DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.  And the chapter titles are courtesy of Miles Davis.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Willow is back, Iris is dead, but Sira is around while D’Hoffryn has showed up to claim the voix mortelle…

*************

Chapter 41: There Is No Greater Love

Buffy stared at D’Hoffryn in disbelief.  “You’re kidding me, right?” she said, folding her arms across her chest.  “You really expect to come waltzing in here after we’ve done all the dirty work, and just walk away with your little staff thingie?  I think my mom would have something to say about a day shy and a dollar late here.”

“Uh, Slayer, that would be a day late and---.”  The look she shot Spike glinted with her best now-is-not-the-time-to-mess-with-me anger, and he pressed his lips together in proper rebuke, turning to face the other demon instead.  “Right.  You heard the lady.  Bugger off.”

“Not without the voix mortelle,” D’Hoffryn said evenly.  “And it is mine.  Even the Slayer believes so, otherwise she wouldn’t have referred to it as ‘your little staff thingie.’”  He shook his head in mock dismay.  “Really, the way you slaughter the English language?  I’d say your tongue is almost as good a weapon as your tiny little fists.”

The step she took forward was instinctual, but Buffy was stopped by Anya’s hand curled around her elbow.

“Suicide,” the ex-demon said when the Slayer glanced back at her.  “Head honcho, remember?  Don’t even look at him cross-eyed, or he’ll cross your eyes, if you know what I mean.”

With a sigh, Buffy turned back to face D’Hoffryn, but she uncurled her fists as she did so, attempting with the tiny gesture to show her willingness to talk.  Or rather, her unwillingness to die because as much as she hated to admit it, Anya had a point.  He was too powerful for her to fight without some serious magic behind her, and she doubted he’d let her get within ten feet without resorting to his own mojo.  She had to play this one smart.

“Uh…Buffy?”  Willow’s voice was almost a squeak behind her.  “Not to be Little Miss Naggy Pants here, but...are we planning on doing anything about Sira?  You know, before he decides he’d rather eat me than listen to me.”

“Tick tock, Ms. Summers.”  D’Hoffryn was sounding far too gleeful about the whole situation, and she exhaled loudly in frustration as she inched herself back toward her friends.  “Not that this hasn’t been a most delightful evening, but I have places to go, people to torture.”

“Looks like this isn’t your lucky night then,” she replied.  “Because we don’t have the staff.”

For the first time, he faltered, his smile fading.  “It’s not nice to lie to me.  You have Sira, ergo, you have the staff.”

“Had.  Past tense.”

“You lost it?”

“More like…dropped it.”  She gestured toward one of the many fissures that now littered the landscape.  “In one of those.  I guess Mother Nature got a little hungry.”

“That’s not helpful, Buffy.”  This was from Anya, and it took all the Slayer’s willpower not to roll her eyes. 

“Helpful has nothing to do with it,” she replied tightly.  “It’s the truth.  Go ahead, D’Hoffryn.  Look around all you want.  You can seek, but you ain’t gonna find.  And if you don’t believe me, just think about it rationally for a second.  Would I be standing here with a six-story snake breathing down my neck if I had some way of getting rid of it for good?”

He paused, his eyes narrowing as he considered her words, scrutinizing her calm face.  She was lying through her teeth, but there was no way she could let him catch on to that.  Buffy knew exactly which one of the cracks the voix mortelle had slipped into; she just didn’t want the horned demon to start searching in case he accidentally found it.  She wasn’t really in the mood to be arm wrestling with him over a stupid stick at this point in the game.

“I must say,” he finally commented, “if this is the way you run your Hellmouth, it’s really no wonder you have an apocalypse on your hands every year or so.”  He shrugged.  “Ah, well, I can’t say it hasn’t been fun.  Between Anyanka’s unsuspected loyalties and your penchant for falling in love with vampires, you’ve certainly kept me on my toes.  It’s been…amusing, if not actually rewarding.”

“So sorry to disappoint.  Oh, wait.  No, I’m not.  You haven’t exactly been the most forthcoming in helping us out here, so me with the guilt?”  Buffy shook her head.  “Not so much.”

D’Hoffryn chuckled.  “Quippy to the end.  Will wonders never cease.”  The nod of farewell he gave them encompassed the entire group.  “I’m sure our paths will cross again,” he said, and with a flash, disappeared from the swamp.

Anya was the first to break the ensuing silence with a relieved sigh.  “I am so glad he was in a good mood,” she said.  “I was really not looking forward to picking out all your entrails from my hair.”

“And your entrails would’ve been saved because…?” Willow couldn’t help but ask, her eyes wide.

“Because D’Hoffryn likes me,” Anya replied.  “I would’ve been spared.”

“Oh, spare me,” the redhead muttered.

“Willow.”  Xander’s voice caught all their attention.  “A little slack here?  Anya put herself out on a limb to help us get you back.  Maybe we can play nice-nice for a little bit, OK?”

Nobody was more shocked at his unexpected support than his girlfriend, and her face quickly creased into a wide smile.  “Thank you, Xander,” she said.

He turned a warning finger toward her.  “And Ahn, you might want to be a little more wary of the witch with the giant snake demon at her disposal,” he said.  “Remember that thing called tact we talked about?  Now’s probably a really good time to start practicing it.”

“Point taken,” she said with a satisfied nod.

“Much as I like all the entrail talk,” Spike said, “there’s still the small matter of a looming serpent of death here for us to settle.”

“Ixnay on the eathday, Spike,” Willow said.  Her eyes were still glued to Sira, and her tone remained even, but the beads of sweat were already forming on her brow.  “Even if I do agree with you.  Anyone?  I’m open to suggestions here.”

“Didn’t we already meet our lifetime quota for really big snakes?” Anya asked.

“Considering it took blowing up the high school to get rid of the Mayor and we seem clean out of TNT, I’m fresh out of ideas,” Xander said.

“I’m not.”  Keeping a wary eye on the serpent, Buffy stepped over to the chasm into which the voix mortelle had fallen, daring to get as near to the edge as possible.  Only Spike’s tight grip wrapped around her bicep stopped her from actually leaning to peer inside, and she straightened to look back at him with a frown.

“I’ll go down,” he said.  His tone brooked no argument, his eyes dark as they locked onto hers.  “I can see better in the dark than you, and you need to be up here in case something goes all to cock.”

She nodded.  He was right, as usual.  “Be careful.”

“When I’ve got you to get back to?”  His grin was crooked as his knuckles brushed against the curve of her cheek.  “Always.”

Buffy grabbed his arm before he jumped down into the crevasse.  “And don’t break it,” she instructed.

Spike shrugged.  “It’s your stick,” he conceded, and promptly disappeared into the velvety darkness.

She could see the top of his head glowing---almost radioactively, she thought, suppressing the giggle that rose to her throat---as he landed at the bottom of the hole.  It wasn’t as deep as she’d thought, even if she couldn’t see how far it went, but its contents were a mystery, locked away in the black void as it sucked all the light from the air.  Her muscles were tense, her fingers curling into her palms as she waited, and when Xander stepped almost noiselessly up behind her, Buffy nearly jumped into the hole herself in anxiousness.

“Not that I’m one to be questioning your authority in these matters,” Xander said in a low voice, “but…don’t break it?  Please tell me there’s a good reason for that.”

“Yeah, there is.”  Her eyes never left the chasm.  “We only break it and we’re left with the possibility of all this happening again some time down the line.  I don’t want to have to be worrying about someone scotch taping the staff together again, so we’re going to get rid of it, once and for all.”

“Heads up!”  Spike’s voice was muffled but his intent was clear, and Buffy’s hand shot out automatically when the staff zoomed skyward.

“Got it!”  Grabbing Xander’s arm, she stepped away from the edge, dragging him with her, and watched as Spike leapt up, clearing the chasm to land with a soft thud several feet away.

He had vamped out while down below, but as he turned to look at the Slayer, his amber eyes melted into blue, his brow smoothing even though the mud that streaked his skin remained, mingling with the blood that he’d already shed during the fighting.  His clothes were a mess as well, but the grin he offered her was one of pure, unadulterated glee. 

In spite of herself, Buffy smiled.  It was hard not to be amused at Spike’s childish delight in the joy of the fight.  And the fact that the prowess he’d always exhibited during their own battles was now going to be better put to use?  Just a bonus.

She didn’t wait for any of their questions as she marched closer to the bonfire that still raged around the dais.  Sira’s eyes followed her path, otherwise remaining still, but when she threw the voix mortelle onto the flames, Buffy could’ve sworn she saw the demon smile.  Imagining smiling snake lips, she thought as she turned back in time to watch the serpent disappear with a clap of thunder.  I am one tired Slayer.

“And that’s all she wrote, folks,” she said.  “No more snake to slay, no more vodou to who-do.  Time to pack it up and haul it home.”

*************

Except for the sound of the shower, the cottage was eerily quiet, echoing in hollowness around Buffy’s ears as she slumped against the back of the couch.  Exhausted didn’t even begin to cover how tired she was, but sleep was still out of the question.  Not when she had so much packing yet to do.

The silence grew when even the distant rush of water disappeared, and the Slayer smiled.

And not when she had a certain vampire to thank.

He was humming under his breath when he emerged from the bathroom, a towel wrapped casually around his waist as rivulets of water dripped down the planes of chest.  Unable to resist turning to look at him, her smile softened when she saw him pause, shake his head to rid the platinum curls of excess water, and then hesitate before disappearing into the bedroom to look back and survey the nearly empty lounge.

“Not that I’m complaining,” Spike said, “but where’d the Brady bunch bugger off to?  Didn’t think we’d be gettin’ a spot of privacy until after Christmas, at this rate.”

“Everybody’s gone,” she explained, and began to tick them off on her fingers.  “Since we don’t really have to worry about Iris any more, the gang’s staying at a hotel tonight before catching their flight back to Sunnydale tomorrow.  Freddie took off for wherever home is once he got a lecture from Giles about doing the right thing.  And Xander drove Clara back to her shop since Peter ended up being toast.”  Her eyes fluttered closed for a second before shooting back up.  “Oh, and Willow told me where I could find your coat.”  She smiled.  “You don’t have to go home without it.”

“Sounds like you’ve got everything covered.”  His step was silent as he crossed the room, dropping to the end of the sofa to take her bare feet into his hands.

She groaned out loud at the delectable pressure of his fingers along her soles, and stretched herself out so that her heels rested against the terry of the towel across his thighs, her eyes dropping closed again as she lost herself in the waves of pleasure emanating from her lower regions.  There was silence for a moment, and then…

“So what time is it you need me droppin’ you off at the airport then?”  Spike’s voice had dropped in timbre, silky and melodic, but its hint of distance drove Buffy’s lids up again, to look at him concentrating on her feet.

“You don’t,” she said softly, and waited until he’d lifted his head, his eyes almost black as they gazed at her.  “I told Giles that I’d be going back with you in the Desoto.  The way I see it, the gang’s kosher with watching the Hellmouth for a few extra days, and I deserve a little vacation.  So I’m going to spend some quality time with my guy.”

His mouth quirked at her last two words, his head ducking almost shyly.  “Don’t have air conditioning, remember,” he said, and she was surprised at how gruff his voice sounded before it dawned on her that he was being oddly moved by what she’d volunteered.

Buffy wriggled her toes against his fingers.  “Still got my sparkly fan?” she asked brightly.

This time, he couldn’t help turning it into a full-blown smile.  “If Tara didn’t nick it,” he replied.

“Then I’m all set.  Got you, got my fan, got a week without having to worry about one of my friends being turned into mincemeat by some snake demon.  What more could I ask for?”

As he continued his massage, water dripped from the ends of Spike’s hair to land in the hollow of her ankle before sliding backward to her heel and soaking into the towel.  “Much as I’d like for you to come with, pet,” he finally said, “maybe you should catch that plane with your friends tomorrow.”

Buffy frowned.  This wasn’t what she’d been expecting.  “Why?”

“It’s just…”  He wasn’t even meeting her eyes, focusing instead on the delicate arch of her instep.  “The trip out wasn’t exactly a picnic for you, and I spent a good part of my dosh here.  Won’t be the most comfy of drives if I’m havin’ to sleep at the side of the road---.”

“Oh, thank god,” she rushed with a breathy exhalation.  Her lips curved as her muscles relaxed back into the cushions.  “For a second there, I thought you were breaking up with me or something.”  She affected a bad impersonation of his accent.  “Thanks for the shag, Slayer.  It’s been bloody memorable.”  With a playful kick, Buffy nudged at his hip.  “Stop playing the noble boyfriend, Spike.  It’s nice, but truly, unnecessary in this case.  When I told Giles what I was doing, he gave me his ATM card.  Money is not an issue.”

That caught his attention.  “Rupert’s financing our trip back?”  His brows shot up.  “Did he fall into one of those holes Sira made and hit his head or something?”

“It’s not like we can go crazy and stay at every five-star hotel we see---.”

Spike snorted.  “Oh, because there’s just so many of those in Bugtussle, Arkansas,” he retorted. 

Buffy ignored him.  “---and he gave me a limit not to go over,” she finished.  “But yeah, Giles seems to be on the side of seeing you and me as something real, and he agrees that me sleeping in the Desoto is not of the good.”  Pulling her feet away, Buffy crawled down the length of the couch to straddle his hips, feeling him nestle comfortably between her thighs.  “And here I thought you’d be hopping with excitement about this,” she said.  She let her fingers trail across his clavicle, catching the tiny dewdrops of water that still clung there before deliberately leaning in to run her tongue along the same line, inhaling the scent of soap and smoke that permeated his flesh.

Spike’s fingers dug into her hips, pulling her infinitesimally closer as he nuzzled the top of her head.  “Guess I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop,” he murmured.  “Just…seems to be too good to be true, you know?  You…me…being my own man again…something’s bound to come along to fuck all this up.  I just know it.”

It almost hurt to pull away, and then to see the uncertainty clouding the brilliance of his eyes… “Don’t,” she said softly.  “Because I love you, and something tells me you might love me---.”

Spike growled at the playful reservation in her words, tugging her against his chest before kissing the hollow of her throat.  “No might in it, pet,” he said into the satin of her skin.  His arms curled around her waist to pull her more tightly against him.  “Love you more than anything.  I just don’t want to lose you.”

“And you’re not.  You won’t.  Even Giles knows that now.”  Her heart was thudding inside her chest, her breathing increasingly labored.  “The past few days have been rough, but it’s all over and now we can just get back to our lives the way we’re supposed to be living them.”

“Waiting for the next apocalypse to poke its ugly mug around?” he joked.

“Exactly,” she replied.  “Just as soon as we get our little crosscountry vacation out of the way.”  Her cheek settled against the groove of his shoulder, nestling there in the perfect matching puzzle piece.  “Think about it.  No Giles complaining about wanting to be blind.  No listening to Willow and Anya bicker about who should have more of Xander’s attention.  No watching Xander try to---.”

“OK, OK, I get the picture.”  He was laughing, his body nearly vibrating beneath her, and she felt his hands come up to stroke her hair.  “So…we’ll leave tomorrow at sundown, right?” he asked.  She nodded.  “Which means we’ve got the rest of tonight and tomorrow to do whatever it is we please…?”

Buffy smiled, but she didn’t pull away, instead letting his wandering hands continue their caresses.  “You have a one-track mind, Spike.”

“Oh, but what wonderful track it is, luv.  All hard and slicked up, just begging to be ridden…”

As his touch followed the tempo of his voice, she let herself drift away on the current of the mood he was creating, her body a heated flush, her head awash in color. Funny how it had taken temporarily losing one of the most important people in her life to discover a new one, and while the prospect of their Big Easy days had made her yearn for easier obstacles, in hindsight, Buffy was grateful for what she’d been given.  She might not have found Spike so deeply rooted in her world without the issues they’d been forced to overcome or address.  And while his love for her certainly grounded her more deeply than anyone else’s had for a very long time, even more importantly…

…it made her feel as if she could fly.

 

The End

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  Well, that’s another one done, folks.  Special thanks to angstchic for the wonderful job beta-ing, and thanks to all those readers and reviewers out there who told me what they thought of the story as it progressed.  Hearing your words of support---especially those of Terri, Char, Andrea, Tammy, and Kallysten---have meant a tremendous amount to me, and I just want you to know that it’s greatly appreciated.  Although BSV is officially complete now, I ended it this way for a reason---I’m planning on writing a couple one-chapter shorts detailing Buffy and Spike’s trip back across the country, but those will be done when I either get inspired or find the time.  They’ll be coming, though.  Of that, you can be sure. :)

Epilogue Part 1: All of You