Actions

Work Header

Reprise

Chapter Text

If this was a magic trip, she’d definitely had worse ones.

One moment she’d been sitting at a bar, chatting with some demon who had reminded her so much of Anya she’d expected Xander to pop by at any moment and propose marriage; the next, Buffy had found herself sling-shotted into one hell of an orgasm, white-hot shots of pleasure scoring through her with bone-rattling intensity she'd thought was well behind her. And as more of her brain came online, other things shot into focus. Things like the rough grunts against her lips, the scrape of the floor against her back, and the sensation of a hard cock pounding into her. Buffy dug her fingers into a powerful set of biceps, tightening her legs around a slim, familiar waist on instinct, and gazed up into a cobalt stare she’d spent the past two years chasing in her dreams.

“Oh god,” she gasped, a tangle of conflicting emotions seizing her chest—elation, confusion, fear, grief, and joy twisted so intimately she couldn’t begin to pull all the threads apart. All she could do was hold onto him as he fucked her, and hope against hope that if she held on tight enough, she could pull him with her into the real world once this dream ended.

But this didn’t feel like a dream. Even the most vivid dreams came with tells—the edges were somewhat blurry, and finer details like his scent, the way he’d grinned, and the soft little gasps he’d fed her never crossed over.

Then he closed his eyes, and there was no mistaking that look. How he whimpered when he tensed and came, but more than that—how he seemed split between euphoria and despair. It was something she’d always noticed but tried to ignore during their tumultuous affair, the knowledge that he was holding off as long as he could to keep her with him. Because Spike had the script down—he knew what came next. The instant she climaxed he was on borrowed time. Just a matter of seconds before she shoved him off and made for the door, usual threats ringing behind her. So he’d keep going, keep fucking her as long as he could, until she flexed her muscles around him and he couldn’t fight it any longer.

Buffy had never seen that look in a dream. Not once. Hell, until this moment, she’d forgotten about it.

Which meant this was real. Somehow, some way, this was real.

More than that, it was familiar. Oddly, specifically familiar. The next thing she knew, Spike had rolled away and lay panting beside her. Those intoxicating, lung-filling breaths that he didn’t need to take but did anyway, and the scenery crystallized even further. The ceiling of a crypt buried under a town’s worth of rubble, the foot of a bed that had more than one broken spring thanks to her, the rough sensation of a rug against her skin.

She knew this. She’d been here before. It was there at the edges of her memory. And before she could stop herself, Buffy opened her mouth and said, “We missed the bed again.”

Spike grinned and looked at her with that goofy daze he often wore after they’d had tremendously good sex. “Lucky for the bed.”

And that was it. Something within her snapped. Buffy found herself in motion the next second, straddling the still-panting Spike, seizing him by the shoulders and hauling him up so she could maul his lips with hers. He seemed stunned stupid for a second before he growled and tugged her closer, funneling his fingers through her hair to hold her mouth against him. This was another thing dreams couldn’t get right—the way Spike kissed. With his whole being, always. Hungry and desperate and needy. Like she was the thing that kept him from dust.

But in the end, that hadn’t been enough. Nothing had.

That thought hit her with the impact of a battering ram. Buffy tensed against him, felt him tense in turn, and burst into hard, body-shaking tears.

God, this was real. Really real. All of it.

“Slayer,” Spike said, and the worry in his voice nearly did her in all over again. “Buffy, love, what’s wrong?” A pause. “Didn’t hurt you, did I?”

She shook her head, trying to focus on him but it was no use. “No. It’s…” A smile tried to take over her mouth but it felt more like a wince. “You’re here.”

He went still—that deathly still that she knew so well. The sort that told her he was weighing her mood, unsure whether or not she considered his being here a good thing. Because this was Spike as she’d known him before. Before the soul, before the Hellmouth had collapsed, before he’d been resurrected just to die again, the big jerk. This was the Spike she’d used and abused, the one who loved her unconditionally and gave himself freely whenever she asked. No matter how much she made it hurt.

“Yeah,” he said slowly. “Can’t turn me into a different bloke, love, no matter how hard you try.”

God, that voice too. Buffy cupped his cheeks and pulled him into her, desperate to taste him again. Feel him. Remember.

“It’s you,” she said against his mouth. “It’s really you.”

The tense muscles against her began to relax, then he was kissing her back with enthusiasm, lips and tongue and teeth in the heady combination that had always been just a bit too much for her. Too much yet not enough. “’Course it’s me,” he said, and released a giddy laugh. Like he couldn’t believe it, either. “Reckon on sharin’ why you thought I might be someone else? Not that I’m complainin’…rather like that you seem so bloody chuffed about seein’ me. Just a bit lost on who you thought was shagging you just now.”

Buffy pressed her brow to his, running her fingertips along his cheekbones, over his scarred eyebrow, then his lips. So much she’d denied herself.

“Slayer…” He favored her with a soft grin. “Enjoyin’ the hell outta this, but better to know now if you got bit by some spell before a fella starts thinkin’ things.”

“Things?”

“Like how you might actually fancy me a bit after all.” This he said without a flinch, though there was a somber undertone to the words that nothing could eradicate. Something she’d noticed more and more the longer their affair had gone on, though before he’d started talking about how she belonged in the dark with him. Like he couldn’t quite dare himself to hope too much, but also couldn’t stop himself from hoping at all.

“Spike…” Buffy looked around the crypt again, the cool air hitting her face and making her aware of her drying tears. “This… I’m sorry, I’m just trying to figure this out.”

“Makes two of us.”

“It’s 2002, isn’t it?”

At this, he narrowed his eyes, real concern leaking in there at last. “Uhh, yeah,” he said, reaching up to tug on her hair in an affectionate way she hadn’t let him get away with more than twice. “Been it for a couple of months now. Rang in the New Year at the Bronze with your chums. Fingered you in the broom-closet, if memory serves.”

Heat tinged Buffy’s cheeks. “Okay. And if you and I are still doing this, that means Riley hasn’t shown up yet.”

“The bleeding hell do you mean by that?”

“Spike, you need to listen—”

“Can’t tell me you still miss that tosser. We both know Wonder Bread couldn’t keep up with you on his best day. You’re a sodding animal. Got the bite marks to prove it, if you’d like a peek.”

“God, shut up.” She rolled her head back and begged the cosmos for patience because with the extreme good also came the annoying. The annoying being his defensiveness and insecurities which, yes, she acknowledged she was more or less responsible for stoking, but that was so not the point now. “Spike, when I woke up this morning, it was 2004. May of 2004, to be exact.”

Nothing for a moment. He just stared at her like she’d lost her marbles. Well, at first. Then, slowly, the doubt in his gaze began to wane, taking with it the hard edges that had been there.

“Right then,” he said. “So who did it this time? Red go on a bloody bender? Guessin’ her little rehab didn’t take.”

“What? No—well, no, it didn’t, but that’s…a whole different story.” Buffy pressed her lips together, her heart hammering so hard her chest shook. The longer this stretched, the more certain she became that she was not going to be lampooned back. The world felt settled in a way she hadn’t known to appreciate. “I was in a bar in Los Angeles. A demon bar, actually, celebrating with the girls. We’d arrived in time to stop…”

Stop the big evil that Angel had stupidly poked. Save the world yet again. And god, she didn’t know if she’d ever stop being mad at Angel for the insanity that was the Circle of the Black Thorn nonsense—how he’d gone in alone, even knowing she had an army of slayers at the ready to tackle world-ending baddies. If it hadn’t been for the Seer in Willow’s new coven, none of them would have been any the wiser.

Except that Seer hadn’t seen everything. Like that Spike was alive and in the thick of it. Like that Buffy would show up with said army just in time to help turn the tide for the good guys, but not in time to not watch the man she loved go up in a cloud of dust again.

Buffy’s lower lip trembled, her eyes filling with tears once more. That had been just hours ago, and she’d been forced to shelve everything. Shove it all back—the pain, sorrow, outrage—until the fight was over and the day was won. Then she’d demanded the truth from a battle-worn Angel, who had seemed upset with her that his new humanness wasn’t the headline news he’d expected. Because apparently, that was a thing vampires did. Turn human. If they had a soul and saved the world. There was a prophecy and everything.

And Buffy’s first question?

“Why didn’t you tell me Spike was alive?”

Angel had been somewhat crestfallen after that, but had told her the whole story while some healers with the new Watchers Council patched him up. Nineteen days after Sunnydale had collapsed on itself, Spike had shown up as a ghost at Wolfram and Hart. But he hadn’t stayed a ghost, and he hadn’t called her. Hadn’t written her. Hadn’t dropped her a note or anything to let her know that he was back among the living, for some stupid reasons that sounded far more like Angel-logic than Spike-logic. Which led her to believe Angel had spent the time between Spike being a ghost and Spike being corporeal doing everything he could to infect Spike with doubt. Because that was what Angel did—make decisions for other people, convince them he had the right of it.

Also, Buffy had been cookie dough the last time they’d seen each other. Only she hadn’t been—she just hadn’t known it at the time. But she’d figured it out fast after Sunnydale collapsed. After Spike gave her the world.

Angel couldn’t have known about the times she’d cried herself to sleep, only to be chased by endless nightmares. How she replayed those final seconds with Spike to the point she forgot to eat sometimes. How Xander had ultimately asked her to come with him to meet his therapist—someone Giles had found to help ease slayers into their new powers. Someone who also had some background in grief counseling and had been helping Xander navigate life post-Anya.

“He thought it’d be good if a friend came in with me,” Xander had said—err, lied. “I need to become more comfortable with expressing myself and my emotions to the people who matter. Will’s busy building Hogwarts, so tag, you’re it.”

And since that had seemed all kinds of reasonable, Buffy had bucked up and gone with him, watched as he talked about the mistakes he’d made, the things he’d like to redo, what he’d say to Anya now. Acknowledging his right to his grief, his regrets, and the myriad of emotions that came with both. Then the doctor had turned to Buffy and launched into a series of seemingly innocuous questions that quickly morphed into something personal and uncomfortable, until he had pushed her to do something she hadn’t done since standing beside the crater that was now Sunnydale.

Say his name.

“A lot changed that day. You lost your home but gained a new life for yourself. How did it happen? Can you walk me through it?”

So she had. The whole plan to defeat the First, empowering the Slayers, saying goodbye, then mad dash to freedom—

“Goodbye to who?”

“To him.”

“Who is him, Buffy?”

She’d swallowed and glared at Xander, tears filling her eyes. “Spike.”

“Ahh. And who was Spike?”

“A vampire.”

“A vampire? Yet you are the Slayer.”

“He was different. He got a soul for me.”

“Incredible. Why?”

“He loved me.”

“Enough to get a soul?”

“Yes.”

“And did you love him?”

Still glaring at Xander, tears spilling down her cheeks, she’d said, “I told him I did. He didn’t believe me.”

“How does that make you feel?”

She hadn’t been able to answer. Dissolving into sobs tended to make talking hard.

At the moment Sunnydale collapsed, when she’d laced her fingers through Spike’s and told him she loved him, she hadn’t known she meant it. And that, more than anything, was what had haunted her in the nights following. Spike had seen the doubt there, known it for what it was, and hadn’t let himself be fooled. Except they had both been fools—something she’d recognized only when it was too late. Something he’d never recognized at all, because she’d never given him a reason to.

“Slayer?” Spike gave her a little shake, jarring her back to the present. Well, his present, her past. “You were in Los Angeles?”

She swallowed and nodded. “Angel had screwed something up. We were there to fix it. And we did.”

It was impossible to miss the impact referencing Angel had on him—something that, the last time she’d been in his crypt, she’d brandished like a weapon. A tool to keep herself safe whenever she sensed Spike was edging too close to places she’d marked off-limits. Had kept off-limits since the second her first great love had disappeared into the freaking shadows.

“Great sod’s always mucking something up,” Spike muttered, having gone rigid. “No short wonder you haven’t had to play the hero more than once.”

Laughter bubbled off her lips, and Spike reared his head back, staring at her like she’d grown a second head. “I know, right?” she replied. “And this was a big, big thing. Like end-of-the-world big, which apparently is something he does on the regular. I had this whole freaking army of slayers and—”

“What now?”

“Yeah, that’s… Long story.” Long story with possibly a different ending now. And holy crapola, did that thought ever make her dizzy. Buffy pressed her eyes shut to maintain her equilibrium, though she was shaking again as shock melted into understanding. She had really gone back in time—back to this. To him.

She had another chance.

“I’d wager everything’s gonna be a long story, love,” Spike said, tilting her head up so their eyes were locked again. “How many times you fancy tellin’ it?”

“Huh?”

“Or is this the sorta thing only a dead man can hear?”

His meaning became clear almost instantly.

“No.” She shook her head. “No, I’ll be telling… Well, everyone.” Everyone, which included Tara and Anya. Another wave crashed and she blinked eyes suddenly filled with new tears before looking back to Spike.

“I’ve missed you,” she said, then cupped his cheeks and pulled his mouth to hers before he could get in another word.

It was stupid, she knew. Reckless, even. Something that could move time was likely not a concern to put on the backburner, but Buffy had spent far too much time living for other people. For now, just for now, she wanted for herself.

And as Spike growled and pulled her to him, his cock thickening against her ass, she figured he’d be okay with postponing the big talk until later too.

Chapter Text

There had been a time, not too long ago, when Buffy couldn’t move without feeling Spike’s eyes on her. She’d become aware of it shortly after Dawn had first dropped the he’s in love with you bomb before their mother had died, and even more intently so following her own resurrection. But the soul had tempered Spike in more ways than she’d realized. He hadn’t looked at her as much, and when he had, it was always tinged with this unspoken belief that he didn’t have the right. The times she’d caught him staring had been few and far enough between that, until he’d spelled out that he still loved her, she hadn’t really known if she could count on that to be true.

Not that she’d been Ms. Forthright in that whole mess. Don’t leave because I’m not ready for you to not be here? Wordsmith Buffy was not. Granted, she figured that she’d been owed that bit of confusion. It wasn’t like she and Spike had had a solid foundation to begin with.

Now Spike was staring at her again with the same reverent awe that had greeted her the night she’d walked down the stairs at Revello Drive, her hands still torn up from clawing her way to freedom. The power of his stare had always been unsettling, but it was different now—headier. Perhaps because she was no longer trying to pretend it didn’t exist or that she didn’t know what it meant. Didn’t crave it.

Buffy swallowed and tore her gaze from his to focus on the phone number Giles had given her before he’d left for England. Again. It had taken a bit to find it, namely because the first time around she hadn’t bothered reaching out at all when things started spiraling. He’d just—poof—shown up, the king of awesome timing.

Then she thought of the last year here, how he’d conspired with Robin over a grudge and a theory, never mind that she and Spike had actually started to become something then.

Maybe it wasn’t fair to blame a guy for something he hadn’t yet done, but Buffy couldn’t help the way her gut twisted as she punched in the numbers.

“All right, love?” Spike asked, leaning forward on the kitchen island. He’d been oddly subdued since they’d left his crypt. Hadn’t pressed her for more information about the time-travel mumbo jumbo, though she could tell he was brimming with questions, and hell, she couldn’t blame him. Suddenly Depresso Buffy is all with the affection and telling him things that he’d only ever heard from the Buffybot? Yeah, skepticism earned big-time.

Buffy offered a small smile, shook herself out of her head, and nodded. “Yeah,” she said, glancing around the kitchen. Being back here after the last year was just…weird. And made her chest do funny things. Not once had Buffy thought she’d ever miss the Hellmouth, but it was home. These walls where were her mother had lived. Now she didn’t even have a headstone to visit.

Except she did. Because this was Sunnydale and the clock had turned back.

“Sorry,” she said, shaking her head again and punching in the remaining numbers. “I can’t believe I’m back here.”

He offered a soft smile. “Seems good though, yeah? You’re…”

Buffy arched an eyebrow as the line began to ring. “I’m what?”

Spike shrugged, his shoulders moving in a manner so familiar she wanted to start crying again. No matter how hard she’d tried to keep hold of everything, the mind was only capable of retaining so much. The little mannerisms that made him—his grins, from sweet to lascivious, the way he tilted his head, waggled his eyebrows, ran his tongue across his teeth, bit his lip… So many things that made him him, and some had started to fade from the edges of her memory without her notice.

“Guess I’m waitin’ for the other shoe to drop,” he said at last. “Never once featured a day like today. Where you show up and you…” He sighed and looked away, rubbing the back of his neck the way he did when he was self-conscious. Another thing she’d forgotten. “Always brilliant with you, pet. Can’t bloody get enough. But it’s brilliant then it’s over, and you’re back to hating me.”

“I didn’t hate you,” Buffy said quickly, but then the line picked up and a familiar voice filled her ear.

“Whoever this is, I’m going to wallop you within an inch of your bloody life,” a very grumpy and British voice slurred into her ear. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”

Buffy glanced to the clock on the microwave. Just past seven here. “Sorry. I think you skipped the whole time-zone chart before you left. So no, I plead ignorance.”

Except she had enough experience living overseas now to do a quick mental calculation and, yeah, she’d earned the Watcher’s wrath.

“Buffy?” The scold vanished from Giles’s voice and she could visualize him sitting up in bed, going from sleepy and irate to alert and concerned. The way everyone in her life had been around her during this period of it. “What’s wrong? Has something happened?”

“Oh, yeah. A big ole something.” She twirled the cord around her finger out of habit, then caught herself doing it and experienced another one of those bittersweet nostalgia pains. “Long story short: this morning I woke up in LA with a team of super slayers ready to take on something called the Circle of the Black Thorn that Angel got himself mixed up with. Oh, and it was two years from now.”

There was nothing but silence. For a moment, she thought the call had dropped.

“Giles? I know it’s super early there but I need you to hear me—”

“I heard you,” came the short reply. “I’m just… Either this is a very bizarre dream or you just told me you traveled through time.”

“It’s that second thing.”

“Buffy… I’m not even sure it’s possible—”

“Well, you don’t need to be. I am.” She swallowed and looked around the kitchen again. At Spike, who offered her the same soft smile he’d given her every time their eyes met. “I haven’t been here, home, in more than a year.”

“Excuse me?”

“Do you remember the First?” She blew out a breath. “The ghosty thing that haunted Angel a few years back, tried to get him to dust himself?”

Spike snickered and rolled his eyes. “Big bloody loss that woulda been,” he muttered.

“Big bloody loss that would have been,” Giles muttered. The echo was enough to have Buffy snickering, which earned another one of those awed looks from Spike, only this one was tinged with something else—something like concern.

“I’m annoyed with him,” Buffy told him after angling the phone away from her mouth. “Seriously. That’s all. Will explain everything.”

“Annoyed with who?” Giles chirped in her ear.

Buffy repositioned the phone again. “Angel. Sorry, you and Spike had the same reaction to my bringing him up and it made me laugh, which I think wigged Spike out a little.” She winged her eyebrows and favored the vampire with a look. “Did I call it right?”

He said nothing for a moment before barking a little laugh of his own. “Don’t mind telling you, pet, if I wasn’t bloody damn convinced there was no way for you to have swapped places with the real thing, I’d be checkin’ you for wires.”

“What the devil is Spike doing at your home?” Giles asked. “Is everything all right with Dawn?”

Dawn was a tangle of teenage melodrama and attitude, not to mention shoplifting, around this time, if memory served. So this going back through time thing had its drawbacks. She could deal. “No,” Buffy replied, “but that’s a whole other can of worms and of the more normal problems we have at the moment. This isn’t about Dawn. Spike’s here because we’re dating.”

This proclamation was met with the sort of hard silence she’d come to hate over the past two years. Silence that should not exist around Spike, for he was always fidgeting or making some sort of sound. The look in his eyes had graduated from concerned to downright petrified, though tinged with hope so bright it had her chest twisting.

God, how starved for affection he’d been that year. Well, and if she was being honest with herself, probably all the years leading up to that year. While she’d believed him wholeheartedly when he’d told her the night they’d spent in that abandoned house, just holding each other in the dark, had been the best of his life, she had wondered how the answer might have changed were the soul not part of the equation. The way Spike was looking at her now told her it wouldn’t have changed one bit.

Buffy shook her head as sound returned—namely, sound in the form of Giles going bonkers on the other end of the line.

“—trauma can make you do irrational things, but honestly, Buffy, use your head. This is the same vampire who wanted to kill you not two bloody years ago! He—”

“Giles,” she said, her tone soft but authoritative, “I love you, but I didn’t call to run my love life by you. I’m calling because I’m back from the future, here, and boy howdy, do we have a lot of problems coming up. Again, First Evil. Tried to get Angel to go all dusty. It’s gonna make a move, try to take out the Slayer line, and we should throw in an apocalypse in there for good measure. This is all happening next year, so I need you to stop being Mr. Long Distance and get your watcher butt back to Sunnydale. If we’re lucky, we might be able to stop the First from the damage it caused last time. Or—in the future.”

She glanced at Spike, who was still staring at her with that open, vulnerable expression of his, then looked away again. They hadn’t had the chance to really talk about, well, anything. Okay, so that wasn’t true—she hadn’t wanted to talk about anything. She’d been thrilled simply to be with him again, and he’d been too startled, not to mention conditioned, to not bring up a subject that might have her bolting for the crypt door. The look he’d shot her when she’d asked him to come with her had been the first of many indications that the conversation they needed to have would be the record-setting type.

“I…” Giles made a bunch of sounds that were half-words but not comprehensible before composing himself. “Well, of course, I’ll come right away. But Buffy, it is a very dangerous thing, knowing the future. If that is indeed what has happened here.” A pause. She could practically hear him polishing his glasses. He’d probably gotten them off the nightstand just for that reason. “And I’m not sure it is wise to upset the natural progression of events—”

“Giles, the natural progression of events suck beyond the telling of it. Warren of Buffybot notoriety comes after me with a gun; I get shot and live. Tara isn’t so lucky. That makes Willow go evil. And then Spike—” She cut herself off before she could finish that thought, and mentally kicked herself for letting her mouth get that far to begin with. “It’s a big helping of bad topped with terrible. And yeah, there were some good things that came out of it, but I’m all about keeping the good and undoing the bad. So, as the Slayer—and she of the massive trauma—let’s just say this is my call and end it there. Let me know when you book your flight.”

Before Giles could get so much as another word out, Buffy slammed the phone on the receiver and took a step back from it, not aware she was shaking until she felt a brush of cool fingers along her arm.

“Slayer…”

“I know we need to talk,” she said thickly, wrapping her arms around herself. “I know all of this makes no sense to you. Especially… Well, especially with everything.”

“You told him we were dating.”

She rolled her eyes and turned to face him. “Really? All of that and that’s what you focus on?”

A sheepish grin tugged at Spike’s lips and he pulled back. “No, just seemed the safest at the mo’. When did you decide to start tellin’ your mates about us? Wagered even if it did last you’d never…”

He didn’t finish the sentence, and he didn’t need to. Her own memory had done its job filling in the gaps of the progression of events from that day’s sex marathon to what came next. There were immediate concerns, namely to keep Warren from killing Katrina. Well, really, to get Warren, Jonathan, and Andrew behind bars where at least one of them belonged for the foreseeable future. Hopefully, Jonathan and Andrew wouldn’t receive too much blowback, but even if they did, keeping Tara alive was worth the price of admission.

But this had also been when things had gone really bad between her and Spike. When he’d stopped being a refuge and had tried to drag her into the dark. They had discussed this, of course, and many other things during their last year together. Spike had told her, and she believed him, that he’d accepted on some level that she would never let him be with her in her world, so his recourse had been to try and pull her more solidly into his. That he’d been desperate and mad with love and yearning, as wrong as it had been, but her light was always what had drawn him to her.

This was also around the time she’d nearly pummeled him to dust for trying to help her, in his warped way. That was Spike all over—looking out for her, even when he didn’t know how. When he didn’t know what she needed or what was best or the line separating right from wrong. And was it any wonder he’d gotten his cues so confused that year? Before she’d died, Buffy had started accepting the idea that she might be Spike’s conscience, like it or not, and that he would always do what he thought was necessary to help her out. Make her happy. After the resurrection spell, she hadn’t been much of a conscience, and still, he’d taken his cues, though with a healthy amount of selfishness tossed in for good measure, because that was who he was.

She’d been given a gift—a huge gift. She was not going to squander it by repeating old mistakes, especially where he was concerned.

“Let’s get one thing clear,” Buffy said, fighting past the frog in her throat. “I don’t belong in darkness, Spike. I have darkness in me but that’s not all I am. It never has been and never will be. Okay?”

He balked, fear and recognition flashing across his face. “Buffy—”

“The last time we had this day, you asked what this was between you and me. If I even liked you.” She braced herself. “I didn’t like myself at all then. Actually, scratch that, I hated myself. What you and I had was…what I thought I needed to survive, but I did a world of bad to you, and you to me. We kinda sucked. But then…something happened and I’ve had a lot of time to think about it since then. Especially with…all the things that came after. So my answer today is yes, I like you. A lot. I’m actually pretty sure I love you, but that’s a whole bucket of complicated. All I know for certain is I’ve missed you like crazy. So yeah, consider us dating. But not in the dark. I’m more than that…and you are too.”

This time, Buffy forced herself to hold his gaze as it fell into that awed place that both scared and invigorated her. It was important that he understood how serious she was. There was so much about this Spike, her pre-soul Spike, that she had taken for granted or outright ignored, the topmost being his capacity for change. How far he’d come on his own without anyone to guide him. Without anyone believing in him at all.

If they did it right this time, then…

“Can you…” he said, his voice thick. “Can you say that again, Slayer? Not sure I heard you right.”

“Which part?”

“All of it. But—”

She sealed the space between them, cupped his cheeks, and drew him down for a soft, sweet kiss—the sort she’d never let him give her unless he thought she was asleep. And when she felt him trembling against her lips, she began to lose her grip on the composure that had guided her this far.

“I have a lot to figure out,” she said as she pulled back. “Things… Well, things I didn’t know I’d ever have the chance to figure out. A whole mess of a lot has happened and—”

“Slayer—”

“I loved you. Where I came from, in 2004, I loved you.” She swallowed, her own eyes beginning to sting again. “I didn’t know it really until it was too late. And…things were different. You were different but you were also not different. That screwed with my head in ways that I still don’t really understand. I think in all the important ways, though, you weren’t. Different, I mean. The ways I loved.”

His lower lip began to tremble, and he seized her arms, anchoring her in place. “Buffy…”

The need, the hope, the want in his voice made her chest ache. “I’m pretty sure I love you now too. Not sure enough, because hey, it’s me, but—”

That was as far as she got before he pulled her to his mouth, and god, this was so much better than talking. Talking Buffy had done a lot of over the past two years. Hell, her last few months with Spike had been nothing but an ongoing conversation that had never been resolved. But that was what she’d needed, what they’d needed then, but she’d also needed this. Missed this. How much he told her when words wouldn’t measure up.

But not even this could last—Spike broke away from her with a strangled sort of cry and pressed the heel of his palm against his brow. “God, I’m a wanker,” he said, laughing as tears spilled down his cheeks. “Thought about this a lot, love. Dreamed it. Craved so bloody deep it makes me wanna dust sometimes. There’s a hunger, see. And the longer it goes without bein’ fed, the weaker you get. The more it hurts.”

Dammit. She’d forgotten this, too. How he used to talk about how much he loved her. “Spike—”

“Just didn’t expect to be a blubberin’ git if you ever decided you…” He laughed again and wiped at his eyes, then spread his arms. “Some Big Bad, eh? Sodding ninny.”

Buffy offered a watery smile. “I think after the past few months, you’ve earned it.”

“Will you tell me?” Spike looked away, shuffling a bit with nerves she recognized. “Not all of it. Not even now, if you don’t like, but… What happened to make you feel like this? What’d I do to get you to love me?”

There was that chest pang again. And the urge, the first and most powerful, was to say no. Or make something up. Or change the subject. Or distract him with sex, which she doubted he’d mind very much, though he’d know what she was doing. And as attractive as all of those alternatives were, she dismissed them just as quickly.

Spike had sacrificed everything for her more than once. He’d risked everything for her more than once. He deserved to hear about it.

Except one part. A part she didn’t think she’d ever be able to talk about. A part she didn’t want him to know about. The hardest part.

“Okay,” she said.

He jerked a bit, more surprise flickering across his face. Though the intensity had started to fade, like he was adjusting. And that much made her flood with warmth.

“Yeah?”

Buffy nodded and gave him a soft smile. “Yeah. Let’s…order some food. I’m starved. And we can talk.”

“Like a date, Slayer?”

“Well, assuming you still want to date me after I’m through.”

He gave her one of those you’re off your bird looks that she’d missed, his eyes narrowed and his brow furrowed. “Nothing you can do that makes me stop loving you, sweetheart.”

Yeah, she knew. Better than he did. Love she hadn’t earned and didn’t deserve.

But she’d fight like hell to keep this time around.

Chapter Text

The first call was not for pizza—it was to the Magic Box on the pretense of looking for Willow. And damn, hearing Anya’s voice for the first time in a year was more earth-shattering than Buffy had expected. It wasn’t like she lived in a normal world where the dead always stayed dead, but there were certain deaths she’d come to accept as permanent. Her mother, Jenny Calendar, Tara, Anya, and Spike all fell under that umbrella.

But Spike hadn’t died normally. He hadn’t even been gone three weeks. While she’d been making appointments to talk with a therapist, Spike had been alive—err, undead—and well in Los Angeles. It had only been a handful of hours since the explosion of this particular truth bomb, but Buffy could already tell that it would be the sort that would hurt for a good long time.

Anya had been bemused but not so much that she suspected anything was off. She’d reminded Buffy that Willow had a night class and informed her that, following her after-school regimen of studying at the Magic Box, Dawn had gone to the movies with Janice and her friends. Which was likely code for shoplifting, seeing as that was what Dawn had been up to at this time.

Which meant Buffy got to have that conversation with her sister again. Joy of joys.

“Thanks, Ahn,” Buffy had said. Then paused, knowing that what she was about to say would be of the majorly weird yet unable to keep it down. “It’s…it’s really good to hear your voice.”

A beat. “Thank you, Buffy. I do have a pleasant voice.”

She’d still been laughing when she’d punched in the number to the only pizza provider in Sunnydale that was brave enough to deliver at night and placed an order. A medium vegetarian, a medium meat lovers, and an order of spicy buffalo wings. This last inclusion had been rewarded with another of those soft Spike looks, and she’d turned to him after hanging up with a small grin of her own.

“Dunno if they’ll be as good as the ones at the Bronze,” she said, rubbing her arms. “But I thought—”

“You ordered food for me? Know money’s tight, pet.”

Buffy blew out a breath, wincing. “Oh yeah. The piles of bills.” She rubbed her brow. “You told me once you could get money. Can I assume that your version of get is totally above-board and not something that’d register on the evil-o-meter?”

“You’ve seen me play cards, haven’t you?”

She poked an eye open, smirking. “Play or cheat at?”

He offered a sheepish grin and lifted a shoulder. “Does it count as evil if I’m swindlin’ other demons?”

“Don’t you guys play for kittens?”

“Depends on the game.” He tilted his head, considering her. “You’d take my help, then? If I were to start gettin’ you some spare dosh? Enough that you could quit that bloody awful job of yours?”

“Ehh, being of the employed is probably still a good. Though I will totally hit the classifieds because, yeah, I’m burgered out for the rest of forever.” Buffy massaged her temples to warn off the impending headache. Was time travel jetlag a thing? If so, she saw a major crash in her future. “Maybe I can get a gig as a security guard somewhere until the school opens.”

“School?”

“Sunnydale High. It’s coming back. The principal’s Nikki Wood’s son.” She spared him a glance and grinned at the astonishment on his face. Being one step ahead of everyone was going to have its moments between now and when this timeline caught up with the one she’d left behind. “Let’s just say he has baggage.”

“She had a kid? Nikki did?” Spike shook his head, blinking several times before sinking into one of the living room sofas. “Fuck, I didn’t know.”

“Would it have made a difference?”

“I…”

But he didn’t say—his voice trailed off along with his expression, hard shock fading into a frown. And whether he knew it or not, he’d just given his answer—an answer that told her enough that the lingering voices of doubt shut up for good. Spike might not have shown Nikki Wood mercy that night regardless, but he also might have, mama’s boy that he’d been in both life and death. That it was even a matter of debate for him meant something.

“One of the best nights of my life, that was,” Spike muttered, staring at the floor. “Rode the high for years. Dunno if it woulda made much of a difference, love, had I known.” He paused. “But a tyke needs his mum.”

A sour taste entered her mouth—with the good, you had to take the bad. And Spike had a whole lot of bad. “I know.”

“Did he grow up okay, at least?”

And there it was. One of the reasons she’d fallen in love with him, on full display with or without the soul. Spike had always been a guy who cared. Always.

“Well, baggage, like I said,” Buffy replied softly. “He’s going to try to kill you.”

Spike snorted. “Try meanin’ he doesn’t succeed. Or does he?” He lifted his gaze to hers. “You keep sayin’ you’ve missed me, pet. Take it whatever happens doesn’t have the best ending for yours truly.”

Another question with a complicated answer. Heavy on the complicated, actually, because the look Spike had given her the night she’d told him he was her champion was one of those things that she kept coming back to in the months since Sunnydale fell. That was something she couldn’t call bad, no matter how much the aftermath had hurt. What it had meant to him, her belief in him. In his soul. In everything he’d tried to do, to become, since that awful night in the bathroom.

The same bathroom that was just up the stairs now. Buffy shivered and hugged herself tighter.

“It’s…a lot,” she said at last. “A lot of bad and good. But I guess it’d be better to start at the beginning. Or close to it.” A pause. “Riley comes back.”

“Yeah,” he said—or really, growled. “Gathered as much back at the crypt.”

“So you should also know that whatever stupid plan you have involving eggs blows up in your face.”

At this, Spike tilted his head, frowning. “Eggs?”

“Some Suvolte eggs that are of the majorly bad. Like wipe-out-entire-towns bad. Riley comes and tracks them to your place.”

“Suv… No, that…” He ran a hand through his hair, his jaw going hard, his eyes not too far behind. “That bloody git.

Okay, now was so not the time for a Spike versus Riley pissing contest. “Spike, I’m not—”

“The berk lied to me. I’ll rip his bleeding spine out.” He shook his head and looked at her, a hard, humorless laugh tearing off his lips. “Got this old chum, see, from my Europe days. Calls himself the Doctor. Took Dru to him before we came to SunnyD the first time, see if he could patch her up. Didn’t take, of course. Turned out there was only the one cure for her, and you remember what that was, but the Doctor did help us get out of bloody Prague with our heads, even if he couldn’t make her better. Thought nothin’ of him until a few days ago, when the wanker turned up to cash in the favor. Said he had some stuff he needed to move and asked to use the crypt. I had a right mind to tell him to sodding stuff it until he said it was eggs, that the mum had been hunted and he was tryin’ to get them to their bloody pap. Had never heard of a Suvolte before so I didn’t think there’d be any harm…” Spike broke off with another curse, panting hard in a way that let Buffy know he was working, really working, to rein his demon in. At length, he pressed his eyes closed and turned back to her. “You thought it was me, then? That I’d doubled back, even after I’ve bloody told you I’d never do anything to hurt you. You think I don’t know what that means, Slayer? Think I don’t know exactly what that means every time I say it?”

Well, that was… Buffy opened her mouth to say something—anything—but her voice refused to cooperate, her mind running circles around the new information he’d just dumped on her. Truth was, she hadn’t given the eggs scheme too much thought the first time around, overloaded as her mind had been with other things. It had been convenient, Spike reestablished in her life as a guy who pulled stupid crap. Evil Spike, who hadn’t done anything remotely evil in over a year by that point—not evil that she could quantify, at any rate. There had been micro bits of evil here and there, things that he couldn’t ever truly escape, but…

A plan like that? A big, evil plan? The last one that she recalled had been when he’d kidnapped the Initiative doctor to have the chip removed. Everything he’d done leading up to the big fight with Glory and after, including this year she was suddenly reliving, had been in an effort to prove to her that he could be what she needed.

“I’m sorry,” Buffy said, her voice hoarse. “I… I didn’t think about it too much. And you never denied it.”

Spike snorted and rolled his eyes. “Like you’d believe me.”

No, she likely wouldn’t have back then. Though it wasn’t like Spike to just accept the blame for something. Granted, she hadn’t given him much of a chance to before dropping the whole breakup on him. And how would that have gone?

She didn’t know.

“I’m sorry,” Buffy said again, stronger this time. “I never asked you about it—the eggs were just there and things went kablooey and then…” She swallowed. “When I did come to you to talk about it after, it wasn’t to talk about that. Riley left with his wife—he’s married, by the way—and I came to break up with you.”

A combination of pain and panic flashed across Spike’s face. It was there and gone so quickly she would have missed it had she not known him as well as she did. More of him covering up just how badly this year had affected him—how much he tried to hide. After he’d been souled, Spike had told her that he understood their affair as he hadn’t before, but she wondered now if he hadn’t given his soulless self enough credit. If he had known that when she’d beat him up and called him disgusting, she had really been talking to herself.

“Dunno how we could break up, pet,” Spike said, not looking at her, his voice strained. “Have to be together first, right?"

“Right.” Buffy swallowed hard. “And we weren’t. Not really.”

He nodded, still not looking at her. And she wanted to stop now—draw the line in the sand and move onto happier things, but she didn’t have that luxury. If she wanted to do things right, and she really did, then she had to own what had gone wrong. This was not the Spike she’d lost, the Spike who had sacrificed himself for the good of the world after winning over his soul. This was the Spike she’d broken, and she couldn’t heal the break by ignoring it. No matter how painful discussing this next bit would be.

“I was using you,” she said before she lost her nerve. “You loved me and you were willing to be whatever I needed, and I took advantage of that.” Buffy crossed her arms, wanting to fold in on herself. “That year—this year—I was my own worst enemy. But I was also yours. Your worst enemy, that is. I treated you like your feelings didn’t matter. Hell, Spike, I wanted to believe they didn’t. It made it easier to look at myself. And even though you could hurt me now, I knew you wouldn’t. Except I kinda hoped you would.” Her eyes stung again and a hard shudder ran through her body. Hard as these things were to admit, she knew they had to be said. God, she owed him this much. “I wanted you to hate me like you used to. There was a lot going on in my head—the Heaven stuff, self-hatred, hating my friends, hating Giles for leaving, hating Angel for not being here, Riley for taking off, and really hating that the one guy who actually stuck around was the one… Was you.”

She watched him tighten his jaw, saw the shine of tears in his eyes.

“I didn’t want to be loved the way you loved me. I didn’t want to have been wrong about everything I… Well, everything.” Buffy sighed and pressed her lips together to steel herself. “But I did start to get better after that. Not using you and reengaging with my life was the first step. I still don’t think I made the wrong call then, but I didn’t do everything I needed to, which included owning up to how awful I was to you and my friends this year. I hurt you and—”

“Hurt?” He whipped his head up and glared at her the way only he could. “Hurt, you say? Bloody hell, Buffy, just dust me. It’d be kinder.”

“Spike—”

“You think I don’t know all this already? That you hate yourself? That you hate me? It bloody guts me. Being with you is…” He tore his gaze away again. “Told Captain Cardboard that he had the better end of it when you were givin’ him the runaround last year. Having you but not having you. Getting to feel you at all rather than just rotting away with want. Didn’t know I was bein’ a bloody prophet, o’course. Didn’t get wonky visions like Dru—just thought what he had might be enough. Could be it mighta been had it even been that. You pretendin’ to like me in the space between, not just what I do to you. Pretendin’ to bloody care. He got the show and it wasn’t enough for him and I thought he was a git for wanting more. For not counting his blessings that he got as much of you as he did. I got the sodding stage rehearsal with the sodding understudy, and it was all I’d ever have, so I had to make it enough. Hoping if I fucked you hard enough, you’d—”

“I know.”

A hard laugh. “Slayer, you can’t.”

“I do know. And… That’s over. I meant what I said earlier. Everything I said earlier.” She paused, dropping her gaze to her hands. “If you still want it, that is. After I’m done—”

“You think I won’t?”

No, she really didn’t. That was the thing about Spike—the bad didn’t scare him. Even the truly awful bad. The stuff that should. He’d come back to her and come back to her and come back to her, except this last time when he hadn’t. Because she’d never given him a reason to keep coming back and he’d lost the part of himself that didn’t care about self-preservation so long as he was near her.

“I think if you want to walk away, no matter what, I need to let you,” she said. “I don’t want you to. I—”

“Slayer, told you this already. I’m not going anywhere. Bloody sucker for you. No matter what happens. Or what happened in your when.”

Buffy inhaled sharply, this time unable to keep from crying. The pain she’d experienced earlier—the hard, chest-cracking agony of watching Spike crumble to dust only to be told later that he’d been back for months without contacting her—surged forward again with such potency it nearly knocked her over. Mourning him—what they’d had and what they could have had—had been the hardest thing she’d ever done. Even if everything did turn out good this time around, she wasn’t sure she’d ever walk it off entirely. Because regardless, she’d still lost that Spike. The one she’d fallen in love with over their last year together, the pain and growth they’d shared. He was here and he was him in all the ways that mattered most, but he also wasn’t. Shared experiences were what made relationships, the good and the bad. And they’d worked through a whole hell of a lot of bad to get to the good.

“Hey.” Suddenly he was there, against her, reeling her to his chest and holding her to him, though he was shaking nearly as badly as she was. And hell, couldn’t blame the guy. Not once had she allowed Spike to comfort her like this or in any way that wasn’t sexual. She wondered how long it would take before he stopped second-guessing himself, or her. A while, probably. Almost certainly.

“Sorry, love,” he said into her hair. “I’m a wanker. Didn’t mean to make you cry.”

Buffy barked a hard laugh. “You didn’t. It’s my fault.”

“Slayer—”

“You didn’t come back. Sucker for me or not.” She pulled back and blinked up at him. “You die. May 20, 2003, you do something brave and stupid and you die. For nineteen days. Then you come back but you don’t come to find me. You stay with Angel and don’t even tell me you’re alive. I show up just in time to watch you dust again.”

It made her feel slightly better that Spike looked horrified. Only slightly.

“Angel?” he croaked. “What the bleeding hell am I doing with that git? No, Slayer, you musta got your wires crossed, ‘cause there’s no way I don’t come find you in this or any other time, ‘specially if you loved me. Fuck, maybe the jealous arse locked me up somewhere. Made it so I couldn’t move or what all, ’cause I know me, pet. Can’t get rid of me. I’d gnaw off my own bloody hand to—”

“That wasn’t it. It was your choice.” She paused. “Well, I’m ninety-nine percent sure that Angel talked you into not coming to find me, but you’d never have gone along with it if I hadn’t given you reasons.”

“Sure this was me, then?”

“I am. Spike…” Buffy pressed her eyes closed and sighed again. They kept jumping all over the place; she’d meant to tell the story linearly, work up to the major hits, but she should have known this would go off the rails. It always did with them. “After we broke up, after Riley, you were… It was bad. You got really drunk and had sex with Anya. Who Xander had left, or will leave, at the altar because of stupid boy reasons.”

He pulled a face that made her feel marginally better, though she doubted she’d ever stop seeing the live feed of that little tryst. “Bloody hell…”

“Then you come to me to talk about it because, yeah, it hurt. And…”

And she wasn’t going to say what happened next. The thing that had changed her forever. Because she knew it would hurt him, and she also knew that while what he’d done was a bajillion shades of wrong, it had also been an accident.

Xander had scoffed when she’d first described it that way, and she got why, but the word accident had never stopped feeling true. If rape was something Buffy thought Spike was capable of, something he would ever consciously do, then she wouldn’t be here now. But the Spike that had come into the bathroom that night, even the Spike that had pinned her to the ground, hadn’t been an actual rapist. Yes, what he’d done or nearly done had left scars that would last forever. Yes, it was something she would never let herself forget. And yes, it had been a mistake—but one he hadn’t made alone.

Therapy had included a bunch of required reading, listening to survivor stories. She was a survivor, but there had always been a disconnect from what she learned about rapists and what she knew of Spike. Rape, for one thing, was about power, not sex. Spike hadn’t been attempting to overpower her that night, hadn’t even realized what he was doing or how far he was taking it until after it was over. But their entire affair had been about overpowering and domination—just not on his end, and even when he’d said no, she’d twisted it into a yes. Buffy had used and abused him to get what she wanted, regardless of his feelings or autonomy. So she couldn’t look at the bathroom incident in a vacuum because of everything that had led up to it. He was responsible for his actions, yes, but so was she. He’d tried something terrible without realizing what he was doing. She’d succeeded at something terrible while knowing what she was doing and not caring enough to stop. In terms of the bad they’d lobbed at each other, she was pretty sure she was still ahead.

“The conversation didn’t go well,” she said, and told herself, when she mentally closed the door on that night this time, that it was forever. Then she closed her eyes and braced herself. She didn’t want to say the next bit but knew she had to. She owed it to him, no matter how hard it was. “And…you left Sunnydale. To get a soul.”

Cool air touched her skin where Spike had been just a half-second before. Though she’d been expecting him to pull away, there was a world of difference in anticipating the cold and being inside of it. Buffy kept her eyes shut, borrowing for courage. What scared her more, though, was she didn’t hear him breathe. And Spike always breathed.

But she couldn’t hide behind her eyelids forever. No matter how attractive that sounded. Buffy inhaled deeply and forced herself to look at him.

For a walking mood ring, Spike was freakishly closed down. Eyes narrowed, sparking with something that might have been anger or fear, shock or pain. Or maybe it was all of it, because that was Spike too. A contradiction of expression, bounding from one extreme to the next. Jaw clenched tight, cheekbones especially pronounced, nostrils flared. Like he was seconds from screaming at her or kissing her lips numb or laughing himself hoarse or throwing his fist through the wall.

“Say something,” Buffy finally blurted. “I can’t take it when you don’t talk.”

“There’s a bloody first.”

“Spike, please. I’m just telling you what happened. I don’t expect…” She swallowed. “Just…say something.”

He worked his throat and tilted his head. Then, just as he parted his lips, the doorbell rang. Their food had arrived.

For a moment, she thought he’d ignore it. She wanted him to. Her stomach, though, had other ideas, giving a slayer-sized growl that all but made the walls shake.

At that, a soft smile touched his lips. “Let’s get you fed, yeah?”

“Spike—”

“Not gonna give the Watcher a chance to put a stake in me on account of you bein’ malnourished.” He reached into his duster pocket and withdrew a wad of cash. “Reckon this’ll cover it. Or I could flash some fang and get it on the house.” He held up his free hand to ward off her protest. “Kidding, of course.”

“Spike—”

“Nosh now. Then we can talk about this soul business.”

Chapter Text

“I beat you up.”

Spike paused, hand halfway to his mouth, hot sauce dribbling down his fingers. “Say again, love?”

“Tomorrow, I think. Tomorrow or the next night. I beat you up.”

“Hate to break it to you, but we’ve been down that road before. Point of fact, we bruised each other up nice and good not too long ago. Brought the whole bloody building down, if memory serves. And I always like the way you make it hurt.” He waggled his brows and did that thing with his tongue that she’d never once consciously allowed herself to consider hot, dumb girl that she’d been. When this was met with a wiggle rather than the disgusted snort and eyeroll to which he was so accustomed, the look on his face melted seamlessly from suggestive to tender.

“Are you blushin’, pet?” Spike murmured before tearing off a strip of chicken meat from his wing. “If this is all it takes now, I’m gonna have myself a bit of fun.”

“I’m serious.”

“Me too.” He grinned and winked. “So I take it this next row doesn’t end as happily as the first? Wouldn’t mind a do-over of that, brilliant as it was. Wager it’d be even better if you actually—”

“Spike—”

He brought his hands up, sucked the hot sauce off his fingers. “Just throwin’ it out there. Lots still I haven’t done with you. Other things that I’m high to do over.”

It’d be easy to let him distract her from the things she needed to say, but there was an underlying of tension there—his reaction to the soul wasn’t something she was going to forget. And when it came to what happened between them the last time around, the business with Katrina and Warren, Buffy couldn’t smile or laugh. She remembered the way she’d felt when she’d come back to herself, straddling him, looking at the landscape of black and blue she’d made of his face. Remembering how he’d looked after Glory had damn near tortured him to dust and wondering just what the difference was between a hellgod who wanted information and a slayer who wanted to feel. There was nothing sexy about the way she’d pummeled him.

Yet still, Spike had shown up at her birthday party, smirk firmly in place, swagger set, love still in his eyes.

“You remember Warren. Buffybot Warren.”

At this, the cool sexual confidence in Spike’s eyes vanished, and he glanced down. “Uhh, right. Heard you mention him before. The wanker shoots you?” His jaw tightened. “Tell me he gets what’s comin’ to him.”

Her mind flashed to that awful scene in the woods, Warren strung up, the reds and pinks of his muscles exposed, the scent of blood thick in the air. “No one deserves what happens to him.”

“Agree to disagree there, pet.” Spike snorted and plucked another wing out of the carton. He paused then, and shot her a challenging look. “Not a souled prat just yet, so no bloody apologies. Anyone who tries to hurt you deserves whatever they get.”

Now she flashed to the bathroom again, Spike above her, desperate and in so much pain he didn’t realize what he was doing. Not hearing her screams and cries, not seeing her until she kicked him into the wall. That look in his eyes when realization set in. Knowing what he’d done after—the punishment he’d sought for himself. The gift he’d sought for her. He believed it, all right. Even if he was the one doing the hurting. Maybe especially.

“Slayer?”

“I’m jumping ahead again,” Buffy said, giving her head a shake. “Warren kills his ex-girlfriend. Andrew told me last year that it was an accident, but then they try to make me believe that I’m the one who killed her. You try to help in…well, your way.” She sighed, pressing her lips together. “I was in a bad place, Spike. I believed you were right—I’d come back wrong, and that’s… That was killing me.”

“Buffy, I—”

“I had a cosmic sunburn, is all. According to Tara. That’s the reason you can hit me now. And that was worse. I didn’t have an excuse. It was all me.”

Spike stared at her with that open, pained look that she felt down to the bone. “Bein’ with me was killing you?” he asked hoarsely. “That bad, was it?”

“It wasn’t you,” she said, doing her best to keep her voice level. “That’s important. It was all…me. I didn’t know how to handle being back here, being alive, and like I said, I was using you. I told you I couldn’t love you, made it clear the lack of a soul was the reason. The reason then was much more complicated than that—it’s hard to love anyone when you don’t love yourself, too. But after the breakup, you were hurting and I couldn’t help you… So you went to get a soul. The thing I said you needed to be loved.”

The silence that stretched between them was almost deafening. And for a moment, she worried he saw something else there—Spike was nothing if not freakishly observant. He’d always known her better than she knew herself, something that had at one point driven her crazy—something she’d relied on like nobody’s business during their last year together.

But if he saw there was something she wasn’t saying, he didn’t call her on it. Maybe he didn’t want to. Not that she could blame him.

“Is that somethin’ you’d like me to do, then?” Spike asked at last. “What I need to get you to love me the way you did?”

The pain in his voice hit her like a physical blow. “No.”

“’Cause if that’s what did it… Not sayin’ I fancy the idea, pet, but—”

“I was wrong. About…well, a lot of things.” Things she’d only started to touch upon visiting her demonic therapist but had carried with her longer than she wanted to admit. “I was fifteen when I met Angel. He was the first vampire who tried to get to know me before I discovered what he was. When he first went all fangy on me, it felt like a betrayal. Like he was playing some long game to get me to lower my guard—something Lothos had done, but never in a sexy way. It took a while to get over that…him being a vampire. And then the next year, when he lost his soul and I saw just how monstrous he was… It was a line in the sand. Soul good, no soul bad. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Gone was boyfriend of Buffy and in his place was a psychopath. But it took me a while to accept that then—I thought maybe I could reach him, make him remember. Which is why I didn’t kill him any of the numerous times I should have.” She expelled a deep breath, keeping her gaze on the piece of pizza growing cold on her paper plate. “That has always been my litmus test—Angel and Angelus. So if you were like this without a soul, then you had to be super different with one. When you came back all souled up, I didn’t know at first. You tried to keep it from me. And…learning you had a soul changed everything. I mean, I know that’s why you did it, but I don’t think even you knew how much it would change things. But you knew what it was going to do to you—you’d seen it before and you chose it anyway. I still can’t wrap my mind around it, to be honest. It’s so…big. Bigger than anything with Angel ever was.”

Spike was quiet for a moment. Then he snickered. “Bigger than Angel, eh? Sounds familiar.”

Pure, bright affection stabbed her heart. She shot her head up and found him smirking at her, which had potent, life-giving relief sweeping through her so hard she thought she might lose her balance. “Pig,” she managed to say a moment later.

“Oink bloody oink, baby.” He winked at her.

And that was it. All she needed to know everything was going to be all right. That there would be an after for them once this conversation concluded.

Buffy released a sound somewhere between a cry and a laugh, then shook her head. “It’s because you weren’t all that different. It was still you underneath everything, just a bit more subdued. Like you were watching everything you said around me. But it was you. The things that make you you are what I fell in love with. But those things are things you have now—that you’ve always had. It’s my own stupid fault for believing a soul is what made the difference. You’re what made the difference, Spike. And you always have been.”

This time, she wasn’t surprised to see the shine of tears in his eyes, nor to feel them in her own. She’d written him letters over the months, letters brimming with all the things she was saying now. Part of therapy—part she’d had to be strong-armed into doing, since it felt a whole helluva lot like homework, but once she’d started putting thought to paper, her hand had cramped from the task of keeping up. Spike wasn’t the only person she’d written to—she’d penned a few to Angel, a few she’d had to destroy almost immediately because the urge to send them had been damn near impossible to ignore. There had been some to Giles, too. Giles and her friends, her mom and dad, to Dawn, and to her younger self. Those were especially important—telling herself things she’d wished she’d known, but also trying to forgive the person she’d been, which was something she doubted she’d ever stop struggling with. The person she’d been had been shaped by experience and circumstance, and had paved the way for the person she was now, but there had been a lot of just bullheaded wrongness on her part that might have spared herself and others a buttload of pain had she allowed for the possibility that someone else in the room might know better.

“I’ve missed this,” she said, not aware she intended to speak until she heard her own voice. “The way you look at me without a soul.”

Spike kept silent for a moment longer, then swallowed audibly. “Didn’t look at you with one, then?”

“Not like this.” Buffy inhaled and wiped at her eyes, trying to move past the awkward. “I’m leaving a lot out. After you were back with a soul, you and I got close and it was…scary and intense but wonderful. I hadn’t felt anything like that…ever, and it took me a long time to really understand it. Even after you were gone again. Toward the end, Angel showed back up in town with a medallion thingy that was supposed to give us an edge in the fight with the First. To be worn by a Champion.” She snorted. “You and I were as close as we’d ever been, and because that scared the crap out of me, I did something dumb.”

Nothing for a beat. Then, in a small, hurt voice, “You shag the git?”

“What? No. Not that dumb. But I did kiss him. And you saw it.” She sighed. “It was a reflex. I think because I knew that if I went all-in with you, it was really saying goodbye to the girl who kept waiting for him to come to his senses. And that was scary too, because that girl was the last part of me to grow up. And growing up sucks. I told Angel to head out of town and be ready if we lost and that we already had a Champion. Then I gave the necklace thingy to you.” She felt her lower lip begin to wobble and knew she was seconds from losing it entirely, but dammit, like everything else tonight, he deserved to know this. “We spent the night together, then went into battle the next morning. We won because of you. But the thing Angel brought… He was never meant to walk out. I know that now. He got the necklace from Wolfram and Hart and they’ve only wanted him dust since forever, and just because they made him the big noise over there, he got stupid and forgot about that. We both knew it was going to kill you but you wouldn’t take the dumb thing off. So I told you I loved you and you didn’t believe me, and then you told me to leave.” Buffy rolled her head back, blinking at the ceiling. “I didn’t believe me, either. Not entirely. I said the words because they felt right. And they felt right because they were right, but I didn’t know it then because I didn’t know what grown-up love felt like. But I’ve known ever since then. Really ever since Xander dragged me to talk to this counselor of his—Anya died in the final battle, too, and he was having a hard time with it. I was, too, and it didn’t make any sense—you were the reason I had a life. We activated all the potential slayers so every girl who might be a slayer became one, which… Jury’s out on whether or not that was the best move. It certainly seemed like it at the time. But suddenly I wasn’t the only one anymore and I had a life and it was because you’d given it to me. It took going and listening to myself talk to realize one of the reasons I was struggling was you weren’t there to share it with.”

And that was all she could say before the weight dropped and the roller-coaster that had been the past few hours went completely off the rails. Buffy felt it coming but had no desire to stop it. Another thing she’d accepted—sometimes there was nothing in the world that wouldn’t feel better after a good cry. And hell, she’d earned it. So when she pitched forward and dropped her face into her waiting hands, she didn’t bother trying to hold back. The sounds that tore through her throat were raw but honest, as was the shaking in her shoulders and the hollow place in her chest. The place that she felt could never truly heal. Much as she’d like it to be otherwise, the past was never truly past.

She didn’t realize Spike had moved until he tugged her out of her chair and into his arms, and she wrapped herself around him without waiting for permission. Her head buried in his shoulder, her arms tucked under his, holding him to her as she’d tried to hold his memory. He murmured things into her ear and brushed his lips across her brow, but everything sounded jumbled and she couldn’t make out individual words over the roaring in her head.

“And that’s why,” she cried into his shoulder. “That’s why you didn’t tell me when you were alive again. Someone shipped off the amulet thing to Angel nineteen days after you died. So you didn’t believe me when I said I loved you, and why would you? After everything? Especially when I didn’t know I meant it until after you were gone?”

“Buffy…” This word came through loud and clear, his voice pained.

“And Angel probably told you it was for the best to just let me live my life and made you think it would be better if you didn’t come home. Come to me.” She pulled back to look at him, blurred though her vision was. “But it wasn’t better. It was awful. And then I see you when I take the girls to help Angel out and it’s… I thought I was seeing things, but I didn’t even get to touch you before you dusted again. All because—”

Spike seized her by the back of her head and brought her mouth to his with a sound that sounded somewhere between a groan and a growl, and the thing inside her combusted into need unlike anything she’d ever experienced. Buffy whimpered and cupped his face, determined to hold him there as long as she could. Or forever. Forever sounded awesome. Forever of Spike kissing her, nipping at her lips, chasing her tongue with his as he poured himself into her. It was so good and so familiar but not because his kisses had never tasted like this. Needful and hungry, yes, but now flavored with something else. Something strong and wonderful and hers.

“I love you,” she said between kisses. “I love you. Please believe me this time.”

Spike shuddered hard, his grip on her tightening, his mouth growing more demanding, as though he wanted to swallow the words. When at last he pulled back, pressing his brow to hers, breathing in that special way of his, she saw the tears on his face weren’t hers alone.

“I believe you,” he murmured, his eyes closed. Like he was savoring the words. “Fuck, I believe you. Still think someone mighta dusted me but if that’s the case, be a love and never tell me. Like it right here.”

“Even…with everything? Everything about…what I’ve told you?”

He nodded, dragging her head along for the ride. “Think I can believe you ’cause what you said wasn’t all pretty. Told you I imagined ways you’d tell me you love me and none of them included… Well, any of this.” He paused. “You need to be sure, pet, so I gotta ask again. Do you want me to get a soul? Doesn’t sound like too much fun but I’ll do it for you.”

Buffy started to tremble all over again. She knew he would. “You don’t need one.”

“No?”

“Spike, I meant what I said—everything. The soul didn’t change you in any of the big ways. You were still you.”

“Still me except I lost my bloody mind, apparently, and decided to camp it with sodding Angel rather than come to you.” His eyes remained closed, but his mouth tugged upward as though he was trying to find the situation funny. “You tell me you love me, Slayer, and that’s all that matters. Soul or not.” He paused and opened his eyes, meeting her gaze with that relentless look of his. “’Cept if I don’t get it, that means I can’t be your champion, right? Guessin’ that’s the way it works.”

“It means you can’t die on me.”

“Way you talk, love, I’d pop right back on into existin’ within a couple of weeks. And I might not know too much about this bleeding soul business, but I can guarantee that nothing would keep me away from you this go-round. ‘Sides, you’d know where to find me.”

In any eventuality that included Spike going up in flames again, there was no way she’d not be at Wolfram and Hart the day Angel received his special delivery. But that wasn’t even the point.

“I know you’d do it if I asked you to,” she said, and ran a hand through his hair, watching when he sighed and leaned into her touch. Like a big cat who’d gone too long without a leg to rub against. This was going to be the fun part, she decided. Giving Spike everything she hadn’t given him the last time around. Surprise kisses and gentle caresses and handholding and all of it. She knew he was starved for touch and by god, she’d give it to him. “I know you’d do it,” she said again, “and that’s why you don’t need to. That you would, that you did… It wasn’t pretty, either. You were kinda crazy for a while.”

Spike arched an eyebrow. “Oh yeah?”

“The guilt and the…guilt. You know the drill.”

“Too bloody well. But if Angel could do it, I could do it better.”

Buffy grinned and kissed him, enjoying the way he shuddered against her. “Duh,” she said against his lips. “And there was… You were living at the high school, right above where the First started doing its Firsty thing. It… Well, it said things to you. Did other things.”

“Problem solved, then. Won’t shack up at the bloody school.”

She went still, a new thought occurring to her—one that surprised her, though in retrospect she supposed it shouldn’t. Because that was Spike all over. Defying convention whenever she turned around.

“Do you…want to get your soul?” The words alone had her pulse racing. “It’s not easy, from what you told me. There were trials and they nearly killed you.”

Nearly. Got somethin’ to live for, though.” Spike pulled back, rubbing at his jaw, his gaze thoughtful. “Never thought about it, truth be told. But if it’s what you need to love me—”

“Spike, I love you. Right now. You. I know I said earlier I wasn’t sure, but that was me being one with the insecurities of Buffy. The soul’s not what did it. The soul is…what made me realize that… Hell, the soul’s what helped me realize that you already had the thing I thought you needed.” This time when he turned to look at her, she couldn’t meet his gaze and felt her cheeks go hot. “Or… There was a time before we started with the sexcapades where we were…just us, and it was great. It was what kept me sane. That was you, not the soul. The times you tried to help me… Well, you made the wrong call a lot, but you did it for the right reasons. Again, you, not the soul. I don’t need you to have a soul. I know it’ll be a bit tricky, because again with the wrong-call making, but you changed this much all on your own. You won’t be on your own anymore.”

The space between them fell quiet—a hard quiet that made her ears ring. Another thing she’d missed after he’d died, after he’d disappeared the summer he sought his soul too, was how heavy his presence felt when she was in it. How aware of him she was at all times. It was the same awareness that she’d called upon initially when she’d come back from the dead, a security blanket that made her feel as close to whole as possible in a world that wasn’t Heaven.

But she couldn’t stare at the floor all night like a big chicken, and it wasn’t like she feared what she’d see when she looked up. More that she felt that she wouldn’t deserve it. That she couldn’t. The sort of devotion Spike showed her was something outside of a fairytale, and after all the bad—the rights and the wrongs they’d committed against each other—that he could still look at her the way he did was something that would never stop shaking her to the core.

Still, she hesitated long enough, and Spike made the decision for her. “Look at me, pet,” he said, his voice thick again as he tilted her chin up. And there it was, all of it. All of him, all for her. “You really mean that?”

“That you don’t need a soul? Of course I—”

He pulled her to him, swallowing her words with his mouth before she could get the rest of them out, thank god, because she wasn’t sure she’d be able to get through another long speech without breaking down. It seemed like hours had passed since she’d awakened in her body here, with the time between stretched over the past two years she’d relived. There was still so much more to tell him—to go over. So much to do before people here got hurt, but Buffy was officially tapped out for the day and just wanted this. Spike kissing her like he needed her more than blood, lips nipping, tongue exploring, little whimpers scratching at his throat. His arms around her, pulling her flush against his firm, lean body, his cock hard and rubbing her through his jeans. It was like every time before but not, because there was so much there that she’d never explored. Buffy threw her arms around his neck and let him push her up against the dining room table. She parted her legs in welcome and he was there, pressing himself to her pussy, grinding against her in the way he knew she liked as he growled into her mouth.

Thankfully one of them remembered that she needed to breathe, and it wasn’t her. He pulled away, panting hard, doing that brow-nudge thing she loved so much and shuddering as she gulped down bone-trembling breaths.

“Stay tonight?” she asked.

He went still. “Stay. Here?”

“Uh huh.”

“You… You want me in your bed?”

“On my bed, on the floor, against the wall… There are plenty of places in my bedroom. Bonus points if you break the dresser. I’ve had that thing way too long.”

Spike opened his eyes, so close to hers, and stared. “You really do love me. This isn’t a dream.”

“Believe me, if it’s a dream, it’s one I’m having. Also with the very vivid.”

“Had vivid dreams about you before, love. Point of fact, that’s what clued me in that I was lost for you.” He began nibbling along her jaw. “Started off all right. You storm into the crypt, threaten to dust me, and we shag like bunnies. Except this time I told you I loved you.”

Had she known that? She wasn’t sure. “We can do a dramatic reenactment if you like.”

Spike laughed. “Think I would. Shocked the bleeding hell outta me so much I woke up before we could get to the saucy bits.”

“You cock-blocked yourself in your own dream.” She must be slaphappy because this struck her as particularly hilarious. Buffy giggled, earned a bewildered look, then giggled again when Spike favored her with a dopey smile. “In so many ways,” she said, “you are your own worst wingman.”

He snickered, flicked his brows, and nodded. “You’re tellin’ me.” Another chuckle, this one she felt all the way to her clit. “For now, though, love… I’ve been dreamin’ about your bed for over a year. What do you say we—”

A throat cleared. A throat belonging to neither one of them.

Buffy pressed her eyes shut and winced. “Oh, not now. Not now, not now, not—”

“Buffy?”

Spike pulled back far enough to look over his shoulder, his posture rigid and his jaw tight, a spark of panic flashing behind his eyes.

Willow stood in the doorway, her eyebrows arched and her arms crossed. “Umm… And how long has this been going on?”

Chapter Text

God, she’d forgotten about Willow and the night class. Night classes typically didn’t go all night, convenient as that would be, and it had only been a matter of time before her roomie made it home. But dammit, Buffy was convo’d out. Hell, her throat was a little on the raw side from as much talking as she’d done, and what she wanted the most right now was to take Spike upstairs and explore him in all the ways she’d never let herself before. But being that a relationship with Spike was a dramatic shift for pretty much everyone else in the world, there was little to no hope that she’d be able to evade the explanations until morning.

Spike tossed her an uneasy look, and she saw immediately the reservation there. The question of whether or not she was ready to go public with this thing, which she understood. Or would have, had she not told Giles not two hours earlier that she and Spike were dating. This was one cat that was never going back into the bag.

“For a while,” Buffy said at last, looking to Willow as she answered her question. “It’s been going on almost since the resurrection spell.”

While she didn’t take her eyes off her friend, she couldn’t help but feel it when the tension in Spike’s shoulders eased.

“Since…the resurrection spell?” Willow’s eyebrows winged skyward. “Oh. Do the others know? Or is this something that I just missed on account of…well, recovery?”

“Well, as much as I love the idea of holding a press conference every time I get a boyfriend, no, we’ve been on the DL the past few months.”

The way Spike was studying her now was going to give the game up in a big way if he didn’t watch himself. She tried to communicate with her eyes that he needed to collect his jaw back off the floor if he wanted to get lucky tonight. If she had to have a meeting with the gang that not only went over her new relationship status but also the time travel stuff, she doubted she’d have energy left for anything more than over-the-shirt fondling.

Thankfully, Spike knew how to read her better than anyone, so it didn’t take much in the way of direction to get him on the same page. He nodded and aimed a grin in Willow’s direction, throwing an arm around Buffy’s shoulders. “Slayer didn’t want you lot to worry,” he said. “Or accuse her of havin’ gone soft in the head.”

Willow frowned, a somewhat wounded look flashing across her face. “I wouldn’t have thought that,” she muttered.

“Will, remember when you caught Spike fooling around with the Buffybot and thought it was me? You guys wanted to stage an intervention.”

Spike glanced down, sucking in his cheeks. For someone who had commissioned a sex toy based on her likeness, he was oddly bashful about the subject.

“Well, last year was… Things have changed.” Willow lifted a shoulder, her mouth forming a line. “There was Glory then this last summer, and… I know things have been hard for you here and if being with Spike makes it better, then I am the last person in the world to judge.” She plastered on a fake smile and gave a little wave. “Hi, I screwed up the best thing in my life because of magic. Not much with the judging of other people’s romantic decisions.” She shifted her attention to Spike. “I’ll tell you what I told Riley. You hurt her, there’s a shovel with your name on it. And I might be off the magic juice, but I’m pretty sure Amy could be bribed into cursing certain parts to fall off.”

Spike’s eyes went wide. “Bloody hell, Red. Last thing in the world I wanna do is hurt her.”

“Yeah. I know.” Willow looked around the room as though buying for time. “So…I take it if you’re making out here, you’re ready to go public. Or do I need to keep this under my hat?”

“Don’t tell anyone,” Buffy said, “’cause I kinda think that should be my job. But yeah, we’re going public.”

This time, Spike caught himself before he could give her another one of those stunned looks of his, but not before perhaps the goofiest grin she’d ever seen him wear, while not under the influence of a certain would-be-done spell, could sweep across his face. He used the arm he had around her shoulders to pull her into him and pressed a kiss to her temple. “Mind the noise, too,” he said, flicking his eyes to the ceiling. “Not a secret anymore, so no need for her to—”

Buffy elbowed him. This just made him grin wider.

Willow flushed a bit, but her smirk was less the awkward teen that Buffy had first befriended and more the sexually liberated witch she’d become over the past couple of years. “I have homework to do. And a couple of lectures I want to listen to. Handy-dandy walkman to the rescue. Though I should remind you that we have impressionable youth in this house, too.” She paused, seeming to consider this. “I can’t imagine Dawnie knows. Think she’d be beside herself with the shrill.”

Something in Buffy’s chest tightened, grief and hope working in tandem. Her sister’s relationship with Spike had never fully recovered after the bathroom incident, something she knew Dawn had regretted a lot after he’d been gone. It was a friendship Buffy hadn’t really understood until she’d viewed it from a distance and realized that long before any of the others had given Dawn any credit, Spike had been there to validate her sister’s feelings and treat her like something other than an overgrown toddler. That he’d spent a summer watching over her, living up to the promise he’d made to a dead woman, wasn’t lost on her, either.

“We’ll tell her,” Buffy said with a nod. “Tomorrow. Much with the tomorrow.”

Or she’ll come home, hear a bunch of rutting animal noises, and I’ll have to have the most mortifying conversation with her in the history of talking.

Did it make her a bad big sister to hope that Dawn’s penchant for thievery kept her out at all hours? Probably. Most definitely. But it helped knowing that the last time around, Dawn had gotten through this period of teenage angst relatively unscathed, and had made amends with all the relevant shops in town. Hindsight with a bit of selfishness thrown in for good measure. Hell, she’d earned it.

“Well, I’ll just…” Willow waved vaguely at the stairs and left them with one last smirk before disappearing to the upper level.

Buffy released a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. “That was a lot less awkward than I would’ve expected.”

And made her feel…well, she didn’t know what. Through every second she’d stolen with Spike, she’d been afraid of what would happen if her friends could see her. If they knew what she was doing with the gift of life they’d forced upon her. Then she’d told Tara and Tara had been, well, understanding wasn’t quite the right word. Supportive, amazing, sweet? Maybe it shouldn’t surprise Buffy that Willow followed in the same vein, especially during a period where she was wrestling with addiction issues and going through relationship drama of her own. Anya likely wouldn’t care either way and Dawn, as Willow had said, would be beside herself with teenage joy. The only person whose reaction would be of the predictable was Xander. The same Xander who, in two short years, would be the one to strong-arm Buffy to see a mental health professional to help her process her grief.

“Made a bit of a mess here,” Spike said, gesturing to the table of pizza and wings. “Guessin’ I oughta be respectable like and spiffy the place up a bit.”

Buffy arched an eyebrow. “You wanna clean?”

“No, I wanna take you upstairs and shag you raw.” He waggled his brows at her. “But I’d hate all this good bloody will to go to waste if you woke up tomorrow and there were ants all over the place. Little buggers are enough of a menace at the crypt. And you call me evil.”

She snickered and turned to the open pizza boxes. Chores were lame, but part of the adulthood package. And they were easier to manage now—in this home that she’d lost. “You’re gonna be my live-in house vamp?” she asked, closing lids and gathering up plates. “Keep the place spic and span so after a hard day’s slay, all I gotta do is show up?”

Spike didn’t answer her at first, and she didn’t bother to look at him. Her mind was of the one-track variety at the moment. Get stuff in the fridge, other stuff in the trash, wash up, then take Spike upstairs and really let herself celebrate the fact that he was alive. It wasn’t until she was at the sink, washing her hands, that the weight of his silence really fell upon her, and she found herself working back whatever it was she’d said last to figure out where she might have misspoken.

She turned to find Spike right behind her, doing that staring thing again.

“What?” she asked, her voice pitched a bit higher than usual.

Nothing for a moment, then he swallowed. “Live-in?”

“Huh?”

“You…” He paused, shook his head and looked away. “Sod it. Musta been hearin’ things. Or I’m a dolt readin’ too much into every little thing. Just dunno how to take you at the mo’, Slayer. Every time you open your mouth, you say things I… Just dull around the ears a bit, I think.”

Buffy blinked, then the lightbulb above her head went on and she arrived at the answer. And there was no way Spike didn’t hear how her heart started pounding faster because, yeah, that much seemed like a larger conversation than she wanted to have at the moment.

Except maybe it wasn’t.

“You lived here that last year,” she said. “After the school made you go all wonky. We didn’t… I mean, we weren’t sharing a bedroom or anything, but you were here.”

Spike released one of those whole-body breaths. “I lived here?” he repeated. “With you?”

“Well, with me, Willow, Dawn, and about twenty potential slayers. We were kinda home base.” She pressed her lips together, resisting the urge to wiggle. “Got used to you being here, I guess. In the basement. You lived in the basement.”

“Right nice basement,” he said in a rush. “Can think of worse places.”

“But if you did live here, you wouldn’t be in the basement. I hope you know that.”

“Slayer—”

“Not that living here’s, like, mandatory or anything.” Great. Now she was babbling. “I mean, your crypt’s all kinds of cozy and it’s all yours. But if things go even a little like they did last time, it did help to have everyone close at hand.”

The next thing she knew, Spike had her against him again, his mouth doing all kinds of wicked things to hers. And thank god, because she didn’t know what stupid thing she might have said next. Kissing Spike was infinitely better than feeling like a moron. Which she did, for any number of reasons, not the least of which being her own damn uncertainty of what he’d want, even though she damn well knew what he wanted. There was no scenario in the world where she could imagine Spike saying he’d rather keep his own place than move in with her, yet that fear—birthed and nurtured by ghosts of boyfriends past, Spike included—remained persistent as ever.

Spike pulled away at last, panting, but he didn’t give her much time to recover. In a blink, they were on the move, her feet stumbling in an attempt to keep up with him. He tugged her up the stairs, hand clamped tight around hers, and pretty much dragged her across the threshold to her bedroom. There, he waited until she was safely inside, slammed the door shut, and hiked her back into his arms with a low, sensual growl.

“Only place I ever wanted to be, pet,” he said. “Right here. With you.”

“I know,” she said, because she did. “But—”

“No sodding buts. You want a live-in vamp, you got one.” Spike kicked off his shoes, turned his hands to his belt, then paused, apparently seeing something on her face. “You still… Not jumpin’ the gun here, am I?”

Buffy blinked and shook her head. “No. Much not with the gun-jumping.”

“Just…had a look there. Kind you get before you kick me in the head and run off.”

“There will be no more kicking of you,” she replied, her gaze locked on his jeans. More specifically, the bulge behind the zipper. And at once, she was nervous—nervous in ways she hadn’t been since, well, maybe the night she and Angel had made with the sex before he’d made with the homicidal. That had been life-changing and so was this. She’d given herself to someone then and now…

“Don’t so much mind the pain, pet,” Spike said, his voice rough. “Monster, and all.”

“You’re not a monster, Spike,” Buffy said, trembling as she pushed herself forward. “I mean, I know you can be, but you’re not one now. I’m all about the now.”

He released a deep breath. “Now’s bloody brilliant,” he agreed, and when she reached for the hem of his tee, she found he was shaking too.

“Step back,” she said, nodding at the bed. “That way.”

“You got plans for me then?”

“All kinds of plans.” Buffy inched the tee over his head and tossed it across the room blindly, fixing her gaze on the cool, taut flesh she’d unveiled. She ran her hand down his chest, concentrating on the feel of his skin. The way he shook. The air he gulped down. She paused at his belt, which remained half undone, and slowly pulled it free from the loops. “I’ve been selfish,” she said, now turning her attention to his fly. “All with the take and hardly any with the give.”

Spike made a sound somewhere between a whimper and a growl. “Seems I remember you givin’ a bit.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah. You tell me to leave and I try to change your mind with a blowjob. Real giving.”

“There are worse tactics.”

No, there really weren’t. Buffy bit the inside of her cheek and inched his jeans down his legs. When they hit the knee, she shoved him back so that he fell to the mattress, his cock hard and stretching toward the ceiling. He sat up just as quickly, devouring her with eyes gone hungry.

“Think I’ll be more game this time ‘round, though,” he rasped.

Buffy dropped to her knees between his spread legs and wrapped her hand around him. “What I did before was wrong.”

“You bad girl, you.”

“Spike, I’m serious.” She waited until the mirth in his gaze faded before pressing on. “There’s a word for people like that. People who hear no and ignore it because what the other person wants doesn’t matter.”

At this, he snickered. “Yeah, I was real bloody unwilling.”

“You wanted me gone. You told me to leave and you meant it. You were really clear on that.”

Spike studied her for a moment, then cupped her cheek. “Not harborin’ bad feelings here, pet. Far as I’m concerned—”

“And that wasn’t the last time. You know that.”

“Buffy—”

“What you want is important. What you tell me is important. That I hear you, that I respect what you want, is super important.”

There was nothing for a beat, and she could see she’d thrown him off. It was so like him to not see the bad for what it had been. Evil, in his eyes, was relative. Bad was relative. When it came to the bad he could do, he understood it well enough. The bad she could do, had done, was something he struggled more with. Or perhaps he just didn’t like to paint himself the victim.

“Never saw it as that, love,” Spike said at last, running his thumb across her cheek. “For what it’s worth. Got you in the end, didn’t I?”

“But you didn’t,” she replied. “And the ends don’t justify the means. I want you to know that when I touch you, when you touch me, it’s because we both want it. Not because I’m trying to win or you’re trying… That part of us is over. This is the new us. Okay?”

He nodded, and though she saw he meant it, she worried still he didn’t entirely understand. And maybe he couldn’t without knowing the full story—including the thing she didn’t want to tell him. Spike had never called her out on her bad behavior as it pertained to sex. He’d wonder what they were, ask for a definition, get pissed when she wouldn’t give him more, but he’d never called a spade a spade where consent was concerned. Not until he’d been the aggressor.

Buffy pushed that thought back. There was nothing to be gained from revisiting those places any more than she already had. What had happened that night was no longer her reality, and things between them would never get so bad that the lines she’d just drawn were in danger of being breached again.

And she trusted that Spike would call her out if she backslid—not that she was worried that she would, but it was hard to pretend like it wasn’t a possibility when she knew the capacity for that sort of thing lived inside her.

But she was tired of thinking, of talking, and she knew more of that awaited her tomorrow. So she gave her brain permission to take a hike and lowered her mouth to his cock. The sharp inhale that rattled through him at the contact made her tense with awareness. This was so unlike anything she’d experienced with her former lovers—the knowledge, the damn certainty, that she was doing something right. That the moan that colored the air was genuine, as was the reverence with which he said her name. Spike funneled his fingers through her hair, not holding her there, just holding her, as she closed her lips around the tip of his cock and laved the head with her tongue.

“Fuck,” Spike hissed, arching a bit off the bed. “So sweet.”

The times she’d done this for him had been few and far between. There hadn’t been much point in pleasuring a walking vibrator when that was its job. Buffy closed her eyes and shoved back at the rush of self-recrimination that threaten to swell and focused on the now. Yes, the bad had happened and yes it couldn’t be erased, but this time it was different, and Spike was letting her make it right. She inched him deeper into her mouth, her tongue swirling, and at his low moan, felt herself embolden.

That was another thing with Spike. She could do whatever she wanted without really worrying that it wasn’t right. Especially a touch-starved Spike like the one with her now, who had taken anything she had to offer gratefully, never knowing when it might be the end.

“God, look at you,” he whispered, and she opened her eyes to meet his stare, the open wonder on his face more intense than she could remember it ever being. “Suck me like that, Slayer. Oh yes. Fuck yes.”

Buffy intensified her strokes, finding a steady rhythm. Pulling and tugging and licking and sucking, watching as Spike watched her, as the heat in his eyes darkened. She wanted him to watch her, to see that she was here with him, not mentally substituting him for anyone else, that when she moaned around his cock, it was for him alone.

“Fuck. Fuck. Buffy…”

Buffy drew back and let him slip out of her mouth with a wet plop, then kissed a path along the underside of his erection until she reached his balls.

Slayer.” This he growled, the grip he had on her hair tightening at last. “Such a good girl. My girl. My Buffy.”

“Yes,” she agreed with a wink before drawing one of his testicles into her mouth. She grinned when he whimpered and took pity on him, fisting the base of his cock and giving it a squeeze. “I’m all yours, Spike.”

“Fuck yes.”

“And I think I like doing this.” She moved to his other testicle and kissed it. “You make all kinds of fun sounds.”

Spike released a huff of air that might have been a laugh, but it melted into another moan when she sucked his cock back between her lips. She tongued the dip at the head before drawing him as deep into her mouth as she could fit him comfortably, then back again. And again and again, more and more until she felt him brush the back of her throat. By that point, Spike was little more than a babbling mess.

“Slayer…”

Buffy met his eyes and held. And that seemed to be it for him—looking at her as she worked him in and out of her mouth. Something between pleasure and pain flashed across his face, but so far removed from what she was used to seeing there that she thought she might cry. He hissed and fisted her hair, then bucked and came, growling her name as he filled her mouth, then staring at her in open wonder when she swallowed.

That was something she’d never done the few times she’d gone down on him before. Swallowing had seemed like something you did for someone you loved. Or at the very least, weren’t using to feel alive. It was intimate in ways that regular sex wasn’t, and she’d wanted to make sure Spike recognized the line. He might be good enough to fuck but she wouldn’t take pleasure in giving him pleasure. That hadn’t been his purpose.

At last, Buffy pulled away, letting his cock slip out of her mouth. She barely had time to gather her thoughts before Spike growled and pulled her up and into his lap. Then he was kissing her, hot and hard and with the kind of desperate intent that had her tingling in all the right places. It wasn’t until he started pulling at her pants that she realized she was still dressed, and that was another first. She’d never been so singularly focused on his pleasure that she hadn’t managed to strip before.

Thankfully, Spike was an Olympic champ at the sport of getting Buffy naked. And she was pretty sure he’d just set a new record. Bonus points for not tearing anything. In blissful seconds, she was straddling him, rubbing herself along the length of his cock and thanking her lucky stars that she’d been smart enough to fall for a vampire who could come as hard as he had and be ready to go again all in the span of ninety seconds.

“If I didn’t know better,” Spike drawled, dragging a finger up the seam of her drenched pussy, “I’d say doin’ that got you hot.”

Buffy nodded, clutching at his neck for balance. “Uh huh.”

He lowered his mouth to her neck and nibbled softly. She felt him tense when her pulse jumped, then he began sucking on her skin in earnest, as though he could pull the taste of her blood from the inside out. Something else she’d never let him do—pay too much attention to her throat, both because she hadn’t trusted his fangs there and because she hadn’t wanted to explain what would inevitably be one hell of a hickey.

What would it be like to let Spike bite her? Buffy trembled and clutched at him to maintain her balance. The thought alone was intoxicating, and she made up her mind pretty much on the spot. Fangs were something they needed to bring into the bedroom—if only once to see if she liked it.

Though she was pretty sure she’d freaking love it.

“Your heart’s poundin’ harder, love,” Spike murmured against her skin. He slipped a hand between them and gave her clit a good tap. “Thinkin’ something naughty?”

She swallowed. “I was thinking about what it would feel like if you bit me.”

Spike went ramrod still.

“I think… I think I want to find out.”

There was nothing for a moment. Then he released a hard groan and clutched her to him. “Fuck, Slayer, you’re gonna be the death of me.”

“Didn’t we decide we’re skipping the death part this time around?”

“Oh, I dunno.” He waggled his eyebrows before flipping her over so she was pressed against the mattress. He loomed above her, nipped at her lips. “A good little death never hurt anyone.”

Buffy released a soft gasp and spread her legs in welcome. “Spike, please…”

“Mmm…” He nuzzled along her neck, and the thrill of having his fangs so close had her aware in ways she never had been before. Now that it was out there, that she’d offered, she found she wasn’t just curious—she wanted it. Wanted it very badly. “What does my girl need?” he murmured before dropping a series of kisses across her collarbone. “Need to feel your Spike inside you?”

Yeah. That sounded good. Fantastic, even.

Buffy nodded. “Uh huh.”

“Hard and fast? Like normal?”

“However you want it,” she said. “I want all of it.”

Spike paused to look at her, his mouth tugging into a sweet smile. “All of it? So if I fancy takin’ my time to love you properly, you’ll…”

“Go nuts, but love it.”

He smirked. “Bloody right. And I will, Slayer, don’t think I won’t. Gonna spend hours worshippin’ this artwork you call a body. Wanna lick you all over. But right now, pet,” he said, then drew his tongue around one beaded nipple. “Need to feel you around me.”

Buffy arched her hips off the bed, rubbing herself against his cock. The slick slide of him along her drenched flesh had her trembling. “I’ll take it.”

“Fuck yeah, you will.”

“Spike—”

“Buffy.” He lifted his head to meet her eyes, all teasing gone. Instead, he regarded her with such fierce longing she thought she might crack and start to cry. “Buffy, sweet, can you say it now? Tell me now.”

Perhaps if she’d been just a little less desperate, she might have played coy. Or perhaps not.

“I love you,” she said, holding his gaze. “I love you, Spike.”

He released a ragged breath, his eyes falling closed. Then open. “Again.”

“I love you.”

A hard swallow. His lower lip started to tremble. “Again.”

“I love you. I love you. I—”

Spike began inching his cock inside of her, his jaw clenched, his arms shaking as though control were just a hair from slipping completely. He kept his gaze on her face and she stared right back, not blinking, not turning away, just looking at him as he looked at her, until he was as deep inside her as he could go. Then he released a breath and seemed to release something else as well. The tension that had been present blinked away as though it hadn’t been, and he favored her with a broad, happy smile.

“Love you, Buffy,” he told her as he started to move in slow, deep strokes. “Fuck, how I love you. My hot, sweet Slayer.”

She linked her arms around his neck and pulled him down for a kiss, and god, that felt incredible. The sensation of Spike’s mouth moving against hers as he pumped his cock in and out of her pussy was beyond definition. This was what she’d been missing those months, she realized—the moments that comprised true intimacy. She had kissed Spike plenty, but never like this. Never indulgently, and rarely while he was inside her. She hadn’t let herself savor him.

And it hit her that that was why his kisses were so damn addictive. Every time he touched her, every time he took her mouth, every time he slipped inside her, he was savoring her. Taking as much of her as she’d allow him, and at the time, it hadn’t been much at all. She’d had the thought before that Spike kissed with his whole self, but even she hadn’t seen how right that was. That his whole self meant all the things he had inside him, the desires and drives she’d kept at arm’s length and only given him in pieces.

Because the way he kissed her now as he drove his cock into her again and again was a step beyond anything she thought they could have touched. Like he was truly unleashed.

Buffy felt her eyes wet and pushed back slightly against his chest. Spike pulled his head back, his thrusts coming to a standstill as his brow furrowed in concern.

“All right, love?” he asked.

“Perfect,” Buffy replied before leveraging her strength to flip him under her. The move sent his cock deeper inside her and had them both groaning. Then she steadied her hands on his chest and began to ride him. Slow at first, then with increasing urgency.

“Fuck, you’re a vision,” Spike said, gripping her hips and rolling his own to meet her every time she sank onto him. “That pretty pussy of yours all stuffed with my cock. That’s it, love. Fuck me like that.” He threw his head back, clenched his jaw, then righted himself again, gaze fixed on where they were joined. “Just like that, Slayer.”

Buffy leaned forward to kiss him and reveled in the mewl that rumbled against her lips. And when she pulled back, it was to pepper soft kisses along his jaw and down his neck, the way he did with her. Over his chest, teasing his nipples, letting her hands wander as much as they liked. She couldn’t touch him enough.

“Buffy…”

At last, she drew back, shook her hair from her face, and began moving harder, chasing her orgasm and his. The wet smack of flesh filled the air, along with their mutual moans and Spike’s rambling commentary. Except even that had slowed. He had his head thrown back now, the muscles in his neck straining. She felt him growing harder inside her, felt the telltale shudders that typically preceded his orgasm, and knew he was holding back for her.

“Spike,” she whispered, “touch me.”

No need to tell him twice. Only he didn’t do what she expected. Instead, he seized her by the hips and lifted her completely off his cock, coaxing a hard whimper through her throat.

“Spike, please.”

“Always,” he murmured, and dragged her up his chest until her wet pussy hovered just above his mouth. He drew a line from her slit to her clit, then sucked it hard between his lips. And that was it—pressure she hadn’t even noticed build reached its crescendo, and she trembled hard. Spike growled into her soaked flesh, tongue moving, exploring, then gently coaxed her back down to shove his cock back inside her pulsing cunt, and damn if that didn’t set her off again.

Buffy threw her head back, clenching hard around him. “Oh god.”

“Fuck yes.”

“Spike, bite me.”

The sound he made was somewhere between a cry and a growl. He sat up, pressed his chest to hers, and buried his face in her throat.

“Want this, Slayer?” he asked. “Gotta say please.”

“Please.”

“That’s nice. Just a bit more. ‘Please, Spike, I want your fangs inside me.’”

“Spike, I want your fangs in me. Like now. Please. I—”

He moaned again and shifted, and she barely had time to register the way her pulse jumped before she felt herself spiral into a whole different kind of euphoria. There was a pressure at her throat, a delicious combination of pain and pleasure, and every pull of Spike’s mouth seemed to have a direct line to her clit. She sobbed and clung to him, her body trembling into another orgasm without warning, and he was with her this time, growling into her throat as his hips bucked and his cock jerked and spilled inside her. It seemed to go on forever but forever had never been so brief. All too soon, she felt him retract his fangs, then favor the wound he’d left with long, decadent swipes of his tongue.

Sometime later, maybe centuries, Buffy returned to herself. She was lying beside him, panting, every inch of skin tingling. The place at her neck throbbed, but it was a good throb. An amazing throb. A throb she wanted to keep forever.

“Fuck,” Spike said, tucking her to his side. When she looked up, she found his eyes were filled with tears again. “Bloody hell, Buffy…”

“I know,” she replied, her voice somewhat hoarse. She thought she should say something else, but couldn’t find the words.

And maybe that was okay. She’d done a lot of talking for one day.

“Tell me again,” he murmured. “Just one more time. Please.”

Then again, she still had a lot of making up to do.

“I love you, Spike.”

He relaxed and tugged her closer, kissed her temple.

And when she drifted off, it was into perhaps the deepest, best sleep of her life.

Chapter Text

Buffy was awake for a long time before she trusted herself to open her eyes. And when she did, when she saw that she was indeed in the bed that had been hers on Revello Drive, that a naked Spike was curled up beside her, she let herself breathe.

It was easy to accept her new reality at face value when she was awake. True, everything that had happened yesterday from the moment she’d found herself back inside this younger body had lacked the soft edges that accompanied most dreams, but in those seconds between sleep and alert, she hadn’t been confident she could trust it.

Buffy lifted her head to catch the time on the clock on her dresser. It was after ten, which meant Dawn had already taken off for school and Willow was probably back on campus. There was no telling what her impressionable teenage sister might have overheard last night, but given the lack of squeeing, Buffy had to assume that the lid was still on the whole relationship thing. Which was nice. She wasn’t sure she wanted to explain it more than once.

Because, god, there was so much else to explain. Just thinking about it had her all kinds of exhausted.

Buffy turned her gaze to Spike, and her fatigue melted. He was curled on his side facing her, one hand on her hip and the other stuffed under the pillow he’d stolen. His hair was rumpled in a way that betrayed its natural curl, and he looked about as peaceful as she had ever seen him.

As peaceful as he had the night they’d spent together in that abandoned house, not talking, just holding each other. The night that, before last night, had been the most intimate experience of her life. While there had remained plenty of things off the table in terms of what they’d needed to work through, she’d felt understood and loved in ways that still left her breathless. The way Spike loved was intense, soul or not. All or nothing, the good and the bad.

And as much fun as lounging in bed all day would be, there were things to do. She was pretty sure she hadn’t been lampooned back in time just to do the wacky with her vampire.

Buffy inched away, though not as cautiously as she would have with pretty much anyone else. She knew firsthand just how hard he slept. The second her feet hit the floor, her mind began racing with all the things she needed to do. Find Warren and keep him from killing Katrina, or anyone else. That much should be simple—even if he wasn’t in the phone book, she knew Spike knew where Warren lived because of the Buffybot. Warren might be a lost cause by this point, but she knew Jonathan wasn’t. And Andrew…

Well, one thing at a time.

Then there was the money issue. Quitting Doublemeat Palace was another priority—not as high on the list, but still there. She needed the references to get another job until the school opened, with or without a generous grant from the William the Bloody Foundation—they hadn’t arrived at any such understanding the night before but she knew he would come through.

Xander and Anya’s wedding was also coming up, which meant Xander would get his head all twisted around by some stupid demon and do something that would be a constant subject of therapy in a couple of years. And Riley would show up in town—that was going to be all kinds of fun—and, well, if Buffy managed to stay ahead of everything else, that should be the bulk of the excitement until the school opened.

“You sneakin’ off?”

She inhaled and whirled around, finding Spike sitting up, eyeing her warily.

“Was going to get ready so I can pretend to function as a responsible adult today,” she replied, opening her top dresser drawer and drawing out a pair of panties. “And start trying to figure out how to break the news to the gang that they’re dealing with a different Buffy.”

Something in his gaze softened at that. “Still love me then?”

For some stupid reason, this caught her off guard, and the next second, her eyes were stinging. Buffy studied him for a moment, then approached the bed and dropped a tender kiss on his lips. “Still love you,” she said. “I think if the Delorean was going to shoot me back, it would’ve happened by now.” Of course, there was no freaking way to know that, but maybe Anya could shed some light. This was more her area.

And once the thought nested, Buffy had a hard time shaking it. The idea that she might not wake up here tomorrow or the next day, if this tour back through time had a return trip on the books. She was navigating waters she’d never traversed before, and assuming anything seemed stupid.

“But Spike, if for some reason I do get zapped back to my time, please…just remember everything I’ve said, okay? And if you find yourself in Los Angeles being told by a certain ex to let me live my life, do me a favor and smack him.”

Spike barked a laugh. “Slayer, anythin’ zaps you back and I’m just gonna follow.”

“I’ll hold you to that.”

“Bloody counting on it.” He grinned, turned and stretched, giving her a much-appreciated view of his lickable abs. “What all’s involved in getting ready?”

“Shower. Then to the Magic Box to face the music.”

“Ohh, shower?” The look on his face turned lascivious and he bounded to his feet. “Haven’t done that one, have we? What do you say, pet? Could make a game of it. You try to get clean and I try to keep you dirty.”

Buffy’s pulse jumped and she pressed her thighs together, and the immediate answer—umm, yes please—was right there until it occurred to her that in order to take Spike up on his sexy offer, they’d both have to be in the bathroom. Alone. In that bathroom.

At once, her stomach dropped and a rush of panic hit her system. She inhaled sharply and stepped back, trying—and failing—not to notice the confusion in his eyes. Bad thing about dating vampires—they knew when your heart started pounding and when your adrenaline kicked in. Also, she was pretty sure they could smell fear.

This was stupid. She needed to get a handle on this. It was just a bathroom.

“What’s wrong?” Spike asked, edging toward her, his hands raised. “And don’t tell me nothing, because I won’t believe it.”

No, he wouldn’t. Dammit. Buffy blinked and was annoyed to discover that her eyes were watering again. This was so not the direction she needed this morning to go. So she blurted out the first thing that came to mind and hoped it stuck the landing. “A thing happened in a bathroom with a vampire. It… Sorry, I guess I just wasn’t ready for that. So…raincheck?”

Spike’s expression was inscrutable, which was damn unfair because she felt inches away from an actual panic attack. This much must have told him something, for his eyes darkened with fury and he clenched his jaw tight enough she heard his teeth grinding.

“A thing happened,” he replied. “A thing.”

She swallowed. “Right.” Damn, he needed more and she didn’t know how to give it without telling him everything. “This particular thing hadn’t happened to me before.”

“Oh, I know what we’re talking about,” Spike replied, visibly trying to maintain hold of his control. He closed his eyes, drew in a few deep breaths, then shook his head and refocused. “When’d this happen? And who was it? I’ll bloody kill them.”

“Hey, no, it’s fine,” Buffy replied, forcing a smile. “It won’t be a problem this time around.”

“So it was in the future. Reckoned as much. Some vamp cornered you in the loo and—”

“It’s okay. Forget about it.”

“Not bloody likely.” He broke off, and she saw his eyes flash gold. “Like I said, I know we’re talking more than a tussle, love. Give me some sodding credit. Never seen you like this.” God, every inch of him was trembling. “Was it just the one? I don’t care if it hasn’t happened yet, I’ll stake the bastard. Enjoy it too. Not like this world would miss him, right?”

Buffy forced her feet forward and cupped his face, directing his eyes back to her. “Believe me when I say that is not necessary.”

“Buffy, if some sod tried to rape you, it’s more than bloody necessary.” He paused, and something new seemed to occur to him. “Was it Angel? That why you don’t wanna tell me?”

“What? No.”

“Fine, Angelus, then. You said you didn’t shag him but I wager there’s more than one way to take out a soul.” Spike pressed closer. “Said he was working for that law firm, right? I know them—they’re not the sorta gits you muck around with if you’re wearin’ a white hat.”

No, they weren’t, but that was a whole other can of worms that she’d get into later. Right now, Buffy needed him off this line of thought—needed him calm and in control. She took his face between her hands again and brought his mouth to hers. Spike resisted for a second before growling and hiking her up against him, kissing her with the sort of fervor she knew only came out when he was well and truly pissed. Angry kisses had always been something of a turn-on, but she didn’t like him like this.

She didn’t like him so close to the truth. And hell, she should have seen this coming. Should have had an answer for when Spike, if he was going to live with her, wanted to do coupley things like share showers. But then everything yesterday had happened at warp-speed and she had yet to catch her breath, much less reconcile that she actually was reliving this period of her life. That she had this second chance.

Buffy pulled away after a long moment, breathing hard as her mind raced. She needed to nip this in the bud now before it mushroomed any more than it had already.

“Spike,” she said, doing her best to keep her tone measured, “a lot happened in two years. There’s the stuff I’ve told you and a lot more, but I don’t want this time around to be based on that time around and I don’t want to waste time on things that aren’t going to happen when there’s plenty of stuff that will happen if we don’t stop it. I’d rather just focus on the now for everything else.”

He was trembling, but he nodded, running a hand down her arm. “Right,” he said. “Whatever you want, Slayer. You know I’ll give it.” He paused, and when he spoke again, his voice broke a bit. “Just bloody guts me that anyone tried to hurt you like that.”

“I know.” And she did in ways he would never understand. “So…raincheck on sexy time in the shower?”

“You tell me when to cash it in, and I’m there with bells on.”

Buffy nodded and kissed him again, nearly melting with relief. Honestly, she hadn’t expected the subject to be this difficult to navigate around, but that had been foolish. It had defined so much of what had happened between her and Spike during their last year together, had been the catalyst for why he’d sought the soul in the first place. Any more slip-ups like this one and Spike was bound to start piecing things together, or at least asking questions that she wouldn’t be able to navigate around.

Maybe she ought to see if there was another demon shrink in Sunnydale, just to get a handle on all this so she wasn’t playing the balancing act herself. There was certainly no one in her friend circle she would trust with the information, and Dawn was absolutely out of the question.

If the last few months had taught her anything, it was that carrying the burden solo was a good way to crash and burn, and even the strongest people needed help some of the time.

Something to consider later, after she’d talked with the others. After they’d stopped Warren and had a plan in place for when the First made its move.

There were miles to go, and she’d barely started.

* * * * *

Walking around Sunnydale was bizarre. It was a place she dreamed about regularly, its corners and landmarks often exaggerated but always identifiable. Somewhat like the dreams she used to have of high school, where the halls were a bit off but she knew her way around well enough. And when Spike opened the door for her to the Magic Box and gestured for her to precede him inside, she inhaled deeply and prepared for another trippy moment. She wasn’t disappointed.

It was so familiar—all of it. The tinkling of the bell above the door, the shelves with their assorted knickknacks, the touristy stuff along the walls and the supplies for serious practitioners on full display—and when she saw Anya behind the register, she had to resist the urge to cry. That would just look weird.

Except a moment later when Tara came into view, Buffy’s resistance melted. Spike must have smelled her tears, for he placed a hand at the small of her back, withdrew it almost at once, then touched her again, firmer this time. Like he was making a point.

“Uh, Buff?”

She turned to see Xander tucked in a corner by the register, and was momentarily shocked when he stared back with both eyes. Such a small change, but boy, it transformed his whole face.

He waved at her, his brow furrowed. “What’s with the Evil Dead being all touchy-feely and you not being nosey-punchy?”

Buffy looked over her shoulder at Spike, who offered a strained grin but didn’t pull his hand back.

Here we go.

Only she didn’t get a chance to start. Xander swore loudly and stormed over, seized her by the chin and tilted her head back to gawk at her throat.

“Oi,” Spike snapped and tugged Buffy back against him. “Hands off.”

It was likely a testament to his shock that Xander didn’t smart back or do something stupid, like throw a punch. He just regarded Buffy like he’d never seen her before, shifting his gaze from her eyes to the mark and back again. At length, the astonishment faded, replaced with the more familiar righteous indignation that had defined him during this period of their lives. He aimed a glare at Spike, his lips twisting into a sneer, and barked, “What the hell did you do?”

“Nothin’ she wasn’t beggin’ for, mate.”

Buffy moaned inwardly. “All the ways you could have answered, and you chose that one.”

“Callin’ me a liar, Slayer?”

“Calling you a moron.” She shook her head and, despite herself, tossed him a fond glance, warming when he just grinned unrepentantly. Awkward though this might be, she was glad to see some of his old swagger back—that he was owning what she’d told him yesterday and not treading on eggshells. Or, if he was, doing so with far heavier steps.

“It’s not true,” Xander said, shaking his head. “It can’t be true.” He looked back to her, silently imploring her to agree with him. “Buffy would never—”

“Buffy did. Buffy does. Buffy has for many months now,” Buffy replied. “And of all the things I have to tell you guys today, I cannot stress how very little this should matter to you.”

Xander blinked two—count ’em—horror-filled eyes. “Months? You’ve let that thing touch you for months? This is…” He shook his head again and threw a desperate look to Anya. “Did you know about this? Did anyone know about this?” Without waiting for an answer, he whipped back to Buffy. “Have you lost your mind? This is Spike we’re talking about. And you’re letting him bite you?”

“Well, to be fair,” Anya said, leaning on the counter, “vampire bites amplify the orgasms. It would be downright foolish to have sex with a vampire and not let them bite you.”

“That is seriously all you have to add to this?”

She furrowed her brow. “Am I supposed to add something else? I agree that Buffy fornicating with Spike is a new development but not too surprising.”

“Not too surprising?” Xander echoed shrilly. “How is this not surprising?”

“You thought she was boffing Spike as a result of Joyce’s death. It’s reasonable to assume that one’s own death and resurrection could cause a human to react just as poorly as the loss of a loved one.”

“Is that what’s happening here?” Xander turned back to Buffy. “We can get you help. Of the professional variety.”

The laugh tore from her lips before she had the chance to swallow it. “A couple of years early, Xan, but I appreciate the support.” She nodded at Anya. “She’s actually pretty on the money. But that’s only a teeny part of an otherwise really long story, and it’s not even valid anymore. I mean, yes, big with the trauma, but enough time has passed that I’m kind of… Well, not over it, but it’s not driving my decisions anymore.”

Tara had wandered forward, her brow furrowed. “Buffy?”

“All right,” Buffy said, throwing up her hands. “One time for the class and then I am accepting a grand total of zero questions, comments, or suggestions on my love life. Yes, Spike and I are together. We have been for a while. I didn’t tell you for reasons that are also no longer valid and I promise this is the smallest of the bombs I will be dropping today, so do yourselves a favor and get the hell over it. And if anyone wants to comment on my sanity or lack thereof, I promise I will make you regret it.”

Xander just gaped at her like she was a pod person.

Anya shrugged and went back to tallying receipts.

Tara offered a small half-smile. “Are you happy?”

“More importantly, are you the Buffybot?” Xander asked, pressing his hands together. “Please tell me you’re the Buffybot.”

Spike swore and mumbled something she couldn’t hear, but she could take a good guess.

“Yes to the happy, no to the Buffybot.” She paused. “Well, we’ll put an asterisk by the happy, too. I guess happy depends on how the next year or so goes. I’m definitely happier than I was yesterday and many days before that, but we have a lot to cover.”

Xander stared at her for a moment, then started shaking his head again as he backed away. “I’m having a stroke,” he muttered, rubbing his temples. “I’m having a stroke. I’m in the ambulance right now, on the way to the hospital, and this is my brain’s way of trying to tell me something is wrong.”

“All the abuse you give the thing, it’s bloody bound to strike back one of these days,” Spike drawled, rolling his eyes. “Tell you what, whelp, if this is some hallucination of yours, do us a favor and go right on havin’ it. Workin’ out swimmingly for me.”

Xander made some sort of flailing motion and started toward Spike, his lips twisted into a sneer. “You evil—”

Buffy grabbed her friend by the collar and tugged hard enough to rip his shirt. “Seriously with the knock it off,” she said shortly, then wheeled around to level a glare at Spike. “That means you too. Stop antagonizing him.”

“Sorry, pet. Can’t rightly help it. I’m an antagonist, after all.” He winked at her, still grinning, and though she was so incredibly serious and not in the mood to deal with the relationship-drama portion of today’s discussion, she knew he wouldn’t miss the way her lips twitched.

Apparently, Xander didn’t miss it, either. He looked between them, caught somewhere between disbelief and horror, before a long moan peeled off his lips and he dropped his face into his hands. “Can’t I please be having a stroke?”

Buffy snickered and released him, then went to stand beside Spike, who promptly started to preen. Eventually, the new would wear off and he’d go back to being his only mostly insufferable self, but hell, she guessed he’d earned this after all the abuse he’d been lobbed over the past couple of years. And she hadn’t really expected him to be on his best behavior to begin with. Wouldn’t be Spike if he wasn’t an ass most of the time.

So rather than chastise him again or roll her eyes at the stupid-satisfied smirk on his lips, Buffy turned to Tara and forced herself to focus. Because what she’d said was right—there were definitely more important things to discuss than her relationship status.

“I need everyone to hear this,” she said softly. “Things are coming and they are not good. I know you and Will are on the outs, but… Can you stay?”

Tara inhaled deeply but nodded. “Yes, of course.”

It would probably throw up all kinds of red flags if she started crying, not to mention get Xander all riled up all over again, so Buffy forced herself to fight through it. She really only wanted to tell this story the one time. Well, twice, counting when Giles arrived, but he had a head start, not to mention the Cliff’s Notes. And this was the important hurdle to cross, anyway. The world, not to mention the lives of three people standing in this room—and many more besides—depended on them understanding just exactly what was coming.

And she would take precisely zero chances.

Chapter Text

Buffy had known this would be hard to swallow, but the level of skepticism being aimed her way was totally uncalled for.

She had waited for Willow to get out of class, left to pick up Dawn from school and made tracks back, somewhat worried that Xander might come at Spike with a stake in her absence. She’d returned to find everything more or less as she’d left it—Xander glaring from his side of the shop and Spike goading him with smug looks, grins, and the occasional one-liner from the other.

Yeah, there had been really no chance that Spike would behave, but at least the big dope hadn’t gotten himself dusted.

Once everyone was seated among the tables in the back of the Magic Box, though, it was time to get down to brass tacks and thankfully, Spike understood the seriousness of the situation well enough to shelve the obnoxious neener-neener mood. He gave Buffy a look of solid, always-have-your-back support, then parked on the staircase that led to the books of darker magic. Dawn joined him, all giggles and excitement, as Buffy had brought her up to speed on her relationship status the second they’d been alone. Since the last time Buffy had collected Dawn from school had come with the worst possible news, it seemed only fair to lead with what she knew would be the only headline her sister would really care about.

Indeed, Dawn’s pissy teenage angst attitude had vanished the second Buffy had shared that Spike was officially her boyfriend. And even though Buffy had evaded the approximately one billion questions Dawn had fired on the way to the Magic Box, her little sister had still been vibrating with glee when they arrived. And had promptly started firing off every one of those one billion questions to Spike, who had unexpectedly become rather demure from the attention, just grinning and winking whenever she tried to get him to talk.

Honestly, Dawn’s reaction to this whole thing was the one bright side to this otherwise dumpster of a day. Except Buffy couldn’t let Dawn’s giddiness and schoolgirl romanticism distract her more than it already had—with everyone gathered, it was time to make with the reveal.

“All right, here’s the deal.” Buffy swallowed and steeled herself. “Yesterday for me was May 19, 2004. I’m kinda sorta from the future.”

This announcement was greeted with a sea of blank, disbelieving stares paired with slack jaws. Still, even though she had expected it, she couldn’t help but be a bit annoyed.

Buffy glanced at Spike. It had been his idea to be in the back—thought if he were out of sight, they’d focus more on what Buffy was saying and less on who she was doing. But hell, he was the only one who knew she wasn’t out of her mind, and she could really use the moral support.

As though sensing the thought, Spike offered her a half-smile, and she felt herself calm.

Okay. She could do this. She could.

“Come on, guys,” Buffy said, looking at them all in turn, “this really isn’t that far out of the norm for us.” She pinned her gaze on Anya who, to her credit, looked the least wigged of everyone present. “Would you tell them that time travel is possible?”

Anya lifted a shoulder. “It’s possible. I’m just not sure how you managed it. Time travel is complicated and extraordinarily easy to mess up, especially for humans.”

“Right, for humans,” Buffy agreed, crossing her arms. “But not demons. It’s something that you could have done in your vengeance days.”

“Well, yes. Make the right wish and anything is possible.” Anya frowned. “Is that what happened? You made a wish? That can be very reckless, Buffy. Even for you. Most demons work an angle to benefit themselves in any wish they grant.” A fond smile tugged at her lips. “It was the best part of the job.”

Buffy snickered and shook her head, rubbing her brow. God, if she only knew. “Well, in my defense, I didn’t know I was talking to a demon at the time.”

“Ah, those are the best,” Anya agreed wistfully. Xander threw her a somewhat nervous look, the kind he always wore whenever she danced a little too close to reminding him how she was only human by accident.

“Why don’t you start from the beginning?” Willow offered. “Maybe it’ll sound less crazy if we hear the full story.”

“I wanna hear how you and Spike hook up!” Dawn said, then greeted the others with the patented-Summers bring it look when they shot her a series of glares.

God bless Dawn. And Buffy wouldn’t deny her heart warmed when Spike grinned at her sister and patted her back fondly. Then he leaned over and whispered something that had the littlest Summers in a fit of giggles. Hopefully he’d shared nothing X-rated, or they’d have to have the boundaries talk.

“All right,” Buffy said, hoping this time she could manage to tell the story linearly. “In a little more than two years, Angel is going to jump-start the apocalypse. Or an apocalypse, in our case. Actually, kinda on the vague whether or not it was just a stupid idea or an apocalypse—we didn’t get a ton of time to do the post-fight breakdown. We show up—show up with an army of slayers and bail him out. But not everyone makes it.”

She swallowed and glanced at Spike, then away again.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Willow said, waving her hands. “An army of slayers? As in more than just you and Faith?”

“Yeah. As in an army. Let’s come back to that.” Well, this linear-storytelling thing was off to a great start. “At the post-war celebration, there was a woman. She… I wasn’t in the best mood and she seemed to just know it.”

“You’d just saved the world for the umpteenth time and you weren’t in a good mood?” Xander scowled and aimed a glare over his shoulder. “You had something to do with this, didn’t you?” he snarled at Spike.

“Well, actually, yeah, he did, but not in the way you’re thinking,” Buffy said, straining to remain calm. “He’d died in front of me for the second time.”

That stole the wind from Xander’s sails. He whipped back, his brow furrowing. “Huh?”

Dawn scowled. “Spike is so not allowed to die.” She turned and smacked his arm. “Don’t do that.”

“Oi!” Spike replied, though he was grinning broadly. “Not like I had it planned or what all.”

“So you went back in time…for Spike?” Willow worried her lower lip between her teeth, shot a cautious glance to Tara before focusing again on Buffy. “Sorry,” she said. “Just…a bit with the getting used to.”

“You and me both, pidge,” Spike muttered, though still grinning.

“Look, I’m not going to say this again,” Buffy said, knowing full well that she would, in fact, say it again. Many times, likely, given how often it took her friends hearing something for it to sink in. “Two years is a lot of time and a lot can change. A lot does change. I’m sorry if that’s weird for you, but I really don’t want to be stuck repeating myself on this when there are actual problems and things we need to try to stop. In my timeline, Spike died next May. He did it while saving the world, so Xander, you can can-it with the happy dance. Nineteen days later, he’s back…only in Los Angeles. Angel convinces him to stay there.”

“Can we do that?” Xander asked brightly. “Ship him off to Angel? Why haven’t we thought of that before?”

“Oi, you pillock,” Spike barked, “sittin’ right here, aren’t I? And if you lot think you couldn’t get rid of me before, just bloody try it now that the Slayer’s told me she loves me.”

Buffy felt her face go hot as everyone turned back to her, wearing identical looks of shock. Well, shock and horror, in Xander’s case. He started rubbing his temples and muttering again about having a stroke.

“So it’s love?” Willow asked. “You didn’t mention that last night.”

“You knew about this last night?” Xander demanded. “Next time, Will, maybe give me some warning.”

Dawn practically vibrated with joy. Which was good—maybe she could ride this high long enough to not blow a gasket when Buffy brought the hammer down on her teenage thievery.

Ugh. More bad conversations. Buffy rolled her head back, begging the universe for patience. “Yes, I love Spike. Though at the moment I am trying very hard not to throw something at him because this meeting is not about us.”

“Slayer, hate to break it to you, but your chums aren’t gonna let you talk about anythin’ else until you have this out. Story was hard enough for me to swallow, and you know how bloody closed-minded some of your mates can be.” Spike aimed a meaningful glare at the back of Xander’s head, then looked back to her with a small shrug. “Sorry,” that shrug said. And she felt her irritation die almost immediately because of course he was right. There had been little to no hope that any of them, especially Xander, would roll with the punches just because she’d asked them to.

Buffy nodded to show she understood, and he offered her a soft smile.

“Closed-minded,” Xander repeated. “So it’s closed-minded to think my friend has lost her mind being involved with another vampire—one who was trying to kill us not too long ago?”

“Xander, I love you, but good god, do you even hear yourself?” Buffy waved to Anya, who blinked and gave her a befuddled wave back. “Need I remind you that you took your fiancé to the prom within weeks of her trying to get us all sucked into some universe where you and Willow were vampires?”

Xander went a bit purple in the face area. “That was different,” he said through clenched teeth.

“How?”

“It… She was human!”

“Yes, she was human. And she, as a human, tried to trick Willow into opening a portal to some hell world.”

“I would have done it on my own but I didn’t have my powers,” Anya replied defensively.

“This is not about Anya!” Xander snapped. “This is about you boinking the Evil Dead. Again!”

“It’s not about Anya, you’re right,” Buffy replied, folding her arms. “It’s about you having double standards when it comes to demons. All of us, actually, having double standards when it comes to demons. Spike has changed more in the last year than you have, Xander. If the only reason you’re holding his past over him is because he’s a demon, but you’re willing to forgive and forget where others like Anya are concerned, that says more about you. Hell, in order to save the world, I had to forgive Faith for not only trying to kill me, but hijacking my body, screwing my boyfriend, trying to help the Mayor end the world, and that’s not even getting into how she tried to kill Angel and succeeded in killing others.”

“Faith?” Tara frowned. “Isn’t she in prison? Was she a part of the slayer army?”

“Well, in the current when, she’s in prison. In the when I’m from, no. She busts out because of Angel. Or rather, he goes soulless and she’s needed to help hunt him down.”

Spike stiffened at that and shot her a pointed look, one she didn’t understand until her mind pulled her back to the conversation they’d had that morning. About the vampire who cornered her in the bathroom. How he’d asked if it had been Angelus. And had she replied? She couldn’t remember. But she did know that she hadn’t mentioned that, by the way, Angelus had made a reappearance. Mainly because she’d forgotten that he had. Since it hadn’t involved her or dead teachers left as morbid love letters to her Watcher, it had been an easy thing to slip from her mind.

“Angel goes soulless? Is that why you’re boinking Spike?”

Buffy wrinkled her nose, not wanting to know but knowing she needed to ask. “Xander, how in the world are those two things even remotely connected?”

He shrugged. “You have a thing for the undead. One of them goes homicidal when you have sex. The other can’t.”

“Oh for the love of… No, that is not what happened with Angel,” Buffy snapped. “I don’t even know the full story of what happened with Angel because we were kinda of the busy with our own crap. Something about a big baddie who knew Angel as Angelus, but Angel had no memory of him. So Wesley—of all people—decided that removing Angel’s soul might improve a situation where there was one unstoppable supervillain on the loose, which only goes to show you how very much not present he was the first time around. They tried to do it safely, which I still find hilarious, but in a big twist that everyone saw coming, Angelus got out and Faith was the best bet to wrangling him so Willow could shove his soul back up his ass.” She finished on a gasp, having run out of air. “Angel has nothing to do with Spike and me or why we’re together. But since you guys are so clearly not going to drop this, here’s the most I’ll say on the subject: getting pulled from Heaven was awful. I tried to hide how awful it was to spare your feelings, even after you found out, but I was not dealing well. Spike was the only person I could really stand to be around at all. That turned into something, which turned into something else. By the time he died the first time, we were as close to being in a real relationship as I’d ever thought we’d get. When he came back, though, Angel did what Angel always does and in his my-way-is-the-best-way convinced him that I deserved a normal life so I didn’t learn that Spike was back among the undead until about two seconds before I saw him dust during Angel’s stupid maybe-apocalypse. That’s why I was sad—well, pissed beyond the telling of it. This woman came up to me while the girls were celebrating, asked me why I wasn’t in a party-mood and somehow I ended up blurting the whole damn story. Last thing I remember was saying something to the effect of, ‘I just wish I’d had the chance to make things right’ and poof, next thing I knew, I was…”

Well, getting the daylights fucked out of her. Buffy shook her head, glanced at Spike who greeted her that damned sexy smirk of his and a wink. Thankfully, no one saw him…except Dawn, who wrinkled her nose and slapped his arm again.

“That does sound like a vengeance demon,” Anya said, nodding. “Even if the vengeance part is on the vague side, sometimes we take what we can get.” Then her eyes brightened. “Oh, it might have been a friend of mine. A warzone would be perfect for Halfrek. Ample opportunity to strike bargains.”

“It wasn’t.”

Anya frowned. “Do you even know Hallie?”

“Not well, but we met a couple of times.” The first time being rather soon. “Actually, I think she might be in town.”

“She is,” Xander muttered. “Not really missable, that one.”

Anya scowled at him.

Buffy sighed and turned to Dawn. “While we’re on the subject, by the way, maybe not with the wishing things aloud?”

Dawn’s face fell. “Excuse me? She who literally just—”

“Yes, she who literally just. Just because this time seems to have gone hitchless doesn’t mean that they will in the future.”

“Hitchless so far as you know,” Anya added. “Like I said, most demons would work in an angle for themselves in granting a wish of any kind.”

“Plus, knowing the future? Are we sure that’s a good?” Willow asked, glancing at Tara, then quickly away. “I mean, sure, there are things we’d all like to change but… Buffy, we saw just how badly my magic screwed things up for me. I’m not sure trying to change things is the right answer.”

Yeah, she’d thought that argument might come up, if not now then definitely when Giles’s plane touched down and they had their face-to-face conversation about all this. Magic has consequences, the danger of messing with time, blah, blah, blah. Maybe she was being reckless or stupid, but given how very bad their lives were on track to get without divine intervention, she wasn’t too worried about making things worse.

“Will,” she said in a calm, measured tone, “in the future I came from, Sunnydale is gone. It’s a crater. And…certain people are dead.”

“Yes, Spike,” Anya agreed. “But—”

“Not just Spike,” Buffy said, and leveled her with the most intent-filled stare she could without outright saying the words.

It took a moment, but Anya straightened, her eyes going wide. “Xander? Is Xander dead in the future?” She grabbed Xander’s hand. “We have to save Xander.”

Xander, for his part, looked a bit chagrined but not unhappy about her concern. He patted her hand with his free one. “Ahn—”

“It wasn’t Xander,” Buffy said softly. “Not Xander. Though he does lose an eye.”

Spike barked an uncharitable laugh at that, and this time earned a glare from everyone, even Dawn. “Sorry,” he said, bringing up his hands, his lips twitching. “Not funny.”

“It’s me, then.” Anya whirled back to Buffy. “I am dead in the future. And Xander loses an eye.” She took a moment to study Xander as though one of his eyes would just mosey on out of his head while she was watching. “I’d like very much to avoid that future. I can’t die right after I get married.”

Willow shifted a bit, her brow still furrowed. “Just the fact that Buffy has traveled through time might have changed that, though. You know, the butterfly effect? We might not need to do anything to keep certain things from happening. It’s better—”

“Not just Anya either,” Buffy said. “The Buffybot guy, Warren? He…” She licked her lips and glanced at Tara. There was just no good way to prepare someone for the news that they’d been killed. And though she had a new appreciation for Anya—especially given the time she and Xander had spent bonding over their respective losses—she’d always been closer to Tara, and that hadn’t changed. “Tonight or tomorrow, he’s going to kill his girlfriend. I don’t think it’s on purpose, but she’s definitely going to die. He goes from being a nuisance to dangerous and someone else dies. One of us.”

Willow sat up a bit straighter. “Who?” she asked, though the tremble in her voice said she already knew.

Buffy tried not to, but she couldn’t keep her eyes from going back to Tara, who looked somewhat startled but was otherwise taking the knowledge of her imminent death with the sort of grace only Tara could manage.

Would it matter, telling them the rest? That Willow would kill a man in cold blood before trying to end the world? Or was that like the bathroom incident, in which nothing good could come of it? Except maybe it was essential because Willow couldn’t be cut off from magic, as Giles had explained some time ago. She needed to learn how to manage it responsibly, especially if the only way to defeat the First was still by triggering the Potential in every would-be slayer on the globe.

No, she had to tell them this part. There really was no comparison between what Spike had done and what Willow had done—Willow’s actions affected more than just herself. And in order for them to understand why it was important that Willow start practicing again, they’d have to know the hows and whys, as well as the dangers involved.

“Warren tries a lot of stuff. It culminates with a robbery that I bust up, which is apparently the final straw for him. He comes at me with a gun. I get shot.” She held up a hand to stave off the horrified gasps that meet this pronouncement. “A bullet goes awry and hits someone else.” Those damn tears were back. Buffy inhaled deeply and grasped at her throat. “Tara…”

“No!” Willow jumped to her feet, static flying off the ends of her hair. She apparently didn’t notice. “No, no, no, no.”

“Yeah,” Buffy replied, wiping at her eyes. “And that’s just the start. Willow, you kinda…go off the deep end. You do end up saving my life, but when you learn it was Warren who shot her, you… Well, you hunt him down and kill him.”

The look in Willow’s eyes spoke plainly that she didn’t see the bad in this, which in itself was troubling.

“Then you decide to hunt down Jonathan and Andrew and kill them too. I try to get between you and them and, well… There’s a lot that happens. Short version is, Giles has perhaps the best timing ever to keep you from killing me and Anya—”

“Buffy, I would never—”

“Will, I lived it. You did. You said specifically that nothing mattered after Tara died and if we were standing in the way of Warren’s accomplices, we were collateral damage.” Buffy crossed her arms, this time avoiding looking at Spike because she knew she hadn’t shared this much with him. “Giles shows up—this coven in England got wind of what was going to happen, juiced him with magic and sent him to see if he could get you under control. He manages for a bit but, well, you’re too strong. You drain him of that magic and it… It makes you feel, everything. So much of everything that you decide to end the world.”

At this, Xander started to laugh. No, not just laugh. Outright cackle. He keeled forward, gripping his knees, hearty guffaws racking through his body. Willow looked at him for a moment before starting to laugh too, some of the shock in her eyes fading. Whatever the joke was, though, no one else seemed to get it. Anya just looked alarmed and somewhat wary of Willow, and Tara seemed torn between horror and heartbreak. It was a space Buffy knew well.

“Good Jiminy Christmas, Buff, you almost had me there,” Xander said when he drew upright again, his face red and his eyes shiny with tears. “Willow trying to end the world? Our Willow? Giles being a magic-wielding bad-ass? That’s… Oh man, that’s the funniest damn thing I’ve heard all month. Make that year.”

“I can’t tell you how much I am not kidding,” Buffy said. “Willow went off the deep end—she consumed the power from the black magic books and also went to that Rack guy to drain him as well. All she cared about was killing Jonathan and Andrew. If we were in the way, so be it.”

“Is that how I die?” Anya demanded, shooting to her feet. “Willow kills me?”

“No,” Buffy assured her quickly because though Anya had yet to get her vengeance back on, the look in her eyes screamed murder. “No. You die… Well, actually, saving Andrew’s life. The same Andrew but not from Willow.”

“I don’t like it,” Anya blurted.

“Who the hell is Andrew?” Willow demanded. “I don’t even know this guy!”

“Tucker’s brother,” Buffy replied. “Of hellhound fame. Remember prom night?”

“He had a brother?”

“Yes, and the brother is part of the trio that’s been screwing with us all year. Along with Jonathan.” She was still a moment, then brought up her hands. “Will, you went after Glory on a suicide mission after what she did to Tara. Are you telling me you can’t see yourself doing the same thing to the person who kills her or anyone you think might be to blame?”

“I’m off magic now,” Willow replied, her previous mirth having vanished outright. She looked to Tara, whose expression remained inscrutable. “I haven’t touched it. Well, I touched it—Amy kinda dosed me with magic the other day because she knew I was trying to not use it and wanted to get back at me for not figuring out how to de-rat her before I did, but I didn’t use it. I didn’t. And I so could have—this was when all that happened at Doublemeat Palace. It was so hard but I didn’t fall back on it. I didn’t. And I wouldn’t—”

“You don’t until Tara is killed,” Buffy said softly. “That’s what tips you over. All you care about is revenge. Until Giles shows up and you steal his borrowed magic and then all you care about is ending the world.”

Willow was shaking her head, tears skating down her cheeks. “No. No, that can’t be right. I would never do that. I would never—

“You do. Well, you try. The magic you steal from Giles is high on empathy. I said it makes you feel everything, and it does—all the pain of everyone in the world. That’s why you decide to end it. You think it’s a mercy.”

“Buffy, please. No.”

“This is insane,” Xander announced, drawing to his feet. “And anyone who believes this is insane. I’m sorry, Buffy McFly, but I must call bullshit on pretty much everything. So you’re screwing the undead again because you’ve clearly lost your mind and are trying to deflect by making Willow the bad guy? There’s no way this is even remotely possible and that you’d try to get me or any of us to believe it—”

“I believe it,” Anya said.

Well, that stole Xander righteous indignation. He blinked and glanced down at his fiancé. “What?”

“I believe it.” Anya shrugged, and though she looked a bit uncomfortable at the way Xander was staring at her, she didn’t back down. “I was a vengeance demon, so of course I can believe this. Live long enough and nothing seems out of the realm of possibility. We all know how much Willow loves Tara, how Tara being hurt has made her go on full magical benders in the past. It makes sense to me.”

Xander gawked at her a moment longer, then broke away and shook his head. “Ahn, I love you, but shut up.”

“Hey!” Tara snapped, aiming a glare at Xander. “I believe it too.”

Willow reeled as though she’d been slapped. “Tara…”

“I’m sorry, but I do,” she said, blinking and fixing her gaze on the floor, pointedly not meeting Willow’s eyes. “Buffy has no reason to lie to us. And we know that vengeance demons can grant wishes like the one she said she made. And Willow…” She drew her lower lip between her teeth. “I can believe it. Believe that you’d…become so overwhelmed that you’d lose control. It hurts to think about but if something happened… Yes, I can see it. A-and I think you can, too.” She drew in a breath before finally looking at Willow head-on. “I think you can.”

Willow stood still for a long moment—well, still but trembling all the same. After a moment, she lowered her head and nodded. “Yeah,” she said in a choked voice. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Buffy moved without thinking, throwing her arms around her friend and pulling her into a tight hug. “You haven’t done anything to be sorry for,” she said. “And you won’t. Okay?”

It was like hugging a statue at first, and then, slowly, Willow softened and nodded.

“I still say this is nuts,” Xander proclaimed, looking wildly around the room in search of an audience. “Willow would never—”

“Did I mention the part where you save the world, Xan?” Buffy asked, not breaking from the hug. “You were the only one who could. Got through to her by mentioning a yellow crayon she broke in kindergarten.”

Willow choked a sob and hugged Buffy tighter. For his part, Xander looked floored.

“I wasn’t there for the speech—kinda battling the undead at the time, but from your many, many retellings, it came down to you loved her no matter what. And if the world was gonna end, you were gonna be with her when it did.” Buffy pulled back at last, taking in her friend’s stunned expression. “It was quite the hero moment. Sorry I kinda cheated you out of that, but there are things I don’t want to happen this time around, and you don’t either.”

Xander just blinked at her, floundering. At length, he nodded, and that seemed to be the end of that.

And something in Buffy sagged. Thank god.

“It won’t happen,” Willow agreed thickly before sniffing and turning her reddened eyes to Tara. “None of it will happen. None of it.”

“Well, some of it will,” Buffy said. “Unless we can figure out a way to stop the First from rising, but I think the ship has sailed on that.”

“The First?” Willow echoed, wiping at her cheeks. “The First what?”

“The First Evil. It was around a few years back, tried to get Angel to dust himself after he got his soul back. Nearly succeeded.” She blew out a deep breath. “It can assume the form of anyone who is dead or has died. And it gains power because, well… Because of the resurrection spell. There’s an anomaly in the Slayer line because of me.”

“Because of the resurrection?” Willow furrowed her brow. “But… Buffy, you died once before.”

“And was brought back naturally. CPR to the rescue.” She shook her head. “It’s the unnatural resurrection that made it all wonky. But because of that, the First gets enough power to try and wipe out the entire Slayer line. We become home base for all Potential slayers, and in the end, use this weapon imbued with slayer-y goodness, to make any girl who has the potential to be a slayer into one. Hence why we had an army in Los Angeles. And…that’s how Spike dies. Fighting the First Evil, care of a magical amulet on loan to us from Angel. Sunnydale collapses.” Buffy frowned. “Well, the Scythe should be here already. I can grab that and have it from the get-go, which might help turn things in our favor. Especially when that Caleb guy shows up.”

Willow frowned. “Caleb?”

There was too much—so much more to tell them, and Buffy needed time to recuperate. She shook her head to clear it, then turned back to the others.

“One thing at a time,” she said, forcing a smile. “Giles will be here soon—I called him. He knows about the time travel and the First, though I gave him the extreme Cliff’s Notes version. I’ll need him to do something once he gets here—and that’s a conversation for Willow and Tara.”

Tara offered a stoic nod, whereas Willow looked worried again, but Buffy didn’t want to get into that now. She wasn’t sure if it was still necessary for Willow to take her sojourn across the pond, but that might be for the best. If Tara went with her, there was little chance a stray gunshot could end her life prematurely.

And Tara would want to go, of that Buffy was certain. Because she loved Willow—loved her enough to know when to step back, when she was being her own worst enemy. She would continue to love her even knowing what came in the timeline they were now erasing, and she’d want to be there to lend her support.

“Right now,” Buffy continued, “the important thing is we have time to prepare, and time to stop some of the bad that happens between now and then.” Buffy turned to Tara again. “Starting with Warren. I know where he lives. This guy needs to be behind bars like now. If we can reach Jonathan, I’m pretty sure I can convince him to help us. Toward the end, he wanted out, saw that Warren needed to be stopped. Andrew is probably a lost cause still… He’s kinda in love with Warren.” She paused before aiming a grin at Spike. “Then you.”

Spike blinked at her before shaking his head, snickering. “Bloke’s got good taste at least, but turns out I’m a taken fella.”

“You bet your sweet bippy.”

He grinned widely at that, and Dawn broke into a fit of giggles.

Xander groaned, the bewildered look on his face fading back into disgust. “Seriously. Can’t it be a stroke? I really don’t think I can handle cutesy talk between those two.”

“Shut up. It’s sweet,” Dawn snapped.

“I can’t handle sweet. It’s still Spike we’re talking about.”

“Xander,” Buffy said, crossing her arms, “I really need you to get over this. Or at the very least, accept that it’s happening and that my personal life is not up for committee vote. Namely because you were one of the people who helped me realize that in the first place.”

This seemed to mystify him. “Huh?”

Buffy shrugged. “After Anya dies, you go to grief counseling.”

“As well he should,” Anya agreed somewhat shrilly. “I am not an easy person to just let die. And I’m not dying this time.” She glared around the room as though daring someone to defy her.

Buffy smirked, but it faded when she turned back to Xander. “You convince me to do the same. Grief counseling, because you know how much I miss him, even though I won’t admit it.” She blew out a breath. “One of the last conversations we had in my time was you apologizing to me for being extra with the judgmental. You thought a lot of things—this year specifically—might have gone differently if you hadn’t, and not just for me.”

Well, if she was looking for a way to break Xander, she thought she might have found it. He opened his mouth but no sound came out, and the animosity in his eyes faded for something she hadn’t seen there much until this last year—the beginnings of introspection.

Might be hope for him after all.

“All right then,” she said, and looked to Spike. “Time to bring the hammer down on Warren Mears.”

Chapter Text

Tracking down Warren was beyond easy. Almost too easy.

After sending Dawn home with Willow, Buffy and Spike set out for Warren’s house. According to what she’d been able to glean from Andrew about this night, the murder—or manslaughter, as Andrew had declared—had happened after Warren had used some device on Katrina to get her back to their lair with the intention of raping her. Though Andrew had been adamant that he would never have done such a thing, he hadn’t looked too convinced of his own protestations. Regardless of his sexuality, Andrew had hung the moon on whatever Warren said or did. If Warren had wanted him to violate his ex-girlfriend, Andrew, at the time, would have been all too happy to oblige.

Spike picked the lock to the basement when no one answered the front door. He hadn’t been too chatty since they’d left the Magic Box, and Buffy was too singularly focused to ask. After the door was open, though, he stood aside and let Buffy in ahead of him, and she caught the look in his eyes. Something was definitely up.

“You’ve been here before,” Buffy said. “Right? I don’t need to find a family member to invite you in?”

He shook his head. “Been by a couple of times, actually. To place the order for your robo twin, and then a few months back, after I sussed out I could hit you. Needed someone to run some tests and this wanker came to mind.” At her look, he shrugged and broke his gaze from hers. “Wagered somethin’ was off with the chip. Tried to take a nibble of someone and—”

“You what?” She hadn’t known this, and hearing it made her stomach plummet.

Spike rubbed the back of his neck. “Don’t even know I wanted to, to be honest,” he muttered. “You’d brassed me off, dodgin’ me when I tried to talk about those kisses. Knocked me down, too, and when I hit you back and nothin’ happened… I dunno, Slayer. Had to talk myself into even tryin’ to take a bite of the bird. Wasn’t sure what I was then. Bloody hell, not sure what I am now.”

Buffy swallowed, pushing her apprehension aside and taking a step toward him. “You tried to kill someone this year, when the chip—”

“No,” he said, his voice firm. “Or…fuck me, I don’t know. I knew what I wanted and that was you. Knew if I hurt someone you’d stake me, but honestly, love, there were times I thought that might be far kinder. Bein’ so close but not close enough. If the chip had shorted out, I at least had the option of movin’ on. Gettin’ away from Sunnyhell once and for all, back to my old self. Wasn’t what I wanted, but the choice to do it…” Spike sighed and rolled his head back, his shoulders slumping. “That do it, then? You said I’m not a monster anymore just last night. Reckon you might wanna rethink that.”

She was quiet for a moment, considering. Yeah, hearing that Spike had tried to bite someone—with or without knowing his own intentions—so close to the start of their affair left her a bit shaken. At the time, Spike hadn’t known where he fit in anything, much less her life. And he hadn’t had the support or understanding she was determined to give him now. He’d been robbed of the only life he’d known and denied the life he was trying to build. No small wonder an identity crisis had occurred in the midst of that.

But she also couldn’t brush it off and pretend it hadn’t happened, or that it wasn’t anything to worry about. Next year, the chip would fail, and it’d fry his brain in the process. And though she hadn’t given the matter much thought, Buffy somehow knew her go-to instinct would have been to remove the damned thing once and for all, same as she had the last time.

But if Spike could hurt people and she and he, say, got into an argument, could she trust that he wouldn’t go off and start munching on civilians? She wanted to believe so but wasn’t certain, and she hated that she wasn’t.

“Spike,” she said softly, “what happens when the chip is out?”

He swung his head toward her, eyes wide and hopeful. “The chip comes out? When?”

“Next year. It starts short-circuiting and I give the okay to have it removed.”

“Well, what happened last time?”

Buffy bit her lower lip, not wanting to say but knowing she had to. “You had a soul then.”

The light she saw in his face faded a bit, but he nodded just the same. “Ah, so you didn’t have to worry about me,” he said. “Had other means to make sure ole Spike stays leashed.”

“Spike—”

“What you’re askin’ is if I’m gonna go back on the good stuff. Start munchin’ on townies, ’cause getting staked by the woman I love sounds like a rippin’ fun time.” He narrowed his eyes into a glare. “Are you off your bird?”

“No. No, but I have to ask that. You know I do.”

“Said you loved me and I wasn’t all that different from the version you knew with a soul. Would he go off and start picking off the locals?”

Great. She’d made him mad without even trying. Buffy exhaled slowly, willing herself not to embrace her own irritation. The last thing either of them needed was to start fighting now, as they waited for Warren and the dastardly duo to return from their evil outing. But damn, she’d forgotten just how effortlessly Spike got under her skin, especially like this. There were definitely things about him that she’d missed, things that had faded after he’d sought his soul, but this was not one of them. How he was always on the defensive, quick to anger when he sensed the conversation might swing toward territory he considered well and truly treaded.

“Spike,” Buffy said in a forced calm, “these are things we have to talk about. I’m sorry, but you know that. Especially going forward—you and me together, in a real relationship, where I’m not making all the calls and we’re figuring things out together. But when it happens next year, when the chip starts misfiring, I don’t want to tell the commando guys to fix it. I want to be able to tell them to take it out. But I’m the Slayer, and I have to think about these things.”

He stared at her for a moment, his expression inscrutable. It was truly unfair how he could do that—be so easy to read one second and a closed book the next. After a long beat, he breathed out and looked away, some of the hard lines on his face softening.

“I’d never hurt you,” he said in a small voice. “You think I don’t know what would hurt you? Me hitting the good stuff, making you hunt me the way you did your ex honey-pot. Wouldn’t ever put you in that place, love.” He paused. “Can’t promise I’ll be perfect, ’cause we both know that’s rubbish. Might get cornered—more super soldiers around aimin’ to do science experiments on yours truly and the like. I went out that night to steal a bite because I didn’t know whether I could or not, and fuck, Slayer, it’s what I’m supposed to do, isn’t it? Be a monster? A killer? All I was told I could be, even after the chip. Even after I realized I’d lost my head for you. If I can’t be a monster and I’m not good enough to be anythin’ else, what the bloody hell is there? I didn’t know. That’s why I had to talk myself up to even try.”

Buffy closed the space between them, took his face between her hands and pulled him down for a kiss. A long, slow kiss—the type that did its own sort of talking. The situation in her own head was a little confused, but maybe she didn’t need to have the answers just yet.

And he was right, of course. By this point in their relationship, Spike had been insistent for more than a year that he’d changed, and she hadn’t allowed herself to consider that as a real possibility until after Glory had tried to torture the stuffing out of him. Even then, the allowances she’d given him had been rather minute. She’d trusted him to protect Dawn—she still did. She’d trusted him to fight with her, for her, be there whenever she needed him. And a lot of that had changed once she’d come back from the dead. She’d known he loved her, that he would do whatever he could for her, but even after she’d started giving in to her darker fantasies, she’d maintained the line that he wasn’t good enough. Things she’d said to him while truly speaking to herself. She’d denied his humanity every time he’d gotten too close. So yeah, if he’d thought for a second the thing keeping him from being the thing she said he was had stopped working…

“Spike, I want the chip out,” she said. “For a lot of reasons, but the foremost being, it’s not fair to you to keep it in. You need to know that my loving you isn’t conditional on whether or not you have a chip or a soul or both. And…for us to work, there has to be trust, right?”

He didn’t say anything, kept his gaze on the ground.

“And I know how you feel about trust. That it’s for…old marrieds, or whatever it was you told me.”

Spike swung his head upward. “When’d I say that?”

In the bathroom that night. Buffy crossed her arms and shivered. “Sometime after this when,” she replied in a careful, neutral voice. “After I’d ended things. I told you I had feelings for you but they weren’t love, and they never would be because I couldn’t trust you.”

He nodded and looked away again.

“You told me love was wild and passion, not trust. I’m telling you right now it’s both. I need both. I can’t have one without the other. Which means I have to trust you.” She lowered her gaze to his chest, started playing her fingers along the collar of his T-shirt. “I do trust you. I trust you not to hurt me and I trust you to know what that means. And…whatever happened before… We don’t know how things might have gone had I not kept pushing you away. If you’d learned the chip didn’t work… Maybe you would have kept it from me even then—”

“Slayer—”

“It’s possible. Maybe even probable, if you thought the chip was the only way you could have me, you’d try to pretend like it was still working.” She met his eyes again. “Wouldn’t you?”

He just looked at her, his jaw tight and the answer in his eyes.

“Things like that, things you think might mean the end of this, I need to know,” Buffy said. “We will work out whatever hits us together, you and me. If you try to keep things from me… I’m going to find out. And it’s going to hurt—hurt a whole lot worse than it would have if you’d just been upfront. I want this to work and I will fight for it, but I need to know you’ll fight for it too. That you’ll believe in me—believe in us—enough to tell me everything, even the bad stuff.”

Spike was quiet, studying her again with that annoyingly inscrutable gaze. Then he cracked a small smile, huffed a laugh and shook his head.

“Gonna take some time, pet,” he said. “Knowin’ you won’t just melt away from me. Can’t promise I’ll make all the right calls, but I’ll try. Might make a right mess outta things still, and yeah, the thought that I could scares me stupid.”

“It scares me too,” Buffy said. “Hell, everything about being back here terrifies me. But it’s a good scared. A scared I think you and I can manage if you trust me with the big stuff.”

“Big stuff like what happened with a vamp in a bathroom?” Spike shot back, startling her so much she was surprised when her legs didn’t give out from under her. Maybe she was stupid or naïve or both, but she hadn’t seen this coming.

In all likelihood, it only took a second or so to recover, but it felt like an eternity. Buffy drew in a breath, trying for calm even though she knew he could tell she was anything but. Her racing heart would have given her away.

“Gonna trust me with that?” Spike asked, his voice a bit softer now. “Tell me who it was.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“So it is someone I know, then. Woulda been easy enough for you to say it wasn’t.”

Damn. Buffy swallowed and looked away. “Spike, it really doesn’t matter. Trust me when I say that.”

“Trust you when you can’t trust me with it? Afraid of what I might do?” He edged closer a step, and yeah, there was a dangerous glint in his eyes. “Noticed how you didn’t tell me when I asked if it was Angelus. And you left out that the soul got ripped away from the great wanker sometime down the line.”

At that, Buffy’s pulse jumped, and though she knew not to count her chickens just yet, she couldn’t help the welcoming wave of relief that washed through her at the question. That would definitely explain why he’d been so quiet on the walk here, if he were mulling over the possibility that Angelus was the culprit and she was keeping quiet to protect Angel.

A decision cemented within her then, one that flew right past her internal filters and turned into action before she could rethink it.

“Yes,” she said. “Angelus. It was Angelus.”

Once the words were out, she found herself slammed with a potent wave of relief that it was over—that she wouldn’t have to dance around it so much—and guilt because, even though Angelus definitely would have tried to rape her, he hadn’t. She didn’t really care about saddling him with the crime—it wasn’t something Angel would find shocking were word to get back to him—but she knew she’d crossed some line just now that she might one day regret crossing. There wasn’t a trail for Spike to follow to find the truth, of course, but Buffy understood better now than she ever had how the small things became big things. And despite understanding how much the truth would have hurt him, she couldn’t help but feel like a hypocrite, especially after the lines she’d just drawn.

This would be the only transgression.

Spike stared at her for a long moment, breathing hard in that way of his, his jaw clenched and his eyes flashing gold. He balled his hands into fists, every inch of him positively vibrating.

“Spike—”

“That why you weren’t in it? The hunt to find him? Why you let the other Slayer take charge?”

No, but there was no explaining that Buffy hadn’t even learned about Angel’s soulless stint until it had been near its conclusion and Willow had left to perform the spell that had kicked off her witchy career. There had been too much going on here for her to be involved with whatever happened in LA, and it certainly wasn’t like she and Angel compared notes all that much. Seeing him had been too painful.

Well, that wasn’t the way it was now. Buffy nodded again. “Yeah. Umm, Wes called me first. I went to Los Angeles and…well, that happened.”

“And where was I?” Spike demanded. “I let you do that on your lonesome? Knowin’ how hard it was for the first time? Knowing him the way I do? Some bloody soul.”

In for a penny. As long as she was making stuff up…

“I needed you to stay here,” she replied. “Earlier, what I said about the First? So wasn’t kidding. I couldn’t afford to let more people leave here, especially when I wasn’t sure who all I trusted. So with me and Willow being gone, I needed someone I trusted here. I needed you here. You wanted to come but you understood that you couldn’t.”

Buffy turned away from him before he could see something more in her eyes—something that might give the game away. Her gut twisted and her chest ached, and even though she knew this was for the best, she hated herself a little bit. And that was something she hadn’t done since the last time she’d been here. When she’d last told a convenient lie to spare the feelings of the people she loved.

What hurt more, though, was how easily this could have been true. If Wesley had called to tell her that Angel was running around sans soul and they needed help, she might have well dropped everything to go hunt him down. She would have definitely told Spike to stay put—soul or no soul—because he was the strongest one of them once she and Willow were out of the equation. And had she hunted down Angelus… Yeah, he might well have tried to rape her. Only he would have known what he was doing the entire time, relished in it, and wouldn’t have stopped unless she’d stuck a stake in his chest. That could have just as easily been the story about the vampire in the bathroom.

“Slayer, that happens this time around, and I’m bloody killing him.” He was behind her then, gripping her shoulders. “You say I don’t need a soul and I’ll trust you’re speakin’ true, but that means knowin’ that I won’t sit here knowin’ he hurt you and bein’ fine and dandy just stuffing a soul back up his arse. It means I kill him.”

The immediate thing that came to mind was asinine since this whole history was made up to start with. “You’re not killing anyone.”

“Buffy—”

“You’re not. The end. We’re not talking about this anymore. What happened happened but it also didn’t, okay? None of the things I’ve talked about have happened and none of them have to this time around.”

Except she did think they needed Faith and wasn’t sure what the deal with the baddie in Los Angeles had been, so it might be that Angelus would need to make an appearance after all. She’d just have to warn Wesley to be extra cautious. Though if Angelus didn’t get loose, there was no need to bust Faith out of the big house, and a bunch of other stuff went up in the air.

God, her head hurt.

“I know he’s your great big love,” Spike said—or rather snarled, “but he hurts you like that, he gets close enough, I’m not gonna hold back. That brasses you off, fine, but I watched what he did to Dru and it’ll be a cold bloody day in hell before I let that happen to you. If his sodding soul is so loose, might be better just to dust him and have it over with.”

Buffy sighed, annoyance warring with understanding. Convenient lie that it had been, Spike already had plenty of reasons to hate Angel without bringing her into the mix. Add in assault and it was no small wonder he was being unreasonable.

“He’s not my great big love,” she replied. “If he was, I’d be in LA.”

“He’s not because the two of you can’t shag.”

“He’s not because I’m in love with you, you moron.” She gave him a little shove to emphasize the point. “You got yourself a soul without a curse or an escape clause. If I wanted Angel, I’d have told him that, asked him to do the same. At least brought it to his attention that it was possible, if we wanted to be together. And yeah, the me who you knew yesterday would have told you that Angel remained the standard by which all boyfriends, future, and past, would be judged. And she would have meant it. But I am not that version of me anymore and I’m here with you.”

At this, he seemed somewhat mollified. Somewhat but not all the way, which, yes, major with the annoyance.

“Still mighty convenient, though, innit?” he asked in a small voice. “Got one vamp who doesn’t care if you age on me. Who will love you until the bloody end of time and be grateful for every second we have together. Word is that Angel thought you might start to hate his broody arse if he stayed young and pretty forever.”

“Spike, in the when I came from, right after you died, Angel wasn’t a vampire anymore.”

He blinked at her. “No? How’d he manage that?”

“Some kind of prophecy about the vampire with a soul who saves the world gets to turn human.” Buffy couldn’t help it—she snorted. “Never mind the fact that Angel started this stupid apocalypse on his own, but… God, when I heard that, I was mad.”

“You were?”

“A vampire with a soul who saves the world gets to be human? And Angel collects the prize?” It was impossible to keep the bitterness out of her voice so she didn’t try. “Angel, who was cursed with a soul, not once but twice? Make that three times? And you, who went out and won one on your own? Who wanted to be… And who helped saved the world—outright did the saving—on multiple occasions. And managed to do that without starting an apocalypse of your very own in the process? You dust and Angel gets the big reward. In what world is that fair?”

She caught herself before the rant could go on, not surprised to see a glimmer of glee in Spike’s eyes. He’d never heard her rail against Angel before. And though she hated to kill it, she knew she had to before he started getting the wrong idea.

“I’m not saying I’m sorry he turned human,” she said, “or that I hate him. I don’t. I’m annoyed with him, but he’ll always be in my heart. But I don’t understand why he was chosen and you weren’t. Why you didn’t immediately come back as human after closing the Hellmouth. You were a better vampire than he was and, in a lot of ways, a better man, too. You never tried to control me or crowd me or pin your redemption on me. You never even tried to get back together when you came back all souled up. You just wanted to be here, to help.”

Spike was breathing heavily, again wearing the look he’d worn all the previous night. She’d seen a few shades of it today, but not like this. And she understood. Part of Spike would likely always live in Angel’s shadow, mostly because that was where he’d been told he belonged by her and so many others. Hearing he was superior to Angel in any form, and especially from her, might have topped the revelation that she was in love with him.

“So when I say there will be no dusting of Angel,” Buffy went on, “I don’t mean it because I want him or because I love him or because you’re my Angel stand-in. When I say I love you, it isn’t conditional. I’m standing here right now as someone who knows, if things go the same way, Angel will be human and all the reasons we had for breaking up would be nipped in the bud. But he’s not the one I want. That doesn’t mean I’m going to be okay with him being killed over something his soulless self does. Okay?”

He held her gaze a moment longer before ultimately nodding. “Right then,” he said, his voice a bit thick. “But Slayer, if things don’t go as differently—or not differently enough—and he manages… You don’t fight him off? Can’t make any promises then. Sorry, but I can’t.”

Part of her wanted to keep arguing. A lot of her did, actually, but that was easy for her. Arguing on hypotheticals that she knew would never come to pass versus Spike believing that something like this had happened and might well happen again. There was also the memory there of how utterly furious she’d been with Giles once she’d realized he was distracting her for the sole purpose of killing Spike. A souled vampire that she’d relied on, trusted, and at that point—though she hadn’t known it—loved, all because of some old grudge match and his belief that it was for the best. Had Robin succeeded in staking Spike, how would she have reacted?

She didn’t know. It was a question that had cost her sleep more than once, but she wasn’t sure what the answer would be. And she didn’t have the impulses of a vampire guiding her thoughts and feelings, only the ones she’d been brought up with.

If Angel had found out about what had happened in the bathroom—something she’d skimped on telling him on purpose—then how would he have reacted?

That answer came to her quickly.

“Okay,” Buffy said, rubbing her arms. “Okay.”

“Yeah?”

“Well, I don’t agree with it but we’re not going to agree on everything. And since that didn’t and won’t happen, it’s hard to say how I’d feel if it did. But right now, standing here, having lived what I did live, I don’t agree with it. And I’d try to stop you. But I’d understand why.” She favored him with a soft smile, one that turned into an all-out grin at the look he gave her. “You really gotta stop doing that.”

“Doing what?”

“Going all slack-jawed on me. I’m getting it enough from my friends, and survey says that’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

He smirked at that. “Give a fella a break. Wasn’t but yesterday you’d have staked me just for suggestin’ I off your ex, no matter what the reason.”

“I know, I know. But still, with the gawking. Not the best way to make me feel less like a freak.”

“Happens I fancy your freaky parts,” he replied, the smirk turning seductive in that special way of his. He hesitated, then bent to capture her lips in a kiss that started chaste but, damn, she was still fresh off a drought and he was right here. Teasing her with his tongue, dragging her against his chest and doing things with his mouth that were so good they were evil, but in the best possible way.

Making out in a would-be killer’s basement was probably not the best use of their time, but Spike had a way of zapping the sense right out of her. That was something, at least, that hadn’t changed since the last time she’d been here—only rather than resent the hell out of it, Buffy threw herself into it with full gusto. Somehow, her hands ended up tunneled through his hair and her legs around his hips, and the ground was moving and she just knew in the next second, the wall would be at her back and he’d be well on his way to screwing her brains out.

The only thing that could have stopped her at this point was the fumbling sound on the other side of the basement door, accompanied by a slew of voices that, while muffled, were all too familiar.

Spike pulled back at the same time, growling low in his throat, and panted against her lips. “Bugger,” he muttered, and she agreed.

“Later. Tonight.”

“Better bloody believe it.” He pressed a kiss to the corner of her mouth, then on her lips again, before pulling back with a groan and turning toward the door just as it swung open.

“I have just the perfect outfit for you,” Warren was saying, his arm around Katrina, an odd, disturbingly vacant expression on her face. “You’ve always wanted to be a French maid, haven’t you?”

Behind him, Jonathan and Andrew broke into a slew of giggles.

“Yes, Master,” Katrina replied.

“This is so cool,” Jonathan hissed. “Like, we can get her to do anything.”

“Anything at all, boys,” Warren agreed, an ugly, chipper smile stretching his face.

The sparks that Spike had instigated a few seconds earlier died abruptly, and Buffy felt her gut clench before anger overrode her disgust.

This guy. This rapist asshole.

Then Warren saw her, and that sick grin of his disappeared in a flash.

“Hello, Warren,” she said with a calm she didn’t feel, crossing her arms. She glanced from him to Jonathan, who had gone pale, and Andrew, who looked like he might piss himself. “Want to introduce me to your friend?”

“Oh no,” Jonathan said, holding his stomach. As though he hadn’t been a hair away from aiding and abetting sexual assault. Or maybe he didn’t realize that he had, which was somehow worse. “Oh no, oh no, oh no.”

“Warren?” Andrew asked in a shrill. A loyal minion awaiting his barking orders.

“Yeah,” Buffy said in a dry tone, tilting her head. “Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but this band is breaking up.”

Chapter Text

As far as the Trio was concerned, things went more or less the way Buffy had expected. Or rather, hoped. She knew she was playing a bit fast and loose with all her foreknowledge, but over the years she’d learned to trust her instincts. While they weren’t always on the money, they seemed to grow finer with age. Plus, they had saved her ass more than once.

The second she’d focused on Katrina—Spike posing and making with the usual threats, which seemed to work even though these guys knew about the chip—and pointed out that what they were planning to do to her was rape by any sane person’s and legal definition, Jonathan had caved. Big time. And once blood was in the water, Buffy had gone in for the kill.

But that was nothing compared to what Katrina had done once her mind was her own again. She’d taken one look at her surroundings, at Warren, and started in on how she was going to press charges for kidnapping, and whatever else she could find that might stick. Andrew had burst into tears and Jonathan, pale and shaken, had agreed readily to cooperate. Fess up to everything Warren had done or planned on doing over the past few months, whatever it took to distance himself from the bomb that was about to go off in the Mears’ household. At this, Warren had attacked Jonathan outright, grabbing some geekazoid statue from a nearby bookcase with the intent of bashing him over the head with it.

A fool thing to do in the presence of the Slayer. Though Buffy was intent that no one need die, she had taken pleasure in watching her would-be assassin smash through his bookcase and be inundated in a shower of Star Wars action figures.

Buffy had perp-walked Warren to the Sunnydale Police Department, Katrina at her side, ready to give her statement. Spike had corralled Jonathan and Andrew well enough, the former all-too-willing to cooperate and the latter too terrified to object.

It wasn’t over, though. Buffy wouldn’t fool herself into thinking that all it would take to eliminate the threat that was the fragile male ego of Warren Mears was being arrested. Even with Katrina’s statement and Jonathan’s willingness to fork over all the dirt, there were things like bail and due process to worry about, and Buffy knew when cornered, Warren was at his most dangerous.

“We’ll have to be careful,” she said as she and Spike walked back to Revello Drive, having seen Katrina safely home. There was that, at least. Katrina would go to sleep in her own bed tonight, something the Katrina from Buffy’s when would never do again. Or perhaps this was her when now. She wasn’t sure how that worked—if the world she’d left was still turning, or if it had ceased to exist the second the vengeance demon had zapped her back. And she wasn’t sure she wanted to know—it was easier to feel secure in the current when if she believed the other was gone for good.

“Hussat?”

“Warren’s being arrested is a step in the right direction, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be behind bars permanently. His parents might bail him out and he might come after me for payback.” She lifted her shoulders in a shrug. “Or he might not. This Warren hasn’t killed someone, and the way Andrew talked, that was what really changed him. Or made him go completely off the deep end.”

Spike was quiet for a moment, keeping his gaze pinned on the ground. At length, he said, “Sure it wouldn’t be better to off the prick?”

“We’re not doing that.”

“Slayer, I know he’s human and there are rules, but the way you talk about what happened, not sure he’s worth the distinction. What he aimed to do to his ex tonight, what he would do to you if you hadn’t mucked up his plans. Shootin’ you, killing Glinda the Good Witch—isn’t knowin’ he has that in him enough?”

“I don’t get to decide that. And I won’t kill in cold blood.” Granted, if Warren came at her with a gun and the only way to save herself and Tara was to snap his neck, Buffy doubted she’d feel too badly about that. If it came down to it.

Spike touched her arm and tugged her to a standstill. He held her gaze for a moment, blew out a breath, then firmed up his shoulders and seemed to brace himself.

“Get the chip out,” he said quietly, “and I’ll do it.”

“What?”

“If it’s a matter of who gets their hands dirty, mine are already plenty filthy. Won’t blip on my conscience, neither.” He looked at her, eyes serious. “Know you won’t. Know you might stake me for suggesting it, but love, not too wild about takin’ chances when it comes to you. You change things enough, maybe he does come at you with a gun again. Maybe this time his aim’s true. If I can stop that from happening, I’ll do it. It’ll be on me, not you. Hate me for a bit if you like, but I’ll sleep just fine knowin’ you’re safe.”

The offer shouldn’t have surprised her, but it did. Mainly because of how brave it was—how brave he was even suggesting it, him knowing what she would say. And while she couldn’t claim his calm didn’t trouble her, she also couldn’t help but appreciate the fact that he hadn’t tried to hide these thoughts from her. It meant that he was taking what she’d said earlier to heart.

It meant everything.

Buffy pressed close and brushed a kiss across his lips, not surprised to feel him shaking against her. That had, after all, been quite a large step.

“No one’s killing Warren,” she said. Then hedged, because she knew she needed to address what he’d just offered in a larger way. Her mind, however, refused to play along, and after tripping and stumbling over a thousand false-starts and sentiments, she finally settled on something simple and true. “Thank you.”

The surprised look he gave her was entirely expected.

“Almost afraid to ask, but what is it exactly you’re thankin’ me for, pet?”

“For not holding back. For saying that.”

“For offerin’ to be a monster, you mean.”

“For not pretending you don’t feel like that, that you don’t have those thoughts. And for asking me rather than going off and trying to do it on your own.” She placed a hand on his chest, studied her splayed fingers for a moment before meeting his gaze again. “This is going to be what makes or breaks us. Things like that. I know that wasn’t easy for you.”

He swallowed, the corner of his mouth twitching. “Still waitin’ for you to pop me a good one. Might be yet for a while.”

“I know. But I won’t.” She paused. “Not so long as we keep like this. With the honesty and the saying things we’re thinking and feeling, even if the other one might not like it.”

A mutinous voice in her head started cackling at that, and the sound was terrible. She knew why it was there, knew what she’d done to deserve it, and though she maintained that it was for the best, that no good could come of Spike knowing that particular truth, she couldn’t help being swallowed in a tidal wave of shame. And for a moment, the urge was there to come clean, walk everything back. Tell him the truth of what had happened that night in the bathroom if only to be as good as her word. Assure him of the things she’d decided about it, how she’d come to think of it, and that she knew he would never do anything like that to hurt her. That even when he had, it hadn’t been to hurt her. It had been the last resort of an abused animal—and one that had sought its own death once the dust had settled.

But she didn’t tell him, because the other voice was there too. More persuasive with its logical arguments that Spike didn’t need to carry the burden of something he hadn’t done. Nothing good would come of it—all it would do was cause more pain and she was through with pain. At least where they were concerned.

“I love you,” she said, forcing herself back to the present. “All of you, Spike. Even the bad.”

He released a shaky breath, and she didn’t miss the way his eyes glazed over. Then he hauled her against his chest and covered her mouth with his, and there was nothing brief about this. It was the sort of kiss she knew was going places, naked places, and suddenly she couldn’t wait to be home where she could relive last night.

“We’re going to have to be a little quiet when we get to my room,” she said against his lips. “Don’t want to scar Dawn for life.”

He grinned, pulling her as close as he could so she could feel everything inch of him. His hard chest, the defined lines of his abdomen, and the thick, solid length of his cock. “Dunno if I can do that, love,” he murmured. “Rather, not sure you can. Not for what I have planned for you.”

“All right, well, you have to help me pay for her therapy.”

This earned an outright chuckle. “Only fair, considerin’ I’ll be partly responsible.”

“Umm, if you’re doing evil things to me, you’ll be entirely responsible.”

“Only way to get my evil in these days.” Spike kissed her again and growled softly into her mouth. “Fancy a race, Slayer?”

“Fancy losing a race, Vampire?”

He grinned, then shoved her hard enough to cost her her balance, and Buffy found herself sprawled against the pavement the next second, her butt whining in protest.

“Hey!”

“Evil, remember?” He winked, then took off at a hard sprint in the direction of home.

Stupid vampire. He was so going to get it. Buffy flipped herself to her feet and all but shot after him, her legs pumping hard, heart thumping, and a rush of excitement she couldn’t quite kill shooting down her spine. It was easy enough to catch up to him, harder not to stop and gloat that she was faster. She released a high-pitched squeal when he roared behind her, picking up speed until she was almost certain there was a Buffy-shaped hole in the future of her front door. Somehow, though, she managed to pull the brakes in time to reclaim control—though perhaps not quite fast enough, for Spike was right behind her, on top of her, and barreled her into the door with a hard thump that might have hurt had she not been laughing so hard. Then she wasn’t laughing at all, for Spike yanked her into his arms and attacked her mouth.

And damn, she almost lost the feeling in her legs because nothing had been like this before. Sweet and hot and playful and fun. God, she’d missed fun. At some point in her life, she’d stopped having it, but she wasn’t sure when. She’d been disconnected from everyone and everything for so long—first after Heaven, then in the long fight that followed, and this last year mourning all that she’d lost. And all that time there had been the possibility of this—of Spike chasing her home, making her laugh, sweeping her up and into him. Even with all the stuff that had come and what still lay ahead, she felt free in ways she hadn’t since before her mother had died. Since before she’d learned what Glory was and the insurmountable odds that had awaited her.

Spike growled, rotating his hips so his cock nudged her sex, the sensation electric—lighting her up from the inside. Buffy clung to him, digging her fingers into his upper arms hard enough to make a normal guy cry out in pain, which made her thank her lucky stars that Spike was about as far from normal as one could get. And all she wanted right now was for him to tear her pants off and do bad things to her, though maybe they ought to go inside first on account of the neighbors.

Something that became imperative to tell him before he made with the clothes ripping.

“Spike,” Buffy gasped when she yanked away from his mouth. “We…inside.”

“Mhmm,” he agreed, kissing a wet path down her neck and making her pulse jump. “Gonna be inside. All bloody night. Think you can handle it?”

“Oh god.”

“That’s not a no, Slayer.” He blinked up at her impishly, dancing a hand between them to cup her pussy, which, yes, was drenched. Small sparks shot through her at the contact. “Bit hungry at the mo’. Got anything juicy for your Spike to eat?”

“No. I mean…yes, but inside.” She seized him by the ears and dragged him back up to her mouth for another long, delicious kiss. “Seriously,” she muttered against his lips. “We need to go in…now.”

It was as if the universe had heard her, and hell, maybe it had. For the next instant, the pressure against her back disappeared and she was falling, her vampire coming with her. Spike growled and tried to twist them so he’d take the brunt of the impact, but wasn’t quite fast enough, and they ended up crashing together on their sides.

When Buffy opened her eyes, she found her sister, looking entirely too smug, standing over them.

“Really with the example-setting,” Dawn drawled, crossing her arms. “What page does fornicating with the undead fall on in the parenting handbook?”

Buffy groaned and rolled her head back. “What are the odds you’ll just leave us alone and never mention this again?”

“I think you know the answer to that.”

“I’ll repay you with trauma,” Buffy replied, pushing herself off the floor. “Just for that, now I’m not going to ask Spike to be quiet tonight.”

“No?” Spike all but sprang to his feet before throwing an arm around her to steer her into him. “Oh, Nibblet,” he drawled, “hope you didn’t fancy gettin’ much rest. Slayer’s a bloody screamer. And she knows how to make it hurt in all the right places.”

Okay, that was going a bit far. Buffy wrinkled her nose and elbowed him, then caught sight of the living room over Dawn’s shoulder and froze. Because of course, her sister wasn’t alone—of course, Willow and Tara were in there, watching the whole exchange with mingled looks of amusement and disgust. And if that wasn’t enough—

“Giles!” The name came out a squeak through no fault of her own. “Umm…there’s little to no chance you were suddenly struck deaf in the past ninety seconds, is there?”

Giles already had his glasses in hand, ready for a good polish. “Afraid not,” he murmured, and hell, even Buffy could see the red in his cheeks. “Though believe me, I wish it very much.”

Willow now looked to be struggling to keep a straight face, which, while embarrassing, was still loads better than the eww that had been there just a second ago. “Giles called when he landed. You said you had things to talk about with him…a-and us”—she glanced uncertainly to Tara—“so we decided to come here and wait.”

“Did you stop him?” Tara asked. “Warren? Is Katrina all right?”

And just like that, all thoughts of sexy times flew out the window and reality came back. Work first, then play.

Buffy nodded, then glanced over her shoulder to Spike. “Close the door. Dawn—”

“Don’t even try to tell me to go to my room.”

“I wasn’t going to,” Buffy replied.

“Because I am a part of this, too, and it’s not like sound doesn’t carry in this place and—wait.”

Buffy smirked. “I mean, carry on trying to persuade me if you want, but that’s just going to crowd in my nookie time.”

Spike snickered, taking his place at her side. “That one’s on you, pet,” he murmured. “I’ll get the next therapy session.”

“What about all the therapy for everyone in this room?” Giles asked dryly, scowling at them both, though more severely at her, like she’d let him down or something. Which she supposed she had.

All’s fair. He’d let her down massively when he’d partnered with Robin to dust her vampire. He could learn to live with disappointment.

But rather than take the bait, she turned back to Dawn. “I was going to ask if you’ve eaten. There’s some leftover pizza in the fridge, otherwise we can order something else.”

“Takeout two nights in a row?” Willow asked, her eyebrows winging upward. “Did you happen to come from the future with oodles of cash on you?”

Would have been hard, seeing as she’d been buck-naked when she’d slammed into her past body. Buffy ducked her head to hide her grin, knowing she’d just be asked to explain it and make things super awkward for everyone.

“Told the Slayer I’d start pitching in,” Spike said, throwing his arm around her shoulders. And hell, she could feel how much he enjoyed doing that—it practically vibrated off him, and the sensation was addictive. “Seein’ as I’m gonna be livin’ here and all.”

There was a long pause. Then, all at once, the room exploded.

“What?” Giles jack-in-the-boxed to his feet.

“What?” Willow demanded shrilly at the same time.

“Really?” Dawn squealed, clapping her enthusiasm. “Oh, I like Future Buffy. A lot.”

“Somewhat partial to her, myself,” Spike agreed and pressed a kiss to her temple. “Though the Buffy I was with at the start definitely had her moments.”

Buffy rolled her eyes and elbowed him again—not enough to jar him from her side, but enough to let him know that comments like that were not helpful. Unsurprisingly, he just grinned at her and winked. The jerk.

“Buffy, this is insanity,” Giles sputtered, coming forward. “Dating him is one thing, but with Dawn in the house and child services breathing down your neck, do you really think it wise to move a vampire into your bedroom?”

Huh. Good, solid, actual point made with the child services comment. The lady hadn’t seemed too impressed with Spike the first time she’d seen him, and if memory served, he’d somewhat stuck his foot in it. Granted, all of that had somewhat vanished over the coming months—she’d always suspected Giles had had a hand in it, but had never talked to him about it, and now didn’t seem like the best time to ask if he’d bribed government workers to turn a blind eye.

“We’ll work it out,” she said, not having the foggiest idea of how, because oddly, the threat of losing Dawn didn’t seem very real. Not as real as it had the last time she’d been here. And that was probably dangerous—probably how the time travel mojo did its thing. Fix Problem A, create Problem AB. Buffy blew out a breath and glanced at Spike. “Maybe we oughta hold off for a bit. I mean, not forever because, well, this place will be Slayer Central in a few months and no one seemed to bat an eye at that. But just until the child services stuff is well and in the past. I’m sorry.”

She could tell this much disappointed him, but that he also understood. “Offer’s the same,” he said, then lifted his gaze to the others. “The lot of you might pitch in a bit too, you bloody leeches. Why’s it only Buffy who worries about the bloody mortgage around here?”

Buffy barked a laugh and pressed her hand to her mouth. At the looks she received, she tried for contrite but found she didn’t have it in her. “I mean, he’s kinda right,” she said. “What were you all planning to do if the resurrection spell didn’t work? Sell the place? You’d kinda moved in and made it your own.”

Willow just stared at her as though the concept of paying for room and board was foreign to her. And hey, maybe it had been at this point in her life. Lucky witch.

“This is all beside the point,” Giles said, crashing back to the sofa with a scowl. “We have a problem on our hands that we need to solve. Primarily, how to return you to your own time.”

Well, that was sudden. Buffy felt her reasonably good mood plummet.

“Umm, what?” Dawn asked. “Did we vote on this? I don’t remember voting on this.”

Spike tightened his grip on Buffy’s shoulder. “Not happenin’, Rupert.”

“Spike, playing with time is extremely dangerous!” Giles snapped. “We don’t know what the repercussions might be. In talking with Willow and Tara, I learned we believe this to be the work of a vengeance demon. The sensible, responsible thing to do is to attempt to contact this demon and have her reverse the spell at once, preferably in such a way that erases all the time abnormalities that have arisen.”

Oh hell no.

“Oh hell no,” Willow said firmly. “That is not what we discussed, Giles.”

“We didn’t discuss anything at all,” Giles replied, the ire having faded into his calm, I’m-clearly-the-only-adult-in-the-room voice, making Buffy want to punch his glasses right through his stupid eyes. “The less we know, the better.”

“Well, tough, because we know quite a lot!” Willow shot back. “And yeah, I was on Team Time Travel Leads to Wonkiness at the start, but now I am firmly on Team Let’s Change This Bitch. You send Buffy back to her time and make it so we forget everything we’ve learned about the future, and Tara dies. I go all evil and try to end the world. Sunnydale is just…gone. So if you hopped the pond to tell me this is what needs to happen, I’m sorry, but no.”

Some of the color had drained from Giles’s face, providing Buffy with a savage thrill of satisfaction. “That is…” he said, his voice lacking the bite of just moments ago. “Pardon?”

“Yeah, and a whole bunch of other stuff,” Willow said, gesturing at Buffy. “I repeat: big no on reversing anything because that can’t happen, Giles. It just can’t.”

Tara took a step forward, ran a hand down Willow’s arm. “Willow—”

“No,” Willow said, jerking away. “I take no chances. Not with your life. Never with your life. And I am off magic, Giles, but the way Buffy tells it, threatening the woman I love is the best way you can put me on the fast track to falling off the wagon, and I’d really rather not turn into some evil megawitch, so alternatives please.”

Dawn nodded and pointed at Willow. “I’m with her.”

It was satisfying in a twisted way, watching the cold certainty on Giles’s face melt into something else. Buffy released a deep breath to calm herself, otherwise she worried she might just start screaming at the top of her lungs, because this was so Giles. Giles and Angel and everyone else in her life who decided that it was hers to run.

When she was certain she’d keep from shouting, Buffy said, “Giles, I’m warning you right now. You send me back to the future—back to that future—and I will find a way to come back here. Willow’s even more powerful then, and she more than has the resources to, if not shoot me back here, then help me find someone who can. Now that I know that time travel possible, just try to keep me out. And the next time it happens, the only person I’ll tell is Spike. It would be easier to get through what comes next with everyone on board—easier, but not impossible for just the two of us. So take that idea, ball it up real nice, and shove it up your ass.”

The look on Giles’s face was one she was becoming more accustomed to—the type that suggested he doubted she even was Buffy. Or perhaps that he had never truly known her at all. “It’s dangerous,” he said at last, the words hoarse. “You have no conception of just how dangerous meddling with time can be.”

“So tell me. Tell me what the big is and we’ll find a way to fight that too.”

“I… I don’t know.” This he said to the floor rather than to anyone directly. “There… To my knowledge, there has never been a documented case of time travel. All we have to go on are theories developed from what we know about the existence of other worlds and dimensions. The dimension Anya created a few years ago being the best example—that world didn’t exist before, but it continues to exist now, even after the wish that birthed it was retracted. The Watchers Council has some reading on the subject, but… No, we don’t know what might happen.”

For a moment, Buffy could do nothing but stare at him.

Then she started to laugh. It wasn’t a nice sound, either, rather a hard, ugly mimicry of the real thing. Willow’s brow furrowed and Tara looked downright worried, as did Dawn, but Spike reeled her closer to him, sensing as he always did what she needed.

“You—you don’t know what will happen, but you know it’s bad based on something completely unrelated from what happened now.” Buffy cackled again and wiped at her eyes. “And I’m sure—I’m sure—that I’m the first person in the history of people who has ever wished for the chance to redo something in the presence of a vengeance demon. Yeah, that’s not a common thing at all.”

“Buffy—”

“No,” she barked, sobering so quickly Dawn and Willow jumped. “You’re telling me that the whole changing the future thing is bad based on pulp science and guessing. So that other world exists—so what? I don’t care. Unless you can bring me something concrete, something that spells out just how badly I screwed up by doing this, something worse than what I’ve already lived, you can consider yourself fired.”

At this, Willow’s jaw dropped. “Buffy!”

“This is the second time I’ve had to do that,” Buffy went on, not looking away from a gob-smacked Giles. “Next year, when you try to dust Spike along with Robin Wood. I was angry then but this? No. This is the end of the line.” She nodded to Willow, who was also now looking at her as though she were a pod person. “Willow needs your help. That’s the extent of your usefulness at the moment. So be her Watcher for a while. Next year, if things go the same—and I bet they will—you can come here after the Council is blown to smithereens and help wrangle the Potentials. But that’s it. After that, we’re done. And if I wake up tomorrow and I’m in Los Angeles after the Circle of the Black Thorn has been dismantled, Angel’s human, and Spike is dust again… Well, I don’t know what I’ll do, but I promise you won’t see it coming.”

There was a shine in Giles’s eyes that she’d seen before. A shine that was hard to look at, much less acknowledge at all. Buffy swallowed and looked away, determined to keep hold of her anger for now, because if she let anyone see the hurt they’d have a chance to exploit it. Cutting Giles out of her life the first time had been difficult—not in the doing, but in what had followed. She hadn’t felt the loss until the next day, when the anger had had time to weather appropriately. And over the last year, she’d tried to forgive him because hell, he was still the only father she cared to acknowledge, and losing him and Spike as she had had been devastating. That was not a pain she was eager to relive. It helped that the Giles of her when had apologized—too little too late, of course, but he had admitted he was wrong and expressed remorse for his actions. Sure, that might have been about mending bridges, but she’d been in a place to hear it. To think perhaps what he’d done had been an anomaly in judgment.

But this was also the man who had drugged her in preparation for a ritual that might have killed her. He was the man who, after learning she’d been ripped from Heaven, had decided that he should leave her to pick up the pieces of her life alone when she’d needed him most. He was the man who had attempted to kill Spike because he thought she relied on him too much. Now he was the man who wanted to rip away this second chance she’d been given because of scientific theory he’d stolen from Back to the Future and literally nothing else.

Buffy turned to Spike, forced a smile, and pressed a kiss against his lips. “Go check out the pizza situation,” she said. “If it’s gross or there’s not enough, we can order something in. And if so, can you get it? I haven’t checked the financials since I got back, but I remember the sitch being of the dire around this time.”

He nodded stiffly, face not betraying a thing, though his eyes were a different story. “Whatever you like, Slayer.”

“Thank you.”

“Of course, anything.” He kissed her temple, aimed one final glare at Giles for good measure, then disappeared into the kitchen.

“All right,” Buffy said, swinging back to the room. “Now we’re going to talk about magical rehab. Because Will? We need you using magic.”

Willow’s mouth dropped open again. “What?”

“Yeah. What I said about you being super-powerful in the future? That’s one of the things that needs to stay the same. We just need to do it safely. In a non-addict type way that keeps you from going all veiny supervillain on us.”

Fear and hope flashed in her eyes in equal measure. “How?”

Buffy waited until Spike had returned, claiming he’d placed a fresh order. She thanked him, kissed him again, then led him over to the sofa, her hand wrapped around his.

After she was situated, with a calm she didn’t quite feel, she told them everything.

Chapter Text

Buffy pressed the door to her bedroom closed, keeping her hand against the wood for a moment. “You’re not mad, are you?”

“Might wanna be a bit more specific, pet. On any number of things, I’m bloody furious.”

Yeah, that much was predictable. The talk had gone relatively well, once she’d gotten into it, explaining about the coven in England and how Willow had learned that she couldn’t be cut off from magic, as it was too much a part of who she was. Like she’d expected, Tara had volunteered to go with her to lend support, which had eased Willow’s distress of needing help as badly as she did. Giles had agreed to facilitate arrangements, though he hadn’t said much beyond that, still reeling from everything she’d lobbed at him, no doubt.

And she couldn’t deny she was hurting about it, too, perhaps even more so because now she’d had to do it twice. Regret hadn’t sunk in just yet and she wasn’t sure if it would, but this felt final in ways it hadn’t the last time. Like once Willow was taken care of and the First was defeated, Giles might well be out of her life for good, and no matter how angry she was with him, that was painful, almost as painful as losing Mom had been. And why shouldn’t it be? He’d been, in all the ways that mattered, her father.

“I meant with me,” Buffy said, then turned and found Spike sitting on the edge of the bed. “With the offering to have you move in and then reneging tonight.”

“Figured more we were just postponin’,” he replied with a shrug that told her he was more self-conscious than he wanted to let on. “Waitin’ until we know the Bit’s not gonna be turned over to the bloody state.”

“That is the plan, but I still feel bad.”

Spike shook his head, pushing to his feet and taking a few steps toward her. “Nothin’ to feel bad about, kitten,” he said. “Do I wanna be here now? Yeah. But I don’t wanna do anything that’ll make it harder for us to keep Dawn, do I?”

At that, Buffy felt herself relax. Us had a particularly nice ring to it.

“Savin’ all my anger for Rupert, if you want the full of it,” Spike went on, his gaze hardening. “Don’t trust him not to try and undo what brought you here, even knowin’ how you feel.”

She didn’t either, truth be told, and that much was enough to have her tensing all over again. “I meant what I said. If he does find a way to undo it and sends me back, I will make damn certain that I get here again. If it’s possible once, it should be possible more than once, right?”

“Don’t wanna take that gamble, pet.”

“I don’t either, but I have to keep it in mind. Because if he does and wipes the slate clean so that none of you remember any of what I’ve said, that means everything we did today was for all nothing. Tara still dies. Willow still tries to end the world.” She swallowed. “You still dust closing the Hellmouth, and I still watch you dust again.”

In truth, though she’d mentioned it once, Buffy hadn’t really thought she had much to worry about regarding the future that no longer was. The demon could undo her spell at any time, sure, but why send her back at all if that was the intention? She’d granted her this wish for a reason—a self-serving one, if Anya was to be trusted, and on this she was.

Perhaps Buffy ought to ask Anya about how one would go about tracking down the demon who had granted such a wish. If it was even possible, considering the future that she’d come from shouldn’t exist anymore. If it was possible, she could figure out how to ensure Giles didn’t pull a reversal as well as determine what the demon wanted for herself. Perhaps the demon had simply needed someone to wish themselves back in time so they, too, could fix something, or maybe there was something she needed Buffy to do—or not do. Anya hadn’t mentioned wishes being granted conditionally, and given that the demon hadn’t walked up and introduced herself in the thirty-six hours or so that had passed since she’d landed here, it was entirely possible that Buffy had just been a vehicle.

It was also entirely possible the demon had granted her wish to turn the clock back before the First had been defeated, or to change the outcome of that fight with the Black Thorn. There was a lot of badness that might have been unbottled, and while Buffy refused to apologize or regret anything, she also needed to be prepared.

“Not going to dust,” Spike said, gripping her arms. “And if everything goes wonky, you’ll just do like you said, yeah? Find your way back and we’ll keep it to ourselves.” He pulled her to him for what she thought was going to be a kiss, but found herself in a tight hug instead. The scent of cigarettes and leather flooded her nostrils—warm and comforting.

“I’m worried,” she confessed into his shoulder. She suddenly felt about three seconds from losing it completely. “I shouldn’t have told them anything. Any of them.”

“It’ll be all right, pet. Don’t think Rupert fancies losin’ you for good and he knows that’s what’ll happen.”

“Spike—”

“But just in case I’m wrong on that score, let’s set about givin’ you some new memories, yeah?”

He didn’t wait for her reply, rather pulled back and took her mouth in a kiss, and that was it. Immediate surrender. She’d shove aside all the things now on her mind, the awful sensation in the pit of her stomach that warned her she’d blown her second chance by trusting people she shouldn’t. Instead, she focused on the way Spike’s lips moved against hers, how he always seemed so possessed with need for her, how no matter how many times they’d had sex, he’d maintained a hunger for her that no mortal man could hope to match.

When he pulled back, she found he’d maneuvered her onto the bed so she was sitting at the edge the way he had been the night before. In a quick tug, her top was gone, then her bra. He took his time to explore the flesh he’d uncovered, first with soft nuzzles then with light, feathered kisses. He cupped her breasts, held them against his palms and favored her nipples with gentle, teasing flicks that had her going hot in all the right ways.

“Wanted to do this for so long,” Spike whispered against her collarbone. “Savor you properly. Really feel you.” He tongued one of her nipples and grinned when she hissed and clutched at his head. “Like that. Fuck, I love the way you touch me now.”

“Now?”

“Mmm. Loved it before, too, but it’s been different since yesterday.”

“How?”

Spike looked up at her through hooded eyes. “Don’t rightly know,” he said, and gave her the secret, goofy smile he hadn’t had much occasion to wear—the one she loved. “Can just feel it. You’re softer. Sweeter.” He kissed a path to her other breast and traced his tongue around her nipple. “Woulda been shovin’ my head down to your cunt by now, I wager. And don’t get me wrong, Slayer, I aim to spend a lot of time there, but I like it here too.”

More of those soft kisses, this time as he shifted to his knees and positioned himself between her spread legs. He left no inch of skin untouched—explored her stomach, her naval, and, when he had her naked from the waist down, her pelvis, the inside of her thighs, her knees and lower. She’d never pegged Spike as a foot fetishist, but he ran his tongue over the arch of her foot with such gusto she almost didn’t have the heart to tell him it tickled. He worked his way down one leg and up the other, until she had been reduced to little more than a trembling bundle of nerves.

It seemed like forever passed before he hiked one leg over his shoulder. “You’re a vision,” he whispered, looking up at her and smiling when he found her watching. That was another thing she hadn’t done too often. Her eyes had more or less been closed when they had sex, made it easier to keep her emotional distance. The few times she had watched him, followed the paths his tongue made when he was feasting on her, had been too intense—too intimate—and though it had made her come harder than she figured she ever had, the price had been too much. There were so many ways that sex could be anything but intimate and she’d been determined to exploit all of them. Watching Spike, moaning his name, holding his gaze—those had all been intimacies she’d decided she needed to do without. Invisible lines in the sand.

He must have been thinking the same thing, because, as he spread her open, he said, “Keep watchin’ me, pet. Watch me love you like this.”

Then he dragged his tongue down her soaked flesh and groaned. A hard, almost painful gasp rode off her lips—she tightened her grip on his head and arched slightly off the mattress.

“Oh god,” she breathed. “Oh…shit.”

“One little lick does it for you now?” Spike grinned up at her, and hell if it didn’t make her hotter. “Feels like cheating to me.”

“Just…more intense than I was expecting.” Whether she was referring to the sensation, the visual, or watching him as he tasted her, she didn’t know. Probably a combination of all those things among many others.

“Is this more intense too?” he asked before drawing a lap around her clit with his tongue.

“Shit!”

He chuckled, and the vibrations alone might have sent her over the edge. “Rather fancy you like this, love,” he told her, dropping soft, almost chaste kisses across her soaked flesh. “Tell me you like what I’m doing.”

“I love it,” she blurted. “I love it.”

“Have you always? You like my mouth on you?”

“Yes.”

He dipped his tongue into her opening and groaned again. “You taste so sweet. So fucking sweet. Always have, but now you’re mine, aren’t you?” A pause. “Say it, Buffy. Tell me who this pussy belongs to.”

“You. God, Spike.”

“God Spike? Got myself a promotion, did I?”

Buffy tittered a hard laugh which melted into a moan when he flattened his tongue against her clit again.

“Love the sounds you make for me,” he murmured before wetting two fingers then pressing them against the mouth of her sex. “Love the way you clamp around me… Oh yeah, just like that, Slayer. How tight you always feel—always. How fucking warm you are. Burn me up, you do.”

It was becoming harder to breathe. Or rather, to not pant. Buffy watched his face, watched as he pumped his fingers in and out of her, as her body took him in again and again. Watched how his skin grew increasingly drenched and how that corresponded with the sensation of being filled. He skimmed his thumb over her clit once, twice, then lowered his head to tease her with his tongue.

“Spike… Spike… This… Oh god.”

He chuckled again. “Mmm?”

“More. Please. I need more.”

He plunged into her harder, faster in response, then closed his mouth over her clit and began to suck in earnest. That was almost too much—almost, yet not quite. And also somehow still not enough. Buffy curled her fingers in his hair and pulled, watched as his eyes widened then twinkled in such a way she knew he was smiling at her. Then he began making yummy noises, and that was what did it. What set her off. Buffy threw her head back, a hard moan tearing through her throat, louder than she’d intended but hell if she could keep it in. The sound, if anything, invigorated him, and he intensified the pressure, growling when her cunt tightened around his fingers and her body dissolved into a seemingly endless torrent of pure ecstasy.

“Fuck, I need you,” he whispered against her soaked flesh. “Need to feel you do that around my cock. Think you can manage?”

At the moment, her heart racing and every nerve alive, the honest answer was no. She didn’t think she could manage her own damn name, let alone sinking far enough off this high to mount it all over again. But that was one part of their affair that she could definitely recall fondly—how Spike hadn’t been content with just one orgasm, had been adamant he could have her hitting her happy place over and over again. And when she’d snickered and told him good luck, he’d been more than eager to rise to the challenge.

Spike edged her farther back on the mattress, then began divesting himself of clothes with such hurried need that Buffy couldn’t keep herself from moaning aloud. He answered with a whimper of his own as he shoved down his jeans, and before she could take a moment to appreciate the pretty, he was on her, kissing the wind out of her, overwhelming her tastebuds with the combined flavors of herself and pure Spike concentrate.

“Don’t mind this?” he asked, parting her legs so he could fall between them.

The question made zero sense to her fuzzy brain. “What?”

“Love fucking you hard any way you’ll let me have it, but I think I’m in the mood to be a bit old fashioned t’night.” He took his cock in his hand and dragged the tip along her slit. “Missionary’s a bit vanilla for us, but—”

“Spike, please.”

He drew his head back, arching an eyebrow. “Please what, love?”

“Yes. Do whatever you want. Just do it inside me.”

A slow smirk crossed his lips, and though she hadn’t been truly concerned, that alone was enough to tell her that she’d have no trouble reaching orgasm again. God, but he did it for her when he was a cocky bastard.

“Do whatever?” he asked, rubbing her clit with the head of his cock. “Fancy a bit of that?”

“Inside me. Now.”

“Bossy bitch.” He lowered his mouth to her neck and began dropping soft kisses across the mark he’d left there the night before. And shit, had vampire marks always been that sensitive? Spike hadn’t played much with the other marks there before, as though he’d feared—not without cause—that she’d shove him back and head for the door if he even hinted he was thinking with his fangs.

At last, he stopped teasing and positioned himself where she needed him most. Then yes, yes, he was sliding into her, inch by inch until he was buried to the hilt. He didn’t allow her but a second to feel him before he began moving, and the noise in Buffy’s head went blissfully quiet.

“Gonna let me do this again?” he asked, and closed his blunt teeth over the mark. “Let me inside you here too?”

Buffy nodded without thinking, rolling her hips to keep pace. “Yes.”

“Like my fangs inside you?”

“Yes. Yes.”

“What about my cock, Slayer?”

“Yes, that too.”

“Tell me.” Spike dragged his mouth over her chin until he was right above her lips. “Tell me you love my cock.”

“I love it. I love your cock.”

He groaned, picking up the pace. “Fuck, Buffy. Love you like this. So hot. Hot for me.” A pause, and he pressed his brow to hers. “Is for me, right? All for me? All of this? Say it.”

Buffy curled a leg around his waist and leveraged her strength to draw him deeper. “All of it,” she said hoarsely, clenching her muscles in that special way she knew drove him crazy. “All for you. My vampire.”

“That’s right. I’m yours. And you’re mine.”

“Uh huh.”

“Say it, Buffy,” he rasped, and despite what he’d told her earlier, it seemed slow and tender lovemaking wasn’t on the menu tonight, which was more than fine with her. Familiar need—desperation, even—had filled his eyes, and he was seconds away from letting completely loose. “Tell me you’re mine.”

Buffy nodded hard, whimpering. “I’m yours.”

He breathed a shuddering breath. “Gonna come again, sweet?” he asked, his voice barely audible over the hard smacks of their bodies slapping together again and again. The springs of her bed were whining in tempo as well, the spurring on a rhythmic cadence of the headboard against the wall. “Come all over my cock. Wanna feel you squeeze me to bloody oblivion. Drench me.”

“Spike…”

“Do it, Slayer.” He slid a hand between them as he began pressing kisses along her neck, and this time, the touch was more than a jolt—it was lightning itself. Buffy gasped and clawed at his back, overcome with the almost animal impulse to sink her teeth into him in turn, more than just the little bite marks she’d given him in the past—the sort that had driven him wild and left her unable to feel her legs for as hard as he’d fuck her—but a real bite. The type he gave her—just as deep, just as visible.

Did that make her an animal? He’d called her one once and meant it, and yeah, she’d felt it a bit at the time, but mostly that had been because of everything she kept caged inside her around others. Spike was the first man she’d truly let loose with. The only man, actually—the only person who had ever known her at her best and her worst, and let her be both, even at the expense of himself.

Spike ducked his head to nip at her breast before sliding back up to her neck. The hand between them skimmed over her pussy, rubbing her exposed flesh before settling over her clit. He didn’t press down, which might have sent her over, rather allowed his thrusts to jar his fingers over that bundle of nerves on their own. His breaths came faster, the blue in his eyes intensifying, and she felt him growing harder, more desperate. Felt how badly he needed to come.

“Close, aren’t you? I can feel it. Fall over, love. I’ll catch you.”

“Spike—”

“Need to feel you drench me.”

“Spike.” She cupped his cheeks and dragged him to her mouth for a hot, bitey kiss, then directed him to her throat. “Do it again. Bite me.”

“Fuck…”

“Do it.”

He gave a sexy groan as the bones in his face shifted. “Beg me for it,” he whispered. “Beg me for my fangs.”

Buffy raked her nails through his hair. “Please, Spike. Please.”

There was another growl, but still no fangs, though his thrusts were coming now at a bruising pace, small little grunts tearing off his lips every time he drove his cock inside. Spike nipped at her sweat-drenched flesh, then he danced his fangs up the column of her neck, stoking to life a series of sparks. She felt his velvety tongue take a long, decadent swipe, then—oh yes, there it was. That exquisite rush of pain, pain sweeter than anything that had come before, launching her from terra firma and into the stratosphere. The sound that tore through her lips was barely human, but somehow she knew it was her. Her pussy spasmed and squeezed, and then he was emptying himself inside her, his hips still bucking as he indulged in long, hard pulls at her throat. The sensation was enough to push her over the edge a third time—a softer landing, but no less spectacular. The knowledge he was inside her in two places was apparently its own aphrodisiac because when she came back down, she found herself throbbing with renewed need. And the first thought that cracked her pleasure-hazed brain was how much recovery he’d need before he could do this again.

Then the giddy knowledge that the answer was a minute or so.

The rocking of the headboard against the wall slowed, then stopped altogether. Spike kept his fangs latched into her throat even though she no longer felt him drinking. Just staying with her, inside of her, as fully inside of her as he’d ever been. They lay together in the quiet for a beat, then, slowly, he pulled back and favored the new wound with a lavish lick.

Buffy let her hands roam over his back, shoulders, up his neck until she had her fingers tunneled through his hair again, taking in the way he trembled. It wasn’t until she heard a sniff that she realized some of the wetness at her throat wasn’t blood after all.

“Spike?”

He went momentarily rigid, then slowly dragged up his head to meet her eyes, tear tracks running down his cheeks.

Buffy frowned, her heart stuttering. She cupped his face. “What’s wrong?”

He shook his head, blinding her with a brilliant smile. “Absolutely nothing,” he replied, his voice low and earnest, then brushed a kiss across her lips. “Just happy.”

Happy. Spike was happy. A familiar rush hit her sinuses, and suddenly she was crying too. Crying and smiling and trading wet, salty kisses with him, because that’s what people did when they were happy, apparently. Cried themselves dry.

And yeah, she was happy too. The kind of happy that scared her stupid, because there were so many ways it could go wrong. So many ways it could be taken from her—dangers she knew about and others she had no idea were lurking in the corners of the new future.

There was still so far to go and so much in the air, but for the moment—this moment, at least—all was quiet and well and good. And theirs.

Chapter Text

Buffy awoke to the sensation of kisses being dropped along her spine and a hand cupping her breast. Like yesterday, it took a moment for her current reality to catch up with her, but when it did, she relaxed almost immediately.

“Hey,” she said, thrusting her ass against him and earning a growl.

“Hello yourself,” Spike replied, pinching her nipple. “Hope you don’t mind.”

“Mind what?”

“Woke up wanting you.”

She snorted and parted her legs in welcome. “Oh, the horror.”

He chuckled, abandoning her breast and dragging his hand down the length of her stomach. “Woulda thought so just a couple of days back.”

“That Buffy was not this Buffy.”

“Think she was, pet,” Spike said, and nipped at her ear. “That Buffy got me this Buffy, yeah?”

It was such a simple thing, that sentiment, yet for whatever reason, it had her eyes suddenly blurring with tears. Buffy blinked hard to fight them back and whimpered when he shifted, the head of his cock rubbing against her opening. Perhaps it was because the Buffy she’d been here had been her least favorite version of herself—broken and in pain, desperate to feel anything other than hollow. That Buffy had clawed out of a grave twice that year, but only once with the desire to really live.

That anyone could look at the mess she’d been and see anything good inside of it was nothing short of miraculous. Yet if anyone could do that, it would of course be Spike.

“Hey now,” he murmured, moving his hand to her chin and turning her to face him. “All right, love?”

Buffy nodded, unable to keep one of those stupid tears from spilling down her cheek. “I just…love you.”

The worry in his eyes darkened into passion. “Love you too,” he murmured, and held her gaze as he pushed inside her. “Thought I couldn’t love you any more than I did, but bein’ the stubborn bitch you are, you set out to prove me wrong.”

“I don’t deserve the way you love me, Spike. I never have.”

Well, she was certainly in a downer mood today, but maybe that was to be expected after the rush of everything that had happened yesterday and the uncertainty about where they were headed. She shook her head and silently berated herself for being a black cloud and focused instead on the sensation of him inside her.

“Nothin’ to do with deserve, pet,” he murmured, returning his hand to her center to draw lines up and down her slit as he pumped his cock in deep, lazy thrusts. “Love isn’t brains. Think I told you as much once upon a time.” He found her clit and began to tease. “But since you brought it up, I gotta disagree with you. If anyone deserves it—”

“Spike—”

“It’s you. Deserve more than I or any man can give you, but that won’t keep me from trying.” He nipped at her neck, teeth precariously near one of the places he’d bitten her. And hell, it throbbed in time with her clit, and she suddenly wanted nothing as badly as she wanted his fangs inside her.

“Spike…bite me.”

He growled and increased his pace. “Need my fangs, baby?”

“Need all of you.” She reached between them to stroke his dick as it moved in and out of her, then lower still to cup his balls. “Please.”

“Slayer—”

“Please.”

She trembled when he moaned, her skin heating in that familiar telling way. He pressed down on her clit at the same time he pierced her neck, and the cry that rode off her lips could have awoken the dead. The hand that had been at her center came back to her mouth, presumably to muffle the sound—though why worry about it after last night, she didn’t know—and something inside her snapped. She bit down on his palm hard enough to draw blood, and Spike roared.

The next thing she knew, she was on her back, her legs over his shoulders, and Spike was hammering into her pussy at a bruising pace, staring down at her with his yellow demon eyes, her blood smearing his lips, which were curled around his fangs.

“Fucking take it, Slayer,” he snarled. “Take every fucking inch of me.”

Buffy nodded and pulled him down for a bloody kiss that so shouldn’t have done it for her but did. Hot damn, how it did. Though it was nothing to how Spike reacted, whimpering into her. Sucking at her tongue as he did things with his hips that would likely kill anyone of lesser strength for how good it felt. Buffy began to tense all over again, watching him as pleasure chased the demon’s leer, as his eyes flickered as though he were struggling to keep his fangs on display. The war was lost when she began to tremble around him and melted back to his human face with a low moan. He slammed into her once, twice, three more times before finally tensing and spilling inside her.

Spike rested his brow against her shoulder, panting. “God, I love you.” He barked a short laugh and pressed his lips along her collarbone. “Can’t really believe I’m here.”

You can’t. At least you’re still in your timeline.”

“Doesn’t feel like it.” Spike kissed his way up to her lips and proceeded to do things with his tongue that had her satiated bits feeling a lot less satiated. But, as she had the previous morning, she figured that spending the day in bed was not the mark of a responsible adult.

“I should visit the station,” Buffy said, making absolutely no move to actually get out of bed. It was hard convincing herself to hustle with Spike inside of her, hardening all over again. And it had been so long since she’d had sex back in her world. It had been, well, two years and some change. “Make sure Warren’s still there. And get with the others about planage. I don’t think I’ll actually believe Willow’s on the mend until she gets on the plane.”

“Thought you were keen on her and Glinda stayin’ until after the nuptials.”

“Yeah. Well, I need to talk to Xander about that, too.”

Spike pulled back, his brow furrowed. “About his nuptials?”

“I’m pretty sure I told you he doesn’t go through with them.” Actually, she was one-hundred percent sure, because the face he’d made after being told he ended up in bed with Anya had gone a long way in making her feel better about that whole thing. Sure, neither one of them had done anything wrong, really, but that didn’t mean watching the show hadn’t hurt. “I need to talk to him about what happens at his wedding.”

There was nothing for a moment. Spike just looked at her, his expression pensive.

“What?” she asked.

“Slayer…” Another beat, then he sighed and looked away. “There’s no fixing everything. You know that, right? You’re doin’ what you can to change what happened to the lot of us you knew, but some things are gonna be outside of your control. If Harris is havin’ second thoughts, don’t reckon it’s in either of their best interest to get hitched.”

“You do realize how fast Anya will curse you if she finds out you said that. After Xander breaks her heart and she’s a scorned woman, she gets her vengeance gig back.”

The corners of his mouth twitched. “Serious, here. The stuff last night—makin’ sure that Warren bloke’s behind bars, savin’ the girl you said he snuffed, gettin’ your Watcher to take Red back home for help. It might still go sideways.”

“I know. Believe me, one of the things we covered in therapy was how very little control I have over other people.”

“Then—”

“I’m still going to talk to Xander,” Buffy said, and pushed him so they were laying side-by-side. “I owe it to him, at least. Not this Xander, maybe, but the Xander from my when. And yeah, you’re right. It might be better for both of them if Xander doesn’t go through with the wedding. I kinda… Well, in talking to him and my doctor, we kinda landed on the idea that when they were together, he didn’t deserve her. Anya put up with a lot of stuff from him—same as you did with me. The way he thinks now, right now, is of the flawed, and I can say that because it was the same way I thought. Human good, demon bad. Soul good, no soul bad. If it’s conditional, it’s not real.”

Spike swallowed, keeping his eyes on hers.

“But the Xander from my when isn’t this Xander. And maybe this Xander needs to go through what he went through to get there—I don’t know. All I know is that Xander had a lot of regrets where Anya was concerned. The way he ended things, how they danced around each other, how she died not knowing that he still loved her.” She released a long breath. “But if it had been the other way around, and Xander had been flung back here instead of me, I’d like to think he’d try to talk to me about what I was doing with you at the time. Try to tell me about the Buffy from his when and how much I loved you, and how much I regretted…well, so much of what happened between us this year. It might not have been enough to get through to that Buffy, but I think I would’ve thought about it, at least. Handled a few things better…maybe to the point where when the crucial moment came and I told you I loved you for the first time, we both knew I meant it.”

Spike was breathing hard now, his eyes darkening. The words were an aphrodisiac to him, she’d noticed, and hell if that wasn’t all kinds of heady. That she could get him hard and ready to go just by telling him she loved him—well, it was certainly incentive to keep her saying it as often and as much as possible.

“Right then,” he said hoarsely before leaning in to kiss her. “Then talk to him.”

“I will.” Buffy grinned and kissed him again. “I’ll talk to him, then start looking for other jobs so I can quit the Doublemeat Palace…assuming that your offer to help out with finances wasn’t contingent upon you living here just yet.”

“What do you think?”

“Think you’d do pretty much anything for me.”

“You have no idea.”

Except, because of the soul, she really did. But she didn’t want to think about that right now—she didn’t want to spend more time in her head, reevaluating the future than she had to, and there was still so much to accomplish. Buffy sighed and sat up, then winced when the headboard smacked against the wall, another thought occurring to her.

“How much noise did we make?”

She glanced over her shoulder to find Spike preening, one arm thrown over his head, the other resting on his stomach, and damn he looked far too lickable. Even with that obnoxious cocky grin on his face.

“Enough so that everyone in the house’s gonna know what you sound like when you come.”

“Great.” There wouldn’t at all be an awkward talk with Dawn about this. Buffy wasn’t deluded anymore about her sister’s innocence—even though she knew full well Dawn, at this age, still had her V-card intact, she also knew the girl wasn’t a child. Hell, she wasn’t too much younger than Buffy had been the night Angel had popped her cherry, and damn if that wasn’t a cold wake-up call. Still, there was a difference between knowing about sex, even thinking about sex on the regular, and hearing it in surround-sound.

“Tell me you regret it,” Spike drawled, his eyes twinkling. “We both know better. And for the day I do move in all official-like, we won’t have to have a talk with the Bit about why big sis is constantly asking me to give her more and do it harder.”

Buffy snorted and threw off the blankets. “You know she can get back at us.”

“Hussat?”

“When she starts college. Whether it’s here or somewhere else—if the Hellmouth still goes kablooey. She can get back at us.”

She glanced over her shoulder and was nearly swallowed by a wave of pure affection at the dumbfounded look on Spike’s face.

“Sorry, pet,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m not followin’.”

At this, she couldn’t help herself. She laughed outright. “Spike, Dawn’s eighteen in my when. And she’s already had her first serious relationship and first heartbreak. And since I’m the resident adult, it’s my job to take out the trash and yeah, there have been used condoms in the bin in her room.”

Spike’s eyes went comically wide. He tossed off the covers with a growl and sprang to his feet. “Who the hell’s been shagging the Bit? I’ll kill them.”

“His name was Michael and he was a nice kid.”

“You just said he broke her heart!”

“Because we had to move. That’s pretty much been my life since the Hellmouth collapsed—not sure where we’re going to land, what’s going to happen, who needs me where or why.” Buffy turned to her dresser. It’d be better for both of them if they were dressed when talking—remove the temptation to fall back into bed. “The idea behind activating all the Potentials was a good one, I think. Or at least we had good intentions. I didn’t have to shoulder everything on my own. Trouble is…well, some of the girls are just…bad. Like having-embraced-the-life-of-crime bad. Other girls don’t know their strength. There have been a handful of accidental deaths—one girl tried to keep her boyfriend from being beat-up at school and ended up breaking the bully’s neck when she tossed him into a locker. I don’t get to stay in one place for very long because of things like that. And the ones who are with us are in training and that’s going mostly well, but we’re still building this thing from the ground-up. Giles is trying to find any watchers who might have been on assignment when the Council blew. Andrew is using his nerd powers for good—all the material he captured that last year goes to helping the new girls learn and train. Willow and Kennedy are—were—heading up the educational front, Willow with the informational and Kennedy with the practical. We had just decided that Dawn should stay in one place after I realized she wasn’t going to get the chance to do anything normal at all unless I stopped dragging her across the globe. And because slayer activity is on the increase, so is demonic, and way too many people know who she is. A few even know what she is, and those aren’t chances I’m willing to take. Right before everything with the Black Thorn went down, we’d officially set up an HQ in Cleveland, which became active almost as soon as Sunnydale closed, and Dawn had enrolled at Baldwin Wallace. I think she had a date the night I left with a new guy she had high hopes for, but yes, to answer your question, Dawn is sexually active. At least she was. And she will be sometime in our future, assuming I don’t get shot back to where I came from. And you, Mister, will have to deal.”

Now Spike looked more than just dumbfounded—rather, outright railroaded. At last, he cleared his throat. “That’s… Bugger, you hadn’t told me all that.”

“I know. And I didn’t mean to just make with the word vomit. I feel guilty over what happened with Dawn and Michael because if I hadn’t been selfish and insisted she go with me everywhere, they might not have had to break up.” She blew out a breath. “Honestly, if it weren’t for Xander and getting someone to help me sort through all my emotional hang-ups, I’m not sure how I would’ve survived this last year. I’ve been a wreck, making things up as I go.”

And now she was looking at the prospect of doing that all again. Granted, she’d be better prepared this time, and maybe the advanced warning of the coming fight with the First would give them all a chance to come up with an alternative to the big triggering spell. Which, of course, presented its own set of problems, as it left Buffy holding the mantle of Slayer on her own all over again. For all the issues that had come up because of the activation spell, it had made certain things a lot easier. Like, say, going into battle in Los Angeles. The odds had felt decidedly more even, and that was nice. Also, the one or two slayer-related prophecies that Giles had uncovered since the closing of the Hellmouth hadn’t made anyone panic too hard because it wasn’t a lotto of one anymore.

A light touch to the arm brought Buffy back from her mental digression. Spike had closed the distance between them, his brow furrowed in concern.

“All right there, love?”

She forced a smile and nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “I guess… Well, it had to hit me at some point. How much I’ll have to do all over again. I guess I’ve been focusing so much on the things I want to change that I kinda forgot all the things that I can’t change. The next two years are…not all terrible but hard. And I might be introducing things that make them worse by changing other things… It just all caught up with me.”

“No regrets though, right?”

The flare of panic receded at the worry in his voice, and Buffy shook her head, burrowing into his arms. “No regrets,” she replied, her cheek against his chest. “Just a bit overwhelming all of a sudden. All that time.”

“What can I do?” he murmured into her hair.

“Not dust. That’s your number one priority.”

He chuckled and kissed her brow. He was doing that a lot, she noticed. Stealing small kisses that had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with comfort and support. Just being there for her the way he’d told her he’d wanted to be from the moment she’d clawed her way out of the grave. It was hard not to hate herself, considering all the things she’d missed the first time.

“Not plannin’ on dusting,” Spike replied. “Though it’d be a bloody lot easier to guarantee if you hadn’t shipped off the Gem of Amara to my grandpappy.”

Buffy groaned. Yeah, that had been a waste. Angel hadn’t even kept the damn thing. “Don’t remind me. Next time I go back in time, I’ll be more specific.” Then something that Giles had said the previous night came rushing in from the other noise in her head, making her stomach turn a bit. “Do you think the whole time travel has consequences thing is right?”

“Dunno. We’ll deal with them if it is.”

“Deal with them as in…”

“Same way we deal with everything, I’d wager.”

“But…you don’t think things are meant to happen, do you? That Willow is meant to go evil and you’re…you’re meant to dust on me twice?”

Spike snickered, took her by the shoulders and pushed her a pace away so he could look into her eyes. “No,” he said firmly. “If livin’ with Dru as long as I did convinced me of anything, it’s that nothing is written in the stars. She’d see something she didn’t fancy and ask me to change it. And I would and then she wouldn’t see it anymore. No sense givin’ people visions of the future if the future is set, now is there? And it’s like you said last night—as many demons as are in the vengeance business, we have no bloody idea how many times we’ve been reset ’cause someone else wished to do a thing right.”

“And if we reset again? Like, not because of me, but because of someone else. Someone out there makes a wish to go back in time and suddenly we’re back in time and doing it all over again?” God, the thought alone made her dizzy. She wasn’t sure she could stomach it.

He smiled and kissed her brow again. “Only goes back for one person in that case. Didn’t go back for me or your chums or anyone else, yeah? Rest of us keep movin’ forward.”

Yeah, that made sense. She released a deep breath and nodded, at once feeling a little silly. “Sorry,” she said. “This sidebar was brought to you by Buffy’s random existential crisis. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.”

“Slayer, you’ve been at full bloody speed since you landed at my crypt. It’s a bit of a wonder this is just your first. You just let me know when you need your Spike to keep you grounded, yeah?”

Buffy nodded, relaxing by increments. Though that didn’t stop her from blurting, “Why do you love me?” almost like it was an accusation. “I mean, there are days when I’m too screwy even for me and I have no choice but to live in this head. You could walk away at any time.”

He grinned and shook his head. “Sorry, that’s wrong.”

“It’s wrong?”

“Not a choice here, Slayer. Believe me, I looked.” Spike kissed her brow again, his lips lingering this time. “I love you because I don’t know how to not. And it’s been like that since the beginning.”

“Well, if it’s all the same to you, I’m glad you failed at choosing not to love me.”

“Me too.”

And damn, he really looked it. In his eyes was more of that happiness she’d seen the night before—happiness that both warmed and broke her heart. It had taken her too long, cost her too much, to appreciate the way Spike loved, and that was nothing to what it had cost Spike himself. He’d destroyed himself more than once for her and would keep doing it forever if he thought that was what it took to give her what she wanted. And some version of her out there would have let him.

But that version was not this version, and that was what she needed to focus on.

That, and the many things yet to do to try for the future they both deserved.