By Barb C.
Setting: Post-Gift AU (Barbverse)
Synopsis: Knowing that the Slayer has hard decisions to make is one thing. Being the subject of one is quite another.
Author’s notes: This story takes place in the same universe as "Raising In the Sun," "Necessary Evils," and "A Parliament of Monsters." It immediately precedes "To Lie Down With Wolves" and "Every Silver Lining Has A Touch of Gray," and it's pretty damn angsty, folks. I'll be posting the rest of it on my journal as I write it.
Stop me if you've heard this one before. A vampire walks into a bar... make that two vampires. Or no, one of the vampires is already in the bar... sod it, never mind. Not particularly funny anyway.
Willow stood in the doorway of the bar when I looked up, scanning the smoky room with superior vampire vision. Unless I made for the back entrance right now, she'd spot me or scent me soon enough. I was none too certain that my legs would function if I attempted to put them through their paces, so I stayed put. Wasn't like I'd been hiding, after all. L.A. is a big city. Millions of people. Thousands of vampires. Even someone as noticeable as yours truly tends to make himself doesn't stand out much. But Will's a determined bird, and no doubt she'd followed the rumor of a brawl here, hacked into a police database there, and voila, Spike.
"You look like crap," she said, sliding onto the barstool beside me. I ignored her and gave all my attention to my whiskey. Willow frowned at the line of dead soldiers on the bar. "As killing sprees go, this one is pretty lame."
Nettled, I took another swig from the current combatant. "What, you'd rather I work my way through L.A.'s rumpots than its rum?" I'd get there. Eventually. Last, irrevocable step. Used to burn my bridges while I still stood on them, but that was a long time ago. "That can be arranged if you're so keen on it."
"Don't be stupid." She sighed. "I heard Buffy's side of it. I thought I should hear yours before kicking you a new... orifice."
"Generous of you." The whiskey tasted like Grevax bile on my tongue. In this bar, possibly it was. "But unnecessary. The Slayer wants me gone, I'm gone."
Willow's hand caught me sharply on the back of the head, and caught off-guard, I bloody near cracked my skull open on the bar. I rounded on my impertinent get with a snarl, but Will was having none of it. "You moron!" she said, showing some fang of her own. "The last thing she needs is you gone! She's holding it together by a thread, and the kids – you remember your living children, right? – they're not doing much better, and if you think... Spike?"
My shoulders had started shaking halfway through her speech, and the bottle shattered in my hand – I'd say it was a waste of good whiskey, but I'd be lying. I dropped my face to my bleeding hands, and if I didn't burst into tears then and there, it was only because I was too drunk to blink my eyelids in concert. Willow sighed and turned to the indifferent Anamovic demon tending the bar. "Coffee, black, lots of it, now," she snapped, and then, turning back to me, "Tell me everything. From the beginning."
In the beginning, I wanted a family.
This was back in the real beginning, a hundred and thirty-odd years ago, when I was a soppy human would-be poet. I used to dream of a doting wife and half a dozen adorable brats to fetch my pipe and call me Papa – well, not the wife; she'd call me Mr. Pratt in company, and William in our more intimate moments. When Drusilla sired me, that particular dream was buried deeper than ever she buried me, but it was still germinating, six feet under. For the next hundred and twenty years, the only thought I gave to adorable brats was when I was feeling peckish. Until I ended up in Sunnydale, up against my third Slayer, and you know the rest of that story. After the business with the Mohra blood, when Buffy broke it to me she was expecting, that old dream clawed its way back to life just as I had.
Like me, it had suffered a sea-change or two for the burying. The Slayer's not one for doting, and I don't smoke a pipe. But I'll take the rich and strange reality over my past self's prosaic imaginings any day, yeah? Early on, Buffy wasn't as thrilled as I was about the prospect of parenthood. But she came around in the end, and I'd swear on anything you cared to name that she loves our kids as much as I do. More. Which is why I couldn't... well, we'll get there.
The Git strolled into the crypt one balmy summer evening, 'bout two months back. I was perusing the new orders and deciding what I was going to go out and kill that night. Time was, my second-in-command, David, would have intercepted him and found out his business, but as you may have heard, David had met a dusty and annoying end a year or two back, and I hadn't found a replacement yet. Not easy finding decent minions, er, employees, at the best of times, but when you demand they stop killing people as a condition of employment it's bloody near impossible.
So The Git made his self-important way down to the lower level and into my office unimpeded, shrugging off Clem's offer of bottled water and Evie's laser death-glare. He was a weedy sort of bloke in his thirties, a few years younger than Buffy, perhaps. Sandy hair, pale eyes, hipster goatee and moustache waxed to an exacting curl. And a bloody monocle, for God's sake. I remember thinking he looked familiar, somehow, but I couldn't place him. For all the summer heat, he was kitted out like an extra from Doctor Zhivago: top hat, white gloves, and a big astrakhan coat, which I suppose passes for high fashion among the Hogwarts crowd. He squinted at me through his eyepiece, like he wasn't quite used to it yet. "William the Bloody, I presume? Consort of Slayers? The first living vampire? Owner, proprietor, and demon-hunter-in-chief of Blood Vengeance Incorporated, the premier supplier of demon parts and related magical paraphernalia in Southern California?"
He had some kind of put-on Transatlantic accent which kept slipping. Still couldn't place him. I leaned back till my chair creaked, laced my hands behind my head, and propped my bootheels on my desk. "That's the name on the desk. Who've I got the dubious pleasure of addressing?"
"My name is Wellington," he proclaimed. "John Wellington. My card." He extended the card, and when I failed to take it, let it flutter to the surface of my desk. "In one short week, I plan to conduct a major summoning ritual in the ruined temple on Kingman's Bluff – you're familiar with it?" Without waiting for me to indicate familiarity or lack thereof, Wellington went on, "I wish to engage your firm to obtain some items for me. Because they must be absolutely fresh, I'm prepared to pay extra for you to deliver them to me personally on the night of the ritual." He fumbled with his monocle for a bit, then produced a sheet of paper from an inner coat pocket, and slid it across my desk, to keep his calling-card company. "Will procuring any of these items be a problem?"
I sat up, fished my spectacles out of my desk drawer, and took my time giving his list a once-over. Fengar horn, an Ulquitarh's upper breath sac... whatever this ritual was for, the bloke wasn't sparing any expense. At the bottom of the list were written two dollar figures, the first one labeled, 'In Advance,' and the second, 'Upon Delivery.' Wizards are notoriously tight-fisted pillocks as a rule, but that was a lot of naughts. I glanced at him over the rims of my specs. "Looks like this is in service of some fairly high-powered mojo. You wouldn't be planning anything I'd feel obliged to warn the Slayer about, would you?"
Wellington laughed, a false-sounding "Ha ha ha ha!" and tipped me a wink. "I did say it was a major ritual. My good man... er, pire, I give you my word that the good people of Sunnydale, nay, indeed, of the world, have nothing to fear from me. I intend to summon a puissant spirit of the nether depths to advise me on certain matters astrological, and Sunnydale's fortuitous situation atop a former Hellmouth is perfect for my divinations. I'm willing to advance you this much tonight, with the remainder payable upon delivery." He indicated the numbers written on his calling-card. "Do we have an agreement?"
It did occur to me that Wellington was very possibly up to no good. I'm not completely thick. But I had a growing family to support, and none of the items on his list were on my list of demon parts I wouldn't deal in. And if he were a villain, there was no reason I shouldn't sock him for the money now and help Buffy take him down later, if necessary. "Cash," I said, "and none of your fairy gold, either, or I'll have your molars for a necklace."
"Done," said Wellington, and we shook on it. He had a grip like a dead fish.
If I'd known what was coming, I'd have torn his throat out then and there. Sans benefit of hindsight, I only told Evie to show Wellington out, shoved my paperwork off on Clem, and went merrily about my business.
Around two in the morning, business concluded, I headed home. The windows at 1630 Revello Drive were dark, and I stood for a moment on the threshold, luxuriating in the knowledge that I could step across it any time I liked. The night-time creaks and groans of the house (couldn't call it old when it was barely half my age) were familiar friends. And upstairs, right as they should be, the most important sounds of all: One, two, three, four heartbeats, Connie, Alex, and Buffy's human-fast, and our eldest, Bill's, as slow as my own. It's funny, when you think of it: Drusilla was the one who took my life, and she was the one who gave it back again. My dark princess didn't take kindly to me falling for the Slayer, for all she was the one who put horns on me first. She never did like anyone else playing with her toys, did Dru. I wonder sometimes if she foresaw what would happen when she dosed me with the Mohra blood. Whether she thought it was a blessing or a curse she was leaving me with. Never been sure, myself, but I wouldn't go back to being an ordinary vampire now. Life has its advantages.
I cat-footed upstairs, and as I passed the boys' room, Bill's tousled head appeared in the doorway. He fumbled for his spectacles – poor kid inherited his dad's crappy eyesight along with the fangs – and whispered, "Dad! I've figured it out. I can move down to the basement and have my own room, and Alex and the new baby can share this room. I could have a whole wall of maps for – "
Where the hell we were going to put Number Four when he arrived had been a topic of family debate of late. Ultrasound said it was another boy; my ears told me that it was another vampire. The crib could stay in our bedroom for a bit, but once he got older... "And what are your mum and I to do for a training room if you've got the basement cluttered up with maps?"
"Oh, you can train at the crypt!" Bill waved my objections away with the same tone I'd used on my dad when I advanced the perfectly logical reasons I ought to be allowed to ride his hunter instead of the pony.
"We'll talk about it tomorrow," I said, in the same tone my dad used to dash my youthful dreams of steeplechase victories. "You know bloody well your mum will have the last word anyway; she always does. Back to bed before we wake her, yeah?"
Buffy, of course, was awake already; not much goes on in this house that the Slayer hasn't got a hand in. "Hey there," she murmured as I slipped into bed beside her. She snuggled in close as I wrapped an arm around her middle, which was rounding out nicely. Ordinarily, Buffy and I take it in turns to do the slay-at-home parent thing, but when she's expecting, I do more of the heavy lifting. "What about Christopher?"
I stroked her belly. "Odd name for a vampire, pet."
"Well, his father did come back from the dead. Besides, I just like it." Buffy propped her head up on one elbow. "Anything happen tonight that I need to know about?"
"Some rum cove with an eyeglass is paying us a small fortune for the personal delivery of various bits and bobs to the temple out on Kingman's Bluff in a week's time," I said, yawning.
"Huh." I could hear the frown in her voice. "Any of the bobbity bits out of the ordinary?"
"Mmm, no special orders as such, but you don't use Fengar horn unless you're summoning serious power." Or so Anya's informed me.
The frown had reached Buffy's eyes. Kingman's Bluff rises to the east, beyond the modest glow of Sunnydale's city lights. The ruins themselves aren't much to look at, only a few low, crumbling walls and a toppled pillar or two. Rupert Giles allowed there was a good deal more hidden beneath the surface. Some years back, Buffy and I had run afoul of some Rwasundi demons, who'd sent us back in time to when the Master, my late unlamented great-great-grandsire, was still trying to raise the Old Ones – according to Edna Mae Wilkins, one Old One in particular, the founder of the Aurelian line, thought to repose somewhere beneath that buried temple. Never seen the point, myself; I've met an Old One or two, and they're no fun at parties.
Buffy laid a hand on her belly. "I've got a twitchy feeling about this. Maybe I should come along when you make this delivery."
Wish I could say I felt a premonition of doom, and that I'd insisted she stay home. But premonitions were Dru's thing, not mine. I grew up in a time when she who faces death by torture for each life beneath her breast was more than poetic fancy, but Buffy always had easy pregnancies – she was the Slayer, and in as near to perfect health as a woman could get. Nor was she one to take stupid risks. Wasn't like she was proposing to go one-on-one with a Chirago demon, here. We'd gone through this together three times now, and we both trusted that the other knew what they were about.
Maybe that was where we went wrong.
To Be Continued...