"You made a little cock. Little cock 'an balls, an' you made 'em, Slayer."
"How about that."
"It's a beautiful thing."
"Sluggo isn't an 'it'."
"I'm talking about his"
"We are not discussing our son's genitalia for one more minute. Close up that diaper and let's go." She went to the door.
"Say that again."
"Close up that diaper and"
"Not that, Buffy."
"Spike." She sighed, turning. "We say that every day. Multiple times. Are you gonna make me repeat it and get all dewy-eyed every single time?"
"What if I do? Got ourselves a son. A real life you-me son. I'm enjoyin' that. Enjoying it to the hilt."
"Sure it's good. I'm not like you, Buffy," he said, grinning, "all stalwart an' unemotional. 'Cept at the card table, that is. Rest of the time I'm a sentimental fool, and pleased as punch with him, and you, and Jemmie."
"I know, Spike. Let's go."
Spike laid the baby in his crib, wound up the music box. "What's the matter, my queen?"
"We're gonna patrol. Let's patrol."
"Not budgin' 'til you tell me."
"I can go alone, you know. I'm the slayer. It's not written anywhere that I have to have my undead side-kick with me at all times."
"That's so. An' you've still got the one tasty leg. So temptin'."
"Tell me, Slayer. What's eatin' you?"
"Not you, if you don't stop!"
He'd lost his satisfied little smirk. "Buf"
"Sluggo's not you-me! I wish he was! He's William's! Who never thought he'd marry, never thought he'd have a family, and he adored me just as much as you do, and watched me lose two babies, and then in the end he had to stand there while you emasculated him, I kicked him to the curb, and we sent him away with nothing."
"I know! Don't tell me it wasn't my fault! Don't tell me there was nothing else we could've done! I know that! But God, the whole thing was so ugly, and you can't say he wasn't robbed."
She closed her eyes, trying to swallow down another reflux of remorse. Thoughts of William, what she'd put him through, burned her insides.
"He was a twat, an' he wasn't good to you."
"He tried his best."
"His best wasn't up to much, was it? I should know! Christ, look . . . you did save his life."
"Oh, I doubt that's how he's thinking about it, all alone back there."
"But you did. Back thenpeople died, Buffy. Not like nowthey died at home, they died young, an' they died horriblynot vamps an' demons here, I'm talking about influenza an' TB. Like my sisters. Like my father. Like me if I hadn't met Dru. He'll marry again, an' he'll be better to her for havin' had you. He'll have other babies. He'll be all right."
"He won't. He was destroyed. Spike, we destroyed him."
"Nah. Bloody prat'll be more resilient than you think."
"I don't know that." It plucked at her daily, the memory of how he'd looked at her in those last minutes before they magicked him off. And not just that. She kept replaying all their time together in the house in Italy, trying, though she understood the futility of it, and wondered at herself, to figure out a way she could've handled it better. Been true to him as well as herself. Been a good wife, even though she wasn't his wife at all, even though the whole thing was a cosmic mistake that had to be corrected before either of them could find peace.
Spike had taught her so well in these years to revere love that she couldn't now let William's love lie.
"He thought we were married, and you know how serious that was in those dayshe thought it was forever, that I was his. He loved me so much, even though he didn't know what to do with me, even though I made him so scared. God, I can't stop thinking about him."
"Buffy, you didn't even like him."
"I didn't. Well, he had his moments . . . no, I didn't. I like you. What if something took you away from me? What if it turned out that there was some other Buffy in some other reality, and you really belonged to her?"
"'Course I'm yours, an' you're mine. Jemmie's ours, and so is Sluggo. Gonna be married soon, the two of us. Far as I'm concerned, we're married already."
He could say this, and variations on it, over and over, and her heart would always leap at the words, because she was so very far from being tired of them or him. But they didn't mend this horrid little hole that marred her self-respect like a cigarette burn. "I can't believe we're calling him Sluggo."
"Gettin' gloomy now. C'mon." He took her arm and steered her to the stairs. "Let's go kill things."
Spike slapped his cards down. "That's me out."
"C'mon Spike, night's still young. Can't go yet."
"Can and will." He raked his winnings off the table and stuffed the bills into his pocket as he rose.
"Hey!" The Lastard demon started up with a shriek, quills erect. "gotta give us a chance to win some of that back!"
Spike growled, flashing fang. "Not this. This's gonna pay for my upcoming honeymoon." Dropping out of game-face, he grinned. "G'night boys."
He sauntered out into the alley, whistling.
Unlife was good. Since recent events, it had never been better. Slayer had her confidence back, had proven herself just as able to save the world on her false leg as she ever was. She'd given him another child, all out of the blue, a shining little son, and she was a happy mother this time, doting on Sluggo and Jemmie both with an unconscious sweetness that put him in mind of Joyce. And in a week she was going to marry him, really stand up and marry him in front of everyone, and go off afterwards on a proper honeymoon.
Funny old worldhere he was having all the things that he'd wanted when he was alive, and couldn't getpassionate love, and family, and work that meant something, and friends who could look his live, human self in the face and yet still side with him. Here he was having a man's life at long last despite being a demon with a mouthful of fangs.
Spike didn't hear the whistle of the arrow that buried itself in his back. With a roar, he spun around, right into another arrow that lodged in his neck.
"Oi!" He started to tear it out, when his assailant dropped on him from above.
The greasy pavement rose to meet him with a loud thwap; he managed to roll at the last second and get free, but the move drove the first arrow deeper into his back and snapped it off.
"Here I finish you!"
Mei Yi kicked out at his head. Spike caught her foot and tumbled her to the ground.
"Fucking hell, what're you doing? This's out of order!" He grabbed at the arrow protruding from his neck, but Mei Yi was already on her feet. She rushed him again, flinging punches just as he'd taught her. Her face was a maskall fierce intention but blank of feeling. She refused to let him catch her eye.
Christ on a crutch. Giles had assured him that he'd gotten through to Mei Yi at lastmade her understand that targeting him was not on the agenda, made her promise to stop. He'd also done his best to keep her well awaysending her off to handle crises in other hotspots, or on spiritual retreats in deserts and monasteries. She was supposed to be re-assigned soon, Giles said, given a new watcher and sent back to Asia for good.
Couldn't be too soon.
He parried, feinting, keeping her moving while he looked for some way outshe was a lot stronger, but not light on her feet as he was. It wasn't that he didn't want to beat her down, but Giles and Buffy wouldn't like it, and anyway Buffy was expecting him back in time to watch Kid Galahad on TCM at two, with popcorn and a pitcher of bloody marys. So, best thing would be, like they used to say to Jemmie when she flew off the handle, Use your words.
"Knock it off, you bloody cow! Listen to medon't want to hurt you! Well, do, butStop it!"
He might as well not have spoken. She landed blow after blow, it was hard to keep his feet; after a few minutes he realized he was pulling his punches, because she was a girl he'd taught, and all his instincts said every fight was to the death, and they weren't supposed to be doing this.
But she was here to kill him. Her hesitation of the past was gone. Every blow was meant to incite, to wound. When she caught his eye with a sharp fist, half-blinding him, he roared, and threw her hard against a dumpster ten feet away. She hit with a clang and and slid to the ground. In the moments she was down, he grabbed up the crossbow and broke it into pieces. "You out of your goard? Been warned off this often enough, don't you get it? Leave me be to go home to my missus."
Mei Yi got up. "You cannot flee this fight!"
He remembered when Mei Yi had called him by his name, when she was brand new with them and grateful for any little crumb of his attention in the midst of her untranslatable loneliness. How she'd blush when he looked at her, how, after a while, she'd become bold enough to try to teach him the Chinese names for things in the training room, standing too close to him while the other potentials glanced at her sidelong and laughed behind their hands. Then she found out he was a vampire, and that he was Buffy's consort, and worst of allhe still didn't know how she learned itabout the first slayer he'd killed. After that she hated him with the keenest sort of hate, the kind that sprouts ineradicably out of the ashes of unrequited love.
He didn't know what to say to her nowor what the hell she was doing back here when she was supposed to be gone for good. "You defected to the dark side? I'm not the enemy, remember? Now you're going to fuck off like the good girl you are, an' live to fight another day with a real villain, and this bit of bother will be our little secret." He yanked the arrow from his neck; it came free with a hot tearing and a splatter of blood.
She approached him. "You cannot escape what you are! I am sworn to kill the vampires!"
"You dust me, an' you'll be even more of a pariah than you already are. You want that, Mei? Giles down on you? Do you know what the Council does to slayers who go rogue?"
She grinned, but it was more a baring of teeth. "Council not worry me."
"You want Buffy's hatred? You think she'll let you off?"
She scowled, and rubbed her palms hard down her thighs, as if they were sticky. "Buffy touch you, so is dirty. No respect! I fight her too!"
For a moment Spike was afraid. This was not on the night's agenda. He recognized the familiar enthusiasm hopping him upto bash and crash, to taste slayer blood and triumph. Of course he wanted itwhen did he ever not want a fight? Especially with a slayer. It was what would come afterwards that he didn't want. The trouble. Complications. It burned him to do it, but he went on appealing to her reason. Or her emotions. Or whatever the hell he could come up with to get her to pause and have a think. "You used to be fond of Jem. You wanna deprive her of"
Mei Yi leapt at him, screaming. "You coward! No talk! Fight me! I kill you!"
All right then. On to Plan B.
He met her in mid-air, their bodies crashing together. She landed first. Spike threw her again, head first into the brick wall.
She slumped to the pavement. Her eyes were closed. She didn't move. He could hear her heart beating, sure and strong.
Point. Spike took to his heels.
"It's marvelous. After everything you've been through, apart and together." Tara said. "That's going to be so nice."
"It really will be." Buffy wriggled her toes. Having just one foot certainly made pedicures speedier. She was surprised, since the incident with the Demon Diner, how little the loss of her leg seemed to matter. Her life was absurdly rich. She loved a man who had infinite ardor, infinite strength, who defied part of his nature every day to devote himself to her. She smiled. When had she started thinking of Spike as a man, without caveat? Not so very long ago. She'd held stubbornly onto that reserve of doubt, that awareness of the otherness of vampyr,even as they lived a life together not so entirely removed from the lives of the people in the houses on either side, who also signed report cards, made late-night supermarket sweeps, wrapped presents for birthdays and Christmasses, quarreled over housework and made up with scorched kisses.
"They swim outdoors in Iceland all year round, too," Tara said. "I know someone who went. They have all these heated pools, and there are hot springs, too."
"YeahI've been shopping for suits. And I've got this new swim prosthesis that is the bomb." Buffy finished the littlest toe, and admired her handiwork. "I can't believe this is next week."
"Maddy and I are really looking forward to it. We've been practicing our dancing."
"So have we. Spike knows every dance ever invented. I'm getting pretty good, one-legged gimp-girl or not. Jemmie loves to watch us. She claps her hands and laughs like a loon."
"You've got everything ready? The dress"
"The dress came home today. It's gorgeous. Very simple. Satin, no sleeves, cut on the biasJemmie said it looked like a nightgown, but she doesn't know anything about couture. According to her, if it doesn't look like something Sleeping Beauty would wear, then it can't be a proper wedding gown."
"Well," Tara laughed, "she's only seven."
"She's nearly eight! And her papa is finally making an honest woman of me."
Five streets away, as he was clearing the warehouse district, she crashed down on him out of nowhere.
She dropped from a roof like the two-hundred pounds of solid muscle she was, pinning him to the pavement before she wrenched him around by the hair. Her poor plain face so distorted by hatred she resembled a demon herself as she rained punches on him like his face was the training bag. "Vampire is the enemy! You a filthy vampire! That's all!"
The arrow wounds bled heavilyshe'd pierced the major artery in his neck. He couldn't see, couldn't get any purchase on her. Couldn't buck her off. His head felt enormous, a ball of pain.
"Not so pretty man now. Show game-face! You die like monster you are!"
Spike tried with all his might to pitch her off so he could fight back.
That's when she drove the stake home.
"It's getting late," Tara said, "don't you want to get to bed?"
Buffy could practically see Tara's lazy smile through the wires. "We're chattering so hard I lost track. I'm not going to sleep, though, I'm waiting for Spike. We have plans tonight. I don't sleep much these days."
"Is that different from usual?"
"Well, you know I've always needed less than other people, but . . . yeah. Maybe. Lately I seem to need even less. Makes it easier to live with a vampire and two human kids, though, so: I don't complain."
"Well, that's good then. Me, I need to snooze. Sosee you at your wedding."
"Yeah. You're gonna dance with me, remember. Cheek to cheek."
"Cheek to cheek," Tara said. "Stay well. 'Bye."
Talking to her always left Buffy with a pleasant floaty feeling, as if she'd just had a deep massage. Must have something to do with all the refreshing sanity. Tara was so level, cheerful. She was the only one of them who never lost itexcept that time it was taken away from her, but Buffy didn't count that.
Upstairs, the baby was asleephe'd started sleeping through the night within the last couple of weeks, which Spike said was his superpower, like Buffy's was slaying and Jem's was seeing dimensional portals, and his was devastating good looks. Persis wasn't in the room, but Buffy could feel her proximity, and in a moment she shimmered into view on the other side of the crib, in her familiar hoodie and pig-tails and smattering-of-acne persona. "He's fine."
"I know," Buffy whispered. "I just like looking at him, y'know?" She leaned in over the sleeping form, inhaling the sweet milky smell of his head, resisting her nearly constant urge to gather him up in her arms. It wasn't that she loved Sluggo more than her daughtershe was experiencing an enormous surge in maternal tenderness since the Demon Diner thing, sometimes so intense that it could only find outlet in tears. But this baby was inextricably tied in her mind with William, whom she couldn't forget now as she had after getting back from the past the first time, pregnant with Jemima. Months were gone, but she still thought about him daily, wondered about him. Still was plagued by an insistent sense that she'd done him a terrible wrong. She'd talked to Spike about it once, but he hadn't had much sympathy for his alter-self, or even for her feelings. But then he'd never been an introspective winner. He'd won, and the loser could go fuck himself. Anyway, Spike saw the children as hers, extensions of her body and her Self, given him by the same miracle that brought him her love. He didn't focus much on himself as their engendererhe cherished the children for themselves, and as manifestations of her. It was always to her he compared them, or Dawn, or Joyce. His lost sisters too. But not himself. Buffy wondered about this, but she didn't talk to him about it.
Buffy glanced up at Persis. The nanny was also gazing fondly at the baby, her small, rather stubby hands curled around the top of the crib bar.
Sometimes she wanted to tell her her doubts about William. When they'd hired her back out of the nursery of the Kr-Gryzlak royal family, with a strict clause in the contract that Spike wasn't to interfere with her methods as long as she didn't interfere unduly with his paternal freedomsPersis expressed little curiosity about the details of Sluggo's parentage. She was always tactful.
She was also, as Buffy couldn't help being aware, watching her pop in and out of thin air, not just conversant with other dimensions, but at home in them. What if she asked Persis to go check on William? Was that something she could do? Or was moving through time, and knowing in which of the infinite number of other dimensions her William dwelt beyond the scope of Persis' powers?
Anyway, check on him . . . why? What would she do with the information? If he wasn't doing well . . . if he was lonely and bitter . . . if he was ill again . . . what would she be able to do about it? What would she want to do about it? She didn't love William, or even like him. His husbandly tenderness had shredded into cruelty at the first sign of conflict.
Yet that seemed so little, compared with how shocked and wounded he was by her rejection. Or how he'd looked when he put the crying baby back in her arms. He'd loved her. Not always kindly, but she couldn't dispute in her own mind that he'd made her the center of his life, and would've gone on trying to keep their marriage together all his life, if she'd let him.
She knew that whatever became of him, he must've thought of and missed his son, and her, every day.
She'd always thought of Spike as Jemima's fatherin the way that the past can shape itself to desire, she had almost altered her memories of lying with William in that cold London room into just another permutation of her long and varied bed-life with Spike. She had enough college psych behind her to know that was her mind's ploy to make her feel better about going to bed repeatedly with a man she didn't like.
It was different with Sluggo. Because the whole thing with William was so different the second time. The marriage. The passionof love and sex and anger and savage disappointmentthat flared between them the entire time. She couldn't stop thinking about it, and Johnny stood for it all somehow, he was like a treasure snatched from a burning building.
She leaned into the crib and put a delicate kiss on the baby's ear. "See you in the morning," she murmured. Persis nodded, but didn't move. Buffy backed out of the room and went to look at Jemima.
The girl slept sprawled, as if struck down while at full gallop. She'd kicked off the thin blanket; Buffy picked it up and laid it over her, then drew the clump of hair out from between her parted lips. Jem was in a hair-chewing phase which Buffy hoped would be brief. She'd proposed a nice short easy-to-care-for bob, but gave way to Spike's howl of protest. You're proposin' to mutilate her! Girls ought to have long hair!
She smoothed Jem's off her brow, again ignoring the urge to gather the child into her arms.
Spike always pointed out the ways that Jemima was like her, and she supposed he was right, but it was him she saw in that small lithe body, in the supple face with its constantly shading expressions, in the enthusiasms that gripped her periodically with the force of fever dreams, making her intent and loud and thoughtless and funny. She was athletic, no surprise, although, like both of them, not much of a team player. But good too with reading and math, the way Spike had so unexpectedly shown himself to be years ago; languages came to her easily. From Spike and Persis she was learning French and Fyarl, and she'd picked up quite a bit of Spanish, Buffy wasn't really sure where. She already knew Jem would grow beautiful, the way her father was beautiful, because she'd already seen her at sixteen.
She hoped Jemmie would never hate her the way that other one had. Spike had told her that those places the Demon Diner sent her weren't real, but she knew better.
There was more than enough reality to go around in her life.
The burning agony in his chest where the wood impaled him was the worst he'd ever felthe was sure because every pain of his whole long existence, human and demon both, rushed through his mind with a vividness far beyond memory. Just as it had in that London alley, the last moment before death gave it all back to you, the whole goddamn thing. His mother, his sisters, Cecily, Drusillaand every poor sod he'd ever claimed for his supper. Buffy, his heart's delightshe was waiting for him, curled up on the couch in front of the chattering TV, in what would be her last contented moment for a long long time. He saw her big eyes glistening with tears, her pretty mouth opening to moan. Jemima, whom he'd carried up to bed a few hours ago, slung over his shoulder like a captured princess, was sleeping her last sleep before grief. How she'd scream when they told her Papa was dead. And little Sluggo would grow up never knowing him at all.
With Mei Yi crouched on his chest, he was dissolving into something weightless and formless for the wind to carry off. She began to rise, her mouth opening into a yell of victory.
He grabbed her by the leg and flipped her over his head. Then he grasped the stake lodged beside his heart and pulled it slowly straight out. The merest jiggle would be enough to correct her near-miss. As it came away with a sickening gush of blood, she grabbed him from behind, her big hands wrapping his jaw and forehead. She twisted right, but he jerked left, spun and brought her down.
Spike drove Mei Yi's stake into her throat.
It was over.
William the Bloody, slayer of slayers . . . had killed his third.
Earlier that day
"Damien Whidders. So nice to see you again," Giles said, shaking hands with him in the middle of the large persian rug in his academy study. His own felt cool, the other fellow's dry and papery. He hadn't seen Whidders in years. Time had been kind to him. Which didn't make Giles like him any more. "I suppose I must congratulate you on your . . . ascension." In the meetings of the council following Quentin Travers's funeral, Giles had been firmly on the anti-Whidders side, and Whidders knew it.
"As you see, I made it a high priority, now I'm gathering up the reins, to come and see how your slayer and your academy for potentials are getting on. By the way, you do remember Miss Chalmers."
The young woman hovering behind Whidder's shoulder stepped forward with a smile. Giles did recall her: he'd found something pleasing about her girlish severity the other time, despite the aggravation attendent upon that visit of Travers. Time had been kind to her too.
"So nice to see you again, Mr Giles. I am very much looking forward to touring the academy."
"You're quite welcome, Miss Chalmers."
"Do call me Lydia."
"Tea? Or a drink?" Giles said, motioning them towards armchairs. He gave himself the advantage of sitting behind his large antique desk.
Fifteen minutes later he was on his feet, his glasses in his hand. "Now this really is going too far!"
Whidders sat back, steepling his fingers. "How revelatory that you should think so."
"These arrangements were made with Traverswho committed the Council to them in perpetuity!"
"My dear Giles. Nothing in this life is in perpetuity, except that we must one day leave it. And much as I respect all that Travers accomplished in his long and illustrious career, I would be remiss if I didn't make a careful review of all Council policies and procedures. Buffy Summers is drawing a large annual salary, which may have been all well and good when she was actually in service"
Giles' voice was steely. "She is in service. She's recovered her abilities and is strong as ever. Buffy Summers is the finest slayer we have ever had. Every one of us owes her his life, many times over."
Whidders continued as if Giles hadn't spoken, "but which surely now may be a subject for review, given her altered statusthe loss of a leg! Which went unreported to us! And, as well, her living arrangements. Another situation that has only recently come to my attention."
"It was stipulated at the time that the Council should have no right of authority over how Buffy lives her life, or with whom"
"With whom, ah yes. Or, more to the point, with what. A slayer whowhat's the word I want" Whidders frowned, "Forni"
"Cohabitates," Lydia supplied.
"Very well. A slayer who cohabitates with a notorious vampire . . . a vampire without even the dubious distinction of a soul . . . cannot be said to be setting a proper example for her fellow slayer or those who will come after. You must be aware that Travers acted at the time unilaterally. There was considerable opposition to these unorthodox concessions, which was unjustly repressed."
"An agreement is an agreement"
"Travers was a good man, but unsound on certain points. How can supporting such a disorderlydare I say, decadentmenage, be in the best interests of the Council and its not-unlimited resources? The buck, as you Americans say, now stops with me. And what am I to say to the board of directors about a Watcher who allows himself gradually to be lulled into a state of such dangerous permissiveness? Hmm?"
Giles felt as if Whidders had stepped up and lightly slit his throat. You Americans indeed! "Spike is a contributing member of our community here and has been for some years. He's an effective fighter with a high demon kill rate. His work training the potentials in fighting skills and strategy is incomparable."
"So you assert," Whidders said. "and of course, after your long experience here in the fieldso very long, without a break or change of dutiesI value your opinion. However, reasonable people disagree. The vampire Spike is a predator whose deeds are many and well-documented. He is just as much a demon himself as those he targets. Are you truly proposing to overlook over a century of ravishments against a few years of inactivity, some of them electronically enforced? Rupert, I am surprised at you. This faltering of judgement . . . ."
Giles drew himself up. "Spike has no soul, it's truenot in the sense that Angelus does, or that we may suppose we do. But he has transformed himself through love . . . made himself into something that is, in my experience, absolutely unique, and real, and true."
Whidder's lips twitched.
"He is an excellent partner to Buffy, and a most doting father. To see him with the little girl"
"Little girl!" Lydia started. Giles noticed she pronounced it gell, which irritated him. "Are you telling us that William the Bloody is allowed to reside in the same house as a child?"
"His own child. Both of them. The baby is three months old now."
"But how can that be . . . ?"
"We can go into all that later, Lydia," Whidders said.
"But Damien, this iswell, I've never heard the like . . . ."
Whidders paid her no attention. Focused still on Giles, he said, "The vampire is enjoying a span of yearshow short, in the grand scheme of undead things!during which he is, for reasons that frankly escape me, permitted to satisfy himself sexually on a slayer. Of course he is content to bide his time. When she dies, or more likely, he grows tired of herwhen she is disfigured, perhapswhere then, I wonder, will all his love take that immortal demon next?"
"What you're saying is vile. I will thank you not"
"The undead are vile, Rupert. Demons are vile. If you have forgotten that, as I fear you havewell. There is much to be looked into."
He lay listening to the ocean. The tide made a low dull roar, not exactly comforting. There was something terrible about it, something cold and melancholy. He'd never liked the ocean, not since Sophie and Bella went to that hunkered little West Coast village to breathe the sea air. They must've lain in their beds listening all night to that ceaseless groaning, thinking it sounded like the encroaching creep of death.
The tide was drawing out, spreading cold in its wake. He shivered, violent shivers that just chilled him more. That's what made him open his eyes, had to look out for something to warm him up. Didn't usually feel the cold, so . . .
There was no ocean. There was an empty night time street with a corpse sprawled on the pavement. And there was him, with a sodding huge hole in his chest, and that was where the cold came from, as if the hole led right into some arctic waste.
What a fucking travesty. What did the crazy cunt think was going to happen when she came after him? Even if she won, Buffy would've crippled her if she knew the truth. And Mei Yi wasn't one to slink around. She'd have come into the Slayer Academy tonight brandishing the fatal stake and her self-righteousness for all to hear.
Instead it would be him.
He'd have to bring her home.
Spike crawled to his feet. Blood trickled from his woundsthere wasn't enough left to gush. He staggered, trying to lift her. It was like trying to heft a giraffe. How the hell did a Chinese girl grow so big and lanky?
Had to do it, though. Couldn't leave her here.
The hole in his chest felt large as a tree bole. His consciousness was leaking out of it.
"Stop! Oh dear lordstop! I order you to stop! You shan't feed on her!"
The tony round-voweled voice, high and quavering, belonged to a youngish woman in a trench coat who looked vaguely familiar. Where'd she come from? She stood a couple of yards off, braced to flee, pale and trembling, holding a large cross out before her. Spike picked up a whiff of vomit on the air. Hers. She'd been watching the fight. The stink plucked at his own roiling belly.
He didn't look at her. If she was just going to wave a cross around in that silly manner, she was no physical threat. Again he knelt, struggling to pull Mei Yi onto his shoulder. Bit by bit he rose.
Fucking hell. This walk was going to kill him. His eyes were nearly swollen shut. The salt stink of his own blood filled the air, mixing with the scent of the liberal splashes of the slayer's, soaking his clothes and hers, nearly overpowering it.
And he was still bleeding. He'd wondered sometimes, in the old days, what happened to a vampire who bled out. Couldn't die of it . . . Darla said it made you into a vegetable. "Brain goes ppphhht! and then you're ga-ga forever. Mind it doesn't happen to you, charming Billy."
Bent nearly double, he dragged himself up the street. The Academy was a ten minutes' walk from there, ordinarily.
Beside him, someone let out a yip. "Where are you taking her? I demand you stop!"
Oh right. Cross-wielding bird. Still here. He ignored her. If he stopped for a moment, he'd be stopped for good and all.
"Damn! Damn damn damn!" she muttered behind him. "What's wrong with my mobile? I can't get a signal. Oh dear . . . this has all gone so terribly wrong." He felt her loom beside him, still holding the cross between them. "Where are you going? You mustn't . . . . Vampire! On behalf of the Council Of Watchers, III order you to stop!"
He couldn't summon breath to speak, but at least he could still flash fang. His growl made her leap back. If he could just frighten her off . . . long enough to make it to Giles . . . one really good roar, she'd run a mile in a minute and be gone.
But that was out of the question. The air, frigid as despair, seemed to whistle round the edges of the hole in his chest. He kept moving. Had to reach Giles, bring Mei Yi back. After that . . . he didn't know.
"I say . . ." She craned a little closer. "Don't you remember me? William?"
What the blinkin' hell was this now?
"Miss Chalmers. Lydia Chalmers? We met some years ago, when . . . I wrote my dissertation about you . . . ."
There was a God; this proved it. If this wasn't his own personal hell, he didn't know what was.
"Is it really true . . . that you have a daughter? Children who are your own? How could that be?"
He struggled on, not looking at her.
"I suppose you're glad," she cried out suddenly. "You've killed another slayer! I expect you think three is a nice round number! But you won't get away with it."
Hadn't wanted the feel of human death in his hands again, its stirring stench in his nostrils. It didn't repulse him, he was still attracted to it, but attracted now the way the sober man yearns after the bottle that he knows would ruin him. All he'd wanted this night was just to go home to his darlings. Ought to be curled up on the sofa with Buffy right now, watching that movie, feeding each other popcorn. She'd toss it with chili powder so it was spicy enough for him to taste. Afterwards her kisses would be spicy too, and when she took him in her mouth, her tongue delicately teasing his slit, the stinging heat made him harder.
All that would probably be over, now he'd done this.
Stupid stupid cunt.
He realized then that the woman was gone. Good. Couldn't do with her chattering at him while he had to concentrate so hard to put one foot in front of the other. Had to get to the Slayer Academy, had to bring Mei Yi back, before he ran out of blood altogether. No blood, no strength, no consciousness.
Buffy was coming downstairs when she heard something clatter and fall on the porch with a thud that shook the house.
She opened the door.
"What Spike! Spike!"
He lay sprawled beneath a large dark body, as if they'd been dropped from a great height. Buffy touched it, her hand coming away tacky with drying blood. She could feel it was dead even before she rolled it off and saw the stake protruding from the messy wound in her throat. She almost didn't recognize Mei Yi. Her face was so bespattered with red and black, so slack and empty. Her eyes were open, glassy, staring. What the hell was she doing back here? How was it she'd been killed with her own weapon?
Spike looked dead too, if she didn't know better. Buffy pulled him up, turning him to rest against the porch rails. That's when she saw the hole in his chest, a mess of clotting blood and torn fiber and broken bruised flesh.
"Ohhhh!" She leapt up, although she knew it was too late to catch whatever had dumped them on her doorstep. What could have done this?
She knelt again, trembling, applying gingerly fingertips to Spike's face, neck, and cheek. His skin felt like paper about to desiccate. "Spike?" Her voice was a whisper. "Spike . . . Lover . . . who did this to you? Spike, open your eyes. Please!"
"What's this?" Persis was at her back.
Buffy said, "Something attacked them. Stabbed Mei Yi with her own stake. Stabbed Spike too. I can't believe he wasn't dusted. Spike . . . Spike!"
"He can't talk. He needs blood."
"I don't know how they got here," Buffy said. "What did this? Can you sense?"
Persis had floated down off the porch and was traversing the walkway and the lawn, taking little flying darts down the street and up into the air. All at once, she was back. "Nothing bad's been near here, not that I can feel. He carried her."
"God, like this . . . ?" She touched the wound again. She could've easily slipped three fingers into Spike's chest through the opening, and touched his heart. For a moment she was as shocky as he was. Then she gathered herself. "Help me get them inside. I've got to call Giles."
Giles was on his way. Mei Yi's corpse was laid on a sheet on the dining room floor. Persis was in the kitchen, microwaving a blood bag. Spike lay on the sofa, propped up on cushions.
Buffy knelt beside him. "Spike, can you hear me? It'll be all right." She caressed his cheek. His eyelids fluttered. He must smell the blood, the aroma would rouse him enough to drink. His eyes opened then; she gasped in relief. "The blood's almost ready. You'll feel better in a" He frowned. He was in game-face. His hand shot up like a bolt to seize her neck.
Buffy stifled a cry. He'd never bitten her so suddenly before, or so hard, an animal gnawing at her neck, his whole frame rattling with the spasms of hunger; his grip on her arms crushing. "OkayOkaySpikeit's okayohOHstop now!" She tried to disengage him, without actually hurting himthe gaping hole in his chest was vivid in her mindbut he pinned her on the floor. His weight was like that of a man twice his size, his body rippling against hers.
Just as suddenly, Spike was hanging in the air, suspended by invisible force near the ceiling.
Persis stood in the doorway, a tumbler of warm blood in her hand, her other upraised to fix him there. "Play nice. I don't want to have to separate you two again."
She let Spike drift down slowly, then dropped her hand; he fell the last few feet to the rug.
Growling, he sprang up, all fangs and ridges.
"Spike!" Buffy tried to catch his gaze, but he was focused on Persis, growling low in a way she wasn't used to. A way she felt in her spine.
Persis glowered at him, holding out the tumbler. "This is for you, Boss. But first I wanna see a blue eye, or I'm gonna have to put my whammy on you again."
He seemed to struggle with his game facethe growls sounded effortful now, or else angry, Buffy wasn't surebut not changing back. What would make him act this way? Was it some spell? But Persis would sense the magic, if there was any.
"Spike, what's the matter with" When she started to get up, black spots marched across her vision. She sat down hard, pressing her hand to the ragged wound on her neck. He didn't look at her at all.
There was a clattering of footsteps on the porch, followed immediately by three sharp knocks at the door.
Good. That would be Giles. He'd ask the right questions, get them sorted out and ready to go after whatever had done this to Spike and Mei Yi.
But when Persis opened the door, it was a woman who stepped in, a small tightly-wound woman in glasses and a Burberry. "No one's come here yet, have they? Good, then I'm in time. Where is Buffy, I must tell heroh Lord. Whatwhat has been happening here?" Her stare traversed Buffy, disheveled and bleeding from the neck, to Spike, game-faced and covered in dried blood. She dragged a large cross out of her trenchcoat pocket and held it up, although Spike hadn't moved.
"Who are you?" Buffy said.
"Don't you remember me? I am"
"She's Lydia Bloody Chalmers of the fucking Council of Wankers," Spike said. "An' she's come here to haul me in for killing Mei Yi."
"What?" This time Buffy made it to her feet without wavering. "Spike. What are you talking about?"
He retreated as she approached him, his fangs bared as to an enemy. The yellow eyes seemed to give off a horrible heat. Buffy felt a twinge of fear, followed by astonishment: when had she ever been afraid of Spike?
"Told you I'd kill her if she didn't leave off plaguing me! Gave her what she was asking for."
"WaitThat can't be right! Something attacked you. She was killed and you were hurt, and you carried her back"
"Stabbed the sodding cunt in the throat with her own fucking stake, didn't I? S'what happens when slayers get up in my faceI do for them!"
Now she was sure of it, it had to be some bad mojo he'd been hit with, to make him look, act, speak like this. This wasn't the Spike who'd carried Jemmie up to bed some hours ago, who'd left the house promising he'd be back after a few hands of cards with the boys.
Buffy glanced around for Persis, wanting a second opinion, but she was gone back upstairs.
He growled again. "You thought I wasn't gonna tell her." He took one menacing step towards Lydia. "Don't know me very well, do you, for all the pages of your goddamn thesis. I'm a killer, not a liar. I make a kill, I don't hide it."
This didn't have the effect on Lydia Chalmers that Buffy expected. Rather than being intimidated, she sighed, and put the cross back in her coat pocket. "I know. And I guessed you'd be like thisdefiant and foolish. That's why I came hereto speak . . . to speak for you, to Buffy." She turned to her then. "I have made a detailed study of Spike, he has been my particular interest for many years. I felt strongly the value of preserving such a fascinating subject for further study, but of course Damien's reasoning and decisions arewell, I am loyal to the vision and goals of the Council. As . . . as are you, I think, really. Deep down. Aren you not?"
Buffy was hardening by the second, her hands forming fists. "What the hell are you talking about? Damien Whiddersthe new head of the Council"
"Is here, yes. To investigate . . . you. And Mr Giles. He's not satisfied with the situation here, he feels it is all very lax andand decadent. When Giles sent her to us, Damien was very interested in what Mei Yi had to report about what was going on here in Sunnydale. She had plenty to say, plenty which coincided with Damien's own views, you see."
"I'm starting to."
"Tonight, he dispatched her with clear instructions. To eliminate William the Bloody."
"The Council sent the slayer out after Spike?"
"She mounted a surprise attack on him, in the alley outside that bar, and . . . well, I saw it all. He tried first to disarm and reason with her. When that failed, he attempted to incapacitate her in order to escape, and I thought he had succeeded, but . . . in the end, he had no choice but to fight. She staked himyet somehow she missed the heart, you see the result" Lydia gestured at Spike's chest, "and she was in the act of . . . of . . . in short, she'd have twisted his head off, unless he . . . ."
Buffy felt cool air on her tongue, and knew her mouth was gaping. She closed it. Spike was turned to the wall now, feral eyes closed, as if he would collapse but for that support. A little impulse in the back of Buffy's mind wanted to tell him not to leave a mark on the wallpaper, but she didn't voice it.
"You saw all this and didn't try to stop her?"
"I . . . "
"Was just following orders, yeah. And now you're a turncoat? Or are you trying to lull us into a trap?"
"I suppose I am a turncoat. What I saw tonightshocked me deeply. And impressed upon me that to stake William the Bloody now would be unjust. However, I know Damien will not let this lie." She paused. A blush rose to her cheeks. "Mr Giles said there were children. That Spike is the father of two young children whom he loves dearly. It seems impossible, but"
"Yes. Well. It is extraordinary, a slayer and a vampire . . . I could not live with myself, if your children were to be bereaved because I did not speak."
"You could've spoken up this afternoon."
"I don't ask you to forgive me. But Damien will know what has happened, and he'll act. Is there anywhere you can send the children until? Perhaps it would be best if you were all to go"
Buffy reached out and took one of Spike's dangling hands. "None of us is going anywhere."
Return to Herself's Fic.