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They decided together that it was for the best the others didn’t know that the chip was out. Not right now, at least, with everyone still walking on eggshells and neck-deep in Illyria-related research around preparing for the nuptials. If anyone noticed the extra spring in Spike’s step or the extra glee in even the tamest threats he threw around, they didn’t mention anything.

In fact, on the subject of Spike and—more importantly—his relationship with Buffy, pretty much everyone had gone more or less silent. Except Dawn, whose new favorite pastime was randomly mentioning just how loud her sister screamed when she came, preferably right after someone—namely Xander or Giles—had taken a drink of something. And yeah, even though it was extraordinarily obnoxious, Buffy decided it was better to just suffer through rather than draw more attention to it by berating her sister. She’d already navigated the shoplifting-is-bad conversation with aplomb—likely aided by the fact that Dawn had somewhat anticipated it.

Also, it wasn’t like Dawn was lying. Though Buffy hadn’t really intended to give her housemates a surround-sound example of just exactly what she sounded like in bed, thoughts like that were kind of hard to conjure when Spike was helping her break furniture in her room. Before long, he was going to owe her a completely new bedroom suite. He’d already somewhat jury-rigged a repair on the bed they’d broken, but that quick fix was only going to get them so far.

The closer the day of the wedding grew, the more Buffy had to stifle the urge to follow-up with Xander and ask if he’d given any more thought to their conversation. In the time that had passed, neither one of them had so much as acknowledged it, though there was a new softness in Xander’s voice every time he spoke to her, and he seemed to be making a genuine effort with Spike. He also hadn’t done anything to indicate an intention to slow down or cancel his wedding, and had become a bit more affectionate with Anya—much to Anya’s delight—when they were all together. He’d even delivered Buffy’s bride’s maid dress in person, looking a bit sheepish.

“You probably already know how terrible this is,” he’d said, wrinkling his nose and thrusting the garment bag at her. “Unless you had someone erase your memory which, by the way, I so would not judge you for.”

“Unfortunately this is one memory that refused to be erased,” she’d replied and hugged him. And while the urge had been there to ask, she’d managed to bite it back. The fact that he had delivered her dress had in itself been a kind of answer.

Still, she wanted to be ready to take out the demon before he could get a chance to put his plan in action. Thus, on the day of the wedding, she forced herself out of bed well before she would have normally to get things in motion. Truthfully, she didn’t remember too many details about the day itself before the wedding that wasn’t, having been dragging herself out of a depression one agonizing inch at a time, but the smart move seemed to be to get ready and get to the church as early as possible to head-off potential party crashers.

Getting out of bed was admittedly easier without Spike in it. He’d stayed at the crypt the night before, something he only did now on occasion, and mostly just to maintain his claim on it and give the illusion that they weren’t actually living together. But as she’d learned in the final days of Sunnydale, Buffy slept a thousand percent better when Spike was curled around her. Without his familiar weight depressing his side of the bed, finding sleep was something of a chore, and the sleep she did manage was rather restless.

Buffy traipsed downstairs in a fog to put on the coffee. She wasn’t too surprised to find Willow already up and at the stove, making pancakes and looking like she hadn’t gotten more than a few winks, herself. Last night had been the last she’d spend at Revello Drive, per the agreement with Giles. After the wedding, she, Tara, and Giles were heading to the airport and getting on a plane to England.

It did kinda wig Buffy out that everyone she knew would essentially be MIA, but there was a bit of peace in that as well. Getting Tara away from the Hellmouth was the best way to assure that Warren, languishing behind bars as he awaited his trial, didn’t get a chance to fire that bullet. And Xander and Anya would return within a week from their honeymoon—again assuming they made it that far. Still, Buffy wasn’t sure she’d ever had the Hellmouth all to herself like this, and while she was confident in her and Spike’s ability to handle whatever arose, the prospect did have her a little on edge.

That and wondering how much fate could be dodged. Spike had assured her that nothing was decided, citing his experience with changing whatever Drusilla saw in the stars and Buffy’s own habit of defying prophecy as proof, but Buffy didn’t think she’d really stop holding her breath until summer rolled around and everyone was still nice and alive.

Oh, hell, who was she kidding? Buffy would never be through holding her breath.

“Good morning,” she said to Willow, trying for a normal smile. “Have you been up long?”

Willow looked up and fired back a forced smile of her own. “Couldn’t sleep. Kept going over the itinerary and worrying that I forgot to pack something.” She sighed, edged the spatula under one gooey flapjack and flipped it to the golden side. “Always wanted to go to England. Or travel abroad anywhere, really, but especially England. Never thought magical rehab would be the reason why I finally booked that flight.”

Buffy held her breath for a moment, then gave her friend what she hoped was a suitably reassuring shoulder pat. “You’re doing the right thing, Will. I know it’s…a lot. What I dumped on you and, well, everyone, but it is the right thing.”

“I know it’s the right thing,” Willow replied, pressing the spatula against the flapjack, then flipping it over again. “I feel it. And…would I be a horrible person if I admitted that I’m excited to get to use magic again? I mean, I know I shouldn’t, as out of control as I was…but I miss it. It’s like a part of me was amputated, only it wasn’t. Like a hand or something that is right there, working perfectly, but you can’t use it anymore. And after a while you get used to not relying on it, working with your other hand and relying on other senses to get you through, but you just know how much simpler your life would be if you could just use your hand again.” She blew out a breath, slid her finished pancake onto the plate beside the stove, then poured another serving of batter into the pan. “Does that make sense or am I just a crazy person, here?”

“It makes sense,” Buffy assured her. “Actually, you told me something like this once.”

“I did? Or, in the future? Your future?”

“After Sunnydale was gone and you’d done the spell that triggers all the Potentials. It was good magic, pure. Or that’s how you described it.” She shrugged. “And I get it—the way you feel now. It’s how I felt when Giles did that Crucia-whatever when I turned eighteen. Like a part of me was missing.”

She regretted mentioning Giles almost immediately for the way Willow whipped her head in her direction and regarded her with wide eyes that practically screamed a desire to broach what was more or less a verboten subject. Buffy had managed to dodge her friend’s attempts to discuss what had happened the night Giles had arrived home, and though she knew she was fighting a losing battle, she wasn’t sure now was the best time to get everything on the table.

Willow inhaled the next moment as though bracing herself. Apparently, she’d decided now was the moment. “Buffy…about Giles—”

“Probably not something we should talk about.”

“No, it’s definitely something we should talk about and I’m running out of time. It’s Giles.” She tore her gaze away long enough to flip the pancake. “I won’t pretend to understand any of what you’ve been through. Now or… Well, your then, my now.” She hesitated. “Xander told me. About your talk with him.”

“He did?”

“Yeah. He didn’t really wanna overwhelm me with all the other things that are going on, but he needed someone to bounce some stuff off of and…well, sometimes you’re a little intimidating. I think really intimidating now that you’re Miss Hindsight.” She flashed a brief smile as she transferred another flapjack to the plate. “I think I talked him into talking to Anya. Told him, at least, that I wish Tara and I had talked more—that I’d listened—when there was something that I could’ve done to keep her here. Really more that I had listened and not been so sure I was doing the right thing. Especially now, knowing what happened in the time you came from.”

Buffy pressed her lips together but didn’t say anything.

“I know things got bad with Giles. But nothing can be so bad that there’s no getting around it, right?” Willow moved to the cabinet to retrieve the syrup and pulled out a fork. “I mean, if I tried to kill you and end the world and you’re still friends with me, doesn’t that mean Giles deserves a little forgiveness, too?”

There was little denying the logic there was sound. Buffy sighed, deflating a little. “I never expected it to go the way it did with him,” she said softly. “He was the first person I told, aside from Spike, when I realized I was in Sunnydale again and the clock had been turned back. We weren’t exactly on great terms in my when but I hadn’t cut him out or anything. I wanted him here, obviously. But everything about sending me back… That it was based on nothing just…hit me raw. So much went wrong and hearing him essentially tell me that people I love aren’t worth saving over an educated guess was kinda the end.”

“No, totally. I get that,” Willow said in a rush as she doused her breakfast stack in syrup. “That is one-hundred-percent gotten by me. There’s no way I’m letting Tara die if I know what’s coming. A-and I definitely don’t want to become some megawitch who tries to end the world. Not on my to-do list, thank you very much. And maybe if I had these memories of other times Giles had been with the bad decisions, I’d feel differently. But people can just be wrong, you know? Giles can just be wrong.”

Yeah, the problem was he was just wrong a lot—arrogantly wrong, in some cases. And there was a good chance she was being self-recriminating, as well, because that arrogance had been her arrogance, too. Leaving Sunnydale after sending Angel to Hell because of how the deed had affected her. God, if she could, she’d go back and shake some sense into that stupid girl who had missed more than three months she’d kill to have back with her mother. Forcing Giles to accept Angel back once he’d returned, even after everything that had happened the year before—even knowing Angel wasn’t the same as Angelus, that didn’t make it any easier to watch the guy who had killed your girlfriend traipse around scot-free. Pretty much everything with Spike she’d have done differently, and a lot with Faith, too. A bunch of decisions she’d made believing she was completely in the right only to reflect upon with age and experience under her belt.

When Giles had returned to fight Willow, she’d told him she understood why he’d left her to navigate her post-after life without him, and that it had been the right call. At the time, she’d believed it, and she had for a while after that, too. Believed that standing on her own was what made her strong and anything else was a sign of weakness. But in the time that had elapsed since then, she’d decided that was wrong—that asking for help was its own strength. There had to have been a middle ground between leaning on Giles too much and not having him there at all to catch her fall.

Maybe there was a middle ground now.

“I’ll talk to him,” Buffy said at last. “I can’t promise anything beyond that, but I’ll talk to him.”

A smile broke across Willow’s face just as she stuffed a bite of pancake into her mouth. “That’s great!” she said around her mouthful. “I mean, good for you. I know he loves you a lot and these last few weeks—”

“I know. I love him too.” She sighed and was somewhat startled to realize her eyes were stinging. “I think that’s why it hurt so much. That someone who loves me, someone I love, can essentially think it’s better for me to be in a place where I was just getting by. This chance… It’s everything, Will. I thought for a minute there maybe I was wrong, but even what Zipporah wants in exchange is something I’d call a good.”

“Anya did speak very highly of her,” Willow agreed with a slight frown. “And yeah, maybe a bit with the weird that you seem to have won the demon lottery. But I get it. Something like this happens and the last thing you expect is for the bad vibes to come from someone you love and not, say, the demon responsible.”


“And…Spike? How are things going there?”

The question shouldn’t have caught her off guard, but it managed to anyway.

“Things are good,” Buffy replied in a carefully neutral tone. She’d shift gears once she figured out just what Willow was hinting around.

“Just good?”

No, not just good. Great. Fantastic, even. Better than even she could have thought, which was both weird and completely not at the same time. Spike being domestic in any regard was something she’d always had difficulty envisioning, and while their version of domestic was hardly Martha Stewart Living, it was…nice. Carving out their own little bit of normal in the heat of everything else. He was still loud, bad, and rude, still got on her nerves every time he got a chance and said things at times that ruffled the feathers of her inner slayer, but it was all him. Spike as she’d never let herself experience him. There were the occasional missteps, but they were small and manageable, and they were navigating them together.

Buffy met Willow’s eyes again, and it occurred to her just how long it’d been since she’d done the girl-talk thing and how much she missed it. After she and Riley had fallen into their routine, and especially after he’d left town, her life had been too chaotic to really make a dating effort. There had been flirtage with Ben, which had gone nowhere—thankfully, because how awful would it have been to have another boyfriend try to end the world? Then this year, she’d been so detached from her friends and more than content to stay that way, and Willow had been neck-deep in her own relationship issues to really pay much attention to Buffy. Not that Buffy had been in a place to let her.

Then the following year, Willow had voiced concern over Buffy’s growing relationship with Spike and…well, so had everyone else. There had been that brief flirtation with Wood but it had been doomed from the offset for obvious reasons.

“Why does everybody in this house think I’m still in love with Spike?”

Neither she nor Willow had ever mentioned that slip, but hell, she’d thought about it. A lot. Explained it away, done whatever she could to pretend it hadn’t been the admission it was.

These were different circumstances and with a slightly different Willow. And since Willow was about to leave for an indeterminate amount of time, this might be the last chance Buffy got to do the girly thing for a while.

“I’m honestly not sure if I expected it to be as good as it is,” Buffy found herself saying a moment later, mouth in a hurry to get ahead of her brain. “I was so hung up on this idea of normal. Or having normal—being normal. It…screwed me up romantically. I mean, when I found out Riley was in the Initiative, my first instinct was to run for the hills, remember?”

Willow offered a small smile. “Boyfriend in the job.”

“Yeah, which… I know I obviously got over that, but he was your regular Joe kinda guy, you know? Plus I wouldn’t have to explain that monsters are real to him, and he can take care of himself?” She sighed. “I think if I couldn’t make normal work with Riley, there’s no way it’d work with anyone. And that’s what pushed him away, too. That and I was so closed off from him—I never loved him the way he loved me. Or the way I loved Angel. The way I love Spike now.”

“Your love for Spike is Angel-level?”

Buffy snorted. “It’s more than that, Will. It’s…grown up. And equal. Angel and I were never equals—I was stronger but always felt inferior. I was also a kid in my first real relationship and Angel was, I think, too invested in this idea of me as his way to redeem himself. I’m not sure if we were ever real with each other. The relationship we had when he came back was nothing like the one we’d had before he went evil—we were good but… I don’t know.” A pause. She released a breath. “I don’t think I ever really appreciated just how much that changed me, though. With Lothos and the Master, even though the Master managed to kill me, it wasn’t personal. I was able to face it and then party and the whole creature-of-the-night boyfriend angle seemed so exciting—forbidden and romantic, you know? But when Angel went bad, everything that he did to me after that was personal. It changed me and I didn’t really realize how much until, well…”


“For starters,” she agreed, nodding. “We kinda relitigated the entire relationship. I didn’t want to at first, but my doctor said—and she was right—that it was the root of everything I felt with not just Spike but Riley and even Parker. I was reacting to Angel’s leaving when I jumped into bed with Parker—he left so I could do stuff like that so that’s what I did. And then Riley… I just never let him close enough. Spike, I never thought could get close enough so I wasn’t really paying attention. And when we first started sleeping together and he would call me on stuff, I’d throw back that what we had wasn’t normal. We would never read the paper together or go on normal dates. He spent time trying to convince me that normal wasn’t what I wanted—what I wanted was to be in the dark with him, and to a degree he was right. When we were at our worst, I did want him to pull me down in the dark. I wanted to be swallowed up by it, but I knew if I stayed there I’d suffocate. And I resented him for it—for being what I needed, and I took it out on him.” Buffy looked to the island, the scent of Willow’s breakfast-making her tummy grumble. There better be enough batter left over for second helpings. “I told him, when I realized I was back here, that I couldn’t do that anymore. That he couldn’t try to pull me under and that’s not where I belonged, but that he could come out with me. I had no idea what he’d be like in a real relationship but it’s… Will, it’s so nice.”

Willow waggled her eyebrows and stuffed another bite of pancake into her mouth. “Nice, huh?”

Buffy bit the inside of her cheek to keep from grinning, though it was a wasted effort. “Some parts are admittedly nicer than others. It’s not perfect—he bleached his hair here a few days ago and ruined one of Mom’s good towels and I thought I might actually stake him there for a second, but then… I honestly don’t even remember how that fight ended.”

“My money’s on with your legs in the air.”

Well, that seemed reasonable. “Probably. Fighting turns him on.”

“Just him?”

“I plead the fifth.” Since their first actual couple’s argument about Zipporah and the anticlimactic ask, there hadn’t been much occasion to actually go at each other. The towel incident had been accompanied by a few others, namely the what-qualifies-as-an-ashtray discussion and how it wasn’t okay to leave blood-crusted dishes in the sink. That she was keeping bagged blood in her refrigerator for him was monumental enough, but explaining why the flatware looked like it had been used to stab someone to a social services representative was not on her to-do list. At least the bagged blood could be concealed in other containers.

“I’m happy for you,” Willow said, and though she sounded exhausted, there was enough genuine warmth in her voice for Buffy to believe she meant it. “And…for what it’s worth, I can see it, too. I mean, you’ve been different ever since the time-jump thing, and for obvious reasons, but… I don’t remember you being like this with Riley. Or Angel, actually. You guys were always all with the serious. All work and no play kinda thing. You seem to play more with Spike.”

Oh lord, she had no idea. Buffy felt her cheeks go a bit warm. “Thanks.”

“I’m glad. Sincerely.”

And there seemed nothing else to say on the subject. A few moments lapsed as Willow focused on her pancakes, the scrape of the fork against the plate a bruise in the air. After she was done, she gave everything a rinse, then wiped her hands and checked the time.

“Damn. I better go get Dawnie up,” she said, heading for the hallway.

Buffy frowned. It was still early enough that, were she to try and get her sister out of bed, things would undoubtedly be thrown at her face. “We have time.”

“I told her I’d take her to get her hair and makeup done for the wedding,” Willow replied. “My little goodbye gift while I’m in… Well, while I’m away.” She paused, then turned, nibbling on her lower lip. “I didn’t overstep, did I? It seemed like a good thing to do but I should’ve checked with you first. Make sure you didn’t have any sister-stuff planned.”

Again, Buffy bit the inside of her cheek, though this time to keep the first thing that had crossed her mind from escaping her lips. While Willow had definitely stepped up with a few of the household things—namely groceries and utilities—she hadn’t made mention of helping out with other expenses since Spike had first made mention that Buffy was the one apparently expected to shoulder all financial responsibility. And yeah, Buffy understood that Willow was a student and without the reliable income, but honestly, she was getting money somewhere.

“Uh oh.” Willow had gone a bit pink. “Did I step in it?”

Buffy forced herself to relax and shook her head. Getting Willow clean was the number one priority on the action-item list. They’d figure the money stuff out like they had before. “No,” she said. “I think Dawn will enjoy some QT before you leave. She’s all with the supportive, but… Well, abandonment issues.”

Losing her mother and sister within a ninety-day span would do that.

Willow relaxed and nodded. “Okay. That’s what I thought. Don’t worry—I won’t let her make horrible makeup choices.”

A memory struck from nowhere—Dawn, four or five years old, lipstick streaked across her mouth and teeth, her cheeks ruby red and her eyes a disaster zone. Their mother had thrown a holy fit—apparently, the cosmetics she’d gotten into had been of the expensive variety, the sort their father bought and insisted Joyce wear whenever they went out anywhere as a family. The perfectly made-up trophy wife. Dawn had cried and darted between their mother’s legs when Joyce had come at her with a wet rag, then crawled under her bed and refused to come out until assured she could wear the makeup consequence-free until Hank arrived home.

Buffy snickered in spite of herself. “I dunno. Sometimes her horrible makeup choices are laugh-worthy. And we don’t know yet how today will go.”

“I think we do.” Willow offered a half-smile. “Thanks to you.”

She didn’t know how to take that, so she opted not to reply. Willow seemed to take her non-response as a cue that the conversation was over, and headed down the hall.

Leaving Buffy to the list of things she needed to get done before heading to the church.

* * * * *

One of the things she’d insisted on was an actual suit. If Spike was going to be her date to this thing, he needed to dress the part. Tie. Jacket. No slayer-killing trophy. He’d put up a fight—or pretended to—rolled his eyes and muttered a few things along the lines of, “Dress me up like a bloody Ken doll,” and, “Gonna look like a right git.” Spike didn’t do suits, apparently, except on very rare occasions. Rare occasions called the 1920s.

Granted, he hadn’t put up too much of a genuine fight. Much. And she might have played a bit dirty, mentioning the time Angel had shown up at her prom looking like James Bond. Cheating? Sure, but it had had the desired outcome. Both of them, actually. Spike had agreed to monkey-up and he’d punished her soundly for using that tactic. So soundly she’d limped a little the following day.

Suffice to say, Buffy was looking forward to seeing him all fancied up. He’d brought the suit over after buying it—or stealing it; she hadn’t asked questions—and shoved it in her closest. Better at her place than at the crypt, he’d said, and she’d agreed, especially since he was spending less and less time there. Not that it was what a scavenging demon would necessarily be drawn to, but better safe than sorry.

Spike barreled into the kitchen under his smoking blanket about an hour after Willow had traipsed upstairs to get Dawn out of bed, and just in time to help Buffy salvage the mess she’d made of the pancakes she’d been attempting to make.

“Thought we decided you’re better off stayin’ outta the kitchen, pet,” he teased, managing to flip a flapjack before it turned to rubber.

“I really didn’t think there was a way to mess these up.” Buffy sighed and watched him make quick work of her almost-culinary disaster. “We’re a bit behind schedule. Dawn, being on teenager-time, has taken approximately forever in the bathroom, so I haven’t had a shower yet. You better go first because I will probably be in there for a while, girling up.”

He turned to her, his brow wrinkled. “Go on, then. I’m all set. Had a wash at the crypt.”

“Spike, it’s a wedding. You’re going to need to shower like a people in a place with actual indoor plumbing.”

He rolled his eyes. “Bloody wench.”

“Yes, aren’t I a horrible person for wanting my boyfriend to smell good at a fancy event?”

That was all it took, apparently—calling him her boyfriend. Almost instantly, the scowl melted from his face and he favored her with that goofy-happy smile that never failed to make her knees shake in the best way. Spike cupped her cheeks and took her mouth in a soft kiss. “All you had to do was ask, love,” he murmured, then winked. “I’ll pick up the wet towels and everything.”

Buffy snickered and turned. “Lemme make this as easy for you as possible,” she said, leading him down the hall. “I’ll get your suit out of my closet. I assume you know where to find the towels?”

“What, you think I started knicking stuff from this place yesterday?”

“These are things a good slayer would not find endearing,” she said as she started up the stairs.

Spike apparently couldn’t resist the temptation that was her ass in his face and gave said ass a pinch. “Good thing there are no good slayers around then, right?” he teased, coming up so close behind her he was practically on top of her. “Just naughty ones.”

Yeah, this was so not the time for her libido to overtake her brain, but when he said things like that, her legs made with the wobbly and the rest of her just wanted to rub all over him. “Stop,” she hissed, turning to face him when she reached the landing. “Bad Spike.”

He just grinned unrepentantly and waggled his tongue. “Very, very bad. Can show you just how bad if you like.”

“Later. After the nuptials.”

“I’ll cart you over the threshold and everything. Ooh, that could be fun.” He rocked a bit on his heels. “Wanna play pop-the-cherry tonight, pet?”

“Bound to be better than the real thing. I am at least reasonably certain you won’t go evil and start murdering my teachers tomorrow.”

“No more evil than usual, at least,” he agreed and neared to kiss her. “Better get scrubbin’ before my evil instincts take over.” A pause. “Could join me, if you like.”

At that, she wilted, which she hated because it made the light in Spike’s eyes dim in response.

He took a step back, hands coming up, and plastered on a weak smile. “Sorry, pet. Didn’t mean to—”


“No, I shouldn’t have. I know you’ll tell me when something changes.”

It was awful, that forced smile, more so because she knew just how beautiful the real one was. With Willow and Tara leaving town and Xander and Anya hopefully making their honeymoon this time, Buffy felt she might actually have the chance to process her remaining issues where the bathroom was concerned. She hadn’t had yet bothered to ask around for a new therapist—one skilled in all things otherworldly—but it was definitely still something she wanted to do. Something she felt would help her navigate whatever came next.

Buffy headed to her room on autopilot, grabbed the suit from her closet, and marched back to the bathroom. Spike was already in there, disrobing, and she forced herself not to tense up too much as she hung the suit on the back of the bathroom door, though she knew he could hear how hard her heart was pounding. She didn’t fully breathe again until she was safely back in the hallway, and spent the next few minutes waffling between berating herself and telling herself that it was okay, she was allowed to react like that.

Which was entirely true—it’d just be easier if Spike understood.

Easier on her. Hell on him. And she was in too deep now to walk it back. Far too deep.

Buffy occupied the next few minutes going through her room and collecting the things she’d need to get ready. The radioactive dress, for one, and the makeup she’d decided was not too horrific. There were the shoes she’d bought to complement said radioactive dress—as best they could, anyway—and the pieces she’d chosen to do her hair. In all honesty, she didn’t remember what all she’d done the last time around and figured that it wasn’t necessary to follow the template precisely. All she needed to do was make sure she got there with enough time to spare before the demon claiming to be future Xander got anywhere near the real Xander. Also, bridesmaid stuff, though she’d more or less entrusted Willow and Tara with the bulk of it.

Spike thankfully took quick showers—she hadn’t been sure that would be the case now, since her only other experience with it had been when he’d been one of a dozen or so housemates, most being teenage girls. In a few minutes, he’d tumbled out of the bathroom once more, a towel wrapped around his waist and his platinum curls looking extra cute all wet and rumpled. In fact, he looked so thoroughly delectable she wanted to weep that she didn’t have time to enjoy the sexy in all its glory.

“You’re staring, pet,” he said as he moved to ease by her and into the bedroom. “Better roll up that tongue before you get me all dirty again.”

“Wahh.” She stuck out her lower lip. “Being a responsible adult is so not worth it.”

“Coulda told you that.” Spike neared and sucked her protruding lower lip between his teeth, which she would have found totally inappropriate if it weren’t for the fact that this was the outcome she’d been hoping for. And hey, any excuse to press herself close to a wet and naked Spike was one she was going to take. Though as was common with them, one kiss led to two, which led to five, which led to them making out and her back pressed against the wall. The material at his waist began to tent, and in seconds, he was grinding his cock against her and growling little needy rumbles into her mouth.

At some point, perhaps when oxygen became a concern, Buffy planted her hands on his firm, marblesque chest and gave him a shove. Sure, it was a weak shove, but one he respected all the same. Damn him.

“My turn to destinkify,” she said with a sigh, running her fingers over one of his nipples. “Then we better go make with the responsibility.”

“I’m your armpiece. You’re the responsible one.”

“Phooey.” She kissed him again, then made her way to the bathroom, where the air was soupy and pleasant-smelling and the mirrors were still somewhat steamy.

It would be nice, sharing this space with him. Number one item on her to-do list following the wedding—getting her dysfunctional rear-end into therapy stat. She needed to tell someone about these things to help her work through to the other side.

Buffy fell into a quick rhythm, disrobing and starting up the shower as she began to, once again, mentally go through what she remembered of the first time she’d attended this wedding. There had been an unfortunate bit of stalling in front of the guests, and of course confronting Spike, who had shown up with a date he’d chosen to make her jealous.

Succeeded in making her jealous, and she’d been good enough to tell him that. Tell him that and not much else. While she maintained that she’d made the right call at the time, there was a lot more in what she could have said or done to have eased the blow. But then, she’d also been elbow-deep in sorting through her own issues, trying to do what was right for her and a bit tunnel-visioned.

Buffy was just about to climb under the spray when his voice cut through the air.

“Bugger, forgot the bleeding monkey suit,” Spike said, ducking his head inside and reaching around for the suit still hanging on the back of the bathroom door—the same she’d somehow not seen when she’d shut it. “Not used to—Slayer?”

She didn’t realize she’d crashed against the back wall until he turned his eyes on her—didn’t realize a lot of things. Like the fact that she couldn’t feel her legs, or that her lungs were having a hard time sucking in air. Her hands tingled and her chest ached, and all she could see was him stepping inside the bathroom and closing the door behind him. Telling her that they needed to talk.

Her throat tightened and her eyes watered, her heart jackhammering so hard against her ribs the thought I’m dying flooded through her head with such alarming certainty she expected the world to black out. Logically, in some distant, academic part of her mind, she understood exactly what was happening. A panic attack. Not her first, not even her first since she’d been back, but definitely the worst, because suddenly she wasn’t in this when anymore. She was there. It was that night. She was hurt and he was here and he was in so much pain and then he’d been on top of her, out of his mind and tearing at her robe and—

“Please don’t,” Buffy managed to choke out. “Please, Spike, please.”

For a moment, the two Spikes—the one in her head and the one she’d spent the past weeks building something new with—merged and became one. Because that was the look on his face, slacken with horror and realization, with disbelief but understanding. And the panic resumed at full blast, knocking her to her ass even as her body tried desperately to reassert control.

Then he was gone, the door shut firmly behind him. And though she wanted to, needed to move, she couldn’t. Buffy just sat there, shaking and crying and screaming at herself as the shower ran and the heat rose, sinking deeper into emotional quicksand.

It was all over now.