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 is the first story in the arc which continues in "To Lie Down With Wolves," "Every Silver Lining Has A Touch of Gray,", "Let Your Hearts Be Light,", "Mea Culpa," and "A Professional Consultation," and concludes in "The Indefinite Article." It's pretty damn angsty, folks. The story includes some elements of Dark Horse comics canon, but I do very different things with them. Thanks to my incredible betas, Bewildered, slaymesoftly, trepkos, typographer, cornerofmadness, SzmattyCat, and Maevepagan. Any remaining errors are entirely my own.
Suppose you'll think it strange, but my respect for the git went up a thousand percent at the realization. He'd spent every second of the last fifteen years concocting his revenge. Couldn't fault him for that. It's what I'd have done, if someone'd killed the love of my life. Wouldn't have taken me fifteen years, but I've got natural advantages.
If ever there were proof that love's blood, not brains, Wells' pash on Warren Mears was it. In my brief but unpleasant association with Mears, I'd never seen him do aught for Wells save use him or ignore him. When Buffy turned the two of 'em over to the police after they killed that girl, their mate Levinson tried to scrape up enough dosh to get them a lawyer. He managed to get the attention of some tarted-up L.A. bitch name of Morgan, who interviewed the two of 'em, decided that Mears was worth Wolfram & Hart's time, and got him a sentence that couldn't have amounted to more'n three words. Wells, on the other hand, got the dictionary thrown at him, and Mears traipsed off to L.A. without a backwards look.
But as I've said before, love's a funny thing.
My demonic great-grandad wasn't so impressed. If there were eyeballs buried somewhere in the black pits of Archaeous' sockets, odds were they were rolling. He tilted his horn-crowned head to sneer at Wells. "Until our essences are once more united, the only control I have over him is of the crude physical variety." He gave me a shake. "Get on with it. And hurry."
Wells pouted, but he set to it, digging into the knapsack and laying out various oozy bits on the black stone of the altar. Couldn't see Buffy from the angle Archaeous was holding me, but from across the chasm metal screeched like an amorous tomcat, and shortly thereafter, something flung the world's largest boot at the world's largest trash can. It occurred to me that that Archaeous couldn't sport much in the way of la-di-dah magical powers – couldn't throw fireballs, or teleport, or any of that – or he'd have stopped the Slayer from doing whatever it was she was doing. More 'n that, he was tall enough, and the cavern roof low enough over the island, that he couldn't jump across the chasm without bashing his head in. Couldn't even stand up straight. To get across, he'd have to climb down to the bottom, and then scale the opposite wall. What good any of that would do me now I hadn't a clue, but best keep it in mind.
"All is prepared, O Great One," Wells announced with breathless glee. He hoisted one of the shackles with a grunt of effort. "If you'll just hold him a little lower – "
Archaeous obliged, and Wells clipped the shackle around my middle, just below the skeletal hand pinning my arms to my sides. "Don't bother trying to break it," he said with a smirk. "These shackles were bespelled to contain a demon lord, so I think they'll hold one measly vampire just fine."
Fuck. If I'd known this was coming, I'd have skipped a few dinners the week before. But as my mum used to say, if ifs an' ands were pots and pans, there'd be no work for tinkers' hands. Archaeous let me drop, satisfied I wasn't going anywhere, and I rolled over onto my back. My legs were free, at least, and Wells had put the shackle on low about my waist, on account of Archaeous holding me about the chest. Which meant that the shackle pinned my forearms, not my upper arms, and with a bit of work, I might get one free.
Wells paid no attention whilst I writhed about like a dying haddock. He propped the spellbook he'd fetched along up on the altar-stone, opened it to a well-worn page, and began incanting verses in a demon language I didn't recognize. The spell seemed to involve him swallowing a hunk of demon-flesh after every other line or so, and for a second I almost felt sorry for the berk – some of the bits weren't the freshest, and he soon started looking green about the gills. He kept it up, though, and I braced myself for God knows what.
Twice before magic's tried to rip me body from demon – first time when you bobbled that spell to bring Buffy back, Will, and again when Dru patched me back together with Mohra blood. This was different – as the minutes and the chant dragged on, I could feel something huge and ancient and vile... calling me home. I could hear Dru's voice in it, singing her mad, sad songs, and Angelus' bellow. Coaxing and cajoling at first, whispering of freedom, of wild red nights and the heady taste of human blood. Then demanding, commanding, bearing down on me with the weight of all the dead black stone overhead, trying to swallow me whole, flood me out of my own head and lift me up to dark salvation, if only I'd reach out and grasp the skeletal hand extended to me....
Not much of a spoiler to say I didn't bite. Funny thing was, it wasn't even very hard. Git must have made a hash of the pronunciation or something when he cast the spell – diced when he should have dixited.
"Well?" Archaeous demanded.
"Uh..." Wells looked perplexed and queasy, as if the demon bits might make a reappearance at any minute. "I'm not certain, Most Sapient One. It should be working."
Archaeous hissed, but whatever threats he intended on tossing Wells' way were lost to history, for at that moment there was a SPUNG! loud enough to make the both of 'em swing around. I rolled over in time to see a twelve-foot wooden pole hurtling towards us across the chasm. Buffy love-of-my-fucking-life Summers-Pratt had torn down the scaffolding, lashed the pieces together, and built a giant fucking ballista. The thing was only good for one shot – it fell apart as soon as she let go of the rope – but she made that one shot count.
Wells' eyes went wide, and he fell backwards, windmilling his arms as he almost tipped over the edge of the island. Archaeous was too big to dodge. The pole speared him right through the chest – missed whatever passed for his heart, but it must have come close. He staggered and collapsed. Yours truly flung himself to one side just in time to escape being buried under several tonnes of candy-apple-red demon arse. Vamps get stronger as they age, but the same things still kill 'em – wood, fire, beheading. Buffy'd told me, many a time, how she killed the Master, and Kakistos. Stood to reason that Archaeous would be vulnerable to the same things his get were — good on the Slayer for working that out, 'stead of wasting time flailing about with an axe or somesuch. Another metallic crash echoed in the dry cavern air; Buffy'd dragged the longest intact piece of her scaffold-catapult to the edge of the cavern and swung it over, so's the end of it just scraped the edge of the island. She was coming across, clinging to a spiderweb of rattling, swaying metal, with grim death in her eyes and a half-dozen roped-together petrol cans slung over her shoulders.
I could see, clear as if it had already happened, her losing her grip or her balance, and toppling into the void. Fuelled by pure terror, I wrenched my arm up and out of the shackle, scarcely noticing the stripped skin and bones crunching in my wrist. Free. I shoved the shackle down over my hips and leaped to my feet, racing for our precarious new bridge. A petrol can flew over my head, then another, and another, splitting open on the stone and spraying their contents everywhere.
"Get over here, Spike! Now!" Buffy turned to Wells. "You too!"
The scaffolding dipped and creaked with my added weight. The ends of the poles jerked and scraped downwards against the steep rocky sides of the island, and for a heart-stopping moment I thought we were all goners. Then a pole-end caught against an inch-deep ledge and stuck. I could hear Wells whimpering behind me, trying to nerve himself to jump onto the scaffolding. "Lighter!" Buffy snapped at me. I dug into my trouser pockets with my working hand, and tossed it to her. Made a note to mention it next time she complained about me smoking in the house.
Archaeous roared in pain and fury. He didn't dare move, lest he shift the stake he was impaled on and dust himself. "You fool!" he bellowed. "You should have contained her!"
"It's not my fault!" Wells shrieked back. "The spell should have worked! You were supposed to give me my revenge, damn it!"
"What revenge?" Buffy stuffed a rag in the neck of the last petrol can. "What the hell is he talking about?"
"It's wossname," I gasped. "The other, not-Jonathan tosser who helped Warren Mears kill that Katrina bird, all those years back. Seems to have a grudge against us for offing his boyfriend."
Shouldn't have said us. It was me who killed Mears, not her, but the Slayer's always ready to take blame, even when it's none of hers to take. Should have noticed her lips tighten, her eyes harden with determination. She flicked my lighter, lit the fuse, and flung her improvised Molotov cocktail, all in one smooth motion. The bomb sailed over Wells' head, trailing sparks, and hit the island with a colossal BOOM! The spilt petrol ignited, and the island went up in flames. Wells jumped for the scaffolding. And Great-granddad lashed out with one of the spider-leg things on his back, speared Wells through the collar of his ridiculous greatcoat, and dragged him screaming back into the inferno.
Wells was bundled up in so much wool the flames couldn't get to him immediately, but in a moment or two that wouldn't matter. "Come on, love!" I grabbed Buffy's arm, tugging her towards the opposite bank. "He's done for! You can't – "
I was going to say 'risk it.' Suspect Buffy thought I was going to say 'save him.' Well, and what if I had? True enough either way. But it wasn't what she wanted to hear just then. She popped me a quick one to the nose, naught but a love tap by Slayer standards. Just hard enough to set me back on my heels as she lunged past me.
She's magnificent, yeah? She kicked off the scaffolding and made the island in a single leap, grabbed Wells, and chucked him at me, leaving Archaeous with naught but the shredded remains of the greatcoat. I caught Wells with my good hand, and he plastered himself to the scaffolding like a limpet, wailing. "Oh, God, oh God, it wasn't supposed to be like this!"
Backlit by flames, Buffy spun round, but before she could jump, Archaeous' clawed hand closed on her middle like a vise, and his boney fingers clenched hard. I heard ribs snap, and saw her face twist in agony. Think I screamed something then. Not sure. Next thing I knew I was clinging to a flame-wreathed wrist the size of my whole body, tearing off great smoking chunks of candy-apple-red flesh with my fangs. Since the Mohra blood, I'm a hair less flammable than the average vamp, and that's the only thing which saved me from going up the chimney with Great-granddad. Wasn't pleasant, even so.
Either the flames or my teeth were too much for him – Archaeous let the Slayer drop, and I scooped her up and over my shoulder, and dove for the scaffold. Thank fuck for vampire reflexes. Wells had already skittered across, and was waiting for me on the other side. Suppose he fancied his chances better with us than without us. Soon as my boots hit stone on the other side, I kicked the scaffolding off the edge, sending it to follow the bridge. Archaeous bellowed and cursed behind me, and reflected flames set the hieroglyphs on the cavern walls dancing. I didn't care to hang about and see if he burnt to a crisp or not. Buffy was moaning in my arms, clutching her belly.
"I didn't think there'd be so much blood," Wells whispered, half to himself. He was slapping out the smouldering patches on his clothes, and looked decidedly sickish. "Wh–what's wrong with her? She – she's the Slayer! She has, like, superpowers."
"She's pregnant, you festering gobshite!" I shoved him and his silly face aside, snarling, "You summoned the big red bastard, you can undo him!"
Rest of the night's a bit of a blur, to be honest. I got Buffy up the stairs and down the bluff somehow. Broke every traffic law on the books rushing her to hospital. Found out later that they'd tried to book me for treatment myself, seeing as I looked like a slab of burnt toast, but I'd vamped out and refused to leave her side. Must have texted Harris at some point, 'cause he came down to the emergency room, pried me off Buffy, and made me ring up Bill, and Dawn in L.A. Christ knows what either of them thought; I must've sounded stark raving. By the time Dawn'd promised that she and Charlie'd be driving up to Sunnydale right off, the medical chaps had whisked Buffy away on a gurney.
You'll have guessed that by then it was too late. Probably too late from the moment Archaeous got his claws on her. Broken ribs, internal bleeding... she'd recover, of course. Our little Christopher-to-be, though... he wasn't so lucky. Slayer healing's good, but there's limits to what it covers.
Never in my life been so nauseated by the smell of blood.
Wells found me in the waiting room, some time after. Stripped of his disguise and slathered in burn cream and gauze, he looked the worse for wear, though not nearly as worse as I'd have liked. "Spike? I had to come tell you – urk!"
It's an art, holding someone by the throat, hard enough they don't wriggle free, not so hard they suffocate before you want 'em dead. I slammed Wells up against the antiseptic green wall and let him see the hellfire burning in my eyes for a second. "You'd best have an excellent reason for being within striking range of my teeth, mate. This's all a bloody game to you, innit? Well, I play for keeps."
"Archaeous!" Wells croaked, flailing against the wall. Down the hall a pair of orderlies turned to look, obviously considering having a word with me. "I came to tell you – I tried to unsummon him, but the altar was destroyed in the fight. He crawled down into the depths once the stake came loose. He... he may have gotten into some of the old Hellmouth tunnels. I can't tell. I think he's beyond the range of the spell."
Fuck. Well, if he got into the deeper tunnels, with any luck, our old friend Clarence the Harrier demon would do for him. Just touch wood he didn't cave in the entire town in the process. My lip curled. "Considering how well your bell-book-and-candle routine worked on me, likely you just cocked up the dismissal spell."
He shook his head, well as he could while I had him pinned. "You don't understand. There's not many things I'm good at, but magic is one of them. I've been plotting revenge for fifteen years. That spell was perfect. Perfect. I didn't mess up. It failed because... whatever Archaeous is, you're not that any longer. The Law of Contagion is no longer in effect." His voice was almost reverent. "You... you're something different."
I went full vamp-face, and the pair of orderlies wisely reconsidered. "Not that different." I let go of his throat, and he rolled over, coughing, and pushed himself up off the linoleum.
He looked up at me. "I didn't know. That she was – you know. I never meant – "
Rage washed over me. "Yeah? Fine and dandy to summon up a demon lord to kill a woman if she's not up the duff, then?"
"You don't understand!" Wells' gauze-wrapped fists clenched at his sides. "I know Warren never loved me, but I loved him. I had to make what we had mean something!" His thin chest heaved. "I had to make you both pay! I just didn't think it would be... like this. Don't tell me you wouldn't – that you haven't – done the same!"
All of a sudden I was sick of him. Not least 'cause he was right. "Maybe so. But not today. I'm going to let you go now. And I'm never going to see you again, yeah? Not because it's the right thing to do, not because I feel a single bloody ounce of compassion for you, but because I know killing you will hurt Buffy more'n it satisfies me." I bared my fangs. "Don't make Mears' mistake, mate. Run. Before I change my mind."
He ran. Dunno where he went. Don't care.
Next thing I remember clearly is coming to in Buffy's hospital room. Suppose I've got Harris to thank for getting the medical boffins to let me stay there, too. Damn him. The curtains were drawn, lit from behind with the molten glow of afternoon sunlight. She was lying still as stone in the bed, face ash-pale against stark white sheets. The salt smell of her tears pricked my nose. Not, for once, the Slayer, but only Buffy. She's taken worse hurt than this before, but I'd never seen her look so frail, so small, as if what we'd lost had taken a piece of her soul with it.
"Oh, love," I whispered, or tried to – my throat felt like I'd swallowed a scrub-brush whole. I managed to peel myself out of the chair and crab-walk my way over to the bed, shedding flakes of burnt skin all the way. She hates tears, Buffy does. Thinks them a weakness. I've always taken it as an honor that she'll let me hold her while she weeps. We sat there for a long time, me holding her, rocking her. And if I'd just kept my fucking gob shut, all might have been... no, it would never have been well. Adding a dash of Spike just made it worse, as per sodding usual.
What d'you say to mend another's heart when your own is lying in pieces at their feet? Not much good at comfort at the best of times, me. Likely I babbled nonsense for a good long time, as much to drown out the sound of my own thoughts as anything else. But I remember the thing that sent it all to hell: "We can't let this happen again."
I felt Buffy go stiff and angry in my arms. "What do you mean?"
Truth was, I was lashing myself with the thought that I should've protected her – gone all manly and commanding, and forbidden her to come with me, or some such rot, as if that would ever have worked. Pulled up short, I blinked and stammered out, "Just – I should've known it was too dangerous. Should've taken Evie or Elyse along as backup instead of you. Should've – "
"Oh, that's a great idea. So Archaeous could have taken them over and used them against you?" The Slayer shoved me off and sat up with a gasp of pain – broken ribs take some days to heal even for the likes of us, as I know to my sorrow. Her voice was brittle, anger like a slick of ice over an ocean-deep well of pain. "Are you saying I don't know how to do my job?"
Thing about the Slayer is, she's most likely to strike at you when she's angry with herself. What I should've done was soothed her down, told her we'd both done the best we could with what we knew. I'm not built for that kind of thing. I've learnt it, over the years, after a fashion, but it don't come natural. Suppose it's different for you, Will, having a soul and all, but... right then, my lessons failed me. Gutted as I was, I had to take it out on someone, and Buffy was the only one there. "I bloody well told you to leave Wells be!"
Come to that, maybe me and the Slayer aren't so different after all.
Her eyes and her mouth hardened, and the ice grew deeper. "I'm the Slayer, Spike. I don't get to 'leave people be.' I can't just turn my back and walk away when someone needs help!"
"You're a Slayer," I snapped. "There's times when someone else has to save the world – or Wells."
"The only other person there was you, and you were ready to cut and run!" She didn't say coward,but I heard it in her voice anyway, and it burnt deeper than the petrol had.
“The tosser brought it on himself! Didn't deserve saving anyhow.”
Wouldn't have thought either of us had any tears left, but they were flowing down her cheeks regardless. "Unlike some people, I don't get to pick and choose who gets saved – and who the hell are you to decide that Andrew isn't worth saving?" Her voice broke in sheer fury. "How many people have you killed again, Spike? I'm betting it's a few more than Andrew has! God, every time I think that maybe, just maybe, you get it just the teeniest bit, you prove to me that you don't, and you can't, and you never will! Andrew wouldn't even have been here, doing this, if you hadn't killed Warren Mears!"
If I'd shut up. If I'd backed down. If I'd said anything, anything at all, 'cept the thing I did say...
"You bloody well did choose. You chose Andrew fucking Wells over our child." Having stuck the knife in, I had to twist it. That's the thing about being a vampire, as you've no doubt found out. Pulse or no pulse, we're built to inflict pain. It's like wine for us; goes to our heads. Not saying I couldn't help myself, mind. 'S just that in that moment, I didn't want to. "You just had to play hero to salve your conscience over letting me kill Mears, didn't you? I bloody well hope it's satisfied now."
Moment I saw the words strike home, I would've swallowed holy water to take 'em back. Too late, of course. Buffy fell back upon the sheets, her eyes great dark bruised hollows in her bloodless face. "Leave," she said, in a voice like death. "Leave now."
So I left. What the fuck else could I do, after that?
You may wonder why it never occurred to me that Buffy might have just been ordering me out of her room rather than out of her life. If you'd been there, Will, seen her eyes and heard her voice in that minute, it wouldn't have occurred to you to wonder either. S' funny. When Drusilla gave me my walking papers, I was heartbroken and furious. Robbed a liquor store, killed the clerk, stashed as much of the stock as would fit into the boot of the DeSoto, and lit out for Sunnydale the very same night. Walking out of hospital, I was... numb, I s'pose. A less-charitable narrator might say I just didn't know what to do with myself after a breakup when I was already in Sunnydale.
But back in the old days, it was only me and Dru. I'd spent the last nigh-on-twenty years gladly forging the chains that bound me to these people and this town, and sloughing them all in a night? Impossible. I stopped off at home, first.
The sun was just setting, and the big trees in the front yard gave enough shade that I was safe from incineration. I stood there on the front porch, staring at the door, for a good long time. No one'd revoked my invitation, but somehow the place didn't feel as if I'd a right to it any longer. I could hear Harris snoring on the couch inside, and as he'd doubtless been up all night and into the morning, I didn't feel up to waking him.
I was sitting on the front steps, putting the finishing touches on a note for Harris, when Bill found me. "Dad?" He sounded terrified, poor lad, standing in the doorway and squinting into the waning daylight. "Is Mom – ?"
"Recovering," I said, and he wilted in relief. He hop-skipped across the sun-barred expanse of the porch and sank down beside me on the steps. I put an arm round his shoulders and held on hard. "She'll likely be coming home in a day or two. Bill, lad... there's been..." My voice cracked, and I had to stop for a bit. "Your Aunt Dawn and Uncle Charlie will be here in a bit. I've a note here for them, and one for Harris – you can read the big words to him, yeah?"
I handed him my leaves of scribbled-over note paper. I hadn't wanted to leave this for a text, but saying it face to face was beyond me. He looked up at me, alarmed again. Folks say our eldest takes after me, but he has his mother's eyes, and in that moment I could scarcely bear to look at them. "What are you talking about, Dad?"
"Your mum and I, we've had a... that is, we've decided..." I was stammering like bloody Rupert on his tweediest day. "She's gone through a lot, and it's best I... give her some space."
"Space? What's that mean?" Our boy's no dunce. "Did you have a fight?"
I let him go and stood up. "I'll be going away for a bit. Dunno how long. Tell your sis and your brother – tell 'em I love 'em, and I'd stay if I could." Fuck, no, that wasn't right. "If I thought I could make things better. You tell 'em that."
Bill looked as pole-axed as I felt, but anger was starting to creep into his voice. "Why can't you tell them yourself? You can't just leave! This is crazy! You guys argue all the time, and it never means anything! Mom's going to need you – we're going to – "
If I'd listened to another word – but just then, Charlie and Dawn Gunn pulled up. Dawn threw herself headlong out of the car and raced up the front walk. I took the opportunity to make a vamp-speed dash in the other direction, flinging myself into the front seat before Charlie could get out. Bill, behind me, was yelling, "Dad! Come back!" Heartbroken and furious. My boy does take after me in some ways.
"Spike, what the hell is up?" Charlie demanded. "Dawn said she got this crazy call in the middle of the night – "
I'd need to arrange for someone to take charge of Bloody Vengeance Inc., till I could decide whether to sign it over to Buffy, or sell it off and give her the dosh – bugger me if I was going to pull a Hank Summers on her. Fuck. Would Buffy consider her truce with Bloody Vengeance's employees null and void? Would she want a formal divorce? Would she let me visit the sprogs? Would the sprogs even want me to visit? The sound of chains breaking hollowed me out. "Just drive," I said. "I'll explain presently, but right now I need – " and my past self would stake himself if he'd any inkling these words'd ever leave my lips, " – to speak to my solicitor."
"So Charlie and Anya are fixing it all up," I said. "About the business. So the kids won't be left without... won't be left." I stared down at my hands. The slashes from the bottle I'd crushed were already starting to heal, and for a mad second I wished they wouldn't, wished I could wear the pain on the outside for as long as it'd last on the inside. "That's it, then. My tale of woe. Do your worst."
Willow looked me up and down for a considerable time, like a sculptor assessing a block of stone and finding it wanting. "Okay," she said at last. "Answer me this: Do you think Buffy loves your children and wants to keep them safe?"
"What kind of fuckwitted question is that? Of course she does."
"Just checking." Will sat back, cocked her head, and folded her arms across her chest. "Suppose you're right. Suppose Buffy only tried to save Andrew because she felt guilty about not saving Warren, all those years ago. Say the guilt led her to make a terrible error of judgement. Just how bad do you think Buffy must have felt for it to be stronger than – "
"Don't you think I know that, Will?" I stared moodily into the bitter black sludge that passed for coffee here and grimaced – was on a par with the whiskey, is all I'll say for it. One of the upsides to my current condition is, the quantity of alcohol I have to down to get thoroughly plastered isn't quite as epic as it was when I was undead. The concurrent downside is, it takes me longer to sober up once the plastering's been achieved. "May not be able to see the wind, but I can see the oak it topples. I left 'cause she's right. I don't give a piss about Warren Mears, then or now, and I never sodding understood why she did, and I never will. I thought she'd got that all out of her system after that dust-up with the Guardian. If that's what she needs from me..." I drew a ragged breath. "All the more reason for me to be out of her life, 'cause I can't give it. I'm a demon, and I can't change – Ow!"
"Bullshit!" Willow'd vamped out and lunged across the table, smacking me hard upside the head. "I was there when you killed Warren, remember? I'm the one who talked you into it – no, don't argue with me, listen. If you can't change, then answer one question: why is Andrew Wells still alive?"
I gawped at her. She went on, relentless. "No, you’re not good. You're approaching goodness on an asymptotic curve, and you'll never quite get there. But you're still miles away from where you started. I can see it, even if you can't. And Buffy sees it too, even if she wasn’t in a place to admit it that night. That’s why you’re still alive." She leaned over the table and looked me in the eye. "Buffy's chosen you over what she thought was her duty a dozen times over, because she loves you. This time she chose what she thought was her duty over you. And maybe she made a horrible mistake, or maybe it was the right thing to do and she just ran out of luck, because that happens sometimes, and you know what? It doesn't matter. What does matter is, do you love her enough to stand by her when she doesn't choose you? Because she is the Slayer, and it won't be the last time. If you don't, if you'd rather stay here in L.A. and sob into your beer while she's going through the worst time of her entire life, instead of getting your skinny vampire ass back to Sunnydale THIS MINUTE and being the person she needs to get through this, whoever that is, then I am done with you, Spike! Do you understand me?"
She sat back with a yellow-eyed glare. I gulped and nodded. Don't think I had the wherewithal to do anything else. Soul or no soul, my girl Will makes a sodding brilliant vampire.
So I went home. What the fuck else could I do, after that?
I slunk back into Sunnydale late on a summer evening, finding it much as I'd left it. Bill heard the thunder of the DeSoto's engine well before anyone else in the household. He was standing on the porch as I pulled up, fists clenched at his sides. He watched as I got out of the car and trudged up the front walk like it was the sodding Green Mile.
"Dad?" my eldest asked. His voice shook a bit, like he feared I'd vanish into the smoke peeling off my shoulders in the last rays of the setting sun. Then his eyes, what you could see of them behind the taped-together specs, flashed yellow, and his voice turned hostile. Recalling he hated my guts now, no doubt. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm here to speak to your mum, if she'll oblige me." Christ, would I have to pick him up and set him aside to get in, if I could get in? Would Buffy have disinvited me? Will claimed she'd let Buffy know I was coming, but nonetheless, dread weighted my belly at the sight of the threshold.
Bill huffed out a breath of anger or contempt, but he turned and yelled into the house, "MOM! HE'S HERE!"
A moment later, Buffy's pale face appeared in the doorway, carefully applied mascara and lipstick a defiant I'm just fine, damn you. Still looked tired and wan and thinner than she should have for a woman so recently expecting, but I'd ever seen anything more beautiful in my life. "Spike," she said. Could hear her heart going a mile a minute, smell fear and sorrow and anger. Which would win out, I hadn't a clue. "Bill, go inside. Your father and I need to talk."
"But Mom – "
Bill gave me a last poisonous look and went. For a long moment Buffy and I stared at one another. Then, "Love... I know words are no good, but I'm so sorr – "
"No!" she gasped, like I'd stabbed her. "Don't say that." My heart dropped into my boots, but she went on, "Don't – every time we fight, you always – you're always the one to say it first. Just this once, let me..." She was trembling, this woman who'd faced down hellgods without blinking. "I – you were right. I should have known better. It's my – "
"You stop now." I was at her side in an eyeblink. Didn't quite dare take her in my arms, not yet. "Buffy, love, you were right too. If I'd not taken my pleasure with Mears, none of this – "
She laughed wildly. "Oh, I'm sure Warren and Andrew would have just gone home and played checkers for the next fifteen years," No tears, not this time; Spike's no longer accorded the privilege of seeing the Slayer weep. "Do you know the real reason I let you live after you killed him, Spike? Because you saved me the trouble of doing it myself."
"You know that's not true. You'd never have – "
"But I would! I almost have, lots of times! Ted, Finch, Faith, Katrina, Sparrow – the only reason that I'm not a murderer is sheer luck. It's not fair," she whispered. "I did the selfish thing back then, and I did the right thing this time, but it's now I'm being punished for it. It's not fair."
I wanted to tell her there was no fair about it, no karma, no fate – that shite just happened, without regard to who deserved it. Who'd know better than I, who dealt out the shite in question to so many for so long? But I had just enough sense to realize that words weren't wanted at the moment. I reached out to her then, careful as Androcles confronted with a wounded lioness, and for a wonder, she allowed it. Buffy stood stiff and unyielding in my arms, but her fingers gripped my jacket so tight it's a miracle they didn't punch through the leather. "I can't ask you to take me back," I whispered. This was a thorn that would be years in the drawing, as I'd so foolishly driven it deeper. "But whatever you need of me, whatever you want of me, I'm here to do."
Her shoulders heaved, once, as she took an ugly, hiccupping breath. "I need you to be here."
"Then here I'll stay."
We both pulled apart then, awkward, though I had to force my hands to let her go. Buffy wiped her eyes, careful of smudging her makeup, and took a deep breath. "But there have to be conditions."
"Anything," I replied promptly.
She looked away; out at the trees, down at the toes of her boots. "When you said this couldn't happen again," she said, "you were right. We can't let it. So from now on...you know my pills aren't totally reliable when it comes to preventing..." She made a vague gesture encompassing our respective middles. "Supernatural nookie from running its course. But we know what is reliable."
For a second I thought she'd taken shagging off the table altogether. Then I realized: the Mohra blood brought me to life, but I'm still a vampire. And for vampires, it's always about the blood. The tiniest of nips when we did the deed was all it took, but without that tiny nip, the chances of me knocking her up again were virtually nil. "Ah," I breathed, and dropped my head to hers. "As you wish, love."
"I've really made up my mind on – oh. Okay." Was there a shadow of disappointment in her voice? Had she wanted me to argue the point? Couldn't risk it, not now, when everything still hung by a thread. Was that evidence of Will's vaunted change? Or just more evidence that yours truly's got a yellow streak down his back fit for a six-lane highway? Buffy bit her lip. "Do you have your things in the car?"
"A few. I'm still invited, then?"
She half-laughed, half-sniffled. "I didn't disinvite you while you were trying to kill me. Why should I disinvite you for being a jackass? Get your stuff, and come home."
I stood there a long minute more, then went round to the rear of the car to get my meagre kit out of the boot. Up at the house, the lights were going on. Inside, I'd bridges to mend. I set my jaw, hefted my bag and slammed the boot closed. Will was right; I'd changed. Just... not enough.
Not yet, anyway.