Sequel to Mr Grieves And The Fallen Woman; part of The Bittersweets Series
Summary: Tuberculosis, gonorrhea, and unpleasant revelations aren't the only things Buffy brings back with her from her sojourn in London, 1880. A sequel to "Mr Grieves and the Fallen Woman."
Disclaimer: Spike, Buffy, et al belong to Mutant Enemy and Joss. I just love 'em and leave 'em.
Thanks to: Kalima, to whom the term 'beta-reader' doesn't begin to do justice. Cheerleader, co-conspirator, goad, nag. Invaluable. Oh, and she came up with the idea that made the ending possible.
Spoilers: Season 6 only through "Wrecked."
Dedication: This is for Kalima, Deborah M, Peasant, Anna S, FayJay, the Buffistas, and everybody whose feedback has made me think, 'aw, I'll just write one more story.'
Written: May 2002
Author's Note: Just a reminder, ALL the "Bittersweets" stories depart from canon immediately post-"Wrecked."
Cautiously, he parted the slats of the blinds in Dawn's room and peered out into the back yard.
There was Buffy, skin glowing an unpleasant white in the bright midday light, stretched out in dark glasses, shorts and a skimpy top, on a plastic lounge chair. One hand wrapped around a sweating glass of orange juice, the other resting on the People magazine tented across her belly. Dawn lay on another lounger next to her. Tara, protecting her complexion, sat beneath the spreading branches of the young avocado tree. The way her knees were drawn up, face half hidden behind them, she looked furtive. Tara was watching. Spike could tell that, like him, she found Buffy's behavior mysterious.
He more or less accepted that Buffy could go out in the daytime, while he could not. That was always part of the package, the aspect of her life yeah, a big one, but not insurmountablehe couldn't share. But this blatant sun-worship session, the very morning after her return from the enigmatic ten days' disappearance she was refusing as yet to talk about ... well, he couldn't help thinking she was avoiding him.
"What are you doing in here, Spike? I was looking for you."
Giles stepped into Dawn's room.
"Watching over my beloved." He moved back a little from the window, made room for the other man to see through the slats. "What do you notice?"
Giles peered down. "I notice Buffy is back. And I thank God."
"Yeah. But do you notice her hair's inches longer than it was last week? Well, you don't, you've been away. But it is. Notice it's only blonde now at the endsrest of it's come in brown. When did you ever see her leave her hair natural? Hairier other places tooquite furry under the arms, along the legs. Never was before. Notice how pale she is. Usually she's all golden glowybut her skin's the color of a fish belly now. Noticenot you, you're too honorablehow luscious her tits look, all of a sudden? I meanmore luscious than they was before. They're bigger."
Giles shot him a discouraging frown. "Spike ... ."
"Notice she's four months gone with child."
The other man started. "No. Howhow can you know that?"
"I've a predator's nose for what goes on inside people, don't I? Blood's like fingerprintseverybody's smells a bit different. She's got two kinds in her body now. An' I can hear heartbeats. She's got two of those as well. Only had the one before she disappeared."
"But... how could ... you aren't ..."
"Me? Dead seed puts down no roots."
"Of course, but you sayand four months?"
that, yeah. Child's
quickened, I can feel it.
An' lookshe's hidin' her tummy under that
magazine right now, but she's showing a bit already. Wherever she's been, Rupes, she
was there a lot longer than the ten days we were missin' her."
Giles, kneeling beside her lounge chair in the yard, murmured to her so softly that Spike, still watching from the window, couldn't make out what he said. But Buffy's reaction was unmistakable.
"No! No doctors! I don't need to go to the doctorI'm fine! Just want to relax a little, so I can patrol tonight."
Patrol? Could she not realize ... ? No, Spike thought. Of course not. It was just more of the patented Buffy method of dealing by not dealing.
Then Giles took her hand, and went on talking to her. Dawn was on her feet now, making entreaties, closely followed by Tara. Spike could practically feel Buffy's irritation. It shimmered in the air like a heat illusion on the highway. Then she was up, stomping towards the house.
"All right! Lemme change my clothes first!"
When he'd carried her in from the porch last night, where they'd found her sprawled in a faint, she'd seemed unwilling to make eye-contact with him. He could put that down to being disorientedshe was dazed and clearly exhausted. They'd all been on her at once, after allshe hadn't really focused on any of them, and then she'd been sick into the wastebasket, and was borne off into the bathroom by her sister and Tara.
When the girls emerged some time later and put her back to bed, Dawn had climbed in with her, clinging like a limpet, and Buffy had seemed content to have her there, her arm clasped around her sister's body. She was already half asleep.
He'd wanted to protestthat was their bed, he would look after the slayerbut Giles plucked him by the arm and led him out before he could make an absolute ass out of himself in front of Glinda and the Bit.
They'd sat up late, the three of them, speculating. Tara brought down the clothes she'd taken off Buffy. Corduroy trousers with a button fly, a shirt ditto, grey socks, old scuffed boots with much-knotted laces. A frayed leather belt, red neckerchief, and the billed cap. Nothing you'd call freshly laundered, and everything covered in liberal servings of soot.
"She was going commando under the trousers," Tara said, "except for this."
And there was the strangest piece of all this strange kit: a corset. Not a sexy, Fredericks-of-Hollywood sort of thing, but a real old whale-boned flesh-restrainer, greyish from repeated tubbings, redolent of dried sweat and naptha soap.
"What on earth" Giles gazed at it with distaste.
Spike took it and gave it a whiff. Stunk good and proper of Buffybitter an' aggravating, oooh yeahas if she'd worn it every day. Beneath that scent though, there was another note. Also organic. Familiar, somehow, but he couldn't think what it put him in mind of exactly. And he didn't want, with Tara and Giles watching him, to give it the good hard inhalation it would need to give up its secrets. He let it drop onto the pile.
"I don't think you should handle those any more than you can help, pet. Who knows what microscopic nasties are in 'em."
Tara snatched her hands back. "What kind of clothes are these? And why are they so dirty?" Tara said. "Where's she been?"
Spike knew what the clothes smelled of. Coal soot. He hadn't chanced upon the like in ... well, not since he'd left Europe for the last time. There was still plenty of coal burned in those eastern bloc nations, just shaking off the Soviet yoke, still not twigged to western ideas about emission reduction. Was that where she'd been? Doing manual labor in Ukraine? It was what she was dressed for.
"Ask her yourself when she wakes up." He sprang to his feet. Enough guesswork. He wanted to know. "Gonna go on up now. Get some rest, you two. Barely slept in a week, any of us."
When he walked into the bedroom he knew right away that Buffy was asleep, but not Dawn. It was dark; he'd let his candles go out days ago and not replenished them. But he could see a bit of reflected light off the Niblet's eye whites. Keeping vigil. Both girl's heads were on the same pillow.
He lit one thin taper, and used it to light a couple of others. The glow expanded slowly to encompass the bed.
"Back to your own room now, platelet," he whispered. "Go on."
"Buffy wants me to stay here."
"An' Spike wants you to get out, there's a good girl. Be quiet now, an' don't disturb her."
"You're not my boss, you know." But she was moving.
"Thanks for warming up my spot. Be happy now sis is home. Sweet dreams. Close the door on your way out."
Shucking his clothes, he'd slid right into the lovely warm declivity Dawn had made at Buffy's side, pressing a kiss onto her bare shoulder.
Which was when she kicked him in the shins, and swatted his hand away.
"Don't you want me to hold you, baby?"
She didn't answer his murmur. Because she was asleep. It didn't mean anything, he told himself, her hitting out. Just asleep.
He lay awake listening to her breathe. Listening to her heartbeat, and the other one. The heartbeat belonging to the tiny creature whose blood he'd smelled inside her as soon as he knelt over her limp form on the porch.
Where'd she pick that up? The question churned inside him. His demon stirred around it, ready to ride it to the surface, wanting to roar it at her while he dragged her head off the pillow by the hair, shook her until she confessed.
He clenched his fists, fought himself. Not the way. With Drusilla maybe, yeah. But not with her.
An hour before sunrise, she stirred. Her whisper was tiny in the dark.
"I'm here, my queen." Where've you been?
Then silence, and he could've sworn she was holding her breath.
"Spike. When did you first see me?"
"You were lying on the porch" Where did you go? Whose magic sent you there?
"No, I mean, ever."
"You know. I've told youin the Bronze." Who's been at you? Who'd you let in to your cunny that's mine and no one else's? "You were dancin' with the Scoobies. The sight of you shaking your sweet little boxnearly slayed me right there." Who did you fuck who wasn't me, who wasn't me who wasn't me?
"You're sure that was the first time?"
"Of course I'm sure. I'd remember youno matter where I saw you." Who put his get inside you and why did you let him, you bitch?
"Even if I wasn't the slayer? Or you weren't a"
"What are you talking about?" He couldn't stand it anymore, this psychic barrier she'd set uphe wasn't going to let that hold him off. Scooting closer to her, he laid a hand on her arm. Her skin was hot. A bitter wave of longing crashed over him, the wave he'd held off all the time she was gone, lest it suck him so far under he'd never surface again. He wanted to snatch her bodily into his arms, bury his face in her hair, breath her and rock her and whisper his despair at losing her. He wanted to devour her, fuck her endlessly, make her know, because she seemed to have forgotten, that she was his. She had to be, because she'd made him hers, and without her he was almost nothing.
The last ten days had been agonizing.
She must not know even yet how he adored her if she could come back and be so cool to him.
But he was learningno matter how she let him penetrate herand she'd permitted him every way of which he was capablethe girl remained, at her core, impenetrable.
He squeezed her arm. Forced his voice to stay gentle. "Buffy, love, where have you been? Scoobies were nearly insane wondering what happened to you. I was"
"You don't remember?"
"Remember ... me."
Her low voice sounded at once steely and terribly girlish. He struggled for the answer she was looking for.
"Sure. We were dancing, yeah, lovely time had by all, you said you were going to have a pee ... I watched you go, because I like seeing the way you switch your little rump when you walk ... an' there was a flash of light off the mirrorball, made me blink, an' then you were gone. Didn't think nothing of it because the idiot DJ was strobing the lights all night. But then you didn't come back. We searched an' searched, but we couldn't find hide nor hair of you. Tara did a locator spell"
"I was gone."
"Petal, I know. But where?"
Big fakey yawn. "I'm tired. Let me sleep."
Fucking hell. She'd always been like this, close-mouthed, secretive. Maddening. WHO DID YOU FUCK, YOU MISERABLE BITCH? He wanted to know this more than he wanted to know anything else, where she'd been, what she'd suffered (she didn't suffer, the demon cried, she was giving herself to someone else, she didn't think of you at all!) and the heat of the jealous passion that flooded through him provided the demon a clear path to the top.
His ridges and fangs seared him as they emerged. "Slayer. Goddamnit, talk to m"
Suddenly the whole length of her was pressed against him, and her humid mouth was on his, silencing him, the tongue thrusting in fearlessly past the sharp fangs. Of course they cut her, and her blood-borne kiss jerked him out of coherent thought and into an instant spiral of arousal. Rolling her onto her back, he grabbed her knees, pushed them up, and plunged into her. Sucking her tongue, swallowing the blood and saliva from her mouth, he pumped erratically, unable to find the right groove. She wasn't dry, wasn't resisting him, but it felt wrong.
Their mouths broke; he grabbed her shoulders and hauled himself up on her body to change the angle. She squeaked, and hit him in the face. "Ouuuchdon't!"
Her arms were crossed over her chest. "I ... just be careful, all right? ... my breasts are tender."
He moved off her. Her breathing was loud and ragged in the dark. Dizzy, his balls aching as if he'd been hard for hours, he forced his demon back down. God, the smell of her body! That warm, simple Buffysmell that was home to him. How he loved her feverish, sweaty, moist from sleep. Always thought she bathed too much. The tang of her scent was different now though ... everything was different. Inside her body, she was making something. Someone. And that made her run a little hotter, gave an extra coppery edge to her. Not to mention the completely new aroma of the tiny creature's blood. When was she going to tell him? He wanted her to do it, without him having to haul it out of her.
A woman who loved her man would be honest with him.
Now sure would be a good time.
He put a hand lightly on her breast. Petted the nipple, which did indeed feel tender, full and tense, but not made so by his attentions. Nuzzled the underside with his mouth, took a couple of experimental licks. Anger dueling with affection in him. God, the last ten days, waiting for any sign of her, trying to comfort the Niblet while hiding his own tears of frustration and fear ... like a distorted replay of the weeks after her death, except this time they didn't even know what had happened. Whether to hope or to mourn.
And this time he'd had more to hope for, more to mourn.
If you loved me, you'd have been glad to see me.
Lying this close to him, it was the same face in the candlelight. The unimportant details of time and placehair color, spectacles, the stupid nightshirt, the scar on the browwere not in play. She saw just his eyes, half-lidded with the temptation of sleep, but still fixed on her out of sated softness. The lazy smile on the mobile mouth. His lips a little swollen from kissing.
Even though he was finished taking his pleasure on her, he'd keep his hand pressed to her cunt, as if to hold his spunk inside her. He was possessive, proprietary; she believed he thought a great deal about how he had the right to do this, because of what she'd been and his own righteousness in removing her from that life. Sometimes, when he'd left her unsatisfied, she could rock against his hand and get off that way, although the price was the disdainful look he gave her afterwards. He wouldn't go down on her for the askingshe quickly learned that he wouldn't do anything that she asked for. Her frank desire offended him. Perhaps he was afraid of being unequal to it? He expected her to submit in silence, and bestowed his pleasuring caresses, when he did, as if they were a beneficence. Her orgasms both awed and somehow repulsed him. She knew he didn't even dare imagine doing these same things, that gave him such delight and dread, with Miss Addams, were she ever to become Mrs Wm Grieves.
Of course, when they were together in bed, it wasn't him she thought of either. Keeping her eyes closed, keeping her mind fixed on memory, she could make him, for whole minutes together, into who he was not yet, the lover she longed for.
Some nights he was sweet to her, cradling her head on his shoulder afterwards, and speaking bits of versegood ones, not his ownfrom memory, in a soft, pleasing voice. The same voice she'd first heard Spike use when saying the names of his sisters.
It was at those times that she felt most sorry for him, and for herself.
Now he was kissing her breasts with such a soft touch, tentative, cautious, as if he was a little boy who'd been scolded for playing too rough with a kitten.
"Sweetness. I was so afraid ... were you afraid? Where you were? Must've been."
Her stomach fluttered, and she turned her head away. Why couldn't he leave her be? Yet she knew she'd feel abandoned if he turned away from her.
"I don't feel well, Spike."
"I know, pet." He withdrew from her breast. "Do you want to get up? Shall I carry you to the loo?"
"Nno. No. I just want to lie here." She shifted, rolling onto her side, away from him.
"Don't you want me to hold you?"
I did. I did. I did. Back there.
Drew up her legs and wrapped her arms across her belly. "Please let me sleep, Spike."
He wrenched himself out of bed, spent the balance of the night in the armchair downstairs, listening to Giles snore on the couch.
"Must you lurk?"
He looked up from his candle lighting as she bounced into the room.
"Can I be said to be lurking in what I've been assured is my own home?"
"Usually I'd be asleep now. But today isn't a regular day, is it?"
"Nice sunny regular California day. Good for a nice quiet unstressful rest. Except there's no rest for" She moved around himwide, no chance of reaching out and grabbing herand began to rummage in the closet.
"No rest for the just-returned-from-God-knows-where. Buffy. Enough evasion. It's not helping. What happened to you?"
"I don't wanna talk about it now."
She shrugged out of her sun-bathing outfit and rummaged amongst her hanging clothes. Spike didn't know if it was a good sign or not that she got naked while he was looking right at her. She'd long since forsaken modesty with him, but now was different. She hadn't glanced his way.
"Why are you angry at me, Buffy? You loved me ten days ago. What have I done?"
"Everything isn't all about you."
"Were you raped? Is that it?"
She froze, her hands in among the hangers.
Fucking hell. If that was how she'd gotten knocked up, then the Ice Queen trip made sense.
No ordinary human man, even no ordinary demoncould get over on the Slayer. The thing that could rape her ... didn't bear thinking of.
She turned slowly, stared at him with death ray eyes. "Why do you say that? Because I didn't want you last night? Self-centered much?"
It would be like her, completely like her, to hide it, deny it. "Are you sure?"
"Spike. I'm sure. I wasn't raped. Thanks for your concern." She shrugged into a sleeveless dress, then turned back to him. "But you raped Cecily Addams."
He started. What the fuck?
"Deny it! Just deny you raped and eviscerated her and scattered her entrails all around her room!"
What was this?
"Say it's not true! Go onyou disgusting, filthy, monstrous"
He stepped forward. Now they were squared off on either side of their bed, which stretched between them, an unbreachable no-man's land.
"She'd humiliated me. Undid me so I caught my death. Told me ... never mind what she told me. At the moment, it seemed like the worst thing in the world. I rushed out of the house where we were, and ran straight into Drusilla, who put me out of my misery. A couple weeks after I rose, when Angelus was fledging meI've told you what that was likehe asked me whom I'd loved, and whom I'd hated. Said it was time for me to go out and settle old scores . . . ." He paused. "I got us into her house, like Angelus told me to. I raped her, okay. An' I drank her blood. But it was Angelus who mutilated her corpse."
Her face turned to granite. "We. Are. Not. Talking. About. Angelus."
So who the fuck are we talking about? Someone. Someone you're obviously about to throw me over for. Working yourself up into a good righteous snit for it.
"I was a fledgling, I was under Angelus' thumb. Angelus killed his whole family, did you know that? And the neighborsthe whole poxy pathetic little Irish village. I kept him from any hint that I had a mother living. I'm not specially sorry about Cecily, 'cause I don't do sorry, and she was a naff cow who needed to be taken down awell. But I don't want you thinking I made a habit of it. I learned right quick that sex is too sublime to turn it into an assault. An' old Spike's always been able to pull the birds. And the lads. Whoever he fancies. Don't need to force it." Fuck it, here he was bragging at herin the third person yet!about irrelevancies because that look on her face just left him no room
"Oh, what a relief! You just went around seducing the unsuspecting, and then ripping their throats out in the afterglow. For a century."
This was it. All coming to a head. She didn't love him anymore. She probably never really had. She was launching this attack so she could walk away and feel justified.
"Uh, yeah. Because: vampire, remember? Not doing it anymore, though. Faithful to my one girl. My one mysterious, withholding, passive-aggressive So why must we go over this again?"
"Spike, the statute of limitations on some crimes"
"I've done my best to become the sort of man you could give yourself to, Slayer. Hardly seems fair to be taking it out on me for something I did when Joyce's granny was a baby." He hesitated before going on, but her face was so hard and shut off from him. "You wanna give me the kiss off now, don't do it like this, Buffy. At least show me some respect for what we had together."
"Respect! You raped her, Spike."
"You raped me. An' not a hundred an' twenty years ago, either."
She blanched, and for a moment he thought she might faint again. Her eyelids fluttered. She turned her back on him, and stood holding onto the bedpost.
They'd never used that word to refer to what she'd done to him that time. After her apologyI'm sorry I hurt youthey'd put it away.
"I forgave you, Buffy. Wouldn't ever throw it in your face, either, except"
"You can choose to forgive someone who does something to you. But I can't forgive you on her behalf. That's not my place."
"You've forgiven Angel all kinds of things he did to other people. You've always found excuses for" Then it hit him. "Hang on. I never told you word one about Cecily Addams. He's the only one knows that saga anymore. Is that where you were?"
Magic had yanked her out of the Bronze, so why couldn't magic have also put her together with Angel? In some coal-burning place where he was made human, made fertile And he'd filled her head, while they rolled around in the coal soot, with all his old protegee's crimes
"You think I was with Angel?" She flung her arms up. "Oh, that's rich!"
"How do I know you weren't? Obviously you've been someplace where time runs differentlyso who knows what other rules don't apply there either. But you should consider the source, pet. He taught me everything I know. Everything I've ever done, Angelus did trebled. At least."
"Fuck you, Spike!"
"It's not me you fucked, Slayer, while I was sat here going mad with wondering what happened to you. An' you come back and treat me like you've forgotten I'm your man. If there was nothing to it, you'd tell me so, reassure me, let me reassure you. Stands to reason. But nothere you are, with a bellyful of some other bloke's jizz and a big no touching sign across your tits and I'm not allowed to be curious!"
She gasped, and flinched. Then her eyes were awash in tears. "You ... how can you know that?"
Usually the mere hint of waterworks was enough to crack him, but he wasn't going to fall for that nownot when she was in the middle of jerking him around so heartlessly. "Big scary hunter here, pet. Can hear its heart pattering. Can smell its blood in you."
There was a knock at the door, and Dawn put her head through. "C'mon Buffy, Giles has the car started."
Her face smoothed so suddenly into an impassive mask that Spike blinked. "I'm ready." She turned on her heel and left the room. In another moment he heard her galumphing down the stairs. That was another change: her natural grace was displaced somewhere. She'd gone flat-footed.
Flaming bitch. Godfuckingdamnit. He ought to have known he was too happy.
Giles was at the wheel. She sat in the back of her own car, Dawn curled against her, arms entwined. Dawn was acting like a big baby, wanting to touch her every second.
Oh God. Of course she did. Poor Dawn. Poor sweet Dawnie, who didn't ask her any questions that morning, who wanted, just like she did, to think everything was perfectly okay now because she was back.
And it was so good to be back here, to have her sweet baby sister's arm wrapped around hers, to have Giles looking after her again, to have the warm sun on her skin, cold orange juice in the fridge, and no more mutton and mending.
She'd been trapped and now she was free.
If you squinted.
Practically everything in the exam room was artificial. Formica. Vinyl. Plastic. Fluorescents. Mrs Grieves' house had had none of these things. She'd kind of liked how real everything was back in 1880. Iron, stone, wood, leather, wool.
She sat on the edge of the paper-covered table, with the paper gown on, and swung her legs. Her feet looked like hell. All calluses and healed blisters and badly in need of a pedicure. She felt blobby and tired, like her body had run away with her somewhere.
Spike had mentioned a strobing light right before he lost sight of her.
There'd been a lot of strobing light last night between seeing him dangling from that drawing room ceiling with his chest cut to ribbons, and withstanding the lowering attack of the IHOP sign. Should probably mention that to Giles.
She stared at the red sharps disposal. Why were those always so fascinating? Every time she'd seen one, during her mother's illness, she'd felt an almost irresistible urge to plunge her hand through the fluted hole and grab at all those dirty blades and needles, squeeze them tight in her fist until the blood oozed through her fingers. Why? How sick and weird was that? She still felt it now, that repulsive desire, and jerked her eyes away from it.
The desire for him was still there too, but that didn't mean she had to act on it, either.
Last night didn't count. She shouldn't have let him get into bed with her at all.
But then, nothing had happened, really.
There was a framed print on the wall behind her. Monet's waterlilies.
The doctor would come in soon, right? This was getting boring.
She wondered what Mrs Grieves was doing.
Well, duh. Nothing.
She was dead.
"I've been ... um, out of the country. And had some pretty wild experiences. Which weren't my fault. So I need to get tested for ... well, for a lot of things. STDs, and ... . And I'm pregnant, but I haven't seen a doctor yet. I'm ... I'm ... going to need an ... I mean, I probably will need to have an ... I'm not sure if ... ." Damn. She'd started out so strong, voice confident, stance upright, just tell the doctor what was going on, no shilly-shallying, no goober-face, no overwhelming feeling of butterflies in the belly, no woo-woo girly emotional storms that made her want to cry and melt onto the floor and fling herself into Spike's arms.
She forced her voice, and her body, and her head back onto the straight-and-narrow. Bad weird shit had happened, but it was over now, and she just had to clear up the fall out and move on. She was the Slayer, and that's what the Slayer did.
"I need to get an abortion."
The doctor, a young man who seemed to Buffy to be roughly a contemporary of Dawn'sDoogie Howser, that was just a TV show, right?gave her a tepid professional smile. "Let me get started on your exam, and then I can counsel you better after we see what's what. Can you give me an idea of when you might've conceived?"
Ohabout a hundred and twenty-two years ago.
She walked out an hour later with a pamphlet about ending her pregnancy, another about continuing her pregnancy, another about birth control options, and a fistful of prescriptions.
"Fill these and start them today," he'd said, handing her the first two with his left hand while he went on scribbling with his right. "These, along with the shot I just gave you, will clear up the gonorrhea and the chlamydia. Start the pre-natal vitamins too. If you decide to end the pregnancy, you can stop taking them. The sooner you decide that, obviously, the better. You're into your second trimester. Abortion is more of a big deal now than if you took care of it early on."
"I know, I ... I wasn't in a place before where I could" She stopped. Why was she apologizing to him? He didn't care.
"And don't fill this one until you hear from us about the TB test. If you're positive, you've got to take the meds for six months, but I'm thinking it's probably unlikely."
"I ... I had kind of a lot of exposure. The guy who"
"Don't worry. Wait for your test results." He glanced up at her then. "Do you have any questions, Ms Summers?"
How am I going to tell my friends what's happened to me?
How do I know that just because I'm back doesn't mean this whole getting-jerked-around-through-time thing isn't going to happen to me again?
Why do I feel guilty about leaving Mrs Grieves when I couldn't help it anyway?
How can I stop thinking about everything I saw him do and say back there?
And the things I only heard about?
Why am I even thinking about all that? Why should it surprise me or bother me any more than anything else I already knew he's done? What difference does it make anymore, over a century later?
Is it because if I can work myself up into hating him again that'll carry me through getting rid of his child? Because if I stop to think about it being his, or about what he'd want, I just might lose my mind?
Is it really his, anyway? In what sense is it his? In what sense isn't it? Is he William or isn't he? William wasn't him.
Is it mine?
Don't I want to get rid of it? He'll want me to. But aren't I supposed to decide? Just me?
Do I know what I'm feeling at all?
"No, I'm good. Got the pamphlets. S'all cool. I'll call up the clinic and make an appointment, soon as I get home." She stuffed everything into her handbag.
Another professional smile. Did they teach that at medical school? "Good luck then, Ms Summers. Please stop at the desk on your way out."
"So?" Dawn said.
Giles just got to his feet, saying nothing, eyes full of questions.
Buffy gave her sister a big smile. "I'm totally healthy-girl. No biggies to worry about. I just have a little infection, have to get this prescription filled, but it's nothing."
Dawn gave her the hopeful-Bambi look. "Nothing?"
"Clean bill of health."
Giles jingled the car keys in his hand. "That's splendid, then. Shall we be getting back?"
In the car again, her mind raced. As they approached the Tastee Whip stand at the corner of Alameda, she tapped Giles on the shoulder. "Can we stop? I want some ice cream."
There was a long line. Buffy gave Dawn a big smile, and that and a little prodding got her out of the car. "Get me a large chocolate and vanilla twirl, with extra sprinkles. The multicolored kind." She handed her sister a ten dollar bill. "Get whatever you want for yourself. Giles? Small vanilla as usual?"
"Err ... yes. Thank you."
The afternoon sun made the cars in the lot glitter. Everybody moving back and forth from the chrome-and-white stand looked healthy, stylish, untroubled. Buffy stared at a couple around her age, swinging a toddler along between them by the hands. The child whooped and giggled and kicked his legs when they pulled him up off of the ground.
"They're awfully young to have a kid," she said.
Giles eyed them for a moment, then glanced at her. "Maybe they're just babysitting?"
"They look really happy about it, anyway." She turned her head to follow their progress across the lot. The woman and child sat down at one of the picnic tables while the man joined the line. His hair was ruffled by the breeze, and he turned his face up to the sun while he waited.
Of course the lame-o thought presented itself that she'd never be able to do even such a simple thing as that with Spike. She pushed it out of her head.
"Giles, I'm pregnant."
He gave her one of his soft looks, the kind that made her feel like a little girl, but one who was very much cherished. "Yes, I know, actually. That's partly why I was so keen to get you to a doctor."
"Spike told you? I really didn't want him to know about this." She played with the clasp on her handbag. My problem. Mine. None. Of. His. Business.
Dawn had five people ahead of her, and then she'd be back, juggling cones, and this conversation would have to cease. So there was no point dragging her feet. "Look, there's something else I don't want him to know. Which hopefully he can't sniff out. But I'm telling you, because I've learned: Secrets. Bad."
"And this secret would be?"
"The baby's his."
"Buffy. How could it possibly"
"I don't know how I got there, or why. But when I disappeared out of the Bronze, I ended up on a street somewhere in London."
"And the year was 1879."
"Buffy. My God." Giles shifted around in his seat so he could look at her full-on. She saw surprise in his face, but also something akin to rapturehe was ready to hear a marvelous story. "You were thrown back in time?"
"Apparently. Nonot apparently. Absolutely. Yes. It was totally You Are There. In full-on squalorvision."
"Whatwhat did you do?"
"About what you'd expect, given how I was dressed, and not knowing where the hell I was. Some guys immediately hassled me, I defended myself, there was a brawl, and then I got arrested. I had to spend a week in jail with a lot of whores, of which I was considered to be one. After I got out of jail without a penny to bless myself with, as they say there, one of the girls took me under her wing, but the place she brought me turned out to besurprise surprisea whorehouse. So I ran away from there, and tried to get help. I ended up at some charitable mission sort of place, but the man who ran that hit on me. And he was a clergyman! Giles, it was awful."
"Starving was a real possibility thereplenty of people were doing it." She shrugged. "I ended up ... peddling the only thing I had, so I wouldn't have to do it too. The first couple of times I ... picked someone up, I thought it would be temporary. Just so I could get some money in my hand, so I could get situated ... . But there was no place else to go from there. What I got from these men didn't even buy enough food to fill me up, let alone ... I had nothing but a raggedy dress and boots they'd given me in jail, no way to washI couldn't even get work as the lowliest kind of servant, because I had no references, and I looked like hell. I was completely lost. Nobody would look at me and see me." She cut off his next remark. Dawn was now third in line to be served. "That's how I got gonorrhea, but it's not how I got pregnant. I was out on the street for a long timea couple of months. Horrible, but not the main event."
"The main event?"
"I'd just about given up hope that anybody, either here or there, was going to rescue me. Then one night, I saw him. Spike."
She nodded. "Only he wasn't Spike yet, he was William. Still human. But I recognized him, and ... I threw myself at him, convinced him I'd known his sisters, who were already dead ... . I lived with him and his mother for half a year in their house in Bayswater."
Blinking, Giles took off his glasses, and polished them on his shirt tail. "I see."
"No, you probably don't. It was mind-bendingly weird."
"What ... what was he like? William before he was The Bloody?"
"He was a good Christian gentleman. A hypocrite. A writer of really lousy poems. The whole Spike personathat's a big put-on. He was thoroughly middle class. You realize that, right, Giles?"
"I ... I suppose I never really thought Bayswater, you said?"
"And ... sad. Really sad. Surrounded by death. Pretty much walled in by it. On his way to it himself. He had TB."
"TB. How do you know?"
"Two of his sisters died of it. The third probably would've too, except she went in a traffic accident. Plus: big cough in the early mornings."
"Oh dear. Do you"
"I have the prescription in my purse."
Giles blinked. "So ... you and William ... were lovers."
"We weren't lovers. But he got me pregnant."
"Ah." Giles got that expression he had when Anya was talking too blithely about her sex life with Xander.
"Right. Ah is a good word for it, I guess. Gah might even be a better word. There was nothing romantic about it, or even particularly nice."
"So you had a peculiar and discomfiting experience. And now you're back with us, with Spike's child growing inside you."
As soon as he said the words, she felt a weird sensation, as if all the blood in her body had rushed to her womb. Sweat broke out along her hairline. She wished he'd parked the convertible in the shade.
we say ... " he seemed to be tasting the words before he pronounced
them, " ... that this is a happy outcome to a troublesome course of
Happy? Happy!?!?!?!? Ignore. Deny. Gloss over. "Giles, listen. I was there when he got turned. Not with him, I mean, but it happened while I was living in his house. I had to look after his hysterical mother when he just didn't come home one night. A little while later, when he returned to his mother's for his things, I saw him. I knew he'd come back, and I let him into the house. This beginner vampire," and he frightened me like he's never frightened me before, and I'm only just realizing this now because I'm a brave little toaster, "and Giles, he was ... he was . ... " A grimace took her face, yanking her mouth down. For a moment it was impossible to talk. " ... glad. I could tell he was glad about it. God, he was so vile. Then I saw him again a little after that, when ... the Council sent me in to Angelus' house to kill them all."
"Buffy. Back up. You'd contacted the Council?"
"Once I was living with William for a while, it occurred to me to advertise, and I heard from them right after he went away. But they weren't interested in helping me. They said it was impossible to send anybody forward in time, but really I don't think they'd ever tried. They were only interested in using me. Per usual for them, really. By then I was ... I was thinking a lot of rotten thoughts, because I'd pretty much lost hope for my future. So I made a bargain with themthat I'd go after the vampires if they'd provide for William's mother. I was fond of her, and I was all she had after her son disappeared. So I went into this house Angelus and company were holed up in, knowing that I probably wasn't going to come out. And I was sort of okay with that, becausewell, as soon as either the council or William's mother found out I was pregnant, I was going to be out on my ass. They took that whole 'fallen woman' thing really seriously back then. But I was scared, Giles. I felt sick, and not as strong as usual. My confidence was shaky, because I knew Angel and the others weren't supposed to die yet, but I figured they'd have no trouble killing me. I took out a few minions in the kitchen, and then I went into the room where Spike and Drusilla were, and"
She stopped, seeing again that image that was seared into her brain. Spikeno, he still wasn't Spike yet, Spike would come later. William. Dangling from the ceiling, gagged and whipped and looking so uncannily serene, as if he'd finally found his place in the world.
William the Bloody. The rapist, the killer, the happy ripper of throats.
"And?" Giles prompted.
"And that's when I suddenly found myself back in Sunnydale. In the parking lot of the IHOP, for some reason. Strange, huh? You'd think I'd end up back by the ladies room at the Bronze where I started out, right?"
Giles surprised her then. He leaned across the gap between their seats and pulled her into a tight hug.
"Oh Buffy ... this is incredible. And so terrible for you, I cannot imagine ... ."
She allowed herself one long moment of giving in to it, accepting the comfort he offered, inhaling the tweedy, sandalwoody smell of his shoulder where her cheek rested. Then she pulled away.
"Did Spike say anything else when he spoke to you? Like he remembered me from before?"
"No. He seemed as bewildered as we all were about where you'd been. I suppose he could've been dissembling."
"If that means lying, you know he doesn't do that very well. Mr Evil practically grows a Pinocchio nose telling me he wasn't the one who put the empty milk container back in the fridge."
"Well then. If he doesn't remember ... it would seem to indicate that time can fork. I've read the watchers' chronicles for that time periodfor the whole latter half of the 19th century, in fact, and there was no mention of you in them, of course. I doubt that's altered, because my memory of them would be altered too. But I'll make some discreet inquiries. That doesn't mean your experience wasn't real. It only means time isn't absolutely linear."
"Huh. You know what strikes me, though ... my being there didn't change anything for him at all. William's story was the same. He still died when he did. His mother was still left alone, Angelus and the others weren't stopped."
"Except, yeah, I came back to 2002 with this." She touched her belly. And William didn't die a virgin. For all the difference that made.
"An artifact. Of something that happened to you, but not, so far as he knows, to him. Curious. Perhaps whatever agent sent you back in time somehow also prevented you from altering major events that had already taken place up to the time you left us. We need to determine how it happened. Whether you were the sole target."
"We'll figure it out, I guess. We always do. But I'm glad Spike doesn't remember. Everything's complicated enough already."
"And you really don't mean to tell him? Where you were, what happened to you?"
"I don't want to get into it with him. He'll tell me to get rid of it, and I really don't want to hear that from him. He ... he gets so bossy sometimes. Like he thinks he's my watcher." She felt herself blush. "This problem is mine, not his. Does that make sense?"
"If it's what you feel ... . But I'd ask you to consider"
Her throat closed, and when she went to speak, there was pain. "Oh God, Giles. I'm afraid ... afraid that if I ... but if ... I don't want to think about this too much. I can't. And the doctor said I was pretty far along and I needed to decide now. Of course I'm not going to keep it, but I don't want a big group discussion." She squirmed, and glanced over towards Dawn. Something was holding up the line; the person ahead of her sister seemed to be having an argument with the kid behind the counter.
"Buffy." Giles' voice, though low, was intense. "Inasmuch as I'm your watcheryour watcher emeritus, if you willI want you to remember, no one makes rules for you anymore except you. You're not obliged to"
"Slayer here. Not mommy material. It's so not an option. I ... I don't even want it. It's just impossible. I mean, maybe, like ten years from now, if I live so long, and there's a ... I dunno what I'm saying."
She was quiet then, focusing on the way the wind tossed the plastic streamers strung across the outdoor seating area. Blue, red, yellow. They gleamed in the sun. She heard music from the other cars parked around them, kids shouting.
If I live so long.
Spike was dead. He'd died before he had a chance to grasp anything he'd thought he wanted, and no matter how many centuries he might exist as a vampire, how passionately he loved his women, he'd leave nothing of himself behind when his end came. A dead breeder of death. That's just the way it was.
He didn't expect anything different.
"But ... the absolutely only child that WilliamSpikewhoevercould ever have, is right here." She crossed her arms over herself. "If I end itit's really over for him. I can't help thinking about that."
"Well. You have to decide."
"I have decided. Except, the other thing ... a woman ... if she's in love with a man ... and she thinks she'd ever want to have a kid ... wants to have his. I mean ... that's natural. Right? I may be the slayer, and he may be a vampire, but what's natural ... is still natural."
Why am I even saying this? I already know what I have to do. Spike's not a man, and I'm not a woman, not that way.
Giles paused. "Perhaps you two should decide together."
"No." She swallowed, and bile rose back up in her throat. Lots of heartburn now, and she'd forgotten to mention that to the doctor. It seemed less important somehow than the tuberculosis. "He's not going to want it, Giles."
"Buffy, you don't know that."
"I know. I know Spike. I know what he's about." He's about fighting and fucking, sex and violence and passion and flamboyance. The Ramones and low-down dirty blues. English football, ripping the heads off demons, giving me the best head I could ever "He wouldn't be any help with this." He'd mock me for even hesitating. And we might be over now anyway. If I can't ... can't make myself ... oh FUCK.
Suddenly Giles handed her his handkerchief. "Here comes Dawn. We'll have to finish this chat later."
When she touched it to her face, she realized there were tears pouring from her eyes, although she hadn't made a single sob.
She looked up, just as her sister thrust two already-dripping cones towards her.
"Thanks, Dawnie. This looks great. There wasn't any soft-serve where I was."
Dawn climbed into the back. "Xander and Anya are probably waiting for you at home," she said between complacent licks.
Oh goody. She was tired in advance at the prospect of Xander's relief, his emotional outpouring, and Anya's magpie chatter. But they were her friends, so of course she wanted to see them.
The ice cream was cool and creamy in her mouth, like Spike's tongue.
At the pharmacy she tried to go straight to the back and hand over her prescriptions, but she was ambushed in the middle of the shampoo aisle by the woman holding the eight-foot baby. At least, it looked like an eight-foot baby in the brief glimpse she got of it before the tears blinded her. She wanted to run out of the store, because she was weeping like an idiot, but there was no way she could go back to Dawn in the car until she calmed down. So she held onto the edge of the shelf in front of the L'Oreal display, choking on sobs, and hoping no one she knew would happen along.
She had no control anymore over her tear ducts.
Fighting demons was nothing to this.
Xander and Anya were waiting on the porch when they drove up. Xander enfolded her in his arms, and as he held her, she felt him repress a sob. Which reaction left her curiously unmoved, so she squeezed him back as hard as she could, to show him that she loved him, until he yelled and danced away from her.
"Still the same old extra-strength Buffy," he grinned. "Ow."
Anya embraced her too. "We were so concerned about your sudden unexplained absence. I hope you're going to tell us what happened to you and where you were when it was happening?"
They went into the house. Tara appeared, but not Spike. No one else seemed to notice this, or care.
"So Buff? What's the story? Where'd you find yourself?"
She led them outside to sit in the backyard, in the late-afternoon sun. Not really thinking that this would prevent Spike from joining themjust thinking that it was such a beautiful day, and she'd barely seen the sun for weeks at a time in London.
Which she so didn't want to get into. She didn't want to tell them anything. Giles was one thing. She wanted to confide in him, and she trusted him to be discrete. Tara she'd have to take into her confidence too, because she'd need someone to come with her to the clinic. But no way did she want Anya and Xander to know what she'd done in that other place to surviveor Dawn to know she was staring at the need for an abortion before the week was out. The thought of making up outright lies left a chalky feeling in her mouth. Why couldn't this whole thing just go away?
Spike knew. Damn it damn it damn it.
She dug her hand into the springy turf. A tiny bug marched across her knuckles. Hello, tiny bug. Are you a widdle baby bug? Are you looking for your mommy bug?
"I ... was in some kind of hell dimension. I meannot hell, exactly, but, the dimension-of-not-a-whole-lot-of-fun. I'm okay, but I'd really like to just put it behind me and move on. Not do the rehashy thing."
Anya looked like a kid out of whose mouth she'd just snatched a lollipop. Tara just looked worried. And Xander, bless him, sailed right in trying to spackle it all smooth. "Sure, of course, whatever you want or don't want to say it's your right, and we're not gonna interfere, and anyway the important thing is to figure out what happened so it doesn't happen again."
Buffy seized on this. "I heard about strobing. A strobing light right before I disappeared? Did you guys see it too? And have you been checking out whether anybody else has popped off the same way?"
"We didn't see anything in the paper, or on the news," Tara said.
"I checked with the missing persons files at the police department," Anya said, "and there were no reports the last couple of weeks that looked pertinent. I mean, nobody who was there one second and gone the next, like you."
"Did you guys notice anything else at the Bronze that was weird? At all?"
They all shook their heads.
"Well," Xander said, after they were all silent for a few beats, "I did notice those creeps Warren and Jonathan going into the men's room as I was coming outabout fifteen minutes before we lost the Buffster. Do you think?"
"Another of his attention-getting stunts?" Anya said.
"What, they've built a working way-back machine?"
"Oh, I seriously doubt that."
Buffy lay on her back in the grass, staring up into the branches of the avocado tree, working her fingers in the cool damp soil, letting her eyelids flutter. She found this part of the problem strangely uninvolving. This time in the backyard would be so pleasant, if it wasn't for the crushing weight on her chest, the emotions dashing back and forth in her brain like an unruly tod No.
No way. There were some thoughts that were not to be thought, and some feelings that were not to be felt.
N. O. No.
She moved her hand, in a completely nonchalant way that no one would notice, and laid it on her stomach.
The Scoobies talked it over. The sun on her skin, the soft loam beneath her, made her sleepy; she zoned out. She saw Spike: two Spikes. One hers, all leather and sneer, and the other the spotty, skinny, sullen, over-bitey, angry teenage version: their son. Whom Spike was raising, if you wanted to call it that, on his own, because of course she'd been dead for fourteen years by then, done in by a Lesarian Hog Demon that bit her in two with one chomp of its enormous tusks, when baby was barely two. And instead of stretching himself on her grave at dawn, the way he always liked to promise he would, of course he'd had to hang around for Spike Jr. They were still living in the house, a stinking mess that was falling down around them and bringing down the rest of Revello Drive with itTara of course having long since decamped to a nice life with another witch and a bunch of cats up in Marin County. Xander and Anya would have moved to Seattle to live well on the receipts of Anya's day-trading and the Magic Box franchises, and Dawn would be a wildly successful movie star by then, whose people were instructed to deny all connection to her disturbing nephew and scary semi-brother-in-law. Of course this state of affairs wouldn't go on for much longer, because young Spikey would soon be beginning his life's career as an incorrigible, recidivist maximum-security inmatejust as soon as the dozy Sunnydale cops woke up and attached him to that shocking string of convenience store robberies that had already left five people dead. And once he was locked up, Spike would move back in with his girlfriend, Harmony, who already came around once a week or so, hauling some half-expired victim in her car trunk to share with him before they had wild undead baboon sex in what used to be her bed.
Buffy scrambled to her feet. "I need to pee."
And phone the abortion clinic right this minute.
She started up the stairs. With each ascending step she felt lighter and lighter in the head, light in her whole body, as if her bones were hollow, as if she was a bird. But in the center of herself was a small, concentrated weight, a hot knot of activity, dividing, burning, forming. She carried this knot and floated up the steps with it, imagining that she might float with it out through the roof and up into the sky. Fly away Buffy.
Maybe the injection they'd given her at the doctor's office was making her feel this way.
She used the bathroom off the hall, and meant to turn right around and go back downstairs and phone for that appointment, but instead she found that her hand was on the knob of the master bedroom door. She wantedwhat? She wasn't sure. Well, yes, she was: she wanted him. Wanted his smile, his hands reaching for her, gathering her in. The way he'd press his forehead against hers between kisses, murmuring her name as if he couldn't help himself. His mouth on her nipples. The little grunts he'd make when she hauled his erection out of his jeans and tugged on it with both hands. Wanted to make it up with him, have things be the way they were before. When he'd been easy to love.
God, she couldn't believe it seemed that way now. He'd never been easy. But ten days ago now seemed like a golden era, misty and beautiful and forever out of reach.
Where was Willow with that mind-wiping spell when she really needed it?
Back in the kitchen, she was reaching for the phone when the rest of them trooped back in. Xander and Anya said their goodbyes and left, promising to be on hand the next evening for a proper Scooby meeting at the Magic Box. Giles put the kettle on, Tara started to assemble the evening meal, and Dawn agitated for pizza instead.
There were too many people here. She really couldn't handle this. Buffy, leaning heavily on the counter, counted to herself, backwards from twenty. When she reached one, she took a deep breath.
"Guys, I need to make a call."
They all looked startled and guilty. She didn't want them to look that way. She showed them a big smile and hoped she didn't look like Bozo the Clown.
"But I ... I can take the phone into the other room. The portable phone! A technological marvel." She snatched it up and retreated into the living room. Waited, panting, until the sounds of food prep resumed in the kitchen. Dug through her bag for the clinic number she'd gotten from the doctor. The phone slid out of her grip as she searched, and she realized when she bent to pick it up that her hands felt all floppy, like rubber. She dropped her bag when she grabbed the phone, and decided that the floor was probably a good place to be anyway. Plopping herself down, she took a few deep breaths.
Just call. Just call, and get the appointment, and then you'll have the appointment, and that'll be what you'll do, and you won't have to think about it anymore, or really won't have to think about not thinking about it, because not thinking about it is what we're doing. So we won't think, and we won't think about not thinking.
She placed the call, made the appointment. They'd take her the very next day. Her breathing was ragged; when she blinked, spots of light flashed in her eyes. She curled around her drawn-up knees, pressed her hot cheek against them.
A touch. She glanced up. Spike was bent over her, trying to see into her face.
"You okay, Slayer?"
"I'm getting rid of it. All right? Tomorrow evening, bye-bye."
"You still feeling sick?"
"It was just a thing. That I had to do there. To survive. It wasn't about love. It wasn't even about pleasure. There's nothing for you to be jealous about."
He held a hand out to her; she grasped it and let him haul her to her feet.
"All right then." His eyes were impassive. "When's the appointment? I'll drive you there."
"I don't need you to"
"Buffy. I'll drive you there, see you through it. Just tell me when."
"I want Tara."
"Then we'll bring Tara."
She twisted her hand out of his. "Things there, where I was ... were fucked up. I didn't need you in my face the second I got back. It was too much."
"Excuse me. I only love you."
"Well" Don't. "I know. Just ... give me space."
"It was nothing, Spike. It was nobody you know."
"Right." He walked away.
"Dinner's ready," Tara said. "Where's Spike?"
"I'll get him." Dawn shot off up the stairs before Buffy could stop her. Not that she really could stop her. Spike lived here, Spike was entitled to come down to dinner, just like he did every night. His glass of blood was in the microwave right now.
Dawn came back more slowly. "He's not here. His blanket's gone from by the door."
Tara looked at Buffy. "Did he tell you he was going out?"
Buffy shrugged. "I don't keep him on a leash."
Giles looked askance at her when she said she was going to patrol, but he made no protest.
She was almost at the corner when she heard the running footsteps behind her and spun around.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothnothing. I just thoughtmaybe you'd like some company." She paused. "Maybe ... you shouldn't patrol tonight. So soon after ... ."
"Do I look as cruddy as I feel?"
"Um, kinda. How cruddy is that?"
"Well ... I just needed to get out, y'know? I was feeling stifled in the house."
"I'm glad you're here. Walk with me. I'll skip patrol. We'll just ... take a walk."
The freedom! She's never had to think about it before. The freedom to set foot out the door after dark and Just. Take. A. Walk. Not something she could do from Mrs Grieves' house. Young ladies didn't go out unaccompanied in the evening.
She made the most of it now. Led Tara out from under the shadows of the trees, into the middle of the quiet street. Took her hand and swung their arms in a big goofy arc.
"Hey," Tara said, giving her one of her sidelong sloe-eyed smiles. "You comin' on to me, Buffy?"
"Yes." Buffy grinned, tipping her head back and taking a deep breath. Sure, she was down to have an abortion tomorrow, and she almost certainly had tuberculosis, and she'd lied pretty blatantly to her lover, and the antibiotics or maybe the time-displacement or the pregnancy or the tension were playing hell with her stomach so she couldn't eat any dinner, yet in this moment she felt unaccountably giddy, just because she was back in her rightful place.
She rounded on Tara, still holding her hand, walking backwards in front of her, smiling. "Wanna see how they danced, where I just came from?" She grabbed Tara's waist with the other hand, and yanked her into motion, jigging her up the block in wide crazy loops from parked car to parked car. Laughing and half-breathless, she tra-la-ed the tune she'd heard so often, creaked out on the fiddle in the cavernous gin-joint where she'd spent many of her nights as a London street whore.
Tara, to her credit, kept up, hair and skirt flying, although every time Buffy whirled her beneath a street lamp she could see the bewilderment in the other woman's eyes. At the corner she let her go, the momentum spinning them away from each other. Tara tripped over her skirt and sat down abruptly on a manhole cover; Buffy crashed against a shiny BMW that immediately began flashing and honking and instructing her, in a loud mechanical voice, to step away from the vehicle. Still laughing, she hauled Tara to her feet, and they ran.
"Buffy! What was that?"
"That's how they dancedthe whoresthey'd dance with each other when there wasn't anybody else. Warmed us up, anyway!"
"I was one of them. For a couple of months. More."
"Months? Buffy. Howwhere?"
"A long time ago, in a place far far away."
"You were sent back in time?"
They'd reached Main Street, and slowed to a walk. Buffy still held Tara's hand, still swung it. "What happened while I was gone? I meanhow did Dawn, and"
At this question, Tara's eyes went sheepy. "We were so scared, Buffy. When I did the locator spell and couldn't get even a tracewe didn't know what to do. We all felt so frantic, and powerless. We called Giles, and he came right away. But then, he didn't know what to do either." She paused. "We call it research, but sometimes it's really just wheel-spinning."
"Well, I got back on my own, somehow. Who called him?"
"We all decided. I think it was Anya who actually phoned. Spike had his hands full with Dawnie. She panicked right away, and he was the only one she'd listen to at all. She wouldn't let him out of her sight. The only way she got any sleep the whole time you were gone was when he sat with her. He really kept it together for her, Buffy."
At the Espresso Pump she hesitated over what to order: caffeine was supposed to be bad for pregnant women, but then, she was only going to be a pregnant woman for another day. In the end she skirted the whole decision by asking for cocoa. They took a table near the low wall, as far as possible from the others.
Tara looked into her face.
"So, Buffy ... you ... you really had to ... ?"
"It wasn't like in the movies. No frilly dresses and parasols and lords a-leaping. My advice to you, Tara: never get sent back in time, if you can possibly avoid it. At least, not to the nineteenth century."
"I'll try to remember that." Tara smiled. "So ... are you all right?"
Buffy wanted to tell Tara what she'd told Giles, and more than that. Wanted to get her help in figuring out what she ought to do now about Spike, for whom her feelings were spiraling in ever increasing circles of contradictory, hormone-ridden confusion. Tara was looking at her with that sweet compassionate gaze that made her want to spill her guts, that gave her the feeling that no matter what she said, Tara would understand and still like her.
But Tara also understood and liked Spike. Their friendship was something that went on quite apart from her, that she had only the tiniest window on. But big enough to know it wasn't fair to make Tara her secret-keeper. She'd made up her mind that she was going to end the pregnancy, and keep her own council about its source. Confiding in Giles, who would go home to England again in a few days, was one thing. Burdening Tara, who had daily conversations with Spike ... she couldn't do that.
If things with Spike fell apart, she'd just have to try not to put Tara in a position of choosing between them.
Tara touched her arm. "Hey. What's wrong? All of a sudden you look like one of those tragedy masks."
"Ohdo I? Feeling so crazy right now. The fact is ... I'm pregnant. Little, ah, side-effect of being on the game."
"Buffy. Oh no."
"It's no big. I've got an appointment, tomorrow afternoon at six, to get it taken care of. Usually it takes two visits, because I'm kind of far along, but this clinic said they've got a one visit procedure. Get it over with. Will youwill you come with me? They said I should bring someone. Spike offered to drivebut I want you there."
"Of course. My God. Buffy, I'm so sorry you had to ...."
"Worse things have happened to me really." I'm SuperStrength Girl, I can protect my friends from my stupid messy pain.
"But ... don't say it's no big. Even though you don't want to have the baby, it's still . . . an abortion is still ... well, it's not a no big."
"No. No! I mean, I know! Only ... really, I don't want to blow it out of proportion. It's just something I have to do, and move on."
This was true. It was true. True. Is what it was.
It was quite late when they got back. Tara said goodnight to her in the upstairs hallway.
She opened the bedroom door quietly, expecting to find no one there.
But Spike was in bed, curled on his side near the edge, reading a book in the dim lamplight that would've ruined any but a vampire's eyesight.
He glanced up when she stepped in. "You were probably counting on me being out on a drunken bender tonight. Sorry, I didn't feel like it. But I've left you your space." He gestured with a hand to indicate the four-fifths of the mattress he wasn't lying on.
Brushing her hair in the bathroom, she thought Ten days. For him I was gone ten days. Not months. Ten days when Dawn was hysterical and he was frightened and they couldn't figure out what happened. And then I come back from my Magical Mystery Tour and I'm all weirded out and . . . it's not fair to him. I loved him before, and nothing's changed. I went back into his past and nothing's changed. Well, except my mind. I need to just get a grip. I still love him. I do.
The day it happened was pretty typical, in the way that typical, for a while there, had come to mean good. They'd patrolled later than usual the night before, to free themselves up for going dancing the next evening. Spent a long morning in bed, mostly sleeping, but also fooling around, which was different from making love and different from fucking. Before Spike she hadn't known sex could have so many modes. They'd teased each other and giggled, but she couldn't remember anymore what was so funny. When she'd left him to get a little more sleep through the brightest part of the day, she'd been happy to have shopping to do, errands to run. She'd spent a couple of hours at the Magic Box, working out. Nothing serious, mostly handstands and cartwheels, a little boxing. She'd chit-chatted with Anya, even taken care of a couple of customers when things got busy before closing.
The dancing had been great. Not that either she or Spike were such wonderful dancers, but it was one of those evenings when every song the DJ chose was just the one, when her body connected to the beats and through them to every other body in the whole club. But most of all to Spike's. He'd flirted with her all evening, making those little smirky teasey faces, as if they had a delicious secret together. When she'd walked away from him towards the bathroom, she'd hoped he'd follow, grab her when she came out and pull her outside into the alley for a knee-trembler.
Maybe he would have. If she'd been there.
He hadn't moved. Still lying with his back to her, arm curled around the book he was reading. She got into bed, punched the pillow. Settled into stillness. Two backs turned.
In her head, the seconds jerked by. In Mrs Grieves' house, she'd always heard the clock, loudly tocking out the measure of her imprisonment. Here, all the clocks were electric. She peeked after what seemed like at least ten minutes to find that only one digit has shifted. Closed her eyes again. Heard Spike turn a page. Her own stomach gurgled. She hoped he couldn't hear that, but he probably could.
When ten minutes really had elapsed, she heard the book thump shut.
"Kill anything tonight?"
"Nno. I didn't patrol really. Just went for coffee with Tara."
"Just as well. I think you should hold off a bit. You're not in shape. An' you smell tastier than usual. Could get hurt."
"It's all right. I did the rounds. Quiet night. Met up with just a couple, took 'em out no problem."
"I'll do it, 'til you're fit again. Need to get you back into training. Soon's you're up to it."
She didn't reply. The silence lengthened. She didn't think he was asleep; she doubted she'd sleep either. But the portion of the night during which they were going to pretend seemed to have been reached.
When he spoke next, he startled her.
"So did it help any, talking to Tara?"
" ... she ... she said while I was gone, you took good care of Dawn."
Another pause. "Niblet took good care of me."
Oh God. Instantly her face, and the pillow, were wet, salt running in at her lips. She trembled, trying to force it down. What was this thing going on inside her that could so knock her off her pins, make her so dopey and weepy and what were the other seven dwarves?
She felt him roll over.
"Will you permit me, Slayer, to touch your shoulder?"
Shit. If he was going to play it like that, what force could she muster against him?
She wished she'd put that clipping from the newspaper, the one about the grisly murder of Miss Cecily Addams, in the pocket of her chimney sweep clobber. So she'd have it with her now, to brandish in his face like a talisman to keep him off.
Someone did. Invite me in, Mistress Buffy.
"You can't come in."
She'd mumbled it so low into the pillow, he didn't catch it. But now he was right behind her, his hand was on her shoulder, his face hovering over it, waiting for her to repeat herself. And her back, where his chest brushed it, was on fire; she wanted to press against him, let him take her that way, it would be all right if she didn't face him, didn't open her eyes, didn't say yes or no, didn't think.
She scrabbled out of bed.
"Istay here. I'mgoing"
"Tara, are you awake?"
"Mmmm ... Buffy? What's the matter?"
"Nothnothing. Don't turn on the light. Can I sleep with you?"
"You are coming on to me."
"Giles is on the couch, otherwise I'd"
"S'okay. Get in."
"Do you think you'll ever have kids?"
"Sure. In a few years. When I find the right girl." She sighed. "Again."
"I guess you wanted that to be Willow." Buffy was glad for the sudden change of subject.
"I thought it was."
"Could it maybe be again?"
"I don't know."
"Do you hear from her?"
"An email sometimes. Not ... not so much." Tara paused, then said, "What about you?"
"I don't hear from her."
"No, I meant, do you want to have kids?"
"I hope you'll still be nearby so I can be The Cool Aunt to yours. I'll teach them how to kickbox and stuff them with chocolate and be an overstimulating but very popular presence in general."
"That would be great. I'll count on it."
"Slayers don't have children."
"Slayers ... slayers don't do a lot of stuff that you've already done."
"That's kind of what Giles said."
"BuffyI know it's sad, right now. But you're only, what, twenty-one? There's time. When you decide, when you're ready. And you should have a baby with someone you really love, not ... ."
" ... not someone you were ... you know ... transacting business with."
She awoke to find it was raining. Tara was already gone. At the window of her old room, she looked out at the dripping trees.
Today's the day William Grieves gets to die all over again.
She went to the bathroom and threw up.
Wiping her mouth, she avoided her face in the mirror. It was okay. Last day of morning sickness. Last day of a lot of things.
She dreaded going into the bedroom for her clothes, but Spike wasn't there.
He'd made the bed.
Staring into the closet, she thought What does one wear to an abortion?
The smell of coffee and eggs frying made her stomach rebel again. She clutched the newel post, fighting the heaves, then swung through into the dining room.
Dawn had already left for school. No Spike. In the kitchen, Tara was sliding two sunnyside-ups out of the pan into the plate Giles held out for them.
"Hi guys." She couldn't get too close to those awful eggs. "Giles, could you take me and Tara to the clinic later? I have to be there at six."
He glanced at Tara, who fluttered a little, and put down the pan. "Spike's taking us."
"Oh. I thoughtwhere is he?"
"He's didn't say where he was going. But that he'd be back in plenty of time."
"Oh? Good. I just thought he might've"
"Are you ready?" Giles said.
"As I'll ever be."
Oh, I do not want to ride to this in a car with blacked-out windows and a vampire at the wheel.
At five-thirty he pulled up outside the house and honked. Buffy and Tara dashed down the walk in the rain and climbed in. Spike had his foot on the brake; as soon as Tara slammed the back door, he took off.
"Right, where's this place?"
Tara told him how to go. Buffy let her head rest against the window, listened to the soft thwap thwap of the windshield wipers, and the tattoo of downpour on the car roof. She'd barely slept all night, spent most of the day wide-eyed but unregistering in front of the television, but she almost thought she could drift off now, if it weren't for the tight knot of apprehension in her stomach. She wished her mother was here. She wished Willow wasthe Willow she'd known in high school, who'd see her sweetly through anything.
No one talked except about the directions. Buffy couldn't keep track of where they were, behind the blackened glass. She let her eyes fall shut. The ride seemed to take a long time, but when Spike killed the engine, she jumped. Over too soon!
"Right. Here we are then."
She opened her door. They were in a parking garage, connected to the medical office complex where the clinic was. Their level was about half full. Grey columns, grey ceiling, grey pavement, and the cars on either side were grey too. All to match the grey day shading into darkness, and the greyness in her head. She swung her legs out, but when she tried to stand up, a wave of dizziness came over her. She leaned over and wretched. Then she was looking at Spike's boots, and he'd taken her arm, pulling her to her feet.
"Come on," he said. "Sooner started, sooner over." The words were brusque, but his hands, steadying her, were gentle.
The stairwell was all grey too. Poured concrete, metal railing, harsh fluorescent light overhead. She thought This is what I'll remember when I think of this babyhardness everywhere ... .
Entering the building, they passed into a cool, dim, silent corridor, lined on each side with closed doors. Some of the doors had little metal boxes outside them, where lab work was left to be picked up. At the end of the corridor a full-length window looked out on the street, the lights bleared in the streaks of rain on the glass.
"I think it's down at the end," Tara said, darting ahead. "I used to see a dentist up here."
Her arm was wrapped around Spike's. She only realized this when he caught her as her knees gave way.
"Steady on, Slayer."
Their eyes met. She could barely see the color of his. The corridor was lined in dark paneling. It was definitely under-lit. She stared at him, her heart hammering so hard that her whole body seemed to be palpitating. She felt hot and cold at once, fresh sweat breaking out on her upper lip, her palms. The aroma of her body was palpable to her, it must've been even deeper to him.
The gaze he returned for her stare was mild, curious. He kept his arm around her. She wanted to cling to him and cry, cry it all out.
Tara had advanced up the corridor, checking the signs on the doors.
"Spike." She dug her fingers into his arm. The air was hard to breathe, she had to drag at it, it was dry, unnourishing. She wanted to keep her eyes fixed on him, but she couldn't.
"Here it is!" Tara called.
She was a dark silhouette in front of the window, gesturing.
"Spike. I can't do this today. Take me home."
Back in the car, she rolled down the window. It rained in but she didn't care; she needed the cool air, to keep from passing out. It was already dark.
They were caught at the long light on Mulberry. She stared out at a display of baby furniture in the store on the corner. Sometimes the whole world was set up as an object lesson just for you. She was aware of Tara sitting behind her, looking out at the same thing.
She'd expressed no dismay or approval or even surprise when Buffy asked her to go in to the clinic and cancel her appointment while Spike walked her back to the car.
When Spike pulled up in front of the house again, Buffy stirred out of her trance. "Tara, could youI want to talk to Spike for a minute."
"What? Oh. Get out of the car. Right." Tara let out a nervous little laugh, and then she was running lightly up to the house and inside. Once she was gone Buffy went on staring out the window, her eyes playing unseeingly over the lawn, porch, dripping tree limbs, lighted windows, aware of Spike sitting behind the wheel, not breathing, not smoking, not rushing her.
"I know what you did to Cecily Addams because I was there."
She didn't turn her head to see his reaction.
"I was there, in London, when you were alive. That's where I found myself when I disappeared from the Bronze. I spent a couple of months lost, on the streets. Then one night, I saw you. I mean, I saw him. William Grieves. And his very irritating friend, Mortimer, who thought I was just about good enough to drink farthing gin like all the other whores. I spoke to himyouabout your sisters, and I got him to take me home. I stayed in his mother's house almost half a year. I was there after you'd gone."
She started when his hand closed tight on her upper arm, and whipped her head around. Some detached part of her mind noticed that Spike looked comically astonished, eyes wide, jaw dropped.
"My mother's house . ... "
"Thirty Penelope Terrace, Bayswater. Only one on the street with a blue door."
His hand loosened, and slowly fell away from her arm. It hit the leather seat beside her with a thump, and Spike stared at it for a few moments as if he had no idea it was his. "You were in my mother's house. Did ... did you ... was Jemima there?"
"Already dead, two or three months. I wore her clothes, slept in her bed. Your mother . . . your mother was so kind to me. Patient. She didn't understand why I couldn't sew or knit or anything. She tried to teach me. I was supposed to make you a shirt, only ...
"Ohand I met Cecily Addams, one day in the park. Mrs Grieves had a headache, so we were cutting church. He introduced us and she looked through me like I was dirt. She wouldn't look at William when he spoke to her. She obviously thought he was a little jerk. But that doesn't excuse what you did to her."
He closed his eyes, gripping the steering wheel hard, and for a moment she thought his face would crumple.
"How can this be? I don't remember you."
"Giles said time can fork, or something. I was definitely there, Spike. Everything you told me happened to you, everything you did, happened just the same. Well, except for one thing."
"I lied to you yesterday when I said this had nothing to do with you. This," she pressed her hand to her belly, "this came from what went on between William Grieves and me." She fixed her eyes on his face. "This is ours."
"Bloody hell." His voice was uncharacteristically small. He stared at her, all the animation drained out of his eyes.
She wished she could resort to Dawn's tantrum of choice: Get out get out GET OUT! But it was too late for that. She'd have to talk to him, much as she didn't want to.
"I don't know what to do, Spike." She took a deep breath. "I don't know what to do about this pregnancy, and I don't know what to do about you."
The wipers were still on, dashing aside the long fingers of rain. Spike stared out the little peephole in the black windshield. They sat at either end of the front seat, both looking out in different directions, the pattering filling up their silence. Spike took out a cigarette, and his Zippo, but didn't do anything with them.
"Light it. It's okay."
He chucked them both on the floor and started the engine again.
"Do you mind? I want to be moving. You needn't come."
She shrugged. "Driving's good."
He pulled out.
Of all the years of his young manhood, of course that winter of '79 to '80 stood out most distinctly in his memory. It was so full of final things: the last times he played backgammon with Jemima, escorted her to the West End to visit the big shops, took her out to Kew to see the autumn leaves. The last time he followed a sister's coffin to its resting place, or tried to comfort Mamma for the loss of another daughter. Last time he ever tipped anyone a penny for the Guy, or bought Christmas presents for a holiday they couldn't actually bear to acknowledge. The last winter he'd done without a fire at night to save money, lying in bed alone, feverish from the bacilli burning him up inside, trying to dash the bawdy thoughts from his head and not touch himself. He'd written his last poems that winter, unaware of their laughable woodenness, hoped his last absurd human hopes about rising at the bank, about marrying, about producing a child to put into his mother's empty, increasingly fleshless arms.
He could practically remember each and every day, the air acid and yellow with the groaning fogs that were so thick that year one had to feel one's way along the familiar streets turned murky and alien. As he wended his way between Bayswater and the City, hope of change burned inside him too. Somehow everything would be different, he'd find his way to success, be the nation's Poet Laureate, with a beautiful, doting wife, excellent health, a large villa in Italy where it was always sunshiny and clear, where he could sit in his own garden, his darling little ones tumbling about his feet, and everyone would defer to him.
Jesus Christ, William Grieves was a ponce.
Spike pulled onto the freeway and sped up. Buffy had said nothing else since they'd left Revello. She sat huddled bonelessly against the door. His own questions were backed up inside, numerous yet mute. He wouldn't be able to ask them until she looked at him, really looked at him, not in that ghostly, exhausted way. The last time she'd seemed so shattered was right after the Scoobies had brought her back.
And he couldn't picture her back in that time. Girls then didn't stalk around with the kind of confidence she had in her body and her right to be wherever she was; they didn't wear those difficult facial expressions of which she had a whole contemporary wardrobe. How the hell had she managed to stay alive there long enough to encounter him? And had she really sold herself, or was that a figure of speech, an exaggeration?
And if she'd worn his sister's clothes, then what the hell was that kit she'd come back in?
He recognized that his mind was swooping around these questions so it wouldn't have to land on the rock of fact she'd dashed down upon him.
That tiny creature inside her, whose presence had so inflamed his jealousy ... was his.
He hadn't given any thought to babies in years. There was that time, when he still lived with Angelus and Darla, that Dru had turned a newborn they'd taken from the childbed of a child whore. Spent two weeks suckling the grotesque thing from incisions on her breast; wouldn't let him fuck her, but made him fetch and carry tiny accoutrements for her mad maternal fantasy before Darla caught him thieving a perambulator and forced him to put the little blighter out of its misery. He still felt a stirring of nausea, recalling that. Ever after, he'd given 'em a wide berth, lest Drusilla pull that stunt again.
Of course he wouldn't say they weren't lovely to snack on, nice fat babies full of milk. He'd never turned one down, that was easy to get hold of. But he wasn't like those vamp fetishists who made an elaborate ritual out of acquiring the blood of infants. All tasted the same in the dark, didn't it?
But these nervous memories had nothing to do with the matter at hand. Buffy, his queen, his mistress, was by some strange miracle, carrying his child.
Just as if he wasn't a dead man.
He caught sight of his hands on the steering wheel, and the idea came to him that there were hands forming inside her, hands that were attached to arms, attached to a body with a head and legs and a sex and it was made up of part of him and part of her. Growing. Inside her. Conceived when he was alive, and here right now, in this car.
Something of himself, who had been deader than dead for over a century, was quickening.
He didn't know what to think, what to feel about this. It was such an impossibility that he'd never, in all the daydreaming he'd done about Buffy, both when she was unattainable and after he'd won her, imagined any such thing.
Vampires didn't create and nurture new life. Well, they might turn a particularly succulent victim, and then, like Angelus had with him, fledge the newly-created demon into a fresh power of blood-lust and destruction. He'd never even cared to do that; Dru had spoken sometimes of the need to carry on the House of Aurelius in the absence of Angelus. But he hadn't wanted the responsibilityremembered what a pain in the ass he'd been to Angelus and wasn't eager to experience that from the other side.
But a new vampire was not a child, not flesh of one's flesh. Angelus had told many stories about how he'd devoured his whole family; given him to understand that this was what vampires just naturally did. And if you believed the bragging most vamps told in their cups, it was so. But he'd heard, a long time ago, and a few times since, a different sort of story. Never could be sure if it was true or not, but it seemed as likely as any other. The story of Jack Stamp, a young gentlemanin some versions he was a baronet, in others merely the head of an ancient landed familywho was bitten and turned one unlucky night in London in the late 1600s.
Despite coming into all the power and twisted glory of vampirism, this affectionate gentleman was so distraught at being cut off from his adored wife and infant son, that he stole home to his country seat and took his lady into his confidence. When Spike first heard this tale, in a demon pub in Woking around the time of the Boer War, the teller, a black-eyed little minx who could remember the plague times, insisted that this Jack Stamp, still wearing his pretty twenty-five-year-old's face at the age of three-hundred-and-something, yet resided in semi-secrecy in that ancestral house, with his son's great-great-great grandchildren, a cherished skeleton in the family closet. That he lived on animal blood when at home, disappearing to far-flung places two or three times a year for a few weeks together, to satisfy his lust for hunting and drinking human prey.
"He's a tender-hearted fellow for his own flesh and blood, is Jack Stamp. I know, because I ran with him once, we had a fortnight together in Liverpool, sampling the sailor boys in port from foreign parts. He told me his story his own self, when I was tucked up with him a-bed." She'd thrown Spike a flirting look from beneath her lashes, twisting one of her red tresses around her small white fingers. "Quite the cocksman was our Jack, but when he's at home, he rocks the cradles, sits up nights a-nursing when there's anybody sick, and when the moon's full romps with the little ones on the lawn. The Stamps have no fear of the night air. So he told me."
The other listeners guffawed and grumbled at this; Jack Stamp, whoever he was, certainly let the demon side down.
How depressing, not to mention pathetic, Spike had thought at the time, to hang around and watch one's pretty little wife age and decay and die. A real bad ass vampire would take and turn her, if she was so necessary to his happiness. As for the get, leave 'em to get on with it, well enough. What was the point of mooning over them as they aged and died, while remaining always the image of what you were at the moment of your death? Vampires weren't supposed to care about their posteritythey were posterity.
Maybe there was something in that to account for the frequency with which vampires killed their people: was it easier to go on as a demon knowing the beloveds were all gone already, than to contemplate the arc of their natural lives from the vantage point of an unlife that had no arc at all, no anchor-points, no natural rise and fall? Just a sequence of gross appetites to be gratified, most of which would find no sympathy at all with the folks left behind.
Because, well, live humans just didn't know how to really live it up. Viva the gross appetites.
Buffy roused herself then, and shoved the hair back from her face.
"What are you smirking about?"
Spike composed himself in a hurry. "Nothing."
"Where are we going?"
"Where would you like to go?"
"I'd like to go back to when I was eight, and my parents still loved each other, and we lived in a nice house in LA. And then I'd like time to fork, like Giles says it can, so some other poor chick can be the Slayer. And then I think I'd like to be a professional figure skater." She glanced at him. "If we're gonna do that, you need to bear left and take the next exit."
"How about I buy you some tiffin? You look kind of peaked."
"I'm not hungry."
"Right. You always say that right before you inhale a large pizza."
"Where do you get your money, Spike?"
"Not from you."
Once she'd gotten her settlement from the Council, she'd offered him some, but he'd refused to take it.
"I know. Yet you've always got smokes, and whiskey in your flask, and gas in the car."
"I've got my ways. Don't hurt anybody for it. Anybody human, I mean."
She frowned. "This whole thing we have ... it only works because I don't ask you where you go when you go out alone. It only works because I'm the Slayer, and you've got the chip, and we're amazing together in bed, and we're both big with the fighting. It only works because I deliberately don't think about your past, and neither of us has much of a future together or apart."
"So we might as well be merry, for tomorrow we die, is that it?" He pulled into the parking lot of a diner and turned off the engine. The DeSoto shivered and ticked as it subsided into quiet. "You forgot to mention it works because I love you with everything I've got, and some days you're rather fond of me. It works 'cause I'd do anything for you."
"Would you really, Spike?"
"What is it you want, pet?"
She sighed. "I'll tell you what I don't want. I really don't want to have a baby at the age of twenty-one. I can barely take care of Dawn, let alone some helpless little ... and I really don't want any innocent baby to have you, Spike the vampire, for a father. I think that's probably worse than having no father at all."
"And I don't want to be going to bed and having the wild amazing life-enhancing sex with an unrepentant rapist killer."
"You knew what I was when you took up with me."
"You knew what Angel was, too. So he's got a soul. I've got a chip. Same differencewe've both changed our ways. Doesn't erase the past on either of us. At least I'm not a self-righteous prancing idiot mewling about my sins like he is."
"You're also not sorry like he is. Worse than thatyou're proud of not being sorry."
"Sorry an' a token gets you on the bus."
"But he's trying to work it off. All the evil things he's done, the lives he's stolen. He's devoted himself to atoning. Whereas you"
"Whereas I don't do anything, do I, except look after the world's one precious Slayer an' try an' keep her in fighting trim. Maybe that's my bit of atonement for the two I done in. Jesus, Buffy. Do you think I don't take that seriously? Do you think I wasn't out every night you was gone, kicking ass and taking names and trying to find out who'd snaffled you?"
"Spike, I know you were."
"Except, I failed. Just like I failed when Glory"
She touched his arm. "Spike. Lover. Don't."
She watched him absorb the unaccustomed endearment. "Let's feed you up. You haven't eaten all day, have you?"
He wrapped his arm around her as they crossed the parking lot, and she knew he'd have swung her up and carried her if he thought she'd let him. The rain brought out strong the scent of his leather; she wanted to bury her nose in his chest and just breathe him. That would be better than food. He wasn't, was he, the same as had violated Cecily Addams? He didn't look the same. Not just the clothes and hairthe vampire William who'd come to the door of Thirty Penelope Terrace that rainy Sunday had an air of deep, still, frozen dread about him that was nothing like the Spike she knew. Spike, even at his most dastardly, had always given off a sort of gleeful energy that was hot. That had nothing to do with the temperature of his dead flesh. It was his temperament. A temperament that was not part of William Grieves.
When had that changed? Somewhere in the debauchery and carnage between that Sunday in 1880 and the first time she'd seen him at the high school.
It was, she suddenly saw, the same change that turned him from the man who'd made selfish use of her body in the dark, even as he feared and despised it, to the lover he was now, constantly devising fresh ways to excite and satisfy her. William hadn't really liked women. Spike did. William wrote clumsy poems that were entirely disconnected from everything sensual, visceral, real. Spike wrote his sinuous love lyrics right into her skin.
The diner was fairly crowded, but there was a whole section roped off, empty. Spike stepped over the barrier, and when the hostess tried to stop him, he gave her a calm yet inexorable look, and that combined with his whole appearance made her back off and shrug. "Sit anywhere you like, sir."
Spike chose a booth in the back of the room, one of the big ones meant for six people. "I love it when they call me sir. This is good here, no one eavesdropping."
Spike opened the menu. "What did you miss most while you were exiled to mutton and boiled greens?"
"I just want some coffee. I told you, I'm not hungry."
He ignored this, gesturing at the waitress who approached with a hesitant air, and ordering two enormous breakfasts, even though it was dinner time.
"You're going to eat all that?" Buffy said.
"No love. You are." He leaned against the wall, stretching his legs along the worn booth seat, and looked at her. She knew he was waiting for her to talk, but his look was also full of an uncomplicated pleasure in her presence, relief that she was back.
The reflection of herself she saw in his face was one that existed nowhere else. What am I, she thought, that my enemy should fall in love with me like this?
He was right, as he so often was. As soon as the plates of greasy food were set on the table, she realized the depth of her hunger. She ate nearly everything, pancakes, eggs, sausage, potatoes, while he drank coffee and patiently watched her. After the first edge of her hunger was sated, she began to tell him the story.
" ... so ... I'd been there a few weeks, and I was starting to see he really didn't want me the house. Charity has its limits. He knew his mother liked me, and she certainly needed the company, but I think he couldn't forget he'd taken me off the street. One day he came at me again about finding a situation, he wanted me to take a job as a governess. II had a melt down. It was my first one, really. Where I just cried like a dope. I begged him not to send me awaythe idea of going out into that strange world and being all alone was just unbearable. Not that ... not that I wasn't already alone. He wasn't you. It's as if you had a twin brother who'd been separated at birth, and I met him and expected him to know all about me already, to treat me like you do. It was a constant shock to me, how much he wasn't you. And not being a vampire ... wasn't really doing much for his likeability."
Spike frowned and shook his head. "No surprise there. So what then?"
"Well, like I said, I panicked, and started crying, andwell, I guess he got the wrong impression. Or the right impression, I dunno. But that night he woke me up in my bed, and ... demanded sex. He was angry. Like it was my fault he wanted me, like it was dirty. He'd never done it before, and he didn't want to learn. He . . . he wanted to fuck me, but the idea of kissing me revolted him. Because of what he thought I was."
She paused. For someone who said he didn't do sorry, Spike looked rather sorry now, staring into his coffee.
"So, didn't die a virgin after all."
"Nope. In the morning I found he'd gone away suddenly, was gone a week or so. I guess he was struggling with himself over what we'd done. But when he came back it was just the same. Angry at me, at himself. Turbulent. He came to me every night, and I knew as long as I let him, he wouldn't try to send me away. The sex did get better, but ... he wasn't the man I longed for and imagined was on me when I closed my eyes."
"Fucking hell. Pet, I"
She didn't take the hand he reached across the table then, because she knew if she touched him she wouldn't be able to continue.
"I thought maybe I'd be able to get him to marry me." She let out a laugh; it seemed so absurd now, that desperation, the idea of finding refuge in becoming a Bayswater housewife. "But he only thought about Cecily Addams. He didn't even know herand he was stupid not to see how she despised him. And nice as I was to him, he didn't respect me at all."
Spike glanced away. "No, he wouldn't. Brought up not to, an' all."
"In a way it didn't matter, because I knew he was dying. He knew it too. That's what he was really angry about, I guess. He'd take it out on me in bed, not that he was really strong enough to hurt me, but I let him think so. It seemed important to him, to dominate me. And then afterwards he'd gasp and struggle to catch his breath. Spike ... you never told me you were sick."
"One of the thousand crap things I didn't want you to know about William the Bloody Wanker." He plucked a french fry from her plate. "Could be worse, I suppose. You could be telling me you'd fallen in love with him."
She winced. "I could never"
"Right. Beneath you, yeah?"
She paused, uncertain of what he was getting at. "I told you, Spike. He wasn't you."
"Did you tell him you had one in the oven?"
"I tried to, but he wouldn't let me. He must've known. But that was the day he didn't come back."
She related the restmeeting the Council, vampire William's return, her attempt on Angelus' house. Watched the emotions: sorrow, sadness, suspense, play over his face.
"so I burst into the room. The last thing I saw before I got yanked back, was Drusilla singing and banging on the piano while you were dangling from the chandelier hook in the ceiling. I found this deeply disturbing."
"Yeah, I remember that night, actually." A smile flitted over his lips. "Well, that was Angelus' game. He an' Darla liked to take it in turns to whip pretty patterns into my pretty white flesh."
"You didn't seem to mind."
"To tell the truth, I did, an' I didn't. We're a perverse an' exotic race, vampires."
"Don't I know it."
Maybe it was that phrase, pretty patterns into my pretty white flesh, or maybe it was the words 'perverse and exotic,' but all at once Buffy's whole body was shimmering. She propelled herself out of the booth, left a twenty on the table, and started for the exit. He was after her a half-beat later, following without question as she plunged out into the parking lot and headed, not back to his car, but across a concrete divider and into the lot of the motel next door. He waited, smoking, while she went into the office to engage a room, and when they reached its door he tossed his cigarette without even pausing for a last drag.
Inside, she shoved him hard, toppled him onto the bed, and leapt to straddle him. A few moments of wordless wriggling, tugging, pushing, and she had what she most immediately wanted; his cock inside her and his tongue in her mouth, both surging up from below. She groaned, her mouth stretched open on his, moving in short grinding thrusts that he bucked up to meet. She bore down on him inside so hard she thought she could feel every contour of his prick, the bulging vein, the flaring head, the maddening curve, as if her cunt was a hand. Her first orgasm came quickly, short and sharp, jerking a gasp out of her; like hitting an unseen pot-hole when you're doing forty. She just kept on. Months she'd missed this, needed him, didn't know if she'd ever find her way backnow she set out to re-mark her territory. Yanked up his shirt and attacked his nipples, one in her fingers, the other in her mouth, gnawing, twisting, making them swollen and almost pink enough to seem alive. His arms needed her scratches, his neck her bite marks. She bestowed them. Spike began a low chant, awfuckyeahlikethatgodlovedoitfuckfuckfuckfuck, his squeezing hands moving from her hips, to her arms, and up under her shirt. She let go of him long enough to yank off her top and bra. Her breasts were still tender but now she wanted his mauling; dipped them one by one into his eager mouth. She came again, barely breaking the rhythm of her undulations"Stay hard for me Spike, keep it going" her hands in his hair now, mouth on his, sucking at each other's tongues as if extracting secrets each from each.
Amazing to think that from such source material as William Grieves, this beautiful dangerous entrancing creature was made. Buffy rose up a little to look at him, put her hand to his ivory forehead, to his sharp cheek, and then his mouth. He bit at her fingers, and grinned. "That's my girl," he gasped. "That's itthat's itoh my queen, you've come back to me"
He surged then, and she let him tumble her over, dug her heels into the mattress to meet him, keep him. Then he lifted one of her legs to his shoulder so they were wedged together even tighter, and this was good. Short, hard, pummeling thrusts that made them both grunt. Clutching and scratching at his back. He buried his face in her neck, and she could feel it when the ridges sprang forth; the new bulge in the mouth pressed against her throat. Shit, she loved it when he vamped out this way, his immersion in her body, her sex, her scent so complete that he lost control of the line between man and demon.
She's long questioned whether it was the man or the demon who loved her, whom she loved.
After living with William Grieves, she knew.
The vampire's open mouth formed such a seal on her skin her whole neck would be bruised in the morning. It didn't matter.
They pumped together in perfect rhythm.
"It's all right, Spike. Taste medo it."
The fangs broke the skin thena small, delicate incision, almost polite, yet it tipped her into the shuddering inexorable climax, her body rippling as he sucked and swallowed. She felt, in the whole length of his body grappled against hers, his ecstasy at receiving her blood, how it moved him. Grabbing her hips, he shoved into her and came, the pent up spunk flooding her in waves, so she could feel it running out again, soaking them both.
Afterwards he lay on top of her, slowly licking at the punctures in her neck, his softening cock still inside her. He was heavy but she wanted that, wanted to feel him crushing her, as she kept her arms drawn tight around him.
Whoever else could satisfy her the way he did?
Bite me drink me fuck me love me.
"Here they are, where they belong," she murmured in a sing-songy voice. "The big bad vampire and his Slayer mistress. The Slayer and her demon lover." His hair was curling a little at the forehead. She combed it back with her fingers. "In a little while they'll rise from their bed of perverse exotic passion, and go out and kill things in a perverse, exotic way."
"Not you. Not for a bit. Won't risk you."
"Spike. We can't do this."
"We just did. Little while, I get my strength back, we'll do it again. Need to fuck you all night. Lost time to make up for."
"Yes, but that's not what I"
"Pet, I know."
They were quiet. Buffy pressed a kiss to his breast, where her cheek rested. Now she was in his arms again, she couldn't bring herself to care too much about what she'd seen in that other place. Which might mean that she was rotten inside, that being with him had ruined her. If so, it was too late to go back on it, to change. She needed Spike, she loved him, it wasn't for her to decide anymore not to.
Then"I didn't want to tell you because I knew you'd say to get rid of it. And a little part of methe silly girly stupid partdidn't want to hear you say it."
"Have I said it?"
"Spike ... Oh God. I can't have this baby. You know that. I'm not ... we are not in the life-giving business. We deal in death, both of us." As she said the words she felt their truth: that's what she'd been Chosen for. Standing against the Forces of Darkness was not compatible with motherhood. She'd asked Giles if there was any record in the chronicles of a slayer who'd borne a child, and once he'd made some discreet inquiries with a contact back in England, he'd told her the answer was no. When pressed, he admitted there were records of two who'd been killed while pregnant, and a third whose infant was taken by demons, who died shortly after in an attempt at vengeance.
So: slaying and childbearing, not mixy.
Spike said nothing, just went on making a pillow for her with his body. A circle to hold her, his hands clasped around her shoulder.
"It's only ... ending it, it's not just ending one pregnancy. I could get pregnant again, maybe, some time in the future. But this is the only child you could ever have. We could ever have together." She paused. "That's why I couldn't go through with it and not tell you. I tried to, but I couldn't."
"I always knew, even when I pretended it wasn't so, that there'd be nothing of that for me. Cecily wouldn't have me, no one would have me, and I was down for an early death one way or the other."
"Spike, I'm sorry. William was ... I could see he was a good man. His instincts were kind."
"Kind? Bollocks. I was an utter twat. Can't hardly bear to think of me, sometimes, I was so wet. The best day of my life was the day I died. My darling princess rescued me. Nothing was ever dreary or stale or mediocre for me again after that. I don't want your pity, Slayer."
"I know. It's not you I pity. I used to wonder how much of you was William and how much was Spike. I liked to think I cared for you in spite of"
"Right. You know better now."
" ... um, yeah."
"Didn't learn to live until I was dead."
"Y'know ... having a child, passing on your genes ... makes you a little less dead than you are, Spike."
"Maybe so, petal, but it's also tendin' to make you a little more dead than I'd like you to be. Slayer's too vulnerable with a sprog. You're distracted. An' baby's a gruesome kidnapping waiting to happen, is all. Sad but true."
"I know, I know. That's what I've been saying all along. And ... being honest here for a change ... you know I love you, right?"
"Ah ... yeah?"
"But ... thing is ... I love you in this sort of, me Slayer, you Vampire, we fight crime sort of way. Not a 'let's take the kid and ten of her tiny pals to Chuck E Cheese for her third birthday' sort of a way. I really can't see us doing any of that stuff." She paused. "I can't see me doing it. Not to mention that you'd be a terrible father."
"Terrible? I'd adore that kid like"
"I know. Maybe not terribleweird. Can't go out in the sunshine. That's kind of a problem with a kid. The whole evil dead thing, really, is a situation. I wouldn't wish that on a child. Plus, you're kind of impulsive. And you have to admit, you're not really rock-solid on the whole right from wrong issue. Which I can deal with when it's just us, but ... ."
His hand came up and stroked her hair. "Be bloody good-lookin', though, our boy. Or, better yet, girl."
Something in her chest flared, as if she'd been pierced by a red-hot arrow. "Would you like a girl?"
"Another stunning Summers female to slay me right an' left? Could do."
Her eyes closed tight, she could feel that child in her arms, at her breast. Looking up at her out of Spike's blue eyes. Dainty and pretty like Dawn had been, wrapped in her yellow blanket. Buffy could smell that milky scent that would come off the top of her head, could feel the small hand clutch at her finger, at her breast. The little mouth on her nipple. All that warmth, cleaving to her, needing her. Needing the non-punchy-kicky-snarky part of her. The part that was full of love.
Their miraculous baby could make her ordeal in that other place mean something. Make her passionate connection to an undead vampire into something more than the animal instinct to hunt and fuck and huddle together for comfort.
No. This is what hormones did to you. It was the Darwinian thing. They fucked with your head so you'd reproduce like a good little member of your species, never mind whether it was the world's worst idea ever.
She grasped Spike's hand and brought it to her belly.
"You can feel its heartbeat, can't you?" she whispered. "Lover, feel it."
"I feel it all the time I'm touching you. But yeah. There it is."
He fanned his fingers across her stomach, and she laid her hand over his.
William Grieves, who may or may not have been a kind man or a pathetic fool, was the intercessor that gave her this precious impossible thing, a dead man's child, which she loved now with a wild, hilarious, desperate love.
"What shall we call her, Buffy?"
"Suddenly we're both so sure it's a girl. We won't know ... " Until they've yanked it out of me.
"I think it is." Spike laid his ear against her stomach. "Her heartbeat has a feminine sort of something to it."
"You can't really hear"
He pressed a kiss to her navel. "She'll be beautiful like her mum and smart like her dad"
Buffy whapped him. "Try the other way around!"
"But not blonde. Funny that. An' she'll be a right little tyrant, make me do anything she says just by giving me that Summers girl eye ... but she'll be sweet an' sympathetic like her granny, too."
"Fuck." She lifted her head. "We can't have this conversation, Spike. We can't just drift along on the Wide Endorphin Sea into making this real. I need to reschedule the appointment. I need to have an abortion."
He was silent for a long beat, while she held her breath.
"Yeah. Yeah, Slayer, you really do." He pressed one more kiss to her navel. "But thanks, pet. Thanks for wanting the baby because it's ours."
Buffy's heart seized up for a second, then took two beats in the space of one. She gasped and tightened her fingers in Spike's hair.
Misinterpreting her signal as a bid for a different attention, Spike shifted, threading his fingers into the curls on her mons, tugging on it gently, then lowering his head to feather his tongue against her clit.
Buffy sighed and spread her thighs wider. She was ready for morefor as much of him as she could get that night. There was no chance she'd sleep anyway.
And her sense that tonight was one of last thingsperhaps more last things than she'd even planned onmade her greedy. Not just because there'd be a period of enforced celibacy after the abortion. But because she feared they might never be like this again, their emotions and ideas so synched. This was their one night to imagine their child, their lives with their child, as something still in potential, something yet possible. Their one night to celebrate before the numberless ones of hindsight and consolation.
Maybe it wouldn't work. Maybe after this, nothing would ever be right between them again. They'd lose one another, perhaps even be mortal enemies once more.
Or maybe the next Big Bad, the thing that would be more frightening, more deadly than Glory, might be just around the corner, and the pain they felt now would seem like a sweetness they could only miss.
She came quickly beneath his mouth. He climbed her body, pausing to cover her swollen breasts with cool kisses, and arrived at last at her face.
Keeping her gaze fixed on his, she reached between them and took his erection in her fingers; rubbed the velvety tip of his cock against her clit, and watched his eyes soften, his lips part as he began to pant.
"That's it pet, please yourself, you're so beautiful when you do that ... ."
She slid easily into another orgasm, the pleasure making her shiver and stretch; he waited for the right moment in the shifting current of her climax to slip inside her, to catch it as it rippled into nothing and start it building again.
They moved together with soft liquid motions, almost frictionless, and looked into each other's eyes as if their gazes were a single reflecting pool.
"This is so good, Spike," she murmured. "I never want to forget this. This moment right now. We're all here, none of us has gone yet."
Spike couldn't quite think why he was so slowed up by all this. Something he hadn't coveted or imagined was being taken away from him while it was still just an idea, and a bad idea at that. Nonot taken away. Pushed away. She'd consulted him; they'd decided.
Yet he felt worse about it, more hopeless and bereft, than he had when the news came home of Jem's accident ... when Drusilla dumped him ... when Buffy didn't get up and walk away from her swandive off Glory's tower.
Love's bitch was contemplating the loss of a love he'd never even met. And he wanted it more fervently than any he'd had before.
He looked at Buffy, sated and momentarily slack on the pillow beside him. She was staring into space, her pretty mouth fixed in a dreamy grin. Her teeth and eye whites gleamed in the flickering light.
Nothing, no one, was more important than she was. He was sure of that. The decision they'd made, he'd endorsed for just that reason. She had a job to do, and he'd made it his job to help her do it. Anything that pulled their concentration from that, that put them off their game, was a liability that could be fatal.
So. Distracting. Dangerous. Impossible.
Plain. Simple. Cut. Dried.
that understanding, that determined belief ... did nothing to make any less
sore the place inside himself where a more infinite future had opened out and
been promptly seared into ash.
". . . so you all need to know about this, because I'm going to be recovering for a couple of days, and ... and mourning for longer than that. We both will. We wish we didn't have to do this, but we've talked it over, and ... it's what we're doing." She glanced at Spike, who was sitting beside her, her hand wrapped in both of his. "I couldn't keep this from you guys. And ... and I didn't want to, because I love you all."
She turned now to the faces of her friends arrayed around the dining room table. Dawn looked simply stunned, as if she didn't quite understand what she'd been told. Anya had an expression that looked curiously like envy. Of what? Surely not of the anticipation of terrible absence she was feeling now. Perhaps merely of the pregnancy? Xander was blinking, pale, on the edge of saying something he didn't know how to say. Giles just looked grim.
"So, um ... I'm going in tomorrow morning, and they'll be able to do it all in one go, but I'll be there most of the day, and then have to rest a couple of days. Although, slayer strength, probably will get over it faster than most women. I mean, not get over it get over it, but the physical stuff."
On her other side Tara sat, majestic and gentle-faced. Buffy met her eyes, and drank in her reassuring smile.
A sudden burst from Dawn. "Butbutbuthow can you just make it go away? Your baby! Your baby with Spike! We can make it work! We could all"
Buffy froze. Since last night, when they'd made their decision, she'd argued this out with Spike, whether to clue Dawn in now, with the rest of them, as he wanted to, or keep it from her until it was a fait accompli. Because she'd known her sister would react this way, this way that was dangerously like how she herself wanted to react, furiously making absurd precarious essentially unworkable plans for how she could have the child after all, and still protect the world from the forces of evil.
When there was just no way. Her life as the Slayer might be a collaborative Scooby gang production, but expecting them all to commit years of theirs to helping her raise a child she was singularly ill equipped to deal withthat was a non-starter. Expecting the delicate balance of her affair with Spike to survive that real-world test of his many limitationsanother non-starter. Easier to imagine that she'd soon came to resenteven hatehim, than that he'd ever be capable of partnering her that way. And apart from Spikeshe just really wasn't ready for this. Playing mommy to Dawn, to the extent she managed that, was difficult enough, and she knew she wasn't good at it. A helpless infant needing constant care and attention ... was a nightmare. There were just some situations in which even love doesn't find a way.
They'd agreed: the best way to cherish this creature they'd inadvertently made together, was to let it go.
Xander gestured. She glanced up, and saw he was looking at Spike, his face set and serious.
man. I'm so ...
can't believe I'd ever say this to you ... but I'm so
sorry. I really am."
"I still can't believe it." Dawn dunked a cookie into her glass of milk and gave Giles a cheerless glance. "I just don't see how she could do something like this."
"Of course it's sad, Dawn. No one feels that more than your sister does. But she has practical, well-thought-out reasons for the decision she's made. That they've both made. Your sister has unique responsibilities; she's not free as other people are to follow her inclinations. I hope you won't make her feel worse by going about with a long face."
Dawn pulled herself up from her slump. "Give me some credit, Giles!"
It was after three-thirty in the afternoon; she'd just come in from school. By Giles' estimation, Buffy must be in the clinic recovery room by now, the procedure concluded. Tara had told him before the three of them left that morning that it was one of her nights to cook, and she'd fix dinner when she returned, although no one expected that Spike and Buffy would sit down to it. Spike would help put Buffy to bed, and maybe bring her up something on a tray, if she could eat at all. She'd probably be pretty nauseated that night from the anesthesia.
"Of course I give you credit," Giles said. "You have a great deal of fine feeling. I just don't ... don't want anything to inadvertently make Buffy feel worse."
"I know, I know. I just think we could've made it work. I'd love to be an aunt. I would so not mind babysitting. Neither would Tara. And"
"There's a little bit more to actually having a child in the house than babysitting," Giles said.
"How do you know? Have you ever had a child?"
"Well ... no. But they are a great responsibility. A great drain on time and energy. Emotional energy as well as physical. Buffy has a special destiny, a unique calling. She's quite right to understand that motherhood would place a crippling burden on"
"Yeah," Dawn cut in, reaching for another cookie, "but you knowall kinds of wacked-out people have kids, and somehow or other, those kids grow up. This is such a missed opportunity. That's what's so sad about it. She and Spike love each other so much, and they're passing up of their one and only chance to have a baby together."
Giles let out a sigh. "At your age, everything does seem very rosy and romantic. But you must see that"
The front door opened. Tara came in.
Giles turned to her. "You're back earlier than I Does Spike need help bringing Buffy in?"
"Are they here?" Tara asked.
"Who? Anya and Xander?"
"No. Buffy and Spike."
Giles and Dawn blinked at each other. "Nooooo ... " Dawn said. "They were with you. I mean, you were with them. Right?"
"We all went to the clinic this morning, but they wouldn't let us actually go in with Buffy, and it was going to take hours, so I arranged to come back later, and went to my classes. Spike was going to stay there in the waiting room. But when I got there a little while ago, the receptionist said they'd left."
"She didn't know, she
was the evening shift and she'd just come in."
The moonlight cast a silver trail on the water, and made the silver rings on Spike's fingers seem to glow. Buffy didn't know why that caught her eye so, why she was staring at his hand on the boardwalk railing as if it was a strange new thing. Her eyes still stung from all the crying she'd done that day, yet it was as if they'd been freshly washed; everything she looked at was vivid and detailed and beautiful. The beach stretched away from them on either side like another band of silver.
She leaned into him. "You have to swear to me, Spike. On your honor. I know you have a sense of honor, even though you don't always choose to use it."
He smiled down at her, and moved the long tendril of brown hair off her face. The wind whipped it back, until he turned her out of its way. "What am I swearin' to, Slayer?"
"That you're not going to teach her to be dishonest, or selfish, or antisocial, or to cheat, or hurt people, or stand by when people are being hurt, or"
"We're a mixed couple, yeahI'm a monster, an' you're a human. But we're not bringing the kid up monster. Got it."
"I'm serious. You need to be on board with this. You can't be evil, or amoral, or even just naughty, and be around my daughter."
"Our daughter. My queen, you have my word."
"II want the good one. Thewhat was it you said that time? Your word as an English gentleman."
"Yeah. That's the one you've got. May not always be easy for me, but I'll never stop trying." He tipped her chin up to kiss her. "Are you crying again? Where d'you find the tears, Slayer?"
"The human body is something like 98% water. I learned that one fact in fourth grade and have clung to it ever since."
"We'd better call the house. We ran away from the clinic, and now we're running away from home, too. They'll be worrying."
"You do it. I'm allI don't think I can talk." She handed him the cell phone from her pocket, and when he flipped it open, she stepped away from him, moving slowly down the boardwalk. She didn't think she could even bear to listen to him give the news; another drop of happiness, or fear, and she might shatter.
She was already wrung-out. Going into the clinic that morning on his arm, she'd felt light-headed, her pulse thready. Saying goodbye to him in the waiting room with the feeling that she'd never see him again, or at least not as he was in that moment, somber and quiet, not wanting to let go of her hand when the nurse called her in. He'd kissed her palm before letting it go.
They'd done an ultrasound, looking for anything that might make the procedure out of the ordinary. It was at that point, wondering what the nurse was seeing on the monitor, that she began to cry, the trouble gusting through her in trembling blasts. The nurse was kind, offered to give her a little reprieve to get herself together. Even offered to sneak her boyfriend in for a few moments if she wanted to see him once more. But Buffy couldn't stop crying, couldn't move her mind past its animal fixation on what it wanted.
"I can't, I can't, I can't, I can't" She'd torn off the hospital gown, yanked her clothes back on, and nearly flattened the nurse in her race to escape.
Then Spike was there, a black pillar in the white fluorescence of the waiting room, catching at her shoulders as she tried to fling herself at the clinic door. Even he didn't matter to her in that momentshe just wanted out.
The window at the end of the building corridor flooded it now with light. She was halfway down before she turned and saw Spike, trapped in the doorway, looking after her.
"Where are you going, Slayer?"
"I'm keeping her. She's mine. You don't have to have anything to do with it, but I'm not going to destroy her."
Spike glanced at the sunny window, and at her, then dragged the collar of his duster up and made a run for it. She heard him sizzle before he out-dashed the light and they tumbled together into the stairwell.
In the parking garage, they had the fight.
Somehow she'd imagined Spike would be as sure as she was about keeping the child.
In fact, he'd raved at her that she was crazy, that the hormones had so addled her that she'd lost her already tenuous sense of self-preservation.
"The demon world gets a whiff of the news that slayer's got a bun in the oven, every big an' little nasty on the hellmouth's gonna be beating a path to your door. Really don't feature fighting off drooling hoards of ravenous beasties just to lose you again."
"Then don't. I'll fight them off myself."
"You and what army?"
"Y'know, I managed just fine for years without you, Spike! Slaying was a solo gig that I handled very well, thank you!"
"Very scary you are right now, pet. Tears coursing downrunny make-up's good as war-paint. I'm quaking. Add a belly out to there in a couple of months, and nothing'll dare cross you."
She'd hit him then, to prove she could, knocked him ten feet into a concrete stanchion, and then dared him to get up and defend himself.
He'd had the sense to stay down.
"If you really loved meloved heryou wouldn't want to kill her! Why can't you see that!"
"Buffy. Jesus Christ." He'd gotten to his feet slowly, still wary that she might dash at him with a kick or a punch. She'd been ready toher whole body was alight and trembling with a protective rage she hadn't felt since Giles suggested disposing of Dawn to save the world.
"'Course I love the kid. 'Cause she's yours. An' I love everything that's yours. But I love you more. Most. Can't help that. You're the one I've fought to win. I'm ready to sacrifice the other to keep you safe."
"Well, I'm not. No more death wish, Spike! I'm gonna have my baby and stay alive, too. So, if you're too scared"
"Yeah, Slayer, I am scared."
That admission, his unstudied expression, startled her as much as a slap. When he came close to her, she just looked up into his face.
"Didn't I tell you how chuffed I washow proud, an' thrilled an' all? Ending it, it tears me up, it does. But it'll tear me up far worse if you get yourself killed because of her ... "
"Spike, I might get killed any moment anyway."
"I know, precious. But I've seen you die once already, an' it nearly made me mental ... ." He'd smiled then, a tight rueful smile. "I'm not so strong as you, I guess. Not so brave."
"I am strong, Spike."
"And so are you."
" ... yeah."
She gave him a cock-eyed glance. "Hmm, I think I know what this is really about for you. It's not that I might be less of a slayer. You don't want to share me with anyone, even your own child. You're envisioning the end of your sumptuous sex life."
"Well ... a bit." He frowned. "When you told me about this, you were sure you didn't want it. The first thing you said was that you didn't want a babyat your age, in your circumstances."
"Um ... yeah."
He took her shoulders in his hands. The pleading in his eyes half-blinded her; despite his words, she wasn't sure what he was pleading for. "Don't have it just to oblige me, or my genes, or whatever it is that's making you feel all put-upon. You don't owe me anything like that, Buffy. William Grieves wasn't anybody so special he needed to spawn a dynasty."
She had to laugh. "I'm not spawning anything. I'm"
"I told youI never envisioned such a thing. I don't miss it. It's you I want. You, for as long as I can have you."
"I know Spiky. But ... how long do you think that's gonna be? I like thinking you'd have our girl to keep company with after I'm gone."
Neither could look at the other then; she leaned her forehead against his chest, staring down at the glittering cement floor, and heard him sniff.
But he went on as if she hadn't interrupted. "An' I know you like to think you can be a woman like other women, but"
"But I'm the Slayer. The slayer who does it with vampires. Who falls hopelessly in love with the very ... worst ... ones."
"Yeah. Big Bad here, all soulless and evil. Notnot"
She looked at him.
"Look, I can just barely manage to behave myself for you. But I'm not good, Buffy. You're right to be worried about me being a bad influence. I'm wicked and short-sighted and ... not a man. Not human. The last thing who should have anything to do with an impressionable mind."
"I trusted you with my sister, and you did right by"
"Yeah, I kept her in one piece. But I didn't keep her from findin' out she was the key, or trying to resurrect your mum, or I went along with her, 'cause I was bored and wanted a bit of fun. Don't think things through, that's my problem."
She pushed away from him, leaned on the car, looked up at the shadowed ceiling. Everything Spike said made perfect sense. She agreed. If she'd had the choice to make beforehand, she'd never have opted to make offspring with Spike. But she also felt, in every corpuscle, the impossibility of giving up her child. She could think and reason all she liked, but a lower, instinctual part of her brain had somehow taken over, and would not budge.
"You never envisioned this. I never envisioned this. But it happened. Maybe there's a reason. I really don't feel good about circumventing it."
"Yeah, I'm getting that."
"Spike, if our love makes any sense at allwhich some days I doubtbut if it does. Then we can do this. We will do this. At any event, I'm doing it, and I want you to help me. But it'll happen whether you help me or not."
She'd known he wouldn't resist her any more after that. One of the cardinal things about him was his inability to hold out against his woman. Knowing this could come in handy. When she put her arms around his neck and drew his head down to rest against her brow, he sighed.
"Now say yes my queen, and kiss me."
The rest of the afternoon had dissolved in a solution of more kisses, more tears, heated discussion about ways and means, although no more big disagreement. They'd driven around in the darkened car, Buffy hugged up against him like they were two teenagers cruising in Daddy's T-Bird, and returned to the same booth at the same restaurant they'd visited the day before ("we'll have to take her here some time so she can see it," Buffy said).
"You're a stubborn bitch," Spike remarked, once they were all talked out. He leaned back into the corner of the booth and drained his second bottle of beer.
"The vicar said I was 'woefully unrepentant.'"
"What! You saw Mr Chiltern?"
"Mr Chiltern saw me. He wanted to send me to Tasmania for my sins." She giggled. "He could tell just by looking at me that I was a shameless hussy who'd seduce his good virginal parishioner."
Spike stared at her with his mouth open. Then a look of disgust passed over his face. "God I hated that self-righteous bastard."
"Did you kill him?"
He grinned suddenly. "I think you'd like me to say I did."
She threw up again before they left the restaurant, but she was already starting to feel like this was just part of the package. The antibiotics had to be doing it. She'd tested positive for TB, although she had no symptoms, and had to take the six-month course of meds.
In the evening Spike drove them here, to the beach.
They weren't alone; a fair few people in couples and little groups were strolling up and down the boardwalk in the moonlight, enjoying the mild salty air. Buffy looked at the children who passed with a sort of demented eagernesswould hers be like that oneor that oneor that one?
She glanced back at Spike, whose back was to her now as he spoke on the phone, the breeze tugging at the hem of his leather. A vampire. A vampire, out at night, mixing unsuspected with the crowd, aware of every smell and pulse and gesture of the people passing by him, the scent of their blood tormenting his appetite.
That's what he was.
Lest she forget, he'd just reminded her. Don't trust me. I'm a demon, and I'm weak, and my love for you isn't going to be enough.
Her cheeks felt hot; she pressed
her hand to her belly. Oh God, what am I doing? What am I going to do to this innocent creature?
Dawn screamed, and galloped from the kitchen into the living room. "That was Spike! They're keeping it! They're keeping it! They're keeping it!" She threw herself at each of them in turn, hugging, squealing, knocking Giles' glasses off, until Xander grabbed and planted her on the sofa between him and Anya.
"What did he say? Where are they?"
"They're down at Point Lookout. I don't know why. But he said Buffy's gonna have the baby and he sounded really happy and he said we should get Tara to put some protective wards on the house because stuff might come after her, but he didn't care because they wanted the baby, and he's gonna take over the slayage for a while, and they got a room by the beach and won't be back until tomorrow night."
The adults looked at one another. No one reacted.
Dawn stamped a foot. "Guys! Baby! This is so great!"
Giles sat forward in his chair, blinking, not looking at any of them. The rest focused on him, waiting to hear what he'd say. Even Dawn was silent.
Giles got up. "It is ... it's
extraordinaryI shall make some phone calls."
It never had occurred to her that vampires could swim.
Of course she'd seen Angel jump off a wharf when it was a question of life or death. But she couldn't imagine him doing what Spike was doing now: running naked through the surf to dive into the heart of an oncoming wave. The full moon made a path on the water; for a long minute it went unbroken; then Spike's head crested the shimmering surface, and he skimmed further out before turning and waving at her.
"Come on, Buffy!"
"It's cold!" she called.
"Bracing!" He dove again, and disappeared so long that she began to feel anxious, until she remembered that vampires couldn't drown. When he reappeared, he was far off to her right. The moonlight made his hair and face and shoulders glow. Buffy let her clothes drop onto the sand beside his and charged into the water, gasping at the first shock of it. She plunged through the oncoming waves out beyond the line of surf, where he waited for her.
When she was within a couple of yards of him, he disappeared again beneath the water; in a moment she was grabbed from beneath, hands on her thighs pulling her upright. He swam between her legs, was gone before she could catch at him, leaving her to tread water. She threw her head back and was immediately captivated by the vast expanse of stars above, far more than she'd ever remembered seeing from any graveyard she'd gazed up from; when Spike came up, any second now, she'd point them out to him. Then the water stirred around her again, and something both hard and yielding pressed against her belly. She knew it for his mouth in the second it sealed on her clit. His hands held her thighs, and there was no need anymore to scissor her legs in the water; he buoyed her up. She let herself just float, hair and arms spread out, the water lapping and sucking against the edges of her face and breasts as he lapped and sucked at her beneath. She thought she could feel the vibration of him laughing as he did it; his fingers squeezing her as if in commentary: isn't this amazing? He loved to show off for her.
It was amazing. She stared up at the star-dotted sky, taking deep lungfuls of salty air as she stirred her arms slowly in the water that felt warm to her now, and let him happen to her the way the wide sandy strand let the ocean happen to it. Boneless and amorphous, floating without resistance, losing all track of the ripples and eddies of her pleasure.
Which just went on and on and on.
Vampires couldn't drown.
He didn't stop until she'd peeled his hands from her thighs and kicked him away, unable to bear another moment of his tireless tongue. Surfacing at her side, he gathered her against him. For a moment she was half lifted above the surface, and the night air was cold on her dripping breasts and arms. Their gazes locked, and she drank in the worship in his eyes. A look she saw every day, but which still embarrassed her even as it made her feel excited and imperious. She spread her thighs wide to receive him and threaded her arms around his neck. Clinging together, they rolled in the water; every half turn brought her under, and she surfaced each time laughing and spluttering.
Spike didn't splutter, or gasp, or inhale. He just looked at her, and smiled his mysterious silent smile.
"My turn now," she whispered, pulling his hands gently off her hips. "Feel what I can do."
Facing each other, not touching, she kept them from floating apart with nothing but her clenching cunt muscles. Her throbbing around his cock seemed to be echoed by the movement of the water that buoyed them, as if the entire sea was part of their lovemaking. Spike closed his eyes and turned his face up to the moonlight as if he could feel its warmth on his skin. Maybe, Buffy thought, tipping her own face out of the water to breath harder and harder, he could.
Spike grabbed her abruptly; rolled and thrust at her. The force of his plunge took them both beneath the surface. Holding her breath, she felt his cock jump inside her as he began to spend. Clinging to him, she flipped him around, surged up to crest the surface and take a long cold breath. He stayed under, his face half-obscured by the bubbles pouring from his nose and mouth. He was rigid for a long moment; then shook himself and came to the surface, grinning.
"You just couldn't wait, could you, Spiky? I wanted to draw it out of you slowly."
"Impetuous, me," he agreed, swimming around her in a tight circle. "There's not such another cunny as yours anywhere. Would follow it to the ends of the earth."
"Now I'll follow it ashore. You're looking a bit tired, Slayer."
"I'm not tired."
"Ah, right. Slayer's never that. Cold, then. Will you admit to being cold? Let's go."
It had felt very naughty: checking into the nice little B&B off the beach, without reservations or luggage, with her man who looked like some French film star playing a futuristic thug.
Coming back to the frilly room now, she threw herself into the shower, where Spike joined her, the hot needles soon warming his skin almost to the temperature of her own. Standing behind her, he soaped her hair, his fingers digging with delicious force into her scalp.
"Another proof what a useless twat I was when I was aliveWilliam Grieves had you in his bed and didn't appreciate you. Should've fallen in love with you, made you run off with him to Italy." He paused. "His lungs might've healed there. Some people's did. You'd have been poor, but picturesque, at any rate."
This shocked her. She'd never heard him express any wish to have his human life last any longer than it had. On the contrary, he'd asserted over and over that there was nothing better than being a vampire, even reined in by the chip.
Gently, she said, "Spike . . . I prefer you like this."
He tipped her head forward into the water-stream, his fingers combing through her hair. "Do you really, Buffy? Wouldn't want me to wake up human some fine morning?"
She closed her eyes against the water, and brought her hands up with his, shaking out the soap, then turned and looked at him. "I don't need you to be human, Spike. I need you to be what you are. But I think you've got strength you don't useresolve you don't useand I want you to use them. You know right from wrong. I need you to choose right, for her. For me. I think you can do it."
"Buffy, you know I want to. It's just that"
She put her fingers on his lips. The water ran down his face, onto her hand. "I think you can, Spike. I'm gonna count on it."
Giles waited by his rental car. The morning was overcast, chilly, the sky low, and a nagging little wind tugged at hair and clothes. The grey door opened at eight exactly. One figure emerged from the murk within, showed a piece of paper to the man on the door, and crossed the yard with slow even steps. At the gate in the fence, one more man inspected the paper, and she stepped free.
Met Giles' eyes and nodded. Crossed to the car and bent to look in the open window.
"So, B. Look at you. Nothing changes, does it? You're still kissin' the vamp boys, an' they're still getting you in trouble."
"Yeah, I sure am in
trouble." Buffy grinned, and
put a hand on the sixth months' bump stretching her teeshirt. "But I hope it's not true
that nothing changes." She
opened the car door. "Get
in, Faith. We'll go
At the Magic Box, she tried to get in a work-out with Faith, but after ten minutes she was so queasy she had to sit down on the couch beside Giles.
"Relax, Buffy. The whole reason Faith is here is so you can take it easy."
"I hate being this out of shape."
"Apparently it can't be helped. Once the baby is born you'll feel normal, I'm sure."
"Oh, once the baby is born I don't think I'll ever feel normal again."
Giles smiled at her. "We shall all be so happy, Buffy."
"I'm glad you'll be here. Uncle Rupert."
They watched Faith spar with Spike. It was pretty obvious, Buffy thought, that, apart from the boxing she'd done there, Faith had gotten in a lot of clandestine fighting in prison. No way she could've gotten her parole so quickly if Giles hadn't been able to pull some strings through the Council of Watchers, who seemed in their obscure way to be just as omnisciently connected as Wolfram & Hart.
Faith was to spend the next year at least in Sunnydale, being the numero uno Slayer so Buffy could have a maternity leave. After that, the Council would reassign her to some other hot spot. And Giles, who'd already had to come back and forth so many times, had decided at last to give up the idea of living in England, and was moving back to act as Faith's official watcher.
Unofficially, they'd all be keeping an eye on her.
Faith had a lot of amends to make.
But she seemed to accept this. When she was done clobbering Spike, Faith signaled to Buffy with a jerk of the head. Buffy followed her outside into the alley.
"You always do pick the cute ones, B. Last time I heard about him, though, you two were large with the mutual hate. What's the story?"
"The triumph of magnetism over common sense. His magnetism, my common sense. Get him to tell you some time. He loves to brag."
"Yeah? I will. Listen ... not to be all lame-o little Miss Contrite or anything, but. I want you to know I'm sorry for all the shit that went down. That I made go down. That I hurt you with. I can't pretend I'm gonna make it up to you, I know some things can never come right. But I promise to hold down your hellmouth for you the best way I can, so you can have the quality time with Gorgeous and Gorgeous Junior."
"Oh ... and I promise not to mack on him. And I meanat all."
Buffy nodded. "I guess you're pretty glad to be out of there, huh?"
"Yeah, but ... I deserved to be punished, B. I didn't even get what I really deserve."
" ... we seldom do." Buffy shrugged. "Anyway, she's not a junior, she's a girl."
"Yeah?" At this, Faith's eyes lit up. "Hunh. A little Spikette. You got a name picked out?"
"Look, I know. But tell him. Jemima was his favorite sister, who died in 1879. Plus, apparently, in England, this name is still a thing. Like, there's a bunch of young hip Lady Jemimas running around there who get their pictures in British Vogue and stuff."
"They don't eat a lot of pancakes in Blighty, I guess."
"Giles says not."
"So, um ... Jemima Joyce. JJ."
"Not JJ. We'll probably really call her Jem."
"Speaking of Joyce ... I'm sorry about your Mom, B. That ... that she kicked. And that I tried to kill her that time."
"We don't have to talk about it."
"Sure, but I just wanted to say"
know." Buffy held up a hand.
"Faith, I know."
Oh, this was crazy. There were so many things she ought to be doingworking out, shopping with Dawn, reading the heap of how-to-have-a-baby books she'd brought home from the public library. Cooking, working on the onesie she'd started to knit out of yellow yarn, the way Mrs Grieves had taught her. Making lemonade for Xander and his crew who were building the two-room addition on the back of the house. But all she wanted was to be in bed with Spike.
She'd heard that pregnancy made you capricious, tired, hungry for strange foods, prone to tears. It had all these effects on her. But she'd never heard that it made you want to just repeat the engendering act, over and over, in as many different ways as her burgeoning body would permit. Maybe this was another slayer thingor, as she strongly suspected, just a Buffy thing. She wanted him inside her, wrapped around her, whispering his obscene endearments in her ear, while the ceiling fan slowly whirled above them, the hum of Xander's table saw buzzed distantly through the bedroom's closed door, competing with the chirping of birds audible through the room's carefully cracked windows.
Her whole body was swollen, pulsing, breasts and belly round, tight, hard, mouth and quim engorged and reddened from constant use. Between bouts she got up long enough to drag herself into a cool bath, where she'd fall asleep, dreaming that she was Jemima floating in her watery world, until Spike woke her and lifted her out, chafing her all over with the towel and carrying her back to bed.
"We're depraved," Buffy said with a drowsy smile, stretching her arms out across the disordered sheets. "We're going to be unfit parents."
Spike didn't answer; kneeling on the floor, he was already addressing himself again to her cunt, licking her clit with languid strokes like a big sleepy cat. Buffy sighed, sinking, boneless, into the moment, the endlessly prolonged moment.
Oh God ... she thought, everybody knows what we're doing here. It's terrible. Xander and his crew know, while they're building and sweating, that we're just lying here indulging ourselves. Anya and Giles and Faith know in the Magic Shop. They're working and training and we're not. Dawn knows at school, and Tara at her classes, that Spike and I are just lying here steeping in our own juice. We make the whole house smell like fucking ... .
He had three fingers in her quim and one in her ass, moving them in a slow rhythm that seemed linked somehow not only to the action of his tongue, but to the hypnotic beating of the ceiling fan.
But it's not true I'm doing nothing, I'm working, my body is working very hard, making Jemima.
Working ... working ...
very hard ... . Staring up at the whirling blades,
she lost track of herself, the climax surging up from her center, and also from
the edges, out of every sense and out of blindness. Tossing her head, the long hair tangling across her face,
she arched and cried out.
"Have you found a nanny yet?"
Buffy started. She was, for once, out of bed, out of the house. She'd come to the Magic Shop with the vague idea of getting in some training with Faith, but had made it only as far as the big table, where she sat with her arms wrapped around her belly, watching Anya work on the slow-growing yellow onesie. And doing a better job of it than Buffy ever did, despite claiming not to know how to knit.
"A nanny? I need a nanny?"
"It's customary for people like us," Anya said, her fingers almost flickering with the speedy way she worked the needles.
"People like us? Whatbottle blondes? Women under five foot five? Demons and the people who love them?" She struggled to imagine what other categories she and Anya could possibly share.
"Middle-class career women," Anya said firmly. "It's customary for us to have a nanny so we don't sacrifice all our personhood on the day-to-day minutiae of childcare."
Blinking, Buffy considered this. She'd been looking forward to the day-to-day minutiae of childcare, while at the same time not really contemplating the second-to-second endless aspect of it.
"Besides," Anya said, above the brisk sound of her clicking, "you don't imagine you're going to get any useful help from Spike, do you?"
"Don't kid yourself, Buffy. He comes from a time when the most a man would have to do with his baby was to dandle her on his knee for five minutes before she was put to bed. Everything else is women's work."
"Oh, I think he might surp"
"You need a nanny."
"Where am I going to get one? I mean, a nanny who won't be freaked out by me with the super-strength, and Spike, and all the blood we keep in the fridge?"
"I know just the person. She's coming in soon to meet you."
"Coming in? Who is this? I hope you didn't promise"
"I think you'll like her," Anya said. "She's very gentle and smart, and she's got what it takes to protect the baby, if necessary, from, y'know ... stuff. She specializes in situations like yours. She won't be cheap, but she comes highly recommended."
"Situations like mine?" The nasties Spike had spoken about, who were going to beat a path to their door as soon as they knew the slayer was a mommy. Shit.
The bell jangled over the door. "Oh, here she is now."
The girl who entered looked to be about twenty. She had straight black hair scraped back in a short ponytail, revealing a moon-face that was neither quite plain nor pretty, but sprinkled with a dusting of acne. She wore a white tank top with baggy low-riding carpenter pants that were so long they covered her feet and trailed in the dust from the street. She had a pierced lip, and a lot of tinkly little bangles on her left wrist.
"Buffy, this is Persis."
Persis smiled and put her hand out to shake Buffy's. "Cool. You look like you're just about to pop."
"I have another month to go." Buffy looked at her. It was hard to look away, although she couldn't tell what it was about this rather nondescript young woman that held her gaze. Maybe it was the eyes. They seemed perfectly ordinary: rather small and deep-set, really. But it was impossible to tell their color. They seemed to be all colors at once, including ones eyes didn't usually come in, like the pink of sunset, and the green of new-mown grass.
"Great. Well, I could start in a month."
"Look, I don't want you to get your hopes up, I haven't really thought yet about"
"Oh, but I just love human babies. Human babies are the cutest."
"Human babies are the cutest?"
"Persis is a demon," Anya said, still clicking away with the knitting needles. "I've known her forwhat is it now? Five hundred and thirty-three years?"
"Thirty-five," Persis said, pulling out a chair and sitting, her eyes still fixed eagerly on Buffy. "I have good references. Most recently, I brought up seven generations of the Kr-Gryzlak royal family, and even in the middle of the Internecine Pondar wars, I never lost a one of them. They still call me every Christmas. I could go back and work for them any time, but I like to vary my challenges."
"That's ... great."
"I'm fluent in Spanish, French, Russian, also Fyarl and various other demon tongues, if you want your baby to grow up multilingual. I know a lot of songs and stories, I can cook and do light housekeeping. I'll live in, but I don't need my own room, I've got a place in a neighboring dimension where I spend my downtime and keep my stuff, but I can always hear the baby from there when she wakes up. I only need every other Sunday off, and the week of the Zondrib festival."
"Ah ... that's good."
"And if this appearance doesn't suit, I can change it." Faster than Buffy could blink, Persis shimmered into and out of a dozen manifestations, human and demon, big and small, before returning, seemingly without having moved, to the original one.
"I ... wow. That was something."
"I understand the problems you're facing. You're the slayer, your partner is a notorious vampire, you've got a long string of enemies. You want baby to be safe and have a normal life. As normal as she can get, anyway. I've got a command of defensive magic second to none. Frankly, this is the job I've been preparing for for a thousand years. I have to get this job. It'll be quite a feather in my cap, back home."
Buffy was far away. God, Spike was right. Everything was going to threaten her baby, she wouldn't be able to leave her alone for a moment. She rose and drifted away from the table, cradling her belly in both hands. Wandered idly around the periphery of the shop, before grabbing the troll hammer off its display and flinging herself at Persis.
Who stopped her, without, apparently, shifting a muscle. Buffy found herself detached from the hammer, and held, in a way that was rather pleasant than otherwise, a couple of feet up in the air, watching the weighty thing float to the floor like a feather.
"Now, if you were really an enemy, I'd crush you like a bug, and squash that hammer flat. But I think you get the idea." Persis nodded at her, and Buffy's feet made gentle contact with the floor again.
Geez. "You're hired."
The crew had gone but Xander was still driving nails in the half-light of dusk when Spike came out the back door with two bottles of beer. The two-story extension was coming along fast. The yard smelled of fresh-cut wood.
"Know you're not doing this for me," Spike said, handing him one.
"True." Xander threw the hammer back into his toolbox.
"An' I know Buffy's paying you lot a pretty penny."
"The guys don't do it for love," Xander said. "I do."
"Yeah, except I overheard you telling Anya this would get you started off as an independent contractorlead to bigger an' better things. So nobody's doing anything for nothing here."
Xander held the beer bottle poised near his mouth. "Your point being?"
Spike shrugged. "You're doing what I couldn't do. What needs doing."
"You're welcome." Xander took a swig.
"Listen," Spike said, stepping a little closer, looking into Xander's face. Lately the dislike there warred with attempts at acceptance. Deep-down, Xander was incurably good-natured. Spike wasn't, but Xander was starting to grow on him nonetheless.
"Time goes by, Tara's gonna flit, so's Dawn. Got their lives to start, and they won't be in Sunnydale, most likely. But I know you'll stick around wherever Buffy is. As long as she is."
"Harris. If things go pear-shaped, I want you to step in."
"If ... if anything happens to Buffy. You'll take over the kid. You and Anya. Give her a proper home."
"Why? Because you're not gonna even begin to try to do the right thing?"
"No. Buffy doesn't want to think about this. But we need to make arrangements in advance. In case ... kid needs at least one parent who shows up in a mirror. Who can show up for her in the daylight."
Xander closed one eye and peered into his beer bottle like it was a microscope.
Spike watched him, then said, "Hating Buffy's death ... s'what you an' me have in common, Harris."
"And so's loving Buffyand Buffy's belongings. I know you're gonna love the littler bit. An' if we lose Buffy ... I want her to go to you. Otherwise they'll take her away from me. I don't hold up to scrutiny."
Xander met Spike's eyes. "I've never thought about that beforewhat's your status?"
"Don't have a status, mate. Can't be Buffy's husband, can't be the littler bit's papanot on paper anyway. Got no identity. Been legally dead since 1880."
"Right. Guess that's never troubled you before."
"Can't say as it troubles me too much now, either. I'm around, long as she lasts, or I do. I'll never desert my kid. But I'm not gonna be a good substitute for her mum, not without help."
Xander looked at the ground, and smiled.
"Savor this moment, Harris."
"Yeah, I am savoring it, Spike. Not for the reason you think, though. I'm ... I'm glad you asked. You're thinking like a"
Buffy appeared then in the kitchen doorway. "Xander, you still here? Want to stay for dinner?"
Buff. Anya's expecting
me. Thanks." He handed the bottle back to Spike. "I'll discuss this with
Anya. I don't think
she'll object. We'll
talk about this again. But
it's cool. Don't
There was cake, and presentsit was a baby shower, even if it started at ten p.m., and otherwise looked just like a Scooby meeting in the Magic Shop. Spike sat on the stairs that led up to the book loft, and watched the others as if through a fog. Buffy had tears in her eyes even as she was laughing; Xander kept circling the table with a camera, setting off the flash over and over; the wrapping paper fell to the floor.
"Do vampires eat cake?" Faith held out a slice on a paper plate. She looked, Spike thought, like someone trying to get sober and not doing a very good job of it. Unsure of herself, and jittery. She didn't feel like part of this crowd, and glad as they were to have her services again at this crucial time, still no one was going out of his way to include her.
Spike knew what that was like. He'd felt it often and often with the Scoobies before, and he felt it now. In this celebration of the mystical and mysterious pregnancy, he was, what? The sperm donor once removed. Responsible on the slayer's say-so, for what was going on inside her. By accident, without design. Not that he doubted her version of events, but it was all rather abstract, all this fuss over a little thing that wouldn't yield enough blood to sate a medium-sized vampire, yet would drag on them all like a millstone.
All she would be was trouble.
Trouble, and strife, and endless, endless ...
He glanced up at Faith. She wasn't looking at him; she was facing away, both from him and from the round table where the Scoobies sat, but she was watching them, watching Buffy from the corners of her eyes with an intensity more burning than any direct glance could ever be.
"You're so lucky, Spike. Goddamn. Look at what you got."
Trouble and strife. He rose and went back to Buffy, bent over her shoulder.
My darling trouble-and-strife.
She took his hand and brought it to her belly.
"Feel her, Spike. She's already got the kick-boxing down."
He felt the thumping inside her, the combined warmth, the combined pulses, and they made him, for a moment, dizzy, which was odd, given that he had no circulation. He took a deep breath, to steady himself. Love was so intense sometimes he thought it could flatten him. Buffy's. His. Fused together in that active surging creature they'd made.
"You're missing the presents, Spiky. This one is from Tara." She lifted the lid from a large cardboard box. "Open it with me."
He glanced across at Tara, who wore that expression of almost smug shyness that was hers alone.
"I already know pretty witch's good at presents," Spike said. "What've we got?"
"It's ... oh, the colors! A quilt."
Buffy held it up. Squares of panne velvet, purple, red, black, dark blue and green, each square with a different emblem appliquªd or embroidered on it. A white lily and a red rose entwined. A flaming heart pierced by a stake. A tipped chalice spilling glass beads of blood. A pentagram in a circle. St George and the dragon. The initials B, W, J. Mystical signs Spike recognized as ancient runes for protection and luck.
"I made it," Tara said. "It's all about you two, your union, Jemima's legacy. Her miracle."
Buffy looked it over with her mouth open. "Tara . . . I think this is the most beautiful thing I ever saw."
Tara came around the table and kissed her, and after a moment's hesitation, kissed Spike too. Their eyes met, and she murmured in his ear, "I'm so happy for you."
"Look at this, Giles, look. So much work went into this," Buffy said. "Isn't this wonderful?" She handed the quilt around to the others, who gathered to examine the detailed squares.
Anya was on her feet. "I made a quilt too. You still haven't opened my present." She thrust the box under Buffy's nose.
"Ah ... this is ... this is really nice too," Buffy said, lifting it out.
"I went to the children's department at the fabric store and looked for things that represented each of you," Anya said, pointing to the alternating squares of screaming pinks and clashing purples.
"Right ... and you chose Barbie ... and ... ."
"The Count from Sesame Street. Perfect, huh?" Anya beamed.
"Um ... "
Ah ... blood. That rich spicy smell almost overwhelmingly strongmixed up with the soft funky scent of aroused girlflesh, taste of salt and copper. Surrounding, enveloping him, his demon catered to in every way, immersed in liquid warmth, pussy, breasts, long tangled hair, plump white arms and legs, coos and sighs as he bit into a yielding white neck, drank. More than one, there was, armsful of willing onesso that he was both fucking and getting sucked off, kissing and drinking, lying down, standing up, in the dark and in the light, red, blonde, black, all those mouths on him, hands, round bellies, round shoulders, round rumps, feeding him, needing him. He was full up, but never sated, because satiation would end this, and instead it was going on and on, these delicious creatures feeding him their delicious blood, feeding on his parts. Couldn't see their faces, but knew somehow that their mouths were plump too, their eyes dreamy and half-lidded. The blood filling his mouth, running down over his skin, enough to bathe in, enough to waste, hot and tasty and more and more and more and more and more
His eyes opened. Took a moment to detach from dream; his whole body still lit up with the pleasure of it, cock hard and drooling onto his own stomach, fangs half-descended. Could still feel them pressing in all around him, their hair on his face, blotting out the light, as their hands and thighs and breasts enveloped him.
But he was awake now; he could clearly see the tiny lights of each flickering candle, and the familiar landscape of Buffy's slumbering body curved beside his.
But the smellrich, heady, hungry-makingdidn't dissipate. The very air of the room was redolent with blood. He sat up.
It was hers. Staining her thighs, dark stain spreading out on the sheet.
She was unconscious.
Dawn still wore her pajamas. She sat hugging her knees on the hard waiting-room couch, staring at nothing. Not crying. She didn't seem to hear Giles when he spoke to her. When Spike sat beside her and laid a hand on her arm, she didn't react.
Tara came to sit on the other side of him. "This is the same place we were when Buffy's mom died."
He'd not been part of that. Only heard of it afterwards. The knowledge added to the awfulness of this now, the plastic furniture, the pale green walls, the recessed lighting, everything supposedly designed to calm humans who had every reason not to feel calm, and who, finding themselves in this artificial place, could think only of the organic horrors going on behind closed doors.
Buffy was bleeding to death behind those closed doors.
She'd bled in their bed, and after he snatched her up, barreling out of her room with her, shouting to rouse the house, she'd left a trail of blood through the upstairs corridor, down the stairs, across the porch. In Giles' car, on Spike's clothes. He'd held her, tiny, limp, hot, moist, while they'd driven through the untrafficked late-night streets. Cradled her head on his shoulder. Heard himself howl, although he knew he hadn't opened his mouth.
All that blood, thin and amorphous, uncontainable, dripping, then thick and clotted, lumpy, wrong. And for the first time Spike experienced it not as food, not as sex and booze and life and love, but the way all the rest of them dida sign of disaster, the unthinkable coming to pass.
Running with her into the sudden flare and blare of the emergency department, Tara and Dawn at his heels, he'd experienced a spasm of terror. He'd hand her over to the nurses who were even now rushing towards him with a gurney, but he wanted instead to snatch her away, to carry her to some dark place where he could hold her forever, away from everything. If he could just do that, find for them both a place of perfect silence, perfect stillness, she would be all right.
If he let her go, let them take her through those swinging doors, he'd never see her alive again.
There was a pressure on his hand; glancing down, he saw that Tara was squeezing his fingers. He couldn't bring himself to look at her, or at Dawn, huddled catatonically on his other side. What he wanted, with an urge that sang through his whole body, was to hurl the couch they were sitting on through the intake window, smash every chair and potted plant and framed Monet print in the room, before going roaring off through the hospital corridors, killing everyone he encountered.
He jerked to his feet. Why couldn't he be with her? If she was dying, he ought to be with her. It wasn't supposed to end like this, her seeping away to nothing while he was shut out of
One measly middle-aged security guard stood between him and where they'd taken her. He was halfway to the swinging doors when Giles suddenly loomed in front of him.
"Spike. I know what you're thinking."
"Yeah mate? Just what am I thinking?"
"Everybody here's got a job to do, and you making a commotion ... it won't help."
Suddenly he was in game-face, and the roar he let out was answered by indeterminate cries of alarm, and scuffling feet. He didn't see what was happening, just let Giles shove him towards the exit. He burst out into the night air, the ambulance bay flooded in harsh orangey-yellow light. A few EMTs stood around, smoking; they glanced at him, but he turned his head before they could see his face. The demon had him at full-throttle. Giles' hand was on his shoulder; he hit it away. The onslaught of pain in his skull punched him to his knees. He couldn't see or hear anything; the pain and nausea rippled through him and did not let go; each ripple overlapping the next, owning him.
Then there was a cool hand on his forehead, which was somehow very hot, hot and clammy. The hand didn't feel like Giles'. Had Tara followed them out? He struggled to see, but the yellow light seemed to dissolve everything in itself.
"Oh darling ... I'm sorry you're in so much pain."
That wasn't Tara's voice. Or Dawn's. The cool hand was drawing his head down now, to rest against something soft, and a little scratchy, that smelled of ... dye. Black dye, the scent of mourning and propriety, with an undernote of sweat. He felt a heart beating near where his forehead rested, and the small fingers of the hand brushed through his hair, and touched his face.
"Everybody dies, and you're left behind. Even when you die, you're left. My poor darling. I always knew you were lonely. I hated going away from you."
The hand traced one cheekbone, the line of his jaw.
"Will, what's happened to your handsome face?"
He tried to touch the hand, to cover it with one of his, but he didn't seem to have any hands anymore, or else they were as useless as his eyes, that saw only unavailing dissolving light.
"You must think I don't miss you, but it's not true. I do, we all do. Miss you so much. What's happened to your face, my sweet Will?"
He wanted to speak to her, to make her go on speaking, but though his mouth formed the syllables of her name, no sound came out. Still, he could feel her little thin fingers, callused from mending and washing in hard water, touch the ridges and hollows of his demon visage, touch them over and over, as if learning them in blindness.
"What is this, Will? What is this?"
The soft, dye-smelling shoulder where his head rested began to tremble; it trembled so hard Spike thought the whole world was trembling, that an earthquake had begun. She was sobbing, sobbing that turned to crying, and pitched up into weeping and wailing, the way she'd wailed when their father's body came home and was laid out in the parlor. When the news came about Sophie. And Bella. He struggled to hold onto her, to grasp her little white hand as it fell away from his face, to scrabble at the white frill at her neck, the coil of hair that cupped her ear.
Jemdon't go Jem. Don't go. Stay with me. I can't lose you. I can't lose you again and her too
"This is why we've never seen you there, isn't it? Oh my brother, this is why you're the only one of us who's really really dead."
He looked up. Anya stood before him. He was leaning against the wall beside the emergency department door. A cigarette burned between his fingers. He had no memory of lighting it, or of rising from his crouch. No idea how much time had gone by. But there was Anya, looking at him out of a face white and drawn with alarm.
"No. I meanI don'tknow. No." He tossed the cigarette away.
"Xander's parking the car. Where is everybody?"
He shrugged towards the door.
"She had a hemorrhage. They're working on her." He glanced down at his blood-stained teeshirt.
Anya stamped one hard-soled foot on the cement. "You didn't break her, did you?"
"All that rough sex you have with her. You went at her too hard, and now"
"Anya, don't be absurd."
This was Giles. Had Giles been there all along? And how long was that?
"These things happen," Giles said, "to even the healthiest women." He spoke as if he really knew anything about it.
"Maybe so," Anya said, her voice small and grudging. "Maybe it was getting snapped around in time like that. Did something to her insides."
"There's no point speculating. We'll know when we know."
Spike followed them back inside.
Dawn was still sitting in her knees-up stance, staring. Tara was flicking unseeing through a magazine. She leapt up and embraced Anya, an automatic reflex. When Xander appeared she did the same to him.
Where was Jemima? How had she come there, and where was she now? That smell, so vivid, of badly-dyed weeds. Who but himself would know that odor? Dazed, he sank down beside Dawn.
What had she said?
That he was the only one who was really dead?
False cheer, that. False cheer and lies.
doors swung open, the young doctor who'd admitted her appeared, glancing
around. There was exhaustion
in the limp hairs that escaped her ponytail, in the draggled lapels of her
blouse showing beneath the white coat.
Here came the truth. Here
came the truth about who was dead.
"Good evening. You two are missing a lovely sunset." He barely registered the sound of rubber soles squinching briskly across the room before the plastic blinds clattered and his hand sizzled and popped.
"Oww!" He dove off the bed, rolled, and threw himself into the bathroom, dowsing the flame in the sink. Bloody hell. The back of his hand was black and smarted like a bitch.
Over the plash of the running water, he heard her voice then, faint and weak. "Close them, please. My boyfriend ... has a skin condition. Can't be in the sunlight. Burns him instantly."
"Oh," the nurse said. "Sorry. I meanhow was I supposed to know? Sorry." The blinds creaked and clattered again, and the shoes squeaked once more. "Let's check your temperature."
He waited in the bathroom until the nurse had gone.
Then her voice again. "Spike? Are you there?"
"Here, my queen." He held the burnt hand behind his back as he approached the bedside. He'd spent the whole long day with her, but this was the first good look he'd gotdared to get.
She was white, like him. Nearly bloodless, her eyes ringed in deep shadow, lips such a pale pink they were almost blue.
He tried to smile. "If I caught you, I'd throw you back. Not enough in you for a midnight snack."
A wan smile, a giggle. "Sounds like the beginning of a very silly song. C'mere, Spiky." She reached a hand out, and he sat beside her.
"Did you see her yet?"
"Haven't left your side all day."
"Really? You should have." Her lashes fluttered sleepily.
"You wouldn't let me. Didn't want to." He'd lain beside her in the bed, and she'd slept with her head against his shoulder, her fingers laced with his.
"They're going to bring her in, in a few minutes. I want to try to give her the breast."
"Can I watch?"
"Of course you can."
"How do you feel?"
"Oh Spike ... I don't know." Again that wobbly smile.
"The others were here before, but they didn't want to wake you up. They should turn up again in a bit, I expect."
"Good. I want ... want to see" Her words were swallowed in a yawn. "So tired, Spike."
"I know, precious. You were very ill." He dropped into a whisper. "I was very frightened."
"You woke up and got me here in time."
My sodding wet dream saved your life.
"Help me sit up, Spike."
He lifted her, and rearranged the pillows. Realized with a weird shock that she was quite weak, the slayer strength seemingly drained away along with everything else, leaving just an exhausted shell of a regular human girl.
"Here we are." The nurse wheeled in the plexiglass crib, and lifted what seemed to him to be an impossibly tiny form out of it, wrapped in white flannel. "Here's Miss Jemima Joyce Grieves Summers."
His first glimpse of the face made him think Bloody hell, we've made a deformed monkey!
"Now don't worry about that redness, or the scaling. She's got a little rash, but it'll go away. And that hair will probably fall out too, in the next few days, and grow in again. She's very little, but she's perfectly all right."
"Perfectly. All. Right." Buffy beamed, taking the thing in her arms. She cradled it, staring at it, the crimson face, the bubbling mouth. Spike saw her fall in love, and it really was like a falling; one moment she was just Buffy looking at this bitsy squirming animal, and the next moment she was enthralled. Enraptured.
"Do you want to feed her? She's ready for her meal." The nurse opened Buffy's gown, showed her how to hold her breast, guide the baby's mouth.
"Does it hurt? It may, for a while."
"It's okay." Buffy barely heard her, she'd already forgotten the nurse before she was out of the room, forgotten him watching her, forgotten everything. Her whole attention was focusing on the infant at her breast.
But then Buffy turned her head, smiled at him.
"She sure knows how to suck. I think she gets that from you."
Spike just stared. The emotions wheeled through his head too fast to catch and pin down.
"I wish I could share this with you. This is incredible. I wish you could feel it."
Slowly he put out a hand, touched the baby's cheek. It moved beneath his finger; he could feel her swallowing. Her red mottled flesh was hot and vibrant. Holy fucking Christ, this live thing came from me.
we're all still here.
He had her wrapped in two extra blankets, to compensate for his lack of body warmth, and held her close. The slight breeze might feel like an arctic blast against her delicate skin. Together they waited on the porch steps.
This was the first time he'd been left alone with her. Giles had gone patrolling with Faith, and the girls had gone on a supermarket run. Buffy had been home for a week, but this was her first outing, one she'd taken only reluctantly, letting Dawn drag her out to the car under protest.
"She'll be fine with her Daddy," Tara said, slipping in behind the wheel. "C'mon, we'll disport ourselves among the frozen foods for half an hour. It'll be fun."
The littler bit slept. It was what she mostly did. Sleep and the breast had turned her, in her week of life, from a strange little red monkey, into a pink-and-white baby with blue eyes and clenched fists like rosebuds and a small cap of pale brown hair.
He'd left the porch light off, the better, in the soft suburban darkness that wasn't really, to show her to his people. He invited them now, in their dyed bombazine weeds, their mourning jet, to creep close and look at her. Jemima came first, to see her namesake, but she made more of him than of the childthere's your face that I remember, Will, not that other onewhat was that other one? Well, never mind. Mamma wanted to hold her, stretching out thin hopeless arms that never would hold anything anymore. Arabella and Sophronia seemed frightened; they hovered behind Papa's shoulder, hiding in his wreath of pipesmoke, whispering together, watching from eyes made inky by alarm, until their sister Jemima threaded her arms around them and drew them nearer. It's only our Will, don't you see? And his little baby. Come give him a kiss, it's been so long.
So long since we were all together.
The car pulled up and laughing girls spilled out. Buffy danced empty handed up the walk. "Give me back my Jemmy Jemmy Joy Joy! How is she?"
"Littler bit's a half hour older, but otherwise unscathed." He traded her for a kiss. Tara passed him, carrying two sacks of groceries, and Dawn came last, dropping something in his lap, and flicking on the porch light as she passed inside.
"We got the pictures back," Buffy said, settling beside him, gathering her papoose close to her breast. "Open it up, let's see."
She must have forgotten, Spike thought, watching her go one-handed through the snapshots. Throwing a couple, besmirched by red-eye or what she asserted was bad hair, into the discard pile. Handing him the others, one by one, babbling happily about how handsome he looked in this one, how exactly like Dawn the baby looked in that one.
Forgotten that she didn't want to be photographed with him. That the mere suggestion had made her pause and shiver and try to hide herself from him. He looked at the topmost photograph. They were still in the hospital here, Buffy sitting up against his shoulder in the cranked-up bed, his arms around her and the baby in her warm wrappings, displayed face-out against her chest.
Looking at them, Spike realized he didn't know anymore how to have his picture takenhe hadn't done it since Drusilla left him. With her, he'd always smirked or otherwise mugged for the camera. Here, he looked rather surprised in all the shots, detached. Smiling in some, but not for the picture, just because it was a moment to smile, because he was touching Buffy, touching Jem.
The very last shot at the end of the three rolls was from just the other night. Dawn had snuck up on them in the dark kitchen, when Jem was upstairs with Persis, and they thought the whole house was asleep. Spike traced with his eyes, over and over, the image of their fused mouths, Buffy's head thrown back, her arm bent against the counter. His hand on her breast, and hers on his wrist, but not to push him away. He remembered that, how she'd pulled his hand up to encircle her breast, the fabric of her tank top soaked over the leaky nipple. She'd fed the baby two hours before, slept a little, and then gotten up for a snack. He'd followed her down, and ... once they'd chased Dawn out again, and heard the silence of the house settle back into place, she'd tugged on the drawstring of his pajama pants, and dropped to her knees.
Afterwards she'd kissed the tip, tucked it back in. "You can't have me for a while, but that's to remember me by."
He'd been speechless, watching her in a sort of worshipful delirium as she opened the refrigerator and devoured two plums, a peach, and a carton of yogurt. There she was, Buffy Summers, the slayer. The embodiment of every impossible marvel in his unlife. My mistress, my heart, my queen. The mother of my child.
And here was a souvenir. He tucked the picture into the rear pocket of his jeans.
Thanks also to Kalima for thinking up the quilts.
The next story in The Bittersweets sequence is All Merry And Bright.
Return to Herself's Fic.