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When the sun has completed most of its daily journey across the sky to set her westward bedroom curtains aglow, Buffy slinks out of bed, careful not to disturb her prone bedmate, who’s sleeping like a baby. Or Kilo, the dog curled up, also asleep, at the foot of the other half of the bed. She picks up the pajama top slung haphazardly on the duvet and, after a moment of hesitation, creeps to her closet to drop into the laundry hamper. She won’t be needing it tonight.

In fact, she’s not sure why she bothered with it for the nap. It was a present from Willow, picked up on one of her spiritual sojourns; a set of silk pajamas the color of muted magenta which in candlelight, gives off a pretty, bluish sheen. “Super Pink” was the name of the color, which Willow’s enclosed note said had reminded her of Buffy in more ways than one.

Buffy wishes she had the guts to confess to her friend that, super or not, pajamas really don’t stand a chance against her vampire bedmate, who in one way or another will have her sleep in the nude, same as him. Buffy and Willow have made their peace long ago and grown closer again over the years, but something about the origin of their friendship dating back to ninth grade has always made it difficult for Buffy to bring up adult topics, such as sleeping attire dictated by her boyfriend, during their semi-regular phone calls.

Well, she could always donate them to the Salvation Army.

She steals a look at her vampire lover, his body reposeful like a Greek statue, gleaming alabaster skin belying a lithe powerful body, tinted golden by the sunlit curtains to match the color of his tousled curls. She meant to take a catnap, but, well...once Spike found himself a warm and pliant Buffy in their bed, things escalated rather quickly. Then she’d slept much longer than intended.

Just as well. Spike had caught wind in one of the demon bars that someone was hiring Fyarl demons. Everyone knows that Fyarls are good for one thing only: destruction and mayhem, and not even the fun kind (as Spike would say and Buffy would glare at him in response). You don’t post an ad for Fyarls just for an innocent hand of poker. Buffy and Spike have prepared for an all-nighter to track down and confront the new Big Bad in town.

Getting dressed, she quickly spots her jeans and bra, stacked neatly on the corner bench.

Her thong took a bit of a search, until she slides a knowing hand under her sleeping vampire’s pillow. Eureka! She suppresses a smile and shimmies it on. Old habits die hard. No matter how long they’ve been together, Spike still snatches and stashes her underwear every chance he gets. She’s flush now--the Council run by Giles pays her (“Slayer Emeritus”) a handsome salary these days, even though assignments rarely come her way. Plenty of slayerettes eager to take on bigger challenges and move up the ranks. Buffy consults on matters of strategy, which she never thought was her strength. Regardless of the comfortable balance she enjoys in her bank account, though, having to keep replenishing her underwear drawer still takes a bit of a toll on her budget.

When she finally confronted Spike about it, he had mumbled something about taking her with him wherever he went, and as an act of contrition, surrendered from his back pocket one pair of her underwear. At the time, Buffy had scrunched up her nose to register her dismay, but secretly she was moved to the point of speechlessness.

By any stretch of definition Spike’s the long-haul guy now, but they have no promises between them, no formal agreements or vows beyond the here and now. Not that she couldn’t have them if she wanted. He’s still love’s bitch, and not the leaving type. But she doesn’t need words of reassurance, of “til death do us part”. She’s had plenty of those promises back in the day, and, well, those guys eventually did leave. And death has never stopped either Buffy nor Spike. As for conventions a normal couple might expect, Buffy hasn’t cared about those things in a long time. They have each other, and Kilo too, and...well, it feels right. Nothing lacking. Nothing more needed.

She knew better, though, than to give him the satisfaction of knowing how affected she was by his gesture. His ego didn’t need to get any bigger, that’s for sure. Nor did she want to encourage his emotional, or rather, olfactory, clinginess. At any rate, after that moment of truth, she let the matter go.

She quietly slips on her jeans and an unfussy white tank top, twisting her bed hair into a messy ponytail. White is not the most practical color for a life spent in slayage, even if it’s more freelance than obligatory these days. But the way it made Spike’s eyes bulge and gloss over and his jaws slacken, after they’d taken out an entire nest of vampires in the Presidio one night--her hair windswept, white tank top clinging to her body, damp from a light sheen of sweat, chest heaving from effort, and ahem, nipples standing to attention in the cool ocean breeze--Spike almost tackled her to the dew-covered ground to have her right then. And, well, a girl doesn’t forget being drooled over like that. They did make it to the bed that night, barely, and made love as night lightened to day. First fiercely, blazing like firestarter to flame. Then tenderly, like the caresses of the wispy clouds upon the eastern sky. Then somewhere in between, gentle rocking of fused bodies still trembling with afterglow, craving for more. Until sated, and they surrendered to sweet sleep in each other’s arms, bodies pressed tight as in the height of passion. Suffice to say, it made quite an impression on Buffy.

Once stealthily dressed, she motions for a hopeful Kilo to stay, grabs a few essentials, and tiptoes out of their duplex situated at the top of the hill in Bernal Heights. The real estate agent went on and on about the view, which was and still is breathtaking. But Buffy and Spike are warriors, and that predator sense in both of them appreciated the strategic location of the house even more. Its hilltop location is perfect for lookouts, while its strenuous uphill approach simultaneously impedes enemy invasions and quickens pursuits from their homebase.

She saunters down the hill towards the neighborhood butcher shop with the retro, distressed sign she likes. Given the nice weather, Buffy thinks they could have a picnic in the park located practically next door. She hasn’t checked with Spike, but they’ve long reached this comfort zone of coupledom, where one half can make decisions for the whole without accusations about presumptions or fear of recriminations. Where surprises like impromptu picnics are embraced with gusto. There’s a Safeway and a Whole Foods nearby, and a plethora of mom-and-pop grocery stores in the Mission, but she prefers the charm of this friendly Bernal gem, multi-purpose as a butcher shop, a sandwich shop, and an Italian fine food boutique. It’s the kind of store that would’ve fit right in a small town like Sunnydale. Buffy feels an affinity for it, as the store conveniently feeds all three of them in her household.

She efficiently picks up their usual to-go order: a panini (roasted tomatoes with provolone & mozzarella) and a fresh lemonade for her, a quart of fresh pig’s blood for him (warmed over in the microwave because she’s friends with the owners by now), and two strips of bacon as a treat for Kilo. Tia rings up the order, handing back loose change with gossip on ownership change at the bar next door. The new guy working the panini station flirts with Buffy, until Tia stage-whispers, “She’s Spike’s girlfriend!” and he blanches. Buffy hides a secret smile. Reformed Big Bad or not, he still has such a reputation.

Waving a warm goodbye, she’s already out the door, and with a glance to the western sky, decides on a brief detour. Dawn’s birthday’s coming up, so Buffy has been combing local shops for something special. She spots a hanging glass bubble terrarium twinkling bewitchingly in a store window, a delicate orb with small ventilation openings like skylights over an oval side opening. It reminds her of mom’s heirloom glass Christmas ornaments, which for all of mom’s nagging for careful handling and her years of vigilant compliance, lie buried at the bottom of Sunnydale Crater, glittering no more.

She edges closer for a better look. Inside the tiny world carpeted in thick moss over moist soil, a slender fern with glossy leaves nestles next to a supple plant with textured, fuzzy leaves, two-toned in a web of lime green and burgundy. Buffy makes a quick calculation. The plants won’t survive shipping to England, but with plenty of packing peanuts for protection, the terrarium orb should make it. Maybe she could ask the shopkeeper, and write down the names of the plants for Dawn to bring to a local gardener to replenish for her own.

Buffy likes the idea of giving Dawn something calming and full of life as a present. Being the Slayer’s kid sister has meant a childhood full of death and turmoil, and now that Dawn has finished school and accepted an offer from Giles to work for the Council, it only guarantees more to come. Buffy pictures the bright-eyed young woman surrounded by dusty, moldy books on cryptic spells and prophecies, in ancient, dead languages like Akkadian and Sumerian, and her heart breaks a little. But Dawn’s an adult now, quick-witted and courageous, and has finally come out from under Buffy’s shadow. She briefly wonders if Dawn’s origin as the Key may still be exerting a pull on her into the world of magic and mystics. Buffy would’ve preferred to shield her from all of it, but it comes down to Dawn’s choice, not hers, and Buffy has finally learned to respect that, and wish her sister luck.

She makes a mental note to return for the purchase when the post office is open, and walks back briskly uphill to Holly Park, her canvas grocery bag swinging gently and her ponytail bouncing. The sun has just dipped behind Diamond Heights in the west, giving off that magic diffuse light that is so pretty. A smile tugs at the corners of her lips, because if she knows her vampire lover at all--and she dares say she does--he’d be out there already, risking that last ray of sunshine just to meet her a little earlier. She extends her senses to hone in on those barely-there tingles, like a homing device that always leads her back to him, and him to her. It’s comforting, incredibly so. Ever present. Never having to ask. Knowing he’s there. Knowing that he knows she’s there too.

She lets her tingles direct her to him, catching him poised to toss a ball at an enthusiastic Kilo. He pauses mid-throw and turns to flash her that impossible smile of his, and Buffy can’t help but admire that graceful body, those strong arms, the eyes that, even from this distance, lock onto her. The ball is thrown, but Kilo abandons his post to intercept Buffy and the two strips of bacon she’s carrying. Spike curses, then--sod the ball--he’s running to Buffy too, then bends to kiss her, full on the lips, long and deep.

And she allows her body to melt into his and to linger blissfully, even as she hears wolf whistles and good-natured teases of “Get a room!” He’s finally convinced her of the virtues of PDA, and she’s making up for lost time. Kilo is going berserk, circling the two of them, barking and whining, nudging at the bag.

Finally, they part, sharing a charged look that promises “to be continued”. Buffy marvels a little at that, how natural this coupleness feels between them, how it makes her heart flutter, how it fans the flame--even without the tease of her withholding or self-denial, the angst of “will he or won’t he”. They’re solid now, aren’t they? How far they’ve come, the both of them, and together as well.

The wind has yet to pick up but the air is already chilly, so they snuggle up under the fiery sky on a picnic blanket spread over dry grass, as Buffy hands Spike his thermos of blood, and unwraps her sandwich. Spike chugs half of the blood right away, then leisurely sips the rest of it after lacing it with scotch from his handy flask and stirring it with his finger. This is their golden hour, the slayer and her creature of the night of a lover, coming together, each meeting the other half way. A quiet picnic at the top of the city. Almost like a normal couple, but without trying too hard.

The weather is accommodating: clear skies, no fog, visibility virtually unlimited. They’ve shared a hell of a past, a tangled mess of a history, with so many deaths between them, so many missed opportunities. It hurts to think, she cringes to remember, so it makes no sense to question, to dig, to peel away the scabs to poke at the raw wounds beneath. Fortunately, she was never existential to begin with. They’re both do-ers instead of thinkers, and that suits them just fine. They’ve simply risen above it, put it all behind, like the city by the bay glistening below, coming to life as the sky darkens, mysterious and alluring but quiet in the distance.

Buffy isn’t one to make long term plans: still a slayer, the looming expiration date still looms, though perhaps not so pressingly since she activated the band of slayerettes. But sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with Spike (or fighting side-by-side), savoring the tacit reassurance of each other, she thinks she could get used to the present. Kilo has long finished his bacon, and is now eyeing Buffy’s sandwich intently. So is Spike, who with vampire speed manages to snag a piece of focaccia from Buffy’s grasp. She puts on a good show of protesting, and Kilo, fired up, barks a storm as they tackle each other, fake-wrestling for the rest of her sandwich. Their laughter rises, carrying far in the still night air, chasing shadows of the past away. It’s done, the why or the how and all the stop-starts unimportant now. Their future stretches infinite before them.