Chapter Notes:

The good news: We're finally seeing the emotional dam beginning to break with Buffy. Also, it's Christmas in Sunnydale, and Glory's not stirring up trouble (giving us time for some fun stuff).

The bad news: The author is both evil and crazy. This is the part where you start questioning if I've lost the plot, both literally and figuratively. All I can ask is that you trust me. In the big picture, everything matters, and everything pays off. Even Christmastime silliness.


Chapter 17: Implied Promises

December, 2000

By the time Buffy and Spike got home, the living room was full of Scoobies. “Bloody hell. We're late.” He called toward the kitchen. “Joyce! You need any help?”

“Spike! Thank god! I thought you'd be gone all night.” Joyce sounded stressed. “Get in here!”

Buffy slipped out of Spike's coat, and then out of her own thin jacket, hanging both by the front door. Willow joined her in the hall. “He loaned you his coat?”

“Chivalry died sometime after William did.” She shrugged. “But then, he also made a stupid vampire comment about it being an historic moment. This coat hasn't seen a slayer's shoulders in really long time.”

Willow wrinkled her nose. “Does that mean what I think it means?”

“Yeah, Wils. It's a trophy.” Buffy ran a hand along the leather. “Her name was Nikki,” she whispered. “She loved this coat. She fought in it, and she died in it. It took Spike two tries to bring her down, and she still didn't die until she was ready to go.”

“Uh-huh. I'm sure that's how he tells it.”

“I know the feeling. Every slayer does, if she lives long enough. When I'm ready, and I'll leave something with Spike, too. Just like his other slayers.”

“Buff, you're scaring me. Do you think Spike is going to kill you one day?”

“I just know I'll have to leave something for him, that's all.” Buffy snapped out of her reverie. “I'll be right back.” She grabbed the keys to the Jeep from the foyer table and ran outside. She returned with two small boxes. “It's no slayer trophy, but it will do for now. I just need to make one little addition before I wrap it. The other one is for you.” She called into the living room. “Dawnie, is the wrapping paper still in your room?”

“Yeah. Do you need help?”

“No, thanks.” She rooted around in Spike's coat pockets until she found a stake, which she tossed to Willow. “Guard the stairs. I'll be right back.”

Willow frowned at the weapon as Buffy ran up the stairs. “That must be a pretty serious gift.”

A few minutes, later, Buffy returned with the boxes, now wrapped in festive paper. She smiled smugly. “Twenty-four hours ago, I had zero ideas. But tonight, I'm so getting the award for best gifter. I am officially awesome. Just wait until you see yours.” She took back the stake and returned it to the coat. “You didn't have use that, did you?”

“No... But Buffy? You're acting a little weird.”

Buffy chuckled as she led them into the living room. “I've had a weird day. FYI, being groped by a prison guard? Not fun.”

“Well, it really depends on the guard,” Anya said from the sofa. “Male or female? Hot?”

“Female. And no.” Buffy sat beside her after putting the gifts under the tree. “What did the doctor say?”

“My x-rays look better than expected. She wants to take the cast off this week.”

Xander leaned forward from the other end of the sofa. “Can we go back to the 'Buffy with a female prison guard' part of the conversation?”

“Did you miss the 'not hot' part, Xan?” Buffy laughed. “I went to see Faith. She's got a bit of a reputation in there, and no record of visitors. They were suspicious, so I got pawed at.”

“I didn't think you'd go through with it. You know, with Spike being all 'grr' about it.”

“You knew I was going?”

Giles spoke up for the first time since Buffy had entered the room, unwittingly rescuing Xander from his slip up. “What possible purpose could visiting Faith serve?”

“Guys, I just wanted to talk to her. Why is everyone looking at me like I beat up a puppy?”

“Because you went to visit Faith,” Willow said slowly, as if explaining something to a child. “Why would you even want to talk to her?”

“Um, because she's a slayer?” Buffy looked around the room. “Did anyone else notice the Hellgod running around town? The one who beat the crap out of me, had us all attacked by marrow-sucking demons, and threw Anya into a wall?”

Willow's nose was still wrinkled. “So?”

“Glory is easily strong enough to kill me, and since her target is someone I'm willing to die to protect, it's not an unreasonable assumption that she might. If she does, Sunnydale will need a slayer, and there will only be one left in the world.”

Giles fidgeted with his tie in the ensuing silence. “Buffy, do you really think this is the appropriate time and place for this discussion?”

“I sure as hell don't.” Everyone looked up to see Spike in the doorway, holding a tray of appetizers.

“I know that look,” Dawn said. She glanced at her sister. “And that one. Make room, everyone. They're about thirty seconds from hitting each other.”

“No, we're not.” Buffy crossed her arms and settled further into the sofa cushions. “We are not having this argument again, William.”

“It'll stop being an argument when you admit you're not actually over it.”

“Oh, bite me!”

“One of these days, Slayer, I just might.” Spike's eyes glinted with amber.

“I dare you to try.”

“Don't think I can't. I'm not that out of practice.” He put the tray on the coffee table. “So what else are you lying about tonight?”

Buffy was suddenly on her feet with her fists clenched. “You son of a bitch. Don't you even imply--”

Dawn jumped between them. “It's Christmas, remember? Goodwill towards men and mortal enemies?”

Joyce stepped into the doorway behind Spike. “Outside. Both of you.” They didn't move. “Now!”

“Fine. Let's go.” Buffy brushed past them and headed for the back door. Spike followed, detouring to grab his coat.

“Don't come back until you're ready to act like civilized humans!” Joyce called after them.

“One of us doesn't qualify!” Buffy called back.

“He's not the one I'm worried about!” Joyce turned back to face her guests. “I'm so sorry. I don't know what's gotten into them tonight.”

“Rum, I think.” Anya said. “I could smell it on her breath when she was sitting with me.”

“He smells pretty boozy, too,” Dawn said. “And they're usually so good about keeping their arguments downstairs and their fights out of the house.” She shrugged. “Well, sometimes.”

Tara abruptly stood up. “I'll be right back.” The back door closed behind her a few seconds later, drawing the attention of the pair in the yard, who looked like they were about to prove Dawn right. “Hey! You two need to sober up and behave yourselves,” she said, walking toward them. “Another little display like that could raise questions none of us want to answer.”

“Then tell this woman to make up her bloody mind! One minute, she's acting like we've got all the time in the world. The next, she's practically planning her funeral. Been going back and forth like that for months, but this...” He looked at Buffy. “This is probably the worst you could make it.”

“I'm a slayer, remember? If I'm not expecting it, I'm a really, really stupid slayer.”

Tara shook her head. “I have a feeling the subtext here is none of my business, so I'm not going to ask. I will say this, though: You're both stupid.”

“Hey!” they said in unison, looking offended.

“Spike, no one knows slayers like you do. No one knows Buffy like you do. You know she has to prepare for the possibility, especially since we know when and where that possibility is. And Buffy, you know Spike needs to know where you stand. You never like to say what you're thinking, and nothing good ever comes of it. So just say it, already.”

“I already did.”

Tara looked back and forth between them. “Ok, so I found the subtext. ...But that's not what I meant, and you know it.”

“I know.” Buffy took a deep breath. “There's a difference between expecting it and wanting it, Sparky.”

“And what happens when you cross from one to the other? It's a thin line, love.”

“Make it a quick talk, guys,” Tara said, turning back toward the house. When she got back to the living room, she returned to her chair with a proud smile. “Mrs. Summers, your demons will be back in a minute, behaving themselves.”

“Buffy's not a demon!" Xander objected.

“Technically, she is part demon,” Anya said with a one-shoulder shrug. “All slayers are.”

Willow frowned. “Maybe so, but it's not enough to call her one.”

“Guys, guys! I was speaking metaphorically...”

Outside, Buffy allowed the soft, time-worn leather to be draped over her shoulders for the second time in an hour. “I do know it isn't likely anymore, but I still feel compelled to prepare for it. Tara's right--”

“On both counts, I'd say.”

“I should be more upfront with you. You deserve frequent reminders that I'm not looking for it.” She sat down on the garden bench. “And maybe other frequent reminders.”

“Guess I should know better than anyone that you're gonna expect it. ...Just afraid you'll start to want it again.”

“How the hell did we survive without Tara around to keep us in line?”

“We barely did.” Spike joined her on the bench. “You don't want it, do you?”

“I meant what I said to Althenea. I'm over the death wish. But that doesn't mean death won't find me.”

“I'm not gonna let you jump.”

“And I know why.” She sighed as she looked toward the house. “I should have said it sooner. I've been holding onto that for a while.”

“Figured that part out on my own. Any special reason?”

“There's never a good time to say stuff like that. There's always a Turok to hunt, a war to be fought, time travel spells, or something going on.”

Spike leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “Before we left. Suspected as much.”

“Last Christmas was when it hit me. Until then, I wasn't even sure I'd forgiven... what happened. But when I couldn't get to you, couldn't get you out of there, I realized I was way past forgiving. The dreams were the big giveaway.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Every night, I saved you.”

“Further back than I thought.” Spike clenched his jaw. “A whole bloody year, and you never said...” He shook his head. “Taking everything I've got not to knock you off this bench right now.”

“It's only been about nine months. For us, anyway.”

“And that's so much better.” He threw her a glare.

She gave him a pleading smile. “Will you forgive me if I promise to remind you sometimes, and not die until I have to?”

“I'm gonna hold you to that.”

*~*~*

Something in the kitchen crashed to the floor. Spike scooted his chair away from the dining table. “Slayer?” he called. “Joyce?”

The only response from the kitchen was giggling.

“Ok, so I guess no one's hurt,” Xander said. “But was that the sound of a pie falling to its death?”

“I'll check.” Dawn started to stand up, but Joyce's appearance in the doorway stopped her.

Her face was flushed, and she was smiling. “So... How about ice cream instead?”

Tara frowned, a memory surfacing. “Buffy slayed the pie, didn't she?”

Joyce nodded, giggling again.

Tara shook her head. “Of course she did.”

*~*~*

“An English dictionary?” Willow fought back the urge to laugh with everyone else. “Thanks, Dawnie.”

“Heaven knows you need it,” Giles muttered.

“I so called it!” Dawn smiled proudly.

Anya shrugged. “It's better than the candy and dirt Buffy gave you.”

“It's not just dirt, Anya!” Buffy pointed out the handwritten labels on the vials. “That's from the burnt lawn of Sunnydale High. This one is from the gate at Restfield. That one is from the quad at UC Sunnydale. That one is from her parents' yard. And that one is from the flower bed in front of the Magic Box.”

“Ok, so it's local dirt.”

“It's sentimental, Anya,” Tara explained. “So Willow can take her homeland with her.”

Dawn reached for the largest gift under the Christmas tree. “Well, I hope this box isn't full of dirt, 'cause it's huge.” She read the label. “Buffy, this one is yours... From someone with beautiful handwriting.”

Tara snickered.

Buffy glared at Spike. “You so put her up to that.” She gave the large package a shake. “What is it?”

“The point is to unwrap the thing, Slayer.”

She tore open the paper to reveal a sturdy wooden case, finished to a warm honey color, with ornate, wrought iron hinges and latches. She ran a hand across the smooth surface. “Ooh! Pretty!”

“Harris did the woodwork.”

“It's lovely, Xan.” Buffy opened the case. The inside was lined with thick, sturdy foam, with a foam divider running the length of the middle, all of it covered in a velvety black fabric. “I think I know what this is for.” She closed the case and looked at the wood again. “This is oak, isn't it?”

“Yep,” Xander confirmed. “Spike insisted on oak for some reason.”

“It's perfect,” she whispered, looking at Spike. “I love it.”

Anya looked bored. “Dirt, dictionaries, and boxes? What's next? Socks?”

Dawn studied the pile of unopened gifts. “Not that I know of. Mom?”

“Even I'm not that practical,” Joyce laughed.

Tara gave Dawn a nudge and pointed out a package. “I think this is a good time for that one.”

Dawn read the label. “To Spike and Buffy. From Tara.”

Spike opened the shallow gift box to reveal two simple, silver picture frames. One frame held the familiar sight of the oak tree at the vineyard, its leaves catching the moonlight. The other was of the same tree in broad daylight, with its twisted trunk clearly visible. Spike studied the base of the tree in the sunlit photo. “I think I see it now.” He handed the frame to Buffy. “Look close, love.”

She scrutinized the photo. “Yeah... Two trees. Huh.” She passed around frames to show everyone. “This is a really great gift, Tara. Thank you.”

“Only way I can see it in mid-day. Thanks, Glinda.”

Joyce looked at the photos. “It's certainly a beautiful tree, but I don't understand the significance.”

Giles looked uncomfortable. He glanced at the time travelers. “Perhaps we shouldn't.”

Spike and Buffy held a silent conference, looking at each other just long enough to catch the attention of the others. Spike stood up and went downstairs. Buffy picked up her wooden case again. “Spike and I told Tara about a trip to the outskirts of town that we haven't gotten around to sharing with the group yet, and I guess we inspired her gift with that conversation. The tree in those photos overlooks the place a slayer dream sent us to get what goes in here.”

“Ah. Hence the oak.” Xander nodded in understanding. “What was it?”

“A pair of really nice weapons.”

Spike came back into the room with the scythes. “Too good to be tucked under our bed like they've been, sitting loose. Love?”

Buffy accepted one of the scythes and placed it in the case. “Perfect fit.” He handed her the other one. “You know, I still can't tell the difference?”

“Me neither.” Spike looked at the sets of curious eyes. “They're powerful. Should be a big help with Glory, when the time comes.”

Buffy handed the second scythe to Willow. “Do you feel it?”

Willow's eyes went wide. “Wow. There's a lot of juice running through there.” She handed it off to Tara. “I bet they didn't tell you this when they told you about that tree!”

Tara accepted the weapon gingerly. “Um, no. They just, um, told me where they found them. And yeah, I think this will be very... helpful.” She gave the scythe back to Buffy, who put it in its case, and closed the latches. “So what are we opening next?”

*~*~*

Willow followed Joyce into the kitchen. “Buffy has officially joined the old folks. She said she'll have tea with Giles and Spike. Everyone else is still on the eggnog train. I can help.”

“Thank you, dear. Will you fill the kettle for me?”

“Sure.” She took the tea kettle to the sink and looked over her shoulder. “So were you just faking being happy with that book Spike gave you? '101 Fun and Fruity Cocktail Recipes' doesn't seem like it's exactly your style.”

Joyce chuckled. “Actually, I think it will be fun to experiment with. When you're older, Willow, you'll appreciate silly, impractical gifts. They become rather rare by the time you reach my age, when almost everyone looks at you as a serious adult, or just as somebody's mom.”

Willow put the kettle on the stove and turned to face her hostess. “So can I ask you another question, as a mom?” At Joyce's nod, she continued. “Why are you letting Buffy... um, shack up with Spike under your roof? He said they were keeping those axe thingies under his bed, but he called it 'our bed,' and you didn't even blink. Neither did Dawnie. Buffy's with him every night, isn't she?”

Joyce put down the tin of nutmeg. “Willow, have you noticed anything different about Buffy lately?”

“Oh, yeah. Lots. She's like a totally different person. She doesn't talk as much, to anyone or about anything, for starters. She always seems to be holding something back. We're struggling to still be friends, mostly because she's not really there, you know?”

“What else have you noticed?”

“Besides the chipped up vampire attached to her hip, not much. Again with the not talking problem.”

“She's finally comfortable in her own skin, Willow. Even with her constant worrying about this Glory person, she's more settled than I've seen her since before she became a slayer. She's not faking at being at ease with herself. She actually is. Trust me, a mother can tell.”

“You think he's good for her.”

“Something has certainly changed her attitude. Spike is the most obvious culprit. And if she ties him a little closer to the human world, that's good, too. Right?”

Willow shifted her weight. “Yeah, I guess so.”

Just then, in the living room, Dawn was exclaiming, “Holy crap, Buffy! What's in there? I think the vampire is on the verge of blushing.”

“I bet I know,” Anya said. “But lace would be more expressive than paper. Unless there's a photo?”

Spike slammed the book shut. “Nothing like that. Nibblet, grab the next gift.”

When the group's attention drifted away from him, Spike fidgeted with the silver pen, running a fingertip along the engraved initials, 'WHP', while he looked at the dark red leather of the book. The cover and spine were blank. He glanced around again, assuring himself no one was watching, and opened the book again. 150 lined pages, just waiting for ink. The only writing inside was on the flyleaf.

William-

I don't care what your peers thought. I know whatever you create in these pages will be worth reading. I'm looking forward to you getting drunk enough to let me see it. Take your time. I'm in no hurry. I hope I don't need to be. And if you later find I should have been, remember where I went, and that you still saved me, in ways you'll never even know. I love you, Sparky.

-Buffy

*~*~*

Buffy came downstairs to find Spike sitting on the bed, staring at the flyleaf of the book again. She placed the scythe case on top of the dresser. “I think it looks good there. What do you think?” There was no response. “Hey! Earth to Spike! Are you still trying to translate my handwriting?”

He closed the book. “No. I can read every word.”

“So you've finally gotten used to Buffy Sanskrit. Took you long enough.”

Spike was on his feet and in front of her in a second, burying her joke in kisses that left her breathless.

She pulled away, gasping. “Ok, I think that means I did good with the gift stuff.”

“Much better than socks.”

“Big achievement.”

He took her face in his hands and looked into her eyes. “I love you.”

“I hear you.” After another heated kiss, she led him to the bed and waited while he moved his book to the nightstand. Something shiny on her pillow caught her eye. “What's that?” She picked it up, frowning when she identified the object. “You took it back. And you put it on a necklace?”

“Eh, it was loose on your finger, anyway.”

Buffy studied the familiar skull ring, which had been cleaned until it shone brightly enough to hold its own against the new silver chain it was attached to. She narrowed her eyes. “What is this, Spike?”

“It's... It's a request.”

“Technically, that's what it was the first time. Spit it out.”

“I'm just asking you to wear it.”

“To represent what?”

“Isn't that what human blokes your age do? Put their rings on chains for their girls to wear? And weren't you about to rip my clothes off?”

“I'll get back to that in a minute.” She jingled the jewelry in her hand. “A girlfriend necklace? What does that mean?”

He thought for a moment. “That we're exclusive?”

“That was kind of implied.”

“So was the end of our engagement, according to you.”

“And according to you, it was ok that I kept this, and put it in my weapons chest. And now I find out my engagement ring has been downgraded to a girlfriend necklace. That's just... awesome.”

“You pissed off that I took it out of the chest or pissed off that I gave it back?”

“I'm pissed off because I thought it meant more than... this.

“If you'd rather wear it on your hand, Slayer, go right ahead. Won't get any argument from me.”

“That would be a first,” she scoffed. “Wait. Are you serious?”

“Sure sounds like you are. You're the one still calling it an engagement ring!”

“That's still how I think of it, ok? Don't read so much into it. It was just a stupid spell! We could barely even hold a civil conversation back then.”

“And that's changed?” He raised an eyebrow, challenging her.

“The only thing that changed was you letting me keep it when we were bouncing. That's what I thought actually meant something. ...Something a little better than a stupid girlfriend necklace!”

“It was already yours. Told you as much at the time. Not like you ever listen to a damn thing I say!”

“Oh, I'm listening. I'm getting this lovely little message loud and clear. And you know what? You're probably right. It didn't mean anything. Hell, getting along with you even well enough for girlfriend status would be my greatest achievement.” She put the silver chain around her neck. “There! Officially downgraded. Happy?”

“It wasn't meant as an insult, you stupid bint!”

“Too late! The damage is done. It's a girlfriend necklace now. So if you decide you want to marry me, William Pratt, you're going to have to ask me all over again!”

“Don't tempt me!” he threatened. “I'll march your stubborn ass down the aisle so fast, people will think I've knocked you up.”

“And how exactly to you plan to pull that one off, genius? We're surrounded by people who know that isn't possible, and think we've only been seeing each other since last month!”

“Then just wear the damn necklace, pretend to be my girlfriend--”

“Pretend?!” she interjected.

“--and marry me on the sly!”

Spike slowly sat down the edge of the bed, visibly surprised at his own words.

Buffy leaned against the bed beside him, and stared across the basement. “Whoa.”

He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, his head bowed. “Yeah,” he agreed.

There was a long silence. “Are you still drunk?” she eventually whispered.

Spike looked up to stare across the room with her. “Stone cold sober. You?”

“Same.”

“Fairly sure we can't blame this one on Red, either.”

“Safe bet.”

He threw up his hands. “Oh, why the hell not? May as well. Already been through bleedin' everything together. We put each other through most of it.”

“If this is you talking yourself into it, I'm willing to pretend I didn't hear anything that sounded even remotely like a proposal.”

“Maybe I'm talking you into it.”

“Or maybe you've lost your damned mind. Again.”

“Possible.” His gaze fell on the space they'd recently agreed to fill with a wardrobe, so Buffy could move more of her clothes downstairs. From there, his eyes traveled around the room, taking in the furniture, decorative objects, and casually intermingled belongings that had slowly crept in over the last two months, turning half of an unfinished basement into a cozy, homey little nest for two. “Look around, love. What do you see?”

“Um, our room? Full of our stuff?” She glanced at him. “What are you getting at?”

“In here, it already looks like we're long past arguing about engagement rings.”

“We don't just live in this room, you know. What about the rest of the world?”

“What counts is in here. Been that way for a while now.”

“Don't start getting romantic on me now, Spike. We're way past that. For tonight, anyway.”

“So the plan of ripping my clothes off...?”

“Don't change the subject, either.” She sighed. “The rest of the world doesn't know about all that stuff we've put each other through. They wouldn't understand... We'd be hiding again. You hate that.”

He ran a hand through his hair. “Just wanted to see you wearing my ring again. That's all I was asking.”

“Well, if you'd been straightforward about it, like you are with pretty much everything else, we wouldn't have ended up screaming threats of marriage at each other.” She sat down beside him. “It's been sitting in the back of your mind for a while, hasn't it?”

“A little, I suppose. Mostly the other... the thing you don't want to talk about.”

“Same here. But this? This is just an old fantasy, a leftover from a spell gone wrong.” She smiled. “It's not like we could even follow through if we tried. I'm pretty sure California doesn't have a statute that covers marrying undead illegal immigrants.”

“We could follow through. That's not a problem.” Spike shrugged at her look of surprise. “How do you think I keep ownership of all the properties? I have all the paper needed to pass for a living human, love, and it's kept up to date. Anything I don't have, I can get. It'd be legal.” He paused as something occurred to him. “Bloody hell... Buffy, it would be legal.”

She wrinkled her nose. “You already said that.”

“Think about it. What changes a few months down the line if you're hitched? And to a man with a bit of dosh, besides?”

“I buy a new car?”

“Sure, if you want. After you ace the custody hearing.”

“Oh... Oh!” Her eyes lit up. “Marriage and money are major stability markers. We wouldn't be constantly on the verge of losing Dawnie. ...You realize you might be her legal guardian, too, right?”

“Used to taking care of the Nibblet. Got too much practice a couple years back.” He took her hand. “Hoping not to get the same sort of practice again.”

“And if you had to... Spike, you might have a chance at keeping her. It would be a long shot, but not impossible. I'd want her to stay with you. ...Sorry, sorry. I know you hate the contingency planning.”

“Yeah, but you're right. Could work in her favor, later... But since you're not gonna jump, we'd just be using it to get custody in the first place. Right?”

“Mom would have to be told some stuff. I wouldn't want to hide this from her.”

“She already knows we aren't who we say we are, love. She saw the flashing.”

“She doesn't know what it means yet, assuming she even remembers it.” Buffy tapped her lower lip with one finger, thinking. “The name change stuff takes a while. I'd probably still be using my maiden name for a couple of months... So hiding from the Scoobies until spring should play out fine.”

Spike's eyebrows shot up. “You'd change your name?”

“Yeah. I mean, if it's ok with you.”

“There are some old fashioned streaks in my modern California girl, then?”

She laughed. “Buried deep, but yeah, I guess so.”

“We know Glinda would stand up for us. If we need a second witness, think Joyce would do it?”

“Probably.” She started tapping her lip again. “...Justice of the Peace. Here at the house. In the evening. Shouldn't take more than half an hour. We'll just have to get the license in advance. Pick a cloudy day, and swing by the County Clerk's office...”

“Sometime soon, 'fore Glory pokes her head out of her hole again.”

“Yeah, we should do it while we're not busy. We don't need the officiant witnessing a surprise demon attack or something. That wouldn't help our case later.”

Spike held up a hand to pause the impromptu planning session. “Before this goes any further, I gotta ask: You agreeing to this just for the Bit's sake?”

Buffy exhaled slowly. “I don't know... 'Yes' sounds like the wrong answer to that question, but for the timing, at least, it's an honest one.” She looked up at him. “That's not what you wanted to hear.”

“It's not much of an answer at all.”

“If it weren't for Dawnie, I'd probably be trying to talk you into starting this argument up again in a few years, so there would be a simple answer. At least, I hope there would be a simple answer by then. 'Cause right now? We kind of have a world to save. And this is pretty low priority stuff we're talking, Lieutenant.”

“Thanks loads. About not being straightforward...”

“You know what I mean. You usually do. This is not the time to start pretending you aren't a Buffy translation expert.” She shook her head. “And if we didn't know custody would be a struggle, it would also be a really, really stupid time to try to play out that ridiculous Will Be Done spell.”

He gave her a pointed look. “No 'Wind Beneath My Wings.'”

“God, no. I have no idea why I even suggested that. 'Highway to Hell' would have been more appropriate, anyway.” They traded smirks. “And no personally written vows.”

“Fine. No tux.”

“That's fair. No frilly white dress.”

Spike shrugged. “Not like anyone would buy that lie, anyway.”

She tried to glare at him, but couldn't help expressing how amused she was by the negotiations. “Do we have a deal?” she asked through a chuckle.

Spike studied her smile for a moment before he reached around her neck to undo the clasp on her necklace. “Need to borrow the ring for a minute, love.”

She grabbed the ring and chain before they could be lifted away. “Oh, no. Don't you dare.”

“We can't let all that yelling stand, Buffy. You should have a real proposal.”

“I've had a proposal.” She secured her necklace back into place. “We're good. Leave it alone.”

He raised an eyebrow at her. “You're not counting the first time, are you?”

“I'm counting tonight. I'd rather have spontaneous yelling from my angry, impulsive vampire than some gooey, romantic crap you've probably been rewriting in your head since you were human. I'll quit while I'm ahead, thanks.”

The eyebrow rose higher.

“Don't even try to deny it. You think I don't know you, William?”

“Oh, yeah.” He shook his head at himself. “This'll end well.”





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