Chapter Twenty-three and Epilogue
Six weeks, and two unsuccessful demon attempts to kidnap Dawn later, Buffy was curled up next to Spike on the couch and staring at a calendar.
“What was that date again?”
His jaw noticeably tightened as he said, “It was May 22. A Tuesday night.”
“I can’t believe you can still remember the exact date and the day of the week,” she said. “I’m the one who died.”
“And that’s why I can remember the date,” he said with a growl. “Worst night of my life… up to that point, anyway.”
She rubbed her face on his arm, smiling when she felt the tension leave his body.
“I wasn’t trying to bring up painful memories,” she said. “I’m just trying to figure out how much longer we have until we can relax.”
“Maybe you can relax,” he said, pulling her onto his lap. “I’ll be waiting to see what you not dying does to the timeline.”
“This stuff makes my head hurt,” she admitted. “If I don’t die, and don’t get brought back, the First won’t be as powerful because there will still be balance. But if that’s how it went in our time, I probably wouldn’t have—”
“You don’t think I would have worn you down with my charm and sexy body?” he teased, his voice having just enough fear in it to make her fasten her mouth on her mark on his neck. She sucked on it until she felt him begin to purr, then sat up and stared at him.
“I don’t have any idea what would have happened. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so depressed I needed you to help me feel alive. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t have gotten together anyway. You still would have kept Dawn’s secret for me and helped us run and away and fight. We were sort of… friends… by this time that year. And we might have still been friends by the fall. Who knows?”
She nudged him and wriggled on his lap. “You do have a pretty sexy body. I’d already noticed that.”
“Is that so…? You never let me know that, you little minx.”
“Can’t tell you all my secrets,” she said.
“Could have told me that one,” he grumbled. “Making me think nothing I could do would make you want me.”
“Wanting you wasn’t the problem. Being willing to admit I did, and accepting that it wasn’t a rejection of everything a slayer should be…. That was the tricky part.”
“It really was the soul, wasn’t it?” he said quietly, almost as if he was talking to himself. “That’s what made it okay for you to admit to yourself—”
“You didn’t have the soul when I had to watch you and Anya on live TV. My reaction to that pretty much trashed my ability to believe I didn’t have any feelings for you. I was terrified Xander was going to kill you. I don’t know the last time I ran that fast or that hard.”
He looked at her with surprise. “You were comin’ to save me? I was sure you were coming to take my head off yourself.”
“I’m not saying I didn’t want to… to hurt you as much as you’d just hurt me. But I didn’t want you to be dust.” She frowned. “Why did you think I was going to kill you?”
“Because, all your denials aside, I knew you cared about me. And I know what it feels like to have somebody you… love… shagging somebody else right in front of you. You were hurtin’ and it was my fault. And you’re the Slayer. Just seemed like something you’d do.”
She stiffened and moved off his lap.
“You thought—think I’d kill somebody I love? Just because they had sex with somebody else?”
“Ah, don’t look at me like that, sweetheart.” He tried to touch her face, but she flinched away. “Nobody loves and forgives like you do. Know that, don’t I? But all I knew then was that I’d just hurt you, and you had every right to want to be rid of me.”
She sighed and shook her head. “I didn’t have a right. And neither did Xander. We’d ended things ourselves. He dumped her at the altar, and I told you to move on. I know that, and in the back of my mind, I knew it then. I had no right to be hurt or mad at you.”
“You had every right, love,” he said, tugging her back onto his lap. “Man tells you he loves you, you have a right to expect him to behave like he does.” His expression darkened. “Wish to hell I’d picked a better way to try to prove it to you.”
“So do I,” she agreed softly. “But if that’s why you went and got your soul back, it was worth it.”
“And we’re back to that bein’ what made all the difference,” he said. “If I didn’t have it, we wouldn’t be sitting here like this, would we?”
“I don’t know! I just told you I probably did love you before then.”
“You loved me. Tried to tell you so, didn’t I? But you wouldn’t let yourself believe it until I got that shiny new soul.”
“Are we going to fight about this?”
“No, ‘course not. I was just thinking about how I won’t be going off to get a soul this time, so….”
“You won’t need to! You’ve already got it from our time. That’s not going to go away just because you don’t have a reason to run off to get it…is it?”
She frowned, remembering how Dracula’s bite mark had disappeared. One look at Spike’s face told her he’d had the same thought, although he tried to cover for it.
He gave a casual shrug. “Don’t know, love. Pay me no mind. I just let my mind wander off to places it probably shouldn’t go. You’re absolutely right. I’ve already got it and got no intention of losing it.”
Buffy straddled his lap and grabbed him by his ears to make him look at her.
“Just so you know, it wouldn’t matter to me if you did lose it. I know you too well now to worry that anything would change if you didn’t have a soul anymore. You’re not Angel, and you never will be. You’re Spike. And you’remy Spike, with or without the soul.”
“I’m your mate,” he said, leaning his forehead against hers. “Nothing can change that.”
“And I’m your… something that doesn’t make us sound like wolves,” she said, glaring at him when he laughed at her refusal to call herself his mate.
“That you are, love. You’re stuck with me now.”
“I can think of worse places to be stuck.”
She kissed him, then got off his lap. “I think Mom’s expecting us for dinner before we patrol. I’m going to change my shoes and then I’ll be ready to go.”
They were surprised to find Giles and Winston at Joyce’s house when they got there.
“I just invited them at the last minute because I’d made so much sauce,” Joyce explained. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“Of course not,” Buffy said. “What’s new, guys?”
“We’ve just been discussing how there are only a few weeks until the portal’s time will have passed and Joyce and Dawn can breathe a bit easier.”
“Yep. May 22, and then the Key has nothing to open and can go back to being a bratty kid.”
“Very funny,” Dawn muttered. “You don’t know that. I might have all kinds of Key stuff I could do, if we just knew what it was and how to do it.”
“That’s actually quite possible,” Winston said. “We can look into that and see what else we can learn about the Key once the primary danger is over.”
“See!” Dawn stuck her tongue out at Buffy, who just rolled her eyes.
Giles interrupted the exchange of sibling disrespect to say, “I had an interesting phone call today… from Los Angeles.”
Spike’s growl had barely begun when Giles shook his head in reassurance. “Not him. From Wesley.”
“What did he want?” Spike’s genuine interest wasn’t lost on anyone.
Instead of answering right away, Giles said, “Did you know him well in your time?”
Spike shook his head. “Well enough to know he was the brains in that outfit. And the magic expert. Might have had some help there from Lorne, but—” He sighed. “I had a chance to watch everybody while I was a ghost, but didn’t always have control over how long I could stay in one place. Managed to have a few nice chats with Wes though. Know he was pretty gone on Fred—that’s the brilliant little thing that was trying to help me get solid again,” he explained. “And I’m not sure he was all that happy about being at Wolfram and Hart. He had some history with somebody there. Unhappy history. I think we could have become friends one day if I’d stayed around longer. But Oxford is who helped the poof send me back here.”
Spike put his arm around Buffy and smiled. “Reckon I owe him one for that,” he said. “Now that I think about it.”
“What did he want?” Buffy brought Giles’s attention back to the original question.
“It seems he’s a bit disappointed in Angel’s behavior, both when they were here and there in LA, He was asking me about you and Spike and how you’d come to the conclusion that Angel had put a claim on you—as well as how you and Spike had come to know each other well enough to have any sort of relationship, never mind one that resulted in a mutual claim.”
“What did you tell him?”
“As much as I could without actually telling him what he doesn’t need to know. However, he is interested in coming here for a while to talk to you about how you realized Angel had made a claim and how you broke it.”
“What do you think?” Buffy looked to Giles first, and then Spike.
“Wish I could tell you, love. He’s a smart man, he might figure it out.”
“How bad would that be?” Buffy addressed her question to Giles, then, on a hunch glanced at Winston. “Do you have any idea, Winston?”
He smiled at her astuteness, then sighed. “In my timeline, he was part of your group of friends, not Angel’s. In fact, they were quite estranged, as I remember it.”
Giles cleared his throat. “Well, in that case, I suggest we let him know he is welcome to visit and just see where that takes us.”
“Okay. You can tell him I’ll explain it to him if he wants me to. But I’m pretty sure he heard every word I yelled at Angel. You’d think he might’ve figured it out by now.”
“Perhaps he just wants to hear it from you again. When you are calmer.”
Buffy shrugged. “Fine. But tell him to wait for a few weeks. Let’s be sure the portal can’t be opened, and that I’ve made it far enough past that date—”
Spike’s snarl startled everyone, and Buffy turned to him. “Come on, you’re the one who said you won’t relax until it’s mid-summer and everybody’s still okay.”
“Spike,” Winston said gently. “You know it isn’t Buffy’s death that created the problem. It was her resurrection after being dead for months that allowed the First to rise. Preventing her death is only the first part of the formula. It may or may not be possible.”
When Spike looked even less happy about that reminder, Winston took a deep breath before saying, “I’ve talked about this with Master Maxmillian….” He waited until they all obviously understood that he was emphasizing Max’s age and experience for a reason, then continued, “and we are fairly certain that if something happens to Buffy once we are past the original date of her death, a quick resuscitation, a magical CPR if you will, should not have any effect on the balance in the universe. Particularly as it is likely the dark forces Willow called upon in order to bring Buffy back in your time no doubt had as much to do with stirring up the First Evil as did Buffy’s actual return to life.”
“What are you sayin’ exactly…?”
“I’m saying that if something unfortunate should happen to Buffy, Max is willing to do whatever is necessary to prevent her from dying again. With assistance from Tara, and even Willow, if necessary. He will not allow her to die again. At least not long enough to disturb the forces of evil if she is brought back to life.”
“Max won’t let her die. Not you?” Spike’s gaze was less angry than Buffy would have expected.
“As you no doubt are beginning to understand, my own talents lie more in the direction of destroying than rebuilding.”
While Spike just nodded, Buffy said, “But my mom. You healed her!”
“I destroyed the tumor that was killing her. What drained me was not the destruction of the tumor, which was a fairly simple process, but the need to be careful to do so without destroying her. I have spent many years learning to control my ability… and need… to destroy, and I have succeeded quite well. But it is still difficult to turn it off sometimes.”
“That’s why you didn’t want to let Doc go!” Buffy said with a gasp. “And why Max asked if you were okay.”
“Indeed. He was prepared to contain me if it became necessary. We’d discussed it beforehand and he had…has… my permission to step in if I appear to be losing control.”
“But you didn’t,” Spike said with admiration. “You fought that urge to a standstill.”
Winston exchanged a long gaze with Spike, then nodded. “Fighting down your demon when its power is no longer needed is something I expect you are quite familiar with.” Winston raised a questioning eyebrow.
“I’ve had my moments,” Spike admitted with a shrug. “Not as many of them now that I have my soul, but yeah, it’s bloody hard work sometimes.”
Buffy and Giles stared back and forth between them, beginning to understand why Winston and Spike might have become friends so quickly. And also a bit more about why Winston had been sent back to help them.
Joyce’s voice brought everyone’s attention back to the dinner she was preparing to set out.
“I’m still working on believing in vampires, demons, hellgods, mystical keys, time-travelling slayers, and having daughters who are or fight those things. Can we just skip the details about magical powers and fighting internal demons until after dinner?” She gave Spike a hard look.
He smiled back at her. “Didn’t mean to frighten you, Joyce. It’s been a very long time since anyone in your family has been in any danger from me. And even when I thought I wanted to kill Buffy, I somehow never managed to do it, did I?”
“Well, that’s because Buffy is the Slayer. And, if I’m to understand Rupert correctly, she’s very good at it.”
“She is indeed very good at it,” Spike said with an admiring glance at Buffy. “Always has been.”
His demeanor changed, and without actually going into game face he managed to exude menace and power.
“But I’m also very good at what I do—did, and I still didn’t kill her. Made a truce with her way back when I was pretty sure I hated her, because I trusted her to be able to handle Angelus if she had a little help getting’ Dru out of the way. I was safe for your family to be around then, and I’m even safer now.”
“As reassuring as I’m sure you meant that to be, I meant it when I said not until after dinner!” Joyce glared at Spike until his intimidating demeanor faded into an embarrassed shrug and a “Yes, Mum.”
Winston and Giles tried to smother their smiles, but Buffy and Dawn laughed aloud, earning a muffled but genuine growl from Spike as he sat back in his chair and waved the humans into the kitchen to fill their plates as Joyce was suggesting they do.
Spike lounged under a large beach umbrella, his decades of avoiding the sun making him too uncomfortable to enjoy a day at the beach in spite of knowing the Gem would keep him safe. He’d allowed Buffy and Dawn to drag him into the water a few times, but shook his head when they suggested he join them in basking on the sand.
“Not my thing. Anybody asks, just tell them I’m allergic or something.” They’d long-since learned that, while the Gem protected him from the sun’s ability to make him combust, it did not allow his abnormally pale skin to tan, so it was a good explanation for his hasty retreats to the shade.
“The water is so much fun,” Buffy said, as she joined him for her own respite from the hot sun. “I wish you liked it enough to stay in it longer.”
“If you want to play games in the water, love, all you had to do was say so. We can come back one evening and swim to your heart’s content. Don’t dislike it, it’s just not something I’ve ever had a reason to get used to. In my time as a human, gentlemen didn’t strip naked to go play on a beach. They swam in a lake or river, away from prying eyes. But even then, it wasn’t something I did very often once I was grown. My father taught me to swim, but after he died, I never went again. And after I was vamped, the only time I saw water was by moonlight.” He paused, then added, “And that time your bloody ex threw me and Sam out of a submarine. Had enough ocean that time to last me for decades.”
Buffy frowned at his mention of Angel, but concentrated on the main part of his excuse.
“You like being naked,” she pointed out. “And anyway, nobody’s naked here!” She gestured at the beach full of tanned people in various types of swimming attire.
Spike looked her up and down, leering at all the skin exposed by her bikini.
“May as well be by Victorian standards,” he said. “Close to naked, the whole lot of you.”
He pulled her closer and frowned as he looked at the fading scar on her left arm. “Looks like it’s doing better,” he said.
Buffy nodded. “It doesn’t hurt much anymore. Tara was amazing. I know she couldn’t have done anything like this back in our time.” She flexed the arm he was holding.
“Well, I’m just bloody glad she can,” he said, kissing the scar before releasing Buffy’s hand. “Thought for sure I was going to lose you anyway, to a giant gopher of all things!”
Buffy smiled. “Giles says it was a G’maluk demon. And hard to kill with just a stake.”
They were both quiet, remembering the previous week when they had separated to cover different parts of the cemetery, and Buffy’s left arm had been partially severed by the bite of a very large, furry demon. Spike’s anguished cry of “Buffy!” as he sprinted toward where the demon was shaking her like a rat, brought Tara and Willow running from where they’d been working on fire ball spells in time to watch him leap onto the demon’s back and wrench the jaws apart with his bare hands.
By the time a badly bleeding and only semi-conscious Buffy hit the ground, Tara was already muttering words over the wound, and the spurting blood was slowing down to a trickle. Willow had turned her scarf into a tourniquet, and she waved Spike off.
“We’ve got this. Go get him.”
Giving Buffy one last look and listening to her rapid, but even heartbeat, he nodded and turned his attention back to the demon that had dropped to all fours and run off, shaking its head in an attempt to make its jaw stop hurting. Cursing at himself for not having a sword with him—something that had become habit during the time they had to worry about Glory’s minions—he chased after it and jumped on the creature’s back to twist its head off.
Which, without the adrenaline-fueled strength he’d had when he needed to get Buffy out of its jaws, turned out not to be possible. He and the demon rolled on the ground snarling, but the demon was unable to bite with his dislocated jaws and Spike was soon ripping its throat out. When he was sure it had bled to death, he ran back to where Tara was still working over Buffy, now slumped in Willow’s arms.
Tara glanced up when Spike’s gasp brought her attention to his face, and said quickly, “She’s okay, Spike. I just put her out so she wouldn’t feel the pain and wouldn’t try to move. Now we need to get her somewhere I can get some herbs into her and make sure the bite is healing as it should.”
Spike had taken Buffy from Willow and stood with her in his arms. “Where to?” he demanded.
“Our place,” Willow said. We’ve got the things we—Tara needs there. Once we’re sure she’s on the mend, you can take her home.”
Spike and Buffy moved closer together as they remembered that night, only a week ago.
“Thought I was going to lose you again,” he repeated.
“But you didn’t. I’m all here, I’m alive, and not resurrected. It’s going to be okay.”
“Two more years to get through without mucking something up so bloody badly we can’t fix it,” he said, putting his arm around her. “It’s you and me. What could go wrong?”
“We’ve got this.” She rolled toward him and put her good arm around his chest. “If the First Evil tries to raise his ugly head again, we’re going to land on it with both feet.”
“That’s my girl,” he said, squeezing her tightly.
“Always will be,” she replied. She thought for a moment, then sat up and stared at him. “Did we just renew our claim?”
He frowned back, then shrugged. “Might have, I reckon. That’s alright, yeah?”
“It’s very all right.”
They beamed at each other, only turning away when Dawn ducked under the umbrella to complain.
“Hey, if you two aren’t going play, we might as well go home. I have a normal life to lead.”
“You let us know how that’s workin’ out for you, Bit,” Spike said, laughing as he stood up and began to close the umbrella.
“You don’t know. It could happen.” Dawn glared at him, hands on her hips.
“It could. It probably won’t,” Buffy said cheerfully. “But that’s what you have us for.”
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