to make it safe for vampires to be out and about. She tried to smother the thoughts of what they could do with that twenty-five minutes, but lost the battle the minute she closed the door and a partially naked vampire pinned her to it, crushing her lips ravenously as he complained about being without her all day.

Buffy giggled at his growling description of what her blood had done to his body and how he'd spent the entire day with an aching hard-on, waiting for her to come home.

"All day?" she asked archly, rubbing her hand along the bulge pressing into her. "And you couldn't think of anything to do about it?"

"Well, I might have had a good wank or two," he admitted sheepishly, "but it wasn't even close to having the real thing around me. My poor, cold hand is a poor substitute for your warm little-" He slid his hand under her skirt and cupped her already dampening sex.

"Gah!" His move had caught Buffy by surprise and she felt her knees give way as he worked his fingers past the elastic on her underwear. With his free hand, he quickly unzipped and he was soon pressing his hard cock against her entrance.

"Want you so bad, love. Let me in now, Slayer. Let me feel you…"

As he spoke, she was reaching one leg up to hook around his waist, resting her full weight on one arm as he poised her over his cock. When she just nodded dumbly rather than answering him, he plunged home, pinning her back to the door and sighing with relief.

"You feel so good, pet. Missed you all day. Wanted you so bad…need you…"

He began moving, pushing her into the door with each thrust and forcing small grunts from her as he did so. He was just about to ask if he was hurting her when she wrapped the other leg around his waist and began to raise and lower herself on him, spinning them around so as to be riding him against the much-abused door.

When it became clear they weren't getting the kind of friction desired, Spike turned away from the door and allowed himself to fall backwards, landing on the hall carpet with Buffy on top of him. She put her hands on his chest, making it clear she was taking charge of their activities and he grinned as he relaxed and let her play.

She slid her hands up his bare chest, pausing to pinch his nipples before leaning down to lick them. His strangled "Buffy" told her she was having the desired effect and she took one in her blunt teeth, biting it until his growls turned to snarls. Sitting back up, she smiled innocently down at him and began to bounce up and down on her knees, slamming down into his hips harder each time. With a wicked grin, he grabbed her hips and began rising to meet her, using his hands to help him hit the spot for which he was aiming.

Her head thrown back and her long hair hanging down behind her, she looked like a fantasy come true; she was beautiful even as her face scrunched up in concentration as she lost herself in his expert movements. When he could contain himself no longer, he reached between them and took her clit between his fingers, twisting and rubbing until he felt her begin to shudder around him. He held her tightly in place as he spent himself inside her, not releasing her to collapse on his chest until he felt the last fluttering of her walls.

They rested together quietly for a moment, both suddenly aware that they had probably just made love for the last time. His arms tightened around her as he whispered in her ear, "Bloody hell, pet. I didn't mean for our last time together to be like that. Wanted to—"

"You didn't do that, I did," Buffy replied, her voice muffled by his shoulder where she had buried her head. "I don't know what I was thinking… I just needed you in me and I wanted to…"

"You wanted to be runnin' the show?" he smirked, tilting her head up until he could see her blushing face.

"Is that terrible?" she asked tremulously. "Does that make me some kind of ho-bag slayer? That I would attack you like that?"

"No, sweetheart. It just means you are a warm, passionate woman. I s'pect the Slayer in you is more than willing to be in charge, and not shy about it either. I just wish we had some time to explore that side of your…"

"We don't, though, do we?" she whispered, dropping her head again so that he couldn't see her eyes. "This is it. You're going to leave with Drusilla and I'm going to put Angel's soul back—"

She was interrupted by another snarl.

"You are NOT going to go back to seeing that bloody pillock, are you? Bloody hell, pet, if Dru could make him that happy, just thinking about getting into your knickers is like to be enough to send the soul packing again! And if that happens while you're…vulnerable…"

His face was flashing in and out of his vamp features as he wavered between fear for her safety and anger at the thought of Angel's touching her. She stared at him in astonishment, happiness at the obvious jealousy she saw on his face warring with her growing anger that he would think he could tell her who to see when he was gone.

"Are you or are you not planning to take your precious Drusilla and leave here forever?" she asked through clenched teeth.

He sighed. "Yes, pet," he answered quietly. "I am. And I know I'm a bloody hypocrite for trying to tell you what you can do after I leave, but ..." He sighed again. "Buffy, love, if I think there's any chance you're going to trust that sadistic wanker after this, I won't be able to—"

Keeping her face buried where he couldn't see it flaming, she muttered, "I don't think you need to worry a whole lot about me seeing anybody else after this."

He chuckled briefly, the vibration sending pleasant tingling through her body. "As chuffed as I am to hear that, pet, it's going to happen. You know it and I know it. Might not be the great poof - and I hope it isn't, for your sake. But it's going to be somebody.

"A warm, passionate girl like you isn't going to want to be alone, not now that you've had a taste of… I just hope whoever you find is close to being worthy of the wonderful gift he'll be getting."

They rested together quietly for several minutes, neither one willing to be the first to pull out of their intimate connection. As Spike realized that remaining where he was, buried inside the warm walls that felt so comfortable and at the same time so exciting, was going to lead him to initiate another round, he groaned and reluctantly rolled her off onto the floor.

Buffy gave a little whimper as he slipped out of her, feeling the moisture sliding down her leg onto the rug. Making a little face, she sat up and straightened her clothing, sighing as she saw the wet spot on the carpet. "It's a good thing this rug was already dirty," she groused, rubbing vainly at the spot.

He laughed, saying, "It'll be dry by the time your mum gets home. She'll never notice, pet. Now, those sheets on your bed…"

"Oh my God! I never thought about the sheets!"

She leaped up and made to go up the stairs, stopping when he grabbed her ankle.

"Relax, Slayer. Just so long as you get them washed before your mum gets home, you'll be fine."

Twitching away from him, she said, "I need to go up there anyway, to change into something I can fight in."

" Alright, love," he agreed, sitting up and zipping his pants. "You go change into poof-catching clothes and I'll go fix you something for dinner, yeah? Jus' bring my duster and boots down with you if you will, pet."

"You aren't coming upstairs with me?" she asked in a very small voice.

Before she could blink he was holding her tightly, face buried in her hair as he growled, "If I go up there again, love, I'm never going to be able to make myself leave. And I doubt your mum would fancy coming home to find a vampire living in your bedroom…" He tried to finish with some humor, but the way he was clutching her to his chest told her all she needed to know.

With shaking shoulders, she began to cry softly, holding on to him as if to a lifeline in a storm. Kisses and murmured endearments and comforting words did nothing but make the upcoming parting loom even more painfully, and for a brief flash Spike seriously considered allowing her to dust his unfaithful lover so that he would not have to leave Sunnydale or the girl he had found that he was just as enamored of as when he'd been a young boy.

With suspicious moisture in his own eyes, he held her while she cried quietly until the sobs had trailed off to hiccups and she stirred, pushing herself away from him slowly.

"I'm sorry," she sniffled. "I didn't mean to be a big baby about this. Some warrior I am, huh?"

"Even warrior elf queens are allowed to cry sometimes, love," he whispered huskily. "If the reason is good enough."

"Okay," she said briskly, giving herself a mental shake. "We have vampire butt to kick and I'm wasting time crying when I should just be glad for—"

She didn't finish, just pushed him toward the kitchen and started up the stairs once again. She got as far as the landing when there was a light knock on the door and she returned to answer it. Expecting Giles and the two spell casters, she was surprised to find a slightly disheveled Xander looking at her apologetically.

"Xander! Are you all right? We were worried about you when you didn't come to school..."

"I'm fine, Buffy. I just needed to do some thinking and I think I've got my head on straight now." He looked at her appealingly, his warm brown eyes pleading silently. "Can I do my groveling inside?"

"Of course you can. Please, Xander. Come in."

As she spoke, Spike was listening from the kitchen, growling softly when he realized who she was talking to but opting to stay out of the way if the boy wanted to apologize. It was several precious seconds before he realized that, while he could hear the conversation easily, he was only picking up one heartbeat. He sprinted for the hallway, calling Buffy's name as he moved with vampire swiftness.

He was afraid for a second that he'd been too late, as he found Buffy back down on the same rug upon which they'd just made love, a vampire at her throat. A vamped-out Xander was on top of her, his mouth uncomfortably close to the Slayer's neck, but Spike could smell no blood and sighed in relief even as he moved toward them. The newly-risen vamp had made a fatal mistake, stopping to rip at Buffy's clothes and rant about the smell of sex and the way she reeked of Spike, rather than biting her immediately while he had surprise on his side.

Buffy was holding him off with one hand, the other scrabbling frantically for something wooden when suddenly he was gone – yanked off her body and thrown through the front door by a fully vamped-out Spike. The new fledgling was no match for a furious master vampire full of Slayer's blood, and it was only a few seconds before he was lying semi-conscious on the ground, Spike sitting on him and holding out his hand for a stake.

"Slayer, now!" he ordered. When nothing happened, he looked up to see her staring at her old friend with tears pouring down her face. The stake she'd picked up held loosely in one hand, the other over her mouth to smother her sobs. He began to curse fluently, knowing that Angelus had set the scene so as to weaken the Slayer with grief before attacking her.

Suddenly her eyes grew big and she screamed, "Spike!" as she burst through the door and into the yard, too late to prevent Angelus' attack from carrying him off Drusilla's new toy and into a nearby tree. While the two vampires ripped and tore at each other, Xander staggered to his feet and stumbled toward Buffy, still more intent on ripping off her already torn skirt than killing her. She raised her stake shakily, keeping one eye on Spike and Angelus and one on the advancing fledgling vampire wearing the face of her only male friend.

When Drusilla glided out of the shadows, moving with slow grace toward the Slayer and her fledgling, Buffy felt the first tremors of fear. To her surprise, the vampire stopped Xander in mid-attack, ordering him with an angry hiss to "wait his turn" as she advanced on the waiting slayer. Making sure to avoid the old vampire's eyes, Buffy went into a fighting crouch, her stake held tightly, ready for any opening.

Drusilla, however, continued to move around the slayer rather than attacking, swaying and crooning words all the more frightening for being uttered in such a soothing voice.

"Naughty Slayer, to give to my Sweet William before Daddy got his taste. Slayer must be punished and William must be punished. Daddy wants to punish the Slayer. She is his to play with. William was a naughty boy to think he could –"" She caught sight of Buffy's neck and the two rapidly healing marks there, and her entire demeanor changed as she hissed and slashed at Buffy's face. "He marked you. My William marked you. Slayer blood and he didn't have to kill you for it!"

"Be in me," she commanded so forcefully that Buffy was meeting her eyes before her common sense could kick in. She felt herself begin to sway with the insane vampire and called out quickly, "Spike!"

"He won't help you, little girl," Drusilla hissed. "He is—" She was interrupted as Spike lunged for her, pulling her to the ground and away from Buffy.

"Time to switch, Slayer," he growled, trying to hold the screaming, spitting, snarling vampire down.

Without answering, Buffy leapt toward the advancing Angelus, hitting him in the chest with both feet and watching with satisfaction as he staggered backwards, surprise evident on his face. Without waiting for a quip, she followed up with a flurry of punches, keeping the stake in her hand but not holding it out as a weapon.

Her fury over the death of her friend, anger at Xander for allowing himself to be caught and turned, rage that once again Drusilla had almost had her in thrall and her unhappiness at Spike's impending departure fueled her kicks and punches. Slowly, inexorably, she beat him back, allowing not so much as a punch to penetrate her defense as she systematically reduced her former boyfriend to an unconscious heap on her front lawn.

Just as she was turning to see if Spike needed help subduing Drusilla, Giles' little car sped into the driveway and the watcher jumped out, Willow and Jenny right behind him. He was holding a set of chains, which he quickly used to restrain Angelus' arms and legs and to chain him to the tree under which Buffy had left him.

Willow's face was a study in fear and anguish as Xander turned toward her and she saw the demon wearing the face of the boy who'd been her first and only close friend since kindergarten. Jenny grabbed for her arm as the crying girl reached toward the boy she still thought of as her best friend, pulling Willow back just before the vampire's gnashing teeth could take off her hand.

Buffy placed herself between Xander and the other humans, holding her stake and saying firmly, "Back off Xander. I'm not going to let you hurt them."

"What's the matter, Buffy?" he snarled. "Are you jealous? Don't worry, there's more than enough of me for both of you. I'm what you want now, right? If you let me have a taste of what I want, maybe I won't kill anybody. If you're any good, maybe I'll even let you live."

He paused to think, then sneered, "Oh, who am I kidding? I'm a monster just like them. And you and Willow are about to become my first meal."

The Slayer shook her head sadly, shifting the stake and beginning to cry as she readied for his attack. She knew there was no way a newly-vamped Xander would have a chance against her and she steeled herself to dust the demon wearing his face.

Willow's anguished, "Buffy!" stopped her planned staking and she flipped Xander over her head to give her time to see what Willow wanted. With sobs tearing from her throat, the novice witch tried to speak quickly enough to

get Buffy's attention before the vampire staggered back to his feet and attacked again.

"Don't dust him! Please. It's Xander! You can't kill him. We can restore his soul when we do Angel's!"

Buffy shot a quick look at Jenny Calendar, who shrugged and nodded, before meeting Xander's charge with a hard right to his jaw. She took his now-unconscious body and dragged it over to the tree where Angelus was just beginning to recover from his beating. With a long-suffering sigh, Giles took another set of chains out of his car and quickly secured Xander to the same tree as his grandsire.

All eyes turned back to Spike who was still wrestling with a snarling, screaming Drusilla. The infusion of Slayer blood from the previous evening had made him more than capable of restraining his sire, but nothing he did or said would calm her down or make her stop fighting to get to Angelus. With a soft, "Sorry, pet" he brought his fist up into her chin and sighed with relief when she collapsed at his feet.

Once he was sure she was going to remain unconscious for a while, he turned his attention back to the small group of humans watching him. When his gaze shifted to the tree and the two groaning vampires chained to it, his face darkened and he whirled on Buffy.

"What the bloody hell are you doing?"

'We… we're going to put their souls back," she said defiantly. "If Angel can have a soul, there's no reason Xander can't."

"Why would you want to?" He glared at her in bewilderment. "Buffy, he tried to rape you! And he was going to rip your throat out."

"That was the demon," she insisted. "Xander is my friend. He… he loves me and so does Angel. I can't kill them – not if we can put their souls back."

He stared at her, his body rigid with disbelief and anger.

"He did just what I said he would – came after one of your friends and sent him to kill you. How can you even think about not dusting him? And your 'friend' there," he sneered at the still unconscious Xander, "You think those thoughts just appeared like magic when he got turned? Losing his soul just took away the tight rein he was keepin' on those feelings. You put it back, you're just letting him hide them again. Doesn't mean he won't still be thinking…."

Spike's face was flashing back and forth between demon and human as he fought the rage that the idea of leaving her with both Angel and Xander still alive evoked.

"This is my decision, Spike. Not yours. I don't kill the people I care about if I don't have to. And if Willow and Miss Calendar can put their souls back, I don't have to. They won't be soulless vampires any more. They can be my friends again."

Spike's human countenance was firmly in place as he looked at her sadly. With no thought to the other people looking on, they stepped closer together until they were only inches apart but not touching.

"So only vampires with souls are welcome in Sunnydale. Is that the way it is, Slayer?"

Buffy swallowed hard, fighting the urge to touch him one last time.

"That's the way it has to be, Spike. I can't believe I'm letting you take her away." She gestured at the still unconscious Drusilla. "I should stake her right now."

"Why don't you then?" he said coldly, moving slightly to put himself between Drusilla and the Slayer.

"Because you love her, and I wouldn't do that to you unless I had no choice," she whispered, dropping her head and then lifting it again to look at him with firmness. "It's up to you to keep her so far away that I never have to choose."

He nodded tightly. "Alright, then. I'll just grab my stuff from inside the house and we'll be out of your hair."

Without another word, he strode into the house and up the stairs. He was back within a few minutes, boots and duster on. He tossed the tee shirt he'd worn earlier to Giles with a "Thanks, mate," as he walked over and picked Drusilla up. He put her over his shoulder, walking to the tree where Angelus snarled ineffectually and strained against the chains holding him down.

"I hope you enjoy that soul they're gonna put back in your useless body as much as you did the first time round," he said calmly as his grandsire's demon visage glared at him. Spike leaned in closer and spoke in a voice only the other vampires could hear, "If either one of you makes any attempt to touch or hurt her, I'll make you suffer in ways that even you, Angelus, couldn't imagine."

Straightening up, he looked around at the small group of humans one last time. He exchanged nods with the watcher and a flat, hostile stare with the gypsy who was going to make it possible for Angel and Xander to remain in Sunnydale with Buffy. He winked at Willow, who gave him a tentative wave and then he focused on the Slayer.

Buffy was holding herself upright by sheer force of will as their eyes met for the last time. Her nostrils flared as she fought the tears threatening to fall, but pride kept them in check and she lifted her chin to stare at him defiantly. For the first time since she'd been called, she felt the full weight of what it meant to be THE Slayer and she caught a glimpse of how unlikely it was that she would ever be able to have a normal relationship; one that wasn't affected by her calling. She had a brief moment of regret that she hadn't staked the insane vampire that first night while Spike was unconscious, wondering if he would have been willing to give up his life of evil had he not had his insane sire to care for.

Spike stared at the tiny girl who had not once, but twice in his lifetime, stolen his heart within a period of days, and wondered if things would have been different without the presence of his sire. Her goodness and innocence radiated from her – affected not at all by the passionate lovemaking they'd shared. It was a purity that transcended bodily needs and he saw no place in her life for a soulless vampire; even one who loved her as much as he was coming to realize he did.

The air was fairly vibrating with tension as they tried to say the things that needed saying using only their eyes. Common sense told them both that to move closer or touch was to invite disaster. There would be no good-bye hugs for them. No last, lingering kisses to tempt fate; instead they were left with an exchange of anguished looks that lasted until the watcher cleared his throat and made to usher Jenny and Willow into the house.

The stir snapped them out of their mutual wordless sorrow and with a final sigh the vampire turned away.

"Take care of yourself, love," he said clearly as he headed for the old warehouse and his car.

"Good-bye, William," Buffy's whisper barely carried to the humans, but the vampire's ears had no trouble picking it up. "I'll miss you."

There was no response as the black shape with the while bundle on its shoulder vanished into the night.

Chapter Eighteen

Buffy fought with every fiber of her being to control the urge to run to her room and fall face down on her bed sobbing her heartbreak into the sheets that still smelled of tobacco and sex. With a supreme effort of will, she kept her face immobile as she walked over to look at the two vampires who were not leaving her.

"Buffy?" Giles' quiet voice broke her concentration on the two snarling, snapping vamps, and she raised her eyes to his in question.

"Now that they are awake, how do you propose we get these two creatures to your basement?"

"Yes, Buff," Angelus' oily voice joined the conversation. "How do you expect to get me into your house? Last time I checked, when you were busy fucking my grandchilde, it seemed like my invitation had been revoked."

Buffy's face flamed as she heard Giles gasp behind her and she gave the smirking vampire a look that cut him off in mid-jibe. There was no question that he was, at that moment, only seconds from achieving the dusty ending that Spike had so passionately wished for him and Angelus wisely shut his mouth; although he couldn't control the self-satisfied leer on his face. Buffy's hand went to the stake in her waistband, clutching it so hard her fingers left dents in the hard wood.

She couldn't look at her watcher, but she knew he was cleaning his glasses vigorously as he tried to pretend that he'd never heard what the vampire had said. When he had gained control of his voice, he asked again, "What is your plan? Now that they are conscious, no one will be able to get close to them without risking serious injury."

"Not a problem."

Without changing her expression or giving any warning, Buffy shot her foot out, connecting with Angelus' jaw, effectively both shutting him up and knocking him out. She backhanded a retreating Xander into unconsciousness before hitting Angelus on the head with her stake to reinforce his immobility.

While the two creatures were unconscious, slayer and watcher quickly unchained them from the tree and began to drag them towards the house. Buffy smothered the thought of how much easier the task would be if Spike had been there to help her, and did her best to take most of the weight upon herself as they hauled the inert bodies up the steps and through the door.

Her growled, "Come in" when their forward progress was halted at the front door bore nothing hospitable in its tone as she once more invited Angel back into her home. They pulled the two vamps to the top of the basement stairs where Buffy used her feet to kick and shove them far enough to allow gravity to take over. She took her time following their bouncing bodies down the stairs, waiting for Jenny and Willow before helping Giles fasten the chains to iron rings in the cement floor.

At his questioning look, she shrugged and said dismissively, "They were here when we moved in. My mother thinks they anchored gymnastic equipment."

When the vampires were securely fastened to the floor, Buffy looked at the gypsy and asked anxiously, "When do you think you'll have it?"

"Before dawn, I hope," she replied quietly. "We'll go work on it now," she added, gesturing for Willow to accompany her.

The novice witch gave one last sad glance toward her good friend's battered and unconscious body before following her teacher up the stairs to work on re-installing his soul. Giles and Buffy stood in silence for several minutes before she began, "Giles – what Angel said…"

He held up a hand to forestall her confession.

"Buffy, I really – and I cannot emphasize this enough – really do not care to know. I am not blind and it is perfectly clear that you and Spi-William have feelings for each other. I cannot say that I approve of those feelings, any more than I approved of your dating Angel, but you are entitled to have them and if you choose to act upon them… well, let's just say that it is not going into my Watcher's Diary and therefore I have no need to hear it discussed."

His face was flaming and Buffy couldn't suppress a small smile as she answered, "Ok, Giles. Don't ask, don't tell. I got it."

With a last look at the still-unconscious vampires, she followed the embarrassed man up the stairs and out of the basement.

After watching Willow and Jenny discussing various wordings to use and possible ways to eliminate the happiness clause, Buffy grew bored and wandered around the lower level of the house. She eventually found herself back in the kitchen and saw the pans that Spike had put out, reminders that he'd been planning to make her dinner before the other vampires showed up. She sadly put the pans away and fixed herself a sandwich.

She could almost hear his voice scolding her, "That's not a decent meal, Slayer. You've got to keep your strength up – you never know what you might need it for…" and she could see the rakishly raised eyebrow that would have accompanied the innuendo in the last remark. She smiled softly until she remembered that she would never hear that smirking voice again. The resulting loss of appetite had her leaving the half-eaten sandwich on the counter and resuming her restless pacing around the house.

As she knew she would, she soon ran out of places to explore on the first floor, and reluctantly went upstairs to her room. She stared at the rumpled bed for what seemed like hours, knowing she had to wash the stained sheets before her mother got home but not wanting to give up that last trace of William's presence in her room. She finally compromised by leaving the pillows alone, but stripping the sheets to take to the washer.

She carried them down the stairs, through the kitchen and into the basement, sparing only a fleeting glance for the two vampires that were chained to the floor. Both vamps sat up snarling when they caught the scent wafting off the sheets that Buffy had clutched to her chest. Ignoring their growls, she kept her face buried in the linens until she reached the washer, where she had no choice but to let go and drop them in the tub. She was adding soap when Angelus spoke up.

"Getting rid of the evidence before your mother gets home, lover?" His voice destroyed the mellow mood inspired by the Spike and Buffy scent on the sheets and she almost snarled herself as she turned to meet his leering face.

"If you want to live to regret that recovered soul, you'll shut up now," she said with a growl that would have done credit to a vampire.

"Well, if you're so set on putting my soul back, does that mean we can take up where we left off? I'm not used to taking Spike's leavings; usually I let him have mine… eventually, but I'm willing to make an exception in your case. What do you say, Buff? You and me?"

He made an obscene gesture with which she was unfamiliar, but there was no mistaking its meaning and she made no attempt to hide the disgust on her face. Beside him, the newly-made vampire was openly ogling his former friend, leering at her as he added his own proposition.

"Or, how about me? Huh, Buff? Won't I be right up your alley now? All that vampire power and a soul besides – what more could a vampire layer –oops! Slayer – want?"

"How about a vampire who doesn't need an artificially restored soul to behave like a gentleman? How about a vampire who is capable of self-control around humans? How about one who can still love even though he's a demon?"

Buffy glared at the two grinning vamps, almost angrier at herself for letting them get to her than she was at them. She knew Angelus was just trying to rattle her and she'd fallen right into his trap. Furious with herself, and sure that if she remained in the basement any longer she would stake one or both of them, she slammed the lid down on the washer and pushed random buttons until it started going. Without another look at or word to the taunting demons, she walked back upstairs as calmly as she could while ignoring them completely.

She stomped into the dining room, telling Jenny, "You'd better get that spell pretty soon or there isn't going to anybody left to use it on."

She ignored the questioning glances from Giles and Willow, throwing herself into a chair and resting her elbows on the table. After several minutes, she looked at her watcher and said abruptly, "Giles, I've decided to tell my mom about… everything. She needs to know about vampires and demons and she'll need to know about Xander. She's probably going to think I'm crazy at first, so I might have to call on you for backup."

He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Very well, Buffy. I suppose this is not something that you will be able to hide from her forever and she will certainly be safer knowing what is and is not safe to do at night."

A muffled squeal from Willow brought their attention back to the two women working on the re-ensouling spell and Slayer and Watcher whirled to look at them hopefully. At a nod from Jenny, Willow blurted, "We've got it! And we think we can make the souls permanent. No 'hello happy, bye-bye soul'!"

"Let's do it," Buffy said, standing up quickly. "I want them out of my house."

"But, Buffy." Willow's voice was puzzled and her forehead wrinkled with concern. "Once they have their souls back, they'll be Angel and Xander again. Our… friends. Angel can be your—"

One look at Buffy's face and she decided not to finish that particular line of thought.

"Well, anyway, it'll be okay for them to be in your house, won't it?"

"I don't want either one them to have access to my house," Buffy said firmly. "As soon as we get them out of here, I want you to do a disinvite – for both of them."

"Shall we include William the Bloody in that?" Giles asked mildly. His expression belied the calm tone of his voice.

Buffy looked from her watcher to the two expectant faces of the witches and narrowed her eyes.

"That won't be necessary. He isn't coming back."

"But if he should…Your mother—"

"My mother would be more than safe around Spike," Buffy said through gritted teeth. "And so would all of you. I don't want to hear about it again."

She left the room with finality, calling over her shoulder, "Let's get this spell over with. I still need to patrol tonight."

When the demons in the basement saw the determined-looking gypsy and eager novice witch coming down the stairs with their hands full of spell ingredients, they reacted in very different ways. Xander, the newly-raised vamp who had not yet hunted or even fed except for a drunk Angelus had thrust at him on the way to Buffy's, retreated behind his grandsire in fear. In addition to the demon's abhorrence of having a soul, was Xander's fear that he would turn back into the useless sidekick he'd been before Drusilla had turned him into something powerful. He was somehow unable to recall that his newfound power had been less than useful against either Spike or Buffy.

Angelus, remembering how it felt to be cursed with a soul while still remaining a demon at heart, pulled on the chains with all the strength of a master vampire, trying to get to the gypsy before she could send him back into his perpetually melancholy persona. Buffy stepped quickly between the angry demon and her friends, her stake out and ready should the chains break before the spell was cast. She closed her ears to the taunts and threats coming from the vampire with whom she had once thought she was falling in love, although the gasp from Willow told her that the others were listening to the invective coming from his mouth.

She knew that he was just trying to distract her with his vivid descriptions of what he'd seen her doing with Spike; hoping she would be so upset that he could catch her off guard if and when he broke the chains. Although she knew that the filth coming from his mouth bore no resemblance to anything she and Spike had actually done, and that he had seen nothing except their nakedness in her bed, she cringed at what her friends were hearing. She almost hoped that the chains would break, giving her a good excuse to drive the stake she was clutching so tightly through his heart, shutting his mouth permanently.

When she heard Willow and Jenny begin chanting behind her and smelled the burning herbs she breathed a sigh of relief, then laughed at the panicked look on the vampire's face as he felt the spell developing. It was easy to see the moment when the souls were forced back into the two vamps. Xander screamed, clutching his chest and screwing up his face in terror.

Angelus snarled, seeming as though he was trying to bite the offending bit of light before it could worm its way into his body. His protesting and snarling was to no avail as he soon gave his own guttural scream and fell over onto the floor.

There was a heavy silence as the screams faded and the humans waited to see if the spell had worked. Buffy remained on guard, her stake ready while they waited for Angel and Xander to open their eyes.

Chapter Nineteen

The silence was eventually broken by the sound of Xander's ragged crying. He refused to look at his two best female friends as he buried his head in his hands, remembering the things he had said and done only a few hours earlier. Willow edged closer to the still-chained vampires asking softly, "Xander? Are you all right?"

When he looked up at her with anguished tear-filled eyes, Willow rushed to his side and threw her arms around him. Buffy's frightened cry of "Willow!" went unheeded as the redhead sank to her knees beside her friend, holding him while he sobbed on her shoulder.

Buffy immediately stood beside them, stake in hand, while she waited to see to whom Xander was still chained, Angelus or Angel. When the older vampire made to move closer, Buffy fell into a fighting stance, stake at the ready, only relaxing when Angel lifted his normal, sad brown eyes to hers, saying softly, "It's okay, Buffy. I'm me again."

"Tell me, Angel," she asked bitterly, "exactly when were you not you? Was it when you were trying to get into my bedroom? When you ripped the throats out of half of Sunnydale? Or was it when you killed and turned one of my best friends?"

"Um… technically, that was Drusi…." Buffy's glare left no doubt where she was placing the blame. "Right, my responsibility," he sighed, slumping against the wall. "I suppose 'I'm sorry' is a little—"

"Don't want to hear it," she said, turning away. "As soon as Giles unchains you, I want you out of my house. And take him with you," she gestured at Xander's shocked face. "You made him, or you let your insane childe make him, so you take care of him."

"You don't mean he's to live with me?" Angel's voice rose to painful levels at the same time that Xander howled, "Noooooo!"

"Well, where else is he going to live?" She turned around and put her hands on her hips. "How is he going to learn where and how to get pig's blood? Who's going to teach him how to be a souled vampire?"

The two newly-souled vamps glared at each other. "But I don't like him," the older one whined.

"Right back atcha, Deadboy," Xander growled.

"Work it out."

Buffy waved her hand dismissively and went back up to her kitchen to finish her abandoned sandwich. It wasn't long before two very subdued vampires followed by Buffy's watcher and the two women responsible for saving their un-lives by restoring their souls, made their way up the stairs and into the kitchen. After a few uncomfortable moments, during which Buffy did her best to ignore them, they mumbled thanks to Willow and Jenny and let themselves out the door.

"Do it now, Willow," Buffy said wearily as soon as the door had closed behind them.

Her friend started to argue, then shrugged and did as she was asked, effectively making the house impervious to any vampire except the one that no one was willing to mention again. With a yawn, Jenny said that she really had to catch up on some sleep and Giles offered to drive both her and Willow to their homes.

After assuring them that she would be fine by herself, Buffy bade them "good-night" and closed the door firmly behind them. She really wanted nothing more than to soak in a hot bath, wallowing in her unhappiness, but guilt for having not patrolled the night before would not allow that respite; instead she packed up her stakes to make a quick patrol of the closest cemeteries.

She found only a few fledglings to stake and she suspected that Spike might have dusted most of his minions before leaving Sunnydale. The thought of Spike was enough to ruin the mood that had been slightly elevated by slaying and she turned her footsteps toward her empty house and even emptier bed.

She approached her room with some trepidation, not sure what would be worse – picturing Spike in her bed, or finding that she was already forgetting what it was like to have him there. She threw herself down upon the unmade bed, burying her face in the pillows that still smelled of cigarettes and some indefinable scent that she was sure she could identify for the rest of her life as belonging to Spike.

Raising teary eyes after a while, her eye was caught by a piece of paper on her nightstand and she reached for it with a trembling hand. Although the handwriting was much smoother and more mature than the painstaking writing on the paper safely boxed under her bed, she had no doubt who had left it there.

"Dearest Buffy,

The poet in me is screaming to be allowed to compose a sonnet to our time together; a fitting sequel to the bit of drivel I left you the last time we met. Time, alas will not allow such luxury, and, truth be told, my skills at composing poetry are no better than they ever were so it is probably just as well.

I don't think I have the words to tell you what these past too-few days and your acceptance of the monster that I am mean to me. To express the joy that your generous gifts brought to my cold heart. I was not exaggerating when I said I would never feel like that again no matter how long I remain among the undead. Five hundred years from now, should I remain undusted that long, my cold, unbeating heart will still be warmed by thoughts of the Slayer who trusted, and, dare I say it? loved me.

Every time I think about how rarely a Slayer lives into her late teens, I want to throw it all away and fly to your side, determined to do my part to see that you do not meet the usual fate of your sisters-in-arms. And yes, I am aware that the incongruity of my worrying about the fate of a slayer must be one of Fate's more unkind jokes, but there it is. William the Bloody has become so fearful of learning that a new slayer has been called that it is likely I will never leave my room lest I hear something that will cause me to want to walk out to greet my first sunrise in 124 years.

With everything I am and have, I implore you to take care as you go about your duties. Barring incredibly good luck, I cannot imagine an ordinary vampire even coming close to beating you in a fight; but I beg you to take care anyway. And always remember to cheat!

There are so many thoughts trembling in my heart, so many things I wish to say to you, but I know that you are in the yard, tapping your foot and waiting for me to take my leave, so I will just leave you with this thought – know that somewhere in the world, a monster loves you ever so much. You will always be a warrior elf queen in my dreams.

With all my love,


PS – If you let that bloody wanker Angel touch you, I will come back and rip off both his arms!"

Buffy dropped her head onto the pillows, torn between laughter and tears. The incongruity between the formal, stilted wording in the body of the letter and Spike's angry post script summed up so perfectly the two sides of the unusual vampire that she was left gasping even as she pressed the paper to her face as if she could somehow feel the hands with which he'd held it as he wrote.

Rather than putting it away in her box of treasures with his poem, she put in the drawer of her nightstand so that she could reread it at will and went off to take her shower before bed.

She read the letter one more time before going to sleep with her nose burrowed into the scent of the note's author where it suffused his pillow.

By the time her mother returned to Sunnydale, there was no trace of Buffy's overnight guest, and no sign that any sort of magical activities had taken place in their otherwise very ordinary basement. The sheets had been washed, dried and put back on the bed, the shackles had gone home with the Watcher and the sword was carefully hidden under the bed with her locked box of valuables. The only mistake she made was to accidentally leave Spike's letter out on her nightstand….

"Buffy Summers! I need to see you in the living room, young lady!"

Uh oh. This can NOT be good. What have I done now? That she knows about?

"Yes, Mom? "

Buffy tried to appear cheery and unconcerned, all the while searching her brain for what might have upset her mother. Joyce had only been home a few days and Buffy had not yet found the right time to sit her down and tell her mother about her night job. One look at her mother's face, however, and she knew that she should have found the time to have that talk. Then she saw what her mother was clutching in her hand, and her stomach began to hurt.

Waving Spike's letter in her hand, Joyce gestured to the no-longer wrapped up sword on the couch beside her and asked heatedly," Do you have an explanation for any of this? An explanation that will not get you grounded for the next two years?"

Buffy took a deep breath and said quietly, "Sit down, Mom. This is going to take a while."

Joyce reluctantly perched on the end of the couch, still holding the letter tightly. Her face was tense as she waited for Buffy's explanation. She really felt there was only one way to take comments like, "…the gifts you gave me…" or "…loved me…," but there were so many puzzling references in what was obviously a love letter that she really hoped there was some other explanation for it. She tried hard not to think about the things that happened just before they left LA, when she and Hank had blamed Buffy's inexplicable behavior on trauma over their breakup, but finding a genuine sword under her daughter's bed was bringing up all those old memories.

"May… may I please have my letter back?" Buffy asked timidly, terrified that her mother was going to destroy one of the few things she had of Spike's.

"Not until you explain it to me." Joyce's voice was soft but firm. "I need to know why my seventeen-year-old daughter has a love letter from someone claiming to be 124 years old. And why he is afraid that you won't… won't live very much longer."

Buffy sighed and sank down into a chair. She looked at her mother silently for several minutes, then exhaled and began by saying, "Mom, I'm going to tell you some things that are going to sound very… strange, but I want you to promise me that you will wait until I'm through before you wig out, ok? Just hear me out, and when I'm done you can ask your questions or whatever."

Joyce nodded slowly and relaxed back against the couch. She placed the letter on the coffee table, being sure to keep it closer to her than to Buffy.

"All right, Buffy. I'll hear you out, but if this is more of that same vampire stuff that you tried to feed us in LA, I will have to tell you I am very disappointed in you."

"Well, Mom," Buffy bit her lip, then took the plunge. "I guess you'd better prepare to be disappointed. Because you're about to hear more about vampires, demons and the… the…. Oh, this is so hard. I wanted Giles to be here when I—"

"Giles? Mr. Giles, the librarian? What on earth has he to do with this. Oh my god!" Joyce's eyes got huge and she looked at the letter on the table. "Please don't tell me you are having an affair with the school librarian!"

"Wha-? No! Ewwwww! Mom!" Buffy's very real surprise and disgust soothed her mother's nerves somewhat, but she persisted.

"Then why would he need to be here – and who is 'William?' and why is he comparing himself to someone who is 124 years old?"

"Because that's how old he is, Mom." Buffy sighed, holding up a hand to halt her mother's automatic protest. "Please, let me tell you this my way and in some kind of chronological order, okay? Then I'll explain about Spi-William."

When Joyce had subsided to frowning agreement, Buffy began her tale. In a flat, uninflected voice she quickly rehashed her meeting with Merrick when she was only fifteen and had first been called. She tried to explain about being Chosen, but finally gave it up saying only that, "Giles can explain all this metaphysical stuff, Mom. All you really need to know is that I am the current Slayer and have been since we were in LA. We're here, in Sunnydale, because there was a vampire emergency here and I needed to be closer to the Hellmouth."

She waved her hands again, "I'm sure the Council had something to do with all of that. The gallery being for sale, the house – all of it. They wanted me here and they fixed it so we would move here. You'll have to ask Giles about that, too."

At her mother's terse suggestion that she explain just why the school librarian was so involved that he could explain everything Buffy couldn't, Buffy nodded and said tiredly, "Merrick was my first Watcher. He isn't anymore. He was killed by vampires before we left LA. The vampires that I killed when I set fire to the school gym."

There was an intense moment in which Joyce tried to deal calmly with this reminder of why they had left LA, and then she nodded tightly for Buffy to go on. Mentally, she was already trying to decide how she would get Buffy to the psychiatrist she fully intended to have her see immediately, but outwardly she continued to listen with open eyes and an open mind.

"Giles is my new Watcher. I met him the first day of school. I… I tried to refuse to be the Slayer again. But… it wasn't possible. The vamps knew I was here and… I just fell back into the slaying. I had no choice. I've been doing it since we moved here."

"And, how long will this… slaying… go on? When are you permitted to quit?"

"When another Slayer is called," Buffy said simply.

"And when will that be?" Her mother was relentless in her pursuit of some shred of hope that there would be an end to the mental nightmare in which her daughter was apparently trapped.

"When I die."

Joyce's face went white. She snatched the letter up off the table and quickly reread the part about Slayers only living into their late teens. Buffy's seventeenth birthday having come and gone, she wondered briefly if her daughter was becoming suicidal and covering it with this story of vampires and demons. Then she remembered things from that last year in Los Angeles; things that she had tried very hard to forget or dismiss as something other than what they seemed. With a shudder and a groan, she dropped her face into her hands, accepting that whatever was going on in her only daughter's life, it was not a figment of her imagination-and it seemed likely to get her killed.

Buffy was immediately at her side, putting her arms around her mother and murmuring soothing assurances that she was fine and she intended to remain that way for a long, long time. When Joyce had regained her composure, she sat back and looked at her suddenly adult-seeming daughter with new eyes.

"So – Back to School Night – the reason you were running all over the building was…"

"Spike – William. He attacked the school to kill me."

"This William?" her mother waved the letter around, causing Buffy to snatch it out of her hand before she could destroy it.

"Okay, see, that's another thing I need to explain…."

"I can't wait to hear this one," her mother grumbled, reluctantly joining her daughter in a small laugh. "It's going to be a doozy, isn't it?"

Buffy smiled, "Yes, it is. But it's a good doozy – well, mostly," she added, remembering that little William had become a vampire and spent over one hundred years living off human beings.

She briefly covered her short stay in 19th century England, grimacing sympathetically when her mother gave a muffled cry at Giles' having ordered her to jump into the portal after the demon. She told her mother about the charming little boy she met there, glossing over the encounter with the gang of thugs, and told her how wonderful it was to have his company while she was there.

"He was so brave, and so cute and he wrote me this wonderful… well, okay, it's probably pretty bad, but a poem about me and I never got to say 'good-bye' because he wasn't there when the portal opened again.

"Then Spike came to Sunnydale and he attacked me and we were fighting and all of a sudden he didn't want to kill me anymore and…"

"And this Spike. He's your William?"

Buffy nodded. "He grew up and got turned into a vampire by Drusilla but he remembered me. All those years, he remembered me…"

Buffy's wonder and gratitude were obvious and her mother had to say sharply, "Well, of course he did! You're beautiful and… and… oh my god. Did you say you have super-powers?"

Without answering, Buffy stood up and picked up the easy chair in which she'd been sitting, lifting it with one hand and holding it up long enough for her mother to get some sense of what she didn't know about her athletic daughter's true abilities.

She set the chair back down carefully and then asked softly, "Do you believe me this time?"

Joyce flushed, remembering how they had accused Buffy of lying or doing drugs the first time she had tried to tell them about being called. She nodded slowly, twisting her hands together.

"I do. I don't understand it, but I believe you. Is there anything else I need to know?"

"Uh, yeah, but I don't want to wig you out any more than I already have. The main thing to know is that you should never invite anybody into the house after dark – even if you know them. Oh yeah, and Xander is a vampire."

"Xander? Xander Harris? How could I not have noticed that?"

"Well, it kinda just happened. While you were gone. But it's okay," she added hastily. "Willow and Ms Calendar put his soul back so he's not going to eat anybody and…"

"Willow?" Joyce's voice was weak as she tried to absorb more unbelievable information.

"Tell you what, Mom. I'll call Giles and we'll go over to his house tonight and you can get all caught up on everything. Okay?"

Nodding numbly, Joyce completely forgot to question Buffy about her relationship with William or Spike or whatever her daughter called him and went off to pour herself a stiff drink.

Chapter Twenty

With Joyce's understanding, if not her complete acceptance, of her calling and its duties, Buffy found that her life became much easier. No longer did she need to sneak in and out of her room at night or lie to her mother about her activities. Although, after reporting on a particularly gruesome and dangerous slaying episode and watching her mother go into hysterics, Buffy had learned to be as vague as possible when it came to describing her more exciting evenings.

Once Joyce had sat down with Giles and had a chance to ask all her questions, look through his old Watcher's Diaries and other reference books, she looked at the man with new understanding and appreciation. The more she watched him with her daughter, whose own father was conspicuously absent from the major events of her life, the more she was grateful to the British librarian for his obvious affection and concern for Buffy.

They were able to establish a comfortable friendship centered around their mutual love for Buffy and their desire to see her outlive all the Slayers who had come before her, although Giles was very candid with Joyce about the dangers Buffy faced every night.

"May I ask you something, Rupert?" Joyce asked quietly, early on in their relationship.

"Of course, Joyce. Please. What do you wish to know?"

"I want to know what you know about William. About Spike. Can my daughter really trust him the way she seems to?"

He sighed and pushed his glasses up off his face.

"I wish I could answer that with certainty," he replied honestly. "I simply don't know. It's quite true that as soon as he recognized her he ceased his attempts to kill her, and, in fact, risked his own life to protect her from Angelus; however, before he knew who she was, he had every intention of making her his third dead Slayer."

"I think he loves her," Jenny put in quietly.

Giles nodded reluctantly. "That would seem to be the case. However, since he has left the area with Drusilla and with no intention of returning, I am hoping that any similar feelings she may have for him will dissipate with time and she will fall in love with someone more… appropriate."

Joyce and Jenny exchanged a look of female solidarity at the idea that "appropriate" would ever be an issue with a young girl when it came to choosing with whom she would fall in love.

It was months before Buffy was herself around Xander or Angel; and they were no more comfortable around her. While Xander was profusely apologetic about his words and behavior while unsouled, Buffy couldn't forget what Spike had said about the way the boy felt about her. She had caught him once or twice looking at her with eyes that flashed amber when he thought she wasn't looking and in spite of Willow's frequent hints to change things, she was glad he no longer had access to her home. She really didn't relish the idea of waking up one night to find vamp Xander in her bedroom – soul or no soul.

As for Angel, his apologies were sincere enough, but grudgingly given. He persisted in acting as though she was in the wrong to have had sex with Spike while he was off fucking Drusilla. In the interest of peace, she refrained from pointing out that he had jumped on Dru before he lost his soul, not after, but she made sure he also knew that he wasn't welcome inside her home. Any chance they might have once had for a relationship had been ruined once she'd had a chance to enjoy Spike's sardonic humor as well as his talented hands and mouth. She found that the idea of kissing Angel's brooding face or being held by his overly large body was just completely unappealing, although it took several months for him to accept the change in her feelings.

Xander had moved back into his parents' basement; if they noticed that he had stopped going to school in the daytime, they didn't mention it. He came and went as he pleased, confident that his mother would not bother looking into his small refrigerator and finding his stash of pigs' blood. In spite of their dislike for each other, Angel's sense of tradition was too strong for him to leave someone of his line on his own, and he reluctantly took Xander under his wing, teaching him which butchers were the most accommodating, what other types of blood were available, and giving him some history of their vampire family.

He did not consider Xander a grandchilde in the way that Spike was his clear descendant, but the tiny amount of blood that Drusilla had allowed him to take made him a bit more than a minion, and Angel grudgingly accepted responsibility for training the boy. The fact that he found Xander almost as annoying as Spike, but without the desire to please that had mitigated Spike's more outrageous behavior as a young vamp, made taking care of his newest family member more of a chore than even he had expected.

When Xander complained about his treatment, asking if this was how Angel had treated Spike when Drusilla first turned him, the older vampire had had enough and snarled, "Be very grateful, boy, that you are being brought up by me and not the Angelus that broke William in. You would not have survived to still be a thorn in my side 124 years later."

Buffy did her best to maintain some sort of normal high school life – for her mother's sake as much as for her own; she dated casually, but refused to become involved with anyone. She and her mother agreed that they would not share her vocation with her father, and they were both grateful when his busy schedule made it impossible for Buffy to visit him in LA for more than a weekend every once in a very great while.

Summer came and went, and Buffy's senior year of high school got off to an uneventful start. She briefly thought about having met Spike for the first time in the early fall two years ago, and again the year before, but scolded herself for hoping that might become a tradition.

No, he's gone and that's that. Time to move on. It was wonderful, but it was just one of those things….Oh my god, I sound like an old song from the 40's! Gah! I really need to get out more. Get that man – vampire- out of my mind and heart. I need to find somebody else who will make me feel…

Only in her bed at night, alone with her thoughts and his often-read letter, did she give in to the fear that she really was never going to see him again. She had no idea where he'd taken Drusilla or what they were doing. Her slayer side gave a guilty twinge, knowing that they were feeding on the citizens of some other country, but she couldn't help but hope that he was all right and not in any danger.

Giles had assured her very early on in her slaying career that the older a vampire was, the more difficult to slay. Not only were their strengths and speed far greater for their age and experience, but the longer they survived, the more they learned what they could and could not do in order to remain undetected among human populations. That was why most of her patrols involved graveyards; better to catch them as fledglings and dust them while it was relatively easy than to allow them time to perfect their survival skills. Those skills improved with every year of unlife – Drusilla's encounter with the mob in Prague not withstanding. Giles said that her willingness to take chances such as that was clear proof of Drusilla's insanity and that she surely would have dusted at the hands of her pursuers had not Spike risked his own unlife to rescue her.

The reminder that Spike was still with his insane girlfriend, in spite of her behavior with her sire, sent Buffy into another brief melancholy as she worried about his safety and suffered pangs of jealousy over his devotion to the brunette vampire. For several weeks she was subdued and quiet, slaying with a fierce determination but little or no flare.

Sleep held her as it never had before. When she was alone in her room, in her bed, hugging Mr. Gordo to her chest and rubbing her face on the pillowcase that she'd never washed, she was free to dream of hands that soothed and excited at the same time; lips that could go from tender to demanding and back again in one kiss; a powerful, lean body that fit hers so well that they seemed made for each other. In her dreams, there was no slayer, no vampire, just William and Buffy making love over and over until they were exhausted. When she would wake up to find herself grinding her hips into the unsatisfying mattress, she would slip a hand into her pajamas and try to imagine it was Spike's talented fingers stroking her to release.

So she passed her time, finding just enough older, smarter vamps to slay that her skills continued to improve and she became stronger and more confident everyday. As her eighteenth birthday approached, Giles became surprisingly reticent, promising to take her out for dinner, but refusing to discuss it otherwise.

Buffy almost cancelled the proposed night out, although she knew her mother was looking forward to it, when she found herself so weak that she was almost killed by a fledgling vamp. She thought she must be getting the flu or something as she became more easily tired and grew weaker and weaker. Finally, she told Giles that she didn't feel she could patrol – she was so weak she could barely lift a sword, let along wield it against anything more vicious than the practice dummy.

With a grim face, he assured her it was all right for her to miss patrol for a few nights and they made plans for him to pick her and Joyce up on her birthday. Buffy dragged home, too exhausted from trying to train to do more than tell her mother she was tired and going to bed. Morning came too early and she found herself with no more strength or energy than she'd had the night before. For the first time, she wondered if she was losing her powers; if somehow another Slayer had been called and no one had bothered to notify them.

Giles, however, pooh-poohed the idea, saying simply that she was probably tired and needed more rest . He refused to listen when she said she that had lost her Slayer strength, mumbling reassuring platitudes and not meeting her eyes.

In a small city in Colombia, a half-drunken Spike overheard a bar conversation between two other demons that made his stomach clench with dread.

"So, you know that Slayer in California, the one that killed the Master?"

"Yeah. She's quite a piece of work. That's why I'm living here!"

When the laughter died down, the first demon said, "Seems she turns eighteen in a few weeks. You know what that means."

"New Slayer! Maybe the next one won't be quite so tough," the second demon said wistfully. "I'd sure like to go back to the Hellmouth. I liked it there."

Fighting back his panic, Spike nodded companionably and said casually, "Hey, mate. Bit of a Slayer fancier myself. What's so special about this one turning eighteen?"

"And you are?"

"Name's Spike. William the Bloody. Maybe you've heard of me?"

"Oh yeah, you're the one who's living with that crazy slu—" He was interrupted by a sharp punch from his friend. "Sorry," he said quickly. "I didn't mean—"

"Yes you did," Spike answered calmly. "It's alright, mate. I know what she's doin'. We've reached an understanding about it." He smothered his shame and rage at hearing Dru's infidelity discussed in a bar. "So what's the deal about the Slayer turning eighteen?"

"You've never heard of the Cruciamentum?"

"One of those Council of Wanker things, is it?" Spike tried to appear only mildly interested as he called for another round of drinks on his tab.

"Yeah, those idiots! When their best Slayers turn eighteen, their watchers take away their powers and then they lock them in building with some random vamp. If the girl can dust it without her super powers, she gets them back."

"And if she can't?" Spike rocked back in his chair, blowing smoke rings at the ceiling.

They both looked at him like he wasn't very bright.

"Then the vamp kills her and another slayer is called."

"I see." Spike struggled to keep his voice noncommittal. "Seems like a waste of resources, if you ask me."

"Well nobody ever said humans were overly bright."

The demons roared with laughter, which Spike did his best to join even as every fiber of his being was demanding he tear out the door and run all the way to California if he had to. As soon as it was possible to do so politely, he excused himself and left the bar, taking to his heels as soon as he was out the door. He burst into the room he'd been sleeping in by himself since he'd caught Dru with a chaos demon, and began throwing things into a duffle bag. He mentally reviewed what he would need to get to California as quickly as possible.

He passed Dru's room and paused for a second, wondering if he should tell her where he was going. Even though she was still furious at him for taking her away from Angelus, she depended on him to take care of her and expected him to be there when she wasn't cheating on him with some other demon. The sounds coming from her room made up his mind for him and he left the building without a backward glance.

He had to bite a baggage handler in order to get into the plane's cargo hold, although he refrained from draining the man, leaving him on the floor after stealing his uniform. He had a tense moment when it appeared the direct flight from Colombia to LA was going to be searched for drugs, but at the last minute money changed hands and the door was firmly shut.

The flight gave him plenty of time to wonder what he was going to do when he got to Sunnydale. Other than eat that watcher if he's done anything stupid to her .

He had no idea what had gone on in Sunnydale since he'd taken Dru and left the country. He had been very careful not to follow any news pertaining to the United States or California; had kept in touch with no demons on the Hellmouth and done his best to relegate Buffy back to her status of fond memory that might or might not be real. But, a year later, he had to admit that it was never going to happen.

His warrior elf queen was a living, breathing, warm and loving woman. One that he had held in his arms, whose essence he had tasted. A woman he had felt come on his hand, in his mouth, and on his cock. A Slayer who had willingly given a vampire her blood. Who had cried when he left her to save his unfaithful lover from a well-deserved dusty death at her hands.

I am well and truly buggered. Face it, William, you're in love with the bloody Slayer and there is no way that can end well.

It was still dark when the plane landed at LAX and Spike was able to sneak out with the baggage and make his way to the cabstand. Picking the pocket of a harassed-looking man in a business suit, he quickly took the bills out before handing the wallet back to the grateful man with a cheerful, "Think you dropped this, mate." A short cab ride and he was picking up his beloved Desoto, patting her fondly while the demon in charge of the storage facility got change for one of the hundreds Spike had lifted at the airport. A few more minutes, and he was on his way to Sunnydale, growling softly as he realized he didn't know the exact date of Buffy's birthday and might be too late already.

Chapter Twenty-one

His first stop was Willie's bar to pick up the latest news. The entire demon community knew that the Slayer's eighteenth birthday was imminent; one quiet, young-looking female vamp insisted she'd been a student at Sunnydale High and that she knew that the Slayer's birthday was, in fact, that very day. There was some discussion of forming a group to wait outside the designated building and watch to see who or what emerged, but the possibility that there would be muscle from the Watchers Council surrounding the house discouraged all but the hardiest or drunkest demons.

The youngest ones still argued for forming an audience to cheer the victor, one claiming he'd heard the Watchers Council had picked, "Some real badass vamp this time. Name's Kralik. Turns out he was already a torturing murderer before he got turned. Not their usual tame newbie. They must not want this Slayer to win."

Spike did his best to seem casual and mildly interested, commenting only that, "I've always figured this bint was going to be my third Slayer. Guess I should wander over there and see who's trying to steal my glory. Anybody know where they've set this up?"

Directions to the abandoned rooming house firmly fixed in his brain, Spike threw the last hundred dollar bill on the bar and bought a round for the house before easing out the door and sprinting to his car. Five minutes of frantic driving and he was pulling into a driveway beside a large house that showed no signs of life except a black van in the driveway. A broken sign proclaiming The Sunnydale Arms dangled from its remaining hook.

One look at the van, one sniff inside, and Spike shifted into game face, growling softly. The scent in the van was not Buffy's, but it was close enough to leave him worried. He got back into the Desoto and moved it around to the rear of the house, parking it carelessly in the middle of the yard. He sprinted to the back door of the building, easily breaking the flimsy lock and entering what appeared to be a kitchen. The sight that greeted him did nothing to soothe his rattled nerves.

Two bodies lay sprawled across the table – both with gaping holes where their throats had been. The size of the men and the now-useless weapons beside them told him they were Council muscle and he wondered briefly what kind of vampire, other than a master, could take out two armed and experienced Council workers.

Tradition had it that the Council tended to choose newly-risen, less than dangerous vampires for the Cruciamentum. It was not, after all, in their best interest to have their Slayers lose the battle to remain alive. One that could not defeat a fledgling vamp using just her wits and the weapons provided, was incompetent and therefore expendable. There was no way that Buffy fit that description and Spike frowned as he moved away from the dead men. He remembered the mocking words from the demon at Willie's about the Council not wanting Buffy to win.

Got to be a pretty canny vamp to get the drop on experienced soldiers like that. And a powerful one to get them both at the same time. Almost looks like Buffy's being set up to fail.

He moved silently through the house, glancing impersonally at another body, this one clearly a watcher or one of their many flunkies. Following the trail of bodies and blood, he made his way to the top of stairs leading to the basement. He listened carefully first, detecting the racing heart beat of an extremely frightened human, but no other sign of life. When he heard footsteps approach the stairs, he stepped back into the shadows until a newly-turned vampire still bearing the bloody wound that had killed him came into view.

The fledgling was no match for a master vampire with an agenda and soon found himself helpless and unable to speak as he was hustled from the house. When Spike felt they were far enough away not to be heard, he removed his hand from the vamp's mouth and whispered, "One chance, wanker. What's down there and who does he have?"

"The… the Slayer's mother," the trembling fledgling squeaked. "He's using her to get the Slayer here. He's a serial killer, turned vamp. The Council keeps him drugged so that he's controllable, but he got loose and—"

"And they're sending the Slayer in there with him? Without her powers?" Spike's snarled whisper was filled with pent up rage and the unfortunate fledgling whimpered in fear.

"She's been… difficult. The Council wants a new Slayer to guard the Hellmouth. This one is too unpredictable."

"Her watcher agreed to this?"

"No, he thinks it's a regular Cruciamentum. Easy kill if she keeps her wits about her. He doesn't know what's waiting in there. No one counted on Kralik getting loose, though. Now he's free and there isn't any Slayer to stop him. I'm lucky I got killed quickly because he needed me to help him. Others aren't going to be so lucky."

"You're about to be lucky again," Spike said absently, already thinking about ways to defeat the vampire inside the house as he wrenched off the unfortunate former watcher's head. He brushed the dust off his hands and moved back toward the house until his attention was distracted by the tingles that indicated a Slayer was in the area.

A peek around the corner of the house showed him a panting Buffy, running up the driveway, Giles trailing behind her begging her to wait for him and not to do anything rash.

"That sonofabitch has my mother!" she shrieked back over her shoulder as she threw open the unlocked front door. "If she dies, it's your fault!"

Spike quickly slipped in the back door and ran to the basement stairs, hitting the bottom with one graceful jump. He took in the scene at a glance, a pretty blond woman tied to a chair, clearly frightened out of her wits but with a defiant tilt to her chin.

Glancing around quickly, he saw no sign of the other vampire; then he heard the Slayer's enraged voice upstairs and heavy footsteps moving in her direction. With a slash of his fangs, he ripped through the ropes holding Buffy's mother, quickly sliding back into his human face as she cringed away from him. Before he could explain that he was there to help, she had picked up a pitcher from the nearby table and clocked him on the head.

"Hey! That was bloody ungrateful!" He glared at her briefly, then his voice softened as he explained, "I'm here to help you and your stubborn bint of a daughter. Stay behind me and when we get upstairs, I want you to go out the front door and lock yourself in the watcher's pathetic excuse for a car. Are we clear?"

Something about the urgency in his voice and the worried looks he was shooting toward the upper floor triggered a thought and Joyce looked at him carefully before responding.

"Wi-William?" she gasped. "Spike? Are you Spike?"

"Pleased to meet you," he growled. "Let's GO!"

Grabbing her by the arm, he raced up the stairs almost pulling her off of her feet. He shoved her in the direction of the front door, hissing, "Run!" while he followed his ears toward the sound of breaking furniture.

Satisfied that Joyce was safely outside, he moved quickly toward the sound of Buffy's pounding heart, allowing his howling demon full rein. When he burst into the room where the insane vampire appeared to have Buffy cornered, he slid to a halt and watched her with admiration. She held a bottle of pills in one hand, pills for which the demon was shrieking and reaching as the Slayer danced around the room, always keeping a piece of furniture between herself and the raving monster. Just before she ran out of barricades, she threw the pills across the room, running in the opposite direction while the vamp pounced on the bottle, frantically tearing at the top.

She ran straight into Spike's chest, stiffening when she felt herself caught by arms too strong to belong to anything human. Before she even looked up at him, she brought her knee into his groin; even without her slayer powers, she brought him gasping to his knees, tears filling his eyes. Only then did she see who had been holding her and she dropped beside him, babbling apologetically.

"Spike! I'm sorry. I didn't know it was you. I don't have my powers and I can't sense… What are you doing here?"

"Came to save you, didn't I?" he managed to grit out. "Although if that overgrown troll attacks right now, I don't know how much help I'll—"

"Shhhh. Just watch," she whispered.

He followed her gaze to where the enraged monster was using the glass of water from the table to wash down the pills he'd just swallowed. The lumbering vamp, a vicious and maniacal smile on his face, turned and began stalking toward them. He made it only a few steps before stopping and beginning to shake. Pain, outrage, and fear chased themselves across his face just before he roared and burst into a cloud of dust.

Spike raised an eyebrow at the girl still kneeling beside him, and she grinned wickedly.

"What did you do, pet?"

"I cheated," she said smugly.

"Goes without sayin'." He grinned back at her. "But how?"

"I put holy water in all the water glasses."

"Good on you, then," he responded, getting painfully to his feet and pulling her up with him. "Should have known you wouldn't need my help for one ugly vamp."

They stood staring at each other, neither one making a move to get closer together or further apart until Spike finally burst out, "Bloody hell! It's been too long."

He pulled her into his body, lifting her off her feet as he dipped his head toward the lips he'd thought never to see or taste again. The kiss was tentative at first, Spike not sure what his reception was going to be; Buffy wondering if he came back only to save her and would walk out of her life again now that the crisis was averted.

Before their brains could process the emotions being stirred, their bodies were already responding and the kiss deepened almost by itself as they let their instincts free to make the decisions. By the time a breathless Giles and a stubborn Joyce Summers had burst through the front door, crossbows at the ready, Buffy and Spike were oblivious to anything but each other.

It took a large amount of throat clearing by the watcher and an indignant, "Buffy! William!" from Joyce to penetrate the pleasant, lustful fog into which the two lovers had fallen. With a loud sigh, Spike reluctantly set Buffy back on her feet and relaxed his grip. When she moved away with a sheepish smile at her mother, he let go completely, standing uncomfortably with his arms at his sides.

"Are you all right, Mom?" Buffy asked anxiously, feeling a sharp twinge of guilt that she had temporarily forgotten that her mother had been a captive. "How did you get loose?"

"William untied me and sent me outside. And Rupert, here, expected me to stay out there while you were locked in with that monster!" she finished with a glare at Buffy's watcher.

"Did he also tell you he's the one responsible for makin' Buffy lose her powers and settin' up this little test?"

There were matching gasps from the two women and they turned identical wounded looks on the mortified watcher. The scowl Giles shot at the glaring vampire promised a staking as soon as he could arrange it, but when Spike's expression evolved into an equally deadly promise of retribution for his putting Buffy in danger, the older man backed down immediately.

"Buffy… Joyce… I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am about all this. I had no idea they were using such a formidable vampire for Buffy's Cruciamentum. It is almost as though Quentin was trying to get her killed…"

"He was," Spike said flatly. "The flunky told me so before I dusted him. She was never meant to walk out of here. And you set her up for them,"

he finished quietly, unconsciously reaching for Buffy's hand and pulling her closer as though to protect her from her own watcher.

Giles' face was a study in confusion, dismay, horror, and finally a quiet anger. "I see," was all he said in response, but there was no sign of the gentle bookworm in the man's demeanor as he ushered them out the door. "Let us be gone from this unpleasant place. I will be needing to make some phone calls immediately."

Buffy and Spike turned down his offer of a ride, the vampire pointing out that his own car was hidden in the back yard and needed to be moved before the rest of the "Council wankers" showed up to pick up the bodies. Joyce looked back and forth between the two superbeings holding hands so tightly, then sighed and nodded. The glimpses into Buffy's life that she'd had over the past year had given her an unwelcome but clear understanding of exactly how not normal her daughter's world was, and she had no doubt that her disapproval of the girl's relationship with a much older vampire would be met with the scorn it deserved.

When Giles appeared about to argue, she poked him and said, "Leave them alone. You have enough to deal with explaining to me why I shouldn't ask Spike to kill you for endangering my daughter like that. If I don't like the explanation, I may do it myself," she added, waving the crossbow in his face.

Spike's laughter as he and Buffy went around the building to find his car drifted back to them and they heard his chuckled, "Looks like you're a bit of a chip off the old block, pet."

They walked quietly for a few seconds, savoring the joy of being together again, before Buffy spoke suddenly.

"Did you really come back to save me?" she asked quietly.

"Well, yeah. As soon as I heard the story about this barbaric test and that your birthday was coming up, I took off. Got here as soon as I could, but it almost wasn't fast enough." His eyebrows came together in a frown as he considered how close she had come to dying and he squeezed her hand a little tighter.

"And now?"

"What do you mean, 'and now?' " he asked with genuine bewilderment. "Jus' got here, didn't I? I don't really know what now. I guess that depends on you, love," he said more softly, looking at her out of the corners of his eyes.

Dropping his hand, she marched toward his car, not turning to look at him as she responded, "So, you're not going running back to wherever you were?" She tried to keep her voice even and not allow the fear or hope to show through, but she couldn't control her heartbeat and he felt it speed up.

"Not unless you tell me to, Slayer," he answered quietly. "There's nothing for me there. Everything I care about is right here in this miserable town."

"I'm not a Slayer right now, Spike. Will you still want me if I don't have my powers? Giles promised I'd get them back pretty soon, but what if I don't? What if I'm not the Slayer anymore? What if my blood couldn't heal you? What if I can't keep up when you want to—mmmmmph!"

Deciding the best way to show her he would still want her, powers or no, he pulled her in for another lengthy kiss, one that went on until she was whimpering and clinging to him with both legs wrapped around his waist. Gasping unnecessarily, he pulled his mouth away and fought to get the back door of the car open.

He stumbled into the car's wide backseat, pinning Buffy to the upholstery while he tried to fit a hand between them. Her own hand was trying to get his jeans unfastened but having no more success than he was squeezing between their two tightly-glued bodies. With a frustrated growl, he lifted himself up on his arms and pushed her skirt up, ripping through her underwear before popping the snap on his own jeans and yanking down the zipper.

As soon as he was free, Buffy yanked him back down, using her heels to pull him into her in one quick move. She wriggled her hips until he was as deeply seated as she could get him, then she stopped moving and sighed in happiness.

"I missed you," she whispered against his mouth. "Missed you so much."

"I missed you, too, love. You have no idea how badly I wanted to come back here."

"What did you do with Dru? Did you bring her back too?"

"No, pet. That's done. She's never forgiven me for letting you take away her precious 'daddy'. She doesn't want me… and I don't want her anymore."

While they talked, he began rocking his hips gently, letting the sensations build slowly for both of them. He buried his nose in her neck, inhaling the scent he'd tried to keep fresh in his mind for almost a year. Taking the soft skin of her neck in his mouth and sucking on it, he pulled the sweet smelling blood to the surface, carefully keeping his demon under control. Buffy arched her neck, moaning softly as his lips pulled gently on her skin. All she could think about was the way she had felt when he pulled blood from her while they were making love and she unconsciously pulled him in tighter, forcing his teeth against her throat.

"Ah, no, love. Not now. Not here. Not like this."

"You don't want to bite me if I don't have my powers?"

The pain and uncertainty in Buffy's voice tore at his heart as he realized he was behaving just as she been afraid he would.

"No, sweetheart, please believe me, that's not it at all. But it's been so bloody long, and I've dreamed of this so often – I'm afraid, love. Afraid of how badly I want to taste you again. I came so close to taking too much the first time…"

"I trust you," she said softly. "I know you won't hurt me. Especially not now, while I'm not…" She gasped as he touched the spot she'd never thought anyone would find again and she unconsciously squeezed him tightly.

"Guh! Are you sure you don't have your powers, love? Because that didn't feel like…"

"No, I still feel weak – I just… I missed you so much… Please, William, please…"

As she approached her orgasm, she clutched him and begged for the ecstasy that he could provide with his fangs. He could feel his own release building, unable to control himself after a year of dreaming of the very liquid being offered so willingly. With a groan, he sank his elongated fangs into the soft skin, unerringly finding the faded scars from his first bite. With a cry, she arched against him, shaking and sobbing as waves of pleasure washed over her.

Spike exploded into her, the taste of her blood adding to the incredible sensation of having her warm body around him again. Other than a faint trace of the drugs her Watcher had been giving her, Buffy's blood tasted and felt no different than what he remembered from the year before. He took only a few deep draughts, enough to leave them both trembling and teary as they recovered.

As he carefully licked the tiny wounds closed, he murmured against her throat, "I love you so much, Buffy. Want you to make you mine forever."

"I don't have forever," she murmured back, curious about the odd sensation that had shot through her body at his word. "But I'm yours if you want me."

When Spike's body trembled against her and there was no mistaking the magic flowing around them, she heard him mutter, "Bloody hell. I am a soddin' idiot."

He pushed up on his arms again, leaving their bodies still intimately connected.

"I'm sorry, love. I didn't mean for that to happen."

"You didn't mean for what to happen?" she asked, her lower lip coming out in a pout. "And what do you mean, you're an idiot? For what? For—for… loving me? Is that why you're an idiot?" Her eyes began to swim with unshed tears as she thought she heard him say that he was sorry they'd made love.

"Not sorry for loving you. Could never be sorry for that, sweetheart. I'm sorry I opened my big mouth and said it at the wrong time, is all."

"So," she said, making a shrewd guess, "that strange tingling I felt wasn't just because you're so good at sex?"

" 'Fraid not, pet." He grinned in spite of himself. "That was a claim. The demon… no, not the demon, me – I said the words that would bind you to me while we were still-" he wriggled his hips against her to emphasize what they were "still"— and with having my mouth on your neck like that… I'm sorry, love. I really didn't mean to do that to you."

"Why not?"

Her forthright question took him aback a bit, and he struggled to answer it thoroughly without frightening her.

"Because a vampire claiming ritual establishes a bond that lasts for life. It only goes away when one of the mated pair dusts. And usually, so I'm told, the one left behind walks into the sunlight soon after. You're only eighteen years old, Buffy. Barely old enough to be legally married, never mind shackled to a demon for the rest of your life. Even if I thought it was a good idea, I would never intentionally do anything like that to you without talking about it first and giving you a chance to say 'yes' or 'no'."

"Not to mention the back seat of an old car isn't the most romantic place for a lifelong pledge," she said dryly.

"That too," he agreed sadly, waiting for the anger he was expecting to see when she fully realized what had happened to her.

The anger didn't materialize, although she did nudge him hard enough that he took the hint and reluctantly pulled out of her warmth, tugged her skirt down and helped her sit up. He zipped his pants and backed out of the still-open door, saying gruffly, "Let's get out of here, pet. We can sort this out when we don't have to worry about a squad of tweed-wearing Council wankers showing up any minute."

Nodding her head in agreement, Buffy slid across the seat and out the door, only to get right back into the front through the door Spike was holding open for her. She slid across the large seat just far enough to let Spike in behind the steering wheel, putting her hand on his thigh possessively as he started the car and drove out of the yard.

Chapter Twenty-Two

The ride to her house was quiet, Spike worried that he might have done something to irreparably damage their relationship, Buffy trying to absorb the idea that she could be "mated" for life to this man she really hadn't known very long. Only the fact that sitting beside him, touching him, feeling his spendings on her inner thighs felt so very right and special kept her from wigging out.

Giles's car was still in the driveway when they arrived and Buffy pushed open the front door to find her mother holding a finger to her lips for silence and Giles yelling at someone on the phone, "I don't care what kind of a meeting you say the bloody bastard is in, you tell him Rupert Giles wants to speak to him right now! "

When he turned around to see who had entered, Buffy and Spike could see that he had the beginnings of a black eye, as well as blood on his lip, to which he was holding a piece of ice.

While Buffy stared at her mother in wonder, Spike gave the embarrassed woman a grin and a thumbs-up behind the Slayer's back. They stood awkwardly in the hallway until with a murmured explanation to Spike, Buffy hastily went up the stairs to her room to find some underwear and clean off her legs. If her mother wondered why Buffy didn't just use the downstairs bathroom, she didn't say so, just gesturing for the vampire to come in and sit down.

Apparently the person to whom the Watcher wished to speak had been found as he was now using large amounts of British-flavored profanity to berate the unseen person.

"I don't care how 'undisciplined' you think she is, you bloody pillock. She has already outlived most slayers and was able to take care of your intended assassin as well. If you ever," his voice dropped to a flat, cold murmur, "attempt to harm my Slayer again, I will make you pay in ways you will wish you had never learned. Do we understand each other, Quentin? And you can take that half-baked apology and shove it up your arse!"

There was a short pause, then Giles said clearly, "I bloody well can talk to you like that. I am no longer your employee. I quit. Do you hear me you miserable wanker? I no longer work for you and neither does Buffy. You would do well to keep your employees out of Sunnydale from now on. After," he added, "they pick up the bodies left behind by your less-than-tame vampire."

He hung up the phone decisively, turning around just in time to see Buffy come into the room and run to hug her mother. When his surrogate daughter turned to face him with eyes that managed to express rage, pain and incredible disappointment all at the same time, he could only hang his head in abject apology.

"I will understand if you choose not to forgive me, Buffy," he said quietly. "But I would hope that you will give me another chance to prove to you how extremely sorry I am and how truly important you are to me."

"Did you just quit the Council?"

"Yes," he replied shortly. "It would appear that I am now unemployed – except of course, for Sunnydale High School's library. I suspect however, that the buffer provided by the Council between Principal Snyder and myself is going to be gone by the time we get back to school, so that job may also be gone quite soon."

Buffy and her mother sat on the couch while her former watcher stood uncertainly by the phone, wondering if he was ever going to be welcome in this house again. His eye was rapidly swelling shut and turning a darker shade of purple while he stood indecisively. With a resigned wave of her hand, Joyce gestured to the chair not occupied by a vampire and told him, "Sit down, Rupert. I guess we are all going to be in this together."

She perked up and asked him suddenly, "Does this mean that Buffy is no longer the Slayer? That she can quit and have a – a normal life?" She looked at the man hopefully, trying not to see the pained look on Spike's face when she expressed the wish for her daughter to have a normal life.

"I sincerely doubt it, Joyce. The Council does not choose the slayers, nor are they responsible for giving them their powers. Buffy will be a slayer for the rest of her life. And since you live on the Hellmouth, chances that she will not have to continue to slay are very slim. The vampires and demons will not care whom she is employed by – it will still be a battle of good versus evil with Buffy as the lone warrior for good."

"Not alone." Spike's growl reminded everyone of his presence and Buffy gave him a grateful smile as Giles stared at him in surprise.

"You are staying here, then?" he asked curiously.

"For as long as she'll have me," Spike answered, moving to stand near Buffys. "I figure with two of us to contend with, most big bads will choose to move on to someplace safer."

"And the ones that don't?" Joyce asked quietly.

"Then they'll have a chance to take on the Slayer and a master vampire at the same time. Should be fun," he added with a wink at Buffy.

"Are you saying you intend to assist Buffy in her slaying duties? To fight at her side against your own kind?" Hope and disbelief were both clearly audible in the ex-Watcher's voice.

"Well…." Spike seemed to suddenly realize what he'd just said. "I'm not saying I'm going to be all soul-having and redemption bound like Peaches. Still a vampire, here, you know."

Buffy stood up and walked over to him, standing just close enough to look him in the eye and ask, "What are you saying, then, Spike?" She shook her head, her long blond hair hiding her face when she looked down. "I can't let you stay here and hunt in Sunnydale. We'll be right back where we were last year."

The sadness in her voice tore at his heart and he stepped closer, lifting her chin so that she was looking into his eyes again. They seemed to forget the other two people in the room as they stared at each other, the Slayer's face reflecting the same sad determination that it had the last time he was in Sunnydale.

"What I'm saying, love, is that I don't know what I'm gonna do. All I know is that I can't leave you again. If you want me gone, you'll have to dust me. And I won't stand by and watch you risk your life every night without being there to watch your back. If that means it turns out I'm fighting on the side of the white hats – well, I guess…I guess I'll just have to learn to live with that."

"Can you do that? You don't have a soul. When Angel lost his soul, he was—"

"I'm not Angelus, pet. I control my demon; it doesn't control me. I don't need a soul, I'm gonna have a built-in conscience." He stroked her hair lightly, his meaning perfectly clear. Then he leaned down and whispered into her ear, "Maybe even a live-in conscience, if I'm lucky."

Buffy blushed and pushed him away just hard enough to show she heard him, before turning to look at Giles and her mother. She took a deep breath, and said clearly, "Spike is going to stay here. With me. We… we're going to be together. He's my—" she was at a loss as to what to call the vampire to whom she was apparently mated for life. "…my boyfriend," she finished lamely, with an apologetic look at his happy face.

"I believe we received that message quite plainly when we found you together at the boarding house," Giles said dryly.

Joyce fought down the urge to insist that Buffy was too young for the kind of commitment she seemed to be making, although she couldn't control a small sigh as she said, "I suppose pointing out the difference in your ages would be a waste of time?"

Buffy moved over to kneel in front of her mother and look up at her earnestly.

"Mom, I know this isn't what you want for me. I know that you want me to go to college, get married and give you fat grandbabies. There's a part of me that wants all that too, but I know it will never happen. I'm already one of the longest-lived slayers in centuries; most of them don't last long enough to even have a Cruciamentum. But with Spike to help me, I might be able to set the record. Maybe I'll be the first slayer to live long enough to retire!"

Her mother looked at her hopefully, smiling at the optimism on Buffy's face, but Joyce's face fell again as Buffy continued, "Or, maybe not. Maybe some demon or some vamp is going to get lucky—if not tomorrow night, then the night after. Or six months from now. I don't know. I just know that I want to spend however much time I have with the man I love. All those other things just aren't in my future – no matter who I'm with. I'm sorry, Mom. I really am, but this is what my life is – it's slaying and fighting and saving the world – and I want to do it with Spike."

Joyce looked up at the vampire who was wearing an expression that could only be called joyous. She was puzzled about the look on his face until she thought back over Buffy's words and realized that it was probably the first time he'd heard Buffy admit that she loved him. She tried to catch his eye, but he was firmly focused on the girl still kneeling in front of her, staring at her as though afraid she was going to vanish any minute.

Joyce sighed again, then stood, pulling Buffy to her feet with her. She walked over to the vampire, bringing Buffy with her and taking Spike's hand in hers. With Buffy on one side and Spike on the other, she asked him clearly, "Do you love my daughter?"

"With all my heart," he replied immediately, looking not at her, but at Buffy. Then he turned his head and looked at Joyce.

"I know I wouldn't be your first choice for your daughter, but I promise you I will do everything I can to keep her alive and happy. That's all I can do."

Joyce nodded sadly. "I suppose it's all I can ask." She moved her hands together until she could let go and leave Spike and Buffy holding hands. Then she gave him a stern look and said firmly, "If you ever make her unhappy, I will personally remove your head with an axe."

With a quick glance at the battered ex-watcher, Spike grinned and said, "I don't doubt it for a minute."

The three of them stood quietly for a few seconds, each lost in his or her own thoughts until Giles cleared his throat, breaking the spell and asking meekly, "Is there any chance an extremely humble and apologetic ex-Watchers Council employee could add his approval to this apparent union?"

Three pairs of eyes turned on him with varying degrees of warmth, gazing long enough to cause him to drop his head and begin to turn away before Buffy said, "Do you really mean that, Giles? You're okay with this?"

"I would have to conquer a lifetime of training in order to be 'okay' with it," he admitted quietly. "However, I can argue with neither your assessment of the likelihood of your living a normal life nor the fact that having a master vampire of Spike's reputation and abilities increases that likelihood tremendously. Not to mention," he said wryly, "you rarely listen to my advice anyway."

Quiet laughter at his expense broke the tension and Joyce went to get drinks from the kitchen while Giles sat down to talk to Spike and Buffy about Kralik and how they had defeated him. When Spike proudly told him that Buffy had done it all by herself, the man breathed out a sigh and slumped back in his chair saying, "Those prats have been underestimating you from the beginning. Let us hope that this time they finally understand what a treasure they have lost."

An hour later, Joyce was yawning and even Spike was looking tired. There was an uncomfortable silence as everyone stood up. Buffy had been sitting on Spike's lap, and they were still holding hands as Joyce said pointedly, "It's time to say 'good-night', Buffy."

Buffy looked at Spike anxiously, asking, "Where are you going to stay? You can't spend the day in your car."

Giles cleared his throat and offered quietly, "You may stay with me if you like, William. Until you have had time to make other arrangements."

"'Preciate that, Rupert," Spike said, genuinely touched. "I'll get out of your hair as soon as I can. Get a place of my own tomorrow night."

Giving Buffy a chaste kiss on her lips and shaking hands with Joyce, he followed the watcher out the door to their separate vehicles and drove off into what was left of the night.

Joyce and Buffy stood at the bottom of the stairs and looked at each other before Joyce said with a sigh, "I'm not going to be able to keep you two apart, am I?"

Buffy shook her head and blushed, but met her mother's eyes firmly.

"No," she said simply.

"Oh well," Joyce said as she turned to go upstairs, "At least he can't get you pregnant."


Laughter drifted down the stairs as the Slayer glared after her mother.

Chapter Twenty-three

Before he went to the watcher's, Spike found a basement apartment he liked; as soon as the sun was down the following evening he took Buffy with him to sign the lease. He explained to the bored rental agent that he preferred the apartment to be in his "wife's" name for business reasons.

While they walked to the building where Spike had already parked his Desoto, he explained that with her name on the lease, the apartment would be protected against other vampires whereas with his name on it, there would be nothing to prevent any glory-seeking vamps from dropping in unexpectedly.

"Got no desire to have a perfectly good shag interrupted by some stupid git that thinks we can't dust him just cause we're naked."

"Ewww. I don't want any vamps seeing me naked!"

"None? Is that right, Slayer?" His tongue curled behind his teeth as he leered at her, running his eyes up and down her body. He was gratified to hear her heart beat a little faster and sense a rise in her body temperature as she pretended to be offended and punched his arm.

The apartment Spike had found was a little further away from Revello Drive than he would have hoped, but it had its own entrance off the side of the building, including a small patio with pots of flowers and room for sitting outside. He opened the door, holding it for Buffy as she hesitantly walked in and looked around. There wasn't much there – the apartment had not come furnished and all there was in the first room was a rickety table left by the former resident.

She turned to look at him, frowning when he didn't follow her into the apartment.


The vampire grinned at her from his position, leaning against an invisible wall across the doorway.

Buffy flushed, embarrassed at having forgotten the very reason he put his new living quarters in her name. "Come in, Spike," she said, laughing as he tried to maintain his cool demeanor when the barricade vanished and he fell into the room.

"Might give a bloke some warning, pet," he grumbled, the twinkle in his eyes belying the grumpy tone. "Nice to know it's going to work, I guess."

The small, windowless bedroom contained a brand new mattress and box spring, still in the plastic in which they'd been shipped from the store. Lying on top of them was a still-packaged set of expensive sheets in a crimson shade. Buffy raised her eyebrows at his innocent expression.

"No chairs, but fancy sheets for the bed?" she teased, beginning to pull the plastic off the mattress even as she scolded him.

"Got my priorities straight, pet," he smirked as he began unwrapping the sheets. "If I wanted to sit, I could do that at your mother's house."

With both of them working, it took only a few minutes to have the sheets opened and on the bed; they stepped back to admire their handiwork, unconsciously moving until they were standing together and looking at the now-made bed sitting in the middle of the room. He wrapped his arms around her from behind and nuzzled the side of her neck, creating tingles when his mouth ran across the tiny fang marks on her neck.

Buffy giggled and squirmed as he licked his marks, asking in a breathy voice, "Is the way that makes me feel part of the claim, or is it just you?"

"I'd like to think it's just me, pet," he murmured, continuing to worry the marks with his lips and tongue, "but I suspect it's a bit of both. They'll always be sensitive to my touch. At least they will until they fade completely."

She turned in his arms, facing him and tilting her face up. "They're going to fade? I thought this was a 'for life' kind of thing?"

"It is, usually. But we're not both vampires, we're not renewing it regularly, and you didn't claim me back; you just accepted my claim, so I don't really know what to expect. I'm thinking that as the marks fade – which, with your slayer healing, they should pretty soon – the claim's effects will fade too."

"And here I thought they were making an honest woman of me," she teased. "Like a vampire marriage or something."

"Say the word, love, and I'll make whatever kind of woman you want to be out of you," he said perfectly seriously.

"Oh," she breathed, surprised by both the sincerity and the intensity of his words and voice. "I think right now I just want to be a very well-loved, sexually satisfied woman. I'll worry about 'honest' later."

He picked her up and knelt on the bed, holding her tightly against his chest before laying her down gently. He shrugged out of his duster and kicked off his boots, then joined her. Rather than grabbing her roughly as she expected, he propped himself on one elbow and gently traced her face, smoothing back stray hairs and touching her reverently.

"My own warrior elf queen," he said with a soft smile. "Bloody dream come true, this is."

"Dream version of warrior elf queen is kind of a hard act to follow," Buffy said, rubbing her cheek against his hand like a cat. "What if it turns out you don't really like the real me? Ordinary Slayer and high school student?"

"Trust me, love, there is nothing ordinary about you. I know it; your watcher knows it; and now the bloody Council of Wankers knows it. You are the best Slayer I've ever come across and one hell of a woman to boot. You're just going to get better and better and I'm going to be here to see that you have a chance to do just that."

"My own knight in shining… um… black leather," she responded stroking his face with her own hand.

Almost simultaneously, the serious expressions on their faces changed, Spike's eyes darkening as he leaned in to nip at her lips with his blunt teeth, Buffy's breath hitching in response to his hand having slid up under her shirt. Without more conversation, a year's worth of pent-up lust and craving exploded and they came together in a frenzy of ripping cloth and muffled whimpers. The quick reunion coupling of the night before had only taken the edge off the need to be connected as intimately as possible, not diminished it, and they were soon gasping in unison as Buffy's legs parted to welcome Spike in.

"Aaaah," she moaned as she once again felt him filling her completely. She whispered against his neck, "You feel so good in me. You make me feel…" She struggled for words to express the feeling of completion and rightness that was sparked by having his cock buried inside her and his lean, muscular body pressed against hers.

The vampire was having his own temporary lack of coherence as he felt himself surrounded by the heat and strength of the woman he'd given his heart to so many years ago. He was drowning in the scent and feel of her skin, the thump of her heart beating, the sound of the blood pulsing through her veins so near to his mouth. His demon was demanding he renew the claim; that he draw more of the powerful blood rushing so tantalizingly close. So strong was the urge to bite her again that he had to hold himself up on his arms and stop moving until he was once again in control of himself.

"What's the matter?" Buffy's anxious voice snapped his attention back to her face and he saw the uncertainty in her eyes. "Don't you want me any—"

"Bloody hell, Buffy," he groaned, falling down on her and kissing her savagely. "Want you so badly I'm afraid I won't be able to control the demon. Being in you, having you around me, I could dust right now and die happy. I'm just trying not to spoil it by biting you again."

"Okay," she said, her voice muffled by the mouth still worrying her own. "In the first place – if the choice is dusting or biting? I vote for biting. Not real interested in sleeping with a pile of dust, thank you very much. And as for 'spoiling' anything by biting me, I seem to remember that being pretty much the biggest happy of any that you've given me so far, so not quite getting why you think it would be a bad thing."

To emphasize her point, she began moving her hips and squeezing rhythmically, forcing him to fall into the steady movements and surrender to the sheer pleasure of her body. With a resigned sigh, he began his own steady motion, feeling her building to her release even as his balls began to tighten.

"Love you, Buffy," he growled as his face shifted. "I love you so much…" As he felt her clench around him and arch up with a cry, he let his fangs slip into the marks and he pulled two deep draughts of her blood as he pumped his own release into her welcoming body.

As before, the feeling of her blood being pulled into his mouth sent her spiraling into another orgasm that left her clutching him to her with all her strength as she muffled her cries by fastening her teeth on his shoulder. The feel of her teeth in his skin was all it took to make him harden again immediately and his hips were moving anew before either of them had actually recovered from the first orgasms.

This time, he was able to slow himself down and enjoy the feel of her heated warmth as he slipped in and out easily, setting a gentle rhythm that Buffy quickly matched with her own corresponding movements. As the pace and force of his thrusts increased, she suddenly flexed her newly recovered Slayer muscles and flipped them over so that she was sitting astride his hips, riding his cock much as she had before he left Sunnydale.

He grinned up at her, not hiding his appreciation as he said, "There's my queen in all her regal glory. Ride me, love. Show me what you want from me, Buffy. Make me your—" His words broke off as she squeezed down on him, sending his eyes rolling back in his head.

"What do you think, Spike? Do I have all my powers back yet?" she asked with a giggle.

"I bloody well hope so," he gasped. "If you get any stronger, you're going to break me. Not that I'm complainin'," he hastened to add as she relaxed and started to push herself off. "No, love. Don't pull away from me. I'm a stupid git for saying that. Never want you to hold back with me. Give it to me good, Slayer. I can take it. I want everything you've got, Buffy."

He watched anxiously as the uncertainty on her face was replaced by a growing joy, relaxing only when she resumed her internal assault on his cock. Exhaling the breath he hadn't realized he was holding, he thrust his hips up to meet hers and growled low in his throat.

The growl shot all the way through her body, sending vibrations everywhere including her clit and stimulating another build-up of sensation in her lower body.

"Spiiiiike," she whimpered, unwilling to change what she was doing that was obviously pleasing him so much, but knowing she wasn't going to find her own release in that position.

"I've got you, love," he replied, understanding immediately and reaching for her with his fingers. He began the gentle stimulation she needed, already knowing her body well enough to understand when to begin twisting and pulling until she clamped her muscles around him and threw her head back in ecstatic release.

The climactic tightening of her muscles around him was enough to send him flying over the edge also and when she collapsed against his chest shuddering with the aftershocks, he was ready to join her in exhausted relief. For long minutes she lay on top of him while he stroked her back with long, powerful sweeps of his hands, murmuring his appreciation and love into her ear while she breathed deeply and waited for her heart to stop pounding.

When she had recovered enough to speak, she raised her head and kissed his chest, mumbling, "If we keep this up, the Council will have to send another slayer, 'cause this one's not leaving this bed. Ever."

With a gentle chuckle, he dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "That's fine with me, love, but I think we might get hungry eventually."

As if to emphasize his point, her stomach gurgled, reminding her that she had not eaten since lunchtime. With an embarrassed giggle, she rolled off to the side groaning, "Could that have been less sexy or romantic?"

Spike chuckled again and rubbed his face on her belly, tickling her with his tongue until she giggled and squirmed away.

"There's nothing you could do that I wouldn't find sexy, pet. But that just proves I was right. We have to go eat at some point. And I thought maybe we'd hit the furniture store and see what else I need."

"I suppose I should patrol," she sighed. "Just because I did quit, doesn't mean I can quit."

After a last lingering kiss that threatened to turn into more, they reluctantly got up and began to dress. Spike showed Buffy where the bathroom was and she was touched to see that he had also purchased His and Her towels when he got the bedding, as well as toilet paper, deodorant, toothpaste and toothbrushes, shampoo and bath gel.

"Pretty sure of yourself, aren't you?" she teased. "Who says I'm going to be spending so much time here I'll need all those things?"

"I say so, Slayer," he growled possessively, then suddenly appeared less sure of himself. "You are going to be here a lot, aren't you? I got it for you. If it was just me, I could live in a crypt somewhere."

"I was just kidding, you big baby," she stood on her toes and pulled on his pouting lower lip with her teeth. "I'll be here as much and as often as I can."

She quickly cleaned up and got dressed, smiling with delight when he handed her one of the two keys as they went out the door and off to find food and evildoers to slay.

Chapter Twenty-four

After a quick meal and even quicker patrol of the closest cemeteries, they stopped by Giles' apartment to let him know that Spike now had his own place and would not be needing the ex-watcher's hospitality anymore. To their surprise, a full Scoobie meeting seemed to be in progress with Willow, Jenny, Xander and Angel sitting around the living room. It was more than obvious that there had been an argument going on – Willow and Jenny were on one side of the room, facing Xander and Angel who were busy yelling at Giles.

When the door had swung open, showing clearly who was on the other side, an uncomfortable silence fell immediately. Buffy and Spike stepped into the room, closing the door quietly behind them and looking around at the angry faces.

"Did our invitation get lost in the mail?" Spike's spoke in a sarcastic drawl.

"What's up, guys?" Buffy asked, glaring the smirking vampire beside her into silence. "Is there a new big bad in town for me to…"

Her voice trailed off as she read the barely controlled anger on the face of her vamped-out ex-boyfriend and her equally game-faced friend. As subtly as possible, she stepped in front of Spike and dropped into a fighting stance. She'd been sure that over the course of the past year, both Angel and Xander had accepted that, while she cared for both of them, she had no interest in a romantic relationship with either one. Angel had seemed to accept her decision, albeit with some sadness and reluctance; but Xander, despite the soul Willow and Jenny had given him, refused to give up the idea that Buffy would see him as more than a close friend now that he was a vampire. They had had more than one testy confrontation in which Buffy had to re-explain, sometimes by waving a stake, that she was no more interested in a physical relationship with him than she had ever been.

Quickly reading the situation, Spike stepped up behind Buffy, touching her lightly to let her know that he would back her whatever she decided. The easy familiarity with which he touched Buffy's back was all it took to snap the little bit of control holding Xander back and he leaped at Buffy, fangs aiming for her throat as he snarled his right to her.

Before Spike could close the hand already reaching around the fledgling vamps throat, Xander had recoiled, shaking his head in confusion. He looked at his mentor for an explanation as he snarled, "Why can't I bite her?"

"You mean, aside from the fact that you'd be dust before you took the first sip?" Spike asked coldly, still holding the younger vampire by the neck.

From the corner of his eye he could see Angel's eyes narrowing with suspicion and the growing anger as his suspicions were confirmed by Buffy's hand rubbing the marks on her neck. He wondered briefly if Giles had any idea what a fight to the death between two master vampires would do to his apartment before turning his attention back to the struggling vamp in his hand.

He shook the larger vampire roughly, his own demon face coming to the fore, until Xander stopped struggling and just hung there, growling with humiliation. Spike glanced quickly at Angel again before saying to Buffy, "Your call, pet. You can do it, or I can do it, but he crossed the line when he attacked you."

There was no trace of the Victorian gentleman or the tender lover she knew was in there, only an extremely pissed-off master vampire whose mate had been attacked. The other human faces in the room bore various expressions of shock and fear as the vampires faced off. Willow's eyes were brimming with tears as she realized that the friend she'd saved once from the Slayer's stake might have gone too far this time.

Buffy turned to the souled vampire she'd known first and, ignoring the fury on his face, she answered his unspoken question, saying coldly, "Yes, it's what you think it is. We're not sure if it's going to last, but right now it appears to have saved me from a bite, so I'm thinking, maybe, yes? Either way, if you two can't deal with the situation, you have two choices – leaving Sunnydale is one of them."

"Let's be clear on what the situation is, Buffy," Angel managed to snarl. "I want to be sure Giles knows."

"The situation is that I love Spike and he loves me. We're together and we plan to stay together. Yes, he accidentally claimed me and I accepted. No biggie. My guess is we'll be renewing it and I'll be claiming him back one of these days. Or maybe we won't. Either way, it's none of your business – or Giles's for that matter." She sent a quick apologetic glance toward the man who was watching carefully with his lips pinched tightly together.

"The point is, this is the way things are. I think it might be in your best interest to find somewhere else to live – and to take Xander with you."

Spike's snarl told her what he thought of letting the other vampire go free and she clasped his free hand reassuringly.

"He was my friend, Spike," she said quietly. "And Willow still loves him."

"You said leaving Sunnydale was one option, Buffy. What is the other?" Angel had risen to his feet, still in game face, sending the humans in the room shrinking against the far end of the room.

Without a word, Buffy pulled the stake from the waistband of her pants, holding it loosely but firmly. Angel looked at her determined face and nodded, dropping back into his human guise. He turned and without a word to anyone walked past them to the door, opening it and looking back pointedly at the other vampire still dangling from Spike's left hand.

Spike looked at Buffy, shook his head in disagreement, then shrugged and dropped Xander to the floor, growling, "Don't ever let me see you near here again."

With another furious look around the room, the dark-haired boy stomped his way to the door turning around to snarl, "Oh, you won't see me, Spike. But I'll be back and I'll have a stake with your name on it. You can count on it."

Faster than the eye, Buffy's stake flew across the short distance between them and she watched, grim-faced, as one of the first people to befriend her when she came to Sunnydale exploded into dust. She cringed a little at hearing Willow's gasped sob behind her, but kept her chin up defiantly as she stared a silent message at the other vampire in the doorway.

Even Spike looked puzzled as he asked, "What was that all about, pet? He tried to bite you and you were going to let him walk. He makes a stupid threat and you dust him?"

"He threatened you," she said as though there could have been no question about the proper response to such an action. "He threatened you," she repeated stubbornly as Giles cleared his throat behind them and Jenny tried to comfort Willow.

With one last look at his grandchilde and the slayer he was now embracing, the only souled vampire in the world left the apartment alone, allowing the door to close quietly behind him.

The End