Part Eight of Ten
"Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in."
"I should have called it
Something you somehow haven't to deserve."
Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Man, 1915
In the kitchen, Buffy ran the water and cried. It was obscene, being used like this. The Powers treating her like a kid whose dog had diedshoving a new puppy at her as if that would make her get over the loss, as if one life was interchangeable with every other. How could they be the Powers, and understand humanity so little?
Everything since her arrival was exactly wrong. She'd come here, apprehensive and eager for the reconciliation that, since his last message, seemed nearly certain. She'd wanted nothing harsh, nothing but comfort and compassion and softness between them. He mustn't be sorry he'd forgiven her, mustn't be sorry he'd come home. She'd go into his arms, they'd hold each other for a long time, soaking up that mutual comprehension and sympathy that underlay everything they were together. All the stupid pointless heartbreaking horrible circumstances would slide away for a little while. Arm in arm they'd climb the stairs to their bedroom, stay there all day and all night. There would be talk, and tears, and maybe even angry recriminations, but later. After they'd had a little time to be what they most basically were, wrapped in each other, skin to skin.
Instead there was this unimaginable new wrinkle, so that the moment he'd seen her he'd been plunged back into the worst of her broken faith. Never mind that it was only for a couple of minutes, she didn't want him to suffer about her anymoreeven for a millisecond. She hoped the Powers enjoyed that part of their sick joke.
And she'd already forgotten herself ... shouted at him, said thoughtless hurtful things, spoiled all her sweet intentions.
If the water ran too long, Spike might wonder why. She blotted her eyes with a dishtowel, filled the kettle, and shut it off. There was nothing to eat except what was in the freezer and the cabinets. The shops were too far away, and didn't open early enough, for him to have made it there and back before the late winter dawn. Buffy retrieved some blood from the freezer, set a bag in the microwave. With jerky tremulous movementsalmost pulling off the cabinet door as she yanked itshe opened a can of soup, though she wasn't hungry. It seemed important to keep Spike company. He might not feed unless she did.
As she stirred the soup, she felt him, with her slayer sense, move towards her from the other room. She counted the seconds until he was at her back, close enough that his breath would've stirred the fine hairs on her nape, if he'd had any. He hovered there for a long pause. She went on stirring.
Spike pressed his lips to her neck, just where the border of upswept hair turned into fine down. She sighed, and pressed back against him.
"I'll have some of that, if there's enough for me."
"I'm heating blood for you. This is just canned soup, it's not going to be very good. I wanted to be here first, I was going to make all your fav"
"We'll cook together, later. I'm so glad you're here, pet."
He held her lightly by the elbows now, as if they were going to start one of those slow back-to-front dances. The soup bubbled. She went on stirring with the wooden spoon. Once she'd come close to slaying him with the handle of a spoon just like this, in her mother's kitchen.
"I can't let the Powers take me over like this. It's just ... I can't."
He didn't speak.
"You should hate it too. You've always hated being controlled, imposed on. When you got the chip"
She stopped. Yeah, he'd hated it. But he'd come to accept it. In some ways, even in the time before he fell in love with her, it seemed like he was almost relieved sometimes, to find himself restrained. At least, it felt that way in retrospect, and retrospect was wacky, but ... he'd lived with that chip for a long time. He'd found peace with it.
Just as he'd found peace with her twice returning from his living counterpart's bed with a child in her belly.
"It's not the same thing, Buffy. But we don't have to talk about it now. What else you going to eat with that soup?" He went to the freezer. The microwave dinged, but he ignored it. Buffy wondered if he really didn't just want to feel the radiant cold bathing his face. He took nothing out.
They sat down at the kitchen table. It only sat four, but the distance to him seemed vast.
"Liquid lunch," she said.
"Yeah." He smiled. She was struck again by his thinness, and wondered where he'd been these last weeks, and in what state of mind. He was delicate and pensive and seemed to be holding his breath.
He sipped slowly at the hot blood. She watched him, the way she used to watch Johnny to make sure he drank his milk, during that period when he didn't like it. Spike seemed aware of this too, and applied himself with a grim patience to draining the glass.
"Eat up your soup, love."
"I don't want ... all right."
Buffy looked small, tense, like a wary animal lapping at a watering hole. She sipped noiselessly from the side of the spoon, didn't clink it against the bowl. Spike tried to imagine what was going through her mind. Whether, like him, there was so much, and all of it so disparate, that he didn't know what thought, what mood, to settle on.
So much had happened to them, between them. Spike wished they could skip all of it, just take it as given, forgiven. But the pregnancy made it so that wasn't possible.
Probably it wouldn't be possible anyway.
The house was very quiet. His preternatural hearing brought him the low surging of the thermostat, the soughing of wind around the corners. He heard her heart beating. But these small sounds only comprised silence. She seemed to be holding her breath.
Buffy set her spoon down. The bowl was still half full. "Do you want anymore?" She filled the kettle, put it on to boil for tea. As she returned to the table, he leaned out, caught her wrist, drew her to him. She stood against his leg, her gaze shaded. He wanted to say Tell me you love me, but instead he said, "So, Harris's been allowed to breed."
"Seems like it."
He drew her onto his knee. She gave off a fevery heat. He laid a hand over her breast, thumbed the nipple through the thin layers of cashmere and silk that covered it. Not to excite her or himself, but to see whether he was still to have this privilege, to touch her anywhere, to be familiar.
He was. She leaned into him, her breath catching. Reaching up, he unsnapped the clasp from her hair, so it tumbled down around her face, against his face, releasing a burst of her body's perfume. He spread his hand through the heavy rich silk of it. Already it was thicker, her breasts rounder. Holding her, he was seized with a hungry urge that made his fangs tingle to descend, despite the blood he'd just swallowed. A woman in early pregnancy was a prize, a particular delicacy Angelus had taught him to relish, tastier and richer even than a plump infant. He'd learned he could find what he wanted in that line among factory girls coming off their shifts, pouring out on their way to meet the swains they let fuck them up against alley walls behind pubs, or in the park on summer nights. Working-class girls whose first time being up the spout made them plump and glossy, not yet turned into the hags with packs of kiddies hanging off them who populated the warrens of streets around the works.
Spike's memories of those killskills and other actscommingled uneasily with his pleasure and pride, also uneasy, in Buffy's fecund body. Unbidden memories flooded his head of how it was to fuck her when her belly was round and hard, her breasts swollen. Before Jemima came, they'd had themselves a time, and were so happy it was almost surreal.
Her cheek, hot, a little moist, lay against his forehead. Still making no sound, she began to cry. He knew she'd cried before, when she first came in here. He could smell the salt of the dried tears on her skin. Passing an arm around her, he crooned, "My queen, my queen, my queen."
That made her cry harder.
"Ssh, pet. ssh. I'm here. I've got you."
How seldom she would ever admit to that. His own fear sprang forward, as if to meet hers. Sensing what she'd say next, and wanting to stop her, to hold it off, though he had no right to.
"I can't do this. I'm going to get an abortion."
He had no idea what to say. Jemima had done it, just, what was it now? Three months ago? Easy to forget, amidst all that rushed after. How sad he'd felt, though he understood, though he'd never have said a word against it. Maybe it was being undead that gave him this visceral reverence for sparking life. "Don't need to decide today."
"I haven't consented to this. This ... thing growing inside me, I don't even know if it's good. Spike, it might be a monster."
He'd never seen the little girl's face. She'd never let him glimpse it. He'd thought she was Jemima somehow. An emanation of memory, guiding him back home. Buffy did used to put curls in Jemmie's hair sometimes. Not often, but he knew she had. "I doubt that."
"The Powers invaded you toowhy aren't you more upset?"
"I am. Just ... s'just natural, innit, that a fellow should feel pleased when he's put his girl in the family way, specially when he's like me, an' never could before."
"Pleased? You feel pleased about it?" Buffy roused, stiffening in his lap. "At the time you all but vomited in my face!"
"... well, maybe pleased is the wrong word. Awed. Seems to me it's a solemn thing. Not to be taken lightly. This ... could be a gift."
She wagged her head in sharp denial. "A gift is when they say 'we want to give you this nice thing,' and you can open it and see what it is, and if it isn't something you want you can quietly return it or stick it in the attic, and if it is what you want, you can decide when and how and where you want to use it. If it was a gift, we'd have had a choice. This isn't a gift, it's aaPHWOOOM.."
"Yeah, but the thing is ...."
She wrenched away from him. "When do we get to mourn the one we lost? I've barely started that! We need to do that together! And I wouldn't think the Powers would be in such a hurry to give us another child to ruin."
He sprang up. "Ruin? Buffywho've we ruined? How can you say that!
"How can you pretend we didn't? There's nothing natural about us! We should never have tried to bring up childrenlook what happened to them!"
"Johnny was unlucky. It's our fault, not his, that we didn't do for Drusilla."
"I found out ... how corrupted Johnny wastroubled and perverseandandweak. Oh Spike, I think he was lost even before Drusilla touched him!"
Spike recoiled from this with his whole mind. "He was only young. He was nothing I hadn't been before him."
"Do you think it was a coincidence that the son of a slayer and a vampire got turned as soon as he was twenty-one? Even his soul couldn't help him. He got it back, and what did he do? He went right out and"
"But Jemima! Can't say she's not good as gold, an' always has been. Even when she married that pillock, it didn't change her!"
"Oh, she's not so innocent."
"What do you mean?"
The kettle began to whistle, the water banging in the pot. Buffy struggled to get herself under control. "See what this does to us? How it takes our autonomy away? You're already siding with this baby against me and it isn't even a baby! It's almost nothing, but it's running us!"
"She's not bloody nothing, I think I've" Couldn't tell her that. "Well, have it out, then! The Powers knocked you up for a lark, so no reason not to have it out!"
"How can I, how can I, when you'll resent me forever if I do?"
Darting past him, Buffy grabbed the shrieking kettle off the stove. In the sudden quiet, pivoting on one heel like a discus thrower, she hurled it across the room. The glass wall shattered with a sickening crash. Spike leapt out of the way of the untrammelled orange rays of the setting sun. The winter wind flowed in, absorbing the kitchen's warmth at once, making it frigid, desolate.
"Don't call it she. It's not a she." Buffy ran out. He heard her feet pound the stairs, a door slam above, then silence.
Supermarkets were the same all over the western world. Buffy found that comforting. Sure, there were local differencesmilk containers were oddly-shaped to her eyes, the names of laundry detergents couldn't be serious. Familiar things were mutated into colors and sizes that looked wrong. In some countries they had aisles and aisles of wine but no beer, and in some it was the other way around. In Reykjavik the market she patronized was scrupulously clean in a way that seemed to be kept up by elves rather than people. Most of the packaged foods seemed to come from somewhere else, England or other Scandanavian countries, or Germany.
As she pushed her cartgrocery carts, like most everything, were smaller in Reykjavik than in CaliforniaBuffy grew calmer. Markets everywhere were meant to make you feel calm and consume-y. This one, the local Bonus, so bright and cheery inside, was no different. She didn't fight it. After that scene at home, she was glad to sneak out of the house and take care of these mindless, not unpleasant tasks. She'd already stopped at the butcher to get the regular delivery of steak, pork chops and blood started up, and at the glazier to order a new sheet of the necro-tempered glass. Now she was contemplating shelves of little fruity yogurt pots, their zippy colors childish and appealing. Boysenberry, or strawberry, or greengage? She could never remember what a greengage was, exactly.
God, this whole situation was just creepy and gross and wrong, and Spike ought to get that, more than any man, because he'd endured being captured and getting an alien thing shoved inside one of his most intimate places, put there against his will to change him and control him. And, okay, the chip turned out to be a good thing for pretty much everyone except Spike and then it was a good thing for Spike too, because without it ... without it she wouldn't even be having this conversation with herself, wouldn't be doing foodshopping in Reykjavik, wouldn't, almost certainly even be walking this earth.
For a second, when she'd figured it out, that his convulsion in the motel bed had to mean he'd been aliveshe experienced a rush of joy. With a six-pack of raspberry yogurt pots in her hand, she experienced it again, that glad surge. Some of it was relief that she had an explanation for the mystery, so he'd stop looking at her as if she'd staked him. But some of it was sheer unpremeditated delight at the idea of Spike being alive, even for a moment. That was the sort of thing she'd been fantasizing twenty-two years back, when she'd wanted to fulfill his desire for another child. Instead her wish and Willow's spell sent her across dimensions to William.
Stilldid the Powers really think that was a gift? To thrust this on them when they were crazy with loss and at odds with each other, so that all she could think was that she disgusted him, that he'd never forgive her for Saleem, never really want to touch her anymore. And what a cheat for him, to be stirred to life without warning or consent, only to lose control of himself. Where was the beauty, the dignity, in that?
Everything about this stank. For all she knew, this was a spell cast to implant a demon within her. Something that would eat her from the inside out and go on to ravage the world. She wasn't convinced the Conduit was a force for good. Sure, it gave souls to Spike and Johnny, but only as a trick. The Powers That Be were more interested in amusing themselves than in really doing anything for their designated warriors.
She put back the raspberry, grabbed boysenberry instead, and moved on towards the bread aisle.
He'd never been handyand vampires were more about tearing things down than building them up. But Spike asked himself what would Harris do? and finding some plywood and plastic sheeting in the shed, left there by the summer caretakers, managed to rig up a covering where the shattered glass had been. As he worked in the cold, walling himself out, he wondered if he'd live in this house much longer. It was the only house that had ever truly been his, man or demon, the name of William Grieves made out on the deed.
At the beginning, when living with Buffy still felt precarious and novel, he used to reassure himself sometimes that he would always have his demon to fall back on, like a trade. If things changed, if she tired of him or died again, he could always return to his transient vampire ways, living opportunistically, with no fixed address. He could leave America, find some way to get the chip out, be Big Bad again, older and wiser but fiercer too.
As the years passed he wondered sometimes if he wasn't getting soft, used to 500 channels, clean sheets every few days, and blood carefully warmed in the microwave. The sort of thing any man might feel, missing his wild years as he watched his children grow and trailed around the mall with his wife. Except that even in those dullest moments, he was sure there wasn't a man alive who loved and appreciated his woman and children the way he did himself.
That made a difference, yet the real difference was, he very well might live forever. His marriage to Buffy could be a phase. Maybe in another hundred years he'd find himself in some demon dive, telling a disbelieving drinking buddy about the time he'd lived aboveground with a slayer, a father to two live children who looked like him. Maybe he'd have a few carefully saved-up snapshots of Jem and Johnny he could pull out, to prove his implausible story.
The plastic sheeting, that filled in where the plywood stopped, flapped and bulged in the wind, like a live thing struggling for breath. The light from the kitchen filtered through it, casting a blue shape on the trampled snow. He was very fond of this house. Because, unlike the one in Sunnydale, it was theirs together. And it was beautiful inside and out, designed for the comfort of vampire and human both. In it he and Buffy could lie in bed and, barely lifting their heads, watch the Northern lights shimmer in a thousand colors on the horizon.
Tipping his head back now, Spike surveyed the black sky. It was still only late afternoon, but might have been the middle of the night, so clear and limpid were the stars, and the pretty slice of moon. The wind blew mercilessly, making his eyes water.
He wasn't sure if she still loved him. She probably thought she did, but that wasn't the same thing. Buffy just didn't want the child they'd made together. She'd convinced herself no good could come ... from anything of his.
"Spike?" The house was dark and cold now, winter in the rooms. Buffy carried the bags into the freezing kitchen, saw where the wall had been patched. "Spike?"
She found him upstairs, cross-legged on the bed with no lights on, the phone to his ear.
"Who're you calling?"
"Jemmie. Just remembered she needs to know"
She sprang forward. "Oh, don't call her! I mean ... the time difference. And ... and ... I want to talk to you. I want to say I'm"
"Sometimes I wonder how you can go on caring about me when I'm so ... so difficult. I know I'm difficult."
"I tried to fix the hole."
"I know! I saw! You didn't have to ... you did a good job. The glass guys should be here tomorrow. I explained that we would freeze, and"
"So, did you make an appointment?"
"No, they just said they'd swing by as soon as they couldI think that's what they saidone of them only spoke Icelandic and the other oneI'm pretty sure he promised they'd"
"For the abortion. Did you make an appointment?"
"Huh? No! I was shopping. At Bonus. I got you some Weetabix. Three of the big boxes."
The way he sat so still in the thin moonlight, the coolness of his regard, and how pared he was from his wandering weeks, reminded her of how he'd appeared to her in the beginning. That night he sought her out to make a deal about defeating Angel, he'd had this preternatural poise, this basilisk gaze.
"Buffy, you don't owe me anything."
"But ... groceries ... are for both of us."
"I mean, you don't owe me any more apologies ... you don't owe me another child, or ... even another minute of your ...."
A wave of panicdeep cold and blackswept her up. "Spike, my God, what are you saying?"
He shook his head. "Could you ..." He gestured vaguely towards the open doorway behind her. "I need to sleep. Feelin' too shagged out for any more ... for anymore."
When he woke, she was watching him. The moon was high, its cold clear light filtering in through the skylight, casting a veil over the bed. She knelt beside him, her knees near his arm, almost touching. For the first time he was able to see her small round face in the frame of squiggly hair. Regarding him with a mild pensive gravity, she was fiercesomely beautiful. Spike longed to touch her, to tuck the hair behind her ear and cup her cheek in his hand. He was too awed to move. He loved her with all his heart.
"M'sorry, sweetness. I don't think it's going to work out."
Though he only whispered, it was as if his words filled up the room, and crushed him.
She said nothing, but her pretty mouth curved into a smile. He thought no child should have to show to a grown-up such an expression of forebearance and patience and comprehension.
"S'no good makin' eyes at me, pet. She ... she's the slayer. The world-saver. She's suffered an' sacrified ... It's down to what she can bear. An' she can't bear this. Not in ... not in any sense."
Saying it out loud nearly broke him, but at the same time understanding dawned, visceral and real, of how impossible it was that Buffy could feel anything but violated by what the Powers had done. She wasn't merely being stubborn or petty. Some things were just too much to accept.
"Thanks for bringin' me back home, anyway." He could lift his hand now, and thought he might be allowed a parting touch, but the girl was already gone.
Buffy didn't know how long she'd been staring into the fire, huddled on the couch with an afghan draped around her. But she'd made a large blaze, and now it was a shifting line of orange embers she gazed into, her eyes wet and out of focus.
She felt Spike loom up into the doorway behind her.
"What did you mean," he murmured, "when you said Johnny was already corrupted?" He moved slowly into the room, coming to stand at the side of the sofa, out of her direct line of sight.
The glowing charcoal seemed to pulse, to change shape as she watched.
It took an effort, to break her own silence. "He was ... he was twisted up inside. Over me. At the Hyperion, he came on to me. He said ... gross, revolting sexual things, about what he wanted to do to me. He tried to touch me."
"Buffy, you know full well that vampires"
"He had his soul." She ground the words out through gritted teeth. "He had it, just like he had it when he massacred those people at the shopping mall. And he wasn't yet a vampire when he stole the naked Polaroids of me out of our room."
"I found them in his London flat. Under his bed, with ... with his porno mags. And there were other picturessnapshotshe took of me, years back in Mexico, when I didn't know he was doing it." She wished she could forget the lust and anger in his gaze. It was no way to remember her dead son. "He wasn't what I thought he was. God, I think he was obsessed for a long long time. With me, with ... us."
Whatever reaction Spike had to this news, he kept it from her. "And Jemmie? What did you mean about her?"
"You can't hold it against her, for bein' unhappy about us. About what you didyou told her about it, an' of course she was upset. But she loves you, same as she always has."
"Spike, it's not that. It's nothing. There's nothing about Jem, forget I mentioned her."
"How can I forget? Do you still think"
"Spike! I don't think anything! All I said was she's not so innocent. And she's notshe's thirty years old, she's a widow. You still think of her as a little girl. That's all I meant. That's all."
She could feel him thinking, trying to smooth this in his mind, trying to believe it. Then he went to the fireplace, laid on more coal, poked at it until the flames flared up. She opened her mouth to protest at the destruction of her pretty field of glowing embers, but caught herself. It was cold in here. Spike sat down, not right next to her, but at the other end of the long couch.
Together they watched the fire.
"What made you ready to come back now?" she asked. "Where were you?"
"Spent about a month at sea, in every way. Came to England, learned ... learned a bit about what I'm not anymore. Still didn't know what I was to be. Paid a call on Prima Whidders."
"Oh God. Why?"
"To offer amends." He shook his head. "Dunno if it was the right thing to do or not. She knew it was our Johnny did for Milo, but I told her my part in it too."
"What did she say?"
"She couldn't begin to say how she hates me. Us. She tried, but was too much for her."
"Told me to pull my bleedin' socks up."
"In so many words?"
"In so many words."
The coal glowed like orange velvet; Buffy felt a weird urge to touch it, as if it would feel like that too.
"Is that all that happened? It can't be, can it?"
"It's all I can tell about right now."
Hugging her drawn-up knees, she shivered again. Spike couldn't warm her, not really, but she wanted him over here, so she could wrap the afghan around him too, and her arms.
"Maybe we should get to bed. It's really late."
"You go on."
"Spike" She bit her lip. She didn't want to do this, plead with him. At the same time, there was nothing else she wanted; she could've stretched herself at his feet, weeping and begging him to lift her, to hold her and forgive her.
He'd never be able to forgive her, no matter how much he wanted to, because there were some convictions that lodged deep in your soul, so deep that they were bedrock, and could not change. He might have been able to let the pain of her physical betrayal fall away, but this new thing she was going to do, this rejection of his miraculous lifeforce, that would be impossible for him ever to overlook, no matter how he might try.
She wasn't even sure she wanted him to. Maybe he wouldn't be the William she respected and loved, if he could do that.
The next time he awoke, the view through the skylight and windows was of mares' tail clouds spread out pink and yellow across the lightening sky. He heard the stamping footsteps, the gutteral voices of the two glaziers, pulling down his plywood patch, preparing to set in the new glass.
He lay listening to these cheerful noises as the room gradually grew lighter.
He'd never have imagined, during all his decades of loving Drusilla in the darkness, that there would ever come a time when he'd live so much in the light. Buffy made these homes for him, where he could safely drowse in the sun, where he could reflect with satisfaction on his years of inactivity in the realms of evil, as if that inactivity, or anything he did to help the slayage, really made him good.
Maybe it did. Buffy seemed to think so, and she was such a rigorous judge, although you could wonder if she'd have had a different opinion if he was ugly, if his key didn't so perfectly fit her lock. The Scoobies seemed to think so too, and their respect was harder-won, it was true. Though again, like most warriors in the field, they took their allies where they could find them, and without too many questions.
What was real goodness anyway? He'd never thought about it, before. But getting a soul made you quite the borehe'd seen that with Angel, who became a most crashing one. Now he could be tiresome on philosophical subjects all by himself.
All at once he remembered his midnight conversation with Buffy. For a moment he wasn't sure if he'd dreamed it or not. What she'd said about Johnny. The naked pictures ... he'd have spared her that, except he was too wrapped up in own misery to give a thought to being the one to get to Johnny's flat and clean it out. Still, apparently those were the least of it. Boy had said things to her that she'd never be able to explain away or rationalize. And the murders. All those soul-defying murders, done ... why else? ... to defy the two of them, apparently. And he'd have killed his own sister too, maybe turned her, had Jemima not had that old lighter handy.
Buffy was right. The way he persisted in thinking of Johnny was ridiculous. He might've been a victim at first, but later on ... with all the free will in the world, he'd plunged back into horror with both hands.
There was no satisfaction in feeling his own distance from that. Made it worse, really, to face the truth of their son, knowing he'd lacked the strength, or will, or love, or something, that Spike himself had mustered when circumstances demanded he change. What was wrong with the boy? Was it only that they hadn't loved him enough?
Buffy pushed the door open, sidling in sideways with a tray. "Good, you're awake. They're working downstairs, so I thought we could have breakfast here."
She was smiling, a wobbly smile that looked for one from him lest it collapse. He sat up and beckoned, reaching out for the tray. A warm flask of blood, pot of Earl Grey, some Weetabix and toast. Buffy sat crosslegged on the bed, near the foot, out of arm's reach.
"Did you fall asleep on the couch down there?"
"I did." She yawned, and scrubbed the hanging hair back from her face. "Don't look at me, I'm ghastly."
"No such thing. Come here, pet." He patted the space beside him. She crawled up to sit, as she had downstairs, with her knees drawn up tight, making herself small. He poured out a cup of tea, spread jam heavily on the buttered toastshe was always denying herself sweet thingsand handed it to her. "Let's see you eat that up."
Obediently, she took a bite, the red stuff surging up over her lip. Before she could lick it off, Spike leaned in to kiss her. The jam and butter made her lips slippery. She sat frozen, her head at an angle, for a long moment, before her mouth opened against his, expelling a moan. He began to pull her closer, but she resisted, drawing away with a fake laugh. "Drink your blood while it's warm."
Though she'd pushed him away, he thought she looked pleased, her cheeks rosy as she concealed her mouth in the teacup. The miracle of her surged through himhe'd loved her when she hated him, when he had no hope she would ever see him. Yet she did see him, she'd led him through an unimaginable transformation, into a life in the light, and here she was still, looking to him for his love.
It was suddenly so simple. His doubts of the day before were insignificant. Nothing was more important to him than she was. She wanted him, she wouldn't have come here if she didn't. His jobhis fulfillment and delightwas to support her in every way. That was all.
"What shall we do today? Fancy a sauna an' swim?"
Her eyes opened wide. "Do you want to?"
"I'm hedonistic as ever I was." He offered her the toast again. She nibbled at it, peeking at him sideways in a glance half questioning, half flirty.
"Are you? That's good. What ... what does it feel like, Spike? Having a soul."
"Like old Rupes at his shirtiest, watchin' everything I do an' think."
To his dismay, the joke didn't deflect her. She went on regarding him with an unswerving seriousness.
"I don't want to be a disappointment to you. I know I am. If I was a better person, I'd be able to comply with ... I wouldn't have to ... if I was better."
"No no, sweet. You're fine as you are. You always have been." This was wholly inadequate. There was more he wanted to say, but she shrugged, and leaving her tea cup nearly full, the toast half eaten, got up. "I'd better go see how the glass guys are doing."
Their favorite place to swim, a place they'd discovered on their honeymoon, the first time they came herealthough she'd always suspected Spike had visited it with Drusilla, years beforewas a hot spring outside the city limits. Compared to the purpose-built hot pools in the city, with their quasi-amusement-park atmosphere, this place was rustic, almost primitive. The crater in the lava rock was large and unevenly-shaped, fed by a constant natural upswell of hot water. A sulfurous mist, made of the steam rising into the cold winter air, covered the milky-colored surface of the water. Even when there were plenty of people there, it was easy to feel alone, shrouded in that mist. From the low log changing houses, one for men, one for women, you could run barefoot through the snow to fling yourself into the mysterious pool before you even had time to feel the cold.
It was here, more than anywhere, that she'd experienced what she'd hoped for when they came to Reykjavik after the weddingthe sensation of being regular people, a normal honeymoon couple enjoying themselves. They blended in with all the other people swimming in the Icelandic night, floating in the water even as the snow fell. In the heat, Spike's skin was slick and warm, he almost felt alive. His expression was wholly alive, full of pleasure in everything, in her.
Spike was being lovely to her today, light and just solicitous enough without being irritating. Yet she couldn't recover that feeling of normality. It seemed inappropriate to be out, doing something invigorating, when Johnny was dead. Her body felt wrong, like her center of gravity was shifted. She could only think of the fetus inside her, growing without her knowledge and consent like a tumor. Why? Why did the Powers force this on her, something that, if it was possible at all, should be allowed to be special and solemn and joyous? What if they'd offered it as a real gift, not a fait accompli but an option they could accept and keep in reserve. So that, maybe ... if things worked out between them, if they could get the trust back, the ease that seemed forever gone ... maybe then they could decide to make another child. Making love to him, knowing that at the crucial moment he would spring to life ... that would be sublime. If there was a mirror propped up nearby, would his reflection appear when it happened? How wonderful that would be, to see that!
And to give him that happiness, of making her pregnant. That would mean so much to him.
"All right, pet?"
She came out of her reverie to find they'd stopped. They were here. Even in the car park, the air held the thick smell of sulfur.
"I'm a million miles away."
"See that, yeah. You ready?"
He took her arm as they walked towards the entrance. She almost balked, overwhelmed again by the sense that they didn't belong here. They ought to be back home, having a very serious conversation, about ... about everything. They needed to talk about Johnnynot just his death, but his life. To ... to talk about it for as long as it took to figure out exactly what they'd done, to make such a complete botch of him. Also, they had to talk about Spike's soul, she had to make him understand that she cared about it, that
"Huh? What? No. I'm fine!"
Again she'd been so far away, she didn't realize they were inside, paying their admissions. Spike handed her the plastic bracelet with her number on it.
"I'll see you by the water in a minute. Don't forget about me in there, while you're changing."
He was being so nice. Even nicer than ... different than she thought of ... was that the soul? Was he going to have an altered personality now? Angel was a whole other person than Angelus, but then ... Angelus was never nice, whereas Spike ... she couldn't figure it out. Passing through a door, she was startled to see all these women and girls, in different stages of undress.
Oh, right. Put on your bathing suit, go swimming. Get a grip, Buffy.
She emerged from the changing room, still plaiting her hair up in back. Looking insouciant and faintly bored as always, Spike stood waiting for her, naked except for the black slip of nylon, and seemingly impervious to the cold. That was the only thing that set him apart from the Icelanders, many of whom were also pale and blond and chiseled, and some of whom also liked to make a show of standing around as if it wasn't 0º C.
Securing the last loop of elastic, she let the braid drop against her back. The tiny metal grommet struck the skin like a lick of ice. Suddenly she was aware of herself, in a Speedo, standing out in the cold like an idiot, like a bad mother who could disport herself when she was supposed to be mourning.
Spike did the tongue thing, and the thing with his headthe one-two whammie. "Pretty girl." He grabbed her hand. "Let's run now, slayer. Last one in's a"
He bounded forward, yanking her with him, dropping her hand at the last second as he leapt in. Buffy balked at the lip of the pool, so hard that her knees jackknifed, her behind hitting the ground hard. Spike's white head was already just a blur in the mist that covered the water. She stared after him.
How could he trick her like this? Bring her here so she'd remember so vividly, with such a sick shock, how they'd swum together in the cold Pacific, when she had Jemima inside her, when they'd decided at last to let her stay?
Tears, hot and acid, sprang to her eyes. Someone touched her shoulder; she was vaguely aware of a woman bending over beside her, and other faces bobbing nearby, asking her in Icelandic and in English if she was all right. Then Spike was there, emerging from the crater as swiftly and neatly as he'd gone in. He spoke to the people, the concerned strangers who surrounded her, and they parted for him, and he touched her. His hands were warm, from being in the hot water.
"Sweet, what's the matter?"
"Why do you always have to fight dirty?"
"You think I'm fighting? C'mon sweetness, let's get you inside, you're shivering."
He would've swung her up in his arms, except that she pushed him away in time, and ran back into the women's changing room. Her tears attracted a new coterie of worried strangers to fend off. Facing the wall of lockers, she peeled out of her swimsuit, hiding behind her dangling hair, her high shoulders. It's not working, it's not working, I can't do any of this. She dressed like flagellating herself, spent a long time at the sink, washing her face over and over, trying to make herself stop sobbing.
Turning the heater up high, he waited. As the car windows fogged, he rubbed at them with his sleeve. Tried to think what she'd meant, about fighting dirty. Usually he was pretty good at following her woollier trains of thought, but this one just eluded him.
Might ask her, or might just let it slide, depending on what she was like when she finally came out of there and got in the car. He'd been waiting twenty minutes.
Finally the door opened and she dropped in, her hands curled around her sweater sleeves, face averted.
"You all right?" Knew this was the most inane of inane questions, but had to say something.
"I wish it didn't have to be this way, but it is. You know it is, Spike. So there's no use you being the Pregnancy Police. If the Powers want to run me, they can fucking well come out and say so. And then they'll see where they get off."
"Not ... not trying to run you, Buffy. Thought we'd could both do with some exercise, that's all."
Mystified, Spike put the car in gear and pulled out. Emitting low snuffling sobs, Buffy hid her face. Still no wiser about what caused her to go off that way at the pool, he drove, and waited.
Finally she raised her head a little. "You love them and you want them to be normal, and safe, andand but being ours, they were doomed from the start."
"Sweetheart, it's not quite what you're saying. Jemima's all right."
"She isn't! She won't be! She's there, in LA, and she's going to be in danger every night! She'sshe's going to get hurt! That's just what happens!"
"What are you talking about? LA's not that bad, long as you live regular an' don't go courting trouble"
"Live regular. That's a good joke, Spike. Her brother didn't just nearly murder her, you know. He also left her a nice little inheritance to make sure she never gets out of this filthy life. She's been highjacked too. Even if you don't care about it happening to me, I know you won't like it for her."
Swerving, Spike jammed on the brakes, threw the car into park on the shoulder of the road. "What are you talking about?"
Buffy laughed suddenly, throwing her head back. In the gleam from the dashboard, the line of her throat was girlish and pale, so vulnerable, like something fluttering in the dark.
"They gave her the visions. So now your precious baby gets every monstrosity that arises in the greater LA basin forced directly into her mind."
With a surge of underhanded satisfaction, she watched Spike go gold-eyed and angry. Good. When he was all calm and understanding while she was in full-on melt-down, he made her feel so petty. And she wasn't being petty. Being unable to cope with a pregnancy that should have been impossible, that came when she was already fractured into a million piecesthat wasn't petty. It was enormous, and she couldn't. She just couldn't.
"When did this happen?"
"After you took off."
"And when were you goin' to tell me? You mention your sister's up the spout but this development you keep to yourself?"
"Huh?" Her satisfaction melted as she realized he wasn't angry at the same thing she was.
Eyes flashing from blue to gold and back, like a coin tossed up into a spotlight, Spike regarded her with an expression she couldn't quite fathom. "So now you think bein' gifted with a prime role in the most important thing there is to do in this world is a curse on her? How's she feel about it? I bet she's bloody thrilled. She's always been brave."
"I can't believe you! You really want Jemima to be part of that? You want her job to be to experience unimaginable pain and obscenity over and overat least until some hellspawned thing rips her in half or takes over her body or exiles her to another dimension? Yeah, that's thrilling. It's an honor, in fact."
"It is an honor. An' she's always been part of it! Was born into it. Been workin' for the bleeding Council since she was eighteen with no encouragement from us! Now she's finally got a role that really means something, instead of bein' buried in a back room with a lot of dusty tomes."
"The darkness has already taken our son! Now it's got its hooks in hershe's not like us! She wasn't made for it! You should hate that!"
"Look, our little family's taken a big hit, not discounting that. But I'm wondering ... how you could've forgotten that the Powers are on our side. Might feel lately like they toy with us for their sport, but I'm thinkin' there's some method in it all the same. They know how strong you arean' she isan' they make us work up to it, yeah. Here you are trashin' the gifts of the Powers, like they don't signify anything. Like it's nothing one way or the other how we step up to them."
"What you're calling gifts don't seem very gifty to me! Giving my son a soul that drove him mad! Highjacking my daughter's brainhighjacking my wombthese are not gifts! And I don't even know what they did to you, because you are not the Spike I remember!"
At this, the golden light went out of his eyes. He winced. " ... guess I'm not, at that." He stared out into the headlight beams that lit up an undistinguished swathe of lava rock, flat and nearly featureless. "I need the mission, Slayer. Need it bad if I'm gonna survive this sea change in me."
His manner, all weary desperate resignation, shot her through with terror. He had changed so much she couldn't be sure of anything about him. The love for her that underlay all his goodness ... had his soul swallowed it up, made it pointless? More and bigger rocks rained down on her head as her fingers scrabbled and slipped and infinite space yawed beneath her.
"You may be welcoming the big spiritual experience of being the Powers' pawn, but that's not how it is for me. It's one thing to be the slayer, to fight. As long as I'm alive, I'll do that. But I've paid my dues. I'm not emotionally ready to have another child. Especially not when that child is only going to be co-opted in the big struggle between Good and Evil. I can't take that again. No more."
"Buffy, listen" Even in the overheated car, his hand felt cold as he reached to cup her face. "Wasn't going to mention this, because ... it's my problem, not yours, yeah. An' no matter what you say, I'm not trying to coerce you. But I've seen her. Seen her an' talked with her."
The way he spouted these ideas about the Powers and the mission, he was like some stoned-out Jesus-freak on the Venice beach boardwalk.
This was too much. It was just too much.
"Spike, you listen. You want to know what's really going on in LA? It's not just the visions. Angel is fucking your little girl."
As soon as she said it, she wished she'd bit out her tongue instead. There was nothing in Spike's facenot anger, not incredulity, not even comprehension. He trembled and stared at her and she wanted a winch to haul back time.
"No sooner did he get done with you, then he went on to her. Or maybe he didn't wait to be done with you. That's not real clear. But she thinks she's the heroine of quite the big romance. Of course she was terrified you'd find out."
Spike didn't breathe or blink. He remained still for one more long moment. Then he got out of the car and walked away into the freezing dark.
The cold air rushed in through the door left hanging open. It filled the car as if the heater wasn't on, made itand herjust another part of the great frozen waste all around them.
If she stayed in this place, this drear, raw interior, she would freeze and die.
It wasn't easy making her way over the uneven, icy terrain. The wind was in her face, the stars overheard impossibly distant and unavailing. Her heart hammered in her throat. Yet somehow she found him. Curled around himself, his back in the thin leather jacket to the wind.
He was as frightened as she was. He knew the terrain they faced no better. His soul was the spit his heart turned on, roasting.
"I don't seem to know how to do anything any more except kill things and hurt you."
He turned. She could see the tear tracks glistening on his cheeks, but it was too dark to see his eyes, his expression. She wasn't sure if he was in game face or not.
"Oh Spike, I'm terrified and that makes me mean. I'm sorry I told you that way. I'm sorry I'm so desperate and lost."
She wasn't sure who was the first to reach out, to gather in. One moment they were far apart, the cold-saturated air sloughing between them, and the next they were close and tight, united at last in the same loss and fear and regret that had shaken them apart. He was so thin her arms passed too far around him, so that in embracing him she could imagine holding her son when he was still reedy-voiced and narrow-shouldered, his curly head fitting beneath her chin. Spasms of pity for Spike choked her, a bolus in her throat too big to swallow. It was a dreadful thing, this restoration of his soul, unfathomable and gargantuan, awesome. He should have folded, like Johnny, or shunned the world for decades, like Angel. But instead he'd held on to hope through the deluge of it, and come home to her. Even now she felt him grasping onto a thin string of hope as he grasped her body, shuddering against her, a mute anguished creature still daring to trust.
Her tears were freezing on her face, the wind cutting through her layers of clothes. She couldn't feel her hands, her feet. She felt him, his still, slight, cool body that was yet full of a fiery life that had warmed her all this time, made her live years beyond her expiry. He'd made her his mission, and she'd loved that in him, loved how he loved her.
That was past. That Spike, her intelligent wolf who lived only for her, who chose his actions by what she would approve, was gone.
In his place was someone infinitely more complicated. Someone who would lead as well as follow. Who might love her still but wouldn't lie down to be trod upon. Someone who at last had a destiny that could be detached from hers.
She could cut the moorings to appease her own ruthless terrors, and watch him eddy off and disappear, or she could choose, with what power she still had over his heart and mind, to hold him. And thereby to retain what was best in herself.
On the rocks, in the wind, cheeks stinging, Buffy held on.
The house was warm, but Buffy built up a fire on the bedroom hearth anyway. She moved slowly, favoring herself as if every inch of skin was a deep bruise. Behind her, Spike was already in bed.
Emptied of tears, chilled and hollowed out, they'd trudged in silence back to the car, and kept up that silence until now. There was so much to sayto unsay, resay, gainsay. She could imagine he was as leary as she was, of beginning.
He held the bedclothes up for her as she slowly approached. She saw that he wasn't naked. She too, out of some unquestioned instinct, had put on her thickest flannel pajamas.
"I thought you'd want to call Jem."
"Not yet." He settled the comforter over her, guided her head to his shoulder. "Too soon."
"You must be tired." Glancing at the clock, she saw it wasn't even particularly latethey'd barely spent any time at all at the poolbut her body told her she'd been awake for days, and might yet be awake for a few more. She was vibrating at a precariously high frequency. A yawn took her, stretching her whole face, yet leaving her feeling even more open-eyed than a moment ago. Spike's sharp clavicle prodded her cheek. She shifted her head to find a smoother spot.
They lay together in an uneasy languour.
"Why did you say I was fighting dirty? Still not followin' that."
"Oh God. That was so unfair."
"The day we decided to keep Jem ... when I ran away from the clinic, and we argued so hard. At the end of it, we went swimming in the ocean. It was the first time we ever did that together. I remember that I was surprised, somehow, that youthat the undeadcould swim. We were so happy, playing together in the water."
"We were. Never forget that."
"So I thought ... I thought you brought me to the pool today to remind me of that, so I'd change my mind. That seemed like a really low-down dirty trick to play on me. But of course it was just in my head. You weren't thinking that at all."
"Yeah. Really wasn't."
"I know it now."
The mumble of the fire was the only sound as their own silence sifted in on them. She wished he would fall asleep; sitting watch over his rest was something she could do, something with no risk of injuring him further.
But she knew he wasn't going to sleep anymore than she was.
"How many times have they shown you this vision of a child?"
He stiffened. " ... six, seven different times."
"And how do you know you're not being played?"
"Because she kept me company when I was alone an' crazy on the ship. Not sayin' I wouldn't have gone to Prima Whidders if not for her, or come back here. But she showed up when I needed solace, guidance. Didn't know what she was, supposed she was some manifestation of Jem come to steer me home. Then when I found you were ... y'know ... it all came together."
"When did you see her last?"
"Here, in the house. She was playing in the sitting room. And once I woke up here an' she was looking at me."
"Oh Spike. How do you know it's not evil? We don't know that any of this came from the Powers, or even that the Powers are benign."
"'Course they're benignwhere do you think slayers come from? Anyway, was evil myself long enough to know it when I see it."
"Okay. This change you've undergone ... I don't pretend to understand it, and it kinda scares me, because you're, like, spiritual now, which, coming from William The Bloody, is weird. But I get that it's real and profound, and I respect it. Only, Spike, I need to know you respect my reasons for refusing this pregnancy. I need to know my choice isn't going to ruin our chances to trust each other again. I don't yet, and it's scaring me."
"Don't want you to be scared on account of me, Buffy."
"I know it seems selfish"
"No. I do trust you, an' your reasons are good enough for me. If it doesn't feel right to you, that's all there is to it. You accept so much responsability an' effort you never quite agreed to. Can see how this thing's the one bit too much."
She could hear that he wanted with all his heart for her to believe this. He wasn't really aware himself that he didn't, so she forgave him the lie at once.
"It's not that it's yours, though. I want you to know that. I'm not rejecting it because of that."
"Yeah. ... Didn't ... didn't think so."
"It's only that I just can't. Not now. Probably not ever ... ever again."
"Sweetness, don't fret yourself anymore."
She was stunned and had to revisit, over and over, the huge outrage of it, even as her reluctance sounded more and more insignificant, the more she voiced it. Why couldn't she trust the Powers as Spike did? Why couldn't she just accept this new twist as she'd accepted every other one in her life so far? Why couldn't she love the life inside her the way she'd loved Dawn when Dawn was thrust upon her?
Why, after all the adaptation she'd done all her life, was she balking now?
Maybe the difficulty lay in how long she was past her sell-by date. What slayer was ever supposed to have a thirty year marriage? What slayer was ever supposed to live even for thirty years? She'd outlasted the oldest recorded girl when she turned twenty-five, and that onethe very Nikki Spike had murdered in New Yorkwas a longevity record-holder herself, by a good couple of years. Slayers weren't built for loving and being lovedfor nurturing children, for seeing generations in and out. They were built to fight alone, and die. A slayer needed a supreme power of self to get the job done.
"Spike, even though I can't do this ... I will try to give you what you need. I heard you say you need the missionyou'll always have that with me. I'll always always need you. And I'm going to try to make you happy, too. We've been happy before and we will be again."
He gathered her closer, tucking her head beneath his chin. "My good girl."
The silence sifted up around them, but still she blinked into the dark. She should clarify the news about their daughter. Not leave him with the impression of those words chosen to make him suffer as she was suffering. "What I said about Jemima"
"Don't ... not ready to ... just leave it."
She was aware of Spike breathing in tandem with her; he did it sometimes, he'd once told her, in order to stay awake, and at other times, in order to pretend he could feel alive.
She wondered which it was this time.
Return to Herself's Fic.