Chapter Thirteen

As coherent thought came back, Spike dropped his head to the floor in despair.

Bloody hell. I claimed her. What was I...This is not good. I claimed a slayer. And after tellin' her I'm leavin' here and never comin' back.

He picked his head up and pulled back to meet her joyful eyes. He was still buried inside her warmth and truly had no desire to leave that place yet, but his shock at what his demon had done was stronger than the urge to stay there until he was hard enough to have another go. He reluctantly pulled out of her and rolled off to the side on his back.

He kept one arm around her and she immediately curled into his body, throwing one arm across his chest and looking up at him expectantly.

"Buffy, pet, I'm sorry. I never meant to do that—didn't even really bite you. It was just a little nick and the demon..."

"The demon tried to claim me. I know what it means, Spike. Why do you think I said it to you when I gave you that spectacular – if I say so myself – hickey?"

"But I shouldn't have done it, luv. I'm not plannin' on comin' back. I keep trying to tell you that, but you just won't listen to reason. Bloody stubborn woman! Why won't you believe me?"

"Because I know you, Spike," she said softly, reaching up with one hand to stroke his agitated face. "I know you're going to come back to me. It might take a while, and... and I won't be very happy while you're gone, but I know you're coming back. And I'll be waiting for you."

"I can't leave her, Buffy. She needs me. She depends on me to take care of her and to... love her."

Buffy wisely refrained from pointing out that this woman who was so dependent on him was currently banging his grandsire so frequently and loudly that it had driven him out of the building. She knew that Spike was blaming Angelus for it and would forgive Dru. It was his nature to forgive the women he loved, no matter how much they hurt him.

"I know, my love," she said, stroking his face again. "It's okay. You wouldn't be you if you could switch allegiance that easily. I have to earn your love. And Dru has to—" She stopped herself from revealing what she knew of his future with the insane vampire. "You'll come back when you're ready, and I'll be here."

The confidence in her voice frightened him. She was so sure of herself. Just as he was sure that he could never love anyone the way he did his dark princess. The dark princess who was currently seeing that her sire received continuous happiness-inducing orgasms all night. That thought made him tighten his arm around the Slayer and she slid over onto his body, reminding him that he had his own source of happiness at hand.

Giving up any attempt to convince her that she was wrong about him and their future, he ran his hands down the silky skin of her back and cupped her round butt cheeks in his hands, pulling her up so that the head of his rapidly hardening cock was nudging at her entrance.

"You okay for another go, pet?" he asked, concerned that she might be sore. "Don't want to hurt you... not much, anyway," he added with a leer.

"I can handle it, vampire. I'm a Slayer, remember? I've been hurt a lot worse for a lot less reward. You haven't begun to hurt me enough to—"

She was interrupted when he pushed her hips down onto his cock and she couldn't control the slight flinch when he pushed against her torn flesh. Immediately, he stopped and looked at her anxiously. Even while he cursed his inner William for being the biggest ponce in the world, he was apologizing and lifting her off.

"It's okay," she said softly, nuzzling his neck and licking the mark she'd made, "Please, don't stop."

"I think it's bleedin' again, luv," he managed to get out. His demon was almost drooling as the smell of her blood mixed with arousal sent it into a frenzy.

"Maybe you could kiss it better?" she offered breathlessly.

"Good plan," he agreed, pulling her up to his face. "Nothin' like vamp saliva to help a wound heal..." He settled her over his mouth and let his tongue slide inside to lap up the mixture of blood and moisture he found there. Buffy gasped when she felt his cool tongue moving around inside her, searching for any trace of bleeding or torn tissue.

While she supported herself on her knees and hands, she tried to let him guide her hips wherever he wanted them to be. It wasn't long, though, before she was moving her hips in small circles, unable to keep still as his talented tongue moved from her now soothed entrance to the little nubbin begging for attention. When he pulled it into his mouth and bit down gently she shrieked, trying to muffle the sound by turning her head toward her shoulder.

He quickly pulled her back down and without pausing, slipped into her thoroughly ready entrance. There was no pain this time, and no blood as Spike's attentions had set the healing in motion and her accelerated Slayer healing had taken over mending the tiny tear. She sat up and smiled down at him as she began to squeeze his cock rhythmically. When his hands reached for her breasts this time, she didn't bat them away, but arched her back and thrust them into his hands.

He didn't think he'd ever seen anything as beautiful or erotic as the sun tanned girl writhing on top of him. Without moving her hips at all, she was managing to bring him to the edge of another orgasm just using her internal muscles.

When his appreciative murmuring took on an urgency that couldn't be ignored, she fell forward onto his chest and allowed his moving hips to give her clit the friction it needed. With matching gasps, they shook with intensity of their orgasms and clutched each other as waves of pleasure swept over them.

This time, Spike remained inside her warm body as she lay against his chest and whispered his name. He held her lightly, more than willing to be used as a pillow as long as he could stay inside her warmth a while longer.

Buffy stayed where she was as long as she could, knowing this was the last time she would have him like this until Drusilla's infidelity sent him running back to Sunnydale next year. As much as she dreaded the upcoming months without him, the knowledge that he was alive and that he would be coming back made it bearable and she prepared herself for losing him again, albeit, temporarily this time.

"I love you, Spike," she breathed in his ear. Without waiting for a response, she kissed him gently and lifted herself off his body, suppressing the whimper that threatened to emerge when he slid out of her.

Spike made no attempt to hide his reaction to the loss of her warmth, and he growled when she moved away from him. She just looked at him sadly and said, "It's almost dawn. You can stay here today, if you want. There's a cot in the basement. I have to get some sleep and then see what Willow and Jenny have come up with in the way of soul-restoring spells."

"You're going to try to put it back?" he asked incredulously. "Now that you know it's not permanent? Are you daft? Do you have any idea what Angelus is like, Buffy?"

"Actually, I do," she answered quite seriously, as she pulled on her jeans. She'd given up the search for her underwear, although she'd been sure she'd taken them off at the same time as the jeans. Completely ignoring Spike's indignant snort, she turned her back to him so that he could fasten her bra for her and continued talking without answering his grumbled, "I'm more used to undoin' these, pet."

"If Jenny and Willow haven't been able to come up with it today, I'll... I'll probably kill him. I can't take a chance that he'll be able to..." She stopped and shook herself. "But I'm sure between the two of them they've been able to find something. Even if it's only a temporary fix until we figure out a way to anchor his soul. I owe him that much. All you have to do is help me distract him and control Drusilla until we can get the spell done."

He peered at her uncertainly. This business-like Slayer was quite different from the perky little girl who'd been tormenting him since he arrived in Sunnydale. And different from the experienced, affectionate woman in a girl's body with whom he'd just made love. He was a little chilled at her matter of fact discussion of killing the vampire she professed to still care about.

This Slayer was different from the other's he'd fought in more ways than one. He reminded himself that she'd survived him, Angelus, and five or six more years of vampires, demons and potentially world ending apocalypses. He looked at her with new respect, asking, "Then what, pet?"

"Then I guess you'll leave and take her away from here. She's healed now and if she stays here I'll have to kill her sooner or later. If you love her, you'll take her very far away. That was your plan wasn't it?" She looked at him steadily. "Make Dru better and kill another Slayer?"

His bowels clenched as she reminded him of his original intent.

"I don't want to kill you anymore, Buffy. You know that. But I won't let you stake Drusilla."

She looked at him coldly. "You couldn't stop me if I wanted to do it. And I should. She's a killer." She stared into his suddenly narrowed eyes and continued with a sigh, "But you'd never forgive me, and I don't want that. So I'm letting you take her away. Just be sure she doesn't come back. No train massacres this time around."

He knew she was referring to something that had happened in her future, and filed it away to worry about later. He stood up and began to dress, hiding her lace underwear in his back pocket as he pulled on his jeans. When he was dressed and had put his duster back on, they stood, both looking awkwardly at the floor.

Finally Buffy moved toward him and laid her hand against his chest. He could feel the heat from her hand through his tee shirt and unconsciously leaned in to it. She ran her hand lightly over his chest, smoothing the shirt out as she did, then dropped it to her side.

"You better get back to them, if you aren't going to stay here. I don't want them to suspect you're helping me."

"No way to hide what we've been doin', pet. You're all over me, jus' like I'm all over you. A raw fledgling would know what we've been doin' – not to mention our new neck decorations." He gestured to the small cuts his fangs had made on her neck and the slowly fading love bite she'd left on him.

"A shower and a change of clothes will take care of most of it," she suggested. "Do you really think they're going to know where the marks came from? If they can even see them, by then."

"I dunno, love. I didn't really bite you, so I don't think it's gonna be an obvious claim. But if either one of them gets close enough to try to drain you... I dunno. We'll see, I guess." He looked at her closely. "Don't think it's gonna be real strong, and it probably won't last once I'm gone."

He saw the disappointment flash across her face briefly, but before he could say anything else, the Slayer's mask was back in place and he decided to let it go.

"Ok, then. I guess that's it until we're ready to make our move. You'll just have to wait until we show up, I guess. I hope it's going to be tonight, but it might take a day or two. If I could think of some way to let you know..."

" 'S alright, pet. I'll jus' hang close and keep an eye on 'em. Hard to tell what they might get up to what with Angelus havin' to be good for so many years. He's probably bustin' with schemes to destroy the world or somethin'"

"Good guess." She smiled at him sadly. "But I'm going to try to keep it from getting that far this time."

"Sun's comin' up, luv. I've got to go. Got to find a place I can clean up before I go back to the factory."

"I know," she said softly, tilting her face up toward his. He leaned down and their lips met one last time in a kiss that started out very chaste and deepened into something he didn't want to examine too closely. He knew that the taste of this girl's lips would haunt him for a long time to come and he almost groaned as she pulled away.

"Good-bye, Spike," she whispered, dipping her hand into his back pocket and stealing back her underwear.

"Hey! I stole those fair and square, Slayer! And how did you..." he stopped and shook his head at himself. "Oh yeah, almost forgot."

"I know you," she smirked, waving them in his face.

"God help me, you do," he said as he let himself out the door into the rapidly dwindling darkness. "You do."

Chapter Fourteen

Buffy stood in the doorway until she couldn't see his flaring leather coat anymore, then slowly closed it, fighting back the feeling that he was leaving her forever. She walked around the living room, picking cushions and brushing any trace of what they'd been doing out of the rug.

Just as she had when she used to leave his crypt without any sleep, she went up to her room and got into bed without cleaning herself off. She drifted off to sleep surrounded by the scent of Spike and really relaxed for the first time in years.

After a few hours of restorative sleep, she showered, got dressed and headed for the school to see what Jenny and Willow had come up with. She was relieved to find that they had found the basic words of the curse on a web site dealing with ancient gypsy customs. Willow was confident that between the soul-restoring spell she had found, and Jenny's curse, they could restore Angel's soul if they could just get close enough to him without being killed.

"Okay," Buffy said, "That's where Spike and I come in."

"Spike? What does the bleached menace have to do with it?" Xander sputtered. "Isn't he part of the problem?"

"Xander, were you not listening the other night?" Giles' impatience was evident in his voice. "As much as we might prefer it not be the case, Buffy trusts Spike to help her out when she needs it. Please remain quiet if you can't contribute anything useful."

The angry boy stood up and spread his arms.

"The only thing I'd like to contribute is a hammer to help her drive stakes into all three of those bloodsuckers. I knew Angel would break bad some day, and now she wants us to trust another undead thing on her say so. I say if all she's learned in six years is to switch one bloodsucking boyfriend for another… she's not as smart as she wants us to think she is."

There was a tense silence in the room when Xander finished his tirade and Buffy knew that everyone else was thinking their own version of the same thing. For just a second, she was back in her time, breaking Spike's heart every time she left him; so afraid her friends would find out that she was sleeping with him and condemn her for it. She shook those memories off and fixed Xander with a cold stare.

He'd never seen an adult Buffy in full Slayer mode, and he unconsciously cringed back against the table while Giles moved to intercept her if she should attack the boy. Instead, Buffy just glared at him until he sat down with an ashamed expression on his face.

When he was again seated at the table, she looked around the room and said, "Let me try this one more time. In the future, my future, Spike helps us multiple times. He has opportunities to kill each of you several times, but never does it. Even after he's—even when he is temporarily rendered incapable of physically hurting any of you, he could have had minions do it. And, when I'm… gone… he stays and takes care of… and he helps all of you patrol. He saves each of you multiple times. You and the people you care about. You'd have been dead ten times over without his extra muscle.

"I'm pretty sure I mentioned the burning to death to save the world from the First Evil – just in case all the other world save-age, enduring torture, being constantly insulted by all of you and still helping us….You know what? I don't have to defend him or my feelings for him. He earned every bit of trust and respect I can give him and if I can keep him from having to endure any of that other stuff this time? Bonus points for me."

She turned away from their open mouthed stares and said, "Now let's figure out when and how we're going to do this. I think late afternoon would be good. They'll just be waking up and probably won't have left the factory yet."

As though the whole previous scene hadn't taken place, she went back to planning the afternoon's assault on the Factory. When she said that Spike was to be allowed to take Drusilla with him, she squelched Xander's complaint with one look and went on with the plan.

Spike broke into a vacant home and showered off any trace of the Slayer. He stepped under the water wearing all his clothes and rinsed her scent off them as best he could, then stripped and let the water run over his body.

He leaned against the tiled wall, supporting himself with one hand while the hot water beat down on his shoulders. The heat made him think of Buffy and the incredible way her warmth drew him. He'd never been attracted to a human woman since he'd been turned. In fact, he rarely looked at anyone other than his dark princess, even though he knew she occasionally strayed.

But this tiny girl, this incredibly sexy woman in a girl's body, reached places in his psyche that he didn't even know existed. Never had he met a woman, vampire or slayer, who was his equal in a fight; and here was one who could take him whenever she wanted to. He didn't doubt her when she said she knew all his moves. When he thought back to the fights he'd seen, he could see it. The sudden leg sweep after a feinted high kick, the frontal attack that turned into a flip over the opponent's head, those were his moves. Moves he'd taught her.

That led to thoughts of the other things he'd obviously taught her and he was suddenly hard again remembering her mouth and hands on his cock. He groaned with the ache that was settling in his balls to match the throbbing in his cock at the thought of the soft and yet so strong body he'd been allowed to enjoy. Even thoughts of Dru and Angelus, shagging each other bloody back in the factory couldn't push away the vision of her tanned body riding him, and with an angry snarl, he grabbed the soap, quickly using its slippery foam to take the edge off what he was afraid was about to become a permanent condition.

When he had finished his shower, he put his damp clothes back on and, stealing a curtain off the window to throw over his head, he bolted out the door and down a manhole. Using his uncanny sense of direction and smell, he found his way to the factory through the sewers and tunnels under the city. He wasn't happy with what the water was doing to his boots, but thought it would help to cover any lingering smell from the Slayer.

He gingerly fingered the place on his neck where she had sucked so hard on his skin that she left a mark. He remembered her whispered "mine" and shuddered a little at the thought of being bound to a Slayer. Telling himself that there hadn't been any actual exchange of blood, and no reciprocating on his part, he tried to shrug it off as a heat-of-the-moment kind of thing that she didn't mean. He blithely ignored the reciprocated claim that he'd put on her later the same evening.

When he finally emerged through the basement of the factory, he was, for once, more grateful than jealous that Angelus and Dru were so wrapped up in each other. They barely acknowledged his arrival and paid no attention when he shed his wet clothes and replaced them with new dry ones. He threw the wet ones down to another level of the building and went off to sleep by himself in a far corner of the big room.

Angelus and Dru went back to where they had been since his return to the fold – on the double bed mattress that Spike had installed in a side room for Dru to rest on until she recovered. The sounds coming from the room told Spike she definitely had her strength back and he squeezed his eyes shut and tried to block out the sounds of her screams and whimpers as she cried out her happiness at her "daddy's" return.

He was finally able to drift off to sleep when he allowed himself to visualize silky golden hair, soft pink lips, and warm green eyes smiling up at him.

When Spike woke up, his instincts told him it was late afternoon and he got up and stretched, wondering if the red-haired witch and the gypsy woman had come up with a way to shove a soul back into his grandsire.

That or the Slayer's gonna shove a sharp piece of wood into his chest. No way is Angelus gonna take this little girl. I'm guessing she knows him as well as she knows me and he never was all that great a fighter anyway. More of a bully than a warrior.

He was smiling at the thought of the ass-kicking Buffy was going to give Angelus when he and Dru came out of the their room. Dru cocked her head at Spike and began in a singsong voice, "Spike's been a bad puppy. My sweet William's been playing in the sun. The sun makes him smile, but it will burn him."

Angelus just shook his head at her babbling, but Spike got very still as he realized what she was saying. Even without being close enough to smell him or see the mark on his neck, she knew what he'd been doing. He decided to brave it out, shrugging as he lit a cigarette and blew smoke at her.

"Fair's fair, pet. Jus' getting' a little of my own back."

She rolled her eyes in a way that told him she wasn't fooled at all, but then spun away from Angelus and began to dance slowly to music only she could hear. As she danced, she sang nonsense words that meant nothing to either vampire.

Angelus didn't approach the younger vamp. He clearly expected Spike to be very angry about losing Dru and was wary of him. Even though Angelus was the older of the two by almost a century, he'd spent enough years toughening Spike up and teaching him to fight to respect the other vamp's fists and fangs. No one took joy in a fight the way Spike did, and Angelus had no desire to be on the receiving end of the other vamp's jealous rage. He was mildly surprised that Spike didn't appear angrier than he was, but put if off as the result of an all-night binge and a hangover.

He extended an uncertain peace offering to his grandchild, saying, "We're going to go hunting as soon as the sun is down all the way. Do you want to come with us?"

Spike looked at him coldly and turned away without answering. Suddenly he felt the fading mark on his neck tingle and his head flew up so that he could listen.

"Show time," he whispered to himself as he waited for the Slayer to appear.

Chapter Fifteen

Buffy felt a tingle in the healed scratches on her neck and knew that Spike's unintentional claiming was still active. She paused and shut her eyes for a second and was rewarded with a wash of excitement and anticipation that she knew was coming from him. Wishing she knew more about claiming and the side effects, she tried to send a message of confidence and warning but couldn't tell if he received it or not.

In a whispered conversation, she told Jenny and Willow where they could hide while they worked on the combined curse/spell. Her intent was to keep Angelus busy fighting her long enough for them to work their magic on his demon.

"I promise you," she said to Willow's frightened face, "I will not let him near you. If it comes down to it, I'll stake him and let the future worry about itself. You just stay behind the machinery, and let me do the rest."

"And what about William the Bloody and Drusilla?" Jenny asked quietly. "I believe you when you say Spike won't harm you or us, but what is to prevent his consort from doing to us what she did to Kendra?"

"Spike will," Buffy said shortly. "All right, let's go."

When Spike felt Buffy approaching, he suddenly became very animated and began stalking toward Angelus, growling about his having "taken my soddin' woman for the last time." Keeping one eye on Drusilla, who had stopped dancing to watch with interest the two vampires preparing to fight over her, he insulted, provoked and generally distracted Angelus to prevent the older vampire from hearing the entrance of Buffy and the witches.

Had Drusilla not whirled at the sound of Willow sneezing in the dusty room he might have been able to keep Angelus busy until the spell was well underway. However, the sneeze and Dru's subsequent wail of, "The sun is here to take my daddy away," tore Angelus's attention off Spike's advance and focused it on the familiar girl entering the room.

"Well, hello, lover," he crooned. "I didn't really expect to see you so soon. Thought you'd want to take a while to mourn the passing of your boyfriend."

Buffy blinked at him in genuine confusion for a second, before she realized that he meant his souled self and not Spike. Angel had not heard her speech about Spike's unconditional love for her and apparently thought he was still the love of her life, even though she thought she had made it clear that they had no future together.

When she realized what he meant, she smiled grimly and said, "Haven't lost him yet, demon."

While she and Angelus were exchanging pleasantries, Drusilla was working her way toward the Slayer, swaying back and forth like a cobra as she did so.

"Sunshine thinks she has captured my sweet William. She wants to pull both my lovely boys into the light with her, but they don't want to leave their dark princess, do they Miss Edith?"

She cocked her head as though listening for a reply, then snarled at the Slayer.

"Miss Edith says you tried to take what's mine. She says I should kill you like I did the other Slayer."

As Dru moved closer, trying to get the Slayer to look her in the eye, Spike was crossing the room swiftly and he grabbed her around the waist just as she got to Buffy. Although Buffy was careful not to look the insane vampire in the eyes, she couldn't help but be distracted by her weaving approach and sing song voice.

When Spike grabbed Drusilla before she could reach for the Slayer, Buffy's attention was distracted enough that Angelus was able to leap for her, his weight carrying them both to the floor. The force of the fall with the vampire's large body on top knocked the wind out of her and she was immobilized for a few seconds as she struggled to get air into her lungs.

Angelus took advantage of that to pull her hands over her head and fully pin her down, using his legs to hold hers still. When she tried to buck him off, she could feel his erection pressing into her crotch and she recoiled reflexively.

"Oh," he snarled, "the virtuous little bitch doesn't like that, eh? Maybe before I kill you, I'll have to pop that cherry you're so proud of."

"Too late," she snarled back as she bashed her forehead into his face and tried to pull her arms free. She cursed her sixteen-year-old self for the baby fat coating the body that had become taut with muscle in her own time. She knew that if she was in her own body she would have been able to overpower the large vampire, but in this body she felt more helpless than she had in years.

While Spike was busy trying to contain a shrieking, struggling Drusilla, Angelus bared his fangs and prepared to sink them into Buffy's exposed neck. Just as he reached for her throat, the marks on it flared into visibility and Buffy could feel them emitting some sort of power. The snarling vampire recoiled in fear and astonishment as Spike's claim became visible, allowing Buffy to free one hand and use it to push his head back far enough for her to wriggle out from under him. She rolled to her feet and fell into a fighting stance as he gaped at her

"You… you've been claimed! How… who… no one claims a Slayer." His surprise was replaced with anger, "No vampire claims what's mine. I'll kill you and him." He advanced on the slayer, snarling the whole time. "Tell me who it was. Did you stake him for it, or do I get to rip his head off?"

Surprised that he couldn't tell that the tiny marks belonged to Spike, Buffy breathed a sigh of relief that she could feel was echoed by the the vamp still wrestling with Drusilla. The dark vampiress was shrieking about spells and witches and gypsies and tearing at Spike with her nails and teeth in an effort to break loose and attack Willow and Jenny.

Buffy couldn't risk taking her eyes off Angelus long enough to watch the seer, and she prayed that Spike would be able to control her while she kept the fuming master vampire busy. When he charged her again, she was ready for him and leaped over his head, kicking him as she did so. She whirled and planted another kick in his back, sending him to the floor hard enough to stun him. When she didn't follow up with a stake in his back, he staggered back to his feet with a knowing smile.

"You can't kill me, can you, lover? I knew you couldn't. It would break your little teen-aged heart."

He stalked toward her, only to be met with a flurry of punches and kicks that put him back on the floor, bruised and bleeding, but undusted. He sat there, blinking up at her angrily.

"Give it up, Buffy. Admit it. You. Can't. Kill. Me. You love me too much."

Buffy rolled her eyes at his arrogance and spat back at him, "I can kill you, if I have to. News flash, Angelus, I already have. Sent you right to hell, in spite of how much I loved you. And, Angel? This time around? I don't think I even like you very much."

"Then why haven't you…" His face showed his sudden understanding and he leapt to his feet with a roar. "Where are they? You're stalling me! Trying to put that miserable soul back. I don't want it, Slayer. I won't go back to being what I was."

Buffy positioned herself between the furious vampire and the large piece of machinery behind which Willow and Jenny were frantically chanting, trying to finish their combined spells before Buffy had to stake him.

Angelus's roar had distracted Spike long enough for Drusilla to break free and she flew across the big room to where the chanting was almost ready to take her daddy away again. Buffy turned to run toward Drusilla and Angelus tackled her to the floor once again. This time he wasted no time on threats or taunting, just reached toward her nearest body part with his fangs. Spike was frozen in place for a fraction of a second, torn between saving Buffy and saving the two chanting women.

When Willow screamed, he crossed the floor in two leaps, tackling Drusilla away from the shrinking red head. Before the spitting, hissing vampire could rip into him again with her claws, he brought his fist up and with a soft, "Sorry, luv," he connected a hard uppercut to her chin that knocked her unconscious. He gave Willow and Jenny an apologetic shrug; then whirled to help Buffy, only to find the Slayer kicking his grandsire's semi-conscious body all over the room.

"If," smack! "you," whump! "don't stop," crack! "trying to bite me," bam!, "I'm going to stake you anyway and the hell with your freakin' redemption!"

He grinned in admiration as she punched and pummeled the large vampire until she could drag his unconscious body up to where Willow and Jenny were finishing their interrupted spell casting. She dropped him in front of the frightened women, put her hands on her hips and said, "Well?"

"Done!" Willow said, sagging with relief. Jenny nodded her head and they all turned to watch Angelus's body stiffen and shake as the spell hit him and his soul was restored. Turning from the now-groaning vampire, Buffy looked from Spike to the still unconscious Drusilla. She reached a tentative hand toward his bleeding face, which was covered in cuts from his lover's claws.

He flinched back away from her hand and cringed at the pain that flashed across her face.

"We need to go, Slayer. She's gonna be really brassed off when she wakes up. Better if we're on our way to South America by then." The two stared at each other for what seemed like forever before he said, softly, "I'm sorry, Buffy. I wish it could be different."

She nodded silently, afraid to trust her voice as he lifted the limp vampiress to his shoulder and turned to go.

"Take care of yourself, luv," he said as he walked out of the building without looking back.

"You too, Spike," she whispered almost to herself. "Come back to me."

Chapter Sixteen

While Buffy waited for Angel to regain his senses, a stake handy just in case the spell hadn't worked as they'd hoped, Willow and Jenny made their way back out of the factory just in time to see Xander aim a crossbow at Spike and pull the trigger.

"Xander, no!" Willow screamed. Not quickly enough to prevent the bolt from leaving the bow, but enough for Spike to turn and take the missile in his shoulder rather than the back that Xander was aiming for. When he went down, snarling in pain, he lost his grip on Drusilla and she rolled out of his hands and landed on her feet. She looked from the bolt in Spike's shoulder to the wide-eyed boy holding the crossbow and leaped at him, fangs and claws bared.

With a groan, Spike pushed himself to his feet and grabbed her around the waist before she could do any more damage than rake her nails down Xander's arm. Using his one good arm, he wrestled the angry vampire around so that she was facing him and told her, "No, Dru. I promised we'd leave without killin' anybody."

"But my sweet Spike, he was trying to kill you. And after you were such a bad puppy and helped the Slayer. He deserves to be eaten."

"No doubt he does, pet. But I made a promise, and I plan to keep it. Now, help me to the car like a good girl."

Casting a look of lingering hunger and rage at Xander, the easily distracted vampire allowed Spike to lean on her while steering her toward his old Desoto. The humans stood and watched in amazement as he crawled painfully into the driver's seat and started the car. As he began to pull out of the parking lot, the door of the factory opened and Buffy stepped out, followed closely by a shaken Angel.

The big black car stopped beside the slayer for just long enough for her to see the crossbow bolt sticking out from Spike's shoulder and to catch the expression of disgust and disappointment on his face. He looked into her wide, tear-filled eyes just long enough for her to register the pain under the anger; then shook his head and floored the big V8 to shoot out of the parking lot in a spray of gravel.

Buffy stalked toward the small group of humans arguing among themselves with much yelling and waving of arms and froze them all with a "Which one of you did that?" in her best Slayer voice.

Even Giles was afraid to move as her now dry and very cold eyes went from person to person. When she got to Xander, he tried very hard to hide the crossbow, but she snatched it from his hand and broke it over her knee.

"I might have known! Damn! I should have known. You've never been willing to…" She stopped to take a deep breath, and threw her hands up in the air. "Stay away from me, Xander. I mean really, really away from me."

She walked back over to Angel, peering into his eyes to make sure there was no trace of Angelus before she left.

'We're going to talk about those marks, Buffy. I haven't forgotten them." His eyes bored into hers, the anger still lurking in their depths but now competing with the pain that came with knowing she was serious when she told him they weren't together in her future.

"We will, Angel. I promise. I'll explain as much as I can. But not tonight. Tonight I need to be alone." She turned and without saying anything to her Watcher or friends, she disappeared into the night, seeking something to kill and some privacy.

He nodded and started walking toward the apprehensive group watching him. He watched as Xander moved unobtrusively behind Giles at his approach and he knew it was going to take a while before Buffy's friends accepted and trusted him again.

And, they would be right not to. Now that we know how easily the soul can be jarred loose.

He paused in front of Giles and looked the man in the eye.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I had no idea that would happen. We need to find a way to anchor my soul."

Giles nodded, and gestured at his car. "Yes, I believe that might be the first order of business now that Spike and Drusilla have left Sunnydale."

"They left?"

"Yes, it appears that Buffy and Spike had an arrangement – a new arrangement – that he would assist her in restoring your soul and she would allow him to take Drusilla away from here…without harming anyone," he added, casting a hard look at an unrepentant Xander.

"You saw that crazy bitch! She was going to kill me!"

"I also saw you shoot her lover, and saw him save you from her in spite of his wound. It would appear that William the Bloody is a… vampire… of his word."

Angel nodded and agreed with a sigh, "If Spike promises to do something, he doesn't quit until he has done it. I suppose that would hold true if he promised not to do something also."

"He is certainly not your average vampire," Giles said, wondering how much Angel knew about Buffy's future with his grandchilde.

"Never has been," Angel agreed without further explanation.

The small group of humans and the re-souled vampire squeezed themselves into the watcher's aging car and headed back into the residential part of Sunnydale.

After he dropped Willow and Xander off at their homes, Giles let Angel out near his apartment and headed for his apartment complex, pulling tiredly into the parking lot with a sigh.

He got out and opened the door for Jenny, marveling that it had been only slightly more than twenty-four hours since Angelus had appeared and sent them all into crisis mode. None of them had slept since Buffy notified them of his condition, and they were all exhausted.

Within an hour, they were all sleeping soundly, with the exception of Angel, who was lying on his bed and reflecting on his brief time as Angelus.

I wonder what I did in Buffy's time that made her so determined to get my soul back – and why she was able to get Spike to agree with it? He had no reason to care if I was eating half of Sunnydale.

He shook his head at his own sense of denial, knowing good and well that Spike's reason had everything to do with getting his "dark princess" back and nothing to do with concerns about what Angelus might have done to the human population of Sunnydale.

Thinking about Spike and Buffy reminded him of the tiny mark on Buffy's throat that had felt just like a claim, albeit not a strong enough claim for him to identify the vampire who made it.

I suppose it's possible it was a random vamp that happened to get a little taste before she staked him. But why would a vamp bent on dinner bother to take the time to try to claim her?

He added that to the list of things he wanted Buffy to explain to him when she was willing to talk again. He was slightly puzzled by her obvious unhappiness and desire to be alone, but attributed it to the trauma of having someone she loved turn into a monster before her eyes. He frowned, remembering what she'd implied about her lack of virginity when Angelus was taunting her with rape.

Maybe she was thinking about her older self. No doubt by the time she got into her 20's, she had a boyfriend or two. She couldn't have meant this Buffy. I would know if she'd done anything like that. She's never even gone out with anyone but me, and I've never tried to touch her.

The only other one not sleeping the sleep of the righteous and exhausted was the Slayer herself. She prowled Sunnydale's cemeteries, catching up with all the fledglings that had emerged while she was home with her mother and Spike. By the time she had dusted her tenth vampire, and pummeled a belligerent grackle demon into a mewling lump of flesh, she was feeling enough in control of her anger that she thought she might be able to be around Xander without wanting to throttle him.

She cringed, remembering not only the obviously painful wound on Spike's shoulder, but the hurt in his eyes at the apparent betrayal of their agreement.

At least in this time, I didn't do it myself. He knows what Xander is like – no wait, this Spike doesn't know. He'll think he was shot on my orders.

Anger at her friend flared again as she worried about what effect the suspected betrayal might have on Spike's willingness to come back to Sunnydale. She was already worried that the short amount of time they'd had together, and the quickness with which they'd resoulled Angel, might have changed things so much that Drusilla wouldn't leave him for the Chaos demon she'd taken up with in her time.

Telling herself she could do nothing but wait and see what happened in this Buffy's future, she turned her feet toward home, hoping for a couple of hours of sleep before she had to go to school and pretend to be a sixteen-year-old high school student again.

Chapter Seventeen

When they all gathered in the library at the end of the school day, there was uncomfortable silence while everyone waited for someone else to start the meeting. With a sigh, Giles took his glasses off and polished them before saying to Willow, " I suppose we all owe you and Ms Calendar a great debt for restoring Angel's soul. I'm sure he will thank you in person once he thinks we are ready to trust him again."

"I'm not ready to trust him again," Xander grumbled. "He's an evil bloodsucker and now we know what he's like without the soul."

"You have no idea what Angel is like without his soul." Buffy's voice was hard and cold, to match the look she gave the angry boy. "You have no idea how lucky we are that we knew what happened, when it happened, and were able to put the soul back within a very short amount of time."

She looked around the table at the curious faces. "That wasn't the way it went in my time. We had months to learn exactly what Angelus was really like and why he was so feared. Trust me when I tell you to be grateful you didn't have to learn that the hard way."

"Well, why don't you tell us what he was like, then?" Xander asked belligerently. "Let us in on what we're missing."

Buffy exchanged looks with Jenny Calendar and Giles before saying firmly, "No. He hasn't done any of those things in this time line and I don't want to give you reason to condemn him for things this Angel hasn't done."

"So, what? You're just gonna go through this life being all-knowing girl and not warn us about things we might need to know? That's not fair."

"Neither is allowing you to punish Angel for something he hasn't done."

"Do you really think we could be that unfair, Buffy?" Willow asked plaintively. "That we would blame somebody for stuff he didn't do?"

"No, Willow," she answered softly, "I know you can be that unfair. All of you," she added, shooting a look at Giles.

Her two friends stared at her in dismay, but Giles just looked back at her speculatively.

"We're not just talking about Angel here, are we, Buffy?"

Buffy looked back at his concerned face and said flatly, "No, we are not just taking about Angel."

He looked like he wanted to pursue the subject, but Jenny's gentle hand on his arm stopped him and he just nodded instead.

Cordelia, who had been uncharacteristically silent up until now, broke into the heavy silence with, "Okay, if that's out of the way, let's get to the really important stuff. What's going to be in style this spring? We need to go to the mall so you can help me shop. Not that I'm interested in having you pick out my clothes," she added in panicky haste.

"Not really interested in that myself," Buffy said, rolling her eyes. "Try to remember, guys. I'm not really sixteen, and I've had a lot of really important stuff on my mind the last couple of years. As surprising as it may seem, shopping for clothes hasn't been real high on my 'to do' list."

Cordelia huffed indignantly and poked Xander in the arm. "See? I told you, she's going to be even less fun to be around now."

Buffy rolled her eyes again and turned to speak to Giles and Willow. She was having trouble figuring out how much to include the computer sciences teacher in the conversations, knowing that in her time the woman's silence about who she really was had contributed to the release of Angelus.

"Buffy," her watcher began, "as much as I hate to agree with Xander, I really think it would be useful for you to fill us in on any possibly dangerous situations that could arise."

Buffy sighed and slumped into a chair.

"I know you're right, Giles. It's just so hard to know what might be important now, and what won't matter. I thought I had everything under control, and then Angel lost his soul anyway. And then he and Dru did the same things they did in my time and Spike offered to help me get rid of Anglelus just like he did then, but Kendra got killed anyway... I just don't know what to tell you about."

"Could we begin with a quick summary of the year in your time? Perhaps if we know what has remained the same and what is different, we can help you figure out the remaining dangers."

"In my time, Spike and then Angelus were the dangers, but I guess you're right. Let me figure out where I want to start."

"Why not start with the arrival of Spike and Drusilla in your time? Tell us what would have happened if you hadn't done… whatever you did… differently."

"Yeah, Buffy. And then tell us what you did differently this time."

Remembering how she had teased Spike when she had him pinned at Back to School Night, Buffy blushed bright red and wondered how she was going to handle that question without giving out way more information than she wanted to.

When she felt like she could speak without choking, she began an abbreviated version of events. She told about the set up fight at the Bronze, and how she pretty much let Spike make the same speech to her, even though she did tell him she knew he wouldn't wait for Saturday.

When she told about their fight at Back to School Night and how he was preparing to kill her when her mother intervened with the axe, she saw Giles go pale as Willow and Xander gasped.

"He beat you? In your time, he won that fight?"

"Yeah, he did. Spike's one hell of a fighter. I can't say he would've killed me for sure – I wasn't planning to lie there and wait to be clobbered with a wall stud – but he certainly could have. If he hadn't stopped to gloat…"

She could see Giles muttering to himself, "If not for Joyce, he would have had his third Slayer. I had no idea he was such a powerful vampire…" He drifted off into research mode, not really following the conversation anymore.

"So, Buffster, what was different this time?"

"I was. I am – different. I've got all those years of experience, plus years of training with Spike. I know his moves, and he doesn't know mine yet. I'm not as strong in this body as I am in the future, but I still have all that experience and training."

"So, this time you won. And then what? He said, 'Okay, you beat me. Let's be friends?'" She could hear the disbelief in Xander's voice.

"Let's just say I was able to pique his curiosity with the things I know about him, and he was willing to talk to me about it. I never had a chance to tell him about the world save-age – except what he heard here, but the part where he helps me beat Angelus played out pretty much the same anyway."

"Where does crazy vampire lady fit in?" Willow asked curiously. "Does she become a good guy too?"

Buffy snickered at the thought of Drusilla becoming a white hat and shook her head decisively.

"No, she stays evil and crazy. But he does take her far away and she never comes back. Well, she does once, but she doesn't stay very long and then she goes away again. I think she spends some time in LA with Angel."

"Angel moves to LA?" Jenny's eyes narrowed and she began to pay more attention to the conversation.

Buffy turned to face the gypsy and answered her coldly, "Yes, if you'll recall, I told you that in my time you don't tell us who you really are and what you know about him until it's too late. So you aren't around to worry about his coming and going."

Of the young people in the room, only Willow caught the implication and her eyes widened as she realized what Buffy meant.

"Who she really is?" Cordelia expressed an interest for only the second time all night.

Jenny Calendar looked at the curious young faces staring at her and then at the man she was coming to love. He shrugged and told her softly, "It's up to you, but I think we've had enough secrets."

She nodded and gave the expectant teenagers a short version of her family's involvement in Angel's curse. Buffy turned away and let her attention drift, as she already knew what was being said. She caught Giles looking at her thoughtfully again and knew at some point, she would have to tell him a cleaned up version of her relationship with Spike.

When Jenny had finished her explanation, and answered a couple of questions about gypsies, Willow brought the conversation back to where she wanted it.

"You say Drusilla never comes back – does Spike?"

"Yes," Buffy answered softly, "he does. More than once, actually."

"If I may," Giles put in, "Buffy was doing a recap of important events over the next several months. Please, continue, Buffy."

Buffy straightened up in her chair and rolled her shoulders.

" 'K, then, let me see. Short version: Ethan Rayne and Halloween – not so much fun; old boyfriend who wants to be a vampire –gets his wish, gets staked; the Judge – not bazooka-proof – although I guess we don't have to worry about him now; Buffy's birthday? Good day to stay in bed – alone." She paused to look at their bewildered faces.

"What? That pretty much sums it up. Angelus isn't here, so he's not an issue. Spike and Dru are gone already, so they aren't part of anything. I don't really know what else we might have to worry about with them gone. No Big Bads, just regular boring vampires and sorcerers."

"Oh!" she thought to herself out loud, "Unless Spike didn't kill the Anointed One yet. That could be a problem."

"Anointed one?"

"Yes, the Master's little brat. Remember? The one that led me into the cave? Spike called him the Annoying One and sent him into the sun in my time, but I don't know if he's had time to do that yet here. I'll have to go check on it, I guess."

She seemed alarmingly unconcerned that the Master's chosen successor might still be alive and Giles couldn't resist asking, "I take it there's no rush?"

Buffy cocked her head at him, wondering if she was detecting a note of sarcasm. She shrugged and answered, "Don't see why there would be. It's not like he's got much left in the way of minions, after Spike and I—"

"Spike and I? Jeez, Buffy, just how much time have you been spending with that bloodsucker? He comes to town and you just blow us off." He couldn't hide the edge of jealously in his voice; even with his glaring girl friend sitting right beside him.

Buffy got up from her chair and stalked toward the pouting boy.

"For. The. Last. Time. I am not your Buffy. And I will not have my behavior or my relationships questioned by you or anyone else in the room. The idea that you would imagine you could talk to me like that after what you did to Spike…"

She stopped and visibly struggled to gain control of her temper.

"If he doesn't come back because he thinks I told you to…" She shuddered slightly. "You'll wish you weren't seeing much of me."

She turned her back on him so that none of the teenagers in the room could see the fear on her face at the thought that Spike might not come back.

He WILL come back. Spike always comes back. He always has. He can't be that different in this time line. He felt something for me. I know he did… and could I sound any more pathetic?

Suddenly the room seemed very crowded and confining and she marched toward the door saying, "I need to go check on Angel and the Annoying One. I'll get back with you after patrol, Giles."

The doors were swinging in her wake before anyone could react quickly enough to stop her.

Into the silence, Cordelia's voice was almost welcome.

"I don't think I like grown-up, Buffy," she huffed.

"She's kinda scary," Willow said softly.

"I think she's crazy." Xander grumbled. "And what's with the whole attraction to vampires thing? What's wrong with human men?"

Everyone ignored his obvious whining about Buffy's lack of response to the crush he continued to have on her, but they acknowledged the difference in her behavior from the bubbly little girl they knew.

Finally Jenny spoke up quietly. "I think she acts like someone who has faced a lot of disappointment and pain in her life and that much of it was caused by those of us in this room. I'm guessing that asking her to tell us everything that happened in her time isn't going to make anyone here feel any better about themselves."

She cast a look at the librarian and said softly, "Including us, apparently."

Giles nodded his head in agreement. "So it would seem. Perhaps we can do something this time around to erase some of those bad memories."

"I hope so," she said, moving closer to him. "I would hate to think she was sent back to suffer more pain."

Chapter Eighteen

Buffy wandered around Sunnydale for a while, enjoying the waning sunshine and putting off the inevitable talk with Angel. The affection she still felt for the souled vampire was present, but she knew that was not what this Angel was used to from her and she doubted he would be very happy to find that blind adoration was a thing of her past. Not to mention, that he'd been replaced in her affections by his grandchilde.

When dusk began to settle over the town, she stopped stalling and walked toward his apartment near the Bronze. She stood outside the door for several minutes, just staring at the familiar wood and lost in her memories of long ago. When the door opened to show a puzzled Angel on the other side, she shook herself out of her reverie and smiled kindly.

"How are you feeling?"

"I might ask you the same thing. How long were you planning to stand out there before you knocked? Or were you planning to come in at all?"

She heard the barely disguised pain in his voice and shook her head as she walked past him into the room. Glancing around at the familiar, sparse furnishings, she sighed and sat in one of the chairs.

"Of course I was planning to come in. I just got lost in memory-land for awhile, that's all." She looked up at him and smiled crookedly. "You guys might have to get used to seeing 'spaced-out-Buffy'. I have a feeling that's going to happen more than once."

He sighed and sat down opposite her. "I suppose we will. Is this where you fill me in on why you don't love me anymore? Because if it's due to what you saw with Drusilla, I warned you-"

She looked at him in surprise, amazed that he had brought it up so abruptly, but she made no attempt to reassure him.

"Angel," she began slowly, wondering how best to get him to understand without revealing too much about her relationship with Spike, "I still love you. You will always have a place in my heart. You are-were my first serious boy friend, and I Ioved you with every fiber of my sixteen-year-old body.

"But I'm not that little girl anymore. I grew up. And I had to do that growing up very quickly – in large part because of Angelus."

"What did I—he—do to you?" He spoke through gritted teeth and she could see tears behind his eyes. "Is that why you don't want me any more?"

She shook her head and tried to explain. "My feelings for you, my inability to kill you when I first had the chance, caused a lot of pain, both physical and emotional, for the people I care about. It's not so much about what you did to me, as it is about what my shirking of my duty allowed you to do to my friends. I had to toughen up and it wasn't much fun."

She looked him in the eye and said calmly, "In my time line, you were Angelus for much more than one day. And you didn't spend that time shagging Dru. Not all of it, anyway," she added with a rueful smile.

"What kinds of things did I do?" he asked, staring hard at his feet. He wanted to call her on using Spike's word for sex, but something told him he didn't want to know where and when she'd learned it.

"Can we just leave it at you weren't a very nice guy to be around?" she asked hopefully.

"I want to know, Buffy. I want to know what Angelus did."

She studied him for a minute, then said abruptly, "You know you and Angelus are the same person, right? Cause I'm not buying the whole split personality thing the way I used to."

"I have no control over Angelus, Buffy. You know that. He has no soul."

"Neither does Spike," she said quietly. "But he's never killed or tortured my friends – well, except for smacking Xander around, anyway."

"Can't blame him for that," Angel muttered. "Boy's almost as big a pain in the ass as Spike is himself." He looked up at her fearfully. "I killed and tortured people? I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"Only in the 'my boyfriend suddenly hates me and wants me dead' sense of the word."

"I'm so sorry, Buffy."

"Relax, that's my Angel. You haven't done any of those things. All you've done is give Dru a lot of happies, and tried to kill me once. No biggie."

He gawked at her. "No biggie?"

"Not when compared to…"

He squeezed his eyes shut, then said quietly. "How did I lose my soul in your time? Was it the same way?"

Buffy blushed from her roots to her toes. "Uh… well, in a way… but not… not exactly." She couldn't prevent her eyes from moving to the bed in the corner.

He followed her gaze to his bed; then looked back at her flaming face and understanding flew across his features.

"You," he said with a gasp. "I lost it when I made love to you."

"Yes," she said, still blushing. "Hey, who knew Dru could make you that happy too?" She tried to change the subject away from sex with her.

"Happy?"

"Uh, yeah, turns out that's the little catch in the curse. One moment of complete happiness and it's bye-bye soul."

He sat in silence for a minute, going over what he was learning about himself.

"So, that's why we aren't together? Because if we – if I have that moment of perfect happiness, I lose the soul?"

"Well, that's one of the reasons why you left me, yes. It's complicated, Angel. You left, we both moved on. Things changed."

They were quiet for a minute, then Angel said, "Giles is looking into a way to anchor the soul. The gypsy woman is going to help him."

He raised hopeful eyes to hers. "So, someday…"

Buffy shook her head sadly. "No, Angel. I want you to get your soul anchored. No question about that. It's way too shaky to suit me right now. But it isn't going to change… us… me. You will always have a piece of my heart, but the rest of it belongs to someone else now. Someone who earned it the hard way."

"Are you going to tell me who it is?"

"Not right now, I'm not. Who knows? It's… possible… he won't fall in love with me this time… things are so different now."

Her chin trembled just enough to be noticeable, and she blinked back the tears threatening to fill her eyes. With a little shake, she threw off the fear that Spike would never come back and gave Angel a sympathetic smile.

"But he has my heart, whether he wants it or not. And that's never going to change."

"Never's a long time, Buffy." Angel smiled, his over 200 years of existence having given him some perspective that even grown-up Buffy still lacked.

After another few minutes of uncomfortable silence, Buffy stood up and said, "Well, I just needed to see how you were doing. I have to go patrol now and maybe check up on the Master's old gang and see how many Spike left standing."

"I could come with you," he offered hopefully. "There's no reason for us to not be friends, is there? I can still help you."

She studied his open face for a minute, seeing nothing but affection and a willingness to continue to fight on her side. She shrugged and agreed readily.

"Sure, Angel. All slayage help is gratefully accepted. As long as you don't get in my way or go into over-protective mode."

"Grown-up and fully capable Slayer. I think I got that message pretty well yesterday, " he said ruefully, pointing to the bruises still visible on his face.

"You had it coming," she said, smiling apologetically.

"I probably did, at that," he agreed as he picked up his jacket. "So, we're on for a bit of dusting before dinner?"

"Yep. Bad guys look out. Here we come."

On the deck of a ship, working it's way across the Caribbean Sea, a vampire stared over the dark water and tried to erase the memory of a warm body moving under his, and soft, supple lips kissing their way over his face and throat. As always happened, the more he tried to forget what she felt like, the harder he got and more he craved another taste of her. He knew Dru was getting suspicious about his lack of interest in reclaiming her affections from Angelus and he headed for their below-decks room determined to put his throbbing erection to good use and make her believe he still loved her.

Unfortunately, it didn't go as well as he'd hoped at first, as the dark-haired vampires hissed at him when he began kissing his way down her throat and running his hands over her body. He persisted, murmuring endearments to her and touching her in all the ways he knew she liked, until she relented and, with one of her mercurial changes in mood, she sank her teeth into his neck and growled with passion. As he lost himself in the violent, bloody and erotic play, Spike was almost able to forget another body that was just as strong and passionate, but warm where his dark princess was cold. Almost.

By the time the cruise ship got them to the coast of Venezuela, his constant attention had convinced his lover of over a hundred years that he had done what he did out of love for her, not any desire to help the Slayer, and they drifted back into a life of nightclubs, hunting and sex in airy hotel rooms.

And if, in the middle of their daytime sleep, she occasionally whimpered for Angelus, or he clutched her body and silently mourned the lack of warmth, neither was willing to admit the other's temporary lapse.

And so, things went back to normal in Sunnydale. Or as normal as they can be when you are Heaven's Chosen One and live on a Hellmouth. Buffy struggled to maintain her friendships with her much younger schoolmates and enjoyed frustrating Principal Snyder by making all "A's". Without Spike and Angelus to worry about, she wasn't having to skip classes often enough to register on his radar. She would occasionally find him following her around the building, as though he was sure if he just watched her long enough, hard enough, he would catch her doing something for which he could punish her.

Most of the time, she would pause and wait for him to almost run into her before turning around and greeting him with a sweet smile and a "How are you today, Mr. Snyder?" but every once in awhile she couldn't resist using her slayer speed or strength to disappear when he wasn't looking and come back toward him from a completely different direction. The ratty looking little man would stutter and sputter, but had no answer when she would ask innocently, "Have I done something wrong, Mr. Snyder?"

Even Giles, who tried very hard to maintain a British stiff upper lip in the face of her activities, couldn't help laughing quietly at the annoying little man's obvious frustration. Even as he accused her of being childish, he was thoroughly enjoying watching his boss being made a fool of. There was too much Ripper still in the older man for him not to enjoy the sight of a pompous ass being brought down.

Buffy and Willow drifted back into an easy friendship, made easier by the red-head's interest in magic and her questions about her future self. Buffy did her best to steer her friend away from the dark magicks, while at the same time assuring her that she was going to become a very powerful witch and be enormously helpful in the future.

When Willow and Oz became an item, Buffy was able to subtly let the werewolf know that she knew about him, and she helped him explain it to Willow. They were able to keep him in and safe from the bounty hunter that came to town, but there was nothing Buffy could do about their future together except vow to be there for her friend when the crash came.

It was more difficult for Buffy to fall back into a relationship with Xander. In addition to finding his girl friend shallow and boring, Buffy could not forget Xander's hatred of Spike in her time, and his attempt to kill him after she had declared a truce with the vampire in this one.

Things remained very strained between the two former best friends, until Willow couldn't stand it anymore and made them both sit down with her and talk it out over hot chocolate.

"Guys, I love you both, and you are killing me with the not talking, and the dirty looks. Can we please work this out so I can have both my friends back? I mean, not that I don't have you both as friends, but it would be nice if we could all be in the same room at the same time, you know?" Her eyes pleaded with them as she paused for breath.

Buffy bit her lip, then allowed, "I may be blaming Xander for things he did in my future, and that's not fair of me." She turned to look at the anxious-looking boy. "But, I'm having a very hard time forgiving you for shooting Spike when I had promised him he could leave Sunnydale safely."

"Is that the only reason you're so mad at me, Buffy? Because I broke your promise? Cause, I've gotta say, keeping promises to the evil undead? Not real high on my list."

"Keeping promises to anybody I make them to, is very high on my list, Xander. That would especially true when the other person is keeping his promise to not eat my friends and to help me save somebody I care about."

Her angry eyes bored into his until he dropped his gaze and mumbled, "Okay, I guess I can see that. I'm sorry I tried to dust Spike. I just thought—"

"You just thought you were helping. I get that, Xander. Really I do. But you can't help me by going behind my back like that and making your own decisions about killing people."

"Vampires, Buffy. We're talking about dusting vampires."

"And, again, I remind you, you are talking about a vampire who in my time has helped me save the world. A vampire who has saved your life more than once. Granted, this Spike isn't there yet. And I'm not saying you should invite him in for dinner if he comes back to Sunnydale. But I am saying that nobody but me makes any decisions about dusting Spike or Angel. They are my vampires – to slay or not slay."

"All right," he agreed with a sigh. "I promise not to harbor homicidal thoughts about the undead, if you promise not to let them eat me."

"Agreed," she said with a small smile. "Shake on it?"

"How about a hug on it?" he asked hopefully.

She was about to refuse when it occurred to her that she could make a small point about their relationship without saying a word and she nodded and stood up. When he put his arms around her and pulled her into his body for a hug, she reciprocated by putting her arms around him and squeezing, using just a small amount of her strength, but enough to make it obvious that a strong hug would have broken his ribs. When he began to gasp for air and whimper, she smothered her smile and instead let go immediately, saying, "Oh, my god, Xander. Did I hurt you? I'm so sorry. I'm not used to… I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"Uh, no," he wheezed, "No problem. Just… I'm human, you know? Breakable."

"I'm sorry. I forget sometimes that I have to be so careful with human bo-men. "

He gave her a searching look, wondering if she was talking specifically about him or in general about all men. And, if it was all men, then who or what had she been dating for the next several years? Surely she wasn't still with Angel in her time? She'd pretty much told him in front of them that they weren't together anymore. It briefly crossed his mind that she had talked about how close she and Spike were in the future, and he shuddered to think she had taken up with another vampire – and one without a soul.

He shrugged it off to worry about another day, just happy that they were still going to be friends. His love-hate relationship with Cordelia was more than enough to keep him from obsessing over Buffy the way he had when she first moved to Sunnydale and her constant reminders that she was much older than he just added to his ability to be realistic about his chances of having anything romantic with her.

Author's Note: Since neither Buffy nor I have any desire to relive the boring parts of her junior year of high school; particularly in light of her having been able to short circuit many of the minor crises that came up, I'm not planning to dwell on the rest of Season II. I'll be summing it up quickly and then I'm going to jump ahead to Season III and Spike's return. Lame, I know, but I don't want to spend the time coming up with non-boring filler that is just going to make a long story longer. I apologize for the lack of imagination on my part, but it's a story about Spike and Buffy and their relationship after she is sent back, rather than a rewrite of all seven seasons of the show.

Chapter Nineteen

As the year went on, Buffy was able to endure the now trivial-seeming events of high school by spending more time with Giles and Jenny and less time in school activities. Even Angel, now that he had apparently accepted her true status, sometimes treated her as an equal rather than as something precious to be protected at all costs. And when he didn't, when he became overbearing and tried to make decisions for her, she was quick to remind him that she'd been doing fine without him for years and that she did not appreciate his attempts to run her life.

After a particularly virulent dressing down by the Slayer when all he'd tried to do was suggest that he be the one to enter the Master's old lair and check on the Anointed One, he decided to use it as an opportunity to soften her attitude toward him.

He hung his head dejectedly and as he apologized for usurping her responsibilities, he asked hesitantly, "Buffy, are you sure you aren't angry at me for decisions I made in your timeline? Because, I've really been trying hard here, but it seems like nothing I can do pleases you." He fixed her with sad, brown, puppy dog eyes and inwardly rejoiced when she immediately apologized and touched his hand warmly.

"Oh my god, Angel. You are so right. I'm taking it out on you that in my time you decided I was better off without you and left without even asking me if I agreed. I guess I'm still a little pissed about that." She shook her head at herself and added, "I am so sorry! I've been resenting you for something you haven't done yet."

Her anxious eyes looked into his with affection and concern as she moved closer. He smiled to himself as he took note that she had really been upset at losing him.

She probably still loves me. She's just afraid to admit it. Afraid that I'll do the same thing to her again. All I have to do is convince her that I will never leave her, and she'll let down her defenses.

"And, I probably won't, Buffy," he said with sincerity. "Since we don't have that kind of relationship now, there's no reason for me to leave. I can stay here and help you."

He beamed at her with delight and she struggled to smile back at him as the possible repercussions of his staying in Sunnydale played out in her head.

"Un, yeah. I guess that's true… You'll be all here and I'll be here and we'll both be here and… that'll be just… great."

Oh yeah. That'll be great! I'll be trying to seduce Spike, and Angel will be hovering around trying to protect me from him. And when the Initiative comes along, I'll have two vampires to protect. Assuming they haven't killed each other by then. Gah!

Outwardly, she tried to be as upbeat as possible about the thought of Angel hanging around Sunnydale for the next several years, but inside she was moaning at the impending train wreck she could see coming.

Vowing to encourage Angel to think about moving to LA as soon as graduation was over, she pushed the worry to the back of her mind and tried to concentrate on what to do about the Anointed One's continued existence.

Damn Spike! Why didn't he get rid of that little brat before he left? Oh yeah, that's right. He was busy trying to figure out why I had the hots for him. Way to go, Buffy. Now I've got to do something about him.

Telling Angel she'd see him later for patrol, she headed for her house on Revello Drive. She and her mother had formed the habit of sharing a cup of hot chocolate every evening either before or after Buffy's patrol, depending on how late a start she got. They hadn't discussed at all Buffy's willingness to spend time with her mother, and she hoped that Joyce was attributing it to the more mature Buffy wanting to spend more time around adults. When Joyce put down her cup and said, "So, when do you plan to tell me what happens to me?" she realized that her mother was too smart for that scenario.

"Wha—what?" She stalled for time, not at all willing or ready to have a conversation about her mother's tumor and subsequent death.

"Buffy, as much as I love you; and as much as I enjoy our little talks every night, I know this togetherness is no more typical for a twenty-something woman than it is for a teenager. There is a reason you want to spend so much time with me, and I think I have a right to know what it is."

Buffy looked at her mother and couldn't prevent the tears from forming in her eyes.

"Mom, I'm not trying to hide anything from you. I just know it's too early to try to do anything about it and I don't want you living with the burden of knowing…"

"Knowing when I'm going to die?" her mother asked quietly.

"You're not going to die! Not this time! I won't let you!"

Joyce raised her eyebrows. "I've learned quite a bit in the past few months about your powers and your calling, but I don't recall miracle working among them."

"It won't take a miracle. You just need to get it taken care of sooner. Earlier surgery means less surgery. And less surgery means less chance of … problems after."

"And earlier meaning…."

"Not for another couple of years. Then you're going in for a CAT scan every six months if I have to break into the hospital and do it myself."

Her mother studied Buffy's resolute face for several minutes, then relaxed and said, "Okay, Buffy. I won't mention it again for a while. If you promise not to walk around here treating me like something fragile. Deal?"

She smiled at her mother through watery eyes. "Ok, deal."

"All right then. Go do your patrol. And for heaven's sake, go do something fun afterwards! I'll be fine. I'm perfectly capable of putting myself to bed when I think it's time to do so."

"Okay, Mom. More slaying, less mom-watching. For a little while, at least."

She gave her mother a quick peck on the cheek and collecting her stakes, walked out into the quiet night.

During their nightly talks over hot chocolate, Buffy had opened up to her mother about her life as the Slayer much more than she had the first time. She talked to her mother about her blind adoration of Angel, her conviction that he was the love of her life, her devastation when he left for LA, and her attempt to have a normal life with Riley. She left out her mother's death, the arrival of a half-grown kid sister who was really a ball of mystical energy, and, for obvious reasons, her own death and resurrection.

"And where does the attractive blond vampire fit into this picture?" her mother had asked.

"Pretty much wherever he could," Buffy admitted with a small sigh. Without going into details, Buffy explained as best she could about her rocky relationship with Spike. She explained that he had fallen in love with her while she was involved with Riley and that it had taken a long time for her to accept the truth of his devotion. And even longer for her to admit to herself that he was important to her. She didn't say so, but her mother could definitely tell that her daughter was very much in love with the missing vampire.

When Buffy explained that Spike had obtained a soul for her, and that he'd let that soul incinerate him from the inside out in order to save the world, she couldn't stop the tears. Joyce patted her hand sympathetically until Buffy was able to stop crying and tried to think of how she wanted to ask her next question.

"Buffy, why do you think you're here? Why do you think you were sent back by these… Powers That Be? Is that the correct term for them?"

"It's not what Spike calls them," she answered with a wry smile, "but it's what they are, I guess." She thought for a minute, then said, "I think I was sent back to fix things. Things that maybe weren't meant to happen. Maybe Kendra was meant to die when she did. So there was nothing I could do about that.

"But there are things coming that I can fix. I can, maybe, help Faith before she goes all evil on us. I can stop the Initiative before Adam escapes. I can hide Dawn from Glory—" She paused at her mother's puzzled frown. "Oops, sorry, Mom. TMI. You'll get it later." She stopped again, "Now where was I? Oh yeah. I know what Glory's alter ego is like; I know what the troll hammer can do to her, so I should be able to stop her before I….

"and if I do, then I won't have to be brought back and I won't be so… broken… when Spike and I… and there won't be any imbalance, so no First Evil, so no barbequed Spike, and Buffy lives happily ever after!"

She finished her recitation triumphantly and looked at her mother with great pride only to see Joyce shaking her head sadly.

"Oh, Buffy, if only life were that simple. And, you do realize I didn't understand a word you said?"

Buffy laughed with embarrassment. "Yeah, Mom. I know. I just got a little carried away. That's one reason why I'm not telling anybody everything I know about the coming years. I don't really know what exactly is going to happen, because everything's already different now. I just know that if the things I do know about begin to happen, I'll have a better chance of avoiding the mistakes I made last time."

In a beautiful stucco home behind a tall wall, Drusilla danced around the atrium in the moonlight. Spike sprawled in a chair, watching her spin and smiling indulgently. Although he and his dark princess had settled back into a comfortable companionship, liberally spiced with mayhem and violent sex, something felt off to him.

Dru had always been as fond of blood as the next vamp, and had a thing for children that made Spike uncomfortable if he was honest about it, but she had never been overly violent. In fact, until recently, she had enjoyed his murmured endearments and tender kisses when they were making love. Now, she never missed an opportunity to score his marble skin with her sharp nails, or to rip his skin with her teeth. And she wanted him to do the same.

When she begged him to hurt her "like Daddy would", it made him so angry he had no trouble granting her wish. He would shake her while she laughed hysterically and talked about sunshine and golden dollies floating around him.

She would snarl and growl at him when he tried to calm her down, only giving in to his whispered pleading for love when he got angry and pinned her to the bed snarling and snapping at her face. Then she would coo at him that he was her 'bad doggy" and her "naughty Spike" and spread her legs for him.

Lately, she'd taken to wandering out in the night without him, coming back just before dawn to express surprise that he had been searching the bars and back alleys for her all night.

"But Sweet William, you were lost in your thoughts of sunshine and dollies. I could see her floating all around you. She wants my Spike, the dolly does. She has my daddy and now she wants my Spike. But she won't have them. They're mine to play with."

He knew she was talking about the Slayer; that she'd seen or sensed something, but he continued to ignore her, pretending he didn't know what she was talking about. Only his guilt about his one night with Buffy kept him from beating her when she came back smelling of other demons and smiling to herself.

Love's bitch, indeed. The Slayer sure had that right. I'm a complete wanker when it comes to the women I love. Woman! The woman I love!

Shaking himself, he stood up abruptly and grabbed Dru's arm, whirling her around in a manic dance before suggesting they go out and try to find someone good to eat. Nodding her head and clapping her hands, his dark princess led him to the gate and out into the warm South American night.

Chapter Twenty

After months of haunting the cemeteries, staking fledgling vamps as soon as they emerged, Buffy had pretty much had it with the Anointed One's attempts to rebuild his army of minions and she announced that she was going to "settle his annoying hash" once and for all.

"I think that's certainly wise, Buffy, but I do hope you will take Angel with you when you go in. In fact, it might be a good idea if we all went. We don't really know how many minions may have managed to get back to him in the last few months."

Buffy frowned at his suggestion that Angel accompany her. She had tried to establish some sort of relationship with the souled vamp that didn't involve any romantic activities, but she knew he was still hoping for more. She rarely asked him to patrol with her, but couldn't bring herself to reject him when he "accidentally" showed up as he did more and more frequently.

She really would have preferred to take on the Annoying One Spike sure got that nickname right alone, but to avoid hurt feelings she agreed to take Angel with her and to let Giles and the Scoobies who wanted to be there provide backup. Taking Angel with them meant they had to wait until sunset to approach the lair, even though she would have preferred to hit them while they were asleep.

Angel had moved from his apartment near the Bronze into the old mansion that Angelus had lived in during her time line, and they agreed to meet there before approaching the vamp lair. Buffy had to stifle a shiver as she approached the familiar building and had flashes of memory of all the things that had taken place there.

Angel watched her with interest as she walked around, gently touching familiar things, frowning at some places, smiling slightly to herself at others. When she stood in the big room leading to the garden, she closed her eyes in pain briefly and he moved toward her without thinking.

"Buffy? What is it? Is something wrong?" He looked at her with genuine concern, wanting to take her in his arms, but knowing the new Buffy wouldn't necessarily welcome his embrace the way "his" Buffy did.

"Huh? Oh, no, I'm fine, Angel. Just reliving some memories. No biggie."

"Anything you'd care to share? I miss the way you used to tell me everything."

She shook her head and gave him a sad smile. "Trust me, you don't want to know."

He almost growled with frustration, but swallowed it and nodded his head in agreement.

"All right, Buffy. I don't want to push you. You'll tell me when you're ready, I guess."

He completely missed her look of surprised indignation as he turned toward the door and the arriving Scoobies.

What the hell? Has he not listened to me at all? He really doesn't get that "no" means "no". I wonder how come I never noticed that before?

She shrugged off his assumption that he could have pushed her into it if he tried and turned to greet her friends.

To Buffy's surprise, the whole crowd showed up, eager for some slaying action, and she realized with a guilty start that she hadn't been involving her friends or watcher the way she had before.

Maybe I should be letting them help more. If and when I really need them, they won't have the experience they need to stay alive.

Her face broke out in a genuine smile as she greeted her friends and admitted that she was glad to see them ready to come out and do battle with the forces of evil.

"Oh, yeah, we're all about the battling forces of evil," Xander enthused, as he glared at the brooding vampire leaning against the wall. "Can we start with Deadboy, here?"

Angel's eyes flashed yellow for just a second as he heard the hated nickname, but he controlled the demon before Buffy noticed and contented himself with glaring back at the youthful annoyance.

"Xander…" Buffy's warning made Angel smile and he moved closer to the Slayer as much to aggravate the boy as to be close to her warmth. He breathed in her scent, enjoying the closeness, which she seemed less inclined to reject just now than she did when they were alone.

Buffy smiled up at Angel apologetically and he smiled back and nodded to show her he was more than willing to tolerate her friends as long as she was letting him be a part of her life. As they gathered up weapons and talked about the plan, he went out of his way to include everyone in the conversations, even Cordelia who had shown up with Xander to Buffy and Willow's astonishment.

"What?" she said when they looked at her in shock. "I can be helpful. And I didn't have anything more interesting to do tonight, anyway. It's not like you three have the market cornered on being heroes, you know."

To break the crashing silence that greeted the tall brunette's remarks, Oz offered quietly, "I just thought Willow might want some support. I can drive the van and we'll only have to take one vehicle."

"Thank you, Oz," Buffy said with a smile. She had forgotten how helpful and full of common sense the werewolf was, and she was enjoying his company even more than she had the first time around. Her heart ached for Willow and the pain she knew was probably coming, but to see how her friend was coming out of her shy shell now that she had a devoted boy friend made up for it.

They agreed that Angel and Buffy would go into the lair themselves and check out the numbers. Angel was going to pretend to be Angelus, and have Buffy over his shoulder. He would get as close to the Anointed One as possible before setting her down. With luck, they would be able to stake most of the minions before any of them caught on that Angel was not on their side.

Giles would be outside with the rest of the Scoobies – all armed with crossbows and ready to dust any vamps fleeing the lair. Oz would also be using his enhanced senses to keep track of the fighting and let them know if Buffy and Angel needed assistance.

When she was sure everyone was as prepared as possible, Buffy led them to Oz's van and the beginning of the end for the Master's chosen successor. With Willow in the front with Oz, Giles, Buffy, Angel, Xander and Cordelia were crowded into the rear. To keep the peace, Buffy deliberately placed herself between Angel and Xander, trying to ignore the flash of hopefulness on the vampire's face when she sat down next to him. She knew he was deliberately not moving over so that their hips and shoulders would be touching, but she didn't pull away, letting herself enjoy briefly the physical contact that she was missing in her life at this time.

While she had no intention of sleeping with the older vampire and thereby releasing Angelus again, she couldn't deny the affection she still felt for him and it felt good to lean against his large body. She was sure she'd finally made him understand that there was not going to be anything romantic between them any more and once he knew what caused his soullessness in her time, he'd agreed completely. Or seemed to.

They drove to within a block of the old warehouse where what was left of the Anointed One's minions were living. Angel and Buffy moved silently toward the building while Giles positioned everyone else around where they could see the exits without being seen. At a nod from him, Angel smiled at Buffy and asked, "Ready?"

She nodded, grumbling the whole time about how she hated to appear weak and beaten, as he scooped her up effortlessly and draped her over his shoulder. A position which put her plump little sixteen-year-old ass right beside his face. As much as he knew he shouldn't think about her in a way that could cost him his soul again, he found it very hard to concentrate while the center of her sex was so close to his nose.

He could hear her heart rate accelerate as they approached the room in which the Anointed One could be heard berating his minions for their lack of initiative and couldn't help wondering what it would be like to know that he was once again the cause of that excitement. He shrugged off the memory of the brief seconds he'd been on top of her as Angelus and how good it had felt to press his erection in between her strong thighs. Telling himself to pay attention, he pushed away thoughts of sex with Buffy and concentrated on convincing the suspicious vampires glaring at him from across the room that he was once again Angelus.

Which wasn't all that difficult with his demon being so excited by close proximity to the slayer's ass. He sneered at the fledgling vampires gathered around the child-like "master" of the lair and snarled, "Got an armful of Slayer here. Anyone interested in a taste?"

Before they could break ranks and run to him, the small leader held up his hand and said suspiciously, "You first."

"Shit," he heard Buffy hiss as she tensed her muscles, preparing to drop off his shoulder. He quieted her with a slight squeeze to her thigh and shifted her weight so that she would be dropping straight down onto her feet when he let go. "Trust me," he whispered into her ear as he let her slide down his body and grabbed her hair, tilting her head to expose her throat.

As soon as his fangs approached her neck, she felt Spike's now-invisible marks tingle and she shoved Angel away with a frightened, "No!"

Surprise, shock, and finally anger flared across the vampire's face as he reeled back. The other vamps, not realizing why he was so angry, moved toward the Slayer at a gesture from their leader. Although she had shoved the large vampire away fairly vigorously, they assumed she was weakened by whatever he'd done to capture her. Their lack of concern and caution was just what Buffy needed and she had dusted three of them before they could grasp that she was just as strong as ever.

The rest of the minions retreated slightly and peered at the Slayer through the dust of their companions. Buffy had shoved her stake back into the waistband of her pants and now held a long wooden pole with which she was attacking the remaining minions. She appeared to have the situation under control, so Angel remained quiet and watched the fight, ready to step in if necessary, but having learned from cruel experience that this Buffy neither needed nor wanted to be saved by him.

He saw the dawning comprehension grow on the small boy's face as the leader watched his minions being decimated by the perfectly functional Slayer that Angel had brought into their lair and his face twisted in anger.

"You! You are of the Master's line! You should be bowing before me, and instead you bring this… this… thing! into my home."

Angel moved toward the small boy and grabbed him by the neck, lifting him up so that they were eye to eye.

"I don't bow to anybody," he said coldly. "Least of all children who think too highly of themselves."

Buffy had finished dusting all but two of the minions that had bolted out the doors. She trusted that the waiting Scoobies would take care of them and turned to approach Angel. She looked at him curiously as he dangled the angry, evil child in the air.

"Angel, why are you playing with him? I had no idea you were so fond of children."

He let his face slid back into its human features as he shook the little vampire and answered, "Well, you know men and toys. Sometimes we just can't resist…."

The small would-be master was in complete game face and hung from Angel's large hand snarling and snapping and screaming threats. The two warriors for good looked at each other and shrugged.

"You said in your time Spike killed him? Do you know how he did it?"

"Not exactly, but I'm pretty sure it had something to do with putting him in the sun."

Angel glanced around the lair and spotted the cage in which the vampires obviously held their victims until they were ready to eat them. He looked at the chain and pulley that could carry the cage all the way up to the open roof and nodded his head.

"I see Will's gotten creative in his old age," he murmured as he carried the protesting demon over to the cage. "But the sun isn't out now and we can't take the chance he'll escape before it comes up. Sorry, boyo," he said as he twisted the child's head and snapped his neck, " Guess it's not going to be as fast for you this time – but then, I'm not as impatient as Spike is…"

He threw the now paralyzed small demon into the cage and began pulling it up to where the first rays of the sun would hit it and turn the little master into a pile of ash. He missed the small frown that crossed Buffy's face at his casual cruelty, but he didn't miss the fact that she reached into the rising cage and put her stake through the small demon's heart.

Without comment, she began looking around the large room, searching for any minions she might have overlooked, or any weapons they could use. When she saw the partially put together body parts and recognized them, she gasped.

"What is it?" She heard Giles' voice as he cautiously entered the room to see how it was going.

"It's the Judge. They were trying to put him together."

When she got puzzled looks from both watcher and vampire, she sighed and said, "I'll explain it when we get back. Right now, all I want to do is take him apart and throw away the pieces."

She took an axe she found lying nearby and began to hack the death-dealing machine apart. She didn't waste time trying to destroy the pieces, knowing the man-made axe wouldn't have any effect on them, but she did manage to turn the partially completely being into many small body parts. Signaling the rest of the Scoobies to pick up the pieces, she led them out of the building and into the waiting van.

After she explained to everyone the danger presented by an intact Judge, Giles determined to send the head to the Council for safekeeping. At Buffy's disbelieving look, he explained that, regardless of her feelings toward the Council and their treatment of Slayers, they were the most qualified to keep something like that safe and away from evil forces that might try to use it.

"If you don't count the Council as an evil force, I guess that's right," she grumbled, but agreed to let him have the head. Privately, she vowed to keep at least one major piece herself and hide it somewhere only she knew about. As much as she trusted Giles, she could not bring herself to trust the Council to keep such a potentially dangerous being safe from anyone who wanted to use it to their own ends.

Especially since Xander doesn't have his Halloween military experience to fall back on this time, she thought with a mental grin.

With Angel promising to take the torso out to sea and drop it into the deepest part of the ocean, and Oz taking a leg with him on his next road trip to leave in an unknown place, Buffy felt comfortable leaving the arms hidden in Sunnydale. The extra leg, she took with her to dispose of later. By moonlight, she went into a cemetery and dug into an old grave, burying the extra parts as deeply as she could get them.

She allowed Xander, who was feeling left out and useless, to come with her to help dig and to watch for vampires while Buffy worked. They were still not completely comfortable with each other, as the boy refused to give up his idea that both Angel and Spike should have been dusted when she had the chance; and Buffy's older eyes allowed her to see his stubborn narrow mindedness for what it was. It didn't take a psychology degree to realize that in her time, her friend had taken his unrequited love for her and turned into an unhealthy distrust of the men in her life.

She was able to understand that he hadn't felt threatened by Riley because he knew, subconsciously, just as Riley himself had, that she didn't really love the big commando and therefore he was no threat to Xander's place in her affections.

At least this time, I know better than to pretend my life is ever going to be normal. Should be able to save Riley and myself a lot of grief.

When she thought about how she had treated Spike in her time, based, she had to admit, in large part because she worried about Xander's reaction much more than anyone else's, she cringed and vowed she would not let his obvious jealousy interfere this time.

Assuming there IS a this time. She gave a mental sigh. Where are you, Spike? Are you thinking about me? Has Dru started cheating on you yet?

She absently rubbed her fingers over the invisible scars on her neck where his teeth had just scraped her skin and wondered if the partial claim he'd initiated was exerting any pull on him. The reminder that she was hisbrought on when Angel's fangs got near her throat had surprised her. Spike had been so sure the claim would fade as soon as he was gone. She hoped that he was feeling some residual effects from it too.

The vampire in question was having a good time, dancing the tango with a curvaceous and fiery brunette that he had already decided would make an excellent vampire. He was just biding his time, enjoying the music and the heat from her body until he was hungry enough to take her somewhere private for dinner. Dru was sitting quietly at a table with some tourists she'd met and smiling indulgently at him while he danced.

As much as she enjoyed twirling around with her pixies under the stars, the ability to dance to actual music, especially the pounding Latin rhythms found in their chosen country, completely escaped her stodgy English sensibilities. But she didn't object to watching Spike dance with human women; in fact she enjoyed watching his graceful movements and seeing how all the unsuspecting humans in the bar envied the woman he'd chosen for his partner this night.

She was actually looking forward to his turning the lush beauty he was practically making love to on the dance floor. Dru also thought the woman would make a good vampire, and was eager to teach her about sire's and grandsire's rights and privileges. She giggled as she pictured herself sinking her fangs into the newly made vampire's full breasts and rounded belly. This one looked like she would be a lot of fun – and she bore no resemblance to the tiny blonde Slayer that still haunted her William's dreams.

Thinking about the Slayer ruined her good mood, and she abruptly got up and grabbed one of the men by the hand saying coyly, "I want to go talk to the stars. Please come with me. I need a big strong man like you to make me feel safe."

Beaming with pride, and eyes gleaming with lust, the unsuspecting man waved to his friends and followed the strange, but exotic woman out of the club to his immediate and bloody death. Without her usual babbling, an angry Dru grabbed the still oblivious man and drained him within seconds, dropping the body to the dirty ground and stepping over him to wander off looking for a demon bar.

Inside, Spike had noticed Dru's disappearance, but didn't worry about it. The last few months had gone very well, and he was sure they had put the ugliness that was Sunnydale behind them. And if he occasionally still thought about silky blonde hair falling over his face, and a warm mouth bringing him to ecstasy, he told himself it was only natural to remember a sexual encounter with a slayer. After all, it certainly wasn't something the average vampire was ever likely to experience. To his reputation for killing two slayers, he could now add that he was the only vampire to have shagged one.

At least I could add it, if I didn't know Dru would get hysterical about it. Not that she doesn't know somethin' happened, but I don't think she knows what I did with the Slayer. Was too busy shagging Angelus to worry about what I was up to, wasn't she?

He carefully ignored the fact that even if Dru would have been fine with it, there was no way he would have been bragging about his night with Buffy as though she was some slut off the street. His inner William was too aware that he'd been gifted with something precious, something given out of love, and he would never allow the demon to sully it.

He pulled the woman's willing body into his, rubbing his erection against her and reveling in the warmth. It did no good to close his eyes and try to pretend she was Buffy – to a vampire, scent and taste were at least as important as vision and there was no way he would mistake this woman's essence for the Slayer's unique taste and smell. But he could enjoy the warmth of her body and the sound of the blood rushing through her veins.

He'd just decided it was time to take his evening's meal choice outside and add her to the ranks of the undead, when a jolt went through his body and his concealed fangs suddenly itched. It was gone as quickly as it came, but he couldn't deny what had happened.

Bloody hell! That claim's still there! And something jus' happened to the Slayer to make it flare up. She's alright, though. Got to be. If it's strong enough to jolt me after all this time, I'd know if anything happened to her. I'd have to be able to feel it. I'd have to.

In spite of his assurances to himself, late the following afternoon while Drusilla dozed next to the exhausted new fledgling he'd brought home, Spike found himself holding a cell phone and dialing a number he swore he'd only written down for purposes of having more information about the Slayer. He stared at the phone as it began to ring, and had almost decided to put it down when he heard Joyce's voice.

"Hello?"

"Uh… I mean… bloody hell! Is the Slayer there?"

"Spike? Is that you?"

"No! It's not me–him! It's just a phone call for the Slayer. Need to know if she's… if anythin's wrong."

He could hear the smile in her mother's voice as she said, "Buffy's fine, Spike. I understand they removed a nest of vampires last night, but everything went well and she is okay. In fact, she's out with her friends and Angel. I believe Willow's boyfriend's band is playing at the Bronze tonight and they've all gone to have a bite to eat before helping him set up."

Relief at her mother's reassurance fought with a gut-wrenching stab of jealousy at the idea of Buffy being out with Angel. When he didn't say anything for several minutes, Joyce asked anxiously, "Spike? Spike, are you still there?"

"Yeah, 'm here, Joyce. Just got sidetracked for a minute. I'm sorry."

"It's okay. I'm glad you called. I just wish Buffy was here to talk to you. She'll be sorry she missed your call."

"I'd rather you didn't tell her," he said gruffly. "I don't want to talk to her. Jus' needed to know she was all right, that's all."

"She's fine," Joyce responded. "She's looking forward to her birthday next week and trying to decide if she's going to be seventeen or twenty-three."

"What day next week?" he couldn't stop himself from asking.

"Wednesday. I think we'll all be here, at least early in the evening. I'm doing dinner and cake. So if you wanted to…"

"No! No, I won't be callin' again. I was jus' worried and… I shouldn't have done this. 'M sorry, Joyce. Don't tell her about it. Let her go on and have a good time with her… friends." He couldn't keep the anger out of his voice as he thought about his grandsire being with her while she celebrated her birthday.

Joyce waited until he finished, then said softly, "All right, Spike, I won't tell her you called if you don't want me to."

"Thank you, Joyce. 'Preciate it."

"You're welcome," she said. "And, Spike?"

"Yeah?"

"She's not seeing him. They're just friends this time around."

"Didn't ask," he mumbled.

"I know you didn't, but I thought you ought to know."

He snorted and shook his head. "You're quite a woman, Joyce. 'S no wonder your daughter is one of the longest lived slayers in the world." He heard the sounds of laughter from upstairs and knew that Drusilla and his newest minion were awake and looking for him. "I've got to go. Good bye, Joyce. Take care of yourself… and her."

"Good bye, Spike."

Chapter Twenty-One

He stared at the phone for a full minute, then with a muffled curse, threw it against the wall to shatter into useless pieces of plastic.

I don't care what she's doin' or who she's doin' it with – jus' don't let it be the bloody poofter! She told me – well she didn't exactly tell me, but she might as well have – she told me she loved me, her Spike. She said she was mine. Don't want him touchin' what's mine.

As he walked back upstairs, easily covering the steps two at a time, he tried to put the slayer and her warm body out of his mind. By the time he got to the door of the bedroom, he thought he'd done a pretty good job of erasing all thoughts of blonde hair, golden skin, and powerful blood from his mind.

He came in, unzipping his pants as he entered, and threw himself onto the bed between the two eager female vampires waiting for him there.

"There you are, you bad puppy! Where have you been?"

"Nowhere important, my ripe, wicked plum," he growled, pulling her onto his body, but she twisted away from him and reached for the newly awakened fledgling beside him.

"I want to watch you play with your new toy again," she purred into his ear. "Show me how happy you are to have her."

She ran her nails down the other woman's bare back, eliciting a growl and a shiver. Spike did his best to appear interested in the new family member he'd created, but now that her body was as cool as his own, and the heated blood no longer pulsed through her veins, he found himself unable to respond to her rough caresses.

When he pushed her toward Dru and suggested that they entertain him by enjoying each other, the new one's eyes flashed with anger and she gave a small growl. Immediately, he was in game face and had his fangs fastened in her neck. He shook her fiercely, snarling the whole time, until she whimpered and quit fighting him, lying submissively between the two master vampires; one angry and one laughing and clapping.

"Oooh, my Spike is a bad doggy! Shouldn't make the doggy mad, you know. He will bite you and eat you all up!"

When the fledgling had stopped fighting and he could see the fear and submission in her eyes, Spike let her go with a final snarl and again shoved her toward Dru.

"Here, pet. You enjoy her if you want her. If you don't, we'll get rid of her."

The dark-haired vampire cocked her head and studied him closely, her eyes narrowing.

"You're thinking about her again," she said flatly, sounding more lucid than normal. "The Slayer is floating all around in your head and you don't want us. You want her."

"Don't talk crazy, Dru," he blustered, even as he recognized the rare moment of sanity in her voice. "I don't want anybody but you. Never have, never will. Just not interested in this silly bint at the moment, that's all."

"Don't lie to your dark princess, William. It makes me sad," she replied as she got to her feet, tugging the other vampire up. "Come, Rosa, we're going out to play under the stars."

She grabbed her dress and pulled it over her head, gesturing for the other woman to do the same. The curvy brunette cast one more longing glance at her sire's naked body and then joined Drusilla in her venture into the night.

Spike remained on the empty bed, staring up at the ceiling in frustration. He vowed to kill the new minion as soon as Dru tired of her, telling himself it was because she was rebellious and disobedient and not because he was disappointed that she wasn't still warm and breathing.

Eventually his stomach growled at him and he allowed the hunger pangs to drive him out into the warm night. Instead of his usual search for an attractive woman or pretty girl, he cruised the gay bars until he found an American tourist who was flashing a lot of money. One look at Spike's muscular torso, flat stomach and bulging jeans had the visitor willing to follow the blond Brit anywhere and it was a simple matter to get him into the alley behind the bar.

When he pressed his body up against Spike's and tried to put his arms around him, he suddenly found himself held in place by arms that felt like steel bands. The victim just had time to begin to wonder how someone so slender could be so strong when Spike's face shifted and he buried his fangs in the man's neck. He drained him quickly, then dropped the body and pulled out the wallet, removing all the American money and shoving it into his pocket.

He strolled back through the club, debating about whether to eat another tourist before heading home. He saw the curious looks the others gave him when he came back in without their friend and he just grinned and winked at them before leaving the bar.

On the way home he ran into a drunk Fyarl demon that wanted to fight, so he obliged with a major ass-kicking before generously leaving the unconscious demon battered, but alive. He was feeling pretty good as he strolled toward home.

Good meal, got some dosh if I need it, had me a bit of violence and got two ladies waiting for me at home. Unlife is good.

His good mood lasted all the way until he got into the house and caught the scent of another demon. He made his way silently up the stairs and followed the sounds he was hearing to the door of the bedroom. There on his bed, Drusilla and Rosa were entertaining a chaos demon whose antlers were dripping mucus all over the pillows.

When his outraged snarl finally penetrated their lust-induced fog, they looked up at him with various expressions of surprise. Except Drusilla, who looked triumphant and proud of herself.

"What the bloody hell do you think you're doin', Dru?" He ignored the frightened fledgling who was just figuring out that she might be in trouble with her sire.

"Rosa and I found someone who wants to play with us. Someone who isn't thinking about the nasty Slayer all the time. Go away, Spike. We'll let you come back when we're ready to give you another chance. You can go play with the other bad doggies until then."

She turned her back on him and began stroking the chaos demon's huge, furry cock, ignoring the hurt, angry look on Spike's face. Rosa gave him an apologetic look, but as soon as Drusilla touched her face with a blood soaked nail, she turned away and fastened her mouth on her grandsire's eager lips.

Spike stared at the writhing bodies on the bed, then whirled and left the house, grabbing his leather coat as he went out the door. His feet moved without any conscious thought on his part, carrying him away from the latest humiliation his lover had poured on his head.

It's one thing to shag her soddin' poof of a sire, but a chaos demon! That's just disgustin'. And to do it on our – my – bed. If she thinks I'm gonna hang around here waitin' for her to decide I can come back to my own house…

His feet had carried him toward the airport, and he took a quick glance at the plane schedules, seeing that he could leave for California the following evening and be safely on the ground in LA before dawn. Using the money he'd taken from his earlier meal, he bought a ticket for an aisle seat and left to find a safe place to spend the day, hoping his righteous indignation would last long enough for him to get out of the country before he made a fool of himself waiting around to be allowed back into his own home.

Buried in the anger and hurt he felt at Drusilla's infidelity, was a little bubble of joy that he had a reason to leave the city he'd been hiding in and go back to the only place he was sure to be welcomed

Buffy strolled home from school, enjoying the unusually warm day and trying to compute the odds against her actually having a happy birthday this year. With no Judge parts to worry about, and no Angel sex happening, she wondered what the PTB would do to make this birthday suck. She had no doubt that it would. Eight years of experience as the Slayer told her that something bad would happen on her birthday every year. Like clockwork.

"I guess I'll just have to wait and be surprised," she said out loud to herself.

As her friends gathered at her house for a small party, and gifts were opened, examined and commented on, she began to relax slightly. There was no reason to expect a sword demon to appear, no soul losing for Angel, no zombies anywhere to be seen, things were looking good. She still couldn't decide if she was celebrating her seventeenth birthday, or her twenty-third, but after her second bowl of chocolate ice cream, it didn't really seem to matter and she began to enjoy herself.

As the party wound down and her friends started to depart, Buffy stood in the doorway to receive her birthday hugs and kisses as well as to thank everyone for their gifts. Giles and Jenny were the first to leave. The younger guests teased them for being old and not able to stay up late to party, but Buffy's more mature sensibilities could see that they were just eager to leave the teenagers behind and be alone. She hugged them both tightly, delighted that she'd been able at least to save her watcher the grief that had accompanied his love for the gypsy woman the first time around.

Xander and Cordelia were next, rejecting Oz's offer of a ride in favor of Cordelia's car. Buffy briefly wondered if they would stay together in this time line, with the chances of Spike kidnapping Willow and Xander together now much lower and therefore chances of them being caught kissing much less. She shrugged and told them both "good-night", deciding that keeping Xander and Cordy together wasn't much of a priority and she would just watch nature take its course.

As she was saying goodnight to Willow and Oz, she thought she heard the back door open and she turned her head slightly. She saw Angel straighten up at the sound of her mother's voice and frowned slightly at the look on his face. She hugged Oz and Willow and closed the door behind them, intending to walk into the kitchen to see who her mother was talking to.

Just as she started past Angel, he grabbed her arm and pulled her into his chest saying, "Don't I get a birthday hug and kiss?"

In the kitchen, Joyce was greeting a tired looking Spike and offering to make him some cocoa while he waited for Buffy to finish her good nights. He thanked her and sat on a stool by the counter. He could sense his grandsire in the living room, and knew that the older vampire must know he was there.

Remembering that Buffy said she could always tell when he was around, he was slightly puzzled and a little hurt that she hadn't come running into the kitchen to see him. He stood up and moved to the entrance to the living room, just in time to see Angel fold her in his arms and lower his mouth to hers in an extended kiss.

Without a sound, he whirled and ran through the kitchen and out the door. Without saying a word to Joyce or bothering to close the door behind him, he ran out into the night.

Buffy had initially welcomed Angel's kiss and embrace, but just as he started pushing his tongue against her teeth, trying to force an entrance, the tiny scars on her neck tingled and she pushed him away before he could deepen the kiss. She spun around and flew to the kitchen just in time to see the screen door swinging shut and a flash of platinum going by the window.

The silent, anguished question in Buffy's eyes was easy to interpret and her mother nodded, glaring at Angel as she did so. Before Buffy could bolt out the door after Spike, Angel grabbed her again and tried to keep her in the house.

"What are you doing, Buffy?" he said angrily, holding on to her struggling body and trying to get her to look at him. He wasn't planning to tell her he knew Spike had been there unless he had to. He wasn't sure if she knew the other vamp had been in the kitchen or was just worried about her mother. Joyce hadn't said anything and he'd missed the look exchanged between the two women.

"Are you all right, Joyce?" he asked with too much sincerity. "Was there someone here?"

Buffy, meanwhile, had quit struggling to get away from the big vampire and was staring at the still vibrating screen door and fighting back tears.

"What happened?" she asked her mother in a shaky voice. "Why did he leave?"

"I don't know, Buffy," she replied sincerely. "He started to go into the living room to you and then he just turned and ran out."

Realization dawned as Buffy remembered what she'd been doing when she felt the tingles and she remembered how Angel had grabbed her and initiated the kiss as she headed for the kitchen.

"You knew!" She fixed him with her deadliest Slayer glare and he flinched in spite of himself. "You did that on purpose," she ground out between clenched teeth.

"I just wanted to remind him who you belong to," he said, releasing her arm with a growl. "I didn't think you'd mind. It's only Spike."

Completely at a loss for words, Buffy did the only thing she could and punched him so hard he sailed across the kitchen and into the stove, shaking it loose from it's place against the wall.

"Sorry, Mom," she threw over her shoulder as she ran out the door. "I'll put it back later."

With anxious tears streaming down her cheeks, she ran into the night searching frantically for another glimpse of bright hair and dark leather.

Chapter Twenty-Two

Buffy raced through the streets of Sunnydale until she was exhausted, searching for any sign of the vampire. She prowled through the cemeteries, pausing occasionally to sniff the air for cigarette smoke and extending her slayer senses as much as possible hoping to pick up some trace of Spike.

Willy swore he hadn't seen him, the Bronze was half-empty as it usually was on a week-night, and she found nothing in the cemeteries except some vampire dust here and there. When she found the body of a Grtxak demon lying near the entrance to Restfield, and saw the fang marks on it's broken neck, she smiled through her tears, knowing Spike was somewhere around.

She couldn't feel him anywhere in the cemetery, though, and sat down on a bench to rest and catch her breath. Suddenly she realized it was the same bench they had sat on months ago when she told him why she knew him so well. Putting her face in her hands, she wondered if he'd stay around long enough for her to explain that he hadn't seen what he thought he saw.

Buffy was so wrapped up in her own misery, she didn't register the warning signals her senses were sending until a vampire had tackled her over backwards, temporarily stunning her and pinning her to the ground. While Buffy struggled to regain her senses and focus her eyes, the vamp reached for her throat with his mouth, only to encounter the weak signal from Spike's marks.

He flinched back momentarily, then shook his head and snarling something about "half-assed claims", he ran his tongue up her neck, licking the spot he intended to bite. Buffy was gradually regaining her awareness of the danger she was in, but the large vamp had her thoroughly pinned down and all she could do was try to buck him loose.

When an outraged snarl from behind caused him to lift his head, she took advantage of his momentary distraction and butted the side of his face with her forehead.

Ooooh, Buffy. So not a good idea… she had time to think before she briefly lost consciousness again.

Somewhat to her surprise, she didn't wake up bleeding and dying. She was still lying on the ground, but instead of being bitten by the vamp, she was treated to the sound of a familiar voice. Raising her aching head, she stared blearily toward the two vampires now circling each other and snarling threats.

The one that had been trying to bite her was insisting that she was his meal, and that the other could just "go find your own stupid blonde". Spike stopped his snarling long enough to ask, "Do you really not know what you have there, you stupid git?"

"I have dinner. Looks like somebody got a piece of her once before, but the claim isn't strong enough to keep me away," he bragged. "I say finders keepers – the vamp that claimed her should've stayed around to watch his property."

Spike visibly flinched at his words and he shot a glance at Buffy to see if she'd heard, before turning back to the other vamp to ask in a deceptively mild tone of voice, "What's makes you so sure he didn't?"

Shifting into game face, he leapt at the other vampire, the demon taking over completely once Spike released it. He grabbed the larger vampire by the throat and easily lifted him with one hand until the other's feet were off the ground.

"D' ya really think anything but a master vampire could've laid claim to the Slayer, you ignorant pillock?"

The other's eyes widened in understanding as the girl he'd thought was down for the count, jumped gracefully to her feet and came to stand beside the angry, and obviously much, much older vampire holding him in the air.

"You want to do the honors, pet, or can I rip his head off?"

"If you want him, you can have him, just make it quick."

Spike cocked an inquisitive eyebrow at her, but obediently tightened his hand around the other vamp's neck and squeezed until the head lolled to one side and he could use his other hand to twist it off. He watched the dust drift away with some satisfaction, although he was disappointed that he wasn't allowed to take his time making the unfortunate vamp sorry for having touched his slayer.

When he could no longer see the remains floating away, he turned reluctantly to find Buffy looking at him with some anxiety. Now that the danger was gone, he remembered why he'd been away from her in the first place and he stiffened, trying to ignore the pleading in her eyes.

"What the hell were you doin' out here at this time of night, anyway?" he asked gruffly. "Shouldn't you be doin' some more birthday snoggin' with the great poof? There's nothin' left out here to slay tonight."

"So I noticed," she said softly, moving closer to him.

When he stepped back, maintaining the distance between them, her eyes filled with tears again and she reached out to touch his arm. The heat from her hand burned through the leather of his coat.

"Yeah, well, I had some… I was bloody pissed off. Took it out on any sorry wankers that crossed my path tonight." He tried to ignore the effect her touch was having on his body. "You didn't answer my question, pet," he continued when she all she did was look apologetic. "What were you doin' out here?"

"Do I really need to answer that? Don't you know?" Her steady gaze dared him to deny that he knew she was looking for him. "Why did you run away? I was on my way to the kitchen to see who Mom was talking to when…."

"When you stopped to have a snog with Angel?" he asked, unable to hide the hurt in his voice.

She flinched again, then raised her head and said clearly, "He grabbed me as I went by. He knew you were there, but I didn't. Not until the marks tingled. I… I wasn't expecting to see you yet, and I thought I was just feeling Angel's signature when you came in. I was already pushing him away when you ran out, and he stopped me from following you. As soon as Mom told me it was really you I felt, I left to find you."

"And the poof? What'd you tell him?"

"Uh, I didn't… I just kinda… hit him. I'm gonna have to fix my mom's stove when I get home. I think I broke it."

She peered up at him from under her eyebrows and was relieved to see a reluctant smile come over his face.

"Any chance you broke him too?" he inquired hopefully.

"I didn't stop to check," she said, trying once again to move closer to him. "I had something more important to do."

"And what's that, pet?" he asked, stepping toward her. He kept his hands jammed into his pockets to prevent them from touching her the way he wanted to. His pride, which had already been injured once when Drusilla kicked him out for the Chaos demon, had taken another hit when he saw Buffy with Angel and it kept him from following his inclination to kiss her senseless.

"This," she whispered, going up on her toes to brush her lips across his.

"You have Angel breath," he muttered, even as he leaned toward her to maintain contact with her mouth.

"Make it go away," she murmured back, running her tongue around his lips and touching it gently to his sensitive teeth.

With a groan, he conceded defeat and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into his body as he began to kiss her in earnest. Buffy almost cried with relief when she felt him give in, and she melted against him, letting her tongue and lips tell him how much she'd missed him.

Her arms went up around his neck and he lifted her off the ground, holding her against him in a way that would have crushed the ribs of an ordinary woman. But Buffy was not an ordinary human, and she clutched him back with equal strength as she lost herself in the sensation of being once more wrapped in his arms.

With each of them being the other's favorite kisser, it wasn't long before their lips and tongues had the inevitable effect and Spike's hard length was pressed against her stomach while his nostrils flared at the scent of her arousal. He pulled one leg up to his hip and she quickly brought the other one up so that her legs were around his waist and her warm, damp crotch was pressed against him.

She began to whimper when he pushed his hips forward, increasing the contact between them and setting up the need for more friction between her legs. He slid his hands down to her ass and pulled her tightly against him, grinding his erection into her.

Words he never intended to say to her flew out of his mouth as he moved it down her throat, leaving a trail of kisses and small bites.

"Missed you, Slayer. Never stopped thinkin' about this; about you and what you do to me. Want you so much, luv. Need you…"

Buffy continued to grind against him, desperate for both the release she craved and the need to feel him against her from head to toe. She whimpered with unfulfilled desire, wanting to stop and tear their clothes off and too caught up in what they were doing to let go.

When he suddenly lifted his head with a snarl and dropped her to the ground, she almost cried out in disappointment, but her slayer training forced her to overcome her feeling of deprivation and to fall into a fighting stance at his side. Spike had whirled to face the gate of the cemetery and went into game face as soon as his grandsire appeared. He'd felt Angel's presence before the older vampire was close enough to see what he and Buffy had been doing and his earlier rage came flooding back as his grandsire strode up to them.

"Buffy! There you are! I've been hunting all over Sunnydale for you. Are you all right? Did he hurt you?"

He turned to Spike and growled dismissively, "I don't know why you came back here, Spike, but you're not wanted or needed, so go back where you came from. If you leave right now, I won't kill you."

"I'm here because I want to be, you arrogant wanker, and I'll stay till somebody worth listenin' to tells me to leave." He stepped forward. "And anytime you want to try…."

"Spike." Buffy's soft voice and touch on his arm stopped him immediately and he dropped his vamp face to look at her. He tried to read her expression, vowing to himself that if she looked worried about Angel he would leave Sunnydale and never return – dreams of warm, loving kisses be damned.

All he saw in her eyes was the warmth and affection he'd been seeing there since he first came to Sunnydale, along with just a touch of sexual frustration and anger. Relaxing his shoulders, he shrugged and said softly, "Alright, pet."

Angel blinked at them in confusion as Spike moved away to sit on the bench. He noticed that the younger vampire never took his eyes off the Slayer, not even to cast a threatening look at his grandsire and he looked back and forth between them with narrowed eyes. He could smell Buffy's arousal on the air and suspicion began to work its way into his self-centered brain.

"Buffy," he growled, "I think you need to tell me exactly why you are in a cemetery at this hour of the night with a vampire whose only claim to fame – except for his awful poetry – is killing slayers. How can you possibly trust him not to—"

"I trust him because I know him, Angel. Just as I know you… and Angelus."

"You trust him because he helped you put my soul back? You know he just did that to get Dru away from me—er, Angelus. Not because he cares what happens to you. He has no reason not to kill you now."

"Actually, I have a—" Spike started then broke off at a glare from Buffy. "Right, shut up, Spike. Got it." He settled back on the bench, sending his grandsire a smirk. "Still waitin' to be thanked for that whole soul thing, by the way, Peaches. Or are you not so happy about having it back… Angelus?"

"If it weren't for this soul, I'd have killed Buffy and you a long time ago," he growled, turning his back on the annoying smirk Spike was wearing.

Turning around put him face to face with a very angry slayer and he suddenly remembered that she had sent him across a room with one punch, and kicked him into unconsciousness when he'd lost his soul.

"I didn't really mean that, Buffy. You know I wouldn't ever hurt you. I want you to be happy and safe, that's all."

"If that's really true, Angel, then you need to leave now. Because I am perfectly safe here. And I was working on being very happy before you interrupted!"

As soon as the words left her mouth, Buffy knew she'd made a mistake. The anger that flared in the suddenly amber eyes of the old vampire reminded her that he still viewed her as his just-turned-seventeen-year-old virginal ideal to be kept on a pedestal.

Through the angry haze her words created, Angel remembered what she'd said to him when Angelus was threatening to take her virginity, and he stared back and forth from the girl he idolized to the grinning vampire on the bench. With a roar of outrage, he launched himself at Spike, fully intending to rid himself of the younger vampire forever.

However, Spike hadn't lived as long as he had without learning to read Angelus and his moods very well, and he was already on his feet and moving before the older vampire had covered the distance between them.

Suddenly Buffy felt the limitations of her younger, less trained and fit body as the two master vampires she cared about fell to the ground in a snarling tangle of fangs and claws. She watched anxiously, hovering around them, ready to step in if it looked like either one was going to be dust.

After the initial flurry of fangs, the two demons split apart and began to exchange punches and kicks, leaping from the tops of crypts to the ground and hurling tombstones at each other. Feeling slightly less worried that they were going to kill each other, Buffy perched on top of a mausoleum where she could see the course of the fight and step in quickly if needed. The two powerful demons fought until they were both exhausted, pausing by mutual consent to inhale large gulps of unneeded air and to rest their weary arms.

Before they could begin again, Buffy stepped between them and held out her hands to keep them apart.

"If the testosterone levels have dropped to reasonable levels, can we agree that this was a tie and go home before the sun comes up and fries you both?"

"This isn't over, William," Angel said with a deadly glare. He looked at Buffy sadly for a minute and said coldly, "And you're not what I thought you were."

"I'm not who you thought I was, Angel. I've been trying to get you to see that for months. " She looked at him sympathetically. "I know it was a shock to find out that your innocent little Buffy was gone and a much older, bitchier one had taken her place, but that's just the way it is. I'm here, and unless we can find out how I got here and reverse it, I'm not going anywhere. Get used to it or leave town."

"Could leave town anyway, used to it or not?" Spike came to stand behind Buffy. "Ow! Slayer. What the bloody hell was that for?" He bent over holding the tender spot on his stomach where she'd elbowed him.

With a final glare at them both, Angel turned around and left them standing in the early morning dampness. Buffy cast a glance at the lightening sky and pulled Spike with her toward the crypt they'd hidden in when the Fyarls chased them.

"Come-on, let's get you out of the sun. We'll take the sewers to my house and I'll clean those wounds up. You can stay in the basement for the rest of the day."

Chapter Twenty-three

They ducked into the crypt that Buffy seemed to know so well and Spike went into vamp face so that he could see the way for them just as he had before. He stopped in the middle of the crypt to look around and commented, "You know, this wouldn't be too bad if it was cleaned up a little. And with that downstairs area available for a bedroom…" He stopped when he heard Buffy giggling and cocked an eyebrow at her.

When she didn't respond to his unspoken question, he realized she couldn't see him and he said "What? Is it funny that I'd want to live in a crypt? I am a vampire, you know."

"No, that's not what's funny. It's just that you… never mind." She waved her hand in the air and added, "I think if you put down some soft oriental rugs and got a nice bed, the downstairs could be quite… comfy."

"Why would I want orient…." He stopped and threw up his hands in sudden understanding. "Bloody hell, woman," he growled, "why don't you just tell me what furniture to get and what part of the room it goes in? I'm guessing that would save me a lot of time."

Buffy's shoulders were still shaking with laughter and she moved closer to him and slipped her arms around his waist.

"I'm sorry, Spike. But you had to know there was a reason I knew about this crypt. It's not like I make a habit of learning the ins and outs of all the crypts in the cemetery."

He gave her a reluctant grin and looked around again.

"So, this is where I Iived when we…."

"Yeah, most of the time. I mean while we were… but then you lived in my basement for a while too."

"I lived with you? How'd that go over with Mum?" The instant he felt her stiffen, he remembered her reaction to the mention of her mother's future when he'd brought it up before and he pulled her against his chest more tightly.

"Ah, I'm so sorry, luv. I'm a stupid git. I forgot…"

"It's okay," she mumbled into his chest. "I'm not going to let it happen this time. At least I hope not."

" 'M sorry, anyway. Seems like I keep openin' my big mouth and remindin' you of things I'm supposed to know about. Maybe I should just stop talkin'."

"Oh, yeah, like that's gonna happen," she sniffed with a smile.

"Hey! Tryin' to be nice here, Missy. Jus' watch it." His gentle smile belied the threat in his words.

Buffy nuzzled his chest with her face, getting blood on her cheek in the process and she was instantly reminded that he was injured.

"Come on, Big Bad. Let's get you home and cleaned up. You're getting blood all over me."

"Mmmmmm," he said, obediently leading her toward the open entrance to the lower level. "Could lick it off for you if you'd like…"

"Later," she said as she followed him down the hole and into the arms she knew would be there to catch her. "Definitely later."

With a sigh, he released her and looked around for the exit. Buffy gestured in the general direction of the tunnels leading to the sewers and he prowled around, sniffing and using his enhanced night vision to find the way out.

"Do you know how to get from here to your house?" he asked curiously.

"Oh, shit!" she groaned in dismay.

"I'll take that as a 'no'?"

"I didn't even think about that. You – my Spike – knows the way so well… Damn!"

"Don't worry, pet. We'll suss it out. Jus' stop and think for a minute. Tell me what you do know about these tunnels and which direction you think your house is."

Buffy frowned and tried to picture the landscape above them.

"Okay. There's a manhole right outside the cemetery gate, which is in that direction." She gestured toward her right, knowing Spike could see her hand motions. "And my house is that way from the gate," she added, pointing to the left.

"Right, then. Off we go." He took her hand and led her out of the cavern and into the tunnels. As soon as he realized there was room for them to walk side-by-side, he linked their fingers and they splashed along together as though strolling through a park on a lovely spring day.

He paused at the manhole, looking around at the branching tunnels and sniffing the air. Buffy climbed up the ladder and nudged the cover up just enough that she could look around and get her bearings. When she felt Spike right behind her on the ladder, she started and gasped.

"What are you doing?" she whispered, although there was nobody out yet in the early dawn light.

"Jus' had to follow that luscious rump, pet," he laughed as he nipped her on one cheek with his blunt human teeth. "Bet it tastes as good as it looks…"

"There will be no discussion about tasting any of my body parts, mister. Not while you're in game face, anyway."

"Not wearin' m'fangs just now," he purred, running his mouth up to the bare skin exposed as she held the manhole cover open. He licked and nibbled his way around to her side, smiling when he smelled her arousal and felt her heart rate pick up.

"You need to stop that," she murmured, even as she leaned back into him. "There's no place here to—" She stopped with a little shriek as he ran his hands up to her breasts and cupped them both. She felt him moving up the ladder and he was soon pressed against her body, his cool fingers still on her aching breasts. He slid his thumbs over the lace-covered nipples, smiling as they hardened in his hands.

"There's always a place, luv." He ran his tongue down the side of her neck, thrilling at the way she shuddered when it touched his marks. The way his tongue tingled told him the connection was still working for him too and he almost frowned at the idea that such a small amount of blood could establish such a long-lasting claim.

Got to look into that one of these days. Maybe it's 'cause she's the Slayer or something.

Buffy turned around as far as she could and craned her neck so that she could reach his mouth with hers. The matching moans from the partially open manhole would have startled any early morning joggers had there been any. Fortunately, most residents of Sunnydale knew better than to go out running until the sun was completely up and all shadows had been banished for the day.

Surrendering to the sensations the eager vampire was creating, Buffy allowed the cover to drop back into place as she turned around completely to meet Spike's kiss and wrap her arms around his neck. He put one arm through the side rail of the ladder and used it to hold them in place while he ran the other one under her shirt, stroking her warm, silky skin and leaving heated trails everywhere his cool fingers touched.

The need to touch him became overwhelming and Buffy brought her hands down to push his tee shirt up and run them over his smoothly-muscled back. When she started to wrap her legs around his waist again, he stopped her, smothering her complaining pout with another kiss.

Jus' a second, luv," he coaxed, reaching down between them and undoing his jeans. He groaned with relief when his erection sprang out, then hissed when she immediately wrapped one warm hand around it. While she stroked the hard column of flesh, imagining what she couldn't see in the dark, Spike was undoing the fastenings on her own pants and sliding his cool fingers into the waiting warmth and moisture.

Buffy moaned and arched against his hand, wishing for one of the few times in her life that she'd worn a skirt instead of pants. She almost growled in frustration as he struggled to push them down far enough to spread her legs.

"Don't know why you have to wear such bloody tight pants, pet," he gasped, almost losing his grip on the ladder.

"Note to self," she panted, "Always wear a skirt around Spike."

They stopped their frantic pushing and rubbing for a second, laughing softly at their mutual frustration. Reluctantly, Spike pushed himself away from her and let her shimmy her pants down her legs. She held the cuff with one foot and pulled one leg off to dangle in the air while she immediately brought the freed leg up to catch on his bare hip.

With a growl, he grabbed her smooth, bare ass and pulled her closer, rubbing his now completely exposed cock against her. She mewed as he allowed it to slide up and down her slit, the moisture pooling there making it glide smoothly over her clit. When he slid back down, she jumped up and wrapped her other leg around his hips, dropping onto his ready shaft.

Spike grabbed the ladder with both hands as she wrapped her arms around his neck and allowed her full weight to settle his cock deeply inside. He felt himself shudder with the effort it took not to come right then and there. Feeling her warmth wrapped tightly around him banished any lingering memories of, or longing for, the former love of his life. He closed his eyes and reveled in the rightness of the feelings pouring through him.

Buffy sighed with relief when she once again felt him buried inside her. The sheer pleasure of feeling him filling her up temporarily made any other activity unnecessary. Tears prickled her eyes as she lost herself in the comfort of his presence. She wondered briefly if he could feel the love flooding her heart and if he could, what he would make of it.

As soon as Spike felt he had himself under control, he began rocking his hips against hers and setting up the friction he knew she was craving. In only a few seconds, she was gasping and panting as she clenched around him, a small orgasm ripping through her body. She felt him smiling against her mouth and she smiled back as she broke the kiss to murmur, "Pretty proud of yourself, huh?"

He laughed softly, releasing one hand from the ladder to hold her hips in place while he pushed into her.

"Do you always cum that easily, luv?" he asked. Her quick response had both thrilled and surprised him.

"I do for you," she answered, suddenly embarrassed and shy, remembering that to this Spike she was not the familiar lover that her Spike had brought to ecstasy over and over again, but, in many ways, a complete stranger.

Spike almost choked as he found himself suddenly incredibly grateful to his other self for causing this amazing woman to fall in love with him.

Don' know what I did, or why I did it, but I'd do it again in a minute jus' to have her here makin' those sounds and movin' around me like this.

Without the use of his hands to guide her hips, Spike was dependent on her Slayer muscles to help her move up and down on him. As her pace increased and he felt his release approaching, he slid back into vamp face so as to be able to watch her face.

"Come with me, love," he begged, twisting his hips to nudge the spot inside that was making her gasp and whimper. "Come on, Slayer, come with me… Buffy!"

When he cried out her name as he jerked his hips and spurted into her, she clenched around him and sobbed into his neck, murmuring, "Spike, Spike, Spike."

For seconds, the only thing preventing them from falling off the ladder and into the filth below was the arm Spike had threaded through the railing. Their bodies were limp; Buffy's being held up by the vampire's other arm as she continued to cry into his neck. Spike's legs were so weak, he could barely maintain his balance on the thin ladder.

As he got his equilibrium back, he realized that the Slayer was still crying and he pushed her away gently so that he could see her face.

"Got say, pet, all this cryin' isn't doin' a whole lot for my ego. Want to let a bloke in on what's wrong?"

"No… nothing…" she sobbed. "I'm just ha… happy."

"Oh," he waited for a few seconds, then pulled her close again. "Think you could find some other way to show it, love? I can't really say I fancy making you cry – and seems like I've done nothing but since I first got here."

"I'm okay," she said, letting out a deep, shuddering breath. "I'm sorry. I'm not always this emotional. I promise."

" 'S alright, pet. Have to say I was pretty gobsmacked by that too." He ran his tongue over the marks on her neck again, causing them both to catch their breath. "I can't even imagine what we'd be like together with some privacy and a real bed."

"You have no idea, vampire," she growled, grabbing his shoulder in her blunt little teeth and biting just hard enough to get his attention. "No idea at all."

Chapter Twenty-four

Once their clothes were back in place, and Buffy had taken another look out of the manhole, they were on their way through the sewers to the house on Revello Drive. A quick dash from the manhole near the Summers' house to the sheltered front porch, and the two were back inside, safe from the rapidly rising sun.

When Joyce came downstairs for breakfast, she found Spike and Buffy in the kitchen. Buffy had the first aid kit out and was cleaning the wounds left from Spike's battle with Angel. One eye was swollen partly shut, but his vampire healing had already kicked in and most of what Buffy was doing was as much to make her feel useful as it was to help him.

At her mother's questioning look, Buffy began to stammer something about "demons" and "vampires", but Spike just looked at Joyce and said calmly, "Had a bit of a disagreement with the Poof. Think he's got it sorted out now."

Joyce nodded, noticing the relaxed and happy expression on her daughter's face. While Buffy had not had anything to really cause her any trouble since they restored Angel's soul, she had gone through the long, boring days with a look of wistful longing on her face and a lingering trace of sadness in her voice no matter what she was doing. That look of sadness and longing was gone now, and Joyce was relieved to see her daughter happy again.

The fact that several months ago she hadn't known that vampires and demons even existed, let alone that her daughter was born to protect the world from them, didn't stop her from being grateful to the vampire whose arrival had given Buffy some measure of happiness. Although Buffy had not told her mother everything that had happened to her and the people around her, she'd said enough that Joyce knew how rare happiness was in her daughter's life and if an undead, soulless creature was what it took to provide it, then he had her complete blessing.

She left for work, fighting back the automatic "Mom" comments about behaving themselves while she was gone. As hard as it was to give up her hopes and aspirations for her young daughter, she'd talked with Buffy enough to be very aware that the young woman wearing her teen-aged daughter's body was a full adult and not likely to concern herself with meeting her mother's expectations of proper behavior. Instead, Joyce sighed for lost innocence and told them to "have fun and be careful" as she let herself out the door.

Somewhere and somewhen else:

Giles glared at Willow with an expression that could only be called thunderous.

"What do you mean, you only wanted her to be happy? Where is she?"

"I, um, I don't exactly know…." The powerful witch swallowed hard and suddenly felt very young again as Buffy's former watcher demanded she tell him what had happened to his surrogate daughter.

Willow had awakened that morning, content to know that she'd improved Buffy's outlook on life, only to find an empty bed when she went into the Slayer's room. After searching the entire house and grounds without finding a trace of Buffy or even a note, she'd begun to get an uncomfortable feeling in her stomach.

She put off telling anyone her suspicions for as long as she could, but by dinner time when no one had seen or heard from Buffy all day, Willow was forced to conclude there might have been a problem with her spell. Steeling herself for what she knew would be a very unpleasant encounter, she knocked on the door to Giles' office and entered timidly.

When she saw Dawn glaring at her from the couch, she almost turned and ran out. One look at Willow's frightened face and the former Key whirled on the older man to demand, "Look at her! Don't tell me she didn't do anything! I can see it in her face."

Giles sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose as he removed his glasses.

"Willow, is there any chance you know where Buffy has gone? Or that you had anything to do with it?"

His patient question brought her mumbled response of, "I only wanted her to be happy again," thereby eliciting the display of temper.

"I knew it!" Dawn threw up her hands and began to pace the room on her long legs. "Where did you send her?"

"I… I didn't send her anywhere. I just did a little spell that was supposed to make her feel like she did when she was sixteen. Before Angel lost his soul, before her mom died, before she died and…"

"And before you yanked her out of heaven," Dawn snarled.

"She was happy then. I just thought if she could recapture that feeling, she'd be able to go on with her life and stop mourning for Spike. I don't know what could possibly have gone wrong. I swear!"

Giles could see from the tears in Willow's eyes that she was sincere and he tried to control his temper.

"All right, Willow. I believe you didn't intend to send her anywhere – but clearly that has happened. I'm going to consult the coven and see if they have any ideas how we can locate her."

It was several months later that Giles, Willow and, at her own insistence, Dawn, were gathered in a large room with several of the seers from the coven that worked with the Council of Watchers. They were holding one of Buffy's sweaters, hoping to be able to trace its owner.

Silence settled over the room as the smell of incense and wax candles pervaded the air. The small group of seers closed their eyes and concentrated on following the faint path of Buffy's essence. They communed with each other silently, occasionally nodding or shaking their heads, and once twitching in surprise. Just when Dawn felt she would explode with impatience, the lead seer opened her eyes and slumped with a sigh of relief.

Not giving them time to recover at all, Dawn immediately demanded, "Well? Did you find her? Where is she? How do we get her back?"

Shaking her head at the girl's impatience, the lead seer addressed Giles to report, "She has been sent to another dimension that is several years behind this one. However, we're not sure how the portal was opened. No one here has that kind of power. Only the PTB can manipulate dimensional time portals like that."

"So I didn't do it?" The relief in Willow's voice was palpable.

"We don't believe so. It would appear that the Powers That Be used your spell as a catalyst to open the portal and send the Slayer back to her early days in Sunnydale. To what purpose, we can only speculate."

Willow exhaled and leaned back in her chair, sighing with relief.

"So, she's happy, then? Is it before or after Spike came to Sunnydale and tried to kill her? Has Angel lost his soul yet?"

"It appears that William the Bloody is indeed in Sunnydale, although he does not appear to be trying to kill her."

The older woman flushed and quickly moved on.

"As for Angelus, it seems he lost his soul only briefly and now has it back again. Albeit, he does not appear to be in a very good mood at this time."

"So… that's it then?" Dawn's voice trembled. "Buffy's gone? We can't get her back?"

The gentle witches looked at her with sympathy.

"It does appear that is the case. If it is any comfort, she seems quite happy now."

All three seers blushed and cleared their throats simultaneously. When she saw Dawn's devastation, the older one offered, "You are the Key, you know. If anyone would be able to move between dimensions, it would be you. We can work on that for you and see if we can find a way to harness your power and direct it."

Dawn nodded her head and looked at them pleadingly. "Yes, please. Even if I can just see her…."

"We will work on that."

Nodding at the profuse thanks offered by Giles and Willow, the three powerful witches took their leave. Buffy's remaining family and her best friend went back upstairs and sat in the living room, each lost in his or her thoughts.

somewhere else….

Spike came to his senses gradually. At first all he was aware of was that he was alive and seemed to be in more or less one piece. Which was something of a miracle in and of itself, as the last thing he remembered was being swarmed by too many demons to count as Angel and the dragon flew into the side of a building and exploded into flames.

He recalled Illyria standing in front of Gunn's lifeless body and tossing demons away with both hands. Although the numbers facing her were as large as those attacking Spike, she appeared to be doing her time-warping thing and slowing them down so that she could pick them off one at a time.

Good on Blue. I hope she took a thousand of those blighters with her before she went down.

The aching vampire tentatively tried to sit up, only to find himself groaning and dropping back on the peculiar surface beneath him. He would have sworn he was lying on a cloud, if it weren't for the fact that it was semi-solid and he wasn't falling through it.

Maybe I'm a ghost again? Ghosts can sit on clouds, can't they? Bloody hell, can't I just be dusted and get it over with for once? What do the soddin' PTB want from me now?

No sooner had that thought crossed his mind, than two very strange-looking people appeared and stood over him.

"This is he? This is the one we've gone to all this trouble for?"

"Yes, there is no mistake. This is the One. And we're not going to all this trouble just for him. You know that."

"Yes, yes. Quite right. Different dimensions, different outcomes, reward the Slayer, I've got it. I still say he doesn't look like much."

"Hey! Standin'…er…lyin' right here, wankers!" Spike struggled to his feet and faced the shocked pair defiantly. They recoiled when the dirty, smoke and blood-covered vampire approached them.

"And what'd you two say about the Slayer? Where is she? She's alright, isn't she?"

The two oddly dressed beings looked at each other and then back at him.

"She's all right. We'll let you see her shortly. But first we need to explain a few things…"

And back to Sunnydale…

After Joyce had left, Spike and Buffy remained in the kitchen. She tried to ignore the way they obviously felt uncomfortable with each other, and busied herself putting away the first aid supplies. She avoided looking at the vampire; suddenly unsure of herself and wondering why he'd come back so soon.

She was running out of busy-work to keep her occupied when she sensed his presence behind her. He slipped a cool muscular arm around her waist and pulled her back against his chest, nuzzling her neck as he did so.

"Havin' second thoughts, luv? Wishin' you'd left me in that crypt for the day while you suss out how you feel about havin' me back?"

She turned in his embrace and reached up to fasten her lips on his in an extended kiss that promised things he wasn't sure he wanted. When she finally broke it off, she pulled away slightly and gave him a small smile.

"No second thoughts. I'm just wondering why you're back so soon and how long you're going to stay this time."

"I'm back because… I… bloody hell!" He released her and turned away growling in frustration. "Dru kicked me out for a Chaos demon and I came back here because I knew I could. I knew you'd want me."

"So you're here, not because you want me, but because you know I want you. You needed some ego stroking?"

Even as she said the words and felt the hurt and anger building, the parallels to her own life with Spike continued to work their way into her consciousness.

This has to be somebody trying to teach me something. It isn't even subtle, for God's sake. Do they think I'm stupid?

Buffy looked up at the ceiling and shocked them both by yelling, "All right, already! I get it! You don't have to hit me over the head!"

When Spike stared at her in complete bewilderment, she blushed and looked at the floor, mumbling to herself.

"What the bleedin' hell was that all about, Slayer? Who were you talkin' to?"

"I don't know," she mumbled. "But it needed to be said."

Spike shoved his hands in the pockets of his coat and kicked the side of the counter.

"Look, Slayer. I'm sorry if this isn't what you thought or what you wanted. I jus' thought… If you don't want me here, say so and I'll leave."

His stomach clenched as he watched her stricken face and he found himself moving closer to her even as he told himself he didn't care if he hurt her. She was just a warm body to use until Dru was willing to take him back.

"You… you want to leave already?"

"Didn't say that, pet. I said if you don't want me here. If me being here is gonna cause you pain… don't want to hurt you, luv. Never want to hurt you. I jus' don't know if I can be what you want… what you deserve."

To his dismay, instead of making her feel better, his words caused tears to spring into her eyes and he growled and shook his head.

"Bloody hell, woman. You see? Only been her a little while and I'm already makin' you cry again. What did I say?"

"Nothing," she shook her head, laughing and crying at the same time. "You didn't do anything except to remind me that at your unsouled, evil worst you're a better person than I am."

"You are completely daft. You're startin' to make Dru look like a poster girl for sanity." He put his arms around her and planted a kiss on her forehead. "See if any of this sounds familiar. You – Chosen One, saves the world, keeps it safe for puppies and… whatever. Me – evil vampire, kills and eats innocent people. I don't know what the hell this thing is between us, but it hasn't changed who or what I am."

"Not yet," she sniffled, her words muffled by his leather coat.

"Oh yeah, I almost forgot. You know me." He growled into her hair, the vibrations sending shivers all through her body. She slid her hands around his back, under the soft leather and tee shirt onto his cool skin. When she had pushed the tee shirt up as far as she could, she fastened her mouth on one nipple and worried it with her teeth and tongue.

Spike groaned and ran his hands down over her ass, pulling her into his rapidly hardening cock.

"Ah, now, that's cheatin', luv. We were having a serious conversation here and you're tryin' to distract me."

"Is it working?" She moved her mouth to his other nipple and pulled it into her mouth to suck on it before dropping soft kisses down over his rib cage and into the little hollow beside his hipbone.

"Oh, yeah. It's workin'," he growled, picking her up and heading unerringly for the stairs. When he reached the top of the stairs, a giggling Buffy nibbling on his neck the whole time, he was just able to grind out, "Which one?" before following her pointing finger into her bedroom and falling onto the bed with her. While she writhed beneath him, he shoved the stuffed animals off the bed with one arm and began tugging at her clothes with the other.

Chapter Twenty-five

Spike stared into the pool of clear water, watching himself offering to leave Sunnydale if Buffy wanted it and he could barely keep from jumping into the vision in front of him.

"Are you completely off, you stupid git? She doesn't want you to leave! She wants you to love her. Argh!"

His inarticulate snarls of rage had the PTB backing away from the furious vampire.

"What the fuck's the matter with me? Him?"

"He is in a different dimension where things are happening in a way they did not in the one you came from. This Spike is still in love with Drusilla, has no chip, no soul, and barely knows the Slayer. He's intrigued that she loves him, or her version of him, but he doesn't know how to reciprocate yet."

"That's my Slayer in there? My Buffy?"

He looked at them for verification, even though they had explained several times what he was going to be seeing in the vision pool.

"Yes, as we told you, she has been sent into an alternate dimension with the memories of her own life intact so that she can perhaps alter things and have a happier life."

"Since when do you lot worry about anyone's happiness?" he asked suspiciously.

There was a whispered consultation between the two beings before the girl turned to him and said, "An effort is being made to reward the heroes of one dimension, while at the same time preventing some of the same problems from arising in this one. It was determined that the Slayer, if she had someone equal to the task at her side, could make that difference."

"So, you want us to save the world in the water and if we incidentally make each other happy doin' it, that's our bonus?" His lifted eyebrow and the smirk that accompanied it clearly indicated he expected nothing more from them than more manipulation.

"Something like that, yes. It would be a crude way of putting it, but it is essentially correct," the boy said stiffly.

"Well, I'm a rude, crude vamp, so don't be getting' your knickers in a twist about it."

He looked into the pool again, watching himself carry Buffy up the stairs and into her bedroom. He looked back at the two oddly dressed beings again and asked quietly, "If it's all about makin' her happy this time, why isn't the great poof in there instead of me?"

The girl made an annoyed face and hissed at him, "Would you pay attention? That is not the sixteen-year-old Slayer from this dimension. It is – for lack of a better term – your slayer. She does not want Angelus. She wants you. She has been mourning you for over a year. Until now, all we could do was offer her the version of you occupying this dimension. However, now that you have… changed planes again-"

"That PTB speak for died again?"

She looked momentarily uncomfortable, then said quickly, "You are neither alive nor dead at the moment. Until you decide what you wish to do, you are between planes."

"I get to decide?" Disbelief was obvious on his face.

"Yes," the boy broke in angrily. "You can choose to join her in that dimension and assist her to meet whatever dangers may come up, or you can go on to another plane and leave her with that version of you. You must decide soon. We have other matters to attend to."

Spike looked back down at Buffy's room, watching himself pulling roughly on her clothes, and running his hands over her body. He watched her touching his face gently, marveled at the love he could see in her eyes as she stared at the Spike pressing her body into the bed.

"Touch her, you stupid git," he whispered. "She wants you to touch her now. And kiss her. She likes being kissed. Come on you bloody wanker, make it good for her."

He watched in frustration as his doppleganger made love to his Slayer, knowing she was enjoying it, and yet confident it wasn't what it should be for her because the vampire with his mouth on her clit didn't know her body the way he did.

"Send me to her," he said firmly, never taking his eyes off the couple on the bed. "Send me to her now!"

"Very well," was the last thing he heard as his world went dark again.

Buffy moaned as Spikes talented tongue stroked along her outer folds and teased her into arching off the bed into his mouth. When he fastened his mouth around her clit and began to suck on it, she screamed his name and let the orgasm flow through her body.

Before she had completely recovered from that experience, still a new one for this body, he had surged up her torso and buried himself inside her tightly clenched warmth. She brought her legs around his back and pulled him into her body until she thought they might melt together.

Suddenly his vigorous thrusting was augmented by a slight twist at the end of each stroke. A twist that hit a little bundle of nerves only one man had ever located. As each touch on the spot only Spike knew about brought her closer and closer to another release, she threw her head back and made a keening noise. She ground her pelvis into his, not sure if she was keening from pleasure or from something else.

All she knew was that this felt like her Spike and the emotions that was bringing to the surface threatened to overwhelm her. Squeezing her eyes closed, she surrendered to pure sensation and let it pulse through her, taking her someplace safe and wonderful.

She felt Spike begin to quiver as her muscles tightened around him and knew he was about to join her in a mutually explosive release. Reaching up with her mouth, she fastened her small little teeth on the skin of his throat and bit down as waves of pleasure washed over her. She heard Spike shout, "Buffy!" as he exploded into her. Then his fangs were on her neck and he sent her spiraling into another orgasm as he pulled long draughts of her rich blood into his mouth.

He soon stopped drinking, but remained inside her, cock still buried in her warmth and fangs still embedded in the skin of her throat. Slowly withdrawing his fangs and fading back into his human face, he whispered, "Mine," as he laved the wounds closed.

"Yours," she agreed, licking the droplets of blood coming from where she'd bitten his neck. "And you are mine."

"That I am, love," he said, raising his head and smiling down into her shocked eyes.

"I love you," she said, holding his gaze and preparing to hear him tell her he didn't love her.

"Not as much as I love you," was the totally unexpected answer.

"Wha-?" Buffy stared at him, taking in the softness of his gaze and the… soul?… she could see in there.

"Sp… Spike?" Hope battled with hard-won experience as she watched his eyes fill with tears.

He began to slowly rock his hips, never taking his glistening eyes from hers and the slow comprehension growing there.

"It's me, Buffy. I'm here. An' I'm not leavin'. Not for Dru, or the poof, or the soddin' Powers That Like to Mess With People. I'll never leave you again. Be here till we're both dust in the wind."

"Did I die again? Am I back in Heaven?" she whispered with genuine bewilderment "Aren't you already dust? Or ashes? Or something?"

"If I've got it figured out right – this is about as close to Heaven as either one of us is getting' for awhile. Seems our talents are needed in this world and the PTB thought we'd do a better job if we were together."

"You're real? You're really here and you're my Spike?"

She ran her hands over his face, stroking the scar on his eyebrow, running her fingers down his cheekbone and touching his full lower lip. He pulled her finger into his mouth and sucked on it as he assured her, " 'M as real as somebody who keeps not dyin' can be, love. And I'm definitely your Spike. Always was, always will be."

He gently licked the claim he'd placed on her neck. "And you're mine, Slayer. No half-arsed marks this time. Want the whole world to see those."

Throughout their conversation, he'd never stopped the gentle rocking of his hips and that small bit of friction had set up the inevitable urge for more. Suddenly Buffy flexed her muscles and flipped them over so that she was straddling him and squeezing her Slayer muscles around his cock.

"Oh, god, pet, I love it when you do that," he gasped, thrusting up into her.

"I know you do," she whispered back, as she slid up and down on him.

When he reached his hands forward and began kneading her breasts while she rode him, she moaned and leaned toward him.

"I missed you so much," she breathed. "I missed your hands on me, missed the way you kiss me, the way you love me…"

" 'M here now, love. I'll always be here; holdin' you, touchin' you, lovin' you. Never let you go…"

His hands on her waist held her down while he pushed up with his hips, watching her face as she gasped and whimpered her way to her climax. When she collapsed on his chest, her ragged breathing signaling her inability to continue just then, he wrapped his legs around hers and pinned her to his body while he continued to thrust in to her.

The angle of his hips put more friction on her clit and she moaned in his ear as he whispered to her, "Come with me, love. One more time. Come with me, sweetheart."

"Oh, Spike I can't…I…"

"Yes, you can, love. I know you can. Come for me, love. Come with me, Buffy."

"No… I… can't… couldn't… possibly… mmmmm… ooooh…. Spike! "

His answering shout as he found his release in her, sent another small thrill through her exhausted body before she went limp on top of him. He held her boneless body cradled in his arms, his breathing as fast and ragged as her own. When he could move again, he shifted her off to the side where she stayed, one leg thrown over his and her head resting on his chest.

For long minutes they were silent, lost in all the possible ramifications of where they were and how they got there. The vampire was immersed in the scent and feel of his slayer. The physical closeness they'd just begun to work their way back to when he'd had to use the power of his soul and the amulet to close the Hellmouth had in no way prepared either of them for such a reunion.

"If the PTB are expecting us to save this world, they're going to have to give me some time. I don't think I could stop Xander from eating a doughnut right now."

The deep chuckle that shook his chest sent a bolt of joy through her heart. She closed her eyes and gave silent thanks to the PTB for allowing them this second chance.

"I'm serious," she said, with as much energy as she could summon. "I couldn't stop a minor traffic accident right now, never mind an apocalypse."

"Yes, you could, love. If you had to, you could." He spoke with absolute certainty.

"Oh yeah? How do you know that? I might just be limp little Buffy for weeks."

He chuckled again and pulled her up so that he could plant light kisses on her face and mouth.

"Because I know you, my love. I know you."

The End