“Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned.” ~Song of Songs 8:6-7
Prologue: January 2017
“I don’t want you to leave.” Buffy spoke as though her words alone would prevent Spike from going. For a moment he paused in his packing, only to begin again, the tension in his shoulders obvious. “Please, Spike.”
He zipped up the duffel in one vicious jerk, the long months of arguing having taken their toll. “No, Buffy. This time, it isn’t about you.”
She flinched as though he’d hit her. “Spike—”
“’ve done everythin’ you’ve ever asked of me,” he continued relentlessly. “I need this.”
“And what if you don’t come back?” she demanded. “You promised you wouldn’t leave!”
“I leave every time I walk out that door to do a job,” he snarled. “An’ so do you. We get no guarantees in this life, Slayer, except the ones we create ourselves. I told you I’d always come back, an’ I always will. Don’t start doubting me now.”
“I’m not doubting you!” she shot back. “This is—this is a lot more risky than anything we’ve done in the past, and you’re going alone.”
Blue eyes sparked as he tried to brush past her. “That’s a funny way of puttin’ it when you know Wesley’s goin’ with me.”
“No.” The word was stark, layered with years of fear and anger, sparked by one off-handed comment several months before. “How long before I’d have to leave anyway, Buffy?” Spike demanded. “You think the neighbors wouldn’t begin to notice that I’m not agin’? ‘s not just gonna be Meg’s teachers who make comments, Slayer, ‘s gonna be everyone who sees us together. And meanwhile I would watch as you, an’ Wesley, an’ the rest get older. You think I’ve forgotten that ‘m goin’ to watch you die one of these days, if I’m not dust first? Well, I won’t. ‘ve lost you once, an’ ‘m not goin’ to let it happen again.”
It was the same argument, the same words. They had gone round for months, Buffy unwilling to let him leave to find a solution that he could live with. Spike unwilling to give up on the idea. The thoughtless comment of a teacher, that there was no way Spike could be Meg’s father because he appeared to be too young had sparked an intense debate that showed no signs of diminishing.
Spike, who had been as patient as he was able, finally gave up on convincing Buffy that this was the best thing to do. Wesley had been an unexpected advocate, and after months of research they were embarking on a quest that would hopefully grant the vampire his wish.
Buffy wanted to threaten him. She wanted to tell Spike that if he left now, he could never come back, but she well remembered the pain those words had caused her when Joyce had used them. She had left anyway, and months later, they had both still been reeling.
Besides, on the off chance that Spike was actually successful, Buffy wanted him to come back.
“I love you,” she said, her voice carrying a resignation that hadn’t been there up till now. It was that tone which caught Spike’s attention and caused him to pause in his flight. “Just—be careful.”
He stood, torn, wanting both to go to her and to walk out. Spike was raw from months of arguments, weeks of feeling as though she wasn’t listening to him out of her own selfish reasons and fears. “I will come back.” He didn’t move, not even when he felt Buffy’s arms around his waist.
“I believe you.” They stood in silence. “Please look at me.”
Spike turned so that he could face her. “Buffy—”
“Come back to me,” she said intently. For the first time, Buffy understood the necessity of loving Spike enough to let him go. “That’s all I ask.”
“I swear it.”
She released him then, and Spike opened the door of their bedroom to find Meg standing there, looking up at him with those great big eyes of hers that were so much like Dawn’s. “Dad? Are you leaving?”
“Gotta go, moppet,” he said gently. “But I’ll be back before you know it.”
Meg knew that adults lied sometimes, and she knew there was a good possibility that her father was probably lying to her now. Her parents had been fighting for months about her dad leaving, and from what Meg had overheard, Buffy didn’t think Spike was going to return.
On the other hand, her dad had never lied to her before. Meg gave him a hug, feeling his arms come around her, their familiar strength comforting. “Love you.”
“Love you too, moppet.”
And then he was gone. It was a day that Meg would remember forever.
Wesley embraced Nika with a desperation he hated to let her see. “You’ll be alright?”
“I do know how to take care of myself, cariad,” Nika reminded him. “Besides, Nain is here to help me, as is Hannah.”
Wesley stole a look at both Enid and his Slayer. “I know I’m leaving you in good hands,” he said to his wife, pulling back.
Unlike Buffy, Nika understood completely why the vampire was making the choice he was. After all, as a woman who had lost almost everyone she loved, she could see why Spike would take steps to prevent suffering the same kind of loss.
Wesley gave Enid a hug and then put his arm around Hannah’s shoulders. “Buffy is in charge while I’m gone,” he told her. “You’ll do as she says?”
“Why would I treat Buffy any differently than I treat you?” Hannah replied cheekily.
Wesley tugged on her braid in remonstrance. “Take care, Hannah.”
She smiled back at him, recognizing his caution for the concern that it was. “Will do, Watcher-man.”
Wesley had already said goodbye to his children, who were in bed at this late hour. He hated leaving them. He—who had never thought to be so settled—was the perfect example of a family man. Nika gave him a final kiss. “Take care of Spike, Wesley.”
Enid touched his stubbled cheek. “Be safe.”
He went, buoyed on the well-wishes of his family.October 2014
Wesley was going over the Reilgar prophecies with a sense of newly won purpose. The Council had sent him the texts over a week before, and he hadn’t made much headway. One of the difficulties inherent in owning one’s own business and trying to raise two children was the resultant lack of time. The code was finally cracking, however, and it looked as though he’d be through sooner than anticipated.
While the demon-hunting business was still going strong, Wesley had made the difficult decision to cut back on his field work in the last few years. Although he still loved the down and dirty side of things, he had other responsibilities.
He had too many ties to the larger world to risk death daily.
The slight squeaking of the door had him looking up. Will stood in the doorway watching him, his glasses slipping down his nose slightly. “Is there something you needed, Will?” Wesley asked, trying to hide his impatience. While he loved his sons dearly, it was difficult to get a moment’s peace to get any work done.
The boy shrugged. “I just—”
When he didn’t move, Wesley bit back a sigh and then pushed back from his desk. “Come here, William.” Will sidled up to Wesley’s desk, obviously nervous about having interrupted his father. “Where’s your brother?”
Will shrugged. “He went to play football with the guys.”
Wesley rubbed his eyes. His boys, although they appeared identical, couldn’t be more different. Will was shy and reserved, while Davey was a ball of energy, drawing people to him like a magnet. “Would you like to see what I’m working on?”
Will’s eyes lit up. He’d inherited every ounce of his father’s linguistic abilities, and he loved nothing more than to pour over a text for hours. “Can I?”
“May I,” Wesley instructed automatically, and then pulled Will up to sit on his lap. “In a translation like this,” he began, “it is imperative that you first recognize the pattern and genre of the text…”
Meg dashed to pick up the phone as soon as it started ringing. Her mom was out running errands, and her father was still sleeping after a full night’s work. She had been given the very important job of answering the phone or doorbell when it rang so that Spike wouldn’t be disturbed.
She was just hoping that her dad woke up soon. Life was always more fun with him around.
“Summers’ residence,” she said primly, just as she’d been instructed.
She recognized the voice immediately. “Hey, Uncle Giles.”
“Are your parents around?” he asked.
Meg recognized the serious tone. It was the voice he used whenever there was a problem. Giles didn’t often call about emergencies, but when he did, either her mom or dad went away for a while. She hated when that happened. “Mom’s gone, but Dad’s here,” she replied reluctantly. “He’s sleeping.”
She could hear Giles sigh through the line. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to wake him, Meg. This is rather important.”
The next moment she heard a click. “No need, moppet,” Spike said, his voice gravelly from sleep. “I’ve got it.”
Meg had planned on hanging up the phone, but curiosity won out. She wanted to know what was so serious, and what affect it would have on her. She carefully hung up, only to pick the handset up again, holding her hand over the mouthpiece to prevent her dad from hearing her breathing.
Spike had picked up the phone only to hear Giles asking his daughter to wake him up. Much like Meg, he recognized trouble when he heard it. “What’s up, Watcher?” he growled as soon as he’d heard the other line go dead.
“I’m afraid I have bad news,” Giles replied, his tone grave. “Faith is dead.”
Spike was silent for a long moment. “How?”
“There is a master vampire rising in Cleveland,” the head Watcher replied. “He has been gathering his forces, and we fear that he is going to attempt to open the Hellmouth there.”
Spike ran a hand through his hair, sitting up a little straighter in bed. “Thought you had a coven there. What’s the head bint’s name? Swallow or some such?”
“It’s Wren, actually,” Giles said, and if the situation weren’t so serious, he might have found that funny. “She has managed to prevent this vampire from tapping into any of the Hellmouth’s power, but they are not equipped to take him out. That was to have been Faith’s job.”
“That how she was killed?”
“As far as we know,” Giles replied. “Information is rather spotty at the moment.”
Spike closed his eyes, realizing what that meant. “And her Watcher?” He’d met the man a couple times—once at Wesley’s wedding and again during one of Faith’s infrequent trips to L.A. Spike had liked him.
“Also killed,” Giles said quietly. “From preliminary reports, it looks as though they both went down at the same time. We’ve recovered the bodies, and they were not—we’ve taken steps to ensure that they will rest in peace.”
Spike swallowed hard. “I see. The next Slayer?”
“I’m actually on my way to catch a flight to L.A.,” Giles replied. “Wesley has been confirmed as her Watcher, and he will need to be informed.”
“You want me to do it?”
“No,” Giles replied. “I’ll take care of it. I have someone else going to collect the new Slayer. As she’s a ward of the state, we are planning on relocating her to L.A..”
Spike chuckled. “So Wes is getting another kid, huh?”
“Something like that,” the Watcher replied. “I will need you to inform Buffy, however. I’ll need to talk to both of you about taking care of this problem.”
Spike let out a little growl. “Hang on a mo, Watcher. You know the rules. You get one of us at a time.”
“I understand, Spike, but I think you might want to make an exception in this case. This vampire has already killed one Slayer, and—”
“And I don’t want to give him a shot at a second,” Spike snarled. “You’ll get me, but—”
“I think Buffy should be allowed to make her own decision on this, Spike,” Giles said in his best authoritative voice.
Spike was silent, finally saying, “We’ll talk when you get into town. More than that, I’m not goin’ to promise.”
“Very well.” Giles cleared his throat. “I should be there within 24 hours. I’ll stop by Wesley’s first, but I’d like to see you soon after.”
“Fine.” Spike listened as the line went dead, and then he heard a click. “Bloody hell,” he muttered, realizing that Meg had probably heard the entire conversation. Spike pulled on a pair of pants and headed downstairs to find Meg at the kitchen table doing her homework. “Don’t even pretend to be innocent, luv,” Spike said dryly. “I know you were listenin’ in.”
Meg froze for a minute, and then went back to writing out her spelling words. “I wasn’t.”
“I heard you,” Spike replied. “An’ don’t be lyin’ to me, now. You get caught, you come clean.”
“Uncle Giles had his serious voice,” she pointed out with just the beginning of a pout. Spike nearly groaned. He could resist the pout, but it wasn’t easy even after years of practice. “You guys always have to leave when he sounds like that.”
Spike succumbed. “Don’t let your mother catch you eavesdropping,” he said. “She’ll have both our hides, and you know it.” He eyed her papers. “Got most of your work done, then?”
“Yeah,” Meg said. Then she asked quietly, “Are you and Mom going to have to leave?”
Spike wanted to tell her that it wouldn’t happen, that they would be leaving Giles to take care of things himself. He also knew that it would be a lie. “I don’t know. We’ll just have to see.”
“Is Mom going to die too?”
Spike’s eyes widened. “Why the bloody hell would you ask a stupid question like that?” he demanded.
Meg had long since grown used to her father’s outbursts. “Because Faith was a Slayer, wasn’t she? And Mom’s a Slayer, and Faith died.”
Spike took a deep, unnecessary breath. “My whole job is makin’ sure your mum is safe,” he finally said. “Promise you, luv. Whatever wants her is goin’ to have to go through me first.”
Davey banged through the front door in a whirlwind of energy, as usual. Nika called out, “Davey, wash your hands, please. Dinner’s almost ready.”
“Yes, Mum,” he called back, tossing his ball into his bedroom and then rushing into the bathroom. Davey was really hoping that no one would notice how badly banged up his knuckles were. The guys had been making fun of Will again, calling him a sissy and a momma’s boy, which wasn’t true at all. If anything, Davey knew his brother took after their father, and he envied him that. Will hardly had to study at all to come home with top marks, and he was always talking about languages and what a great Watcher he’d be someday.
Davey would much rather take after Uncle Spike, who understood that a guy didn’t always want to be in front of some big, thick book.
Nika and Enid were standing in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on dinner. Nika turned to greet her son with a smile. “And how was football?”
Davey shrugged. “It was fine.”
Her sharp eyes caught the scraped knuckles and the dirt on his cheek. “Were you fighting again?”
He winced. “No, Mum. We were just, you know, wrestling.”
“Be honest now, Dafydd,” Enid chided him. “You’ll get yourself in more trouble otherwise.”
Davey stared down at the toes of his shoes. Nobody understood what it took for him to make sure Will wasn’t getting picked on all the time. Not that his twin couldn’t take care of himself, but Davey hated hearing people make fun of him.
Enid wrapped him in a hug, whispering in Welsh, “And is this about your brother, Dafydd-bach?” At his silent nod, she gave him a quick squeeze and then looked at Nika. “I think we can let him slide this time, cariad.”
Nika, who knew exactly what Davey would have been fighting about, sighed. “Are his parents going to be calling us?”
Davey shrugged. “I don’t know. I didn’t hurt him that bad.”
“Badly,” Nika corrected automatically, and then gave a little laugh. “Oh, Dafydd,” she said. “Whatever am I to do with you?”
Davey relaxed, realizing that the worst was over, and he wasn’t going to get into any trouble. He watched as his mother put her hand over her abdomen. “Is the baby kicking? Can I feel?”
“Here,” she replied, taking his hand and placing it over the slight bulge. Davey’s eyes lit up with wonder.
“That is so cool,” he said reverently.
Nika smiled at him fondly, ruffling his dark brown hair. Both boys were spitting images of their father, although Will was the one who took after him in personality. Davey, on the other hand, was very much like the sister she had lost, and Nika felt a special kind of love for him.
Now there was another child growing inside her after years of trying, and Nika couldn’t help but hope for a daughter, one who would carry on the family traditions. She loved her boys dearly, but she longed for a little girl.
“I hope it’s a girl,” Davey said, seeming to read her thoughts.
Nika smiled down at him. “Why is that, cariad?”
He stared back at her incredulously. “I already have a brother. It’s not like I need another one.”
It was the second time she had to move in as many months, and it just wasn’t fair. Although, Mr. and Mrs. Collins had said that she was moving because they’d found a permanent placement for her, so maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.
Hannah stuffed the last of her clothing in the bag and looked around the little bedroom. This had been the first place where she had her own room, which had been very nice. Her foster parents had been nice too, if a little strict. She didn’t mind that so much, though. There were worse places, worse problems to have.
She stared down at her hands and wondered how long she could hide it. No one had noticed so far, not even her coach. How anyone could miss the fact that she’d gone from only being able to do a somersault with a twist to a triple in a day was beyond her, but Hannah had long since learned that people saw only what they wanted to.
It was the major reason that no one had noticed she was pretty much on her own until one of her neighbors called CPS.
Hannah didn’t blame anybody. The social workers and counselors they’d made her talk to all told her the same thing—that her mom was sick and she did the best she could. It wasn’t Hannah’s fault. Well, no shit, Sherlock.
She tucked a piece of bright red hair behind her ears and then laid back down on the bed. After a year in foster care, Hannah was thoroughly sick of the whole business. It was the same everywhere. Oh, sure, some places were better than others, but no one had been downright mean to her. It was always the same, though. She’d be in one place for a month or two or maybe three, and then someone would come in, tell her to pack her things, and she’d be off to the next place.
There was no doubt in her mind that whatever anyone said about “permanent placement,” it was a myth, and nothing more. Older kids didn’t get permanent anything. Even though they’d terminated her mom’s parental rights, it wasn’t like anyone would want her.
Everybody wanted babies and little kids, not teenagers. Nobody wanted an adolescent. Hannah had learned that lesson the hard way with her first family. It was just better not to get attached.
A knock on the door preceded Mrs. Collins’ face. “They should be here soon,” she said with a nervous smile.
“Okay,” Hannah replied. “I’m pretty much packed.”
Mrs. Collins found herself nervous in the face of the girl’s equanimity. She had expected a little more emotion out of her. “Are you okay, Hannah?”
Hannah frowned. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Well, it’s sudden, and—”
The look Hannah gave her was full of compassion and a maturity beyond her years. “I knew I wasn’t going to stay forever, Mrs. Collins. It’s really okay.”
Actually, it really wasn’t, but no one else needed to know that.
Buffy breezed through the front door in a buoyant mood. Not only had she gotten all her errands run, but she had also stopped by the mall. Spike was going to be thrilled by what she’d found.
The Slayer had plans.
While it was difficult to maintain an active and fulfilling sex life with a child in the house, it was not impossible. Buffy often thought it was a good thing that her husband was possibly the most persistent person on the planet.
Oh, and Spike was creative too.
“Hey guys,” she called out as she entered the kitchen. “I already ordered out. I hope pizza is okay.” The silence that met Buffy’s statement sent her radar humming. “Is something wrong with pizza?”
Spike met her eyes, his face uncharacteristically still. “I think we ought to talk upstairs, pet.”
“I already know about it, Dad,” Meg said, unhappy at being left out.
Spike shot Meg a look, reminding her that she was not supposed to know about any of this, and if she didn’t want to get into trouble she’d butt out. “What does Meg know about?” Buffy demanded.
“Giles called,” Spike said quietly. “I think we ought to go upstairs and chat this out, luv.”
Buffy shook her head. “What does Meg know about?”
Spike gave his daughter a pointed look, and she started gathering her things. “I think I’ll go to my room.”
“I think that’s a wonderful idea, Margaret Joyce,” he replied.
The girl winced. Spike never used her full name unless he was really pissed off. She scampered.
“What’s going on, Spike?” Buffy insisted as soon as they’d heard the bedroom door close upstairs. “What did Giles want, and why does Meg know?”
Spike sighed, sitting down at the kitchen table, hoping that Buffy would take the hint and join him. She didn’t. “Meg listened in to our conversation, which is why she knows,” he replied, answering her second question first. He hesitated, trying to figure out what the best method of delivering bad news would be. Quick seemed better. “Faith was killed.”
Now Buffy did sit, the color leeching out of her face. “How?”
“Big bad in Cleveland tryin’ to open the Hellmouth. The coven there is preventin’ that, but both Faith an’ her Watcher were killed tryin’ to take him out.” Spike sighed. “Giles wants us both on this one.”
Buffy stood. “Well, of course we’re going.”
“Don’t you remember what we agreed?” Spike objected, rising as well. “It’s one or the other of us. If we both go an’ it all goes to hell in a handbasket—”
The Slayer stood toe to toe. “He killed a Slayer, Spike. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
It was the wrong thing to say. They both knew it as soon as the words left Buffy’s mouth. “You know damn well what it means to me,” Spike snarled. “I’m sayin’ let me go. I’ll take Connor an’ Angel. Between the three of us we’ll take care of the problem.”
“You can’t protect me, Spike!” Buffy hissed, trying to keep her voice down so that Meg wouldn’t hear. “I’m the Slayer now. This is my job.”
Spike’s hands clenched into fists before he could force himself to relax. “And you don’t think the new Slayer couldn’t use some advice? Wesley’s goin’ to be her Watcher. He could probably use a hand in getting her situated.”
“He has Nika,” Buffy replied. “Look, Spike, I get what you’re saying, but I am the Slayer. This is my responsibility. I owe it to Faith.”
Spike ran a hand through his hair distractedly. He understood. He really did. It was just that a vampire who had killed a Slayer as skilled and experienced as Faith was infinitely capable of killing another.
He couldn’t stand the thought of losing her. “It’s not goin’ to be just us, then,” Spike insisted. “We’ll take Connor along, at least, preferably one or two more.”
“I want Willow in on this,” Buffy replied, realizing that he was capitulating. “I know there’s a coven there, but I want our own backup.”
“Good,” Spike replied. “We’ll wait for Giles to call then.”
They stared at each other, not quite knowing what to say. Buffy wanted to mourn; she wanted to throw herself in Spike’s arms and weep. She also knew that he was not happy with her insistence that she go to face this threat.
Spike, for his part, understood Buffy’s need, but he was also scared that he was going to lose her. He thought she might be short-sighted for not seeing that sometimes duty to family came first, and there was a part of him that thought if the Slayer was going, he ought to be the one to stay behind for Meg’s sake. At the same time, he refused to allow her to go into battle without him there to watch her back.
It seemed an impossible situation.
In the end, however, Spike didn’t have a choice. Buffy would always come first. “I’m sorry, luv.”
Those words were all the encouragement Buffy needed to wrap her arms around him, bury her face in his shoulder, and cry for her lost sister.
“I really wish Giles would have found someone else,” Dawn muttered. “I hate this.”
Connor wrapped his arm around her shoulders. He wasn’t nearly as upset about their assignment as Dawn was. He and Dawn had been chosen for this job for very good reasons. Both their familiarity with the supernatural and their own life stories made them a natural choice to pick up the new Slayer.
Still, how were you supposed to tell a fourteen-year-old girl that she was going to be responsible for the fate of the world? In theory, anyway. Things had changed since Buffy was first chosen.
“It’ll be fine,” he soothed. “All we have to do is introduce the idea. Wesley’s the one in charge of explaining everything.”
Dawn made a face. “We’re the ones who have to explain why she got Called,” she pointed out. “Which means explaining that she’s going to die early.”
“There’s nothing that says she has to die prematurely, Dawn,” Connor reminded her. “Things have changed.”
“I know,” Dawn sighed. “She’s so young, though, Connor.”
Connor gave her a smile. “No younger than you were when you found out you were the Key.”
“Yeah and I freaked out and cut myself to prove I was real,” Dawn said wryly before she pushed the doorbell.
The woman who answered the door was probably in her fifties and smiled nervously. “Hi. Are you—”
“We’re here to pick up Hannah,” Dawn said. “I’m Dawn Summers, and this is my husband, Connor.”
Connor shook his head. “No, we’re here to explain that. May we come in?”
She stood aside. “I’m Mrs. Collins. My husband had to work late tonight.”
“Is Hannah here?” Dawn asked.
“Yes, she’s just—”
“I’m here.” The girl stepped out into the living room, her duffel bag already in hand. Her red hair was pulled back in a long ponytail, her thin frame enveloped in an oversized sweatshirt.
“Hi, Hannah. I’m Dawn, and this is Connor.” Dawn gave the girl what she hoped was a reassuring smile. “How are you?”
“About like you’d expect,” Hannah replied.
Mrs. Collins frowned. “Hannah!”
“It’s okay,” Connor said, eyeing her bag. “That all you’ve got?”
She shrugged. “This is it. I travel light.”
“You’re probably the only woman on the planet who does,” Connor observed.
To everyone’s surprise, Hannah grinned at him. “I’m special that way.”
“Good to know it’s possible,” Connor replied. “Maybe you could give Dawn some pointers.”
Dawn elbowed him. “I am not that bad. Have you seen my sister pack?”
Mrs. Collins broke into the rapport building. “Is Hannah going to be staying with you?” Her tone expressed her doubts that such a young couple was capable of handling a teenager.
“No, actually, we’re just the relay team,” Dawn said. Then, lying through her teeth, she added, “We work with an organization that specializes in placing older kids in permanent homes. The couple that Hannah will be living with has twin boys. They were happy to open their home to her.”
Mrs. Collins’ look turned disapproving. “Why couldn’t they come pick Hannah up?”
“They just received news that a friend had been killed, otherwise I’m sure they would have,” Connor said firmly. “Since they’re friends of ours, they asked us to come.”
“Well, I suppose that’s alright then,” Mrs. Collins said reluctantly.
Hannah just wanted to leave. The couple seemed pretty cool, and if they were friends of this family, then surely it wouldn’t be too bad. “It’s fine,” she said. “Unless they can’t take me right now or something.”
“That’s not a problem,” Dawn assured her. “We just thought we’d go out to dinner and then head over there if that’s alright with you.”
Hannah shrugged. “Whatever. As long as I know what’s going on.”
Dawn and Connor watched with a sense of discomfort as Mrs. Collins awkwardly hugged Hannah goodbye. “You be good now,” she admonished. “And give us a call if you ever need anything at all.”
“Thanks,” Hannah replied, obviously wanting to leave as quickly as possible. “For everything. You guys were really nice.”
Dawn wasn’t quite sure what to say to the girl to make her comfortable. It seemed strange to be picking up a kid only to drop her off with Wesley and Nika, knowing that she’d been moved around so much already. It didn’t seem fair. Dawn’s life had been known to suck on occasion, but she had always had someone who loved her.
“What do you like to eat?” Connor asked.
Hannah shrugged. “I’m not picky.”
Dawn and Connor shared a look. “I think I want a steak,” he said. “You up for that, Dawn?”
“Sounds good to me,” she replied. “Hannah?”
Hannah tried to appear cool. She hadn’t ever gone out for steak. “Uh, yeah. That would be alright.”
Giles stood in the doorway watching as Wesley read the Reilgar prophecy out loud to his seven-year-old son. Even if Davey hadn’t met him at the door, Giles would have known which of the boys was sitting on the Watcher’s knee. Only Will could sit still for any length of time at all.
Giles smiled fondly. Both boys would both make phenomenal Watchers some day.
Wesley glanced up, startled to see Giles standing there. “Giles! What are you doing here?” He suddenly went very still. “What’s happened?”
“I think it’s best that we speak alone,” Giles replied, turning his gaze to the boy who was watching with wide eyes. “Hello, Will.”
“Hello, Uncle Giles,” Will replied formally. “How was your trip?”
Giles smiled. He and Davey really were nothing alike. Davey had greeted him with a raucous shout of welcome, shifting from one foot to the other in eager anticipation. Giles had the habit of bringing all the children something when he came to visit, and although Davey knew better than to ask, it had been obvious that he was waiting for it.
“My trip was fine,” he replied. “Your mother has your gift.”
Will cast a look back at Wesley, who nodded. Will rushed out, suddenly all child. “He gets more grown-up every time I see him,” Giles commented.
“You’re getting better at telling them apart,” Wesley replied, on edge and knowing that Giles had bad news. The older man never showed up unannounced without very good reason.
Giles smiled, closing the door behind him. “There’s only one of your boys who can sit still for more than five minutes at a time, Wesley.”
“What brings you to L.A., Giles?” Wesley asked quietly. “I don’t dare hope it was for pleasure.”
“No.” Giles sighed, sitting in the chair across from the desk. “It’s Faith.”
Wesley sat heavily. “Is she—?”
“Yes, and her Watcher.” As usual, the glasses came off, and Giles started polishing the lenses. “I’ve already spoken to Spike who said he’d inform Buffy. They’re going to handle the problem.”
“Both of them?” Wesley asked, surprised. “You know that they rarely go out together on anything more than a routine patrol these days. They agreed.”
“This will require both of them unless we want to lose more people,” Giles said firmly. “Buffy will understand that even if Spike does not.”
Wesley leapt to his friend’s defense. “Spike understands, Giles, of that I am certain. But if this threat has already destroyed one Slayer, what’s to say it won’t destroy another?”
“Indeed,” Giles murmured. “Which is why I am here.”
Understanding dawned in Wesley’s eyes. “You’re not serious.”
“You’re the Council’s first choice, Wesley. Other than myself, you are the one with the most experience.” Giles gave him a wry, weary smile. “I believe I told you at your wedding that you would be the one appointed as Watcher to the next active Slayer.”
“I’d thought you might change your mind,” Wesley admitted. “Where is she now?”
“I believe she’s with Dawn and Connor, actually,” Giles replied. “When we received word about Faith, I started moving on her case as quickly as possible. Her background is something like Faith’s, which is why I wanted to be able to talk to your wife as well.”
Wesley didn’t quite understand, and then his eyes widened. “She has no parents?”
“She’s a ward of the state,” Giles replied. “I’ve arranged for you and Nika to obtain permanent guardianship. I know this is sudden and unexpected, but she will need both of you, Wesley.”
Wesley’s mind went back to Faith. “Have you already held the funerals?”
“We’ve taken care of it,” Giles assured him. “I am sorry, Wesley.”
Wesley passed a hand over his face. “We’ll have to talk to Danika, of course. Enid can see to the boys while we speak.”
“I know this is a terrible inconvenience,” Giles admitted. “We weren’t sure which Potential would be activated, and now—”
“Now it’s imperative that she begin her training immediately,” Wesley supplied. “You’re right, of course. It’s a good thing that we bought a big house. We have that spare room.”
Giles sighed. “Yes, I suppose it’s a good thing for everyone concerned that you and Nika were planning on a large family.”
A different kind of pain entered Wesley’s eyes. “Yes, it was. I’ll go get Nika.”
Giles watched the younger man leave, having noted the new lines around Wesley’s eyes and mouth. While the years had generally been kind to him and Nika, there had still been more heartache than he’d have liked to see. Now he was proposing to add one more burden.
It wasn’t just Wesley’s field experience, or his extensive training that the Council was interested in, however. The other man represented a rarity among active Watchers: he was part of a committed, caring relationship and had proven himself as a father. Giles had demonstrated that it could be a benefit for a Watcher to have a closer, possibly more paternal relationship with his Slayer. Faith’s Watcher, Malcolm, had shown that a close relationship of a different sort was equally effective.
With this Slayer’s background and youth, she would need a stable environment in which to train. Hannah was even younger than Buffy had been when she was Chosen. She was, in fact, one of the youngest Slayers in history. The last one Chosen before the age of fifteen had barely lasted a year, although she’d faced odds that would have challenged even Buffy.
The Council’s decision had been unanimous. The new Slayer would benefit from not only from a stable home environment, but also close contact with two of the most notorious vampires in history, as well as the most successful Slayer on record.
Giles sighed, pulling off his glasses and rubbing tired eyes again. He glanced up as Nika entered the room, followed closely by Wesley. “What is this, Giles?” she asked. “Wesley said that there’s been an emergency of some sort?”
“Faith was killed, along with her Watcher. Buffy and Spike have been asked to take care of the threat.” Giles sighed. “And Wesley is getting the new Slayer.”
Nika frowned, immediately reading the meaning behind his words. “I see. She is coming to stay with us?”
“She has nowhere else to go,” Giles replied. He knew what he was doing. Nika was quite well known not only for her hospitality but also her maternal nature. She was a naturally welcoming woman, and one of the main reasons that Hannah would be living with Wesley, rather than having other arrangements made for her.
Nika pursed her lips. “I suppose she’s coming tonight.” She fixed Giles with a look. “This is terribly short notice, you know. If I were married to you, you’d be sleeping on the couch for a month.”
“I do realize that,” Giles said as ingratiatingly as possible. “There really wasn’t any other way to let you know ahead of time.”
“You couldn’t have picked up the phone?” Nika demanded. “At least you could have called a few hours in advance. As it is, Nain and I will be rushing to get the girl’s room ready for her. What did you say her name was?”
“Hannah,” Giles replied. “Her name is Hannah.”
Nika nodded. “She’ll need to feel at home. I suppose I could let her help me decorate. That might help.” Giles let out a relieved breath, which Nika caught easily. “Did you seriously think I would refuse to allow her to stay?” she asked, sitting down on the edge of the desk.
Wesley came to stand next to her, reaching for her hand instinctively. “I had no doubt that you would be most helpful,” Giles replied, relaxing into his chair. “I wasn’t sure how you would feel about having another child in your house, however. She’s very young, Nika.”
“All the more reason for her to feel at home, since she’ll be staying for a while,” Nika said. “I suppose I can be grateful that this is a once in a lifetime experience, and we won’t be overrun with Slayers.”
Wesley smiled at his wife fondly. “What’s our next step, Giles? Do you know when she’ll be here?”
“I would imagine in a few hours at most,” Giles replied. “Connor and Dawn said they were going to take her to dinner to give me time to speak with you. Once they arrive, I’ll need to call Buffy. This vampire will need to be stopped as soon as possible.”
Wesley frowned, staring off into the middle distance. “They’ll want to take Connor along with them,” he said. “Angel might be of help as well. The more people they have with them, the safer everyone will be.”
“I agree,” Giles replied. “That will have to wait till later, however. Until then, I don’t suppose I could get something to eat?” He looked over at Nika pleadingly. “I haven’t had anything since yesterday morning, I believe.”
Nika stood immediately. “How rude of me! Go on out to the dining room. I’m sure Nain will get you a plate.” She watched him leave, and then turned to Wesley. “I take it you’re just as surprised as I am.”
“More so,” he admitted. “This is—new.”
“Then Slayers do not stay with their Watchers typically,” Nika replied. “I had known that you might train your own Slayer someday, but I hadn’t realized that she would be staying with us.”
“Neither had I,” Wesley confessed. “Love, I really am sorry. If I had known—”
“It’s fine,” Nika replied. “We’ve handled worse things. I hardly think a single girl will throw our lives into chaos, even if it will take some getting used to.”
Wesley sighed, leaning his forehead against hers. “What makes anyone think that I’ll do right by this girl when I buggered things up so badly with Faith?”
A smile tugged at Nika’s lips. Wesley had come a long way from the man who had saved her life. Still, the one thing he was most afraid of was failure. “For the same reason you have done so well at being a husband and a father. It will be fine, cariad.”
“Will it?” Wesley murmured. “I can’t help but wonder if I’m ready for this.” A rueful smile touched his lips. “And what are the twins going to say?”
Nika laughed. “I think they’ll live. Now let’s go eat.”
Hannah was staring at the menu, finding it impossible to choose. All her options were kind of expensive, and she was long used to counting pennies. Her typical restaurant was usually McDonald’s, and confined to the dollar menu at that.
Her hands were suddenly empty as Connor plucked it out of her fingers. “Do you want a burger or a steak?”
Hannah only had to think for a second. “A burger. Bacon cheeseburger.”
Connor looked at their waitress, who was obviously getting a little impatient. “Two bacon cheeseburgers with fries then.”
“I’ll have the steak salad,” Dawn said, refraining from rolling her eyes. She well remembered the days when she could eat anything and not gain an ounce. That had definitely changed. Exchanging a look with her husband, Dawn met Hannah’s eyes. “There’s something we needed to talk with you about.”
Hannah hated it when grownups used that tone. It never boded well. “About what?” she asked warily.
“About you being stronger than most girls,” Connor replied. “Stronger than most people.”
Her first instinct was to deny all knowledge. Hannah had no experience with the phenomenon of understanding adults. Except that they couldn’t have known; she hadn’t told anybody, and so if they did know… “How—”
“My sister’s like you,” Dawn said quietly. “She’s strong and fast and really good with pointy objects. That’s one of the reasons Connor and I were asked to pick you up. We’re supposed to try and explain what’s happening to you.”
Hannah frowned. “So what am I?”
“You’re the Slayer.” Connor sighed. “Well, you’re a Slayer. There are two of them, and they’re superheroes.”
“And I’m one of them,” Hannah said flatly. “The other one’s your sister?” she asked, looking at Dawn.”
Hannah knew there was something she was missing. “So why me and why now? If there’s always been more than one—”
“Not always,” Dawn quickly said. “Recently, there have been two, though.”
“So why now?” Hannah pressed. “I mean, this was just a couple days ago that I changed or whatever. How did you find me?”
“There’s a Council, which is kind of hard to explain,” Dawn said, stalling for time. She didn’t want to explain how a Slayer became a Slayer. It always seemed to come up relatively early in the conversation, however. “Wesley can tell you more about it. He’s the guy that’s kind of in charge of you. They call them Watchers.”
Hannah made a face. “Sounds icky.”
“Not that kind of watcher,” Connor assured her. “Wesley’s a good guy, and you’ll love his wife. She’s the best.”
“But why now?” Hannah insisted. “Why was it that one minute I could only do a full somersault and the next minute I was doing a triple?” At their blank looks, she explained, “Diving.” Then, sensing she wasn’t asking quite the right question, Hannah asked, “What happened?”
“The next Slayer is Chosen when one Slayer dies,” Dawn explained quietly. “My sister died briefly, and another Slayer was Chosen, even though Buffy came back. After that, there were two Slayers.”
Hannah was beginning to get the picture. “So this other Slayer died, and now I’m it? How’d it happen?”
“Well, that’s kind of a long story,” Dawn said weakly.
Connor shook his head. “Not that long. Trust us, Hannah. We’ve both been where you are right now. We’ll explain everything we can, and we’ll answer all your questions. I can promise you this much, Dawn and I will be as honest as we can be with you.”
For some reason, Hannah believed him. “Am I gonna die?”
“Not if we can help it,” Connor replied.
It was just a good thing that there were a lot more people these days that were committed to keeping the Slayer alive.
Buffy finished putting the weapons together. The plan was to head out the following night with at least Connor in tow. The Slayer was considering asking Angel to come along, but she wasn’t sure that Spike would go for that idea. They got along much better these days, but Buffy didn’t think they’d ever be best friends.
She knew he was behind her. “Did you get Meg tucked in?”
“Yeah. She wanted a couple of stories tonight.”
Meg only asked for two stories when she was scared of going to sleep and that usually only happened when she was worried. They both knew what had brought that on. “I can’t believe she listened in on your conversation.”
Spike winced, knowing that what Buffy really meant was that she couldn’t believe he hadn’t stopped her. “I didn’t know she was still on the line.”
“I know.” There was still a sharpness in her tone. “I’m not angry at you.”
She was angry, however, and Spike knew it. Buffy would only allow herself to grieve for so long before sadness was transformed into anger. It was one of her most effective weapons. “That right?”
“This is different, Spike.” Buffy sighed. “I know what we agreed, but we didn’t know that this situation would come up.”
“No, we didn’t.” The decision had been made a couple years previously when they had both been asked to help stop a demon uprising in Uzbekistan. They had both been badly injured, and it was by luck and stubbornness alone that either of them survived. That incident had spawned Meg’s fears that her parents wouldn’t return from one of their trips. It also caused them to rethink their travel policy. “Who’s goin’ to stay with Meg?”
Buffy turned back to her suitcase, straightening things unnecessarily. “I thought I would call Xander since Wes and Nika are going to be busy with the new Slayer. Willow said she’d contact Wren, but she’s planning on coming.”
“Meg’ll like that,” Spike commented. “Don’t know why, but she’s pretty enamored of Harris.”
She smiled at the old joke. Spike and Xander’s truce had actually extended into friendship. They still pretended to hate each other, but their sharp words held no malice these days. “She will. Do you know when Giles said he’d call?”
“Just later,” Spike replied. “I imagine he’s got his hands full dealin’ with Wesley an’ the new one.” Normally he would have suggested they go to bed—although not to sleep. It didn’t seem appropriate right now. “You want me to call Connor?”
Buffy shook her head. “Tomorrow’s soon enough. He’s probably still with the new Slayer and Dawn.”
A silence fell as thick as molasses. Spike turned away. “I’m a bit peckish.”
Buffy didn’t ask him to stay, although she wanted to. There was a part of her that knew Spike was right. It was selfish for her to insist on going after this vampire. Perhaps it would be better if she stayed in L.A., but that wasn’t what a Slayer did.
It wasn’t that she never dusted a vampire anymore. Both she and Spike worked on a regular basis. Neither of them ever lacked for work, and the money was pretty good. They would never be rich, but things were good. Jobs like this, however—where the chances were high that one or both could be badly injured or killed—one of them passed on it.
Even though both of them preferred going into battle together, Meg always came first.
This was different.
Buffy spotted the package in the corner that she’d brought home, having forgotten it in the midst of the crisis. There wouldn’t be time to put her plan in motion now. She was angry, but she still wanted him—wanted to feel alive, to be reminded of his love for her. Buffy hated to think that they’d go into a fight with this rift between them.
Her bare feet made no sound as she padded down to the kitchen. Spike stood at the sink, looking out into the postage-stamp sized backyard. He didn’t turn, even though Buffy knew he was aware of her presence.
“I know you have to do this,” Spike said suddenly, his words breaking up the silence. “I know the next few years are gonna be dangerous until the new Slayer is trained. I also know ‘m not goin’ to let anythin’ happen to you.”
“You’re the Slayer,” he said softly. “’s what you’ll always be. I knew that when I fell in love with you.”
Buffy sighed. “I know. I’m sorry, Spike.”
She didn’t know what she was apologizing for—the fact that she was the Slayer, or for putting her life on the line again and again. He was at a disadvantage, Buffy knew. Spike had watched her die and then had lived without her. The vampire knew exactly what losing her would feel like. Buffy could only imagine, and even though her imagination was pretty good, she could still harbor the illusion that Spike was invincible and would live forever.
In reality, while he wasn’t invincible, Spike just might live forever. Buffy had no idea how much that idea frightened him these days.
“I never asked you to change,” he was saying. “Just to be cautious.”
“I know,” she repeated. They had been married for eight years now, had known each other for a lot longer than that, and there were still times when the words escaped her.
Spike turned slowly, the moonlight playing against alabaster skin. He was still as youthful looking as he had been when she first saw him over fifteen years before. Sometimes Buffy didn’t know quite how to feel about that when she saw the changes that childbearing had wrought—when she discovered her first gray hair.
He was so beautiful, though, that Buffy couldn’t help but feel proud that he was hers.
The silence hung between them. “Do we have to talk about this?”
Spike frowned. “What?”
“Can you just—can we just pretend this never happened?” Buffy asked. “Tomorrow we’ll have to deal with Giles and travel arrangements and real life. Can tonight just be about us?”
His face softened. Spike wanted to hash it out, but he understood what his wife was saying. Tonight she needed to feel him—to remember that she was alive and he was there, even if his heart no longer beat.
Tonight was about life. Tomorrow was soon enough to deal in death again.
The twins were much easier to convince than anyone had supposed. Will accepted the news that there would be a new Slayer living with them with perfect grace. Davey asked a dozen questions in rapid-fire mode.
Sometimes Nika wondered if Will let his twin take the lead because it was easier. That way, they both got whatever information their parents were willing to share, and Davey got reprimanded for asking too many questions.
Tonight, however, Giles and Wesley fielded whatever the boys threw at them. “Is she going to be like Aunt Buffy?” Davey asked finally.
“Like Buffy how?” Giles asked carefully.
“Is she going to have to fight the bad guys all the time?” Davey asked, his brow furrowing.
Will followed that question up with, “Is she going to die?”
The room grew terribly still. “We’re not going to allow that to happen,” Wesley finally replied. It wasn’t a very good answer and he knew it. It was, however, the best he could do. “I think it’s time for bed.”
The protests were immediate and loud. “We’re not tired!” Davey said.
Will nodded. “We want to meet the new Slayer.”
“Tomorrow morning is soon enough for that,” Enid said, stepping in. “The poor girl’s going to be overwhelmed as it is without you two monkeys pestering her. To bed now.”
They protested a bit more as the older woman herded them towards their room, but Nain’s word was law, and they did as they were told.
Nika sighed, thankful for her help. Enid’s presence had often been the only thing standing between them and insanity. Having her nain there made it easier for her to maintain her relationship with Wesley. “This is going to be a difficult adjustment,” she murmured, leaning into her husband.
He rubbed his eyes behind his glasses. “I dare say you’re right, love,” he replied. Wesley glanced over at her with a wry look. “Now we know why you’re pregnant. It’s always at the most interesting times.”
Nika laughed. “Isn’t that the truth?”
Giles took a deep breath. “I really am sorry for this,” he said. “I know that this is a time of adjustment for you.”
“No more so than any other time,” Nika assured him. “We’re used to dealing with adjustments.”
“Still,” Giles trailed off. He knew that the couple had planned on more children, but a series of miscarriages had taken its toll on their plans. This pregnancy looked as though it would come to term, but a new Slayer and an emergency was a lot to throw at them right now. Giles was just grateful that he didn’t have to toss Wesley and the new Slayer at the apocalypse. It was the benefit of the new system he’d helped to set up that they actually had time to train the new Slayer before she would be required to help with an emergency of this magnitude.
The soft knock on the front door had Nika rising. “I’ll get it.”
Dawn gave Nika a quick hug as she entered, heading immediately over to Giles to embrace him as well. She had not yet gotten a chance to mourn Faith, and she knew that both he and Wesley would be feeling the loss, although for different reasons.
Hannah entered the house, looking wary, with Connor close behind her. “Nika.”
“Connor, it’s good to see you,” she said, giving him a hug. She smiled at the girl. “And this must be Hannah.” She stuck out her hand. “I’m Nika. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too,” Hannah said politely, shaking her hand.
The introductions were made quickly, and then were completed when Enid appeared. “Did you explain?” Giles asked.
“The basics,” Connor replied. “Hannah has a pretty good idea of what’s going on, I think.”
Hannah nodded shyly, unused to being around so many adults at once, all of whom were looking at her with various expressions of concern.
“Well, you’re probably exhausted,” Nika said, standing slowly. “I’m sure you want to know where your room is going to be.” She shot Giles a look that said plainly he was not to interfere.
“Okay,” Hannah said, glad to get out from under all those eyes.
“We can talk more in the morning, Hannah,” Wesley said kindly.
She nodded, quickly following Nika. “You’ll meet our sons tomorrow,” Nika said as they walked down the hallway. “They were very excited to hear that you were coming to stay.”
“That’s cool,” Hannah said quietly. She stood in the doorway of the room, watching as Nika flipped on the lights and straightened the pillows on the bed.
“We’ll have to talk about how you want to decorate,” Nika said. “If you want to paint, or anything like that.” She straightened and looked over at the girl. “I want you to feel at home here, Hannah. I know it will be an adjustment, but I hope you’ll like living with us.”
“Thanks,” she replied. Hannah wasn’t sure what else to say. Now that she knew why it would be Wesley and Nika she was living with, she was wondering if they really wanted her here or if she was just a job to them.
Nika, reading the hesitation for what it really was, came over and gave Hannah a hug, feeling her first stiffen and then grab on for all she was worth. “We want you here, cariad,” she whispered. “This isn’t easy, but at least know that you are welcome.”
Hannah stood in the middle of the room long after Nika had gone, the place where her lips had brushed her forehead burning. It seemed too much. In one day she had found out that she was some sort of superhero, that she had a new home, and that she was going to die.
She didn’t quite know what to think.
They spoke no words because there was nothing to say. There was only the old dance of lips and tongues, hands on skin. They knew every inch of skin from long practice and hours of exploration. Years might have changed the maps slightly, but the territory was well-known and well-loved.
They made love as an affirmation of life. It was new and old, both real and surreal. Existence was too brief to waste it on petty concerns and fights. They might each die on the morrow; they had lost one of their own.
It was enough to speak words into the darkness.
“I love you.”
“We don’t have to do this,” Wesley said softly. “We can turn back now.”
Spike shook his head, staring out the window. It was a simple fiction to tell the airplane crew that he had a horrible sun allergy, and it made flying easier. The questions were fewer. “I’m committed.”
“We haven’t left L.A. yet,” Wesley pointed out.
Spike shook his head again. “Can’t,” he said hoarsely. “Been thinkin’ about this for a long time, mate.”
They had known each other for over a decade, and Spike hadn’t aged a day in all that time. Wesley knew that he had more laugh lines, more gray hair—more creaking bones. These days he left much of the field work to the younger crowd or the vampires, as they healed faster. It was a rare mission that sent him out with Spike again.
It was just like old times.
Wesley had known this day was coming, actually. He had seen the tension build, had begun to sense it before Meg’s birth actually. While Angel always seemed to disregard his being a vampire—or perhaps to take it completely for granted—Spike interacted with the world around him. He built connections with people who would age and eventually die.
Immortality was bound to rest heavy on his shoulders.
“How did Buffy take it?”
“Think she’ll be fine.” Spike was quiet for a moment. “Know I don’t need to ask, but—”
Wesley’s sharp tone cut him off. “You will be coming back in one piece, Spike, but no. You don’t need to ask. I’ll be happy to take care of both of them.”
“I promised I’d return,” Spike reflected. “Promised both of them.”
“Then you have to,” Wesley replied. It had been watching Spike that had taught Wesley the value of keeping promises, especially to his children. “You’re alright with stopping in England?”
Spike shrugged. “S’pose we have to, yeah? Rupert’s gonna want to talk with the both of us. Only makes sense we give the annual report before I head off to my doom.”
Wesley didn’t try to debate Spike’s comment. In many ways, the vampire was going off to his doom. Even if he survived, he would not be the same. It was a gamble that he would even be the same person and not someone completely different.
The whole thing was unprecedented.
“I daresay that Giles will want to ask a million questions,” Wesley ventured.
Spike snorted. “More than that, most likely. Rupert’s used to me bein’ an odd one by now, though. Reckon it won’t come as a huge surprise.”
“No, possibly not,” Wesley replied. “He’s going to be losing one of his finest warriors, though.”
“Not goin’ anywhere,” Spike said quietly. “It’ll be different, but I’ll still be there.”
They both knew it was wishful thinking.
Buffy was cleaning, her movements quick and purposeful. It had only been one night and already she missed him. There was a hole where he had been, and it was only going to get worse. Sleep had been elusive without his still form next to hers, and the Slayer knew she was going to be extra-cranky if she didn’t get some sleep before Spike returned.
Meg was at school, and Buffy frowned, remembering her daughter’s subdued mood before she left to catch the bus. She and Spike were so very close. If anything happened to the vampire, Meg would be devastated.
Meg wouldn’t be the only one.
The doorbell rang, and Buffy wiped her hands on a towel, hurrying to answer it. Nika smiled at her. “I thought you could use some company.”
Buffy smiled at her. “You can say that again.” She smiled at Carwen. “And how are you?”
Carwen grinned at her, a gap-toothed smile that lit up her face. She had her mother’s gray eyes. “Aunt Buffy!”
Buffy held out her arms and the little girl launched herself. She remembered when Meg was this little. She’d loved it when Spike tossed her up in the air. The ache inside her heart threatened to overwhelm her. “Why don’t I make us some tea?” Nika suggested softly.
They drank their tea and watched as Carwen scooted around on the floor, dumping out the pieces of a wooden puzzle and putting it back together again. “How are you?” Nika asked gently.
Buffy shrugged. “Fine, I guess. It’s just—I miss him already.”
Nika made a face. “I know just what you mean.”
The silence stretched out, although it was not uncomfortable. They had gone through a lot together over the years—over a decade of raising children and being married and mourning various losses. It had been Buffy’s shoulder that Nika had cried on after her last miscarriage, so certain was she that she’d never be able to have another child.
Buffy had wept with her, as much for Nika’s pain as for her own.
Time and children and marriage had bonded them even closer than Buffy was to Willow. Although the witch was still her best friend, she and Nika shared more ties these days.
“Did you know about this?” Buffy asked.
Nika nodded. “It’s been rather obvious over the last few years, Buffy. Spike’s been longing for something more.”
“I never even saw it,” the Slayer murmured, although that wasn’t completely true. She had known that Spike was unhappy, that he hated staying the same while everything around him changed. It was the one thing to which he couldn’t adapt. The first time he’d broached the subject of trying to find a cure for his immortality, Buffy had reacted so violently that he hadn’t brought it up again.
Instead, he had taken the discussion to Wesley and the Watcher’s house.
In some ways, that was what hurt the most. A chasm had opened up between them in the last months, and Buffy had done nothing to bridge it. She had known how important this was to him, but she had ignored his pain, thinking Spike would get over it, and it would go away.
Now he was the one who was gone.
“I just keep wondering if there wasn’t something I should have done,” Buffy admitted unhappily. “If I could have changed his mind.”
Nika shook her head. “That’s not what this was about, Buffy. Spike—Spike needed this for himself. He was scared to death of losing you and Meg, of being left behind. What else could he have done?”
Nothing. Buffy knew the answer by heart, but that didn’t mean she was happy with it. It was as much about the Spike that would come back to her as it was about her fear of losing him. What if he wasn’t the same? What if he didn’t love her anymore?
What if he was so changed that he wasn’t the man she loved?
“I just wonder what he’s going to be like,” Buffy said quietly. “What if—”
“Spike is Spike, Buffy,” Nika said soothingly. “Some things never change about a person.
She shook her head. “You never saw Angel without a soul.”
“Wasn’t the soul an improvement, then?” Nika asked.
Buffy shook her head. “On Angel, maybe, but I like Spike exactly the way he is.”
“It’s so not fair,” Davey said, kicking at a rock that came into his path.
Hannah tried to suppress a smile. “What’s not fair, Davey-boy?”
“That Dad and Uncle Spike get to go to England,” Will said matter-of-factly. “Davey’s mad they went without him.”
Hannah frowned. “We’re all going next summer.” She would be 18 then, and would go through the new tests that the Council had rigged up. Giles had done away with the Cruciamentum about a year after she’d been Called, and Hannah was definitely grateful. While it was still possible for her to fail the exams, at least it wouldn’t mean her death.
Just utter humiliation.
“Yeah, but this is different!” Davey exclaimed. “This is an adventure! Didn’t you hear Uncle Spike the other night? They’re prob’ly gonna go to Africa.”
“I heard him, but you were supposed to be in bed,” Hannah replied severely. “If Nika finds out you were eavesdropping—”
“We weren’t eavesdropping,” Will said quickly. “It was just that we were thirsty, and we got up and overheard. We didn’t mean to listen.”
Hannah gave both of them a skeptical look. “Uh huh. Well, you guys aren’t old enough for adventures yet.”
Davey frowned, greatly offended. “Are too! We aren’t little anymore.”
She very nearly laughed, but knew that to do so would hurt both boys’ feelings. “No, you guys aren’t little, but you still aren’t old enough. I was sixteen before Wesley let me go hunting by myself, so you guys have to wait at least that long.”
Davey kicked at another rock. “It’s still not fair,” he muttered rebelliously.
Will was willing to take things a little more in stride. After all, he and Davey were the men of the house while their dad was gone. “When do you think they’ll be back?”
“I don’t know,” Hannah replied. “Neither of them could say.” They were only about a block from the grade school at this point. Hannah usually walked the twins home on her way from the high school. The schools weren’t too far apart, and she enjoyed the exercise. It helped her think.
Hannah, at 17, had matured into a truly lovely young woman. She was also something of a loner, both her background and her reserved personality causing friendships to be few and far between. Even though there had been a couple boys who had asked her out, Hannah didn’t date. After all, when she compared the boys she knew to Wesley, Spike or Connor, they all fell short.
She was just grateful for people like Wesley and Nika, who were willing to not only give her a place to sleep but a purpose in life. Because when you got right down to it, Hannah loved being the Slayer. She could honestly say that getting Called was the best thing to ever happen to her.
She sighed, knowing that voice. “What do you want, Sam?”
The young man skidded to a halt next to her. “These your little brothers?”
Davey and Will exchanged identical grins that did not bode well for Hannah’s future. “Sam and Hannah sitting in a tree,” Davey said under his breath.
Hannah gave him a light tap on the back of the head. “Yeah. This is Will, and Davey.” She rarely bothered explaining her living situation. While she didn’t call Nika and Wesley, “Mom and Dad,” that’s basically what they had been over the last three years. Trying to define her life was like trying to pin down water.
“So can I walk you home?” Sam asked, trying to sound cool and failing miserably.
Sam was one of those guys who had been perpetually picked on until his growth spurt the previous summer. He had also found a sense of style, and was marginally more popular. Still, if you knew what to look for, there was a deep insecurity that hid behind his hazel eyes.
Hannah was ready to shoot him down—as she had at least twice before—but found it impossible. She could see the fear of rejection that lurked, and she felt sorry for him.
Besides, Sam was pretty cute these days.
“I guess,” she replied, making sure she sounded grudging. Hannah didn’t want to give him any ideas, after all. “Although, you’ll have to meet Enid.”
“Who’s Enid?” he asked, falling in beside her.
Davey and Will gave him a skeptical look, not sure what they thought of this tall stranger who was so interested in Hannah. In their father’s absence, it was their job to look out for their sisters—which included the Slayer. “Our nain,” they replied in unison, and then immediately began chattering back and forth in Welsh.
Hannah rolled her eyes. “Ignore them, Sam. They’re just being little show-offs.” Davey said something rude in Welsh. “Repeat that,” Hannah said sternly. “I would love to see Enid wash your mouth out with soap.”
They ran off ahead. “What language is that?” Sam asked, mystified.
“And you understand it?”
Hannah nodded. “Sure. I had to. Both Nika and Enid speak it, and the boys do too.”
“Nika?” Sam asked.
Hannah sighed, realizing that she was now committed to giving him an abbreviated version of her life at least. “If you spread this around school, I will kick your ass,” she warned.
“Okay,” he replied with a goofy smile.
“I mean it,” she said scowling. “Don’t think I can’t.”
Sam grinned at her. “I believe you. I watched you save my hide last year, remember?”
Hannah had forgotten. She’d prevented one of the varsity football players from stuffing him in a locker. “Oh.” She stared at him, seeing the admiration in his eyes. “Okay, then.”
Sam’s grin broadened as he realized Hannah was going to tell him something that no one else knew. At this rate, he might actually get her to go to the prom with him.
“Are you sure?” Connor asked, staring at her.
Dawn rolled her eyes. “As sure as I can be.” She moved so that she could lay her head on his shoulder—her strong warrior. They made the perfect team. She did the talking, he did the fighting.
Every once in a while they switched it up, just for for fun.
“What are you thinking?” Dawn asked after a long silence.
His arms moved to slide around her. “I’m thinking that it’s going to be a big change, but I think we’re ready. And I’m thinking that my dad is going to flip his lid.”
“Right after Spike does,” Dawn joked. “He’ll finally have proof that we’re sleeping together.” Her voice faltered at the last when she thought about the fact that Spike not return from his quest. He might not ever know that she was pregnant.
Connor tightened his grip. “They’ll be back, Dawn.”
“I know.” She sighed. “I talked to Buffy today. She doesn’t sound all that great.”
“Maybe you should go see her,” Connor suggested.
Dawn shook her head. “Not right away. Soon, though. It would probably be better if you told Angel in person.”
“Probably,” Connor acknowledged. The Cleveland Hellmouth would be secure enough without them for a while. It wasn’t like he and Dawn didn’t travel for the Council occasionally, and they hadn’t had a vacation in a year or more. “Next month, maybe. Spike should be back by then.”
“He should be,” Dawn said softly. “What do you think about it?”
“What else could he do?” Connor asked. “He’s different than Dad. Dad thinks it’s a part of his grand destiny to suffer. He’s still holding out for the Shanshu, and probably will forever. Spike doesn’t have that option.”
“You think he did the right thing then,” Dawn said flatly.
“I don’t know, Connor,” Dawn replied, shifting again so she could see him. “What if he’s not the same when he comes back?”
Connor smiled reassuringly. “He’s still going to be Spike, Dawn. He won’t change that much.”
“What if he does?”
“Then we deal with it.” Connor reached up and stroked her hair away from her face. “Haven’t we taken care of pretty much everything that fate has thrown at us?”
“I suppose,” Dawn replied reluctantly, then caught his mouth in a kiss. “Promise me you’re not dying to make a major change.”
Connor smiled. “Why would I want to change anything when I’ve got all I want right here?”
Giles hadn’t wanted to entrust anyone with picking Spike and Wesley up at Heathrow. With careful planning, even vampires could fly. It just had to be timed right. Still, he was their contact with the Council, now that he was head of all field personnel.
There was also the issue of Spike’s request. Giles hated to think that he might lose the vampire, since Spike’s abilities were nearly legendary. He understood why Spike was doing this. He had to admit that it made sense.
The crowds drifted apart just enough so that he could see them coming. Neither Wesley nor Spike had brought anything more than a carry-on, used to traveling lightly by now. This trip was also not supposed to be a long one. If all went according to plan, both men would be on their way home in a week or less.
“Giles,” Wesley said, greeting his superior with a firm handshake. “You’re looking well.”
“As are you,” he replied with a smile. “Spike.”
The vampire’s lips twisted into a half-smile. “’s good to see you again, Rupert.”
The strange thing was that it was nothing but the truth, and the feeling was mutual. If it wasn’t for the sunlight issue—as well as the need to have blood on hand—Giles could forget that Spike was a vampire. He just seemed so human these days. “You too. How was the flight?”
“Borin’ as ever,” Spike replied. Sitting still for hours on end had never been his favorite activity. “An’ the in-flight movie sucked.”
“It was a chick-flick,” Wesley explained briefly. “No violence and no nudity.”
Giles smiled. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Spike rolled his eyes. “You try listenin’ to that garbage for hours on end. Can’t even shut it off these days.”
“You could have brought a book,” Wesley pointed out.
Spike frowned. “Didn’t think I’d need to. Besides, ‘m not plannin’ on doin’ much reading, where we’re going.”
“Then you’re set on your destination?” Giles asked. “You know, Spike, if Willow couldn’t do the glamour, you could have the coven try. That would have taken care of the problem.”
Spike shook his head. “Red offered, an’ I declined. It only takes care of a part of the problem. Best to do it this way.”
“Don’t try,” Wesley advised when Giles opened his mouth. “You know how stubborn Spike can be.”
“An’ it’s served me well,” Spike said, not bothered by Wesley’s statement. “It’ll get me through this mess too.”
Giles wasn’t so sure about that, but he wasn’t willing to argue the point either. “So you leave tomorrow?”
Spike nodded. “Catch a flight from here to Morocco, an’ then on to Uganda. Shouldn’t be too hard to find the place.”
“Maybe you should wait,” Giles suggested. “The coven—”
Spike shook his head. “Can’t do much. We’ve talked about this, Rupert.”
“It’s why I’m going as well,” Wesley said quietly. “If both of us go…” Wesley trailed off, leaving his thoughts unspoken. If he went with Spike, and something went wrong, someone would know about it.
And if things went right, Spike would have company on the way home.
Giles sighed and nodded. “I suppose you’re right. So you’ll go through the trials, and then what?”
“I make a wish,” Spike said. “It’s as easy as that.”
Giles raised an eyebrow. “A wish? Is that wise? Wishes are notoriously difficult.”
“All I want is to be mortal,” Spike replied. “An’ that’s exactly what I’m goin’ to wish for.”
When Giles opened his mouth to protest, Wesley’s hand stopped him. He and Spike had already been over this, more than once. This was what Spike wanted—to gain his mortality, and he wanted to earn it.
Spike always did like to do things the hard way.
“I thought we might have dinner at my place,” Giles suggested, neatly changing the subject. “If you’re hungry, that is.”
“I’m famished,” Wesley replied. “And I know Spike hasn’t eaten since we left L.A.”
“I could stand to eat,” Spike replied. “You think we could get a curry though? Nika’s is good, but ‘m dyin’ for something spicy.”
Giles sighed and shook his head, reflecting on Spike’s oddities once again. He would never understand. “Wesley?”
“Curry is fine,” Wesley replied, not bothering to say that he’d go along with pretty much whatever Spike wanted. To refuse his request would be like refusing a condemned man his last meal.
Besides, he liked a good curry as much as the next bloke.
Buffy picked up the phone on the first ring, instinctively knowing that it would be Spike. He had promised to call from Giles’ place, before he left for parts unknown. “Hello?”
His voice was cool, almost distant, and Buffy cursed herself for not making certain they parted on good terms. She knew he expected her to be angry, and she hated that he was expecting her to give him grief. “How was the trip?”
“Boring,” he replied. There was a pause. “How are you?”
“I miss you, but other than that I’m good.”
His voice held a note of warning, and she continued, cutting him off. “I know you have to do this, Spike. I’m not angry.”
He was quiet, obviously not knowing what to say. Neither of them was very good at talking to each other on the phone. It would have been better if they could have made contact.
Or maybe it wouldn’t have been. Contact had been sporadic and painful these last few months.
“How’s Meg?” Spike finally asked, sticking to a safe subject.
Buffy bit back a sigh. “She misses you too, but she’s fine. She wanted me to let you know that she got an A on that paper.”
“Good.” Pride warmed his voice. “Knew she could do it.”
Buffy hesitated, then asked, “What time are you leaving tomorrow?”
“Just after sunset,” Spike said. “Don’t know when I’ll be able to call.”
“I know. That’s fine. Just—when you can.”
“Of course.” There was another awkward pause. “I should go. Don’t want to leave Rupert with a huge phone bill.”
There was a time when he wouldn’t have cared, Buffy knew. There was a time when he would have talked to her for hours, just to hear her voice. “Be careful,” she said.
“I will. Careful as I can be,” he replied quietly. “See you soon, luv.”
“I love you,” Buffy said a little desperately.
“Love you too.”
And he was gone.
Enid smiled as Davey and Will came hurtling through the door, chattering on in Welsh. “What’s gotten into you two rascals now?” she asked.
“That would be me,” Hannah said wryly, with a fascinated Sam in tow behind her. “They’ve decided to try and annoy me to death.”
The older woman grinned. “And is it working, cariad?”
“Oh, they’re getting there. If you guys don’t knock it off, I’m going to hurt you!” Hannah called after the twins, who were now singing “Sam and Hannah sitting in a tree…” at full volume, in Welsh. “This, by the way, is Sam. Sam, this is Enid, also known as Nain.”
“Nice to meet you,” he said, looking around. Hannah’s story fascinated him, not least because he loved the idea of having so many people around all the time. Sam only had one younger brother, and the rest of his family was depressingly normal.
Enid smiled at him. “Would you like to stay for dinner, Sam?”
“That would be great!” he said enthusiastically.
Hannah bit back a sigh. It looked like she wasn’t going to be getting rid of him anytime soon. “Do you want to see my room?” she asked. “I’ve got some homework, so—”
“That’s cool,” Sam replied quickly. “I’ve got some calc problems to work on.”
Hannah looked hopeful. “Did you understand this last chapter? Because I really don’t. Math is so not my thing.”
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s no problem. We can work through it together, if you like.”
Enid smiled as she watched them head off to Hannah’s room, glad that the girl was finally starting to make a friend. Sam was the first person she’d brought home with her, and Enid thought it was a good sign. The girl was as dear to her as any of the other children, and Enid worried about her tendency to keep to herself.
She closed her eyes and said a prayer for the others so close to her heart that were so far away.
Meg concentrated on the picture she was drawing, the charcoal clutched in her left hand. Her dad always said that lefties had the advantage because most people were right-handed. When you got into a fight, no one expected a left hook.
Of course, her mom had been furious that Spike had even mentioned fighting, which Meg thought was ridiculous. Hannah had taught her that a girl needed to be able to look after herself.
She missed him already. The house seemed emptier with Spike gone, and Buffy was obviously miserable. Spike was the one that brightened everything up, who made life exciting. Meg was scared to death that he wasn’t coming back. She knew how dangerous his job was.
Of course, Meg knew that Spike wasn’t her real father. About a year before, there had been a story in the newspaper about a senator from New York who had an illegitimate daughter by one Buffy Summers. Both of her parents had been furious, as had the senator in question, but for very different reasons.
They had sat her down and explained that Spike wasn’t her biological father, but that he’d chosen to be her dad, and that Buffy had wanted him there. Meg had been happy knowing that she didn’t have to go live with strangers, and that Spike wasn’t going to leave.
Meg understood why Spike had to leave better than anyone gave her credit for. She’d heard the comments that her teacher made, and she’d seen her father’s face when he overheard them. The careless comment would have completely freaked her out if she hadn’t already known the truth. Her teacher was wrong for sure—Spike was definitely old enough to be her father.
Actually, he was old enough to be her several times great-grandfather.
It probably should have had her completely wigging out, but it didn’t. Her dad was her dad, whether he was a vampire or not. As long as he came home, Meg didn’t particularly care where Spike had been, or whether he’d been trying to shed that pesky immortality.
Just as long as he came home.
Morocco was warm, even after the sun had gone down. Wesley had forgotten just how warm Northern Africa could be. Tomorrow they would catch a flight to Uganda, and from there—well, there was no telling what would happen after that.
He had gotten a chance to speak with Nika earlier, as well as the boys, and he recalled their conversation with longing. Nika had said that she missed him and that Hannah had brought a boy home. That didn’t sit well precisely, but at least the young man in question had been breathing.
Davey had come home with a note from one of the teachers saying that he was failing social studies. Wesley sighed. He wished he could have been there to provide backup for Nika. It wasn’t that she needed it, but he knew his voice sometimes carried more weight. They would have to crack down on the boy again, and Wesley couldn’t help but wish that Davey was a little more like Will.
Carwen was just fine, and was as sunny as could be.
Oh, how Wesley missed them all.
Wesley watched as Spike smoked one cigarette after another as he stood out on their tiny balcony. It was barely big enough to stand on, but it allowed the vampire to have his smoke, which kept him calm. Well, calmer anyway.
He knew Spike was worried about what was coming. They had no guarantee of the outcome, that it would be what the vampire wanted. Wesley knew that Spike didn’t particularly want to be human, but he did want to be mortal.
Spike wanted the certainty of change.
Wesley stepped outside, squeezing in next to his partner. They might as well have been brothers, for all their physical dissimilarities. The bond between them was that deep. “How are you?”
“Fine.” Spike stared out into the night sky, the stars winking down on the both of them. “How’s Nika?”
“Good,” Wesley replied. “Apparently Davey’s failing a class again, and Hannah’s started seeing someone.”
Spike raised an eyebrow. “We leave, an’ it all goes to hell in a hand basket.”
“It would seem that way,” Wesley agreed. “Are you ready for this?”
“You ready to die?” Spike countered.
Wesley sighed. “We can still turn back, Spike. We’ll call this a vacation, and then head back home.”
“’m not goin’ to change my mind,” the vampire said stubbornly. “You know how important this is to me.”
“I know.” Wesley leaned back against the rail. “Are you doing this because you’ve decided it’s the answer, or because you’ve made up your mind to go through with it?”
Spike’s lips twisted in a sardonic smile. “You know me too well, mate. ‘m pigheaded, sure, but that’s not what this is. Seems like this is the only choice here.”
Wesley nodded slowly. “It might be.”
“Or I could go back, get Red to do the glamour, an’ watch everything I love die.” Spike flicked his cigarette butt out into the night. “You explain how that’s the right thing to do.”
“I can’t,” Wesley said quietly. “I think I’d do the same in your position.”
“I’ve been thinkin’ ‘bout this for years, mate,” Spike said quietly. “This is the only thing I could come up with that would keep everybody happy.”
“Except for Buffy,” Wesley said wryly.
Spike rolled his eyes. “When the bloody hell is the Slayer ever happy?” He sighed, looking out into the darkness. “You know, I may be evil an’ all that, but ‘ve never really done anythin’ for me. It was always about Dru or Buffy, or someone else. For the last fifteen years, ‘ve done everythin’ anybody ever asked of me. The Big Bad changed diapers, an’ took care of scraped knees, an’ all that. I loved every minute of it, Wesley, but this is for me. I need this.”
Wesley really couldn’t argue with that, which was why he was in a hotel in Morocco, waiting to accompany a vampire in his quest to get rid of his immortality. Wesley went because Spike was his friend.
When Hannah woke that morning, it was to the sound of childish giggles. She opened her eyes sleepily and saw two identical faces peeking around her door, staring at her as though she was the eighth wonder of the world.
As soon as the boys saw she was awake, their giggles ceased abruptly, and they ducked out of sight. They had obviously not counted on being discovered in the act by someone other than Hannah. “I told you two to leave Hannah be,” Nika’s whispered words came through the door clearly to Hannah’s enhanced hearing. “She was up late, and you were to let her sleep.”
Their voices faded down the hallway, and Hannah briefly considered getting up. On the other hand, she had been up late, and like any teen she wasn’t going to pass up a chance to sleep in.
When she woke again, it was late morning, and Hannah dragged herself out of bed reluctantly. She would have much rather stayed there, where she didn’t have to face all these new people again. Not that they weren’t nice, but the first few days in a new home were always awkward.
Still, it was better to get it over with, really.
Hannah rose and pulled on her jeans and sweatshirt, thinking longingly about a shower. She wasn’t comfortable just going ahead and taking one without saying good morning to whomever was still around, though. She pulled her hair into a quick ponytail and headed out of her room, following the sound of voices.
Wesley and Giles were seated at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and talking as Enid bustled around behind them. Wesley spotted her first and gave her a warm smile. “Good morning, Hannah. Did you sleep well?”
“Yeah, the bed was really comfortable,” she said. Hannah felt strange in this bright kitchen with these people she didn’t know, but who were obviously close. She had stayed with a family of six before, but all the other kids had been from the foster system too, so it had been different.
These people belonged together.
Enid and Giles were both looking at her now with similar expressions of welcome, although Enid spoke first. “Sit,” she said firmly, pointing to an empty chair. “You’re probably hungry.”
“A little,” Hannah agreed, watching as Wesley pushed a plate full of scones towards her.
Enid nodded. “Of course. A growing girl like you is hungry all the time. Do you want coffee?”
“Nain, I don’t think—” Wesley began, only to be cut off by the older woman’s words.
“She will be doing a grown woman’s job; she deserves to have a choice of beverage.” Enid turned kind eyes back towards Hannah. “Coffee?”
Hannah hesitated. From what Dawn and Connor had said, Wesley was supposed to be in charge of her, and she didn’t want to make him mad right off the bat. Although, he didn’t look angry, just amused. “Please.”
No sooner were the words out of her mouth than the coffee cup was placed in front of her, with cream and sugar pushed her way. Hannah doctored the brew liberally and then sipped, sighing happily. Coffee was something she didn’t often get the chance to drink, but she loved it.
Giles gave her a perfunctory smile before going back to his conversation with Wesley, taking up where he left off. “Buffy said that she and Spike would be over this morning. I imagine they’ll get here any minute.”
“Who are they taking with them?” Wesley asked. He was feeling ambivalent about being left behind. On one hand, it only made sense that he should remain with his Slayer. On the other hand, Spike was his partner, and Wesley felt as though it wasn’t quite fair that he should stay safe while Spike put himself at risk.
Giles reached out and took a scone, taking a bite absent-mindedly. “Connor for certain, and I believe Angel and Willow will both be going.”
Wesley nodded. It was a good team. With all of them along for the ride, there was less of a chance any would be lost. “Good. I think that’s wise.”
Enid cut in when she realized that Hannah had yet to start eating. “You need to eat,” she scolded. “You need more meat on your bones.”
The corners of Wesley’s lips twitched, and he nudged the plate of pastries a little closer to Hannah. “I have to warn you that Enid and Nika are in charge in the kitchen. You’d best do as she says or she’ll most likely have both our hides.”
Wesley’s tone of voice let Hannah know that he was kidding, but she reached for a scone anyway, nibbling on one corner experimentally. In another second, she’d taken a good-sized bite, and Enid gave her a satisfied nod.
Giles went on as though there had been no interruption. “There’s a good possibility that they’ll be successful where Faith was not,” he said. “While Faith changed quite a bit these last years, she was not a team player.”
“One might say the same about Spike,” Wesley observed mildly. “He’s not known for playing well with others.”
Giles cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Spike is something else altogether.”
The sound of the front door banging open filled the house, and Hannah felt a little tingling sensation at the back of her head start up. She’d never experienced anything like it before, and had to wonder what was going on.
No one else seemed alarmed, however, and in a few seconds they were joined by a petite blonde woman and a wiry man who looked to be ten years younger than Wesley. “I’m glad you two are here,” Giles said. “We can get down to business.”
Wesley rolled his eyes at Giles’ rudeness. “Spike, Buffy, this is the new Slayer, Hannah. Hannah, this is Buffy and Spike. I think Connor and Dawn will have told you about them.”
The other Slayer looked her over and responded with a weary smile. “It’s nice to meet you.” She turned back towards Giles. “Do we know anything else yet?”
“Very little, I’m afraid,” Giles replied. “I get the sense that you won’t know all of it until you actually arrive.”
Hannah felt as though she had been very neatly dismissed, and she wondered if now wouldn’t be a good time to go catch that shower. Then Spike caught her eye and winked, causing Hannah to realize exactly why she was getting a tingling sensation.
Spike was a vampire.
Hannah had blurted out the words before she could stop herself, flushing deep red as all eyes turned to look at her. “Sorry. It’s just—”
“No need for apologies, snack-size,” Spike replied easily. “It’s the truth. Dawn and Connor tell you that?”
She nodded and then motioned vaguely. “I got this feeling, too. I don’t know—”
Now both Wesley and Giles were looking vastly pleased. “She’s already sensing the presence of vampires,” Giles said approvingly. “Well done.”
Buffy made a face. “You aren’t going to make her hone?”
“This is her first day on the job, luv,” Spike pointed out reasonably. “She hasn’t had time to eat her breakfast yet.”
Buffy scowled. “Well, sometimes you don’t get time to eat. That’s just the way it goes.” She stalked out of the room, Spike watching her go rather helplessly.
“Sorry ‘bout that,” he finally said. “She’s been a bit off since we dropped Meg at school this morning.”
“It’s understandable,” Giles soothed. “I’ll go talk to her.”
The older man left the kitchen, and Spike took his place at the counter. “You ready for this gig?”
Hannah wasn’t sure if he was talking to her or to Wesley, but since his eyes were on her, she answered. “Not really.”
Spike smiled with what she thought might be approval. “No one is,” he agreed.
Buffy knew that Spike hadn’t followed her. She understood that, in fact, since she’d been on his case all morning. After the truce of last night, the Slayer had found herself out of sorts and off kilter.
Seeing Hannah had only made it worse. This was the third Slayer who had been called since the line had split with Kendra. Maybe three wasn’t so bad since Faith had lasted a long time, but it didn’t change the fact that there had been three more. Three more Slayers who weren’t Buffy, and two of them had been her friends.
This girl was very nearly young enough to be her daughter.
“Buffy.” There was reproof in Giles’ tone, and she winced. Only Giles could use that tone of voice and make her feel two inches high. Buffy knew that probably would never change, no matter how old she got.
“I’m sorry, Giles.” She turned to face him, and saw the compassion on his face.
He hugged her then, and Buffy could smell that familiar scent that had always been Giles. He looked older every time she saw him. His work with the Council was not easy, but he didn’t want to give it up. It was his life.
Just as Slaying would always be hers. It seemed neither one of them would ever be able to outrun their destinies, even with time and age.
“She is very young, Buffy,” Giles said quietly. “And she is no Faith.”
“No, she’s not,” Buffy replied, thinking about the girl’s watchful eyes. She was not much like Kendra either. The Slayer knew she needed to remember that Hannah wasn’t either of her predecessors. “It doesn’t seem right, Giles.”
They sat down on the couch, Giles gently leading her. “No, it doesn’t, but look at it this way. You might not have lived to see her. Surely you can be thankful for your own blessings.”
Buffy knew what he was telling her. She had her daughter and Spike and good friends. She had lived longer than any Slayer in history, and there was a very good chance she’d live longer yet.
Those were important things to remember.
Buffy gave him a sour look. “You do realize she’s young enough to be my daughter, don’t you?”
Giles blinked. He hadn’t thought of that, but his Slayer was correct. A smile hovered around his mouth. “Now you know how I feel most of the time.” She made a face at him, and Giles smiled, then grew serious. “She will need you, Buffy. You’re the only one who truly knows what she’s going through right now.”
Buffy sighed. “Yeah, as first impressions go, that wasn’t my best. She probably thinks I’m a bitch.”
Giles decided to ignore that comment in favor of being diplomatic. “We do need to discuss this upcoming mission.”
Buffy nodded, and Giles thought he could see a veil coming down over her eyes. It was time for her to be the Slayer.
Connor watched his father pack. They hadn’t had many opportunities to go into battle together in the last few years, especially since he had started working for the Council. Technically, his services were at Giles’ disposal these days, although he still free-lanced for Wesley or Angel Investigations.
Sometimes, he even put his law degree to good use.
“So what’s she like?” Angel asked, trying to sound casual.
Connor and Cordelia shared a look. “Who?”
“The new Slayer,” Angel replied impatiently. “You know who.”
“You weren’t very specific,” Connor pointed out.
“Connor—” Angel growled.
He smirked. Connor had to agree with Spike. There was nothing quite like winding Angel up. Besides, their relationship was hardly one of parent to child these days. They looked and acted more like brothers. “She’s young.”
“How young?” Angel asked, curious.
Connor shrugged. “Fourteen. She’s had a rough time.” He spoke without emotion, but the girl had touched him. She had looked so lost—he could well remember feeling that way the first time he’d found himself in L.A.
Cordelia looked surprised. “She’s just a baby!”
Connor shook his head. “She’s the Slayer, Cordy. There had to be some reason that she was the Potential activated. She seems like a good kid, although I’d guess Wesley will have his hands full.” Pushing himself away from the wall, Connor headed out the door. “I’m going to keep Gunn company. We’ll head over to Wesley’s as soon as you’re ready.”
Angel finished putting his clothes in the bag and zipped it up, looking over at Cordy. “Are you going to be okay while I’m gone?”
She rolled her eyes at him. “Please, Angel. I’m perfectly capable of holding down the fort.”
“I know you are, but—” He hesitated. She hadn’t changed much in the last few years. Apparently, having a little demon in her meant slowing the aging process, and Angel was grateful for that. Cordy kept him honest; he loved that about her.
So much had changed; he had so many regrets. Losing Wesley’s friendship was probably the biggest. He still felt a pang when he heard the twins say “Uncle Spike,” while they called him Angel. He still wished he hadn’t been so hasty, that he had given Wesley another chance.
There were regrets that never eased.
Gunn and Fred were still around, but Angel was beginning to sense their need to move on as well. Fred was talking about going back for her doctorate. Gunn was spending more time with Anne at the youth center.
It felt wrong to be the only one not changing.
Cordelia was the same, though, and that gave him comfort. Angel could fool himself into believing that Cordy would never change, that she would always be there. When Gunn and Fred decided it was time to leave, she would stay, and Angel would find others who shared his vision.
Or maybe they would find him. That’s usually how it worked.
Angel kissed Cordelia soundly, wishing he didn’t have to leave, glad that he had someone he could rely upon while he was gone. “I’ll be back soon,” he promised.
“You don’t have to hurry,” Cordelia replied with a smile. “I’m planning on going shopping with your credit card while you’re gone.”
Spike fought a sigh, wishing that there was no need to plan things out so extensively. The sooner they left, the sooner they could get back. The sooner they could return to what passed for normal.
There had been some debate as to whether or not Hannah was to be allowed to sit in on the discussion. Buffy had been against it, and had asked Wesley point-blank why she wasn’t in school. The Watcher had patiently replied that they were keeping Hannah out for the rest of the week, and that Hannah was a Slayer. Therefore, she deserved to at least listen in. It would not be long before she would be the one going on missions of this nature.
Spike had added his vote, and Giles had abstained. With Nika at work and Enid making herself scarce, he and Wesley had outnumbered her. That was why Hannah was sitting on the couch next to Connor, listening nervously. For some reason, she was getting along quite well with Hell-Boy.
Wesley had asked earlier if Buffy would be willing to assist him with Hannah’s training when they returned, but she had given an unequivocal no. Spike had immediately offered to help out, but Buffy’s attitude startled him, and he couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.
Normally, Spike knew his wife like the back of his hand.
The rest had started bickering again while Spike had let his thoughts drift, and he rolled his eyes. “We don’t know anything,” Spike reminded them. “What are we tryin’ to make plans for?”
“This is a very powerful vampire, by all accounts,” Giles pointed out with ill-concealed irritation. “We would like to minimize the risk.”
“You mean you’d like to minimize your risk,” Spike retorted. “Plan’s only as good as the people making it an’ the information they feed in. We’re wastin’ our time.”
Angel spoke up. “As much as I hate to say it, I have to agree with Spike. There isn’t anything we can do from this side.”
Buffy gave a sigh of relief. She hadn’t wanted to talk things to death any more than the two vampires, but Willow and Giles had insisted on discussing their options. “We don’t have time for this, Giles. You know I work best under pressure.”
Willow nodded. “They’re right, Giles. I think we’ve done all the talking we can do at this point.”
“I’ll call for the plane tickets,” Giles said with a sigh, knowing when he was outnumbered.
Wesley looked at Connor. “I take it Dawn won’t be joining us?”
“Dawn had to leave for that conference this morning,” Connor replied. “She had a paper to present.” By the look on his face, it was obvious that Connor would have preferred to be there.
“I had forgotten,” Wesley admitted. He appeared wistful. “A linguistics conference would be nice to attend.”
Buffy smiled. “That’s because you’re the only one who would understand any of it.”
“I don’t know,” Willow said. “Dawnie let me read over her paper, and it was really good.” She stopped and flushed. “And I’m revealing my current-nerd status, aren’t I?”
“We already knew,” Angel teased. “That cat was out of the bag a long time ago.”
There were a few chuckles before silence fell over the room, uncomfortable in its intensity. Everyone had forgotten about Hannah, who had no idea what they were talking about, but also thought that maybe she should offer her help.
Wasn’t that what Slayers did?
“Shouldn’t I be going?”
“And get yourself or someone else killed?” Buffy asked. “I don’t think so.”
Wesley gave her a sharp look. “You’re not trained, Hannah. It’s not a good idea right now.”
At Hannah’s crestfallen expression, Connor moved in to intervene. “We’ve got enough people, Hannah. Trust us. There’ll be plenty of times to test your skills in the future.”
Hannah acquiesced, wondering why Buffy didn’t like her. Willow, who knew what it was like to feel left out offered her own brand of consolation. “It doesn’t make any sense for us to take both Slayers with us. Just in case.”
“Right,” Hannah muttered, still feeling quite sure that the older Slayer wanted nothing to do with her.
“The flight leaves in a few hours,” Giles announced as he came back into the room, interrupting the conversation. “Wren will meet all of you at the airport, and you’ll call when you arrive. Once you locate the vampire, it shouldn’t take long to kill him.”
It wouldn’t take long one way or the other.
Hannah knew this had been a mistake. She had wanted to prove a point, but now that she was out in the cemetery, by herself, she was beginning to wonder what had possessed her.
Other than the insane desire to let everyone know she was capable of taking care of herself.
It really wasn’t fair, though. She knew that Buffy had been out on her own slaying vampires soon after she was called. Hannah had to be accompanied every time, and when she complained, Wesley always pointed out that things were different now.
It didn’t help that Buffy had not warmed up to her in the last year. In fact, the older woman would often comment on the fact that she never had that much backup. She was alone. She had saved the world a couple times when she was Hannah’s age.
Buffy was special; she had died twice, and everyone seemed to be doing their best to make sure Hannah didn’t die at all.
The girl laughed at herself, knowing how insane that sounded, even in her own head. She was grateful that Wesley and Nika cared, and she knew that most of their protectiveness had to do with her youth and relative inexperience.
She missed Connor and Dawn intensely. The Cleveland Hellmouth had needed permanent guardians, and they had accepted the position. For a while, the couple had been going back and forth, trying to decide whether or not to make the move. In the end, neither had really had a choice.
Dawn had been like a big sister, though, and Connor had often taken her out with him on patrol. He was more likely to let her take chances than Wesley was, and Hannah missed that. There was a part of her that wished she could have gone with them to Cleveland.
She sighed and straightened her shoulders. It didn’t matter. She was the Slayer, and therefore she would do her job.
She just wasn’t expecting to have to take on four vampires at once.
They came up on her, one still dirty from clawing its way out of the grave. Fledglings weren’t hard to handle, but the other three appeared older.
This was not a good thing.
“What have we here?” The male vampire who spoke was obviously the leader of the pack. “Looks like dinner just got delivered.”
Hannah clutched her stake a little tighter. “I’m not dinner.”
“Oh, no?” The lone female in the group looked her up and down. “You know, she’s probably right. She’s more like a hors d’oeuvre.”
Hannah decided that it was time to get the bantering over with. She silenced the female with a roundhouse kick to her chin and followed it up with a quick stake to the heart.
It might have been the wrong move. The leader was obviously incensed, and with a growl he went at her, his two companions not far behind.
Hannah found herself trying to fight off three vamps, two of them skilled fighters, and she knew she was in trouble. She ought to be fully capable of handling three at a time, but one of them managed to grab her arm, and before she could shake him off, a second had grabbed her by the shoulders.
In that moment, she was certain that she was going to die.
Suddenly, one of the vampires disintegrated, and Hannah broke free of their hold to dust another. The third was busy fighting a black-clad shape. She recognized the bleached hair immediately and her knees nearly gave out in relief.
Hannah had no idea how Spike had managed to find her, but she definitely wasn’t complaining.
With a final flourish, Spike dusted the last vampire and turned to face her, the fury on his face causing her to take a step backwards. “What the bloody hell were you thinking?”
“You’re just lucky that Nika called me when she realized you’d gone out on your own!” he exploded. “Those idiots very nearly had you. Did you think that just because your Watcher was on retreat the rules had changed?”
Hannah was torn between rage and tears. Rage won out. “I’m the friggin’ Slayer, Spike! You guys never let me go out on my own! Connor was the only one who ever let me take chances, and now he’s gone! What the hell am I supposed to do?”
“You let one of us come with you,” Spike snapped back, reigning in his own temper, sensing that the girl was on the verge of tears. She was only a few years older than Meg, and right now he was reminded of a young Dawn who was bound and determined to find out what the Slayer was hiding from her.
The tears she was fighting back started to leak down her cheeks, and Hannah replied, “Buffy was fighting vamps on her own when she was my age! It isn’t fair.”
“We’re tryin’ to keep you alive,” Spike said. “’s not safe for anybody to be out on their own, luv. It’s one of the reasons Wes an’ I partnered up. It’s just good sense to have somebody watch your back.”
Hannah’s lower lip trembled, and she scowled at him. “I don’t need a bloody babysitter.” She started stalking off, and Spike sighed deeply. Wesley had warned him before he left that Hannah would need careful watching in his absence. The girl had taken Dawn and Connor’s move badly, and she was beginning to test him.
They should have been expecting this, Spike thought as he followed her over to where she perched on a gravestone. Hannah was as strong-willed as any of her predecessors, but this was the first time she’d disobeyed a direct order. She had told Nika that she was going to a friend’s house after school and would walk home, but when she didn’t show up for dinner, the woman had called him.
Buffy, of course, hadn’t wanted to come.
He came to stand next to her. She was crying in earnest now, and Spike bit back yet another sigh. The last year had been a rough adjustment for all of them, and it had probably been hardest on Hannah. “There, now, Sweet, don’t cry.”
“It’s not fair,” she said. “I suck at this. I can’t even kill a few stupid vamps.”
Spike put an arm around her shoulders. “You got two of them,” he pointed out consolingly.
“If you hadn’t shown up they would have had me,” Hannah replied stubbornly. “She’s right. I’m never gonna be good at this. I never should have been Chosen.”
Spike knew exactly who Hannah was talking about, and he winced. He was going to have to speak with Buffy. As long as Dawn and Connor had been around, they had served as a buffer between the two Slayers, but that wasn’t the case anymore. It was all too obvious that Hannah had taken some of Buffy’s more catty comments to heart.
“You’ve only been at this a year, luv,” Spike said gently, much as he would have spoken to Meg had she been crying. “Give it some time.”
Hannah shook her head and then buried her face in Spike’s shirt. “I don’t have time.”
Spike pulled her closer, knowing what she meant and wishing he had the right words to say. It seemed that by trying to protect her, they may have done more harm than good. “I’m goin’ to call Nika an’ let her know you’re alright,” he said. “Then we’ll go out together, yeah? I promise to let you take a few chances.”
He felt her nod against his stomach and pulled out his cell phone to call his friend. They needed to find a different way of doing things for Hannah’s sake, because she was right. She needed to get good at this, and she didn’t have that much time.
Nika breathed a prayer of thanks as she hung up the phone. Spike had promised to keep an eye on the young Slayer, and she knew she could trust Hannah to his capable hands. “Did William find her then?” Enid asked, a touch of concern in her voice.
“Yes, and she’s fine. Apparently, she was holding her own against a group of vampires when Spike found her.” Nika shook her head. “I have no idea what has gotten into that girl.”
“You know very well what’s gotten into her,” Enid said severely. “Wesley’s being overprotective, and hearing the others talk about the good old days when the Slayer was stopping an apocalypse every year isn’t helping any. You expect her to do a woman’s job, and then you treat her like a child.”
“She is a child,” Nika replied, although her expression was rueful. “But you’re right. Something is going to have to change.”
Enid gave her granddaughter a look. “Hannah also knows very well that the only reason she’s here is because she’s the Slayer. I think she’s trying to prove herself worthy of staying.”
Nika made a face. With Carwen’s birth, things had been more than a little stressful. Hannah had been quite helpful with the boys and helping around the house, but in the last couple months she had been showing quiet signs of rebellion. She spent more time in her room, emerging only when absolutely necessary. She wouldn’t speak unless asked a direct question, and then would give as short a response as possible. Davey had been the only one she would talk to, although Will would sometimes just go into her room and sit with her.
Really, both she and Wesley had been so busy with Carwen that it had been easy to let Hannah disengage. The girl wasn’t any trouble, or hadn’t been until tonight. With Wesley out of town on a Watcher’s retreat, Nika hadn’t seen a problem in letting Hannah go to a friend’s house after school, skipping her usual training regimen. Honestly, she’d just been grateful that Hannah was finally showing some interest in other kids her age.
Apparently, that wasn’t the case at all.
“What do you suggest I do?” Nika asked. “She lied to me about where she was going.”
Enid raised an eyebrow. “What would you do if she was one of the boys?”
That was an easy question to answer. “I’d ground them, of course, but I can’t very well do that with the girl. It’s not as if there is anything I can take away from her that would make an impression.”
Enid shook her head. “Not for punishment, Danika,” the older woman said impatiently. “What if it was Will, and he was showing signs of being unhappy?”
Will was the one who would withdraw, Nika knew. Davey had no trouble voicing his needs, and very loudly too. “I would take him somewhere, and talk.” She rolled her eyes, impatient with herself. “Bloody hell. Of course.” She rolled her eyes, impatient with herself. “I’m such an idiot.”
“It’s not just you, cariad,” Enid replied. “Wesley is just as guilty, as are the rest of us. Hannah’s a quiet one, and so it’s easier than it ought to be to forget that she’s just as needy as the rest of the children.”
“Maybe even needier,” Nika murmured. She shook her head. “Well, Spike said he was going to keep her at their house tonight and bring her back tomorrow. Would you mind watching the boys?”
“Of course not,” Enid replied. “And I’ll make her favorite for dinner. It’s time Hannah realizes that being the Slayer isn’t everything she is.”
She had been as giddy as the child she was. Spike had taken Hannah to some high traffic areas where he knew there would be plenty of vampires, and then he had mostly stayed back and let her slay.
There was a natural grace in her movements that was often hidden by her rather awkward manner. She needed some confidence, since she had all the ability and all the training. Unfortunately, building that confidence would take time, and it was for that reason that he and Wesley hadn’t been allowing her to go out on her own.
They had kept her safe, but they had also kept her from blossoming.
Hannah executed a perfect flying kick, taking out the last vampire of the evening with style, and Spike began applauding. “Well done, Sweet.”
She grinned at him, all traces of her tears gone. “Thanks!” A worried look crossed her face. “You aren’t going to tell Wesley about this, are you?”
“Don’t think I’m goin’ to have a choice, luv,” he replied gently. “You did fib to Nika ‘bout where you were goin’.” Hannah winced, and Spike sighed. “I’m not gonna tell him you almost got yourself killed, though. Told Nika you were holdin’ your own, an’ there’s no reason to tell Wesley anything different.”
There was a measure of hero-worship in her eyes when she looked at him, and Spike was oddly reminded of Dawn again when she was that age. His Niblet had looked at him like that too, and he felt Hannah tug on his heart-strings as she hadn’t before.
“Come on, then. Let’s get home,” Spike said, heading back towards the motorcycle.
Hannah hesitated. “Won’t Buffy be mad that I stayed at your place?”
“Buffy’s not the only one who lives there,” Spike said wryly. “I think I can make the decision on this one.” When the young Slayer’s expression didn’t change, he sighed. “I’ll talk to her, luv. Buffy’s just—she never did adjust well to change.”
“She doesn’t like me,” Hannah said glumly, trudging behind him.
Spike frowned, trying to think of the best way to explain it. “’s not that, Hannah. It’s more that you’re the third Slayer other than herself she’s seen Chosen. It’s—it’s hard for her.”
Hannah didn’t really understand, but she wasn’t sure she was supposed to. It sucked that Buffy didn’t like her, but she hadn’t done anything wrong.
Unless you counted getting Chosen in the first place, and Hannah was fairly certain that wasn’t her fault.
“It’ll be fine,” Spike said encouragingly. “She just needs a little more time.”
“It’s already been a year,” Hannah muttered under her breath, pulling on the extra helmet Spike kept with his motorcycle.
Spike pretended not to hear that. While he agreed, Buffy wasn’t always willing to listen to reason.
When Hannah woke the next morning and came downstairs, she was relieved to that no one awake except for Meg. “Hey.”
Meg glanced up from her Saturday morning cartoons. “Hey.” She was unsurprised at finding the other Slayer there. Her dad had a habit of letting people crash at their place when they had been
out late on patrol the night before.
“What are you doing?”
Hannah frowned. Davey and Will always watched cartoons Saturday morning. She realized, with something akin to surprise, that she missed them. “Where’s Spike?” She didn’t really want to run into Buffy.
“Sleeping. He and Mom aren’t up yet.”
They watched TV in silence, Meg munching on dry cereal by the handful. While the girls had spent time in one another’s company, it was rare that they were alone together. Normally, they only saw each other when both families got together for dinner. The sheer chaos of such gatherings prevented any real bonding from taking place.
At a commercial break, Meg turned and looked at the older girl. “All the good shows are over,” she announced. “It’s all going to be boring ones now.”
Hannah gave her a wary look. “Do you want to do something else?” she asked, wondering if she was going to get herself into trouble as she did so.
“Let’s play Slayer and Vampire,” Meg suggested. “You can be the Vampire.”
It would figure that the daughter of a Slayer and a Vampire would want to play something other than the typical cops and robbers. Hannah hesitated and then shrugged. She doubted she could be in any more trouble than she probably already was. “Okay.”
Meg graced her with a broad grin. “Cool. Dad plays with me all the time, but Mom yells at us for making too much noise. Sometimes he can get her to play too, though.”
“When you’re hunting vampires, it’s better if you’re quiet,” Hannah replied. “Besides, if we wake your mom and dad up, they’ll probably get mad.”
“Dad won’t,” Meg replied with perfect assurance. “He hardly ever gets mad unless I do something really bad. Mom might though, so we should be quiet.” Then, without fully realizing exactly what she was saying, Meg added, “Mom and Dad are always up really late wrestling after patrol and stuff. Mom said it was because patrol always gets them wound up.”
Hannah nearly choked as she realized what Meg was referring to, and she blinked, trying to get the mental pictures out of her head. Sure, Spike was hot, but—
They were old.
Buffy lay next to Spike contentedly. She loved Saturday mornings. Meg was always occupied with the television, and they could take advantage of the alone-time.
They didn’t get enough of it these days.
“I need to ask you somethin’,” Spike said quietly, and Buffy knew she wasn’t going to like it. She never liked what he had to say when he used that tone.
“It’s about Hannah.”
Buffy pulled away. “Spike—” They’d had this conversation before.
“Buffy, she’s a Slayer. You might not like it, but that’s how it is.” Spike sat up so he could see her better. “You know where I found her last night? In a cemetery, fightin’ off four vamps, an’ doing a decent job of it before they got the better of her.”
Buffy looked away, knowing what he was going to say next. “Spike, I don’t—”
“She wants to prove she’s just as good as you,” Spike said earnestly. “Don’t you remember what that was like?”
Buffy more than remembered. She could recall the days not long after Faith had rolled into town, after their friendship became strained. They had both wanted to be the best—both wanted the attention, the acclaim, the recognition, if only from the few people who knew what they were. Faith’s sense of inferiority had driven her to the dark side.
That had been part of it, anyway.
“I do remember, Spike, but we’re not in a competition,” Buffy replied, getting out of bed and pulling a robe on. “She’s just a kid.”
“Hannah stopped being a kid a long time ago,” Spike responded, frustrated that they weren’t getting anywhere. He had thought that Buffy’s initial animosity towards the new Slayer had everything to do with Faith’s death. Once Buffy got revenge and had a chance to mourn, things would get better. Instead, she seemed to resent Hannah more and more as the days went by, and for once Spike didn’t understand.
Buffy’s eyes flashed in anger. “No, Spike. She gets to be a kid. You and Wesley keep insisting on that. You make sure she’s safe, you hold her hand while she patrols. Hannah hasn’t had to save the world yet. Everyone knows that she’s the Slayer, and they all bend over backwards to make sure she’s okay with that. That’s not what a real Slayer is.”
“That’s what this is about?” Spike asked incredulously. “You’re jealous that the system changed for her and not you? Your mum didn’t know you were the Slayer, and you had to do all this without as much support. That’s it?”
When he put it that way, Buffy knew it sounded petty. She shouldn’t begrudge Hannah’s ability to take advantage of Giles’ new system. It was one of the things that had allowed her to draw a pension, and to have some choices about which apocalypses she had to stop. There were other people in place to deal with the emergencies these days, which allowed her some pretense of a normal life.
It was petty. It was also true.
The look on her face was enough to answer Spike’s question, and he stood, yanking on a pair of jeans. “You don’t get it, do you, Slayer?” he demanded. “Hannah didn’t ever get to be a kid, even before she got all Chosen. Wesley or Nika ever explain to you why she was in foster care? Her mum was so depressed she couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. There was somethin’ wrong in her head, an’ so Hannah was the one who made sure rent got paid, an’ there was food in the cupboard. She came home from school an’ made sure her mum ate an’ the house was cleaned. She made sure that the welfare check stretched far enough to last them the month, an’ when it didn’t, she was the one who went hungry.”
Spike took Buffy by the shoulders and stared deep into her eyes. “Wesley makes sure she’s safe because he’s scared to death she’ll go off the deep end like Faith did. He’s tryin’ to make up for past mistakes. The rest of us just want to make sure she gets to be a teenager once in a while.”
He painted a bleak picture, and Buffy flushed deeply. She’d been feeling jealous and put-upon, thinking about all the hardships she’d gone through as the Slayer, resenting the fact that Hannah got to lead a more balanced life than she often had.
In reality, being the Slayer was probably the best thing that had ever happened to her, and Buffy was reminded of some of the hints Faith had let slip.
And maybe that had bothered her too. Hannah and Faith were both so alike and so different—Buffy had her own special regrets when it came to the dark Slayer.
“I hate it when you’re right,” Buffy muttered rebelliously. “You know that, right?”
Spike tried to bite back a smile unsuccessfully. “Yeah, I do.”
“I like her,” Buffy finally confessed. “I didn’t want to, but I do. She’s a good kid.”
“That she is.”
A shriek of laughter, quickly stifled, came from downstairs.”What do you think I should do?” Buffy finally asked.
“I think you should treat her the way you’d want to be treated, were you in her shoes.” Spike gave her a warm kiss. “I know this isn’t easy for you, luv, but it’s not all that simple for her either.”
Buffy sighed once more, knowing he was right. “I’ll try.”
“Then you’ll do fine,” Spike replied, giving her another quick kiss and heading downstairs. Buffy watched him go, wondering if she’d ever be as good with people as Spike was.
She thought it was doubtful.
Nika didn’t have to try to appear upset; she had thought they had dealt with this problem already. Davey had been doing so much better in school, and now he was failing social studies and falling dangerously close to it in reading and math. He’d never been quite the student that Will was, but this was unlike him.
Still, she hated to see the disappointment on his face that bordered on betrayal. “It’s not fair!” Davey exclaimed. “I got invited over to Chris’s ages ago!”
“I’m sorry, Davey,” Nika said, glad she could keep her voice even. “You know the rules. You won’t be going out with friends until your grades are back up where they ought to be.”
Davey’s lower lip trembled a little. “It’s not fair,” he repeated. “Mrs. Howard hates me!”
Nika bit back a sigh. “I doubt that’s true, Davey. Now be honest. Have you not been doing your homework?”
“I’ve done it all,” Davey said, his eyes welling up. “She just doesn’t like me. Honest, Mum. I’ve been trying!”
“Your father and I know that you’re capable of doing better,” Nika replied. “Until you’re working up to your potential—”
“Uncle Spike knows,” Davey said rebelliously. “He understands that a guy can’t spend all his time with books.”
Nika raised an eyebrow. “I happen to know that your Uncle Spike got top marks in school. That’s hardly a reason for you not to do your best.”
“It’s because you love Will better ‘n me,” Davey shouted. “You love him best because he does everything right! I’m not him!”
He dashed off before Nika could make any reply to that, and she put her head in her hands. What she wouldn’t give to have Wesley with her, but he wouldn’t be back for days yet. Even if he wasn’t quite as close to Davey, at least he would have been moral support.
A thin arm snaked around her shoulders. “Are you alright, Mum?”
Nika made a sound that was half a laugh and half a sigh, looking into blue eyes that were so close to Wesley’s. “I’m fine, Will.” She hesitated. Usually they never asked the boys to tattle on each other. It was unfair, but in this situation Nika wanted to know what was going on. “Will, Davey keeps saying that the teacher hates him. Is that true?”
Will chewed on his bottom lip, troubled. He knew that Davey was trying to tough things out, but it hurt to see his brother so upset. They didn’t have the same friends, and their personalities were night and day, but they were still close. “It’s not all Davey’s fault,” he said quietly.
Nika frowned. “What’s been going on, cariad?”
“I heard Mrs. Howard say that Davey should be on Ritalin, and she’s angry that he isn’t,” Will explained. “She cuts him down in front of the class and makes him stay in at recess.”
“How long has this been going on?”
“Since school started almost,” Will admitted. “Davey said not to say anything, maybe because he kind of started it. We were talking in Welsh, and she got angry with us, and he back talked.”
Nika sighed. It wasn’t right for a teacher to hold a grudge against a little boy. Davey was active, but no more so than any other boy his age. At the school’s urging, they had gotten him evaluated, but there was no sign of hyperactivity. When he wanted to, Davey could concentrate for just as long as his twin. Wesley had flatly refused to either medicate him or punish him for his high activity level. “The boy should be allowed to be a child,” he had insisted.
Nika happened to agree, but she also thought that Wesley was deeply afraid of breaking his son’s spirit, and he refused to risk it. They had talked about finding a different school, but it looked as though the time for talking was over.
“What would you think about going to a different school?” Nika asked. “Not that you will, mind you.”
Will hesitated, and then he asked, “Would Davey be going with me?”
“Absolutely,” Nika replied. She knew that most schools had a policy of splitting siblings, but they hadn’t liked that idea. Davey and Will were good for each other. Davey made sure Will didn’t get picked on, and Will often settled Davey down.
“That’s okay then,” Will replied decisively. “I don’t want to get split up from him.”
Nika hugged her son. “I know you don’t, sweetheart. Now, why don’t you go do your homework, and see if your brother will do his?”
He gave her a quick grin, stopping to give Hannah a hug as he left the kitchen. The Slayer had come in on the tail-end of the conversation, and she returned his embrace with affection. Will had been more than a bit stand-offish when the girl had come to stay with them, but something had changed things. One day he’d been reserved, the next they were best of friends.
Nika had decided that she didn’t need to know why.
“How are you?” Hannah asked, giving Nika a quick hug in turn. “It sounds like you were dealing with World War Three in here.”
“You’re not far off,” Nika said ruefully. “You saw Davey’s report card. I had to inform him he wouldn’t be going to Chris’s birthday party this weekend.”
Hannah winced, knowing how much the boy had been looking forward to it. “If that’s what it takes to get his attention, I guess.”
“Except that Will tells me his teacher has some sort of grudge against him,” Nika replied. “If that’s the case…”
“Are you thinking about that private school?” she asked. “It might be better for both of them. I mean, Will’s not doing all that great in public schools.”
“I know,” Nika sighed. “Wesley and I have discussed it, and we both had thought things might get better, but that’s not the case. We don’t want to teach them to run from their problems.”
“Except sometimes retreating is the only thing you can do,” Hannah pointed out. “If Davey gets too discouraged, he’ll just stop trying, and that won’t do anybody any good.”
Nika gave her foster daughter a grateful look. “That’s a good point, cariad. When did you get so wise?”
She shrugged. “Somewhere along the way, I suppose.”
Changing the subject, Nika said, “That Sam seems like a very nice boy.”
“He is,” Hannah replied, her tone troubled.
“That’s a problem?”
“He wants me to go out with him.” Her voice was so low that Nika had to lean forward to catch her words.
Nika frowned. “Do you not like him?”
“No, I—I think I do, it’s just, what am I going to tell him?” Hannah asked. “I mean, what happens when he finds out what I am? If he freaks—”
Nika pulled Hannah into an embrace. “Oh, sweetheart. I’m sorry this has to be so difficult.”
“What if he hates me when he finds out?”
“I highly doubt that will happen,” Nika responded. “You’ll just have to wait for the right moment, I suppose.”
Hannah shook her head, troubled. She wished her Watcher was present. Wesley would be able to help her either decide to tell her secret or be able to advise her how to keep it. “How does a Slayer date?” she asked finally.
“Why don’t you ask Buffy?” Nika asked with an encouraging smile. “She might be able to give you some pointers.”
Hannah frowned, but then nodded. “Maybe. I’ll give her a call tonight. It might help her take her mind off Spike being gone.”
The house felt terribly empty without him. The silence seemed to echo. It got better when Meg came home, since the girl seemed to need the reassurance of her mother’s presence. Still, it wasn’t the same.
Buffy actually managed to cook dinner for the both of them without burning it. “Good dinner, Mom,” Meg said, trying for cheerful. She almost managed it.
“Thanks, sweetie,” Buffy replied, leaning across the table to run a hand down her daughter’s hair. “How are you?”
Meg hesitated and then admitted, “I really miss Dad.”
“I know, Meg. Me too.” The Slayer smiled bravely at her daughter. “I’m sure he’ll be just fine, though.”
“He was going really far away,” Meg pointed out softly. “What if something happens? What if he doesn’t come back?” She still remembered the last trip her parents had made together. Spike had been stuck in bed for a few days recovering. She had hated seeing her father like that.
Buffy took a deep breath. “He promised. Your father always keeps his promises.”
“I know that,” Meg said impatiently. “But what if he just can’t this time?”
It was Buffy’s greatest fear too. “Then we’ll keep going for him. That’s what he would want.” She took a deep breath. “Let’s get this mess cleaned up. Hannah’s going to be here soon.”
They cleaned up the kitchen in silence, and Buffy wondered if she should have said something else. Had she dismissed Meg’s fears too quickly? She had a tendency to do that, just as Spike usually shot straight from the hip. In a situation like this, Spike would have known exactly what to say to soothe.
Buffy wondered if she wasn’t still using him, this time for running interference between her and those she loved best. She asked him to translate for her, to explain what she meant, to be gentle when she couldn’t help being harsh.
They were yin and yang, and Buffy needed him now.
“I’m scared too.”
The words were spoken into the silence of the kitchen, and Meg looked up at her mother gratefully. “But he’ll come back.”
“Of course he’ll come back,” Buffy said, a nostalgic smile lighting up her face. “He always does.”
Hannah and Nika had decided that the younger Slayer ought to invite herself over for the night. The next day was Saturday, so she didn’t have to worry about school, and she could keep Buffy company. Nika knew all about having an empty house.
“So what’s this I hear about a boy?” Buffy teased gently. Their relationship had become much easier over the last couple years.
Hannah shrugged. “His name is Sam. He’s nice.”
“And he wants to ask you out?”
“He’s been following me for a while,” Hannah admitted.
Buffy’s eyes widened. “He’s been stalking you?”
“No!” Hannah quickly replied. “Sam’s harmless. He just follows me sometimes and asks if I need him to carry my books, that sort of thing.”
Buffy raised an eyebrow. “Carry your books?”
“I’m pretty sure that was supposed to be funny, but it’s hard to tell with Sam.” Hannah looked away. “I like him, Buffy, but I’m the Slayer.”
Hannah was the Slayer, and Sam was a regular guy, although Buffy was fairly certain that they could be grateful for that. After all, boyfriends were enough trouble; throw in being undead and you have a recipe for disaster.
Unless the vampire in question was Spike, and then all bets were off.
Buffy understood what she was saying without any other explanation. “How do you think he’ll feel about the super strength?”
“I think he’ll think it’s pretty cool,” Hannah admitted. “Sam already knows I’m a little different since I stopped a couple jocks from shoving him in a locker.”
“You have to play it by ear,” Buffy said eventually, once she’d considered what Hannah was saying. “I’ve had human boyfriends in the past, and it doesn’t always work out. If he’s not okay with your strength, then you know he’s not the right guy for you.”
Hannah looked up to meet Buffy’s eyes. “I like being the Slayer. It’s probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and it brought me to Wesley and Nika. Sometimes, though, it just sucks.”
“Yeah, it really does,” Buffy replied, a depth of feeling in her tone of voice alone.
“Will it ever get easier?”
Buffy pondered Hannah’s question—unwilling to lie, and yet unwilling to tell the whole truth. “Maybe,” she finally decided. “It doesn’t always get better. Sometimes it has to get worse first.”
“Gee, that’s comforting,” Hannah said wryly.
“Not really,” Buffy agreed, realizing that she was letting her own mood set the tone for their conversation. “Sometimes people surprise you, sweetie. Maybe that’s what Sam will do for you.”
Hannah looked uncertain. “I think he’s going to ask me to prom.”
“Are you going to go?”
“I don’t know,” Hannah replied. “I mean, it’s kind of silly, isn’t it?”
Buffy knew that tone of voice all too well. It was the “I’m not going to be able to go, so I’ll convince myself it wasn’t worth it anyway” tone. She remembered her senior prom, and while it hadn’t been the prom every girl dreams of, it had ended up okay. Hannah, however, deserved to have a dream prom with the pretty dress and the hair and everything else that went along with it.
She decided to appoint herself the one in charge of ensuring Hannah’s happy day. “It’s not silly,” Buffy said firmly. “It’s supposed to be a magical night.”
Hannah didn’t have magical nights. She had nights when she dusted half a dozen vamps. “Buffy, that’s not—I mean, I don’t even know if he’s going to ask me.”
“He’ll ask,” Buffy said with a smile. “How could he not? And then we’ll just have to make sure it’s the best night yet.”
Hannah smiled at that. She knew Buffy’s resolve-face, which meant come hell or high water, she would have the best prom ever. For the first time, Hannah thought it might just work out.
Wesley alternated between pacing and sitting outside the cave. It hadn’t been nearly as hard to find as they’d feared, nor had it taken them long to get there. He almost wished they’d had more time, and as he waited, apprehension filled him.
Spike had gone in alone, since that was the way it worked, but how would he know if the vampire had survived? He had no idea how long the trials would take, only that there was more than one of them. What was he going to tell Buffy if Spike never came out?
What would he do?
Wesley didn’t have a problem with Spike’s choice. When the vampire had come to him months before, the Watcher had understood exactly where he was coming from. In truth, he didn’t see another option. Even if Willow had done the glamour to throw off the outside observers, Spike would still be forced to watch everyone he loved age and die. It wasn’t fair in the least to ask that of him.
Now, however, standing outside the cave, waiting for the outcome, Wesley wondered if he had been right to support Spike’s decision. Perhaps he should have encouraged the vampire to wait until they found something less risky. Perhaps there would have been another solution that gave them the same outcome.
Wesley didn’t want to lose him.
He knew that there was a good chance that if Spike did walk out of that cave he would be human, which meant having a soul. He also knew that Angel had spent almost a century half-crazy with guilt after he’d received his soul. The differences between Angel and Angelus were stark; Wesley had experienced that for himself.
If Spike came out drastically changed, if he wasn’t Spike anymore, Wesley had already determined that it didn’t matter. He owed the vampire everything he had. Whatever was to come, Wesley would be there. He would take care of him.
A sound came from inside the cave, and Wesley turned to face the entrance and the emerging figure. It was finished.
Meg grinned as she saw her uncle leaning against his pickup outside the school. Her mom and dad had told her she was going to be staying with Uncle Xander for the duration of their trip, which was the best thing about it. Staying with Uncle Xander and Aunt Teri was always fun.
“Hey, munchkin!” Xander said, giving her a hug. “How was school?”
“Good,” Meg replied, letting him give her a boost into the truck. “I got an A on my spelling test.”
“That’s great!” he replied, giving her a lopsided grin. “I was lucky to spell my name right.”
Meg giggled, knowing that he was kidding. Mostly. She buckled herself in, and looked over at him. “Did you talk to Mom and Dad today?”
“Yeah, they’re leaving a little later today.” His eyes were kind. “How are you doing?”
Meg knew what he was asking. He had been the one she stayed with during her parents’ last mission that had left them both severely injured. While Wesley and Nika were her godparents, they were often busy with their own kids. Xander, on the other hand, had been unencumbered at the time, and he was always willing to look after her. It had only been within the last year that he’d gotten married. Meg had been the flower girl.
“Okay,” Meg replied. “I’m sure they’ll be fine,” she said, trying to sound grown up.
Xander smiled and gave her ponytail an affectionate tug. “I know they will be. They’re both tough.” Deciding it was time to change the subject, he said, “So guess what?”
“I’ve got the week off, and we’re going to Disneyland.”
Meg grinned. She’d been to Disneyland before, of course. Her dad had taken her, although it had been after dark, and she’d gone with her godparents and the twins once. Xander, however, could be counted upon to spend the entire day there, go on every ride, and let her do pretty much whatever she wanted to do.
Her mom often said that Xander had never completely grown up. Meg didn’t really care. “Cool! What about Aunt Teri, though?”
“She’s off on a business trip this week,” he replied. “So it’s just you and me, kid.”
Meg sighed happily. She liked Aunt Teri, but Uncle Xander understood things better. Even though her aunt knew about her dad’s sun allergy, she didn’t know everything, and so Meg always had to watch her tongue when the woman was around.
She also knew that Xander’s decision to take the time off work and go to Disneyland was mainly to distract her from thinking about her parents and their mission. She wasn’t stupid. She knew that they could get hurt—or worse. “I like it when it’s just us two,” she confided.
“Me too, Meg,” he replied. He and Teri had discussed having kids, and they were going to try. For now, however, Xander liked playing the doting uncle, loved having Meg look at him as if he was the best thing since sliced bread. In her eyes, he was a hero.
It was nice to be a hero again.
Hannah was grateful when Enid asked for her help in the kitchen, and even more grateful when the older woman sent her to get cleaned up. She felt bad, not being able to help. She felt useless, as though she ought to be doing something and didn’t know what.
It was easier to just get out of the way and try to forget everything that had just happened. It was easier to pretend that it was simply a new house with a new family, that there was nothing else to it.
Enid kept her in the kitchen, and Hannah relaxed in her company. She insisted Hannah call her nain, just like everyone else did. She talked about Wales and Nika when she was Hannah’s age, and generally made the girl feel as though she might belong there after all.
Wesley entered the kitchen after a while, giving Hannah a warm smile. “I’d wondered where you’d gotten off to.”
Hannah hesitated. “I thought I was in the way.”
“Hardly,” Wesley replied. He wasn’t quite sure what to say to this girl. He was used to the boys, but he’d never thought to suddenly be responsible for an adolescent. “You know,” Wesley began, sounding a bit hesitant. “It’s been a very long time since I was a Watcher. I imagine we’re going to have to feel things out together.”
Hannah managed a shy smile. “Okay.”
There was the noise of a door opening and slamming shut, and then a boy’s shout. “Uncle Spike!”
Hannah watched the smile on Wesley’s face wistfully. She wished there was someone who would look like that, like they were happy to have her there. The next moment he glanced back at her and met her hazel eyes with his own. “Are you ready to meet my sons?”
“Okay,” she said, and then was surprised when he put a large hand on her shoulder to lead her into the living room. It felt—it felt good. Hannah hadn’t had so many people show her such casual affection in—well, never, actually. Even though the other Slayer hadn’t been very nice, Wesley had been, as had the others.
Maybe—maybe this would work out after all.
Wesley had felt Hannah stiffen and then relax under his touch, and he was grateful for Nika’s influence on him. He was much more comfortable with physical affection these days. His wife had something to do with that, as did being a father. Hannah struck him as being a little lost, and he didn’t blame her. She was very young, and this was probably overwhelming for her.
Tonight he would sit down with her and they would talk more in depth, but it would have to wait until the others left.
Nika was in the living room with the twins as they chattered to the others. Well, Davey was chattering. Will, on the other hand, looked rather subdued, and Wesley bit back a sigh. He knew very well that his son’s silence meant another bad day in school. “Come meet Hannah,” he said.
Will was the first to turn, and he immediately came over and hugged his father. Wesley put his arms around the boy, knowing all too well the hurt that came from being teased by the other boys. “Will, this is Hannah,” he said gently. “Hannah, this is Will, and that’s Davey.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Will said politely, sticking out his hand formally.
Hannah shook his hand with a smile and then glanced over at Davey, who was staring at her in awe. “You’re the new Slayer? Can you do any cool tricks like Aunt Buffy?”
Wesley shook his head. “Not now, Davey. You can ask her questions later. I’m sure you both have homework?”
Will shook his head. “I got all mine done at school.”
Davey made a face. “Aw, Dad, can’t I do it later?”
“Dafydd,” Wesley said, a warning in his voice. “Homework first.”
The boy heaved a deeply put upon sigh. “Fine,” he muttered.
Will, knowing when the adults wanted to talk alone, said, “It was nice to meet you, Hannah.”
Hannah had no idea how to take the boy’s formality. Actually, she didn’t really know what to do with either of them, having never had siblings. “Nice to meet you, too.”
Nika smiled at her. “What do you say we get out of here, Hannah?” she asked. “I’m sure they can do without us, and I think we have some errands to run.”
Her eyes met Wesley’s with the silent promise that they would speak later, probably much later. She gave her husband a quick kiss, and then met Spike’s eyes. “Be careful.”
“Always am,” the vampire replied easily. “I’ll see you when we get back.”
There was a certain horror inherent in assigned seating on airplanes. This time it had to do with the fact that Spike and Angel were seated next to each other two rows up from Willow, Connor and Buffy. “Maybe we should switch,” Buffy said when she realized the problem.
The flight attendant shook his head firmly. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but we can’t do that. You have to sit in the seat that’s on your ticket.”
“We’ll be fine,” Angel assured her. “At least, I know I can behave for a couple hours.”
Spike rolled his eyes. “Right, Peaches. Play the saint.”
The other three exchanged looks, and Willow smiled at them sweetly. “I could still turn you both into fluffy kittens for the duration of the flight,” she suggested. “That way you could ride in the cargo hold.”
“Don’t think so,” Spike said quickly, knowing just how capable Willow was of carrying out her threat. “We’ll play nice. ‘Least I will,” he muttered, heading to his seat.
The two vampires didn’t speak as the plane taxied down the runway and then took off. In fact, they had been in the air for a good thirty minutes before Angel finally spoke. “Buffy doesn’t appear to be very happy.”
“She’s not,” Spike murmured. “She feels guilty for leavin’ Meg, pissed off that Faith’s dead, an’ she’s not thrilled about the new Slayer. Add it all up, an’ what do you get?”
“A month of sleeping on the couch?” Angel suggested, tongue-in-cheek.
Spike smirked. “That’s why I have a comfortable couch. ‘s more like campin’ that way.”
Angel chuckled. “What do you think of the new Slayer? Hannah, right?”
“Good kid,” Spike said after a moment. “Giles said she’s had it rough.”
Angel nodded. “You could see it in her eyes. She’s going to give Wesley hell, you know. He’ll be beating off the boys with a tire iron.”
“We both will.” Spike was quiet for a moment, and then said softly. “Wesley won’t ask, but he’d probably appreciate your help with trainin’ her. B’tween the two of us an’ him, she might be the best trained Slayer yet.”
Angel knew what it had cost Spike to make the suggestion. Contrary to popular opinion, neither of them hated the other at this point, although there were appearances to keep up. Of course, they still sniped and snarked and generally annoyed each other, but they weren’t in competition anymore. That changed everything.
A few years ago, Angel Investigations had become a loose affiliate of Wesley’s business, so while they weren’t partners, they did work together often. And although Angel’s relationship with Wesley would never be what it once was, they were friends of a sort.
He and Spike, on the other hand, were family. It changed things.
“Might do,” Angel said after a moment. “It would probably take some of the pressure off.” He was quiet for a moment. “How are they? Wes and Nika?”
“Looks like she’ll carry this one to term,” Spike said with a sigh of relief. “We were worried there for a while.”
Angel nodded. “That’s good.”
The next silence that fell was more comfortable. “You know how bad this is going to be, don’t you?”
Spike glanced over at his grandsire in surprise. “What are you talkin’ about?”
“Faith was good, Spike.”
“I know.” There was a pause. “Didn’t want Buffy to come.”
“I’ll bet that went over well,” Angel commented, his tone dry.
Spike snorted. “She’s a stubborn bint.”
“Who’s staying with Meg?”
“Xander. He said he was gonna take her to Disneyland.” Spike looked over at the other vampire. “You ought to come over for dinner some time. ‘s been a while since you’ve seen her. I think she’s grown a couple inches.”
Angel nodded. “Might be good. I could bring Cordy.”
“Wouldn’t mind seein’ her again either,” Spike admitted.
There was a silence that was perfectly comfortable, and then Angel had to ruin it. “You know I’m right.”
“Don’t start that again, you ponce,” Spike groaned.
Angel shook his head stubbornly. “I’m telling you that Ireland should have won.”
“Ireland couldn’t tie their shoes properly,” Spike snorted. “It was Man U all the way.”
“The ref was blind.”
“You keep tellin’ yourself that.”
They were family, after all.
Nika had always wanted a little girl. As much as she loved her boys, there were simply activities they didn’t care to do. Shopping was, of course, one of them.
Besides, Enid had called her at work and informed her of Buffy’s reaction to the new Slayer. It was probably best to get the girl out of the house while the rest of them chatted things out.
“Have you thought about how you might like to decorate your room?” Nika asked the girl.
Hannah looked at her with wide eyes. “Decorate?”
“Are there colors that you like?”
She hesitated, and then said softly. “Red. Dark red.”
Nika chuckled. “You and Spike would certainly see eye to eye on that.” She looked down at the girl. “So what did you think of all of them?”
“Everybody seemed really nice,” Hannah said uncertainly, not wanting to bring up Buffy’s reaction.
“You’ll have to give Buffy some time,” Nika said gently, reading the girl’s uncertain expression for what it was. “She doesn’t much care for change, and Faith was a friend.” Nika didn’t bother adding that Hannah’s youth probably made Buffy feel old, since that wasn’t something either of them could do anything about.
“I kind of understand.” Hannah knew that sometimes being liked or disliked didn’t have much to do with who a person was. After all, her mom hadn’t much liked her either.
Nika put a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “I’m not sure that anyone told you, but we have permanent custody, cariad. This isn’t a temporary home, and I want you to know that.”
Hannah had some idea, but it seemed strange that her placement came about through some mystical roulette wheel. If not for being the Slayer, she’d still be floating around the foster care system until she got booted on her eighteenth birthday. “Thanks,” was all she said.
Nika smiled. “I’ll bet you’re curious about all of us,” she said quietly. “Let me tell you how Wesley and I met, and we can look for things for your room.”
To Hannah’s surprise, Nika did exactly that, and then managed to draw out her own story. No one had ever really wanted to know everything before.
“How was the shopping trip?” Wesley asked much later. He and Enid had seen to the boys while Nika was out with Hannah. The Watcher knew his wife was better suited to making sure the girl felt at home. Judging from the number of bags, that task had been accomplished.
Nika shook her head. “The girl has nothing, Wesley. She barely has clothes to put on her back.”
“That should be easy enough to fix,” he replied. “I’m drawing a larger salary now, apparently, to go into her support.”
“I’m not concerned about the money,” Nika replied. She turned to him. “She’s never really had a parent, cariad annwyl. Never. Have you seen the way she reacts when someone touches her? It’s as though she’s never been hugged.”
“Perhaps she never has been,” Wesley replied gently. “That’s why she is here, love. The Council believes we might manage to keep her grounded.” He smiled. “According to Giles, you’re a large part of that.”
Nika snorted. “Right. As if you aren’t a very successful parent yourself.” Worry entered her eyes. “Can we do this, Wesley? I wouldn’t abandon Hannah for the world, but can we really do this? If something happens to her, the boys—”
“It will be fine,” Wesley said, steel in his voice. “I promise you that. I have no intention of my Slayer dying young. There is no reason.”
“Don’t be putting yourself at risk,” Nika said sharply.
Wesley smiled. “I love you too much to leave you for any reason at all.” He pulled her to him, placing a hand over her swollen abdomen. “Just as I love the boys and now this little one as well.”
She laid her head on his shoulder. “I love you.”
Wesley wrapped his arms around her, thankful that this last pregnancy was going well. After the last miscarriage, he had thought Nika might despair in her grief. He had held her as she cried for hours, and then he’d gone with Spike and gotten drunk.
After that, they had agreed to stop trying. Nature had a way of surprising a person, however, and it wasn’t six months later and she was pregnant.
And now they had a new addition of a different sort.
“Thank you,” Wesley murmured.
“For being okay with this,” he replied. “I need—I need to do this.”
“You have nothing to prove, Wesley,” Nika said in reply. “But you’re welcome anyway.”
Will watched the Slayer train in the backyard, a feeling of envy welling up. His dad had been busy before Hannah arrived, but now it seemed that Wesley was never around. He was always training or translating or going out with Uncle Spike. Or, if he was home, his dad was with Mum and Carwen.
Will rubbed his bruised arm self-consciously. One of the boys at school had bet him that he would cry if hit, and he had taken the dare. He hadn’t cried, but the taunts continued just the same.
It wasn’t fair. Will couldn’t help being smart nor was he quite as good at sports as Davey was.
He had actually thought about trying out for the Little League baseball team this summer. Will was as good at hitting what he aimed at as his father, and he had a good chance of being picked for the team. On the other hand, it would mean spending most of the summer away from his beloved books and with the boys who had spent the last months tormenting him mercilessly. There were other things he would rather do with his time.
Summers were actually his favorite time of the year, same as his twin. Davey liked being off from school for three whole months; Will enjoyed them because he didn’t have to worry about getting picked on constantly. Usually his dad and Uncle Spike made it a point to be around too, and Meg was over a lot with Aunt Buffy. Even Angel and his crew dropped by during the summer evenings.
Home was the place where Will felt safest, but now with Hannah there—and Carwen demanding so much of Nika’s time—it no longer felt like a refuge.
“Good, Hannah,” Wesley praised. “Well done.”
She had just disarmed him with her quarterstaff, and Wesley was shaking out the sting in his hand. Will’s scowl deepened. Hannah was just as good at the physical stuff as Davey. It really wasn’t fair.
“Thanks!” she said brightly. “That was fun. Can we do it again?”
Wesley shook his head ruefully. “I’m afraid we’ll have to wait for Spike to arrive. I don’t think I can take any more today.”
If anything, Hannah’s grin widened. “Really? Cool!”
Wesley rolled his eyes and looked over at Will, who was still sitting on the back steps. “How was school today, Will?” he called.
“Fine,” the boy replied, rising abruptly and heading into the house. He didn’t feel like being polite to Hannah right then. His parents were very firm on always being courteous to others, and Will wasn’t in the mood to get reprimanded for his attitude.
Wesley watched his son’s back with a soft sigh. “I don’t think he likes me much,” Hannah commented quietly.
“He’s used to a bit more attention,” Wesley replied. “We’ve had two new arrivals in the last six months, and it’s a big adjustment.” He didn’t miss Hannah’s wince. “It’s not your fault, Hannah,” her Watcher said firmly. “I’m sure Will would feel the same if it had just been Carwen.”
“Maybe,” the girl replied doubtfully. She looked up at Wesley. They had become rather close in the last months, although there were times that she resented his overprotective nature. Her Watcher had filled a hole in her life that she had barely known existed, having never met her own father.
Hannah didn’t even know his name.
“You should let me train with Spike or Connor more often,” she suggested. “That way Will won’t feel so left out.”
Wesley was torn. He trusted both Connor and the vampire with Hannah, but he was her Watcher, and he hated to think that he was shirking his duties. At the same time, she might be right. “I suppose that might be possible,” he replied quietly. “Angel has offered to help as well. I didn’t give him an answer since I wasn’t sure how you would feel about it.”
“It would be okay.” Hannah wasn’t quite sure how to feel about the big vampire. He was so serious all of the time, but he was nice. She knew that he tried. “Whatever.”
“Not whatever,” Wesley said, surprising her. “You’re as much in charge of your training as I am, my dear. If you’re uncomfortable with someone or something, I want you to let me know.”
“Angel’s okay,” Hannah was quick to assure him. “It’s just—he’s not as much fun.”
Wesley chuckled. “Spike would certainly agree with you there.” He put a friendly hand on Hannah’s shoulder. “Come on. Let’s see what Nika and Enid are sorting out for dinner.”
Buffy was binding up her hair into a ponytail. “So you guys are going over to Wes and Nika’s, right?”
Meg and Spike exchanged looks. You’d think the vampire hadn’t ever looked after his own kid before. “Yeah, that’s the plan,” Spike replied.
“You’ll bring Meg back before her bedtime, though?” Buffy said rather insistently. “It’s a school night.”
“Mom,” Meg protested, rolling her eyes. “I’m not a baby.”
Both Spike and Buffy had to bite back smiles. Meg often compared herself to the twins, pointing out the fact that she was two whole years older, and therefore ought to be allowed to do all kinds of things. Spike was more likely to indulge her, while Buffy was more likely to stick to the rules.
Buffy had turned out to be more like Joyce than anyone might have predicted.
“No, you’re not,” Buffy replied. “But you still have a bedtime, and you will for quite a while yet.”
“Hannah doesn’t have a bedtime,” Meg pointed out.
Buffy’s lips tightened, but before she could say anything, Spike stepped in. “Hannah is five years older, moppet. When you’re fifteen, then we’ll talk.”
Five years was a comfortable margin, Buffy decided. When Meg was a teenager, all bets would be off, and she knew it. “Absolutely,” she said. “When you’re fifteen, we can renegotiate,” she agreed, giving Spike a grateful look. He often knew just what to say to get Meg to go along with a minimum of fuss.
“She’s a Summers,” was all he’d say when she pointed that out. “’course I know how to handle her.”
Buffy supposed she should have argued about being “handled,” but she quite liked some of Spike’s methods, and had no intention of putting a stop to it.
Meg pouted a bit, but it wasn’t serious. She’d had this discussion with her parents a number of times already, and so it was routine by now. The pouting was a necessary part of the process. “Fine,” she sighed. “I’m going to finish my homework before I leave.”
She marched out of the room and up the stairs, stomping her feet slightly to let her parents know she wasn’t happy. Meg would hate for them to think they were winning too easily.
Buffy moved towards Spike. “So, did you sleep good today?”
“I slept just fine,” Spike replied, a little put out. “I’m just fine, Buffy. You don’t have to worry.”
“I can worry about you if I want,” she retorted. “Besides, I was asking to find out if you’d be awake after I get back from patrol.”
A gleam entered Spike’s bright eyes. “You got plans, luv?”
“Only if you’re up for it.”
“I’m always up for it,” Spike shot back. He moved in, putting his hands around her waist and pulling her in tightly. “You shouldn’t worry so much, pet.”
Buffy sighed, putting her head on his chest. The playful moment had suddenly turned serious. “Can I help it if I worry about you?”
“Vampire, here, luv. Not much that can hurt me.”
“And large pieces of pointy wood through the chest don’t hurt you?” she demanded. It had been months, but Buffy still had nightmares about that moment—watching as a jagged piece of wood went right through him.
It had taken him nearly a week to recover, and while it had been months since they’d hunted down Faith’s killer, Buffy couldn’t help but remember that she had almost lost him. In that split-second, she had seen her life without Spike, and it had been bleak.
They both still had the scars.
“Maybe we should stay home,” Spike murmured, neatly changing the subject even as he nuzzled her throat. “Take it easy.”
Buffy smiled. The thought was tempting. “You know that’s not possible. The gang needs me.”
It was a more diplomatic way of saying “Angel needs me,” since he was technically in charge of this little mission. Hannah wasn’t ready for a horde of Landrist beasts, even if they were fairly easy to kill. Besides, they were getting paid, which meant Buffy got a cut.
Buffy was always tickled when she got paid for doing something that was her “sacred duty.”
Spike nipped at her throat with blunt teeth. “Oh, ‘m sure Peaches can take care of this one on his own,” he whispered.
She stifled a moan. “Later. For sure.” Buffy pulled back before Spike could cause her to change her mind. “When I get back, I’ll want a long, hot shower.”
With an evil grin, she added, “And I don’t plan on being alone.”
Buffy dashed outside before she could hear Spike’s answer, but his growl of frustration went right through the front door. The Slayer grinned. She still had it.
“Uncle Spike!” Davey’s greeting was as loud as usual.
Spike grinned, catching the boy around the waist and swinging him upside down. “How’s it goin’, pint-size?”
Davey squealed in delight. “Uncle Spike!”
Spike put him back on his feet in time to catch Nika shaking her head at him. “You’ll get him all wound up,” she accused, coming over to give him a hug.
“He’s always wound up,” Spike retorted, winking at the boy. “How are you, luv?”
Nika gave him a serene smile. “I’m just fine.” She smiled at Meg. “And how are you, cariad?”
Meg shrugged. “Good.”
“I think Nain has cookies for you in the kitchen,” she said. Raising her voice, she called, “Will! Spike and Meg are here!”
Silence followed, and Spike frowned. “He not have a good day?”
“He’s got a bruise on his arm the size of my fist, Spike,” Nika replied, her eyes worried. “I know he’s not happy, but—”
“Not much you can do about it.” They kept their voices low, although Meg and Davey had already scampered off to the kitchen.
Will emerged a moment later. “Hey, Uncle Spike.”
His greeting was subdued, and Spike instinctively matched his tone. “How’s it goin’, Will?”
The boy shrugged. “Okay.”
Spike hid a sigh and gave him a hug. He didn’t often mention it, but while he and Davey got along quite well, it was Will who was most like him. Or, Will was very much like he had been as a boy. “Chin up, lad,” he encouraged. “You tell me who to kill, an’ I’ll be happy to take care of it.”
As he’d hoped, Will smiled at that, probably at the thought of what kind of severe bodily harm Spike could enact. The vampire would have had no problem scaring the little brats out of several years’ worth of growth, but his sun allergy prevented that. “Thanks, Uncle Spike.”
“Any time,” Spike replied.
Nika ruffled her son’s hair. “Meg and Davey are in the kitchen, Will,” she said. “I think Nain has something for you all.”
“Where’s the Watcher?” Spike asked, getting down to business.
“In the basement,” Nika replied. Her eyes were somber, reflecting her concern over Will. “Spike—”
“He’ll be fine, Sweet,” Spike assured her. “Will’s tougher than he looks.”
“I don’t want him to have to be tough,” she replied.
Spike couldn’t disagree.
They worked for over an hour, Spike and Wesley patiently showing Hannah the right way to execute a spin-kick, the appropriate manner to throw a stake, the quickest way to dispatch a vampire. Training with Spike gave Hannah an edge most Slayers had never had, since most Slayers were never given the opportunity to face off against a friendly vampire.
With Spike, Hannah could afford to make the mistakes that would be deadly in the field.
Her red hair was hanging in damp tendrils around her face by the time Wesley called a halt to the training session. “I think that’s enough for tonight.”
Hannah frowned. “We don’t have to quit,” she protested. “Just let me catch my breath.”
Spike chuckled. “You’ve worked hard enough for tonight, pet. Besides, I’ve got to be getting Meg home or Buffy will have my hide.”
“Connor’s taking you on patrol tomorrow,” Wesley said consolingly. “You’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice those moves then.”
Hannah sighed. “Okay,” she agreed, trudging up the stairs.
Spike shook his head, chuckling. “Never seen a girl who loves this kind of thing so much. Not even Buffy.”
Wesley shook his head. “Nika and I are a bit concerned,” he confessed. “She’s doing well enough in school, but she doesn’t seem to be making any friends her age.”
“She’s not their age,” Spike replied, demonstrating his sharp insight yet again. “She’s had to grow up too fast to really appreciate bein’ a kid.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Wesley replied. “Faith—”
“She’s not Faith.” Spike cut him off. “An’ you’re not the same git you were back then. She’s a good kid with a good head on her shoulders. I don’t think you have to worry about her a bit.”
Wesley nodded his agreement, even though his worry wasn’t going to go away. “Did you see Will?”
Spike frowned. “I did. Nika said he got hurt at school.”
“We wouldn’t have seen it except that she happened in on him when he was changing his shirt. Apparently the boys dared him to stand still to be hit to see if he would cry.” Wesley’s eyes burned. “If I get my hands on them—”
Spike shook his head. “I know Will is capable of takin’ care of himself. What the bloody hell is goin’ on?”
“You can’t fight a group of five or six,” Wesley said. “He’s a child, Spike. He ought to be safe in school.”
Spike shook his head, thanking his lucky stars that Meg got along so well with her classmates. She was a popular, well-adjusted little girl. Will was a different story altogether. “Things’ll get better,” Spike finally said, although he was none too sure of that himself. “The lad’s just goin’ to have to learn how to stand up for himself.”
It seemed an impossible lesson to teach.
Will was surrounded before he could run. This was what made it so bad. It wasn’t just one bully or two; he could have handled that. Even though he had no desire to fight, Will would have defended himself.
He didn’t understand why it was such a bad thing to be smart, or to like to read. He hated it when they called him “sissy” and “mama’s boy.” If it had just been a couple of the guys, Will would have shrugged it off.
Instead, Brad and his goons had been making life hell for him for months now, and Will didn’t know how to stop them.
The taunts filled his ears, and he found himself bounced around the loose circle. His glasses were knocked off early on, and Will blinked, trying to decide on a way out. If he could run, maybe Davey would help him retrieve his glasses later.
One hard shove had him hitting the ground on his hands and knees, the rough concrete scraping off skin. The stinging sensation had him blinking back tears. If they saw him crying—
He heard a cry that was not his own, and then Hannah’s outraged voice. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Will started to stand and felt strong hands grab him under the arms and pull him up. “Hannah—”
“Well?” She wasn’t talking to him. Hannah was reaching down to pick up his glasses, fixing Brad with a stare so cold Will could feel the temperature drop. He very nearly started to brush his hands off on his shorts before he realized that his palms were bleeding.
There was silence from the other boys. This was the first time they had been caught in the act, and they were all cowards at heart. “If I catch any of you laying one hand on Will again, or calling him one more name, I will personally break each and every single one of your fingers. Got it?”
Five audible gulps could be heard.
“Got it?” she repeated, taking a step towards Brad, recognizing him immediately as the ring-leader.
Brad took off running as fast as his legs would carry him, and the other boys quickly followed suit, leaving Hannah to take care of Will. “Are you okay?” she asked quietly.
Will was staring at her with wide eyes. Up until now he had viewed her as the interloper, as the girl who had monopolized his father’s attention. At the moment, however, Will understood what it meant to be the Slayer.
She was incredible.
“Are you okay?” she repeated gently. Letting out a soft curse, Hannah stared at his scraped knees, turning his hands over with a sigh. “Never mind. You’re a mess, Will.”
“I’m okay,” he said bravely, finding his voice.
Hannah put his glasses back on his face, sliding them into place with a playful finger. “Yeah, you’re one tough guy, you know that?” She shook her head. “Are you going to be okay to get home?” she asked. “I don’t have any band aids or anything with me.”
“I’m good,” Will replied, pulling himself up straight.
Hannah sighed. “Good. Well, let’s get you home and cleaned up,” she said. “You’re bleeding all over your socks.”
Will looked down. “I guess.”
“I meant it, you know,” Hannah said, waiting for him to meet her eyes. “I’ll take care of anybody giving you problems.”
“Thanks.” Will looked down at the ground, mumbling something she couldn’t quite hear.
“What was that?” Hannah asked.
Will shrugged. “I’m glad you came to stay with us,” he confessed.
Hannah gave him a hug. “I’m really glad I came to stay with you too, Will.”
It was no coincidence that Hannah walked Will home from school every day after that.
Wesley caught Spike as he came stumbling out of the cave. He’d seen the vampire badly injured in the past, but this was worse. He was covered in cuts, bruises, and burns, and his skin was warm to the touch.
Spike immediately lost the contents of his stomach onto the sand. The Watcher didn’t let go, even though he did turn his head. Parenthood had prepared him for this much at least; Wesley had taken care of his fair share of sick children, and this really wasn’t so different.
Spike was family, after all.
Wesley supported him through the dry heaves that followed, concerned when Spike couldn’t seem to stop the empty reflex. “Come on, Spike,” he murmured. “Just take a deep breath.” It seemed to help. After a moment, Spike calmed enough for Wesley to offer him a drink of water out of the canteen he’d brought along. “Slowly.”
Spike sipped obediently, handing the container back to him afterwards, and he met Wesley’s eyes for the first time.
There had been no question that Spike had been at least marginally successful. His skin was warm to the touch, and there was a thin sheen of sweat over his face and chest. Wesley had felt Spike’s heart beating under his hand, had felt his chest expanding and contracting as he drew in great gulps of air. Not only that, but he looked as though he had aged ten years in the last few hours.
He was human—or near enough. One look into his eyes told Wesley that he also had gotten his soul.
“Spike—” he began, but the words failed him. After a moment, he tried again. “What did you ask for?”
“Told him I wanted to be mortal.” His voice was hoarse. Wesley couldn’t help but wonder how much screaming he had done. Some of his wounds looked like they were beyond painful.
A thought hit him. If Spike were truly human, he’d be dead with injuries like that.
“We should get you out of here,” Wesley said, standing, and then reaching down to haul Spike to his feet.
Spike allowed Wesley to pull him up. “How can I go back?”
Wesley took a firmer grip on the now-ex-vampire. “You can go back because it’s what you promised to do.”
“I didn’t know,” Spike said quietly. “I didn’t—I didn’t understand. How can you—”
He stopped there, but Wesley thought he understood. “Because you’ve changed, Spike. That’s not who you are any longer.” Wesley took in a deep breath. “You’re hurt, and this is new,” he said quietly. “Don’t think about it just yet. Give it some time.”
Spike’s only reply was silence.
Hannah shoved her Latin text into her backpack with a sigh. She had loads of homework to do tonight, and no Wesley to help her out. It wasn’t that she was bad at languages—far from it. She was taking both Latin (for Slaying) and French (for the promised trip to Europe after graduation) and getting straight A’s. Still, Wesley always went over her work and explained anything that was unclear.
He was a large part of the reason that her teachers thought she was a prodigy.
It had been a week and a half since he’d left, and nearly a week since Wesley and Spike had called. While everyone had understood that they would be incommunicado while in the brush, no one liked it.
They were a family, and having Spike and Wesley gone left holes that could not be filled.
Shutting the locker with a bang, Hannah shrugged into her pack and turned to head out, almost running into Neil. “Watch it!” she warned him.
The boy was panting. He was a year younger, and Hannah had stopped some of the football players from tormenting him on a regular basis.
It wasn’t all altruism on her part. Sophomore year, when she’d suddenly shed the ugly duckling look and grown breasts, one of the football players had decided that her not dating was a personal challenge. He’d hounded her for a couple weeks, and Hannah had done her best to ignore him, mindful of the fact that she could seriously injure him in a fight.
When he cornered her one day and “accidentally” put a hand on her breast, she had reacted on pure instinct alone. Reuel had been lucky she hadn’t broken his arm. The principal had wanted to expell her, but Wesley and Nika had only to mention “sexual assault” and “lawsuit” in the same sentence to put an end to that.
Just because the football team had been making it to the state championships the last five years running, they all thought they were God’s gift to the world. After wrenching the star running back’s arm out of its socket, the football players left her alone.
And when Hannah made someone her business, they had a tendency to leave them alone as well.
So when Neil stood in front of her, out of breath and pale, Hannah knew something had gone wrong. “What is it, Neil?” she asked wearily. “Are the asshats after you again?”
He shook his head, gulping air. “No, it’s—it’s Sam.” Neil took another breath, trying to get the news out before someone got killed. “He’s fighting Dillon and some of the other guys—”
Hannah didn’t let him finish. “Where?”
“Parking lot behind—”
There was only one place it could be, and Hannah took off running before Neil could get the rest of the sentence out. There was only one lot where the seniors parked, and they had to be there. Sam had done a lot of growing in the last couple of years, but there was still a very good possibility that the idiot would wind up badly hurt.
Sam had been her constant shadow over the last week. They weren’t dating, but Hannah knew it was just a matter of time before he asked her out. As she’d suspected, he had been impossible to get rid of once he was given a little encouragement.
Of course, she wasn’t sure she wanted to get rid of him.
Skidding to a stop in the parking lot, she saw the crowd, gathered in a loose semi-circle around the combatants. Two of Dillon’s friends were holding onto Sam’s arms, while Dillon stood in front of him.
Actually, while Sam looked much the worse for wear, so did Dillon, which made Hannah think that her friend might have been winning before the fight became unfair.
“Let go of him!” she yelled, running towards them.
None of the boys moved, but the crowd made a path for her. “Let go,” she said. Hannah knew she was going to be really happy when high school was over. This shit was getting very old.
There was a long pause, and then Dillon said, “Stay out of this, MacDougall.”
“Do you want me to rearrange your face?” she inquired politely, glancing over at the boys holding Sam’s arms. “Let him go or I will hurt you.”
They suddenly had no doubt in their minds that she would do exactly that. Hannah was radiating confidence and power, and it made them very, very nervous. They’d heard the rumors; they let go. “You okay, Sam?”
“Fine,” he wheezed, his arm tight to his side. “Doing great.”
She rolled her eyes and turned back to Dillon. “What is it with you assholes?”
Dillon’s eyes narrowed. “Careful, little girl. This isn’t a tea party.”
“No, it isn’t,” she replied. “You remember what happened to Reuel when he put his hands where they didn’t belong? Hands off me, and hands off my friends, Dillon.”
He said something rather rude to that, and Hannah simply smiled. “No thanks, but I’m sure your buddies wouldn’t mind.”
Dillon snarled and lunged, but before Hannah could move, Sam had laid him flat with another punch, leaving the football player to clutch at his bleeding nose. “You don’t touch her,” he said quietly. “Next time, I’ll make sure to catch you when your goons aren’t around.”
Sam looked at Hannah in surprise when she slipped an arm around his waist. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
“Okay,” he replied, thinking that at that moment he would follow her anywhere.
Buffy’s house had never been so clean. Not that it was usually messy, but she hadn’t had much to do with Spike gone. She’d gone patrolling a few times with Hannah, and she’d gone out on a job with Angel.
The Slayer had, in fact, gone about her usual routine, all the time with the knowledge that Spike wasn’t there. He filled in the holes in her life, and he had become indispensable.
This was the longest period of time they had been away from one another since before Meg’s birth. The longest time she had gone without contact with him since that dry spell after he had left Sunnydale, before they’d found one another again in L.A. She missed him so badly she could barely breathe, knowing as she did that they had not parted on great terms.
What if he never came back? What if something happened and the last memory he had of her was her anger and her rejection?
How could she have been so selfish?
So she cleaned house, telling herself that it would be nice for when Spike came home, not allowing herself to think the word “if.” She cleaned because there were too many holes in her daily life without him there, and there was nothing else to fill it.
It was a craving that she could not satisfy, and so Buffy eschewed the company of others.
She sat down, putting her head in her hands, fighting back the tears. This was ridiculous. Just because they hadn’t heard from Spike or Wesley didn’t mean anything had gone wrong. Maybe they just had a hard time finding the place they’d been looking for.
It was the only feasible excuse that didn’t involve injury or illness—or worse—for either of them, and so it was the only reason that Buffy would allow to enter her mind.
They were fine. They might be lost, but they were fine. She’d kick Spike’s ass for not asking for directions later. After all, it would be just like him to get lost and insist that he wasn’t.
The ringing of the doorbell startled Buffy out of her ruminating. She rose slowly, taking a deep breath, not wanting to show any sign of distress. When she opened the door to see Wesley standing there, her eyes widened. “Wesley? Where’s Spike?”
Buffy peered around him, trying to catch a glimpse of her husband, but all she saw was Wesley’s SUV parked in the driveway. “Wesley?”
“He’s in the car, Buffy,” he assured her quietly. Wesley appeared tired, the stubble thick on his face, and his clothing was badly wrinkled. “It’s—it worked.”
There was more to it than that; Buffy could hear it in his voice. “What happened?”
Wesley shook his head. “He’s not a vampire any longer, but he’s not completely human either. It’s—he has his soul.”
Somehow Buffy didn’t find that at all surprising. “How bad is it?”
“It’s not bad, Buffy,” Wesley hastened to assure her. “He’s still Spike, but—he’s going to need you badly. I had a difficult time assuring him that coming back was the right decision. Spike has gotten it into his head that you wouldn’t want him anymore.”
She flushed deeply, knowing exactly how he’d come to that conclusion. “I’ll take care of him.”
“I know you will,” Wesley said. He had been certain that once Buffy understood she would do whatever was necessary. The Slayer could be thoughtless and selfish at times, but she was also loyal, and she loved Spike deeply.
Spike needed that right now, more than anything Wesley could give him.
“I thought I’d pick Meg up and keep her at our place tonight,” Wesley said quietly as they walked towards his car. “You’ll want some time with him.”
Buffy nodded. “Thank you, Wes. Have you seen Nika yet?”
Buffy put a hand on his arm, causing him to pause. “Thank you for bringing him back to me.”
“It was the least I could do.”
“Ow!” Sam protested. “What are you trying to do to me?”
“Wash the blood off, nimrod,” Hannah said almost affectionately. “We have to go pick my brothers up, and I don’t want them running away screaming.”
“I don’t look that bad,” he replied half-heartedly. Sam had seen himself in the mirror. His mother was probably going to kill him.
Hannah rolled her eyes. “Right. You just look like you walked your face into a fist. What were you guys fighting about anyway?”
“Nothing,” Sam replied in a tone that told Hannah they’d been fighting about her.
She shook her head. “You have to let that kind of thing go, Sam. They’re jerks, and I don’t care what they say about me.”
“I do,” he retorted. “You’re my—friend, Hannah. Besides, it was bad.”
“What did he say?”
“I’m not going to tell you.”
“I mean it.”
“He called you a frigid bitch and said someone ought to—” Sam stopped there, realizing he might need to cut out the graphic content. “He threatened you.”
Hannah frowned. “They wouldn’t do anything to me. The football players are still pissed that I dislocated the arm of their star running back and benched him for a few games.”
Sam shook his head. “You don’t get it, Hannah. They shouldn’t be allowed to talk about you like that. It’s one thing when it’s just a little hazing. Everyone takes some of that shit, and almost everybody gets a chance to dish it out or at least outgrow it. This was ugly.”
“There are a lot of really ugly people in the world,” she said softly.
Sam stared at her. “You’re not one of them. They shouldn’t be able to touch you.”
“I know you’re not like other girls, Hannah,” he interrupted. “I watched what you did to that guy who was trashing me. That wasn’t normal.”
She couldn’t help the blush that travelled up her face. “No, I’m a freak.”
“You’re special,” he corrected her. “There’s a difference.”
Hannah wouldn’t quite meet his eyes. “You’re a sweet-talker.”
“You want to go out with me then?”
“I don’t know,” she replied honestly. “I like you, but this—”
Sam took a deep breath, realizing that he had her on the ropes. She was about to say yes. “No pressure for anything,” he assured her. “We can just be friends and hang out if that’s all you want. I just want to be with you. And I want to take you to prom.”
“Isn’t that a little far away?” Hannah asked, amused.
Sam shrugged. “It’s never too far away to start planning.”
“If we’re still dating, I’ll go to prom with you.” Hannah knew she was being impulsive. She knew that there was no way this would ever work. Slayers didn’t date, and they didn’t go to proms.
Except that things were different now. The number-one-Slayer, as Hannah called Buffy, had promised her a prom, and Hannah thought that if she was going to go to something stupid like that, it might as well be with Sam.
Actually, Sam was the only guy she’d want to go with.
“We’ll still be dating,” Sam replied with a grin. “After all, who else would come to my rescue?”
He wouldn’t meet her eyes. That was the first thing that Buffy noticed.
The second was that the slice across his cheekbone was going to leave a scar.
Her hand went to his cheek by instinct, and Buffy felt warm skin under her hand. Spike moved his head slightly, maintaining the contact. “I missed you,” she said.
Those three words seemed to release some kind of tension in him. Had he really been that worried about the welcome he would receive? “Missed you too, luv.”
His voice was hoarse, and Buffy reached in to help him out of the vehicle. “Come on, Spike. Let’s get you inside.”
When Spike was out and standing, she looked over at Wesley, who had been looking on with a helpless expression on his face. “I’ve got him.” Her eyes begged for him to understand.
Nodding, Wesley said, “Call when you want me to bring Meg home.”
Spike didn’t actually need Buffy’s support to walk. He was weak, but not that weak. His limp had worsened, however, and Slayer’s blood would no longer be the panacea it had been. She put her arm around him anyway, and Spike could feel her strength in a new way.
They didn’t speak until they were both inside the house. “Do you—do you want something to eat?”
“Not really hungry.”
“You’ll probably want to get cleaned up then.”
Conversation had not been this stilted between them for years. “Buffy—”
“Or sleep. You could rest too, if that’s what you need.”
The words lay stark between them. Buffy led him into the living room, realizing for the first time that it was the middle of the day, and they had walked outside. She’d been so intent on Spike, she hadn’t even noticed that he was out in the sun.
“For what?” she asked quietly, wondering what he would say, what changes the soul had wrought. It wasn’t fair really, that she should love Spike without a soul only to have him go out looking for one. It was backwards.
No, that wasn’t fair. Spike had only been looking to grow old with her. There was nothing wrong with that.
“For leavin’ you,” he whispered. “I never should have—it was selfish.”
Buffy sighed. “Yes, but I understand. You were right to do this Spike.”
“’m not the same man,” he warned her. “Buffy—”
“I love you.”
Those words released a dam of sorts. Spike’s sobs shook his lean frame, and the Slayer gathered her husband into her arms, rocking him slowly, repeating over and over again, “I love you.”
Wesley’s SUV was impossible to miss, parked as it was outside the school. Wesley himself was standing next to it, leaning up against the door. The license plate was something of a joke between him and her dad, since it read DMNHNTR. Nobody was ever quite sure what to make of it, and they usually wound up thinking that Wesley was some kind of video game freak.
He straightened when he saw her come out of the doors, and Meg knew that all was not right. Her dad should have been the one to come and get her if everything was okay. Or they would have come together.
She tossed a quick goodbye over her shoulder to her friends and hurried to meet him. Wesley bent to meet her, and Meg felt his strong arms come around her in a tight hug. “Dad?”
“He’s with your mum,” Wesley said softly. “I think they need some time where it’s just the two of them.”
Meg pulled back slightly. “But he’s okay?”
“Spike will be just fine,” Wesley assured her. “I promise. I thought you might like to stay with us tonight.”
Meg nodded, trying hard to hold back tears. She knew that things weren’t right. Her dad might be alive, but he should have been there. “Okay.”
Wesley frowned and pulled her to his chest again. “Meg, I promise that there’s nothing bad going on. Spike just got a bit banged up, that’s all. Your mum is going to help him feel better.”
“Did he get what he wanted?” Meg asked.
Wesley hesitated, not knowing how much the girl was aware of. “He’s—well, he’ll be able to attend all your football games now.”
“He’s not a vampire?”
“No, he’s no longer a vampire,” Wesley replied.
Meg breathed a sigh of relief. She knew that was what her father had wanted. She’d been there to overhear the teachers talk at the parent/teacher night. Buffy had gone off to speak with one of the other moms, and she and Spike had been waiting.
“Have you seen Meg’s dad? What a hottie!”
“Mrs. Summers definitely was robbing the cradle the day she got him.”
“There’s no way he’s Meg’s biological father. He’s too young.”
“Maybe he’s just well-preserved.”
There was tittering at that comment. “Meg does call him dad.” This was said in a dubious tone, as if the speaker knew very well that they probably shouldn’t be gossiping like that.
“Huh. If he’s her real father, I’ll eat my hat. The child probably has attachment issues. As young as he is, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s merely the latest on a string of men. I doubt Meg even knows who her real father is, and I’ll bet it won’t be too long before this last is gone too. I know that type.”
Spike had hurried her away at that point, the expression on his face a mixture of anger and guilt. He’d told her later that none of it was true, and that they were just jealous of her mom.
Meg could have told him that.
The girl was fairly sure that if that last teacher hadn’t spoken, her dad probably would have brushed it off as sour grapes. Instead, the words had cut deeply, in places where he was most vulnerable. From discussions and arguments Meg had overheard, she had a pretty good grasp on what her dad was most afraid of.
Spike often said that she reminded him of Joyce; Buffy’s mom had been able to see beneath the surface as well.
Meg wasn’t sure what she felt about her dad not being a vampire any longer. She wasn’t sure sure it mattered, as long as he came back, and he was still her father.
If Spike was happy, she was happy too.
Wesley drove in silence, Meg buckled into the passenger seat beside him. This wasn’t how he’d planned his homecoming. Although he didn’t begrudge the girl’s presence, there were a number of things he needed to take care of at home, and it might have been easier had she not been there.
It had been Nika’s idea, at least. Wesley knew that he’d be in trouble if he surprised her when she had other plans. His wife was one of the most flexible people he knew, but even she had her limit.
He’d called Nika from the airport once the plane had landed, informing her that they were back in L.A. and he would be home after dropping Spike off with Buffy.
“How bad is it?” she asked.
Wesley hesitated, glancing over at Spike, who appeared not to be listening to the one-sided conversation. “It’s not good, Danika,” he replied, his tone conveying the gravity of the situation. “We would have been home a few days ago, but Spike became ill, and we had to stop over in Holland.”
“You could have called,” she said, the reproach in her tone painful to his ears.
He sighed. “I could have,” he agreed. “Spike refused. He’s afraid of Buffy’s reaction, to be honest.”
“Her reaction to what?”
“The fact that he’s not a vampire, I believe.” Wesley wasn’t sure he quite understood Spike’s motives. The vampire—or rather ex-vampire—had known that things would change. He’d seemed to want it. With the return of the soul, however, something had been laid bare. Some old wound had been unearthed, and Spike had become certain that Buffy wouldn’t want him any longer.
Wesley’d had his work cut out for him, just convincing Spike to go straight home. Yet it seemed as though Spike had wanted to be persuaded. As though he wanted badly to return to Buffy, even though he was sure that the outcome would not be good.
Perhaps if they had been able to hop on a flight right outside of the cave, it might have been easier. As it was, Spike had needed two days to rest up before he was healed enough to travel farther. They had flown back to Morocco and had gotten a flight to England, but there was a layover in Amsterdam.
By the time they arrived in Holland, Spike had been running a high fever and had been nearly delirious. Wesley had made the decision to stay for a few days to allow the ex-vampire time to recover. He would have called Nika and Buffy at that point, but Spike was coherent enough to demand that he not, and just sick enough to believe that any calls to Buffy would result in her telling him not to return.
Spike had exacted a promise not to make contact until they were back in L.A., and Wesley had been worried enough about his mental state that he’d agreed.
Wesley didn’t explain any of it. There would be time enough later, and this wasn’t a conversation he wanted to have on the phone. “I’ll be home shortly.”
“Why don’t you pick Meg up and bring her over,” Nika suggested. “It sounds as though Buffy and Spike are going to need some time to themselves.”
Wesley hesitated. “Are you certain?”
“Of course,” Nika replied stoutly. “Just because she’s here doesn’t mean we won’t have time to get reacquianted after the children go to bed.”
That had been that, and Wesley was thankful that Nika was as sympathetic as she was.
When Wesley and Meg entered the house together, there was chaos. The twins immediately ran to hug him, both speaking a mile a minute. Wesley could hear Nika’s voice in the kitchen, her tone one of frightened concern, Enid replying in a calming manner.
“Enough,” Wesley said, bending to hug both boys. “I can’t understand a word you say when you speak so quickly and all at once.”
The twins gave him identical sheepish grins. “Sorry, Dad,” they said in unison.
He shook his head. “Now, slowly, and one at a time.”
“Sam got hurt!” Davey blurted out before Will could speak.
Wesley frowned. “Who is Sam?”
“Hannah’s boyfriend,” Will explained. “He got beat up really bad and Mum’s worried that the boys might be after Hannah again.”
Wesley sighed. There was never a dull moment. “Alright, then. I’ll go speak with them. Do you have homework?”
“Mine is done,” Will said quickly.
Davey frowned and stared down at the ground. “Yeah.”
Wesley ruffled his son’s dark hair. “Do your best, Davey, and I’ll see what I can do about helping you after dinner.”
Davey nodded, clearly not pleased that school had even been brought up so soon after his father’s return. Wesley knew he needed to make a point of spending time with both boys in the next few days. “Meg, do you have homework?” he asked.
She nodded, subdued. “Yeah. I can help Davey too, Uncle Wesley.”
“Thank you, my dear,” he said quietly. “Go on with you lot now.”
All three children retreated into the twins’ bedroom, and Wesley went into the kitchen. Nika met him at once, and they shared a long embrace. “I missed you horribly.”
“I missed you too, love,” Wesley replied, meeting her lips with his own. Their kiss held the promise of much more to come, but for the moment they were bound by other duties. Wesley turned to see Hannah and a young man watching them with mixed interest and embarrassment. “How have you been, Hannah?”
She hugged him, unashamed of her affection. “Good.”
“There was some trouble at school today,” Enid correcting her, smiling at Wesley in greeting. By unspoken agreement nothing was said of Spike, not with a stranger present.
Wesley raised an eyebrow. “So the twins told me. What happened?”
“It was my fault, sir,” Sam said quickly.
Hannah frowned at him. “No, it wasn’t, Sam. They were being idiots.”
Wesley sighed. “Why don’t you begin at the beginning, starting with introductions.”
Hannah and Sam quickly explained what had happened, correcting one another any time someone got off track with the story. “It’s really not Sam’s fault, Wesley,” Hannah said earnestly.
“I dare say it isn’t,” Wesley replied. “Although I’m not sure the school would feel the same way if you had been caught.” He frowned, thinking quickly. “I don’t want either of you going off by yourselves while you’re at school,” he finally decided. “If you’re with each other or in a group, I doubt they’ll try anything.”
Hannah looked indignant. “I can take care of myself!”
“I know you can,” Wesley replied. “But if you were to get in a fight with these boys, you might do more damage than could be easily explained. I would prefer to avoid that sort of problem.”
“We can stick together,” Sam said quickly. “I don’t mind.”
Wesley’s lips twitched. “No, I’m certain you don’t.” He fixed Sam with a look. “I won’t have you getting Hannah into trouble, do you understand? If I find out you’re leading her astray, I’ll put a stop to your seeing each other immediately.”
Sam nodded, while Hannah just sighed. She had no doubt that Wesley would do exactly as he promised, and with good reason. It wouldn’t do for anyone to get too curious about her ability to beat up the entire football team.
Hannah had heard the stories. Bad things could happen when Slayers were attacked or surprised by mere mortals.
“That being said,” Wesley continued. “If they threaten you again, or if you’re attacked, you have every right to defend yourselves with whatever means necessary.”
Nika nodded. “Good. Now that we’ve got that settled, I think it’s time for dinner. Sam, are you staying?”
Sam hesitated, knowing that Wesley had just gotten home. “I don’t want to intrude.”
“It’s no intrusion, lad,” Enid said. “We always have room for one more.”
They always had.
Buffy held him until the sun had gone down and the room darkened. He had stopped shaking some time before, but she was so grateful to have Spike back in her arms, Buffy didn’t want to let him go.
“Do you want to get cleaned up?” she finally asked softly.
Spike was silent. “I guess.”
“Do you want to eat first?”
“I’m really not that hungry.”
“How long has it been since you’ve eaten?” The pause that followed her question told Buffy what she needed to know. “You need to eat, Spike.”
“Fine.” He didn’t sound all that happy about it.
Buffy sighed, running a hand through his hair. He hadn’t bothered putting any gel at all in it, and the curls felt soft under her fingers. “I love you.”
“Do you?” Spike asked in return, sounding none too sure of the fact. “I’m not—I’m not the man you married.”
“You look like the guy I married,” Buffy said with a raised eyebrow. “Maybe we ought to double check, though.”
At the confused look on his face, she grinned at him. “First we get you cleaned up, then we get you fed.”
Spike frowned. “Buffy—”
She took his face in her hands. “I’m sorry.”
He blinked. “For what?”
“For not giving you my full support.”
“You—you were worried,” Spike said. “I understand. Buffy, I—”
When he stopped, Buffy stroked his cheekbones with her thumbs. “What is it, sweetie?”
“I get it now.” Spike swallowed hard. “I get why you couldn’t be with me. What I can’t understand is why you’d be with me now.”
Buffy’s eyes narrowed in determination. “Actually, Spike, you don’t understand anything. I love you, which is why I’m with you now. I think that had something to do with our wedding vows.”
He frowned. “Buffy-luv, I can’t do this.”
“I don’t want you to do anything,” Buffy replied quietly. “Do you remember when I came back from the dead?” At his nod, she took a deep breath. “You were the only thing that made sense to me. You were the only person who didn’t push me to be or do something I couldn’t be or do right then. You didn’t put any demands on me. You were just there. Let me do that for you now.”
Spike’s eyes welled up again, and she leaned forward and kissed him gently. “Do you still love me?” she asked.
“More than life.”
“Then that’s enough.”
Buffy took him by the hand and led him up the stairs to their bedroom. Without words, she pulled his shirt off over his head, her lips tracing his jawline, his collarbone, gliding over his chest. She could feel his muscles trembling under her ministrations, and she ran her hands gently over each new injury, each fading wound.
“I love every part of you,” she murmured. “Every day that you were gone was too long.”
Spike drew in a great shuddering breath, and Buffy could feel the beating of his heart under her hand. “Didn’t know why you’d want me, pet,” he whispered. “I’d felt like I’d been turned inside out, an’ I couldn’t see you lovin’ me.”
“Why wouldn’t I love you?” she asked, her hands going to his belt, unbuckling it.
He put his hands on her shoulders, stilling her movements. “I feel so dirty, Buffy, like I’ll never get clean. Never thought it would be like this.”
Buffy met his eyes, and she could see the pain deep set. “I know.”
“How could you?”
“Because I felt so empty after I got back, and I never thought I’d be complete again. You loved me even when I wasn’t all there.”
“I loved all of you.”
“And I love all of you.”
He let her finish undressing him then, let her climb in the shower behind him. He stood underneath the pounding spray and let the water wash over him as Buffy’s hands caressed his body.
Spike let her make love to him, finally managing to respond. It felt empty somehow, as though she wasn’t really making love to him, to this new thing that he’d become. How could she love him?
How could she love him when he hated himself?
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Giles’ new system was the fact that so many more people knew about the Slayer and her support staff. The young man who met them at the airport shook their hands, exhibiting tell-tale signs of hero worship. He introduced himself as Matt and ushered them to a waiting van.
The minivan was littered with toys and fast food wrappers, and he grimaced slightly. “Sorry about the mess in here,” Matt apologized. “We had to borrow it from Angurie’s sister on short notice.”
“Angurie?” Buffy asked, sounding slightly amused.
Matt shrugged. “One of the coven members. Her sister is a soccer mom. I can guarantee you that she has no idea that there’s a Slayer and a couple of vampires riding along.”
“What about a witch?” Willow asked, her lips twitching upwards.
“She knows about that,” Matt admitted. “She thinks we’re crazy, but sometimes that’s okay. It means that they don’t take anything you do seriously.”
“I can see where that would be a good thing,” Angel remarked, looking uncomfortable in the confines of the vehicle. “So where are we going?”
Matt turned slightly in his seat to look at the vampire who wasn’t visible in the rearview mirror. “Wren thought you’d probably want to get on things right away. I’m taking you to her house.”
The rest of the ride was made in silence. Spike was uncharacteristically quiet, possibly because Buffy had elected to ride in the front passenger seat, which left him in the very back with Connor. He was contemplating what was to come, and the possibility of losing another Slayer. He rarely allowed his thoughts to run down that road these days, but the fear was there—made more real by every passing year when Buffy aged and he did not.
This wasn’t a new line of thought.
Wren’s home was a cheerful, suburban two-story, and Spike chuckled to himself, remembering the days when he scoffed at such things. These days, most of Giles’ operatives flew under the radar, residing in just this kind of neighborhood. They were mostly ordinary people—like Matt—who had been called upon for extraordinary jobs.
It had been Giles’ revolutionary idea that regular people could be heroes. The Scoobies had taught him that.
The exterior gave no indication to the furor within, however. As soon as they walked through the front door, they were greeted by several members of the coven, all of whom appeared to be exhausted. “I’m so glad you could make it,” Wren said sincerely. “It’s been all we could do to keep the Hellmouth closed.”
Spike and Angel exchanged looks. They had known it was going to be bad from the beginning. They were starting to think it might actually be worse. “Why don’t you tell us what happened?” Angel suggested. “Our information is pretty sketchy.”
Wren nodded, ushering them into the kitchen. She was a young woman, and hardly looked old enough to be placed in charge of a coven, much less a Hellmouth. Willow had vouched for her, however, saying simply, “She reminds me of Tara.”
The coven leader quickly made a pot of tea, and then asked the vampires if they wanted to eat. “We’re fine,” Spike assured her. “Just want to get to the bottom of this.”
“I’m sure you do,” she replied, finally sitting down. The table was small, but Spike and Angel had both chosen to remain standing on the periphery of things while the others took seats at the table.
“What happened to Faith?” Buffy demanded after the pause had dragged on too long for her taste. “Giles couldn’t even tell us that much.”
Wren sighed. “That’s because we don’t know. We noticed a disturbance a couple of weeks ago, but it was small. We were trying to find out what was causing it without alerting anyone about our presence. We like to keep things as low key as possible.” She shook her head. “When we realized how big it might be, we let Faith know, thinking she’d look into it and then get backup if she needed it. The next thing we knew, Giles was calling us saying that a new Slayer had been Chosen.”
“Then you still don’t know what happened to her?” Buffy asked. “How are we supposed to do our job?”
“We learned enough to make Faith try and take her out when she found her,” Matt interjected. He had followed them into the kitchen and was leaning against the counter next to Spike. “The longer we let things go, the better chance this vampire had of tapping into the Hellmouth.”
Wren shot her young colleague a look. “We knew a little. Enough to make us worry that there was a real possibility that this vampire might succeed when others haven’t. She’s old, she’s powerful, and she isn’t afraid of anything.”
“You got a name on her?” Spike asked.
“She’s calling herself the Slayer of Slayers now,” Matt said. “But before, she was known as La Muerta.”
Angel’s jaw tensed. “I see.”
“You know her?” Connor asked quietly, seeing his dad’s reaction.
The vampire shrugged. “I’ve heard of her. Rumors say she’s a bitch.”
“Then we take her out,” Buffy said coldly. Turning to Wren, she asked, “And what are you guys doing? Faith is dead, and you’re sitting around drinking tea?”
“Buffy—” Spike’s tone held a warning, but Wren was more than capable of taking care of herself.
The witch met the Slayer’s eyes, and there was cold power there that had Buffy quickly looking away. “We have not been ‘sitting around drinking tea,’” she said with precise diction. Gone was the amiable young woman who had met them; in her place was a powerful witch. “We have been thwarting every attempt this vampire has been making to open the Hellmouth. Three of my people are completely drained, and unless you stop her soon, the rest of us won’t be in much better shape.”
“Tonight,” Willow said quietly. When the others looked over at her in surprise, she grimaced. “I know Giles was counting on me to be all in favor of extensive planning, but Wren’s right. We don’t have the time.”
“What is it, Willow?” Buffy asked, recognizing the expression on her old friend’s face.
She shook her head, joking weakly, “There’s a disturbance in the Force, Luke.” When only Spike and Connor chuckled appreciatively, she got serious. “Nothing I can put my finger on, Buffy, but I can feel it. There’s a tension there, and we’re not winning.”
“Right,” Buffy said determinedly. “Let’s figure out where this arrogant bitch is and put a stake in her.”
Angel and Spike exchanged looks. They had both seen Buffy in all her moods, and they knew that anger had a tendency to make her careless. If there was only one thing they could agree upon, it was keeping the Slayer safe.
No matter what.
“Why is it always a warehouse?” Buffy asked her husband irritably. “Why not—I don’t know, a nice mansion somewhere?”
“You forgetting Angelus and Dracula?” Spike asked with a raised eyebrow. “An’ it’s a warehouse because nobody calls the cops when they hear the screams.” At Buffy’s glare, he felt compelled to point out, “You did ask.”
She let out a breath. “It was a rhetorical question.” There was a pause. “How do you think the others are doing?”
Spike shrugged. “’m sure they’re fine. Between Angel and Connor, they’ll bring Willow in right under her. We’ll attack her on two fronts, an’ she’ll be dust before she knows what hit her.”
“Do you really think it’s going to be that easy?”
“No, but a bloke can hope, can’t he?”
There was a long pause. “Are you angry with me?”
“Angry?” Spike glanced over at her. “Now why would I be angry?”
“Because I came even though—” Buffy stopped. “You understand, don’t you?”
“’course I understand,” Spike said, sounding annoyed. “I know you, Buffy. I never thought you’d sit this one out, not when it’s about Faith.”
She glared at him. “Then why did you even ask, Spike?”
“Maybe because I was hopin’ you’d see sense,” he shot back, and then immediately sighed. “Look, luv, let’s not do this now. We’ve got enough in front of us to fight without fightin’ each other.”
“Fine.” The tightness in her voice told Spike that she still wasn’t happy with him, but he really couldn’t say that he cared. He knew that Buffy had a tendency to lash out at those around her when she was angry or upset. Once she worked out some of her aggression on their target, they’d be right as rain again.
Of course, that didn’t make it any more fair to him while she kept making him the target.
Matt crept up behind them, moving quietly, although not so silently that Spike didn’t hear him approaching. “They’re in,” he whispered. “Angel said he wouldn’t have any trouble in the sewers.”
Spike nodded. “Good.”
“You’re going to stay here.” Buffy was using her best general’s voice, but Matt wasn’t used to her taking command yet.
“What? No!” he hissed back. “Wren told me to stick close to you guys.”
Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “Wren isn’t in charge. I am. And I don’t want you getting hurt.”
Spike knew he was going to regret this. “He’s comin’ in, Slayer.”
“He stays out here by himself, there’s no one to watch his back. He comes in with us, he’ll probably be safer.” The vampire gave the young man a hard look. “You stay close and keep down, hear me?”
The expression on Buffy’s face told Spike that Angel was probably right. He would be spending the next month on the couch, but right now he didn’t care. She was being a bitch, and the kid would be in more danger staying behind. “Fine. You’re responsible for him, Spike.”
That was it. Normally they didn’t go into a fight without exchanging some kind of pleasantries, even if it was only a quickly uttered, “Be careful.” The Slayer was up and headed towards the warehouse entrance in a flash, without saying anything else.
Matt glanced towards Spike in alarm when the vampire let out a low growl. “You know how to use that crossbow you’re hangin’ onto?” Spike asked. When Matt nodded, he said, “Then you find a secure spot an’ start dustin’ ‘em quick as you can, hear me?”
The boy nodded, his eyes revealing a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Spike was reminded of Xander. Harris had had the same grit that Matt was displaying—although grit could easily translate into stupidity.
Spike was on his feet, moving swiftly and silently after his wife. He noted that Matt was nearly as quiet, and was grateful that he seemed to know what he was doing. Spike understood what Wren had been doing by sending one of her own with them.
Even though it had been decided that Willow would disrupt La Muerta’s attempts at opening the Hellmouth, she might need a little extra muscle. Matt had power, but he was inexperienced, which meant he wasn’t much use joining the rest of the coven in fending off La Muerta’s attacks from a distance. In accompanying them, Matt could act as a spare battery, just in case Willow ran low on juice.
Spike was cursing his Slayer’s impatience roundly when they entered. He knew why Giles had wanted them to plan this out carefully. Going in with guns blazing was what had gotten Faith killed. Although if Willow was right, they didn’t have the time to develop a more complicated plan.
He was grateful that Matt was willing to follow his lead. The boy got himself into a safe corner and started firing his crossbow, hitting two out of every three. Angel and Connor were guarding Willow, who was chanting steadily.
They had briefly discussed attempting a sunlight spell inside the warehouse, but neither Angel nor Spike were willing to let the three humans go in without their protection. Besides, while the sunlight spell was rather spectacular, it was tricky. Even Willow’s skill couldn’t guarantee that it would come off right every time.
Buffy was in the middle of the action, as usual, trading blows with a female vampire who had six inches and about fifty pounds on her. Spike was on his way to lend a hand when he was met by three vamps, all female, looking ready for a fight. “It’s a tribe of bloody Amazons,” he growled, bringing out the demon with glee.
It wasn’t often that he got this opportunity anymore, but he still loved it.
They surrounded him in a loose circle. “If it isn’t William the Bloody,” one of the vamps jeered. “Looks like the rumors were right. He is Slayer-whipped.”
“Won’t keep me from dustin’ you ugly ladies,” he retorted, slipping easily into the banter of fighting. Oh, how he had missed this. It had been months since he’d had a good fight.
One of the vamps was obviously young and inexperienced. At Spike’s insult, she launched herself at him furiously, and he blocked her blows easily, ducking a high kick to sweep her legs out from under her. She went down hard, and he put his stake through her heart before she could rise.
The other two howled in rage, and one jumped on his back, clawing at his eyes. He was distracted enough that he couldn’t fend off the third’s knee to the groin, and he doubled over in agony. The vampire behind him took advantage of the situation. She seized him by the neck and arm, trapping him in a three-quarters nelson, and leaving him wide open to attacks from the front. “Bloody hell,” Spike hissed, knowing that if he didn’t get moving they would take advantage of his incapacitation.
Spike heard a shout from behind him, and the vamp who had kicked him disintegrated before his eyes. The vampire pinning him loosened her grip, and Spike grabbed her arm, twisting himself free. He saw Matt holding a crossbow, looking triumphant. The vampiress was disoriented, looking in shock at the dust of her fallen companion, and Spike slipped his stake into her heart before she could recover.
“Good work!” he called, watching as Matt flushed in pleasure and then retreated to his corner again, still firing off the occasional bolt.
He turned to Buffy, who was getting beaten back by La Muerta—which was a damn stupid name, if you asked him. Pretentious, and just asking to be challenged. Too bad it looked like the vampire could live up to her name admirably.
Willow was facing off against the only male in the entourage. He was obviously the sorcerer La Muerta had employed to open up the Hellmouth, but Spike could see that Willow was enjoying the contest. That meant she wasn’t feeling threatened, and as long as Angel and Connor kept the Raksh demons off her back she would be fine.
It was Buffy he was concerned about, and Spike focused on getting across the warehouse floor to assist her. She’d be pissed at him for taking her kill, but if he could just catch the vampiress from behind, unawares—
Spike was so intent on reaching Buffy in time that he didn’t see the vampire behind him. He wasn’t even aware of the danger until he heard a shout—it sounded like it came from Angel. By then, the wooden plank was through his chest, tearing through bone and muscle, dropping him instantly.
And then he wasn’t aware of anything else.
The ringing of a phone pulled Xander out of a sound sleep, and he felt a shudder of fear go through him. It had been a long time since he had been part of the action, not since before Buffy had left Sunnydale for good.
There were days when he missed it—missed the adrenaline rush and the excitement. When he missed knowing that he was a big part—or maybe a medium-sized part—of why the world kept turning.
More often, however, he just liked waking up next to his wife, going to work, and coming home. Xander liked having what passed for a normal life, and he liked being the one that his friends counted on for that balance. He liked to think of himself as their anchor to the normal world.
Nights like this, however, when the phone rang late, and Xander knew the news wouldn’t be good, he couldn’t help but wish he was there again, in the thick of things. At least then he wouldn’t have to answer the phone in a cold sweat.
“This is Xander.”
“Xander—” He heard Willow’s voice falter on the other line, and he felt guilt for the relief that flooded him. At least Willow was okay.
“It’s Spike,” Willow replied, her voice steadier. “We went in—took care of the bad guy, but—he’s hurt really bad.”
Xander swallowed hard. For all their past animosity, Xander had actually come to like the vampire. More importantly, if something happened to him, Buffy and Meg would be devastated. “How bad?”
“Big wooden plank through the chest,” Willow said in a rush. “It was rough wood, so we’re working on making sure there aren’t any splinters left in. If it had been even a little more to the left…”
She left it hanging, but Xander knew what she was saying. Spike very nearly hadn’t made it. “The others?”
“Good,” Willow hastened to assure him. “Well, actually, Angel—he, uh, got slimed.”
Xander’s lips curled in a smile, in spite of the bad news about Spike. He could hear a spark of humor in Willow’s tone, and he thought there might be a story there. “Slimed, huh?”
“Big time,” she giggled, suddenly sounding like the girl he’d known in high school. “One of the demons exploded on him, and I guess it doesn’t come out of anything. Like hair.”
Xander chuckled. “How much whining did he do?”
“A lot, until Buffy told him to shut up because it could be worse.” Willow sounded grim again. “I was calling to let you know that it’s going to be a few days before we can leave. We don’t want to move Spike in case—”
Xander didn’t let her finish. “Does Buffy want me to say anything to Meg?”
“Not now,” Willow replied. “It looks like he’s going to pull through, so there’s no reason to make her worry.”
“I won’t say a thing,” Xander assured her. “You guys take as long as you need.”
Willow heaved a sigh of relief. “Thanks, Xander. I’ll give Wes a call and let him know too.”
“Not that I’m telling you how to do your job, but you guys went in pretty fast,” Xander commented.
He could hear Willow’s sigh. “We weren’t sure we had a choice. Before you say it, I know we got lucky. If the vampire Buffy was fighting hadn’t been distracted, it could have been really bad.”
Xander knew what “really bad” meant. He’d been there for it in the past. “Tell Buffy to hang in there, okay?”
“Will do,” the witch responded. “We’ll see you when we get back.”
Xander hung up the phone, rubbing tired hands over his face. There was no way he was going to be able to get back to sleep now, even though he had a trip to Disneyland with a nine-year-old planned for the next day.
He just hoped that Willow was right and that Spike pulled through. It seemed strange to even think it, but the world would be a worse place if Spike wasn’t in it.
Buffy ran her hands through Spike’s curls absently. His head was resting against her abdomen, and his chest was rising and falling in a regular rhythm that fascinated her. She could see the new lines around his eyes and mouth—even in sleep he couldn’t fully relax, and Buffy wondered how long it would take him to get used to his new humanity.
At least she wouldn’t be accused of robbing the cradle again, Buffy thought wryly. Spike appeared to have aged a decade in the week and a half he’d been gone.
There was a part of her that was relieved, in a way. The idea that she would age while he remained the same had frightened her. She had gray in her hair now, and crow’s feet around her eyes. Her stomach was no longer as flat or as tight as it had been when she was in her twenties, and her breasts had begun to sag. The ravages of age left no one untouched, not even the Slayer.
Still, Spike had always insisted that she was beautiful, had assured her that he had eyes for no other woman. Buffy believed him—mostly. Now, though, they would grow old together, and the weight she hadn’t realized was there had been lifted.
She had realized—too late—that they hadn’t used any kind of birth control. It hadn’t been necessary when she was sleeping with a vampire, but it would be now. Although, and Buffy wasn’t sure she would mention this, she wouldn’t mind getting pregnant again. It would be nice to have another child, this time with her husband. Of course, Buffy knew that he thought of Meg as his, but they had discussed this once, long ago. Neither one of them would have minded another child, if it had been possible.
And now it was.
Spike stirred slightly in his sleep, and his eyes blinked open. “Buffy?”
“Right here, sweetheart,” she murmured. “How did you sleep?”
“Good,” he admitted softly. “Better than—”
“Me too,” Buffy replied. “The bed was too big without you there.”
They were silent, Buffy continuing her ministrations. She had the sense that Spike needed to feel her just then, needed to know that she wasn’t going anywhere. The Slayer well remembered the nights and days when he had tried to comfort her after her friends ripped her out of heaven, and she wondered if this transition would end up being just as difficult for the both of them.
“Are you hungry?” she finally asked, realizing that Spike was not inclined to speak. “We never did get around to eating last night.”
He made a movement that was almost a shrug. “S’pose I should be.”
“Not much of an appetite.”
Buffy frowned. “What about some french toast?” When he hesitated, she continued. “You’re going to eat something, Spike.”
“That’d be fine,” he finally decided, pushing himself into a sitting position. “Buffy, I—” Spike stopped, unsure of how to put what he was feeling into words.
For once, the Slayer read him as easily as he read her. “Take your time, Spike,” she said kindly. “I’m not going anywhere.” She brushed a kiss across his lips. “I’m going to go start breakfast.” Buffy grabbed her robe and headed downstairs, leaving Spike to pull on the pair of jeans lying next to the bed.
He was tired and sore, but there had been a definite improvement as a result of a good night’s sleep. With Buffy’s assurance of support, it seemed easier to face the day, and his burden was a little lighter. A small part of him had believed she would reject him. That she would look past Spike and see William.
The fear was still there, but now he thought it might be possible to hide it, to hide William.
Spike pulled a t-shirt on over his head, padding downstairs on bare feet to watch Buffy make breakfast. “Where’s Meg?” he asked from the doorway.
“Wesley picked her up yesterday,” Buffy replied. “He said they’d keep her until we called. You think you might be up for going over there later?” Spike was quiet, causing her to turn to him. “Spike? If you don’t want to go, I can pick Meg up.”
“No, it’s fine. I don’t mind.” He wandered into the kitchen to sit down at the table. The smell of food was causing his stomach to growl. It was the first time he’d truly been hungry.
She smiled at him, going back to her french-toast flipping. “I heard that, mister. You know Nika and Enid are going to take one look at you and insist on filling you up.”
“Same thing happened to Wesley when he started coming around,” Spike replied, giving her a half-smile. “Nika kept insistin’ that he put on a few pounds.”
Buffy was just grateful that he was smiling again. “She’ll be saying the same thing to you, and Enid is going to be worse.”
The smile faded from his face. “Buffy, you don’t mind, do you?”
“That I’m not—I mean, I know you…” Spike trailed off, hating himself for bringing it up, but wanting to know the answer.
Perhaps it had been their time apart, or perhaps Buffy was simply ready to open her eyes. “No, I don’t mind that you’re not a vampire any more. I want you
It wasn’t like she hadn’t said it before, but he was having a hard time believing her for some reason. Every fear he’d ever had and laid to rest about their relationship was coming back to haunt him. It made no sense to him, but he was still craving her reassurance.
“Sorry, luv. I’m bein’ a bit of a wanker.” Spike said it with a rueful smile, but it was his tone that had Buffy whirling to face him.
She glared at him. “Don’t you dare apologize for being honest with me, Spike. No matter how many times you need to hear it, I’ll say it. Whatever you need from me, I’ll do my best to give it to you.”
“Know you will, pet,” he replied quietly. “’s just different, is all.”
Buffy sighed. “It’ll take some getting used to, but it will be fine. We’ll be fine.”
She just wished she was convinced of that herself.
Meg woke the next morning with the sinking realization that her parents hadn’t called yet, and she didn’t know when they would. In spite of Uncle Wesley’s reassurances, she was terrified that something would happen to prevent them from coming for her.
It was her greatest fear: someday her parents would leave and not return.
Will and Davey were awake and watching Saturday morning cartoons when she got out to the living room. Without speaking, Will scooted over on the couch in an open invitation, and when Meg sat down next to him, he put a sturdy arm over her shoulders. Davey, not to be outdone, handed her his box of cereal so she could pull out a handful.
They watched and munched dry cereal in silence for a while until they heard Carwen begin to stir. Hannah appeared a few minutes later, the little girl in her arms. She set Carwen down on the floor and plopped down next to Meg on the couch.
“I spoke to Wesley last night, Meg,” Hannah said softly at the next commercial break. “Your dad is fine. Really.”
Meg swallowed hard. “They haven’t called for me yet.”
“It is Saturday,” Will pointed out logically. “Everybody sleeps in.”
Meg perked up a little with that. The Saturday-morning lie-in was tradition at both houses. None of the adults got up before nine, and it was just after eight. “Yeah. Mom and Dad like sleeping in.”
Hannah hid a smile. She’d come a ways in the last couple years, and the idea of Buffy and Spike “wrestling” no longer grossed her out. Well, not quite as much anyway. “See, it’ll be fine, Meg. I’m sure they’ll be over as soon as they can.”
By the time Wesley came wandering out of his bedroom, Davey was good-naturedly pushing a ball back and forth with Carwen while Meg and Will played Halo. Carwen immediately gave up on her game, her chubby little legs pumping frantically to get to her father. “Da!”
Wesley smiled and caught her up, tossing her into the air and catching her again, listening to her squeals of delight. He’d missed this so much. “Is anyone hungry?” he asked.
“Yeah!” Davey and Will spoke simultaneously and dashed off to the kitchen, leaving Hannah to follow at a more sedate pace.
“Coming, Meg?” Wesley asked quietly, smiling at his goddaughter.
“I’ll be right there,” she said, watching him head towards the kitchen.
Her earliest memory was of Wesley and her father coming into their house. They had been out on a job together when she had been around three or four. Meg remembered them as black leather-clad giants, standing in the hallway laughing. When her father had seen her, he had scooped her up, playfully tossing her to Wesley. Even while flying through the air she had felt safe with them.
They were her heroes, but Meg wasn’t sure that the father who had returned was the same man. She wouldn’t know until she had laid eyes on him for herself.
Spike stood outside under the sun, appreciating it for the first time. Closing his eyes and tipping up his face, he felt Buffy’s arms come around him from behind. “This is nice,” she murmured.
“Yeah,” he agreed. With the heat from the sun and Buffy’s arms around his waist, he felt the burden of guilt drift away—if only for a moment. This was the reason he had made the journey.
“Meg’s waiting for us,” Buffy reminded him after a few minutes.
She could feel him stiffen. “Right. We’d better get goin’.”
Buffy realized that Spike was nearly as apprehensive about seeing Meg again as he had been to see her. She moved so that she was looking him in the eye. “Don’t.”
It was just one word, but Spike knew exactly what she meant. Buffy might be able to understand and deal with his fear, but Meg would be badly hurt if she thought her father didn’t want to see her. He nodded. “Wouldn’t dream of it, luv.”
“I know, Spike.” Buffy smiled at him. “Meg will be ecstatic to have you home.”
They made the drive to the Watcher’s house without speaking. Buffy plugged in one of Spike’s punk mixes without being asked and watched as some of the tension seeped out. They pulled up to the house, and Spike took a deep breath. “Show time, luv.”
“It’ll be fine.”
Spike walked in after a cursory knock and caught Meg as she immediately launched herself at him. Her arms twisted around his neck, and he could feel her shuddering. “Hey, now, moppet, none o’ that.” Meg’s face was buried in the crook of his neck and Spike felt her warm tears wetting his skin. “Hush, now, luv,” Spike murmured. “’m right here. Not goin’ anywhere, yeah?”
For the moment, they were the only two people in the world—a father and his daughter. To think that he’d hesitated to come back to this—that he’d feared her reaction enough to leave for good—
Spike could see how unfounded that fear had been now.
After a few minutes, Meg pulled back from him, looking into his eyes, her brow deeply furrowed. “Dad?”
“You look the same.”
A smile touched his lips. “Do I now?”
“S’pose I am. You okay with that?”
“Uncle Wesley said you could come to my football games now. All of them.”
Spike smiled. He hadn’t thought that far ahead himself. “That’s right.”
She beamed at him. “Good!”
And that was enough. The world started again, and Spike found himself surrounded by familiar faces, by hands seeking to touch him, by voices that he’d have recognized in the dark.
Wesley had been right. He needed to come back—for them. This quest of his had been self-centered, but necessary, and now it was time to shoulder his burden again.
This was the road he’d chosen, after all, and Spike was anything but a quitter.
Nika came out to sit next to Wesley on their back porch. The evening was cool enough that she needed a jacket, and she’d brought a blanket for good measure, hoping that her husband would be kind enough to provide some body heat.
He smiled at her in greeting. “Are the children asleep?”
“Everyone but Hannah,” Nika replied. “She said to let you know that she’d be back in a couple hours after she patrolled.”
Wesley frowned. “Alone?”
“Just one of the local cemeteries,” Nika assured him. “There was a report of a death including neck trauma recently. She’s going to make sure the vampire doesn’t rise.”
“I suppose that’s alright then,” he said.
Nika smiled and leaned into him. “She’s been out alone a number of times, Wesley, and she always comes home in one piece.” They sat in comfortable silence for a while before Nika spoke again. “Spike was uncomfortable tonight.”
Nika recognized that sound—Wesley always made it when he had an opinion he wasn’t prepared to share. “What are you thinking?”
She never could resist asking.
“I’m wondering what this transition is going to be like,” Wesley confessed quietly. “He didn’t want to return, Danika. Or, rather, he was afraid of returning. Quite honestly, I think one wrong move on Buffy’s part could send him packing.”
Nika frowned. “That’s not the only thing you’re concerned about.”
Chuckling, Wesley shook his head. “You know me too well. No, it’s not.” He let the pause drag on while he organized his thoughts. “I don’t know that Spike realized what he was getting himself into.”
“This was what he wanted, Wesley,” Nika reminded him. “I think Spike understands that there will be sacrifices.”
“Not with his humanity, with his soul.” Wesley sighed. “It’s already weighing heavily on him. What if we need him again, and he—”
Nika realized what her husband wasn’t saying. “You’re concerned that should you need him in an emergency Spike won’t be able to deliver.”
“In short, yes.” Wesley shook his head. “You didn’t hear him while he was delirious, love. It was—frightening.”
There wasn’t much in the world that scared Wesley, and that alone would have made her concerned. “He was wild?”
“Despondent,” Wesley corrected her. “Completely.” He turned to look at her. “He kept muttering about blood for blood, and I think he would have tried to slash his wrists if I hadn’t been watching him so carefully.”
Nika bit her lip and then shook her head. “He’s in no danger of suicide now, Wesley, of that I am certain. I do think you’re right, however. Buffy will have to step very carefully with him. He’s fragile at the moment. Still, Spike is the most persistent man on the planet. He does not quit, not easily.”
“No, you’re right,” Wesley replied, leaning back and tugging Nika into his arms, pressing his lips to the side of her neck. “Let’s just hope that nothing gives him a reason to quit.”
They were too busy getting reacquainted to talk much after that.
Enid shut herself up in her small apartment with a sigh of relief. William was bruised, but he wasn’t broken. He would need careful handling for a bit, and plenty of mothering, but he would survive.
They were all so dear to her, so very dear.
Her Nika had managed to weave an intricate web, creating a family where before there were only lost souls. They kept Enid young, and she loved that.
She could feel her time growing shorter, could feel it in her heart, in her gut. She would have time enough to see them safe and settled, but not much more than that.
Enid just hoped that it would be long enough.
“Buffy, I need to talk to you.”
The Slayer hated it when Spike used that tone of voice. It was a clear indication that she wasn’t going to like what he had to say. She turned to look at him. “Yeah?”
The house was empty. Meg was at school for the day, and neither of them had anything pressing to do. It should have been comfortable—just another afternoon spent in each other’s company. Spike had been unusually quiet the last few days, ever since the parent-teacher night at school. Although Buffy had noticed, she was accustomed to the vampire’s occasional moods.
The look in his eyes told her it might be more serious than she had thought. “Spike, is everything okay?”
Spike stared at her, trying to find a way to explain what he needed, what he wanted. “No, not really, luv. Look, I—can we sit down?”
Buffy took the plate with the salad she’d been preparing for herself and sat down at the kitchen table. “What is it?” Her tone was flat, her eyes wary. She suddenly felt the need to brace herself for the worst.
“I think I might need to leave, Buffy,” Spike said quietly, cursing himself even as the words left his mouth. He knew that he wasn’t beginning well.
Buffy’s eyes widened and then narrowed. “What do you mean ‘leave?’”
“People are starting to notice that ‘m not agin’,” Spike replied. “Sooner or later they’re gonna start askin’ questions we can’t answer.”
The Slayer shook her head. “People see what they want to see, Spike. I don’t think—”
“Meg’s teachers are already starting to talk,” Spike cut in. “I overheard ‘em talkin’ the other night. Meg did too.”
It was the hurt in his tone that caught Buffy’s attention and slammed the lid down on her irritation. “What did they say?”
“Said they knew I wasn’t her father because I looked too young. Said I was probably one in a string.” Spike shook his head. “It wasn’t that so much, luv. It was the fact that they’re right. In a few years, I really won’t look old enough to be Meg’s dad, an’ it won’t be just the teachers commentin’ on it. Few years after that, and Meg’ll start to look older than me.”
Buffy shifted in her chair uncomfortably. “So? Spike, it doesn’t mean anything. People talk. It gives them something to do.”
“What happens when it gets too obvious to hide?” Spike pressed. “What are we goin’ to do then?”
“We’ll figure something out,” Buffy said, an edge of desperation entering her tone. She wasn’t sure that she liked where this conversation was headed.
Spike shook his head. “No, Buffy, it’s more than that. I’m never going to look any older, an’ you will—”
“Are you saying you don’t want to be with me anymore?” Buffy asked incredulously. If there was one thing in her world that had always been sure, it was Spike, and now he was suddenly—not. He was talking about leaving, and—
“No!” Spike shot back. “This isn’t about you, Buffy. It’s about me.” He heaved a deep sigh. “I’ve been thinkin’ about this for a while, pet. I want—I don’t want to be immortal any more.”
Buffy blinked. “Spike, you’re a vampire. That’s pretty much in the job description.”
“There are ways,” he said evasively. “I want to start lookin’ for them. I want—”
Buffy was shaking her head emphatically. “What kind of ways, Spike?”
“Heard of a demon in Africa that grants wishes,” Spike said. It wasn’t something he’d looked into extensively. There were always rumors going around the demon world. Although Spike had never heard of a vampire becoming mortal, the whispers had seemed to indicate that there were ways. It wasn’t until recently that the half-formed desire had blossomed into need, however.
“There’re some spells,” he replied. “Pretty dark stuff, though. ‘s not somethin’ I’d want to try, but I want to look into it. I thought—”
Spike blinked. “What?”
“No.” Buffy’s face was hard. “Let me guess. Most of these methods you’re looking at are dangerous enough that you’re scared you wouldn’t make it through.”
He was about to disagree but found he couldn’t lie to her. “There’s a chance,” he admitted.
“Then no.” Buffy looked angry. “You’d risk your life just to avoid a little gossip?”
Spike stood, frustrated. “That’s not it! Are you not listenin’ to me? What do you think it’s like for me, watchin’ everyone I love get older while I’m not changin’?”
“To know that I’m goin’ to lose you again?”
Buffy could see fear in his eyes, and she suddenly realized what that meant to him. The fear of losing her was so great that he would rather die first. Spike would rather risk death than have to watch her die again. This was something he’d been thinking about for a long time.
There was a part of her that wanted to tell him that they would fix it. She would help him find a way to fix it. The other part of her was scared to death of losing him—or of having him change beyond all recognition.
“What about me, Spike?” she asked. “You’re talking about becoming human. What happens if you die? Or if you come back completely different? You promised you weren’t going to leave me!”
Spike knew he was fighting a losing battle. “Buffy, I need to find out if I can do this. I need—”
“No.” The word left no room for argument. “The risk is too big, Spike. You can’t leave.”
His eyes glittered dangerously. “You can’t tell me what I can and can’t do, luv. We might be married, but I’m still a free man.”
“We’re partners,” Buffy shot back. “That means we make decisions together, and I’m saying no on this one. Let people talk. What they say doesn’t matter anyway.”
Spike shook his head. “It will,” he replied. “One of these days it will. What happens when we can’t hide this anymore?”
“We’ll deal with it then,” Buffy said stubbornly. She wanted to live in the land of denial for a while longer.
Spike shook his head. “Not good enough.”
“Don’t you dare even think about going through with this,” Buffy said furiously. “What do you think it would do to me to lose you? I can’t.”
It was a stalemate, with neither of them willing to back down.
Spike whirled, stalking out of the kitchen without replying. He wasn’t willing to promise that he wouldn’t investigate the possibilities. It was too important to him. Buffy was unwilling to listen, unwilling to see that he couldn’t stand still while everything around him moved and changed. He couldn’t stand to lose everything he’d built.
Buffy would just have to get used to the idea.
Hannah twirled her stake impatiently. There had been word of a number of deaths lately that seemed to suggest in influx of vampires into the area. Of course, it was all rumor and gossip at this point, and she hadn’t seen a single member of the undead to confirm the reports.
It was really pissing her off.
She glanced over at her slaying partner. Spike had been quiet all evening, barely even saying hello. It was a sure sign that he and Buffy had been arguing, and Hannah had to wonder what had brought it on this time. It wasn’t like Spike and Buffy fighting was anything new, but when it wasn’t important, Spike usually grumbled about it.
Silence was a bad sign.
Spike glanced over at the girl. “What?”
“What’s wrong?” she asked patiently. “You’ve been in brood-mode all night.”
He glared at her. “I don’t brood.”
Hannah knew that would push his buttons, and she grinned at him. “It sure looks like brooding to me.”
Their relationship was an odd one, a fact of which Hannah was well aware. While Wesley and Nika easily filled parental roles, and Buffy was more of an aunt, Spike was something else altogether. Ever since Dawn and Connor had moved to Cleveland, the vampire had acted like something of a big brother. He was more of a peer than a superior.
It might have had something to do with the fact that Spike was the one Hannah most often patrolled with. Wesley came out with her, of course, as did Buffy and even Angel, but Spike was the one who had her back most nights.
Hannah often thought that they were like the partners on the cop shows. The older cop and the rookie—a little like siblings, a little like friends. It was hard to explain.
“You and Buffy have a fight?”
“None of your business.”
Hannah knew it was serious when Spike used that tone with her. He never used that tone unless he was really and truly pissed off, although she was fairly certain he wasn’t angry with her. “Fine.”
There was a long pause. “What would you say if I said I didn’t want to be immortal any more?”
Hannah blinked. It wasn’t a question she’d been expecting, and somehow she knew it was directly related to whatever had gone down between Spike and Buffy. “I’d say it would make sense. I mean, everybody you know is mortal, except for Angel. And who’d want to live with him forever?”
Spike chuckled at that. “Yeah, pretty much.”
Hannah hesitated. “Are you going to do something about it?”
“Buffy doesn’t want me to.”
It wasn’t an answer to her question, but Hannah had a feeling that was all she was going to get out of Spike for the evening. He could be pretty close-mouthed when he wanted to be. “I think you should talk to Wesley.”
Spike gave her a sharp look. “Why?”
“Because I think he’d understand,” Hannah replied. She knew not to say more than that.
The vampire was silent. “Maybe I’ll do that. You won’t mention this?”
“Hypothetical question, remember?” Hannah said. “Hypotheticals don’t mean anything.”
He gave her a wry look. “No, they don’t.”
Both of them saw the small knot of vampires at the same time. They were gathered around a grave, obviously waiting, and Hannah and Spike grinned at each other. It was the real reason that they connected. No one loved the hunt more than they did.
This was what they had both been born for.
“You want to do what?” Wesley asked, staring at his partner in surprise.
Spike set his jaw, ready to argue if necessary. “I don’t want to be immortal.”
Wesley frowned. “Then you want to be human.”
“Not particularly,” Spike replied. “Just don’t want to live forever.”
Understanding was beginning to dawn. “Have you talked with Buffy about this?”
“She said no.”
Wesley had wondered. As close as he and Spike were, it was easy for him to sense when the vampire wasn’t in a good mood, and he certainly hadn’t been tonight. When he and Hannah had returned from patrol, both of them with grass stains and dirt all over, the Watcher had sensed that something was off. Since Hannah had been downright cheerful with the night’s work, Wesley had to assume that Spike’s problem wasn’t work.
Although, Spike rarely had a problem with work. If the vampire was out of sorts, the root of it could usually be found at home.
“I see. You’ve decided not to listen to her, then?”
Spike shrugged, standing and pacing in the confines of the study. This was Wesley’s inner sanctum, where no one came without an invitation. It was where they had had innumerable conversations, where they had planned a hundred battles. It was the place where they had reaffirmed their friendship again and again.
Now Spike was relying on that bond for something he could not get himself.
“This isn’t about her. This is about me.”
Wesley nodded slowly. He had to say that he wasn’t terribly surprised at Spike’s announcement; he’d felt it coming for a while. Spike never had been one to take what Fate handed him lying down.
Wesley sighed. “She’s going to be angry when she finds out you’re going ahead with this anyway,” he pointed out.
“I don’t care,” Spike replied stubbornly. “She doesn’t understand, Wesley. She can’t.”
“I’ll make some inquiries,” Wesley finally promised. “However, if it’s merely what other people are saying that concerns you, we could talk to Willow. Perhaps she could cast an illusion of some sort, one that would cause you to appear as though you’re aging.”
Spike shook his head. “If it was just people talkin’ that I was worried about, I wouldn’t be here. You know that.”
“I do.” Wesley stood, putting a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Whatever you decide, Spike, you know I’ll help.”
A smile touched his lips. Spike still remembered the days when it was the Slayer who was always right, the Slayer who received the support of everybody else. There were still moments when Wesley or Nika would surprise him, reminding him that he was their first priority.
Wesley’s loyalties were with him—Spike. It was a good feeling. “I ‘preciate it.”
“You’ll need it,” the Watcher said.
Spike’s eyes were rueful. “I know. Buffy won’t make this pleasant.”
Spike entered his silent house. He could sense their presence. Meg was deeply asleep, and he stopped by her room. She was a perceptive girl, and he knew that she had sensed the tension at the dinner table.
The vampire had never thought much about children one way or another before Buffy had gotten pregnant. Well, other than the fact that they made a good snack. She continually surprised him, however. The way she had changed, grown—
His daughter made Spike want to change and grow too, just to keep up with her.
He brushed a strand of dark hair out of her face and pulled the blanket up around her again. Pressing a gentle kiss to her forehead, he left her room and entered his.
Buffy was in bed, her back to the door. Spike could sense the fact that she was awake, but she wasn’t moving. He frowned slightly and undressed, slipping into the bed next to her, reaching out to touch her.
He felt her stiffen and then pull away, still under the pretense of sleep.
Withdrawing his hand, Spike stayed on his own side of the bed. The thought came that he could give up his idea. He could talk to Willow, have her cast the glamour. He could accept the idea that he would not age, while everyone around him did.
Spike could set aside his own desires once again.
His face hardened in the darkness. He could—but he wouldn’t. He wanted this—needed this, and he wasn’t going to let Buffy stand in his way.
Buffy stood outside the door of the room they’d set aside. Wren had told her in no uncertain terms to stay out, warning her against disturbing their concentration. It had been hours, and they still hadn’t emerged to let her know everything was fine.
Everything had to be fine.
If she closed her eyes, she could still see the rough, wooden plank emerging from his chest. Still see the look of surprise on his face, followed quickly by his eyes rolling up into his head. Watching him pass out had been a relief in a way, since it meant that he wasn’t going to dust.
It had been instinct alone that had caused her to take advantage of La Muerta’s momentary distraction, shoving her stake through the vampiress’ chest, darting across the floor of the warehouse to reach Spike.
Her first inclination had been to remove the wood, but Angel had stopped her. He’d been doused in slime, but warned her that pulling it out could cause a splinter to lodge in his heart. It wasn’t safe.
Buffy was just grateful that Spike had been unconscious while they transported him back to Wren’s house. She hoped that he wasn’t in too much pain.
The Slayer wanted to be by his side when he woke up. She had a special medicine of her own to offer.
A weary Willow opened the door to the bedroom where they’d placed him. “Hey, Buffy.”
“Did you get it?” she asked hurriedly. “Is he awake yet?”
Willow shook her head. “We think the danger is past. Spike should heal just fine, but it’s going to take some time.”
“He hasn’t woken then?”
“No. It’s probably better,” Willow commented, echoing the Slayer’s own thoughts. “He’s going to be in a lot of pain when he does.”
Buffy chewed her lip. “Can I see him now?”
“We’re done.” Willow laid a hand on her friend’s arm. “He’s going to be fine.”
Buffy shook her head. “I was angry at him when we went in, Willow. Usually we tell each other to be careful or—” She broke off. “What if he—”
Willow hugged her tight. “I know, Buffy, but he’s going to make it. That’s what you have to concentrate on right now.”
“I almost lost him,” Buffy replied. “Will you call the others?”
“Sure,” Willow said, watching as Buffy brushed past her to enter the room.
Wren was putting the finishing touches on the bandaging around his chest. “I’ll be done in just a moment.”
“Thank you,” Buffy said. “I’m sorry about earlier. It’s just—”
“You had lost a friend, and you were going into battle,” Wren replied, straightening and stepping back from the bed. “We’ve worked with a Slayer for years now. Faith wasn’t so different.”
There was a time when Buffy would have found that an insult, but these days she could take it as a compliment. “Thanks,” she repeated awkwardly.
She watched as Wren left the room, taking the bandages with her. Buffy stood next to the bed for a moment, wondering if she shouldn’t wait until Spike was awake to try this. It wasn’t an ideal situation. Normally, she got nearly as much pleasure out of his biting her as Spike did.
He always had known how to make things good for her.
Buffy walked over to the door and locked it, less because she was ashamed of what she was doing than because she knew the others wouldn’t understand. Well, some of them might, but there were things she never wanted to discuss with Angel, her love life being one example. She didn’t want to risk being interrupted.
Spike’s jeans were still on, and Buffy knew she probably ought to remove them. For now, though, she went looking for the knife he kept in his left hand pocket. It was an old habit, stemming from one of his early jobs with Wes. The whole mission had nearly been blown for want of something sharp, and Wesley had given Spike a knife to prevent it from happening again.
With a quick movement, Buffy ran the blade over her wrist, making a shallow cut. It wouldn’t do to lose too much blood if Spike wasn’t even up to swallowing. She opened his mouth just slightly and let the blood dribble in, waiting to see if he’d swallow.
After a breathless moment, Buffy watched as his face changed, and he latched onto her wrist. He didn’t drink for long before withdrawing, his eyes fluttering open. “Must be bad,” he croaked out.
“It’s not pretty,” she agreed.
Spike could see the unshed tears in her eyes. “’m still here, luv.”
“You almost weren’t,” Buffy replied. “It was—it was bad, Spike.”
He wanted to touch her face, but even the influx of Slayer’s blood wasn’t going to give him enough strength to do so. It felt as though he had a giant hole in his chest, and if the sense of being wrapped in bandages from navel to neck was any indication, he probably did have one.
Spike settled for slipping his hand into hers. “With that little pick-me-up, I’ll be right as rain in no time.”
“I shouldn’t have gone in angry,” Buffy whispered. “If you—”
His face softened. “Slayer, it’s fine. We made it out. We got the bad guy, yeah?”
“An’ no one else was hurt? You’re okay?”
“Everybody except for Angel,” Buffy replied quietly. She’d seen him once earlier, before he and Connor had left to stay with Matt. “He got slimed. Did you know Raksh blood is like superglue?”
In spite of his weakened state, Spike grinned. “Heard that. He get hit bad?”
“Matt said he’d give him a haircut.” Buffy giggled. “I haven’t seen him yet, but I’m guessing a shaved head isn’t going to suit him.”
Spike chuckled and then groaned. “Don’t make me laugh, luv,” he asked. “Hurts too bad.”
Buffy ran her fingers through his hair. “Do you want more blood? I’ve got plenty.”
“Not right now, pet. Don’t want you hurt too.”
“Seeing you hurt makes me hurt,” Buffy replied softly. “I know Wren has some downstairs, though. You should probably eat something.”
Spike’s eyes closed. “No,” he murmured. “Be alright for a bit. Just keep doin’ what you’re doin’.”
Buffy stayed with him, running her fingers through his hair, stroking his face, reassuring herself that he would be fine. For one moment, she had understood completely what it would mean to lose him, and she was certain that it would kill her.
Wesley managed a smile for Hannah when she tentatively poked her head into his office the next morning. She had been with them two days, and he still hadn’t managed to discuss things with her. Giles had departed for Cleveland a couple hours earlier, after the call had come in from Willow. The Watcher had wanted to offer his support to Buffy, and to check in with the coven.
That had left Hannah squarely in Wesley’s hands.
“Good morning, Hannah,” he said, pushing his worry for Spike to the back of his mind. Willow had assured him that the vampire would make it. That was what was important.
She smiled. “Hey. Enid said you wanted to see me.”
“Come on in and shut the door,” he invited.
Hannah slipped inside, gently closing the door behind her. Wesley took a moment to study her—slightly hesitant manner, wary eyes, worn jeans and an oversized t-shirt. She was a waif-like girl, and she looked lost.
She paused for a moment, and then sat down in the chair on the other side of his desk. Wesley decided that things needed to be a little more informal and came around to sit next to her. From the surprise in her eyes, he realized that not only had she not been expecting that, but that she recognized the significance of his action.
“Dawn and Connor told you what the Slayer is,” Wesley stated. Hannah nodded. “When did you know?”
She looked away, glancing at the rows and rows of books. Wesley didn’t miss the hunger in her eyes. “When I was at diving practice.” Wesley remained silent, waiting for her to continue. “It was a school team,” she said slowly. “I could only do a single somersault with a twist, but it was fun, you know?” He smiled encouragingly, and Hannah shrugged. “I got to the board and stood there, and I just knew. And then I did a triple.”
“What was the others’ reaction?”
Hannah smiled wryly, meeting his eyes for the first time. “They were impressed, but they thought it was a fluke. I mean, nobody improves that fast. People see what they want to see.”
“Indeed, they do,” Wesley agreed. “Do you have any questions?”
She hesitated. “Not really.”
“You can ask anything you’d like.” Wesley smiled at her warmly. “That goes from here on out, as well. I won’t always know the answer, but I will always be honest with you.”
Hannah’s eyes betrayed her doubt. “I know how I got chosen, but why are you my Watcher?”
There was a part of Wesley that didn’t want to tell her about Faith, about his failures. He would have liked to give her the pat answers—that he was an experienced field agent with a team of people ready to help her train. That he was simply the best man for the job.
Wesley was no longer so sure that was true, not like he had been so long ago.
“I was Faith’s Watcher,” he said evenly. “A very long time ago, shortly after she was Chosen. Since that time, I have worked both independently and alone, doing the very job you’ll be facing. I suppose the Council thought I was the best man for the job.”
A little of the toughness she must have needed to survive came out, as Hannah tilted her chin, challenging him. “Are you?”
“I don’t know,” Wesley replied. “But it’s my job now.”
Hannah frowned. “What if I don’t want to be the Slayer?”
“It’s not a job,” he said. “It’s a Calling, and it’s not something you can quit. Ask Buffy. She tried to turn in her resignation a number of times. If you truly believe you cannot do this, however, I will understand. I felt the same way myself a few times.”
Her gaze dropped, and she started picking at a ragged patch on her jeans. “Will you always be my Watcher?”
“Yes.” Wesley waited for her to look up and meet his eyes once again. “I will always be your Watcher.”
She seemed to consider that for a few moments and then nodded. “So where do we start?”
Roger Wyndam-Pryce had been right about one thing, Wesley thought, hours later. His father had always insisted that being a Watcher was his destiny, but until now he hadn’t believed it. Wesley had been continually frustrated with Faith and Buffy, as well as uncomfortable with Giles and the Slayer’s friends.
In all honesty, Wesley hadn’t been all that comfortable with himself.
He had been too young, too inexperienced, too inflexible for his position—especially living on the Hellmouth. He had been the interloper, although he hadn’t thought of himself as such at the time.
It was all different now, not least because he was Hannah’s Watcher—her first, and with any luck, her only.
He had begun by giving her the story that was told to every Slayer—about why and how demons and humans had come to exist, and why the Slayer had been chosen. Then, Wesley had fielded her questions on why Spike as a vampire didn’t eat people, how long the Slayer got to be the Slayer, whether or not she’d have to keep going to school, how long she would be staying with him, and so on.
After lunch, they started on her physical training, and Wesley began teaching her the basics of self-defense. She was a fast learner, as most Slayers were, naturally gifted with strength, although not always grace. She was a little clumsy, he noticed, and a little tentative. Either trait could easily get her killed. They would have to work on that.
When they were both tired, he called a halt to the session. “Why don’t you get cleaned up? I’m sure dinner will be ready soon.”
Hannah nodded, and started to head upstairs, looking back over her shoulder. She’d never had an adult spend this much time or energy on her. It gave her a warm feeling in the pit of her stomach, even though she knew it was Wesley’s job. “Thanks.”
“For what?” Wesley asked.
She shrugged. “It was fun.”
His Slayer was up the stairs before Wesley could form a reply, and he got a pleased grin on his face. He’d had fun himself.
Wesley had finally gotten the opportunity to fulfill his destiny.
Giles knew exactly how worried Buffy had been when she immediately hugged him. He returned her embrace, as their meetings had become too few and far between to shy away from physical contact. At this stage, he could admit that his feelings for his Slayer went beyond those strictly required to be her Watcher.
Or, beyond what had been required over a decade ago, when he’d first been fired from the Council. These days, such a relationship was considered good sense.
“Wren told me Spike would be fine.”
“He will be,” Buffy replied, finally pulling away. “She wasn’t the one who saw the big plank go right through his chest, though.”
Giles gave her his best sympathetic look. “No, I suppose she was not. Are you alright, Buffy?”
“Honestly? No,” she said. “I—I nearly got him killed, Giles. We went in there while I was still angry at him. If he had died—”
“Spike knows you love him,” Giles said gently, knowing quite well how foreign those words would once have felt in his mouth. He had long since come to accept Buffy’s relationship with Spike. Their love and devotion to one another was more obvious each passing year.
Buffy looked down. “Yeah, but the way I treated him—” She sighed. “He’s not ready to travel.”
“How long?” Giles asked. “I can arrange for you to stay in a hotel for the next few days, if you feel that would be the better option.”
“I think it would be quieter,” Buffy agreed. “This is still pretty much command central for the coven. I think Willow said something about sticking around, but Angel and Connor will want to get back.”
Giles nodded. “I’ll talk to them and arrange their flights. Are you certain Spike can be moved to a hotel at this time? We could wait.”
Buffy shook her head. “As long as it’s close, I think it’ll be okay. One of the coven members has a van. We can use the back seat.”
“Very well. I’ll make the arrangements.”
Buffy watched Giles turn to do exactly that, and she stopped him with her words. “I got her, Giles. I got the vampire that killed Faith.”
“That’s good, Buffy.” The older man gave a sigh of relief. “I still worry about you, you know.”
“I know,” Buffy replied. “All good Watchers do.”
He turned then and met her eyes, sharing a smile that had more than a decade of memories behind it. “Go see your vampire, Buffy,” he said gently.
She walked away, and Giles could still see the girl she’d been.
“Are you hungry?”
If Spike had a dollar for every time someone asked him that, he would be a rich man. They all tried to feed him, perhaps because they were afraid he wouldn’t eat if left to himself. Of course, he probably wouldn’t have. Spike still didn’t have much of an appetite.
Maybe it was the change from demon to something else. A vampire’s hunger was a near-constant, and he had learned to control it. Human hunger was something else altogether, and Spike hadn’t yet discovered how to deal with it. What the changed signals signified.
Spike hadn’t yet learned how to read the new signs.
He still found himself shying away from mirrors—these days because he didn’t want to see himself, rather than not wanting to see the empty space where he should have been. He still flinched at crosses and paused at holy water, although he had little contact with either.
Sunlight was the only change he actively welcomed.
Most days he felt like he was acting a part, as though he was playing a role in someone else’s life. Spike didn’t feel as though anything belonged to him, and he couldn’t help but wonder who the worthier party was—the old Spike or the new.
He didn’t feel like the same man.
Buffy had been wonderful, but he could see the uncertainty in her eyes, and he wondered if she didn’t have regrets about the transformation. Perhaps she resented what he had become almost as much as he did some days. Maybe she regretted staying with him.
Maybe she didn’t love this man who had come to take her husband’s place.
Spike lived out his days with a sense of unreality dogging his heels. He ate and slept and made love to his wife, all the while wondering if they noticed that he was no longer himself.
Wondering if he would ever figure out who he was.
Buffy watched him struggle to answer her, waiting patiently for him to reply. Spike didn’t seem to be quite all there a lot of times. She worried about him—a feeling that had become constant. The Slayer wondered if he had felt this way after she’d been resurrected, if Spike had seen that she wasn’t quite all there, and worried about her.
She kind of thought it might be.
It wasn’t that he was so different. Even though Spike kept insisting that he wasn’t the same, Buffy couldn’t see the change. He was a little more introspective, a little less into the hunt. He hadn’t been out with Hannah since he’d returned from Africa. It made sense for him to take it easy the first couple of weeks. It had taken that long to recover from all his injuries and the subsequent illness.
Now, it seemed that the reasons went deeper, but she couldn’t figure out what it meant.
Buffy could admit that she wasn’t good at this kind of thing. Spike was always the one who could read people, who knew what went on under the surface. Meg was just like him, except that if it was genetic, she had probably inherited the trait from Joyce.
Buffy wished she was more like her mom, like Spike, like Meg. She wished that she could just look in his eyes and know what it was that he feared so deeply. No matter how hard she tried, however, Spike continued to be inscrutable. This new version of him was foreign to her, and yet she loved him no less.
She just didn’t understand him these days, but she was trying. Patience had never been a strength for either of them, however.
“Spike? Are you hungry?” There was definitely a note of impatience in her voice now that she wished she had been able to erase.
He finally shrugged. “I could eat.”
It was his standard answer. Buffy thought it was like Spike couldn’t tell whether he was hungry or not. For some reason that frustrated her, and she spoke more harshly than she wanted. “That’s not an answer, Spike. Either you’re hungry or you aren’t.”
She knew it was a mistake as soon as the words left her mouth. Spike was delicate these days. Harsh words sent him running for cover—or just running. “Then I’m not.” It was the first sign of temper he’d shown since he’d returned, and absurdly Buffy’s heart leapt in her chest.
“Fine, Spike. Don’t eat.”
“I’m goin’ out.”
The door slammed behind him, and she sighed, not knowing whether to be happy that he seemed to be getting back to normal, or worried that he hadn’t engaged. Normally, when they fought, they locked horns and kept at it until things had been sorted. They didn’t run from each other any more.
At least, they hadn’t run from each other. This wasn’t precisely Spike, though.
Buffy turned to look at Meg, who had a stack of plates in her hands. “What is it?”
“Should I set a place for Dad?”
She could hear the worry in her daughter’s voice. Spike was most like himself when he was with her, or the other children. For some reason, he could be the old Spike with them in a way he couldn’t with anyone else. Buffy didn’t understand, but she was thankful for Meg’s sake. “No, sweetie. He’ll eat when he gets back in.”
Stepping through the door was like putting on his old boots—comfortable and secure. Spike wasn’t quite sure why things had to be that way, but they were. Where Buffy made him tense, Nika’s house soothed. He wasn’t quite sure why.
No, he did know. It was because they had never expected him to be anything other than what he was. Spike never could tell what Buffy wanted, and these days he was afraid to ask.
They accepted his presence as they always did. Wesley handed Spike a beer, and Nika fixed him a plate, and the boys chattered on about their days. At some point during the meal, Enid handed Carwen to him, and she put her chubby arms around his neck and gave him a wet baby kiss on the cheek.
It nearly brought tears to his eyes, although he couldn’t have said why. If he wasn’t feeling disconnected, everything felt entirely too real.
After dinner, Spike went out and sat on the back porch. He wanted a cigarette badly, but when he’d tried to light up around Buffy, she had gotten angry at him. “Those things will kill you,” she had said.
Spike wasn’t sure it mattered. He still wanted one.
He turned slightly to see Hannah come out the back door, sitting down next to him. “Hey.”
“Do you mind?”
Spike moved over to make room for her. They sat quietly for a while before Hannah spoke again. “Do you want to come with me tonight? There’s a nest we’ve been hearing about.”
“Wesley’s too busy with everything going on,” she continued in a rush. “I could call Angel, but he’s weird about that kind of thing. He’s always killing more than his fair share of vampires.” Hannah felt a sense of satisfaction when Spike’s lips twitched. “So will you come with me?”
Spike shook his head. “Hannah, I’m human now. We don’t know what, if anything, I can do.”
“Wesley’s human,” Hannah replied stubbornly. “And you’re my slaying buddy. Please.”
He hadn’t gone out hunting since before he’d left for Africa, and Spike wasn’t so sure it was such a good idea. He half-feared what it would do to him. He did have a duty to Hannah and Wesley. The expectation had long been that he would handle most of the fieldwork.
“Right,” Spike said, pushing himself up off the steps. “Let’s get going, shall we?”
Hannah had a plan. No one was asking much of Spike. They kept tip-toeing around him as though he would break. She was getting a little tired of it. Hannah wanted her friend back.
It wasn’t that she wanted to be harsh, or that she wanted to push him into doing something he wasn’t ready for, but Spike had loved the hunt as much as she did. After the fiasco with her mother, it had been Spike who had finally brought her out of her funk.
Hannah just wanted to return the favor.
She had chosen the nest very carefully, not wanting to get either of them killed. It was one she probably could have handled by herself, if Wesley wasn’t always insisting that she have backup. There were only five vampires, and they were all there, drinking from various bottles and telling tall tales about their most recent kills.
It didn’t surprise Hannah one bit when Spike sprang into action. In fact, after staking one vampire, she sat back and watched him dispatch the other four. His movements were still fluid, still precise. When Spike staked the last one and looked at her with joy in his eyes, Hannah knew she’d done the right thing.
Then the light faded.
“Do you think I don’t get it?” she asked quietly.
Spike shook his head. “Sweet, I know you think you’re all grown up, but you don’t know everything.”
“No, I don’t,” she agreed amiably. “What I do know is that you used to enjoy this, and I thought you might again. I think you did.”
He shook his head. Spike had no idea how to explain what he felt, that even the fight was tainted for him now.
“I always wondered if there wasn’t something wrong with me,” she said conversationally. “I mean, because I like the slaying so much.”
Spike shook his head. “It’s the way you are. Slayers—”
“Slayers aren’t like most people,” she finished for him, having heard the speech a thousand times for a thousand different reasons. “Neither are you.”
Sitting down next to her, he looked off into the darkness. “It’s not that simple.”
“I always wondered if something was wrong with me, even before I was Chosen,” Hannah said softly. “I mean, my mom was a nut job even before she refused to get out of bed. My dad took off when the pregnancy test turned out to be positive. If anyone was ever going to flake out on their big destiny it would be me.”
“You’re not like that.”
“No, but you know how I figured that out?” she asked. When Spike remained silent, Hannah said, “You. I figured that if a vampire could go against everything he was, I could too.” She smiled. “If you’re thinking about atonement, Spike, think about this. You might have killed two Slayers, but you saved two as well.”
Spike managed a smile. “It’s not that simple, pet. Not so much about atonement as it is figurin’ out what the bloody hell ‘m supposed to do now.”
“What makes you think you have to do anything?” Hannah asked, sounding amused. “Why not just take it a day at a time?”
Spike scowled at her. “That’s not fair.”
“It was good advice.”
“You weren’t s’posed to use it on me.”
“Then don’t give out good advice,” Hannah shot back, sticking out her tongue at him.
“Maybe I won’t.” Spike sounded much like his old self at this point, which Hannah considered a job well done.
Hannah smiled smugly. “Then I guess now is probably a good time to tell you that I slept with Sam.”
“You what?” Spike was on his feet, glaring down at her. “That’s a bleedin’ stupid thing to do! I’ll—”
Spike’s eyes narrowed. “What?”
“I was kidding, Spike. Geez.” Hannah grinned. “I just wanted to see the look on your face.”
She just sat there, grinning at him, and it suddenly hit him that for a moment he had forgotten everything. Spike had been pissed as hell, and all he’d wanted to do was find the boy and rip his arms off. He shook his head. “Pull another one like that on me, and you’ll regret it.”
“Promises, promises,” Hannah replied easily.
“I mean it.” Spike smirked. “You haven’t seen the Big Bad come out to play for real yet.”
Hannah just laughed at him. Spike couldn’t help but laugh a little himself.
Spike slipped inside the house. It was later than he’d meant to be home, and he was hoping that Buffy wouldn’t be waiting for him. The couch seemed like the best option for tonight.
“You were out late.”
Her voice came from the living room, and Spike froze in the darkness. “Yeah. I took Hannah to clear out a nest.”
“How did that go?” Buffy asked, coming out into the hallway to meet him.
Spike shrugged. “Fine. We got them all.”
“That’s good.” She gave him a hesitant look. “You haven’t wanted to go out since…” Buffy trailed off, not quite sure whether or not Spike wanted her to bring that up.
“Slayer needed the supervision,” Spike offered by way of explanation.
Buffy nodded, feeling a pang. He could be with Hannah, but not with her. “Are you hungry?”
“No. I ate at Nika’s.”
“You’ve been eating there a lot lately. Is there something wrong with my cooking?”
It was meant to be a joke, to sound light-hearted, as though she couldn’t care less where Spike was eating his meals. Instead, it sounded like she was trying to pick a fight, and as Spike’s face shut down, Buffy knew that was how he was going to take it.
“No. Just wasn’t hungry earlier, that’s all.”
Spike turned sharply to go to the kitchen, hoping that Buffy would take a hint and head upstairs to bed. “Spike, I didn’t mean it that way.”
“I don’t know what you want.”
It seemed a complete non-sequitor. Buffy blinked in confusion. “I don’t understand.”
“I’m not him,” Spike said. “I don’t know who the hell I am these days, but I don’t know what you want from me.”
Buffy struggled to find the words to say. Spike’s back was to her, and she suddenly knew that he couldn’t say it to her face. She could appreciate the guts it took to say that much. “I don’t know how to answer that,” she said honestly. “What would you want me to do?”
“I don’t know!” The words sounded as though they’d been torn from his throat. “I don’t know,” Spike whispered. “Buffy, what are we doing?”
“We’re getting through this as best we can,” she replied. “We’re doing what we’ve always done.”
“Everything’s sharper,” he muttered. “An’ yet it’s all dulled. It’s real, an’ it’s not real enough. Every day, feels like ‘m dyin’ all over again. Don’t know how to describe it exactly.”
Buffy sighed. “I know. It’s okay, Spike. I understand.”
“How can you?”
“Maybe I can’t, but I know what it’s like to feel lost inside your own life.”
She put her arms around him then, thinking that he might be able to accept the gesture for what it was. His strong, warm hands came down over hers, giving them a squeeze. “I don’t know how to be with you.”
“Then just be here,” Buffy replied. “Time will take care of the rest.”
They didn’t know that, not for sure, but Spike wanted to believe her. He wanted to believe that Buffy loved him, in any incarnation. He wanted to believe that she didn’t need a little monster in her man.
Spike wanted to be enough.
Hannah glanced up as the student aid came into the room. The teacher glanced at the slip of paper the aid handed to him and then looked straight at her. “Hannah, they want to see you in the principal’s office.”
The rest of the class broke out in snickers, and she rolled her eyes. Hannah knew very well that she hadn’t done anything worthy of getting called to the Principal’s office, which probably meant that either Wesley or Nika was picking her up early for some reason. They had done so a couple of times before when something big had come up. That was why she wasn’t expecting what she did find.
Hannah froze just inside the door of the office. Her mother stood there, hair greasy and clothing unkempt. There had been a time when her mother had simply been her mother. When she had been aware that something was wrong, but hadn’t thought much of it.
After not seeing her mother for over two years, however, Hannah saw her with almost a stranger’s eye. The cheap, stained clothing, the lank hair, the canvas shoes that had never been in fashion. She had never minded when Nika or Wesley—or even Buffy—came to pick her up from school. In fact, she was proud of her Watcher and his family, proud of Buffy and Dawn and Connor.
For the first time, Hannah realized that she was ashamed of her mother.
“Mom,” Hannah said. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to get you,” Mara MacDougall replied. “Did you think I’d let them keep you forever? We need to leave now.”
Hannah shook her head. “No, mom. I don’t live with you anymore.”
“You’re my daughter!” Mara replied, her voice rising. “You’re mine! Those people, taking you away, putting ideas in your head. We have to go now.” She glanced around, and Hannah could see the paranoia in her eyes. “They’re watching us.”
Hannah realized with horror that her mother had finally completely disconnected from reality. She wasn’t surprised, exactly, but the shock of seeing her mother again for the first time in years hit her hard. “Mom, they’re not watching us,” Hannah replied. “You aren’t supposed to be here.”
“What? I can’t see my own kid now?” Mara stared at her. “You’re coming with me. You don’t belong here.”
It was something Hannah had feared—that she really didn’t belong. That she would grow up to be like her mom. That she was wrong in the head.
She was the Slayer. What would happen if she went nuts?
“Mom, I can’t go with you,” Hannah replied, tears coming to her eyes. “I’m living with really nice people now. It’s permanent.”
Mara reached out and seized her arm in a tight grip. “You’re my daughter! My blood! They’ve turned you against me. Well, we’ll just see about that. You’ll understand. I’ll make you understand.”
Hannah was paralyzed with fear. It was possible. Maybe her mom had gotten custody back. What if she couldn’t live with Wesley and Nika any longer? What if they had decided they didn’t want her? It had happened before.
In that moment, Hannah was suddenly ten again, before her mom had taken to her bed completely, when she’d fly off in fits of rage, when it had been her job to keep her mom as calm as possible.
In that moment, Hannah forgot she was the Slayer.
“What the bloody hell is going on here?” Enid came bustling into the office, her sharp eyes taking in the tableau in front of her. “Hannah? Are you alright, cariad?”
Enid’s voice broke Hannah out of her stupor. “Nain?”
The older woman somehow managed to insert herself between Mara and her daughter. “You don’t belong here,” she stated in a flat tone. “Hannah is ours now.”
Hannah wasn’t sure what exactly happened, but Mara blinked as though coming out of—or possibly going into—a trance. “I should go,” she muttered. “Don’t belong here.”
“We’ll take good care of Hannah,” Enid said.
Mara turned and shuffled out. “Good care,” she agreed, sounding drugged. Hannah stared after her mom, her heart thudding in her chest. She glanced around the office, seeing the office personnel standing there, staring at her.
Mr. Colson, the assistant principal, a stocky, balding man in his thirties, came hurrying in. “Mrs. Rhys, you’re here. I’m sorry. I was called away to take care of another matter, and—” He looked around, seeing the avid looks the secretaries and student aids wore and Hannah’s pale face. “In my office.”
“What is going on?” Enid demanded as soon as the door was closed.
Mr. Colson shook his head. “I really am sorry, Mrs. Rhys, Hannah. Mrs. MacDougall showed up, demanding to see her daughter. Our records indicated that she no longer had custody, so we thought it best to call Hannah’s guardians. As I said, I was called away on another matter. I’m not sure who sent for Hannah, but that was not my intent.” Mr. Colson met Hannah’s eyes. “I am very sorry that you had to go through that, Hannah.”
“It’s okay,” she said faintly. “It’s not your fault. Mom can be really persuasive when she wants to be.”
Enid put a comforting hand on Hannah’s back. “I’m taking the girl home,” she said firmly. “She’s not going back to class today.”
“Of course,” Mr. Colson agreed. “Again, I apologize. That scene never should have happened.” He looked grim.
Enid nodded, satisfied that his apology was sincere. “Mistakes happen,” she said. “Most people don’t think there’s anything wrong with a mother wanting to see her child.”
Mr. Colson nodded, relieved that things had been smoothed over. After the fiasco the previous year with the football player, he had no desire to upset the Wyndam-Pryces yet again. They were fiercely protective of their ward. “Thank you. Please, Hannah, take as much time as you need. If you want to speak to the school counselor, or—”
Hannah shook her head, cutting him off. “No, that’s okay. I’ll be fine, really.” She looked over at Enid. “Can we go now?”
“Of course.” Enid stood, accepting the handshake that Mr. Colson offered. “Thank you for calling me so quickly.”
“I’m just glad you arrived when you did,” he admitted. “I wasn’t sure how I was going to get rid of her short of calling the police. If it happens again, I’ll be calling them first.”
“That’s probably a good idea,” Enid agreed. She led Hannah out of the office. “Are you alright, cariad annwyl?”
Hannah nodded. “I’m fine, Nain, really.”
Enid patted her arm. “Good girl. I know just what we need.”
“What’s that?” Hannah asked, knowing that it was probably food. Enid’s solution to most things included food.
“Chocolate,” Enid replied, knowing about Hannah’s sweet tooth.
Hannah managed a smile. “That sounds perfect.”
Nika rushed into the house, a worried frown creasing her brow. “Nain?”
“Right here, Danika,” Enid called from the kitchen.
“How is she?”
“In her room, working on homework,” Enid replied. “I’ve already called Wesley, and he said he’d try to make it home soon, but this negotiation is tricky.”
Nika sighed. “I’ll be glad when he’s here, but the damage has already been done. Neither of us wanted this to happen.”
“No one could have predicted this, cariad,” Enid assured her. “You know the social workers thought she was completely nutty.”
Nika shook her head. “I’ve already called Connor. He said he’d make certain that the custody agreement is airtight.”
Enid ran a soothing hand down her granddaughter’s hair. “Nika, you know it’s safe. There isn’t anyone in the world mad enough to hand custody back to that woman. They’ve already terminated her parental rights.”
“I know,” Nika whispered in reply. “I do not want to lose her, though.”
She turned to see Hannah in the doorway, staring at her with wide eyes. “Oh, sweetheart,” Nika said, embracing her. “I’m so very sorry. That must have been terribly distressing for you.”
“It doesn’t matter what she said.” Nika’s tone was firm, no-nonsense. “You’re one of the family, and you’re not going anywhere.”
Hannah hugged her tightly, not wanting to let go. Seeing her mother again had brought back a lot of memories, few of them good. At the time, Hannah hadn’t seen much wrong with her life. She had known that her family wasn’t like most, but she didn’t realize how bad it really was until she’d lived with her Watcher for a while.
It was the difference between eating stale bread from the sale bin at the discount grocery store and feasting every day. It was the difference between worrying that the mail carried an eviction notice and knowing that the roof over your head would be there year after year.
The idea that she might be killed, that the Slayer’s life was a short one, couldn’t touch the security Hannah experienced for the first time in her life.
Nika stroked Hannah’s hair, reveling in the opportunity to mother the girl. “Do you really think we’d let you go?”
Hannah shook her head. “I guess not. It’s just—”
“Whatever she said, your mother does not know you,” Nika murmured. “She does not know your strength and your spirit.” She pulled back to look at the girl. “Go have a snack. Tomorrow I’ll call you in sick, and we’ll go do something. Maybe Buffy will want to come with us. It’ll be a girls’ day out, hmm?” Nika gave Hannah’s cheek a loving touch.
Hannah nodded eagerly, accepting the cookie that Enid handed to her. “Eat,” the older woman said. “You’re too thin.”
The Slayer grinned. Enid said the same thing to everyone, even Angel, who didn’t eat people-food. Of course, Hannah got the sense that Enid just liked tweaking Angel.
“Yes, Nain,” she replied obediently, biting into the cookie.
Enid sniffed. “You think I don’t know,” she said, her eyes boring into Hannah’s. “This is where you belong, child. This is where you were meant to be. Never doubt it.”
Hannah didn’t know what to say.
It was obvious that they were trying too hard. Or maybe it wasn’t too hard, but their reassurance was palpable. The next day, Nika and Buffy took her shopping. They had a girls’ day out as promised, and then Spike, Buffy, and Meg all came over for dinner. Hannah noticed that all of her favorite foods were present. It was like her birthday, but not.
Maybe it was over-the-top, but Hannah appreciated the gesture. It meant a lot to her.
She allowed herself to believe that things were better, that her mom wouldn’t show up again. A week went by, and she let her guard down. Things were back to normal. Wesley was hounding her because she was dropping her shoulder. Spike was giving her a hard time about tripping over a tombstone while on patrol.
It was the typical after-patrol thing, but special because Wesley rarely went out with them these days, and she’d had the company of both Spike and Wesley out that evening. Nika brought them tea when they came in, and Enid came in to talk. Hannah relaxed further.
She should have realized that’s when life hits you the hardest.
The ringing of the doorbell interrupted the conversation. Nika and Spike were arguing over a movie they’d gone to see with Buffy and Wesley. Her Watcher was refusing to comment, and so he was the one to answer the door.
Hannah, in a state of drowsy contentment, perked up slightly when she heard the voices. They sounded all too serious for her taste. A man and a woman followed Wesley into the living room. “Hannah, perhaps you’d best join us in my office.”
She saw the look that Wesley gave Nika, and she knew what that meant as well. It meant that Nika was supposed to come too and that it was really serious.
Hannah felt numb following Wesley and the strangers back into his office. She could barely feel Nika’s hand on her shoulder, trying to steady her. “Hannah, this Detective Green and Detective Schultz. They’re from the Los Angeles Police Department.”
“I don’t understand,” Hannah said. “What—”
“You might want to sit down, Hannah,” Detective Green, the female detective, said. “This is difficult.”
Hannah shook her head. “No, I’d rather stand.”
Detective Schultz sighed. “I’m very sorry to tell you that your mother was killed earlier today.”
“She was killed?” Hannah asked, not understanding. “Somebody killed my mom?”
Detective Green shook her head. “No, I’m very sorry. At the present time, it appears as though Mrs. MacDougall might have jumped from a building. We’re waiting for a full investigation, but…”
Hannah didn’t know if she was supposed to cry or not. Would she be a horrible person if she didn’t? If she didn’t cry, did that mean she didn’t love her mom? What kind of monster didn’t love their mother?
Apparently, her shock passed as grief for the detectives, and they left, murmuring their condolences. Hannah could feel Nika’s arms around her, but she couldn’t make sense of it. Her mom was dead, and all she could feel was relief. Now Hannah really wouldn’t have to live with her ever again.
Hannah never could quite remember how she managed to get to bed that night, or how she made it through the next few days. Her emotions were so mixed that she couldn’t seem to make sense of anything. The twins were especially nice, and Buffy came and said she knew how Hannah felt, and Nika hugged her a lot.
Wesley was the one who went to the funeral with her. They were the only ones there besides the minister. Hannah wasn’t even sure who made the arrangements for the funeral, but she assumed it was her Watcher. She didn’t train, and she didn’t patrol, and no one asked her to.
The worst part was that Hannah couldn’t cry. She knew she should, but she couldn’t make the tears come. There was guilt and relief and horror filling her head and heart in equal measure.
And Hannah was scared to death that she was going to turn out to be just like her mom.
She was unprepared for Spike’s appearance at her bedroom door two nights after the funeral. “Let’s go.”
“We’re goin’.” Spike gestured at her impatiently. “Get your gear.”
Hannah was too caught up in her emotions to question Spike’s commands. Besides, she was the Slayer. She was supposed to be patrolling. That’s what she did.
No one stopped them as they left the house. Hannah strapped her helmet on and climbed on the bike behind Spike. She let the sound of the air rushing over her soothe her nerves.
She noticed the vampires immediately. Apparently Spike had known exactly where to find them. Hannah didn’t waste any time. She jerked her helmet off, pulled a stake out of her pack, and took off running.
When the first vampire disintegrated, a great burning rage seemed to erupt out of nowhere. She was screaming, but she couldn’t tell what she was saying. The anger made everything intense, but she felt detached from her own body at the same time.
Strong arms pulled her off the last vampire, and she watched as Spike staked it, hanging onto her with his other hand, as though she’d run away otherwise.
Hannah was taking great gasping breaths, and she was crying. There were tears streaming down her face, but she was quiet now.
Everything was still as death.
“Come on, luv,” Spike murmured quietly, pulling her into a rough embrace. “Tell me what happened.”
She couldn’t. She couldn’t put it into words lest it was true. They would all know then. They would figure it out, and—
“Hush now,” Spike said, still holding her. “Nika and Wesley are worried sick about you. Tell me what’s goin’ on in that head of yours.”
“I’m a horrible person,” Hannah said against his chest, and suddenly the tears were coming again. She was sobbing against Spike’s chest and telling him everything—how she hated her mom and never wanted to see her again. How she was relieved her mom was dead and that she was glad she didn’t have to go back to her. How she was afraid that she’d go crazy, and she was the Slayer. What happened when a Slayer went nuts?
Spike was saying something, repeating it over and over, and the words finally penetrated her daze. “She didn’t deserve you, luv. She didn’t deserve to have you.”
“I hated her,” Hannah confessed.
“She didn’t do right by you, Sweet,” Spike replied. “It’s alright to hate her.”
“You’re not supposed to hate your mother.”
“She wasn’t any kind of mum. It’s gonna be okay.”
Hannah sniffled and pulled back. “What if I’m like her? What if I go crazy?”
“You’re stronger than that, luv,” Spike replied. “Trust me, I lived with a bloody loon for a century. You’re not crazy.”
She made a choked sound that might have been a laugh. “Thanks, Spike.”
He smiled at her, and Hannah could have lost herself in his eyes. She loved him, she realized. It wasn’t a schoolgirl crush, and it wasn’t romantic love—it was something else altogether. Spike was like her guardian angel, even though she’d never tell him that.
“This world, our world, is where you belong now, Hannah-luv,” Spike said quietly. “Don’t doubt that.”
Because Spike was her hero, Hannah could believe him. “Okay.”
“Let’s blow this joint,” Spike said, a grin forming. “We’ll go take a ride.”
Spike laughed. “Whatever you like, pet. Best milk the sympathy while you can, yeah?”
It wasn’t like that, and they both knew it. “Yeah,” she agreed.
For the first time in a while, Hannah felt as though the earth beneath her was stable again.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Buffy asked as she supported Spike into their house.
He sighed. Spike was getting really tired of the mother hen act. “I’m fine.”
“Do you need blood now, or do you want to wait?”
“I ate before we left for the airport, Buffy.”
“I know, but you’re still looking kind of pale.”
“I’m a vampire.” Spike raised an eyebrow and glanced over at her. “Buffy, really, I’ll be fine.”
She was quiet. “I worry about you.”
“And it’s appreciated, but not necessary,” Spike insisted. “I’ll be just fine in a few days.”
Buffy paused. “Couch or bed?”
“Couch,” Spike said firmly. “I’ve been in a bloody bed for too long. When is Xander bringin’ Meg over?”
She hesitated. “In a while. I told him I’d call.”
“There’s no reason for Meg to stay away, luv,” Spike replied. “She’ll fret.” When Buffy was silent, Spike frowned. “You told her why it took us a bit longer to come home, didn’t you?”
The Slayer wouldn’t meet his eyes. “She would have worried.”
Spike shook his head. “Buffy, she probably knows. Knowin’ Meg, she’s probably worryin’ herself silly tryin’ to figure out what Xander’s not tellin’ her. Harris never was very good at lying.”
“They were at Disneyland,” Buffy replied. “I’m sure they haven’t had time to think about it.”
Spike shook his head, knowing that there was no arguing with his wife sometimes. “Fine, pet, but give Harris a call. It’s better if Meg knows what’s goin’ on.”
He watched as Buffy opened her mouth to say something and then changed her mind. “I’ll call as soon as I get you settled.”
Spike wanted to tell her that he didn’t need her help to get settled, and he only wished it was the truth. It had been five days, and he still wasn’t healed. Even a vampire had to take some time to recover from a hole in the chest, and having everyone poking around his insides hadn’t helped matters any.
The truth was that it would be at least another week before he was ready to see action. It was probably going to be months before Buffy stopped her hovering. Her worry combined with her guilt wasn’t making things very comfortable for him.
Spike let her fuss over him because it made her feel better, and then he watched as she went off to call Xander. He could hear her side of the conversation quite well from the living room. Harris was asking her what had happened, and she was giving the short version of it.
“Spike wants to see Meg,” Buffy said. There was a pause. “How did she find out?”
Spike smirked as he leaned back into the cushions of the couch. Not that he was happy to have worried Meg, who seemed to be afraid that one or both of them wouldn’t come home someday, but it was nice to be proven right occasionally.
No sooner had Buffy put the phone down than it rang again. Spike could tell it was Angel on the other end immediately. The older vampire had come back the night after the big battle, not wanting to be away from the business for too long. He’d stopped in to see Spike before departing, and Spike had had a hard time biting back his laughter.
Buffy had been right. A shaved head didn’t suit him.
The Slayer came hurrying back out into the living room. “I’ve got to go,” she said, sounding worried. “Cordelia just had a vision, and they’re going to need me.” Handing him the phone, she said, “Xander should be here in a little while. Maybe you could call Wesley to come over, or Nika.”
“Slayer, I don’t need that much looking after. I’ll be fine.” Spike rolled his eyes. “Get out of here already.”
“Love you,” Buffy said, pausing to give him a quick kiss on the lips, and then she was dashing out the door.
As much as Spike loved her, he gave a great sigh of relief to have her gone for a while. “Finally, some peace,” he muttered, turning on the TV and beginning to flip through the channels.
Meg didn’t waste any time heading up the walk, not even bothering to wait for Xander. Disneyland had been fun, but it had been tainted for her. She’d seen the look on her uncle’s face, and she could tell that there was something he wasn’t telling her.
She unlocked the door with her key and rushed towards the sound of the television. “Dad!”
“Wait, Meg!” Xander warned from behind her, but it was too late. She’d already flung herself into her father’s arms, burying her face in his chest.
She didn’t see the look of pain on his face, nor did she see him shaking his head at Xander, warning the other man not to say anything. “How was Disneyland, luv?” Spike asked when Meg finally pulled back. He managed to keep the strain out of his voice with some effort.
“It was great!” she replied enthusiastically, then her face fell. “Did you get hurt?”
Spike made a face. “A bit, moppet, but I’ll be fine in a few days. Until then, I expect you to keep me company, yeah?”
She nodded, looking around. “Where’s Mom?”
“Went out with Angel and his crew,” Spike replied. “Peaches needed her help.”
“And you couldn’t go ‘cause you’re hurt?” Meg asked, frowning. “Did I hurt you?”
Spike hastened to reassure her. “No, luv. You won’t ever hurt me just by givin’ me a hug.”
She looked doubtful, but then she nodded. “Okay.” To Spike, at least, Meg appeared adorably determined. “I’m gonna draw you a picture. Will that make you feel better?”
“Absolutely, moppet,” Spike replied, watching her dash off. He looked over at Xander. “Thanks, mate.”
“It was my pleasure,” Xander assured him. “You’ve got a great kid.”
“I like to think so.” Spike waved him into a seat. “You want to stay for a while?”
Xander shook his head regretfully. “I don’t think I can. Teri’s coming home tonight.”
Spike smirked. “You’d better get goin’ then. We’ll see you soon, though?”
“Yeah, of course.” Xander frowned. “You sure you’re okay here on your own, Spike? I can’t stay, but I could call someone for you.”
“I’ll be fine,” Spike insisted. “I need people to stop flutterin’ around. I’m in one piece, an’ that all that really matters, yeah?”
Xander finally nodded. “Yeah. Take care, Spike. I’ll bring Teri by when you’re feeling better.”
Spike watched as the other man left, letting out a deep breath. His chest was throbbing, the pain radiating through his limbs as well. It had been a long time since he’d been hurt this badly, and he didn’t like it. He didn’t like feeling this helpless.
He let his eyes drift shut as sleep overcame him.
Enid let herself into the house quietly, knowing very well that Spike was probably sleeping. She’d heard enough about his injuries to send her over as soon as Buffy had called. Nika was working and Wesley was with his new Slayer, and so the task fell to her.
Not that Enid minded. She had always had a soft spot for William.
“Nain,” Meg greeted her in a loud whisper. “Dad’s sleeping.”
“That’s as it should be, cariad,” Enid assured her. “People who have been injured need lots of sleep. They heal faster that way.”
Meg nodded, although she still looked doubtful. “Is he going to be okay?” Meg had absolute confidence that Enid would tell her the truth. The older woman had a tendency towards frankness that some of the other adults found alarming, but Meg liked it.
“He’s going to be just fine, Margaret Joyce,” Enid assured her. “No matter who you are, healing takes a bit of time. You’ll have to be extra helpful the next few days.”
“I can do that,” Meg replied confidently.
Enid smiled, patting her cheek. “Of course you can. Now off with you. I’ll start dinner soon, but until then I’m sure you have something you’re working on.”
“I’m drawing Dad a picture,” she replied. “He said that would make him feel better.”
“I’m certain it will.” Enid watched the child dash off, smiling to herself. Meg was a sunny child, but she had the feeling that Spike and Buffy would more than have their hands full when she reached adolescence. Spike, at least, would have to beat the boys off with a tire iron.
Enid went to the kitchen, setting the bag she’d brought down on the counter and starting to pull out various ingredients. The older woman was quite certain that the coven in Cleveland had done all they could for the vampire, but she had a few more tricks up her sleeve. Nika, of course, knew most of her secrets.
Getting remedies to work on a vampire wasn’t easy. Technically, a vampire was dead, as was the flesh. Most covens were comprised of humans, looking out for human welfare, who had no compelling reason to find remedies for demons’ problems.
Enid, on the other hand, had worked with a number of different species. She had a few potions that would work even on a vampire.
Once she had prepared the tonic, Enid warmed up a large mug of blood and brought both over to the couch where Spike was sleeping. “William,” she said softly. “I’ve got something for you.”
Without opening his eyes, he murmured, “Buffy put you up to this.”
“She’s concerned for you,” Enid said with some amusement. “Women fuss when they love a person. You’ll just have to get used to it, I’m afraid.”
Spike cracked one blue eye. “What do you have?”
“Blood and something that should help you heal.” Enid waited as he pushed himself into a sitting position with difficulty. “Would you like me to take a look at that?”
Spike hesitated. “May not be a bad idea,” he allowed. “Not while Meg’s around, though. Don’t want her seein’ it.”
“Of course,” Enid replied, handing him the mug of blood.
Spike drank it down quickly. He’d been starving and he hadn’t even realized it. He drank the other mug she held out just as fast, raising an eyebrow. “That’s not too bad,” he allowed.
“Medicines do not always have to taste bad.” Enid smiled at him. “Now, I told Buffy that I would stay here until she returned. She thought this little job might take longer than expected.”
Spike frowned. “I’ll be fine, Enid.”
The older woman chuckled softly. “And how will you make dinner for Meg, my lad?” At his grimace, she nodded. “Just so. There’s no shame in accepting help.”
“I’ve been doin’ nothing but accept help the last few days, Nain,” Spike replied. “Buffy’s been hoverin’ like a bloody mother hen. It’s a bit much.”
Enid smiled and kissed his forehead. “She will relax as her fear of losing you passes. Don’t you worry.”
Spike sighed. “Right. I guess I can put up with it for a while longer.” He raised an eyebrow. “How’s that new Slayer of Wesley’s doin’?”
“She’s fine,” Enid replied, a thoughtful expression on her face. “The girl has had a difficult time of things, however.”
Spike nodded, his blue eyes sympathetic. “Thought so. Girl’s eyes were too old.”
Enid nodded. “They are.” She hesitated. “Your wife may present a bit of a problem as to her settling in.”
“Tell me about it,” Spike muttered. “Hopefully, now that Buffy’s worked some of her anger off staking that bitch, she’ll settle.”
“I wouldn’t hold my breath.”
“I’m undead, Nain,” Spike replied with some amusement. “I can hold my breath indefinitely.”
Enid shook her head at him. “Smartass,” she reproved, although with no heat. “Hannah will need you.”
“Me?” Spike asked, surprised. “She’s got Wesley an’ Nika, and it looked like she was getting on just fine with Connor and Dawn. Not that I won’t help, mind you, but Wesley—”
“Is her Watcher,” Enid replied easily. “Hannah will need you in much the same way that Dawn needed you.”
Spike frowned and then shrugged, wincing when the movement sent a flash of pain through his chest. “I’ll be around.”
“Good,” Enid replied, standing. “Then I will start dinner for your daughter, and you can get some more rest. I’ll take a look at your injuries later.”
Spike didn’t think he’d be able to sleep again so soon. After all, sleeping was about all he had done for the last few days. Something in Enid’s concoction seemed to have a soporific effect, however, and he drifted off, dreaming about Slayers and the scent of wood and blood.
Wesley knew that Nika was keeping a careful eye on Hannah. The girl had just returned from her first day of school and had spent the afternoon training. When asked, she’d said that school was fine, but hadn’t offered more information than that.
Davey was talking a mile a minute about the pick-up football game he’d played after school, and the winning goal he’d scored. When the boy finally ran out of gas, Wesley looked over at Will. “How was your day?”
Will shrugged, much as Hannah had done. “It was okay.”
Wesley and Nika exchanged looks. “Those boys aren’t coming after you any more, are they?” Nika asked.
Will wouldn’t meet her eyes. “It’s okay, Mum. It’s like you said. I’ve just got to ignore them.”
Nika made an unhappy noise, but didn’t say anything. Wesley caught her eye and just shook his head slightly. They both knew that there were some battles their son would have to face alone; if they intervened, there was a strong possibility things could get worse.
“What about the other students in your class, Hannah?” Wesley asked. “Were they friendly?”
Hannah hesitated slightly before answering, “I guess. I mean, I am the new kid.”
“Just know you’re always welcome to bring guests here, cariad,” Nika said.
“Thanks.” The gratitude was sincere, but both adults caught the doubtful tone that seemed to indicate that she didn’t think she’d have much opportunity for it.
As dinner was finished, Wesley stood, fully intending on cleaning up the kitchen. Nika started to protest, but he shook his head. “Let me take care of you,” he scolded gently. “You know the doctor said it would be better if you took it easy.”
“You’re too good to me,” Nika replied, raising her face for Wesley’s kiss. While the boys groaned in disgust, Hannah watched intently. She couldn’t quite figure it out. Everybody was so nice to each other—and not fake-nice either. It was like they really liked being together.
It was weird, was what it was.
Hannah stood with Wesley and started helping him clear off the table. “You don’t have to do that,” he said. “If you have homework—”
She shook her head. “I don’t have much, and I want to help.”
He smiled warmly at her. “Then I’ll be happy to have your assistance.”
Hannah glanced towards Nika, who was also smiling her approval. She couldn’t help but wonder how she could keep those expressions on their faces all the time.
“So where have you applied for school?” Sam asked as he walked Hannah to the grade school.
Hannah was thinking about how she was going to meld both a date and patrol, and so answered rather absently. “UCLA.”
“That’s it?” Sam asked. “That’s the only school you’ve applied to?”
Hannah glanced over at him, his tone bringing her fully back to the present. “What? Oh, yeah, it’s the only one.”
Sam frowned. “Isn’t that kind of risky?” he asked. “What happens if you don’t get in?”
“Then I go to the community college for a couple of years and reapply,” Hannah said. “It’s really the only place I wanted to go.”
Sam stared at her. “Hannah, I’ve heard what kind of scores you got, and I know your grades are good. You could go anywhere.”
“I don’t want to go anywhere, I want to go to UCLA,” Hannah replied patiently. “Look, Sam, I understand that most kids will do just about anything to get away from their parents. I want to stay close to home. It’s important to me.”
Sam looked at her with a considering eye. “This doesn’t have anything to do with why you can stuff guys three times your size into a locker, does it?”
“It might,” she said evasively. Hannah bit back a sigh. She knew that Sam needed to be told about her extracurricular activities. Wesley had given her the okay—or rather he’d told her it was up to her. Hannah had heard the stories. The longer she dated Sam, the bigger the risk that he would find out about her being the Slayer from someone other than her. She didn’t want that.
At least he already knew she was different.
“Can you tell me about it, or is this something that’s top secret?” Sam teased.
“Tonight?” Hannah ventured. “I thought I could tell you tonight.”
Sam stared at her. “You’re serious. The whole story.”
“Yeah, but—” She paused. “You have to help me with something really important.”
He shrugged. “Anything. You know that.”
“It’s Spike,” Hannah said slowly. “I’ve got a plan.”
“Spike is Wesley’s business partner, right?” Sam asked. He knew that Hannah was close to most of the people who made up her strange family, but he’d gotten the impression that she was especially close to this Spike guy. She was always talking about him, and Sam might have been jealous except that the way she talked about him was like a favorite uncle or something.
“Yeah, that’s right. He’s been through some changes recently, and he’s in a bit of a funk,” Hannah explained, knowing she was being vague. “We’ve been trying to give him time, but I think I might have a plan to snap him out of it.”
Sam nodded. “Okay.”
“Sure,” he replied. “I’m game for anything.”
If he’d known what “anything” would entail, Sam might not have been quite so quick to volunteer.
Hannah knew that what she was doing bordered on stupid. Wesley had been very clear as to his instructions. “Absolutely, under no circumstances, are you to try and take this on yourself,” he’d said. “Either Angel or Buffy will accompany you.”
He couldn’t get more explicit. Still, Hannah remembered that the brief foray into the vamp nest a couple weeks back had momentarily shocked Spike out of his doldrums. Maybe if there was something just a little bigger, it would pull him all the way out.
Of course, a little bigger meant placing herself in jeopardy, which Wesley wouldn’t find amusing in the least. That’s why she didn’t tell him what she was planning.
So, instead of doing their calculus homework, Hannah had explained the whole thing to Sam, who was still looking skeptical. “Look, Hannah, I’m pretty sure you’re not crazy, but this—”
“Is crazy, I know,” Hannah said with a sigh. “I can prove it, though.”
Sam looked interested. “You could show me a vampire?”
“Sure,” she replied. “It’s kind of part of the plan if you’re willing.”
He hesitated. While Sam had been honest when he’d said he’d help, suddenly he wasn’t so sure. If Hannah was really serious, if she was right about vampires existing, they could both end up dead. Wouldn’t that be ironic? He finally gets a girlfriend, and they both end up dead before prom. “I said I’d do it,” he finally said firmly.
If his girlfriend really was a superhero, there was no way Sam was going to come across as a coward.
“It’s going to be perfectly safe,” she assured him. It was going to be safe—for him. Hannah had no intention of placing Sam in danger. It would be wrong, and she didn’t want anything to happen to him.
Sam nodded. “What’s the plan?”
“There’s this gang of Kraecher demons that have been vandalizing some of the parks,” Hannah explained. “There’s one they haven’t hit yet, so we have a good chance of finding them.”
He frowned. “I don’t see how this helps your friend.”
“The park isn’t that far from his house,” Hannah said. “I figure I’ll tell Wesley I’m going out with you, then we swing by the cemetery, you get to see a vampire, and then we head towards the park. You go tell Spike what I’m up to, and he comes and rips me a new one.”
Sam’s eyes widened incredulously. “You do realize that you’re probably going to be grounded for life, right?”
Hannah shrugged. “It’s for a good cause.”
He shook his head. “I don’t know, Hannah. I mean, it sounds like a good plan, but what if you get caught by these guys by yourself, before your friend gets there? Isn’t this really dangerous for you?”
“Not really dangerous,” she said. “Just a little bit. No more dangerous than a regular patrol.” Hannah conveniently forgot to mention Wesley’s warning. “Trust me, Spike’s house is really close, and he’s fast. If I know him, he’ll be on his bike and heading over before you can get the last words out of your mouth.”
Sam ran a hand through his dark hair, still undecided. He believed Hannah’s story; deep down he knew she wasn’t lying to him. He knew she wasn’t crazy, but this could get her hurt or killed. He didn’t want to see that.
Of course, he’d also watched her face down the entire football team. So maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal. “Okay, I’ll do it. But you have to promise to be careful.”
“I swear,” Hannah replied with a smile, giving him a quick kiss on the lips. “Thank you.”
It was the first time she’d kissed him, and Sam realized that he’d do just about anything to get her to do it again.
Even if it meant facing monsters that were supposed to be imaginary.
The reason that Hannah was certain Spike would be home was because he nearly always was these days. She knew that Buffy was spending a lot of time demon hunting with Angel’s crew, and that Spike was typically the one to stay home with Meg. While Meg didn’t have to have a babysitter anymore, Spike still stayed in.
In fact, the ex-vampire had gone out only once, other than the night he’d slayed vampires with Hannah, and that had been because they needed all hands.
Hannah thought that he was purposely avoiding anything that might give him pleasure, which wasn’t like him. That was why she was resorting to desperate measures.
What Hannah didn’t know—because Spike wasn’t really talking to anyone—was that he’d slowly begun sparring with Buffy again. At first it was only to make her happy, but over the last couple weeks, it was because when he sparred with the Slayer, he felt whole again.
Also, the sex was great afterwards.
Buffy was lying next to him on their bed after one such session, a pleasant ache in her limbs. “So you want to be the one to get Dawn and Connor from the airport on Monday?”
“I can,” he replied. “You could go with me.”
“Someone has to watch Hannah’s back on patrol,” Buffy reminded him. “So unless you want to volunteer—”
“I’ll go to the airport,” Spike said quickly, cutting her off. “No need for me to interrupt Slayer bonding time.”
“You should go out with Hannah again, Spike,” Buffy said quietly. “She worries about you.”
Spike sighed. “The girl worries too much. She thinks she’s all grown up.”
“That’s what getting chosen will do to you,” Buffy replied, her tone light. “It makes you think you’re responsible for saving the world.”
Spike glanced over at her and snorted, a genuine smile gracing his face. “You mean you didn’t have a hero-complex before you became the Slayer?”
“Complex?” Buffy asked, with a raised eyebrow. “Who said it was a complex?”
“No one ever said you had to save the world, pet,” Spike said, knowing he was asking for trouble.
“Oh, is that right?” Buffy asked, her fingers going to the most sensitive areas she could find. “I must have missed the memo that said I didn’t actually have a sacred duty.” She started tickling him, delighted when he laughed, rolling away from her, off the bed, and landing lightly on his feet.
“You’re going to pay for that,” he warned her, pouncing immediately. Buffy shrieked in mock-fear, rolling off the bed to the other side. She wasn’t quite quick enough. Spike grabbed her wrist and tugged her back to him, moving so that she was pinned underneath him on the bed.
Buffy struggled for a minute, realizing that Spike had gotten a lot stronger over the last few weeks. Strong enough, in fact, that he could actually keep her pinned. “Say uncle,” he ordered.
“We’ll see about that.” One hand still grasping her wrists, his other hand went elsewhere, causing Buffy to gasp. “Say uncle.”
“You can keep that up all night,” she whispered in return, her cheeks flushed. This was the first time Spike had seemed like his old self, the first time he’d been so light-hearted. Buffy couldn’t quite believe it was happening.
It felt so damn good.
Responding to the heat in her eyes, Spike covered her mouth with his. A moment later, her hands were free, and Buffy rolled him over so that she was on top. “I love you.”
Spike froze, staring at her. “Do you?”
“You know I do,” she insisted, her mouth traveling down his neck and chest. “Every part of you.”
Buffy didn’t sigh. She didn’t roll her eyes. She did nothing but increase her ministrations, because she knew that one wrong move on her part would send him running. He’d run way too often the last few weeks—often enough that she had considered chaining him up.
Buffy didn’t think he was quite ready for that yet.
When he buried his hands in her hair, Buffy knew that he was staying, that they’d moved one step closer to repairing the damage that had been done.
They lost themselves in each other, in the feelings that their hands and lips wrought. For that moment they might have been the only two people in the world, the only ones who had ever felt this way, the only ones who ever would.
Their lovemaking might have gone on all night except for the pounding on the door. Both of them groaned, but Spike and Buffy were both too well-trained in the art of managing catastrophes to ignore frantic pounding.
Spike pulled on the first pair of pants that came to hand, leaving Buffy to follow him once she was dressed. He was surprised to see the boy on the doorstep. He’d only met Sam once before, and he hadn’t really been very aware of things at the time. “Sam?”
“You have to come,” the young man gasped. “It’s Hannah.”
“Come inside,” Spike ordered. “What’s going on?”
“We were out, and we got attacked.” He was gasping for breath, and there was a scrape on one forearm.
Spike frowned. “Out where? Were you on a date?”
“No. I mean, yes, we were, but Hannah said she had to patrol too, and I offered to tag along.” Sam shook his head. “We don’t have time for this. She’s in trouble!”
“Sit.” Buffy was suddenly there, pulling him over to the stairs and sitting him down. “Tell us exactly what happened and where Hannah is. We won’t know how to help her otherwise.”
Spike took the clothing that Buffy handed him and finished dressing as Sam quickly told them what had happened. “Hannah told me she was, you know, the Slayer, and she said she’d show me a vampire. It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal, and then we were attacked in the cemetery.”
“By vampires?” Buffy asked quickly.
Sam shook his head. “No. I don’t know what they were.”
Spike frowned. “Grab the all purpose bag, luv. We’d better head out. Have to improvise when we get there.”
“When do we not improvise?” Buffy asked, already grabbing the saddlebag from the hall closet with their assorted weapons, as well as the second helmet. “Lucky for all of us that Meg stayed at Andrea’s house tonight.”
“No kidding,” Spike muttered, giving Sam a hard look. “Stay here. We’ll come back and give you a ride home once we get Hannah taken care of.”
“There’s first aid stuff in the bathroom down here, and feel free to raid the fridge,” Buffy said, handing Spike his helmet. “Let’s go.”
Buffy could feel the excitement humming through Spike’s limbs as the bike sped down the road towards Resurrection Cemetery. Ironically, there was usually plenty of vampire activity there. The Slayer did find it odd that Hannah would choose to hunt so close to their house. Not that they lived that far from Wes and Nika, but it was a good enough distance so that the younger Slayer must have chosen that particular cemetery for a reason.
It had been a long time since she’d seen Spike like this. Although Buffy hated that Hannah was in serious trouble, she couldn’t help but relish his excitement. It felt good to be out with him again. It felt like old times.
It would be even better when they could get back home and take up where they left off.
They had to ditch the bike at the gates, since they were locked for the evening. Buffy was always somewhat irritated when cemeteries were blocked off. It made her job that much more difficult, and the vampires didn’t have any trouble getting over them.
Of course, she and Spike didn’t have any trouble scaling the fence either, and once again she wondered what Hannah and Sam had been doing. Even though Hannah wouldn’t have had trouble, Buffy had a hard time picturing Sam climbing over the wrought-iron fencing.
It brought back fond memories of when Xander would follow her out on patrol. He’d always managed somehow.
Hannah wasn’t hard to find. The sounds of a fight carried in the still night air, and both Buffy and Spike hit the ground at a run. Neither one of them was pleased to see the swarm of Kraecher demons surrounding Hannah, who was just barely managing to hold them off. Buffy paused just long enough to pull a short sword out of the bag before tossing it to Spike, who pulled out an ax.
The Kraechers were distant cousins of the gang of biker demons who had shown up in Sunnydale shortly before Buffy was resurrected. The mere fact that Hannah was still standing was a testament to her tenacity. It appeared as though she’d already taken quite a beating, and neither Spike nor Buffy wasted any time wading in.
Watching Spike fight had always made Buffy just a little bit horny—watching him battle the Kraechers made it even worse, or better, depending on your perspective. It had been so long since they’d been out together, since they’d fought side by side. Buffy had missed it, and she’d missed Spike’s joy as he fought.
They mowed the Kraechers down as the demons closed in, sheltering Hannah from the battle. Buffy had seen the girl cradling her arm, and she knew that the younger Slayer had been hurt.
The demons were either brave or stupid, because when Buffy and Spike had thinned their ranks considerably, they still kept coming, until every last one was dead, and the bodies were piled high.
Buffy wished that all demons were like vampires. It would make the clean-up so much easier.
“What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?” Spike demanded, rounding on Hannah.
Her shirt was torn, and there was a cut on her cheek, as well as the injured arm. She was pale, and obviously having a hard time replying. “Spike, I—”
“You could have been killed!” he exploded, glaring at her, causing the girl to shrink back just slightly. “And you could have gotten your friend killed too! I thought better of you, Hannah.”
Buffy could see the girl’s lip trembling, and she knew that now was not the time to chastize her. “Spike, that’s enough. She’s hurt, and we need to get her to the hospital.”
Spike glowered. “We can’t take the bike.”
“I know that,” Buffy replied patiently. “Why don’t you go back to the house, get the car, and come pick us up here.”
It looked for a moment like he was going to argue with her, but then he nodded shortly, turned on his heel and left without another word.
Hannah still appeared to be on the verge of tears, and Buffy put an arm around her shoulders. “Come on, sweetie,” she said comfortingly. “Let’s find a way to get you over that fence without getting hurt any worse.”
It took some walking, but they managed to find an area where the wrought-iron gave way to chain link, and Buffy yanked it aside to let Hannah crawl through. As they walked back around towards the entrance to meet Spike, Buffy asked, “Do you want to tell me what you were doing tonight?”
Hannah shook her head silently.
“Hannah, I’ve done some stupid things in my time, probably worse than whatever it was you were trying to do.”
“I just wanted Sam to see that I wasn’t crazy,” Hannah admitted in a low voice. “Wesley said I could tell him about being a Slayer if I wanted, and I wanted him to believe that I was telling the truth.”
Buffy nodded slowly. “So you weren’t trying to go after the Kraechers?”
“No!” Hannah said quickly, and then found that she couldn’t really lie. “Well, not exactly,” she confessed. “I thought if Spike got a chance to fight, you know, he’d be okay again.”
Buffy sighed. “Hannah—”
“It wasn’t supposed to be like that!” she interrupted. “I was just going to dust a vampire, and then Sam was going to come get you guys. I figured I’d find the Kraechers in Andrews Park, because I thought that’s where they’d be. By the time I found them, Spike would get there, and we could take them together.”
Buffy had to admit that it wasn’t a bad plan as stupid plans go. “So you weren’t trying to fight them off on your own.”
“No,” Hannah said. “I didn’t think I’d be able to manage, not after what Wesley told me about them. I didn’t think they’d be in the cemetery tonight. I’d just dusted a fledgling, and then they were all over the place. I told Sam to run, and he did.”
Buffy shook her head. “You did the right thing getting Sam out of there. First rule of slaying is protect the innocents. But Hannah, either of you could have been seriously hurt or killed. Sometimes you have to let people figure things out on their own. You can’t always expect people to just be okay because you want them to be. It takes patience.”
“I just wanted to help,” Hannah said in a very small voice.
Buffy sighed and then gave her a reluctant smile. “I think you did. I haven’t seen Spike that angry since he got back. He’s certainly acting like his old self.”
“Are you going to tell Wesley?” Hannah asked.
“Well, we’re going to have to,” Buffy said. “We can hardly hide a hospital visit, can we? I’m not going to say anything about your plan, though. The Kraechers have been hitting parks, not cemeteries, so it’s not your fault that you ran into them tonight. And you can handle a couple of new vampires, so that part of the plan wasn’t completely stupid.”
“Thanks, Buffy,” Hannah said fervently. “Wesley probably wouldn’t let me see Sam again.”
“I doubt that,” Buffy replied. “But there’s no point in getting grounded for something you didn’t technically do.”
The girl nodded, much subdued. “I’m really, really sorry.”
“It’s going to be fine, Hannah,” Buffy assured her. “Spike really is doing better. It just takes some patience from everyone.”
“I’ll remember,” she promised.
“Good,” Buffy said, seeing the car pull up. “Now let’s get you patched up.”
It was very late by the time they managed to get both Sam and Hannah home. Sam had insisted going to the hospital with them. Buffy had been much amused at his hovering over Hannah, not to mention his fervent apologies about leaving her to face the demons alone.
This far away from her own first love, Buffy could appreciate its blossoming from a distance. The time it had taken for Spike to get the car had allowed him to cool down a little, which meant his lecture was delivered in an even tone. He still made it very clear that he thought she’d done a very stupid thing and that Hannah would not be going out on her own any time soon. Spike insisted that he would be watching her every move while out on patrol.
Buffy had to hide a smile. Things had turned out much better than they might have.
So they fed the emergency room workers a story about skateboarding, and Hannah had her arm set and put in a cast. In spite of Slayer healing, she still needed the cast since the break was a pretty bad one.
They delivered the teens to their respective homes, and then headed back themselves.
“Where were we?” Buffy asked once they’d reached their bedroom, teasing him.
Spike shook his head. “I hate to say this, luv, but I’m exhausted.”
“I know,” Buffy admitted. “Me too.” Exhaustion didn’t prevent her from putting her arms around him, however. “You were great tonight.”
“You too,” he replied. “Just like old times, huh?”
“Something like that.” Buffy rested her head against his chest. “You’ve still got it.”
“I think we’ve still got it.” Spike pulled back to look down at her. “So what kind of idiotic plan was Hannah tryin’ to execute?”
“Nothing that got carried out.” Buffy thought that she’d keep the details private, just between Slayers. “I told you she was worried about you.”
“Guess it’s back to going out on patrol with her, then,” Spike said nonchalantly, trying not to sound as though he was looking forward to it.
“It’s okay to enjoy it, you know,” Buffy said. “It’s okay to enjoy everything you used to enjoy, Spike. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Spike smiled. “I know, pet. I love you.”
“Love you too.”
For the first time in months, they were in perfect accord.
Wesley had to fight to suppress his smile as Hannah slunk into his office. She looked as though she expected to face a firing squad. He remained silent as she sat down on the chair across from his desk, but the way she held herself suggested that his Slayer was still hurting from the previous night’s fight.
“Are you alright?”
The question startled her. Wesley knew she had expected him to immediately start his lecture, but he had the feeling that Spike had already given her a dressing down. “I’m okay.” At his lifted eyebrow, Hannah admitted, “A little sore.”
“Would you like to tell me what you were doing last night?”
She flushed. “It was stupid.”
“You took Sam out on patrol with you,” Wesley stated.
Hannah slouched further down in the chair, refusing to meet his eyes. “I just wanted to show him a vampire.”
“I realize that.” Wesley sighed, and then got up and came around the desk. “Come here,” he ordered, walking over to the couch that lined one wall. She did as he asked, sitting on one end of the couch. Wesley took a seat next to her and put an arm around her shoulders.
Hannah stiffened under his touch, and then she turned and buried her face in his shirt. “I’m so, so sorry.”
She didn’t often cry. Much like Buffy, Hannah rarely showed any kind of weakness, but her brush with death had pulled down her defenses. “I know,” Wesley replied quietly, rubbing her back soothingly.
He could be calm because he and Nika had stayed up till nearly dawn discussing how they were going to handle the situation. Hannah had been given something for the pain at the hospital, so she wasn’t in any shape to talk about consequences.
Buffy and Spike’s quick explanation of what had happened told Wesley that Hannah hadn’t knowingly placed Sam in danger. Nor had she intended to confront the Kraecher demons on her own, which meant that she hadn’t gone against his instructions directly. It had been bad luck on her part.
Besides, Wesley knew what Kraecher demons were like. He had some idea of what they would have done to her if Spike and Buffy hadn’t shown up when they did.
He knew what they’d probably threatened her with. Hannah was, after all, just a girl.
She pulled back after a moment, rubbing at her face impatiently. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” he replied. “I do have some idea of what they probably said to you.”
For a moment, it appeared that Hannah was going to burst into tears again, but the emotion was quickly controlled. “It was bad.”
She wasn’t referring to the cast on her arm, and Wesley knew it. “You were quite lucky,” he said softly. “I want you to remember this, Hannah.” Her head shot up and she stared at him, the question in her eyes unspoken but there nonetheless. “You are not invincible, even though you might feel like that sometimes. This was not your fault, but you knew that the Kraechers were in the area, even if you did not intend on meeting up with them without assistance.”
Hannah nodded slowly, glancing away. She didn’t want Wesley to know that she had intended on meeting them, even if she hadn’t meant to get into it alone.
“If something happened to you, there would be a number of people who would be devastated, love, including me.”
She looked up at her Watcher, seeing the kindness in his eyes. “I promise I won’t do it again.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Wesley advised her, smiling. “Now, I’m not going to punish you, so you needn’t look so worried. I imagine you’ve learned your lesson. Anything else would just be redundant, and I’m rarely redundant.”
Her smile was genuine. “Thanks.”
Wesley touched her shoulder. “As stupid as it was, Spike was looking much more like his usual self last night, so something was accomplished. Next time, however, I think you might want to leave well enough alone. It was a risk you didn’t need to take.”
She nodded, and Wesley was satisfied with the chastened expression on her face. “Now, why don’t you go see Nika. I think she’s probably got something for you to eat.”
Only when his Slayer was gone did Wesley allow himself to slump against the back of the couch. Hannah didn’t need to see his fear. The idea that he might have lost her frightened him terribly. Without the pressure from the Council to keep an emotional distance, Wesley hadn’t had any trouble coming to care for the girl.
He now could look back on his sojourn in Sunnydale with even more understanding. He fully comprehended Rupert’s feelings for Buffy. Wesley couldn’t have loved his Slayer more if she’d been his own flesh and blood.
Wesley passed a shaky hand over his face. It was fine. Hannah would be fine. That was all that mattered.
Buffy rinsed her mouth out with a shaky hand. She was grateful that Spike was off picking up Meg, because otherwise he’d be hovering. Brushing her teeth, Buffy considered her options. It wasn’t like she’d never been pregnant before, but it had been a while.
It was entirely possible that something she ate was causing the stomach upset, or maybe it was just a virus. Except that there were other symptoms that signaled change.
Buffy was beginning to regret not now discussing birth control with Spike. Nor had she brought up the idea of having more children, not since they’d talked about it years ago when the twins were born. At this point, she had no idea how he would react when he found out she was pregnant.
If she was pregnant. It could be something else.
Downstairs, the front door opened and Buffy could hear Meg talking a mile a minute about her sleepover at Andrea’s house. From her daughter’s voice, she could tell that something had happened to make the night less fun than it should have been.
“And then she said Cody and Taylor didn’t like me anymore!” Meg was saying as Buffy walked up to the kitchen doorway. Meg’s back was to her, and she was completely focused on her father. “So I told her I didn’t care because real friends didn’t ditch you, and she said she wasn’t sure she could be my friend because of Cody and Taylor.”
There was a great deal of anger as well as a hint of unshed tears in the girl’s voice, and Buffy winced in sympathy. She could dimly remember the times when the girl who was your best friend one day was cutting you out the next, often for no reason at all. Spike was handling it as he always had—by listening patiently.
Buffy couldn’t stop her smile. He really was such a good dad.
“Then what?” Spike asked, acting as though Meg’s story was the most important thing in the world.
“So I said she didn’t have to be my friend and I told her she was being a coward,” Meg replied. “I wanted to call you guys to come and get me, but it was really late, and so we just went to bed.”
“We would have come for you, luv,” Spike said quietly. “You know you can call us any time.”
Meg shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant. “Cody and Taylor have been acting like major b—” She stopped herself before saying the forbidden word. “You know. I thought Andrea was my friend, though.”
Her voice dropped on this last, and Meg dropped the act to reveal the hurt little girl underneath. Buffy came into the kitchen and put her arms around her daughter. “Well, I think Andrea doesn’t know jack. If she doesn’t want to be your friend, that’s her loss, not yours.”
Spike frowned at the impatience that touched Meg’s eyes. Although he agreed with his wife, he also knew that Meg didn’t think her mother understood. “Still hurts when people treat you badly, though, moppet. Nothin’ you can do about that.”
Meg shrugged. “I’ll be okay.”
“Maybe you should call Trina,” Buffy suggested. “I know she’d probably enjoy hanging out with you. You could invite her to the beach with us next week.” Trina played on the intramural soccer team with Meg, but they didn’t go to the same school, which made it more difficult. Buffy might have been more worried if Meg didn’t have other close friends, outside her classmates.
Meg brightened slightly. “That would be cool.”
She was off a few moments later, leaving Spike and Buffy in the kitchen together. “How are you?” Buffy asked him.
“Good.” For the first time since his return, Spike meant it. “The fight last night—” He paused. “It was good. You hear from Wes?”
Buffy nodded. “Yeah. Are we still going over there for dinner tonight?”
“’course,” Spike replied, a slight frown forming. “Are you alright, luv?”
“I’m fine,” Buffy replied quickly.
“No, you’re not,” he said. “You’re too pale.” Buffy’s earlier assumption was proven correct as Spike rose to come hover near her. “What is it? Are you not feelin’ well? We don’t have to go tonight. Maybe you should—”
“Spike,” Buffy said, cutting him off. “Really, I’m okay. It’s just—” She hesitated. There was no way to know if telling him her suspicions would break the fragile détente they’d achieved. “You might want to sit down for this.”
He grabbed her hand. “Buffy, you’re not sick, are you?” Spike demanded. “Have you been hiding this from me? I told you—”
After the near-silence of the last few weeks, Buffy was nearly overwhelmed by the outpouring of words. This was more like it. This was also a little scary. “I’m not sick.” She took a deep breath. “I think I might be pregnant.”
There was a long silence, so long that she was beginning to think that Spike was so upset by her news that he was going to retreat into silence again. “How?”
It was the last question Buffy had been expecting. “I think you know how.”
“No, I…” Spike trailed off as he thought about the last few weeks, realizing that they hadn’t taken any precautionary measures. “Oh.”
“You knew this was going to happen?”
Buffy shrugged. “I realized after the first night that we hadn’t used birth control, and then I just kind of forgot about it.”
That wasn’t precisely true. It was more a matter of deliberately avoiding the issue. “I see.”
“Are you okay with this?” Buffy asked, some of her fear coloring her voice. “Spike, it’s—”
“It’s wonderful.” The news—the words and their meaning were finally beginning to sink in. The thought that Buffy might be carrying his child was something so amazing—“Are you certain?”
“No, but I have my suspicions. We’ll have to get one of those at-home pregnancy tests. They’re pretty accurate.” Buffy laced her fingers through his. “You’re really okay with this?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Spike asked softly. “This is—more…” He trailed off, emotion preventing him from saying more.
“We didn’t talk about this,” Buffy replied. “I didn’t know if it would happen or not, but I know I should have said something, and—”
He stopped her mid-ramble. “No, you shouldn’t have said anything. This is better.” Spike thought perhaps that he might have made a decision he would later regret if given a choice in matters. Having it come as a surprise was better. “Are you alright with this?”
“I want this.” There was no hesitation to her words. “As much as I’ve wanted anything.”
That was all Spike needed to know.
“Are you doing okay?”
“So help me, Connor, if you ask me that one more time—” Dawn left the threat unspoken, but she was completely serious. “I’m pregnant, not dying.”
Connor didn’t bother arguing with her, knowing full well that Dawn wouldn’t hesitate to do something really nasty to him if he kept bugging her. He’d been around for Nika’s miscarriages, though, and the thought that it could happen to them—
It scared him. And he didn’t get scared very often.
Instead of saying anything more, Connor just put a hand on the small of Dawn’s back. “I worry about you.”
“I know you do.” Dawn shot him an exasperated look. “I’m fine.”
“It’s just—” Connor hesitated. “Things don’t always turn out for the best.”
Dawn’s face softened as she remembered how Connor’s own mother had died. Of course, Darla had been a vampire, and there had been a prophecy involved, so it wasn’t at all the same, but she could understand why he’d be worried. “They will this time.”
He moved closer, his arm snaking around Dawn’s waist. At five months, she was just beginning to show, and she was glowing. Connor thought that his wife had never been more beautiful.
They both saw Spike at the same time standing by the baggage carousel, waiting for them. He had his hands in his pockets and looked better than either of them had expected he would. From Buffy’s reports, they had thought he’d be—well, different.
He was still Spike, though.
He and Dawn shared a warm hug and he shook Connor’s hand. “How was the flight?”
“Good,” Connor replied. “I was a little concerned—”
“Because he’s a big worrywart,” Dawn inserted.
“—but there wasn’t any turbulence,” Connor continued as though he’d never been interrupted.
Spike’s eyes gleamed with humor. “Hell-Boy bein’ overbearin’?”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Yes! He’s worse than you ever were with Buffy.” She gave her husband a sour look. “I may have to ask you to sit on him while we’re here, because I plan on having some fun.”
Connor didn’t appear all that concerned about the possibility. “Spike wouldn’t argue with me taking care of you.”
“No, I wouldn’t,” Spike agreed, shrugging. “Sorry, Bit, but you’re surrounded by men highly interested in your well-being. You’ll just have to get used to it.”
Dawn huffed. “Fine.” She pointed a finger at Connor. “But don’t mess with my vacation, mister. I plan on shopping, gossiping, and eating, and not necessarily in that order.”
Connor grinned. “Those sound like perfectly safe activities to me.”
Spike snorted, then quickly hid it behind a cough. “You two still stayin’ with us?”
“Yeah,” Dawn replied. “Angel said we were welcome at the hotel, but since he’s running the agency out of there, Connor didn’t think it would be very restful.”
“You don’t want to get in between a pregnant lady and her sleep,” Connor inserted. “I thought we could go hunting while we’re here, though. It’s been a while.”
It had always been how they had bonded, Spike remembered. They had become close by watching each other’s backs, and saving each other’s lives. “We’ll have to. I told Hannah she wasn’t going out on patrol without me for a while.”
“I heard about that,” Connor said. “Is she okay?”
“Broken arm,” Spike said. “Could have been a lot worse.”
“Well, she’s lucky she had you and Buffy,” Dawn said.
Spike gave a noncommittal grunt, but he looked pleased. Dawn thought he looked older. Buffy had warned her about what to expect, and the Slayer hadn’t been wrong. There were new lines on his face, and a weariness in his step that was new. On the other hand, he looked happy. Happier than Dawn had expected.
Happier than he had in a long time.
Dawn had known that his immortality was weighing on him heavily, and the new peace in his eyes was ample evidence that the burden had been lifted. She tucked her hand through his arm. “So what else is new?” she asked.
A sly grin tugged at the corners of his lips. “Somethin’ big, but you’ll have to wait till dinner at Nika’s for the news. Buffy an’ I have an announcement.”
Connor couldn’t help but grin at the look on Dawn’s face as she immediately began to probe for the news. She never had liked to wait to hear a secret, and Spike knew that as well as anyone.
Spike really hadn’t changed much.
Hannah fumbled with her books, trying to get them back in her locker one-handed. Even though it would probably only be a week before the cast came off, it was still a week too long. “Let me get those.”
Sam was suddenly right there, grabbing her books from her and stacking them neatly in her locker. “Thanks.”
“How are you?”
They hadn’t spoken since she’d said goodbye to him when Spike and Buffy had dropped him off. She wasn’t sure if he was mad at her or not, or if Sam even wanted to be with her. Now that he knew what her life was really like, there was a good possibility he wouldn’t want any part of it.
“I’m okay,” she said softly, not meeting his eyes. The idea that he wouldn’t want her anymore stung more than she thought it would. Hannah hadn’t realized that she was falling in love with him.
A gentle finger touched her cheek. “So are you grounded into the next century?”
Hannah finally looked up, and found Sam watching her intently. “No. Wesley said I’d learned my lesson. You?”
“Spike telling Dad that I’d stayed with you at the hospital helped.” Sam gave her a lopsided grin. “I got told if I ever came in that late again, I’d regret it though.” He suddenly frowned. “Are we okay?”
“Do you—” Sam took a deep breath. “Do you still want to go out with me? Because I would totally understand if you didn’t.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Hannah asked. “You saved my life.”
“Hannah, I ran off. I left you there, and—”
She stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Sam, if you hadn’t gone for Buffy and Spike, we would probably both be dead. You saved my life.”
“Then you’re not mad at me?” he asked. “I thought when you didn’t call—”
“I thought you’d be mad at me,” Hannah confessed. “That maybe once you saw how freaky my life is, you wouldn’t want to date me. I wouldn’t blame you.”
Public displays of affection were frowned upon, especially in the hallways. Sam decided he didn’t give a rat’s ass. He dipped his head down, initiating a kiss that Hannah soon began to return. “Mr. Reynier, Miss MacDougall, can we please control ourselves?” The stiff voice of the principal had them pulling back, both with red faces.
Mrs. Carter gave them both a dirty look. “Don’t let me catch you two kissing again,” she warned. “Or you’ll both end up in detention.”
They both muttered apologies they didn’t really mean, waiting until she’d walked off before looking at each other again. “Does that answer your question?” Sam asked.
“Yeah.” Hannah smiled. “Do you want to come over today? Connor and Dawn are going to be there for dinner. I really want you to meet them.”
Sam grinned at her. “That would be nice.”
And then, because no one was looking, they kissed again.
Since that first Thanksgiving that Spike, Nika and Wesley had spent together, it had become something of a tradition to get together. Unlike most typical Thanksgiving day celebrations, they didn’t always have turkey, and it seemed that every year the crowd got larger. This year was no exception, although Gunn and Fred had elected to spend the holiday with Fred’s parents.
At this point, dinner had been moved to the Hyperion, as it afforded more space and a larger kitchen than any other available venue. The twins and Meg loved going to the old hotel, as there were plenty of places to explore. They usually managed to con Spike into playing hide and seek with them.
Hannah watched the twins beg him to play with wide eyes. Connor joined in immediately, betting Spike that he could stay hidden for longer than the vampire could. Then Connor looked over at her. “Come on, Hannah.”
She shook her head, and Spike and Connor looked at each other. “No getting out of this one, Slayer,” Spike teased. “Besides, it’ll help hone your vamp-trackin’ skills. Connor isn’t quite as good, but—”
“Put your money where your mouth is, Spike,” Connor challenged. “I’ll bet you a ten that Hannah finds you before she finds me.”
“Why not make it a twenty?” Angel suggested. There was a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. His hair was finally starting to grow back in, and he was feeling rather relaxed. It was a good day when the hotel was full of life again. “I’ll join.”
Hannah wasn’t sure she liked this plan at all. “I don’t know—”
“Go have fun, Hannah,” Wesley said from behind her. He was standing with Giles, who had come into town for official Council business. “You have the day off.”
She was still hesitating when Spike spoke again. “Trust me, pet. This is an essential part of your training. Every Slayer has to learn how to relax now and again.”
Giving in with a shrug of her shoulders, Hannah asked, “So what am I counting to?”
“A hundred,” Will insisted.
“Slowly,” Davey put in. “You gotta give us time too.”
Meg, having forgotten her attempts at being grown up now that her father and Connor were playing, nodded firmly. “The round couch is always home base,” she added. “You have to tag us before we get back there. You have played hide and seek before haven’t you?” she added in a superior tone.
Hannah actually hadn’t, but there was no way she was going to admit that in front of all these people. Instead, she just buried her face in the cushions of the round lobby couch and started counting.
“Did they manage to rope Hannah into playing?” Nika asked as Dawn entered the kitchen.
Dawn grinned. “Not only Hannah, but Angel too. He has a bet on with Spike and Connor as to who’s going to get caught first. Spike told Hannah it was part of her training to get her to join in.”
Cordelia’s eyebrows went up. “She got Angel to play? Good. That’ll get him out of our hair for a while.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Wish my training could have been more play and less work.”
“She needs to act the child,” Enid opined. “She is serious all the time. Always thinking about what she is doing, how she is acting.”
“That’s what the Slayer does,” Buffy argued. “You have to.”
“Oh, come on, Buffy,” Dawn cajoled. “You know you weren’t all work and no play. I seem to remember a certain amount of Bronzing in your past.”
Buffy made a discontented sound, but she didn’t argue her point further. Hannah irritated her. What caused her even more discomfort was the knowledge that her irritation was irrational and unfair. “Well, I hope Spike is careful. That wound—”
“Is completely healed,” Enid said, patting her on the shoulder. “Relax, cariad. Spike is quite well, and he is very much recovered. Meg needs to see her father play to set her own fears to rest.”
Buffy relaxed slightly with Enid’s reassurance. The older woman never lied, nor did she sugarcoat the truth. It was easy to believe her. “Yeah, he’s better.”
“And your nightmares?”
The question was asked in a low tone, so that none of the other women heard. They were discussing how long the roasts needed to be in the oven. Buffy met Enid’s eyes, startled. “How—”
“You are not the only one who worries,” Enid replied, her tone amused. “He asked me if I might give you something.”
Buffy shook her head. “No. If they’re Slayer dreams, it’s better that I have them. If they’re trying to warn me or something—”
“These are not prophetic dreams, I think,” Enid interrupted gently. “These are memories, and they are your deepest fears, are they not?”
Buffy flushed. “Something like that. I just keep seeing—” She broke off. “It’s not something you can just forget.”
“No one is asking you to forget,” Enid replied. “Remember, Buffy—memories can easily tear us down, or they can be used to build something stronger. Do not let yours undermine what you have spent so many years building.”
Enid bustled off to stir the gravy, leaving Buffy to stare down at the vegetables she was supposed to be chopping. Enid was right, of course. She knew she’d been brittle these last weeks—brittle with fear that sapped her strength.
Buffy just didn’t know how to let it go.
Giles swirled the scotch in his glass and then savored the taste. Outside Angel’s office were the distant sounds of play and the even more distant sounds from the kitchen. It was rare for him to make two trips back to California within such a short timespan, but he’d deemed it necessary. He’d wanted to look in on Spike and Buffy, as well as see how Wesley was getting on with Hannah.
He also needed to discuss what was to be done about the Cleveland Hellmouth.
“I am fairly certain you aren’t here just to eat Thanksgiving dinner with us, Rupert,” Wesley commented, sipping at his own drink.
Giles smiled slightly. “No. Is it that obvious?”
“It’s tradition at this point,” Wesley replied. “You always show up for the apocalypses.”
Giles winced. “Yes, well, there’s no apocalypse this time, thank goodness.”
“But there’s something.”
“It’s about the Hellmouth.”
“I assume you’re not referring to the one in Sunnydale,” Wesley said with a quiet sigh. “Cleveland, then?”
Giles nodded. “After this last incident, the coven has been hard-pressed to keep a lid on things. We believe that the area would benefit from the presence of a Slayer.”
Wesley was shaking his head before the words were even out of Giles’ mouth. “I’m sorry, Rupert, but I don’t see how I can relocate. I have a family to consider—not just the boys, but Nika and—”
“That’s what I thought you would say,” Giles interrupted smoothly. “I had to ask, though, you see. There’s another option.”
Wesley frowned, realizing suddenly who Giles was referring to. “You’re talking about Connor and Dawn.”
“They do work for the Council,” Giles responded. “And Connor is more than a match for a Slayer. I think it is our best option.”
“Then why would you even suggest I move?” Wesley asked, a touch of anger in his voice. “You won’t make me feel guilty about this, Rupert. You’ll recall that when I told you I’d come back to work for the Council, I made it clear that I wouldn’t travel.”
“You did,” Giles said, unruffled. “Still, the tradition is for the Slayer to go where she is needed. I was told to ask you if you’d be willing to go to Cleveland. I also told the Council that I would back your decision, whatever it happened to be.”
Wesley gave him a sour look. “You already knew.”
“They didn’t.” Giles shrugged. He’d grown mellow in his old age. There wasn’t much that bothered him anymore. The older Watcher had known Wesley wouldn’t agree to move; the Council had insisted he ask. They had paid for his flight back to the States, which meant he would still be able to make it back for Christmas. Giles thought he might be getting the best part of the deal.
Wesley chuckled, realizing that Giles had timed his visit well. “I see. I honestly don’t know if Connor and Dawn would be willing go,” he commented. “They might refuse as well.”
Giles shook his head. “No, I don’t think they will. It may take them some time to make the transition—time that I am willing to give them. They are both young, however, and do not have the ties that you and Spike do here in L.A.”
“You’re right about that much.” Wesley considered that idea for a moment, recognizing the truth in Giles’ words, knowing that Connor and Dawn might like to start again in a new city, might relish the chance to begin their own life away from family.
Giles took another drink, emptying his glass. “I’ll speak with them later. I wanted to talk to you away from the others, though. You and I understand one another. Your wife might not be so forgiving if she thought I was trying to get you to relocate to Cleveland.”
“Nika might surprise you,” Wesley returned, but his smile told Giles that he’d been right in his assessment. Giles didn’t want to be on Nika’s bad side. She was a formidable woman.
“How is Hannah doing?” Giles asked, neatly changing the subject. “Are the two of you getting along alright?”
“We’re still in a period of adjustment, of course,” Wesley hedged. Giles’ raised eyebrow told Wes that he wasn’t buying it. “There have been a few difficulties, but nothing major. Nothing we haven’t been able to handle.”
“And Hannah? How is she coming along in her training?”
“She loves it,” Wesley replied frankly. “It has both Nika and me worried. Training is all she wants to do. Hannah doesn’t even argue with us about doing her homework.”
“You’re painting a picture of the perfect Slayer.”
“Too perfect, perhaps,” Wesley replied. “She’s afraid that she’ll make a mistake and get thrown out on her ear, I believe. While she’s enthusiastic, I think that her desire for perfection is having a negative effect on her fighting ability. She’s too stiff. Spike thinks that she isn’t flexible enough.”
Giles sighed. “Something like that will take time to work through. I imagine that at about the time she feels comfortable enough to act like a normal teenager, you’ll wish she didn’t.”
Wesley chuckled ruefully. He had a feeling that Giles was right.
In many ways, the game of hide and seek was somewhat unfair. The Slayer was more than capable of finding all the children, in spite of her unfamiliarity with the hotel. She also had no desire to see Spike or Connor lose. That meant that Hannah was more inclined to let the younger children slip past her as she hunted the great Angelus.
Wesley had explained about Angel and Spike. Angelus was one of the most evil vampires to ever live, and it was only the soul that prevented him from killing everyone. Hannah wasn’t sure what she thought about that.
She did know that while Angel was a decent guy to have at your back on patrol, Connor and Spike were a whole lot more fun to be around. Although, Angel did try really hard.
Hannah’s favorite night so far had been the night that Connor and Angel had taken her with them on one of their cases. They’d made her wait in the car, but watching them had been like watching poetry in motion.
Still, of the three men, she’d much rather see Angel lose. He would pout, and that would be funny.
Hannah took a deep breath and honed her perceptions as Wesley had been teaching her to do. She could feel the two vampires if she thought about it hard enough. Now all she needed to do was to figure out which was which.
Hannah caught Davey before he could reach the couch, but she allowed Will to slip by, knowing that it would boost his self-esteem. She managed to catch Meg too, because the little girl kept acting oh-so-superior.
After that, Hannah was fairly certain which vampiric signature was Angel’s, and she headed up to the top floor of the hotel. Stepping softly, watching out for creaky floorboards, she tried to still her breathing as much as possible.
She heard a rustle of sound behind her, and with a burst of speed, tackled Angel around the knees, taking him down.
The big vampire gave an “oof” of surprise, raising an eyebrow when Hannah perched on his chest. “Gotcha.”
“Yeah, you sure did. Am I the last one?” Angel asked.
Hannah smirked. “Nope. I haven’t found Spike or Connor yet.”
Angel hid his own smile, letting out a frustrated sigh. He’d never tell her, but he had allowed Hannah to find him. Wesley had been talking about boosting her confidence. From the glow of pride on her face, this had been almost exactly what she’d needed. “Darn,” he muttered. “Spike is going to be insufferable for the rest of the day.”
Hannah clambered off the floor and offered him a hand up. Angel took it even though he wasn’t sure how much help she’d actually be. “Do you want to help me find them?” Hannah asked, thinking it might help Angel feel better.
“Tell you what,” he offered. “Why don’t you hunt Spike, and I’ll see if I can find that son of mine?”
Hannah thought for a second and then grinned at him—a child’s grin. “Betcha I find Spike first.”
She was gone a moment later, leaving Angel smiling. It was progress. Her willingness to engage in some good-natured fun with him was definitely progress.
Davey and Will lagged slightly behind Hannah. She was walking them home as she always did, Sam acting as her shadow. They were talking and laughing, Hannah allowing Sam to carry her backpack as well as his. She was finding out how nice it was to have someone else take care of her on occasion.
They were wrapped up in their own world, leaving Will to attempt to console his twin. “Maybe it’ll be okay?”
“How is it supposed to be okay?” Davey asked glumly. “There’s no way they’re going to let me play Little League this summer. I’ll probably be stuck doing lessons all the time.” A note of panic crept into his voice. “And England! We’re s’posed to go visit this summer. What if they leave me behind?”
“They’re not going to leave you behind,” Will said, sounding very much like his father. “’Sides, Mum knows now about Mrs. Howard.”
Davey scowled. “Yeah, and you heard her. She said I had to stick it out this year. Dad’s going to kill me.”
“He’s not going to kill you.”
“Yes, he is,” Davey argued. “You’re always getting high marks, and I just—”
“I’ll tell them,” Will said. “It’s not your fault.”
“It’s not fair.”
Will didn’t have a response to that. It wasn’t entirely the teacher’s fault that Davey was failing. His twin had always struggled more with school, and when the pressure was on like this, Davey tended to freeze up. Put him in a similar situation on the baseball diamond or football field, and it was the exact opposite, though.
Will understood that. Davey was essentially his other half, after all.
“Dawn and Connor are coming,” he said, trying to find something that would cheer Davey up. “Mum and Dad will be in a good mood.”
Davey kicked at a rock in the path. “Not after they see that note.”
Will sighed. “Yeah. You’re probably right.”
Wesley looked up at the knock on the door. The downside of owning a business was the paper work, and he had to admit that it was his least favorite part. He and Spike had retained a reputable accountant a number of years before, but that didn’t get him completely off the hook. He’d hoped to be finished before Dawn and Connor arrived for dinner, but he kept getting interrupted.
“Come in,” he called, watching as Davey pushed the door open, remaining in the doorway. “What is it, Dafydd?”
There was more impatience in his voice than he’d meant to convey, and Wesley winced when his son did. “Come inside, son.”
Wesley wasn’t sure what had brought his son in to visit. Will could often be found sitting on the couch, reading silently as he did his work. Davey was more likely to be outside, especially when the weather was nice.
Even if the rarity of Davey’s visits wasn’t an indication, the expression on the boy’s face would have been enough to tip Wesley off that he wasn’t going to like what Davey had to say. He’d been a father long enough to know guilt when he saw it.
Davey said nothing, just came up to the desk and handed him an envelope. It was unopened, and Wesley frowned, wondering why he hadn’t shown it to Nika first. Typically, she was the one the boys brought their school notes to, since she was usually the first to greet them.
His frown deepened as he read the teacher’s words.
David is doing poorly in three out of five of the major subjects. I would suggest keeping him back a year. He lacks the maturity and focus needed to be successful.
Wesley raised an eyebrow. “Does Mrs. Howard know your full name?”
“She doesn’t ever spell it right,” Davey replied, knowing what his father was referring to. So far, Wesley hadn’t shouted, or even appeared to be all that upset. He relaxed slightly.
One of the reasons that Wesley preferred to let Nika deal with this sort of thing first was that he feared reacting as his father had. He did not want to demand perfection from his sons, knowing first hand how damaging those unreachable expectations could be. Wesley wasn’t sure why Davey had come to him first, but he didn’t want to hurt the boy’s feelings.
After all, he had very vivid memories of standing before his father in just this way with a similar note. Not that he’d been failing, but he hadn’t managed perfection. He hadn’t been good enough.
Remembering that scene, and his father’s harsh words, gave Wesley the ability to take a deep breath and ask, “Would you like to tell me what happened?”
Davey looked at him, startled, and then stared at the floor. His expression was a mix of sullenness and dread. “I’m not that smart.”
“I don’t believe that for a minute.” Wesley moved around the desk so he could meet Davey’s eyes. “I know you’ve been doing your homework. Your mother and I have been checking it over. Unless you haven’t been bringing it all home—”
“No!” Davey said, stung that Wesley could think he’d been lying for the last few months. “I haven’t been hiding anything!”
Wesley nodded. “I believe you. You’ve always been honest with me in the past. So what’s been happening? Because you are certainly not stupid.”
“It’s the tests,” Davey confessed, his face turning a dull red. “It’s just—I can’t do them. My brain freezes up.”
Wesley shook his head. “Failing a few tests shouldn’t be enough to hurt your scores that much, Davey. Surely—”
“You can ask Will,” Davey shot back. “She gives them out every week. Quizzes and then tests too. Mum said I had to stick it out and get my grades up. Now I won’t be able to go on, and everybody’s going to think—”
Wesley hushed him with a look and a rough hug. “You’re not staying back,” was his firm answer. “If I have to tutor you myself this summer, you will go on to the next grade. Besides, you’re not going back to that school, so it shouldn’t matter what this woman has to say.” The way his dad said “this woman” made Davey grin. “She can’t even spell your name right.”
“Then I can still come to England with you?”
Wesley stared at him. “Why on earth would you think we’d leave you behind?”
Shrugging uncomfortably, Davey said, “If I have to be in summer school…”
“You aren’t going to summer school,” Wesley said. “As I said, I’ll tutor you myself, and I’m sure your mum will help. Although, I imagine you’ll end up wishing you were in summer school.”
Davey gave a huge sigh of relief. “Then I can still play baseball?”
“Yes, you can play baseball,” Wesley replied. “Now, go find your mother and ask her to come see me, please. And do your homework!” he called as Davey ran out the door, heaving a sigh of relief. That hadn’t gone too badly, although it seemed they needed to have another conference with the teacher. Wesley was sure that she had Davey’s best interests at heart, but she didn’t know his son as he did.
Wesley hadn’t received much support from either of his parents growing up, and he never wanted his own children to be able to say the same. This was a battle he had no trouble fighting on Davey’s behalf.
“We’re telling them tonight, right?” Buffy asked, watching as Spike finished buttoning his shirt.
He shrugged. “Up to you, pet. We don’t have to.”
“No, I want to, if you do,” she replied, smiling. “Besides, I don’t think Meg’s going to be able to keep it a secret much longer.”
Spike grinned. “She’s nearly bursting, yeah?” They had sat Meg down the day after they’d done the at-home pregnancy test. With Dawn and Connor coming, it was unlikely that Buffy would be able to keep her morning sickness private, and Dawn would know exactly what was going on, since her own experiences were so recent.
Neither of them had been sure how Meg would react. It was a toss-up between thrilled to death and upset over losing her spot as an only child. They needn’t have worried, however. Meg had been wanting a sibling ever since Carwen was born, and she immediately started telling her parents how big of a help she could be.
Meg really was a good kid. Buffy was deeply afraid that it wasn’t going to last through her teenage years. Hadn’t her mother always said “Wait until you have a child just like you someday?”
Now, of course, she wanted to tell the world, and had been persuaded to keep quiet with some difficulty. Dawn and Connor had arrived only a few hours before, and Meg had nearly dropped the news twice already.
“You’re really okay with this?” Buffy asked suddenly, wanting to know that he wasn’t just play-acting being happy for her sake.
Spike turned to look at her, his blue eyes serious. He’d begun to develop a tan in the last few months, and it just intesified the color. “I’m okay with it.” Spike sat down next to her on the bed. “Let me ask you. Are you really okay with me? Being human, I mean. I know you didn’t want me to do this, and I can’t help but wonder—”
“I didn’t want you to leave,” Buffy corrected him gently. “I didn’t want to lose you. Spike, I love you. I know you feel different, but you’re the same to me. You’re still the man I fell in love with. I’ve had so many people leave one way or another, I was scared to death of losing you. You came so close in Cleveland…”
He pulled her to him, still not used to the fact that his skin was as warm as hers now. Spike had found a few new gray hairs that morning, a reminder that he was aging.
Right along with his wife.
“I just thought it was because you wanted me because I was a vampire,” Spike said, adding sheepishly, “Figured it was because the undead got you hot.”
It was such a typical comment coming from him that Buffy didn’t even react except to roll her eyes and thwap him across the chest half-heartedly. “Would we be dealing with this now if you were still a vampire?”
“No, luv, but—”
“I know I’ve screwed up before,” Buffy said. “I know that sometimes when you doubt that I love you, there’s good reason.”
“But I love you. I don’t think I could live without you. I was so afraid that you wouldn’t come back to me, or that you’d be a stranger, and I couldn’t deal with that.”
It wasn’t often that they were so honest with each other. Actions spoke louder than words for the both of them, and she and Spike often preferred it that way. Still, Buffy had gotten better over the years at being honest, at telling Spike how she was feeling, or what she thought. During those awful months when Spike was trying to figure out what he wanted to do, and Buffy was doing her best to ignore his journey, she had not allowed herself honesty.
During the last couple of months, once he was back safe with her, Buffy felt that Spike might be too fragile to hear the words, and not ready to listen.
“I love you,” Spike said softly. “Don’t doubt me when I say that I’m thrilled ‘bout this. You know I think of Meg as mine, but this—”
“This is different,” Buffy agreed. “It would be nice if he looked like you.”
Spike raised an eyebrow. “Could be a girl.”
“I’m rooting for a boy,” she replied. “It’d be nice.”
He smiled, reverently putting a hand over her abdomen. “That it would.” They sat for a long moment before Spike started speaking again. “I have a question, but don’t feel like you have to say yes.”
“Just ask,” Buffy replied.
Spike shrugged. “You think you’d want to renew our vows?”
“What?” Surprise made her tone sharp.
He stood quickly. “Forget it. It’s a stupid idea, and—”
“No, it’s not stupid,” Buffy quickly replied. “I just—you surprised me. Why do you want to renew our vows?” He just looked at her. “Humor me.”
Spike sighed. “Because it would be nice. Because I’m not the bloke you married, even if you don’t think of us any differently. You married the vampire without a soul. I’m—not him.”
It was useless to try to argue, of that Buffy was sure. For one thing, she’d been trying to convince him that he was the same man since he came back. Spike just wasn’t buying it, and it had only been when she’d stopped trying to tell him he was the same, and simply accepted what he was, that things had gotten easier between them.
It didn’t really matter anyway. Buffy would still marry him in a heartbeat, so it wasn’t like it really mattered. Or maybe it did matter, but not in the way that it would to Spike.
“Okay? Okay what?” Spike asked, scowling.
Buffy smiled. “Okay, I’ll renew our vows, and I do get why you want to do this. Just one thing.”
“What’s that, luv?” Spike asked, relief evident in his tone. He hadn’t wanted her to think less or him, nor had he been certain she would understand.
“We do it before the baby’s born,” Buffy replied. “I’m going to do it right this time. First the wedding, then the baby.”
Spike couldn’t help but laugh.
Meg heard her father laugh down the hall, and a little more of the fear seeped out of her bones.
She had a lot of friends whose parents were divorced, and she’d heard their stories. How their moms and dads had yelled at each other, or had never spoken. How one parent was never around and the other was always sad.
Ever since her dad had come home from that trip, Meg had been scared that he would leave, or that her mom would make him go. They had fought for months before he’d left, and Meg was sure that it was something bad.
By now, she knew the difference between a normal argument and a fight that would leave the house ten degrees cooler for days.
Meg’s joy over getting a little brother or sister was real, but it was more than that. She figured her parents were definitely sticking together now. They wouldn’t have wanted another kid otherwise.
It would be nice to have a younger sibling, though. She had wanted one since Carwen was born. Meg had envied the twins their younger sister, plus having Hannah living with them. There was always so much going on, and she wished it could be more like that at her house.
This was a good start, though.
Sam didn’t let go of Hannah’s hand until her embracing Connor and Dawn forced him to. This was the first time he’d faced her family since they had been attacked, and he wondered how Wesley was going to react to his presence. He really liked Wesley and Nika, and he hated to think that they would think less of him.
“This must be Sam,” Dawn said, smiling at him. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Likewise,” he replied, flushing slightly as he realized that Hannah must have told them about him.
Connor raised an eyebrow. “So are you treating Hannah right? Because if you aren’t…”
Hannah glared at him. “Connor, stop teasing. I can take care of myself.”
“You know I have to check on my favorite Slayer,” Connor replied, not noticing that Buffy was standing behind him.
“Your favorite Slayer, huh?” Buffy asked, winking at Hannah. “I thought that was me.”
As Connor tried to get himself out of that pickle, Hannah tugged Sam away. “Come on, Buffy will keep him busy for a while.”
“Ah, Sam, there you are,” Wesley called out. “I wanted to speak to you.”
Sam froze, looking like a deer caught in the headlights.
“Don’t worry so much,” Wesley assured him. “You’re not in any trouble. Hannah, Nika could use your help in the kitchen.” Hannah looked at her boyfriend, shrugging helplessly before she headed off to find Nika. Wesley led the young man back to his office, and then waved him towards the couch. “Have a seat.”
“Is this about the other night?” Sam asked.
Wesley nodded. “It is. I assume you haven’t told anyone what happened.”
He shook his head. “Spike and Buffy told my parents that Hannah fell off her bike, and that I had helped to get her to the hospital. I figured that was a pretty good story.”
“Then you aren’t planning on telling anyone what really happened.”
“Who would believe me?” Sam asked incredulously.
Wesley nodded. “And yet you had no trouble believing.”
Sam was silent for a long time. “Did Hannah tell you how we met?”
“She said you were in a few of her classes,” Wesley replied. “I take it there was more to it than that.”
“Last year, before I got my growth spurt, the football players thought it was fun to shove me into my locker on a regular basis,” Sam replied. “One day, Hannah grabbed Reuel and shoved him in a locker instead. No offense, but a girl who can do that isn’t normal.” A goofy grin spread over his face. “She’s extraordinary.”
Wesley had to fight to keep from laughing at the boy. Young love was interesting to watch in action. “I do apologize that Hannah placed you in danger Friday,” the Watcher said, watching carefully for his reaction.
“It wasn’t Hannah’s fault!” Sam said quickly. “I wanted to go along. I just—I’m sorry I ran off. I mean, I know she wanted me to, and Spike and Buffy said it was the right thing, but—”
“You did exactly the right thing,” Wesley said, quick to reassure him. “Without your quick assistance, things could have turned out much worse.” He took a deep breath. “I was wondering if you would like to know more.”
Sam stared at him. “What do you mean?”
“You do not have to be a part of this world, Sam,” Wesley said quietly. “You can certainly be Hannah’s boyfriend without knowing or doing any more than you already do. In fact, you could go about your life, forgetting all about what Hannah showed you.”
“Or you could choose to learn all you can and help us on a different level,” Wesley replied.
Sam shook his head. “But there’s nothing special about me. I’m just a guy.”
Wesley gave him a gentle smile. “Just as there is nothing special about me. The Watcher’s Council, the people whose duty it is to look after Slayers, has utilized the talents of very ordinary people for quite some time now. We have found, in fact, that they are often more than they seem.” He stood, indicating that the interview was over. “You don’t have to make a decision today, but I wanted to let you know that you have that option.”
Sam stood as well, meeting Wesley’s gaze with a directness that the Watcher respected. “This is Hannah,” the young man said quietly. “I’ll do anything I can to help her. Even if—” He stopped, looking away for a moment. “Even if we’re not always together, I think that I’ll always love her. And I think—I think this is important.”
“This is very important,” Wesley agreed, putting a hand on his shoulder. “We’ll talk more later, Sam. If you want to be a part of this, there will be a place for you.”
That was something Sam had always dreamed of.
“Spill,” Dawn commanded, finding Hannah in the kitchen.
“What?” she asked innocently.
Dawn stared at her. “Hannah, you didn’t tell me he was that cute!”
Hannah grinned, her eyes softening. “Yeah, he really is, isn’t he?”
“You’re in love!” Dawn exclaimed, sounding like a teenager again herself.
The younger girl shrugged. “Maybe.” When every eye in the kitchen turned towards her, she flushed bright red. “Okay, so I am. Who wouldn’t be?”
Buffy grinned as she walked through the doors. “Has he asked you to prom yet?”
“Sort of,” Hannah replied. “I said that if we were still going out at prom, I’d go with him, and he’s talked about buying tickets.”
“You’ll need a dress,” Nika said. “We’d probably better start looking soon.”
Buffy nodded. “That’s probably a good idea. You’ll want to take your time finding something. Senior prom is a big deal.”
Hannah fiddled with a napkin she was supposed to be folding. “I don’t know. I mean, dresses are expensive, and—”
“Don’t even think about it.” Enid’s voice was sharp, cutting off the other women who were about to say the same thing. “As Buffy said, this is very important for a young woman. You’ll want to look your best.”
Hannah blinked. “But patrol—”
“That’s why there are two Slayers,” Buffy said easily. “Not to mention Spike and Angel. Between the three of us, we should be able to handle anything that comes up that weekend, leaving you free for a couple of days to be a normal high school senior.”
Buffy had long since gotten over her jealousy. Besides, she wouldn’t give up what she had now for the whole world, even though there had been a lot of pain over the course of the journey.
“There’ll be other things to get done too,” Nika chimed in. “Your hair and nails, of course. Those appointments should be made soon.”
Hannah was beginning to look a little overwhelmed. “Really? I mean, thank you, but—”
“Don’t fight it,” Dawn suggested, a touch of nostalgia in her voice. “I remember my senior prom.” She suddenly laughed. “Buffy went on a killing spree, just to make sure there weren’t going to be vampires crashing the dance.”
“Well, there were hellhounds at mine,” Buffy said, then started recounting the whole story, Hannah shaking her head.
That tale led to another from Nika, about a dance she’d gone to as a teen in Wales, and then Enid told the story of the time she’d gone on a date with three men—all on the same evening.
Hannah laughed as she listened and felt once again that she’d come home.
The table was piled high with food, as was fairly typical of this sort of gathering. Dawn and Connor were planning on spending the next day at the Hyperion, catching up with Angel and Cordelia, who hadn’t been able to make it to dinner. Xander and Willow were both coming later in the week, and so it was really just the core group.
Hannah and Sam had been afforded the honor of sitting at the adult’s table, while Meg and the twins ate in the kitchen. Carwen had been fed earlier, and the other children were looking after her, leaving the adults to eat in peace.
Once everyone’s plates were filled, Dawn looked over at Spike. “Okay, you said you were going to announce the big news at dinner.”
“I did, didn’t I?” Spike replied with a smug smile.
Wesley hid a laugh. Spike was sounding more and more like himself. It was nice to hear him joking around again after the gloom of the last few months.
“Stop teasing, sweetie,” Buffy said, although there was an answering sparkle in her own eyes.
He shrugged, his attitude one of complete insouciance. “Should you tell them, or shall I?”
“You’re enjoying this too much,” Dawn exclaimed. “Come on, Spike! We’ve been dying all day.”
“What’s this about big news?” Hannah asked. “You guys aren’t pregnant or something, are you?”
Every eye turned, and she flushed. “Never mind.”
Spike lifted an eyebrow. “You completely ruined the drumroll, pet.”
“Sorry,” Hannah said quickly, turning an even deeper shade of red. “It was just a guess.”
“It was a good one,” Buffy said, her tone a shade rueful. Although, she thought it probably served Spike right for drawing out the suspense so painfully.
Spike sighed. “Yes, Buffy’s pregnant. Looks like we’ll be havin’ another kid in, what?” He looked over at her.
Buffy shrugged. “I’d guess another seven or eight months. We’ll know more once we hear what the doctor has to say. I’ve got an appointment on Wednesday.”
There was a general round of congratulations, plus some good-natured teasing surrounding the fact that both Dawn and Buffy were pregnant at the same time. “Although,” Dawn said, “I’d like to point out that I’m due in just a few months.”
The news just added to the already-celebratory feel of the evening, although Hannah leaned over to whisper another quick apology to Spike. “Forget it, Sweet,” Spike said with a wry grin. “Serves me right for not just spillin’ the news.”
“I’m really sorry,” she said again, although the seriousness of her tone indicated that she wasn’t talking about inadvertantly ruining his surprise.
“This about the other night?” he murmured, amidst the general conversation. At her nod, Spike sighed. “Don’t be. I s’pose I’m sorry too. I should have been a little quicker about getting back into our usual routine. If I had been, you wouldn’t have been put in that position.”
“It’s not your fault,” Hannah said, worried that he was taking an a load of guilt he didn’t need. “I shouldn’t have been out there without backup, not when I knew that the Kraechers were around.”
“True enough,” Spike allowed. “Tell you what. From here on out, we’ll both try not to do anything stupid, yeah?”
Hannah grinned and nodded, and Spike gave her pony-tail an affectionate tug. “You were right about one thing, you know,” he added.
She gave him an inquiring look. “What’s that?”
“Reckon I have managed to save a couple of Slayers,” Spike replied. “And it does count for a lot.”
It was late by the time everyone went home. Wesley had watched from the window as Sam had bid Hannah a lingering goodbye. He had been somewhat reassured by their still-tentative embrace. Even though he liked Sam, the thought of his Slayer going much further than good night kisses on the front porch wasn’t a happy thought.
Hannah’s face when she came inside, however, flushed and happy and somehow both older and younger—it made his heart ache in a special way. She would be eighteen soon, and technically his and Nika’s guardianship would be over at that time. More than that, she was growing up, and though Hannah would always be his Slayer, she was no longer a child.
Wesley had never imagined that the Watcher-Slayer relationship could be like this. He thought that it probably never would have been had he stayed with Buffy or Faith. He’d been too near their own ages at the time to have the truly paternal relationship that Giles and Buffy shared, or that he now shared with Hannah. It was deeper and richer than he’d ever imagined.
It was probably a richer relationship than his father had known.
Wesley sighed, wishing that Roger Wyndam-Pryce hadn’t come to mind. It had been five years since he’d last spoken to the man, although his mother still called every once in a while. Nika still sent pictures of the children every year, and again at Christmas, but that was the extent of their contact with one another. There were days he wished it could have been different, but it wasn’t possible.
The boys had been four when Roger had approached him, asking when he was planning on enrolling them in the Watcher’s Academy. Wesley’s reply, that he wasn’t planning on doing anything of the sort, had brought Roger up short. There had been the long speech about family honor and duty and the fact that there had been a Wyndam-Pryce on the Council for generations upon generations.
Wesley had calmly replied that they would not go to the Academy, but that they would be given an opportunity to decide whether or not they wanted to be Watchers. If they so chose, he had already worked things out with Giles for their training. When asked why not the Academy, Wesley had said, “Because I refuse to send my children away for seven years of their lives, Father. I want to see them grow up.”
“You’re a fool,” was the response. “A sentimental fool. Mark my words, Wesley, those boys of yours will turn into soft-headed idiots.”
“I very much doubt it,” Wesley had said. “Their mother would never allow it.”
Instead of hearing the wry humor in Wesley’s voice, Roger had said, “You are no son of mine to neglect your duties to your family. I will see that a place is saved for David and William—”
“It’s Dafydd, Father,” Wesley had replied coldly, “and please do not bother. I won’t be changing my mind.”
He’d hung up the phone then, knowing that arguments were useless. Wesley had not spoken to him since, and his father had not tried to call. It was just as well. He had his own family, not to mention the support of the Council. Tradition was taking a backseat to utility these days, and Wesley was certain that either or both of the boys—or Carwen, for that matter—would be well enough trained, should they choose that path.
His children were going to have a choice; he’d promised himself and Nika that much.
“Gloomy thoughts, my love?”
“Not gloomy, just remembering,” Wesley replied, putting his arm around Nika’s shoulders as she snuggled up to him.
She smiled, seeing their reflections in the window. “You were watching Hannah.”
“I wanted to be sure Sam got off alright.”
Nika chuckled. “Cariad, I know you better than that.”
Wesley smiled in response. “Yes, you do. I like that boy, Danika.”
“You talked with him tonight?”
“Yes, and he wanted to help.” Wesley laughed. “He’s a bit too eager, actually, but I imagine that has as much to do with his age as his relationship with Hannah.”
“Quite possibly,” Nika replied. “He’s a good kid.” She was silent for a moment. “When did you want to discuss matters with Hannah?”
“I’m not sure,” Wesley admitted. “We could do it on her birthday, I suppose, or possibly before. I’m not sure she realizes the significance of the date, other than in Slayer terms.”
Nika wrinkled her nose. “She knows that the Council doesn’t subscribe to such barbaric rituals any longer.”
“Yes, but the tests this summer are designed to do essentially the same thing, without the risk.” Wesley shook his head. “It’s a good thing Giles managed to do away with that, because they would have had to conduct the Cruciamentum over my dead body.”
Nika lifted an eyebrow. “They would not have gotten that far,” she said. “Because Nain and I would have cursed the lot of them.” The lines on her forehead deepened as she frowned. “I would suggest speaking to Hannah before her birthday, however. Just in case there’s any doubt in her mind.”
Wesley nodded. “Of course. That might be best.” He bent his head, catching her lips in a heated kiss, the passion no less strong now than it had been more than a decade before.
They were both breathing hard when he pulled back, and Nika took his hand, tugging him back towards the bedroom. “Let’s go.”
“We need to talk about that note from Davey’s teacher,” Wesley reminded her, although he definitely had other things on his mind.
Nika gave him an incredulous look. “Are you mad? After that kiss? We can talk in the morning. Or sometime tomorrow afternoon, if Nain could be persuaded to take Carwen out for the day.”
Wesley grinned, a hungry expression in his eyes. “Oh, I’m sure she’d be happy to help.”
Their conversation that night required no words.
Christmas had to be Hannah’s least favorite holiday, or it had been. With her mom, there had been no celebrations of any kind, really. They had been lucky to have enough money for something special for dinner, let alone gifts. At the foster home she’d been in last Christmas, things had been a little better. There had been a tree and presents, anyway. At the same time, though, there had been the sense that she wasn’t welcome, and the gifts she’d been given had no special meaning to them because the giver didn’t really know her.
This year might actually be different, better—except that she was too afraid to hope.
Wesley’s voice drifted down the hallway. Hannah had left her door open just so she could hear him. The twins’ room was just down from her own, and she loved listening to him read to the boys. He’d been reading Lord of the Rings until last week, when they had finished up, and Will had requested The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe next.
She probably could have gone in to listen to the story, but she felt weird about it, like an interloper. Hannah got along just fine with Will and Davey, but it was hard to forget that they were the real kids, the ones who really belonged. She was there through a twist of fate, no more. Had she not been chosen, she would probably have floated around the system until she turned eighteen, and then she’d have been booted.
Still, she loved to listen, and she could hear well enough from her own room as Wesley read, “‘They all saw it this time, a whiskered furry face which had looked out at them from behind a tree. But this time it didn’t immediately draw back. Instead, the animal put its paw against its mouth just as humans put their finger on their lips when they are signalling you to be quiet. Then it disappeared again. The children all stood holding their breath.’”
She opened her eyes, sitting up immediately, wondering if Nika realized that she’d been listening to the story, or if the woman thought she’d been asleep. “Yeah?”
Nika stood in the doorway, a slight frown on her features. “You know, if you wanted to listen to Wesley read, you could join the boys in their room.”
Hannah flushed. “It’s okay. I can hear.”
Nika hesitated and then nodded. “I wanted to speak with you, if you have a moment.”
Hannah nodded, watching as Nika came in the room, sitting down awkwardly on the bed. She was seven months along at this point, and she looked it. “I know that you haven’t been here long,” Nika began, “but I thought you might want to be able to purchase Christmas gifts. You certainly don’t have to, and no one is expecting anything, but I thought you’d want the option.”
The girl frowned. “What do you think I should do?”
Nika shook her head. “That is up to you. Wesley is going to take the boys shopping for gifts in a few days, however. I know that they usually buy something for us and Enid, but we keep the exchanges between everyone else fairly small.” She laughed a little. “There are quite a few of us, and so once you start buying presents, it’s hard to know where to stop.”
Hannah swallowed. “I don’t have any money.”
“We know that, cariad,” Nika replied gently. “Which is why I wanted to speak with you about it. Wesley and I have been talking, and you should know that the Council pays us for your ‘upkeep,’ they call it. Some of that money rightly belongs to you. You’re a little young at the moment to have an after-school job, and your Slayer responsibilities would make that difficult to do anyway. We want to give you an allowance out of the Council’s money.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Hannah said quickly. “I mean, I know my other foster parents—”
“This is not foster care,” Nika said firmly. “Besides, once you turn eighteen that money will be yours. You will be recognized as an adult, both by the Council and the State.”
Hannah nodded. Eighteen didn’t seem so far away, and she’d be on her own then. Something of that anxiety must have shown on her face, because Nika quickly hugged her. “You are Wesley’s Slayer, Hannah, and a part of this family. If you want to know how long a Watcher looks after his Slayer, ask Giles in a couple weeks when he visits. He is still very much Buffy’s Watcher, even though he has a different job title now.”
She stood slowly, holding out a hand to Hannah. “Come. Enid’s baking, and she could use your help decorating. It sounds as though Wesley’s nearly done with the chapter. You’ll want to borrow the book from him I’m sure.”
Hannah nodded. “It’s cool. I’ve never read that one before.”
“Then I’ll tell Wesley to give you the book when he’s done with it,” Nika replied. “And, Hannah, tomorrow night go in and sit with them. You’ll be welcome there.”
“It’s crooked,” Spike said.
Buffy frowned. “No, it’s not.”
“Yes, it is.”
“It can’t be.”
“Look, Slayer, I’m tellin’ you the bloody tree is crooked. If you’ve got a problem with that assessment, come out here and look at it yourself. Then I can move it how you want it.”
Spike sounded exasperated, and Buffy couldn’t exactly blame him. They’d been arguing all week over little petty things that shouldn’t have made any difference at all. His patience was definitely wearing thin. “Are you sure—”
“Enough!” It was an explosion of sound. Buffy came around the tree to find his eyes sparking gold. He was obviously hanging onto his control by the thinnest of threads. “I know watching me nearly buy it was upsetting,” Spike said, his voice lower now since he had no desire to have Meg listening in on their argument. “But you have got to get over this, Buffy! I’m not weak or fragile, nor am I likely to die just by movin’ a bloody Christmas tree.”
She opened her mouth to apologize, but Spike held up a hand to stop her. “Don’t,” he said shortly. “You’ve been sayin’ you were sorry for the last few weeks, an’ it’s getting old. Just stop actin’ like a soddin’ mother hen.”
Buffy blinked then took a deep breath. “I know you’re upset, Spike, but I worry about you, and—”
“You don’t have to worry about me,” he replied, cutting her off. “Buffy, I didn’t die. I’m not goin’ to die. You seem to forget that I’ve been around for over a century. I’m not some idiot fledge who doesn’t know to get to shelter before the sun comes up. I can bloody well take care of myself.”
She was silent. Buffy knew she was being irrational. She knew it with every fiber of her being. It wasn’t like she’d always treated Spike like this, either. After all, she knew just how much damage he could take and keep on ticking—he’d survived getting an organ dropped on him and a church fire, not to mention the beating at her hands.
Well, more than one beating, actually.
Life was fragile, though, and she’d never realized that Spike was included in that rather trite statement. Losing him—or almost losing him—had shaken her world to the core.
Spike took a deep, unnecessary breath. “I’m going out for a bit. Need to get some air.” He waited for the “be careful” that she tossed after him every time he left the house, even if it was just for groceries, but she stayed silent. “Right. Be back later.”
Buffy sank down on the couch. She was driving both of them crazy—Spike because he hated being hovered over and herself because she hated it when he was angry. Things had been going so well before that trip to Cleveland. Now, everything seemed so breakable, like one of those soap bubbles that Meg loved to blow.
It wasn’t just Spike. It was the fact that Dawn and Connor had finally decided to move to Cleveland. They had a few things to finish up out here, but they planned on making it final in the spring. Dawn had never lived more than a short drive away, and Buffy hated to think that they would lose touch.
There was the new Slayer, who was too young. It made Buffy remember how much of her own childhood she had missed out on. It was finding more gray hairs and more lines on her face—and it was wondering when Spike would look at her and see an old woman.
What would he do when he no longer thought her young and beautiful?
Deep down, Buffy knew it was a stupid question. Spike would stay with her until she was in her grave, but there it was. Faith’s death had seemed to spark an avalanche of changes, and it burst her soap bubble world where everything was fine and it didn’t matter that Spike wasn’t changing, or that she was.
But it did matter, and Spike could change. She’d seen that board protrude through his chest, and she’d known that Spike, as constant as he seemed, could change. Buffy could lose him.
And that made her wonder how many other ways there might be to lose him.
Buffy looked up to see Meg standing in front of her. “What is it, sweetie?”
“Are you and Dad fighting again?”
“No, we just had a little disagreement, that’s all,” Buffy was quick to reassure her, although Meg’s face told her that her daughter wasn’t buying it. “We’ll be fine, Meg.”
Meg looked at her mom, not believing a word of it. Her parents had been fighting non-stop since they took that trip to Cleveland. “I think you guys should have to kiss and make up.”
“What?” Buffy asked.
“I think you and Dad should have to kiss and make up,” Meg insisted. “You make me do that with the twins when we fight. Why shouldn’t the two of you have to do that when you fight?”
“It’s different with grownups,” Buffy replied, her voice growing sharp.
“Why?” Meg asked insistently. “You’ve been mad ever since you guys got back. You’re always upset.”
“Meg, I don’t think—”
“Is Dad going to leave?” she asked, and the only thing that kept Buffy from getting angry with her daughter were the ready tears in her voice.
“No, Meg, your father would never leave,” Buffy replied.
“Is he going to die?” she asked, and her whole body tensed with the answer. Meg knew that Spike had been hurt really badly. She was scared that maybe he wasn’t as recovered as everybody kept saying he was, especially since her mom was so angry all the time.
Spike had once told her that Buffy always got mad when she got scared. That had been after she’d nearly been run over by a car and Buffy had yelled at her for fifteen minutes straight.
“No!” Buffy stared at her daughter in horror. “Why would you think that?”
“Then why are you so angry?”
Buffy took a deep breath. “I’m not angry at your dad,” she finally said. “I promise. Now, why don’t you go upstairs and get ready for bed. It’s getting late.”
Meg shot her one last, long look before heading up the stairs. Buffy leaned back on the couch, thinking about what her daughter had said. The last time she and Spike had really made love was before they’d gone to Cleveland. Not that they hadn’t had sex, but Spike had been hurt, and then they’d never really seemed to connect—
Maybe Meg was right. They needed to kiss and make up. They needed to do something before this rift between them became unmanageable.
She sighed, looking at the Christmas tree. Spike had been right. It was crooked.
Spike wanted to go out and do some violence. He wanted to disregard Buffy’s anxiety entirely, show her that not only was he fully healed but that he was perfectly capable of taking care of himself. While the idea of going down to one of the demon bars and picking a fight had merit, Spike had somehow moved past senseless violence in the last ten years.
Not that he didn’t like a spot of violence before bedtime, just that he wanted it to accomplish something while bashing heads in.
Besides, tonight he wanted company of the male sort, so he decided to swing by Wesley’s house to see if the Watcher would join him. Spike wanted someone to commiserate with him, and Wesley was good at that sort of thing.
The house was blazing with light when he arrived, and Spike knocked softly, knowing that the boys were probably in bed. He was a little surprised when Hannah answered the door, her freckles standing out against pale skin. “Spike.”
There was relief in her tone as she recognized him, and Spike slipped inside the house, fixing her with a concerned look. “What’s up, pet?”
They hadn’t spent much time together. Wesley had been seeing to much of the girl’s training while Spike was recovering, and both Connor and Angel had been happy to assist when necessary. Spike had had his hands full with Buffy and taking care of some of the paying jobs that came up after he was healed.
She seemed like a nice enough girl, though, and Wesley had kept him informed of her progress. Spike kept thinking that he probably ought to take more of an interest in her, after what Enid had said. Especially now that Connor and Dawn were planning on moving. Someone would need to take Hell-Boy’s place.
“It’s Nika,” Hannah replied, gulping audibly. “She started having contractions, but it’s early, and Wesley and Nain had to take her to the hospital.”
“The boys?” Spike asked, although he already knew the answer. He could sense their steady heartbeats on the floor above.
Hannah shrugged. “Still asleep. Wesley wanted me to stay with them, but he said not to wake them up.”
She was scared; Spike could smell it, sharp and spicy, on the air. “Why don’t I stay here until they get back?” he suggested. It wasn’t demon-fighting, but it would legitimately get him out of the house for a while.
“Okay,” Hannah replied, trying not to show how comforting she found Spike’s presence. It wasn’t that babysitting a couple of kids was a big deal. The twins were asleep, and she had looked after them a couple of times since she’d come to live with Wesley and Nika.
She just didn’t want to be alone, waiting for news. She really liked these people, and she didn’t want anything bad to happen to them.
“Don’t worry about Nika, pet,” Spike said, picking up on her emotions. “She’s got Enid with her. That woman is a walking miracle. You’ve tasted her cooking, so you ought to know.”
That got a small giggle out of her, and Spike led her into the living room, very much at home in Wesley’s house. “So how are you likin’ the Slayer gig?”
“I like it.”
Hannah said it with quiet conviction, and Spike gave her a sharp look. “That right?” When she didn’t reply, he asked, “So you seein’ your mum for Christmas or anything?”
She appeared surprised by the question and responded without thinking. “No. Mom didn’t show up last year, so I doubt it. She probably won’t even remember.”
Spike blinked in surprise. Even vampires knew when Christmas approached. The stores advertised it for months in advance; it was a little hard to miss. He knew that there had been something wrong with the girl’s mother since Hannah was living with Wesley and Nika, but this shed new light on things. “You ask for anything special?”
Hannah shrugged, uncomfortable. “Not really. I don’t—it’s just—”
“It’s different here.” His words, and the emotion behind them, had Hannah meeting his eyes. “I can promise you that.”
The ringing of the cell phone cut off anything else he might have said. “H’lo?”
“Spike?” Buffy sounded like she was out of breath. “Where are you?”
“At Wesley’s,” he replied shortly. “Thought I’d stop by, but they’re at the hospital.”
“Oh, good, you know,” Buffy said with relief. “Wesley just called me. Nika’s in labor now, and they’re going to deliver the baby tonight. I guess there might be some complications. I called Dawn, and she’s going to stay with Meg while I go to the hospital.”
Spike was silent for a moment. “I think I’m going to stay here with Hannah. She’s by herself with the twins, and if this takes a while, she could probably use a hand.”
“Good,” Buffy replied, surprising him. “I know Wesley was worried about leaving them alone for too long. I’ll let Wes know that you’re taking care of things.”
“Then I’ll see you soon.”
He was about to hang up when Buffy’s voice caught him. “Spike.”
“I love you.”
“Love you too.”
The image on the screen looked like nothing more than a shapeless blob to Spike. It was hard to believe that what he was seeing was his child.
Of course, Meg was his as well. It would be impossible to love her more than he already did. She was a miracle, as much as every child was a miracle.
It made something of a difference when it was your own flesh and blood, however.
“It looks like you’re about eight weeks along,” Dr. Cassidy commented. She smiled. “We won’t be able to tell the sex of the child for a while yet, if you’re curious.”
Spike was still watching the screen, an awed expression on his face. Buffy answered for both of them. “How does everything look?”
“Perfectly healthy.” Dr. Cassidy pushed the ultrasound machine back and handed Buffy a towel to remove the goop from her abdomen. “You said you had one other child, correct?”
Buffy nodded. “Meg is eleven. This is our first child together, though. We—this came as something of a surprise.”
Dr. Cassidy glanced at Spike, obviously amused by his awe. “A happy surprise, I take it.”
“Very happy,” Spike agreed, his voice hoarse with an unnameable emotion.
“I’ll let you get dressed, Buffy, and then we can talk about prenatal vitamins and other things. I’m sure it’ll be mostly a review for you.”
Buffy smiled. “It’s been a while, doctor, so I could probably use it.”
When the doctor had left, Buffy squeezed his hand. “You look like you’re okay with this.”
“Told you I was,” Spike replied. “Buffy, this is—”
“Pretty amazing,” she murmured. Their eyes met, and a wordless communication passed between them. “I should never have doubted you.”
He didn’t reply, instead meeting her lips with his own, sharing a kiss that seemed to go on forever. Pulling back, the words that tripped off his tongue were old ones, stolen from another, dredged from the recesses of his soul. “‘O, never say that I was false of heart, though absence seemed my flame to qualify. As easy might I from my self depart as from my soul which in thy breast doth lie. That is my home of love; if I have ranged, like him that travels I return again…for nothing this wide universe I call save thou, my rose, in it thou art my all.’”
His words nearly took her breath away. “Talk like that will get you lucky, mister.”
“Meg’s at school,” he breathed.
“Then let’s get out of here,” Buffy replied, hurrying to dress.
Hannah took the dress out of her closet to stare at it again. Going shopping had been an experience in and of itself. Once Dawn had heard about the potential expedition, she had insisted on going while she was in town. Hannah had tried to protest that Prom was over a month away, but to no avail. Buffy, Dawn, and Nika had all gone along, exclaiming over her various choices and offering their opinions.
When she’d tried this one on, all three of them had immediately agreed that it was the one. “You look wonderful, Hannah,” Nika had said. “So very grown up.”
It was dark blue, in a fabric that clung to her curves. Dawn and Buffy had known the name of it; fashion wasn’t Hannah’s thing. The relatively high neck and the low back made her feel sexy, though, like she was pretty, like she was a woman.
Dawn’s assessment was that Sam’s eyes would pop. Buffy had smiled nostalgically. “You’re going to look absolutely fantastic, sweetie. Wesley will have to go just to beat the other boys off with a bat.”
There was a knock on the door, and Hannah quickly put the dress back in the closet. She felt strange about being caught staring at it. “Come in.”
“Hannah.” Wesley stood in the doorway. “Do you have a moment?”
“Yeah, sure,” she replied.
He stepped into her bedroom, and Hannah realized that he never really came in here. Wesley was always good about letting her have her privacy. Most of the time, she met him in his office, or in the training room.
When the silence stretched on, Hannah started to get nervous. “Is everything okay?”
“Everything is just fine,” he replied, quick to reassure her. “Let’s sit.” Wesley waited until she’d settled on her bed before taking the chair. “You’re going to be eighteen soon.”
Hannah nodded slowly. “Yeah.” Dread began to settle in her stomach. She knew that it wasn’t a big deal. Even if the courts said she was on her own, there was no way Wesley and Nika would boot her. Plus, there was always Spike and Buffy, or Dawn and Connor. She had people who cared about her.
Just because the fear was irrational didn’t mean it was going to go away, though.
Wesley took a deep breath. “Nika and I have been talking for quite a while now. You know that you always have a place here, right?” He waited for her silent nod before continuing. “Both of us understand that sometimes something symbolic can help a person to realize the truth.”
“I don’t think I understand,” Hannah said cautiously.
Wesley chuckled. “Yes, well, that’s probably because I’m not explaining this very well. Hannah, I once told you that I would always be your Watcher. I hope you are aware that you are as much my child as Davey or Will or Carwen, though.” He waited until she met his eyes. “Nika and I would like to start the adoption process for you, making you legally our child. You are our ward until you turn eighteen. This would make you ours for—well, forever, I suppose.”
Hannah stared at him. “What?”
“It’s completely up to you,” Wesley was quick to assure her, mistaking Hannah’s surprise for something like reluctance. “You needn’t feel like you have to agree. We both thought it might help you feel more—secure.”
“Would I have to change my name?” she asked.
“Only if you want to.” Wesley wasn’t sure what she was thinking, but he could see the wheels turning.
“Can I change my name?”
Hannah looked down at her hands, unsurprised to find them shaking. “You really mean it.”
“Yes.” Wesley was nearly floored when Hannah nearly flung herself at him, burying her face in his shoulder. He thought of the moment when he realized that Nika really did want him, when he knew that she was carrying his child, when Spike had openly declared his friendship.
Although his Slayer might never know it, Wesley understood what it was to be lost. Sometimes it took a while to realize that you’d been found.
For Hannah, it meant never having to leave. It meant that being there wasn’t about a grand destiny or her being the Slayer or Wesley winning the Watcher-lottery. It meant that they wanted her—Hannah. Just for her.
She suddenly understood what people meant when they said they were so happy their heart felt like it could burst.
“Sorry,” she said, pulling back and drawing a shaky breath.
Wesley pulled out a handkerchief. “Don’t be sorry. Believe it or not, I do understand.”
Their eyes met, and for the first time, Hannah understood him as an adult, not just as her Watcher or her father-figure. “I believe it.”
“Then it’s settled,” Wesley said, standing. “It’s not a terribly difficult process from what I understand.”
She nodded shakily. “That’s good. I—how—”
“Perhaps a few weeks,” Wesley replied. “There won’t be any obstacles.”
Hannah nodded, knowing that he was referring to the fact that neither of her parents were in the picture. “Okay.”
“Come on. Nika should be home soon. We can tell her the good news.” Wesley put a friendly arm around her shoulders, remembering that the first time he’d done this she had been uncomfortable with his affection. Now, she leaned into him easily.
If his failures had brought him to this moment, then Wesley didn’t think he could have any regrets.
None at all.
It was simple, as simple as their wedding had been. Spike wore a suit, but no tie. Buffy wore a dress she’d found on the sale rack that looked pretty damn good, if she did say so herself. There were actually more people at the vow renewal than there had been at the wedding, but that was only to be expected. Their group of friends and family had expanded over the last ten years.
That was as it should be.
There was food, and plenty of alcohol, and Willow officiated, even though the state of California didn’t have anything to do with this ceremony.
Spike still felt a little awed that Buffy had agreed with his request. In retrospect, it seemed a lot to ask of her. Or rather, it reflected a silly insecurity on his part. He knew Buffy loved him.
Standing there, in front of everyone, all of whom knew about the changes he’d made in the last year, he was grateful for the chance. Whatever anyone might think about about his reasoning.
Wesley stood next to him, a solid presence that Spike was grateful for. Nika came up the aisle first. Although Buffy had asked Dawn to stand up with her, Dawn had said she wasn’t up to standing anywhere for very long. Nika was the obvious alternative.
Buffy was older, of course, but in Spike’s eyes she was the same girl he’d fallen for so many years ago. Just as stubborn and infuriating and lovely and wonderful. And Spike—Spike still felt like he was the luckiest bloke in the world.
Maybe Buffy wasn’t so wrong to insist that he wasn’t that different.
Giles hadn’t been able to make it, so she walked herself up the aisle this time around, but he didn’t think Buffy minded too much. She’d made the wry comment that if the wedding had been for her, this was more for him.
To show the world that she loved him then, now, and always.
The words they spoke were their own this time, rather than the traditional vows they had spoken at their wedding.
Willow’s voice was steady and strong, the streaks of white running through her red hair lending her a gravity that seemed at odds with her still-youthful face. “Spike and Buffy have asked you all here as witnesses to their vow renewal. They have embarked on a new stage in their journey together, and even though their commitment to one another has been sorely tested over this last year, they stand together.”
“Spike, I love you. No one has ever held my heart as you have.” Buffy smiled at him. “I am in awe of your strength, and I am so proud of you for taking this journey, in spite of the dangers. I wouldn’t want anyone else at my side.”
Spike took a deep breath to steady himself. “Buffy, I love you. I wanted to change for myself, so that I could stay with you in all things. I couldn’t stand the thought that you would go somewhere I couldn’t follow. What we have now is something I never dared imagine. Thank you for taking this journey with me.”
From beside him, Wesley began to recite, “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned.”
As they kissed, and the short ceremony closed, Spike knew that they had a love as strong as death. It was more than he’d ever thought to have.
It wasn’t really a honeymoon. Meg was staying with Wesley and Nika for the weekend, and so they were definitely getting some time to themselves, but it didn’t feel the same.
Truthfully, Spike thought it felt better.
They’d spent the night making love. Spike figured that it was probably a good thing that he wasn’t quite human. Buffy might be getting older, but she was still the Slayer, and he needed every ounce of his stamina to keep up with her.
“What do you want to do today?” she asked idly.
“Dunno. You got any requests?”
“Maybe we could go to the beach,” she suggested. “We haven’t really been able to do that since you got back, you know. I have this fantasy with suntan lotion, you, and a sandy beach.”
Spike grinned lazily. “Yeah, that sounds alright. More than alright.”
The silence stretched between them, a comforting weight, so different than things had been recently. “Did you ever think we’d be here?”
“Never in my wildest dreams,” he admitted. “Wouldn’t have known to wish for this.”
Spike slipped his hand in her hair, pulling her in for a kiss. “This is better.”
It was quite a while before they managed to make it to the beach.
Buffy spotted Wesley immediately in the waiting room for the maternity ward. He was sitting slumped, his head in his hands, and seeing his posture made her fear the worst. “Wes?”
He sat up immediately, staring at her. “Buffy, you didn’t have to come.”
“Nonsense,” she retorted. “Of course I had to come. I wasn’t going to let you sit here all by yourself. How’s Nika?”
Wesley shook his head, worry stamped on his features. “I don’t know. They wouldn’t allow both Enid and me back there, and we thought it best—” He stopped, running a hand over his face, obviously trying to keep himself under control.
Buffy rubbed his back soothingly. “Nika’s going to be fine,” she assured him. “The baby too. It’s early, but it’s not that early.”
“I can’t lose them,” he replied.
“You won’t.” Buffy heard the desperation in his voice and knew exactly how he felt.
He took a deep breath. “Where’s Spike?”
“He stopped by your house and found Hannah by herself. That’s where he was when I called. Spike will stay with her and the boys tonight, and Dawn’s got Meg.” She stood. “Do you want coffee? Or tea?”
“Coffee, please,” Wesley replied. As she walked away, he called out after her, “Thank you.”
She smiled at him over her shoulder. “Don’t mention it.”
Wesley leaned back in the hard plastic chair and stared up at the ceiling. Nika had started experiencing contractions, and they had grown in force quickly. The due date was two months off, and the doctor had started shooing him out of the delivery when the monitors showed that the baby was in distress.
They had started talking C-section, and lack of oxygen, and emergency procedures. All Wesley could think about was three miscarriages and that this was his wife and child they were talking about so clinically.
He felt as though his heart was in his throat.
“Wes?” Angel was standing in front of him, looking concerned. “Are you okay?”
“Connor was with me when Dawn called,” Angel replied, shrugging. Wesley always forgot how quickly news often spread. They were all connected in so many ways, on so many levels, it was impossible to keep a secret. “How is Nika?”
He shook his head. “They wouldn’t tell me. Enid’s with her, but—” The doctors had chased him out, but he’d needed to go. There was nothing he could do this time. No amount of coaching could have prepared them for this nightmare.
“Is someone with the kids?” Angel asked.
Wesley nodded. “Spike apparently dropped by after we’d left. He’s going to stay.”
“Do you want me to stay with you?”
It was not a question he would have had to ask once upon a time. Although there had been a lot of repair work done on their friendship, they would never have the closeness that had once characterized their relationship. Angel had come to grips with that, even if he couldn’t quite forgive himself.
These days, he wasn’t always sure where the line between them fell.
“If you’d like,” Wesley replied. “Buffy’s here, so you wouldn’t have to.”
There was a touch of wistfulness in his voice, as though asking Angel to stay was a request above and beyond the call of duty. “I’ll stay,” Angel said.
“Thank you.” The sincerity in Wesley’s voice didn’t go unnoticed.
Angel leaned back in the chair, trying to find a comfortable position. “It’s going to be fine, Wes,” he said. “Nika—she’s tough.”
“I know.” Wesley just wasn’t sure that would make a difference right now.
“Maybe you ought to get to bed, pet,” Spike suggested. “I’ll stay up.”
Hannah shook her head stubbornly. “I wouldn’t be able to sleep.”
“Right.” Spike was at a loss. He had no idea what to do with the girl, so he reached for the remote and flipped on the TV. She watched him channel surf in silence, unsure of what kind of conversation you made with a vampire.
There really wasn’t anything on, and so the vampire soon turned to look at the girl. She reminded him of someone, but he couldn’t put his finger on who. “So you like it here?”
Hannah looked over at him in surprise. No one had asked her that yet, possibly because they didn’t really want the answer. After all, if she didn’t like it—if being the Slayer and living with her Watcher sucked, there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it.
Good thing that wasn’t the case.
“I meant what I said, you know.” Spike kept his gaze on the television, the late night talk show host and his guest laughing at something. “About it being different.”
“Your mum—she didn’t hurt you or anything, did she?”
No one had asked about that either, and probably for the same reasons. Or maybe not. Maybe, Hannah thought, they just wanted to respect her right to privacy. There were so many people around all the time that privacy was a very important thing.
“No.” Then, for reasons Hannah couldn’t quite fathom, she turned and looked at him. “Not really. Sometimes she went a little crazy, and then I just tried to stay out of her way.”
“Bit of a nutter, was she?”
She couldn’t really take offense at the term, since it was pretty accurate. “They said she had bipolar disorder, or something like that. She’d be depressed, and then she’d be—I don’t know, hyper or something. Crazy.”
“Dru—that’s the vampire that made me—was a loon,” Spike said conversationally. “She’d go off on me, completely barmy, and then the next day would be callin’ me her brave knight, and I’d have to take care of her.”
Hannah felt a strange kind of tension leave her. Everyone was so nice, so normal, that she often wondered how she was supposed to fit in. It wasn’t like any of them would understand about her mom—but apparently Spike did, to a certain extent.
“That was mom,” she admitted. “When she was depressed, she wouldn’t even get out of bed.” Hannah looked over at the vampire to see how he was taking her words. “It’s weird, because everybody seems to think that being the Slayer is hard. It’s not.”
Spike tilted his head. “Why is that?”
“Because that’s all I have to do,” she replied. “I mean, besides school. I help out and stuff, but—” she stopped, unsure of how to explain. “Before, if I didn’t do laundry, I didn’t have clean clothes, and if I didn’t go to the grocery store, we didn’t have anything to eat. Nika—Nika said they were going to give me an allowance, and I don’t have to use it to buy food or pay rent.”
“You worried that’s going to go away?” Spike asked. “Doesn’t work that way, pet. Bein’ the Slayer’s a lifetime commitment.”
Hannah shook her head. “But they didn’t—they don’t have to do all this stuff. I don’t get it.”
There—it was all out in the open now, and the young Slayer watched him with wary eyes. Spike wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that. What the girl was seeing was a family that had been built over years. It was impossible to explain that sort of thing in minutes or even hours, especially since she hadn’t an inkling something like this could even exist.
“If it makes you feel any better,” Spike began, “Nika did about the same thing for me. It’s what she’s always done—taking people in and makin’ them feel at home.” He saw the doubt on her face. “That’ll take time to figure out, luv. It took me a bit to get used to it, too, an’ it took Wesley two years to get comfortable. He told you about me, right?”
Hannah blinked at the abrupt change in subjects. “Wesley? Yeah, you’re a vampire.”
“He tell you I’ve killed two Slayers?”
“Sure, but you’re different now.”
It was said with perfect assurance, and Spike wondered what exactly Wesley had told her that would put that sort of trust in an otherwise wary child. “I am. I’ve also made it my business over the last few years to keep Slayers alive.” Spike let his meaning sink in for a moment. “When I make a promise, I keep it, Hannah. You ask anybody, an’ they’ll tell you that. You ever need a good kill, or a place to go, or someone to watch your back, you let me know.”
He understood. Spike understood living with a crazy person, and having to scrounge, and not fitting in. Maybe the others did too, or they had at one point in the distant past. Spike was still set apart by virtue of his being a vampire, just as Hannah was set apart because she was the Slayer.
Buffy would have known what Hannah found in that moment with Spike. It was the same reason she’d gone to him again and again after her resurrection. The strange fact was that the Slayer of Slayers understood what it meant to be the Slayer better than anyone.
For the first time since discovering what she was, Hannah felt completely at ease. Actually, it might have been the first time in her life.
“Okay.” The word was spoken with quiet conviction, perfect understanding of what had just been offered, and simple acceptance.
When Hannah fell asleep just a little while later, her face relaxing, looking like the child she was, Spike watched her. Somewhere along the way, he’d managed to get himself a gig saving people, including Slayers. It was crazy, but it felt right.
Not for the first time did Spike wonder at the turn his life had taken. A soulless vampire shouldn’t be enjoying a quiet moment watching a baby Slayer sleep, while waiting for a child to be born. It wasn’t natural.
But it was real, and oddly enough, it was exactly what he wanted.
It was early morning when Enid finally came out into the waiting room. Her face was tired and drawn, and she looked every single one of her eighty-odd years. Wesley was on his feet immediately, offering her a seat, which she sank into thankfully. “Nika and the baby are fine,” she said as she sat. “There was some concern, but it’s past.”
“Can I see them?” Wesley asked.
Enid nodded. “Nika is sleeping, but she would appreciate your presence, I’m sure. They wanted to keep the little one in NICU for a time to make sure there aren’t complications.”
Wesley didn’t even spare a look for Angel or Buffy; he immediately headed for Nika’s room. “I think that’s our cue to leave,” Buffy said wryly. “Would you like a ride home, Enid?”
The older woman hesitated before nodding. “I’m afraid I’m not as capable of staying up all night as I once was.”
“Spike is with Hannah and the boys,” Buffy replied. “We can get them to school today if you want to sleep.”
“That sounds wonderful.” Enid smiled wearily. “I think I shall sleep soundly knowing that everyone is in good hands.”
Angel had remained silent through the exchange, knowing that he wasn’t a part of their daily routine. “I should go. You’ll tell Wes to call if he needs anything?”
Buffy smiled at him. “Yeah, I’ll tell him, Angel. I know he appreciated you being here.”
“It was the least I could do,” Angel replied before leaving, disappearing back into the shadows the way he always did.
Buffy looked over at Enid. “Will you be okay?”
“Now? Yes.” Enid sighed. “It was too close, though. My poor old heart isn’t up to such shocks these days.”
“I have a hard time believing that,” Buffy replied quickly. “You’re not that old.”
Enid just shook her head. “Old enough. I’m old enough.”
Nika awoke when she felt Wesley’s hand on her brow, stroking back her hair. “Have you seen her yet?”
“For a moment,” he replied. “The doctors are still hovering, but they aren’t looking quite as worried. She’s beautiful, love.”
She closed her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m glad.” A pained look crossed her face. “How long before I can see her?”
“It will be a while yet,” Wesley replied. “A C-section is not an easy surgery.”
“But Carwen’s alright? There aren’t more problems?”
“She’s going to be fine,” Wesley promised.
They had found out the sex only a few weeks before, and had picked a name. The baby wasn’t due until January, and her early arrival had placed her in danger. Even now that it appeared that she would survive, the doctor had warned Wesley that it could be several weeks before Carwen was ready to come home.
It wasn’t going to make for a very cheery holiday.
Wesley soothed his tired wife as best he could, knowing that she was aching to hold her daughter as much as he was. Nika would recover, though, and Carwen was demonstrating quite a bit of tenacity. If she was anything like her mother, she would do just fine.
Relief and worry filled his mind in equal measure, and so it was a long time before Wesley drifted off to sleep in the chair next to Nika’s bed.
Spike was awake when Buffy arrived, sitting in a chair in the living room, watching over a sleeping Hannah. Enid went up to her small apartment over the garage immediately, and although Buffy could have tried talking to Spike, she decided to wait. He didn’t seem interested in speaking with her anyway.
Instead, she called Dawn and gave her the news, then asked her to see Meg off to school. “And would you mind picking her up today?”
“Of course not,” Dawn replied. “I’m guessing you and Spike didn’t get much sleep.”
Buffy laughed shortly. “Try none at all. We’re going to take care of things here, though, so it’ll be a few hours before we can get to bed.”
“Connor and I will take care of her,” Dawn promised. “Besides, since we’re moving in a few months, I’d like to spend as much quality time with my niece as I can.”
“Thanks, Dawnie,” Buffy said gratefully. She didn’t bother telling her sister that she had plans to do other things besides sleep, for which they really needed an empty house. Buffy had decided to take her daughter’s advice and “kiss and make up.”
The morning ritual with the Wyndam-Pryces was three times as chaotic, partly because there were three children to get ready rather than one. Partly because the boys were in an uproar over not being able to go to the hospital to see their parents and their sister.
Spike was the one to rein them in when they kept protesting that they’d never be able to concentrate, and couldn’t they stay home, and they wanted to make sure their mum was alright. “That’s bloody well enough!” he said, loudly enough to shut them up. “Are you calling your Aunt Buffy a liar?”
Will and Davey looked at each other. “No,” they said in unison.
“Well, then, if she says your mum and Carwen are fine, then they are. Wesley said you’re goin’ to school today, so you’ll go to school, and that’s final.”
They subsided after that with commendable meekness, and Hannah helped Buffy herd them into the car. The younger Slayer got dropped off first, and then the boys at school, before Buffy swung back by the house to pick Spike up.
The tint on the windows was dark enough to keep Spike safe, as long as he stayed under a blanket, and the attached garage ensured that he didn’t get flambéed as he entered the house. Buffy wasn’t all that surprised when he stayed quiet during the drive, or when he walked into the house without a word, heading straight to the kitchen.
She followed him, sitting down at the dining room table and watching as he prepared his blood. “You should catch some sleep,” he said finally, after the microwave beeped at him.
“I’m not interested in sleep right now,” Buffy replied.
Spike’s features hardened. “Buffy—”
“No, I want you to let me speak.” When he remained silent, she said, “I know you watched me die, Spike, so I’m pretty sure you have some idea of what went through my mind in Cleveland. The difference is that things were okay between us before we went up against Glory. As okay as it got back then, anyway. That’s not the way it was a few months ago. I’m not angry at you. I’m angry at myself, because at that moment I didn’t know whether you knew how much I loved you.”
“Of course I do,” Spike scoffed. “Don’t be silly.”
“Is it silly?” she challenged him. “Spike, I know I’m not always very good about expressing my feelings. I get impatient, and a lot of times I end up taking it out on you.”
“Well, you do that when you’re scared too, pet,” Spike replied. “Buffy, I know all this. I just need you to ease up a bit.”
“I’ll try,” she promised. “It’s just—I never thought anything could happen to you.”
Spike met her eyes. “You don’t think I know that? I live with that every day, Slayer. One of these days, you’re going—” He stopped, swallowing, unwilling to say it.
One day she would go where he could not follow. Heaven wasn’t a place for demons.
“So life is short,” she said, deliberately trying to lighten the tone. “Neither of us knows when something bad could happen. I say we enjoy what we’ve got right now. Meg said she thought we ought to kiss and make up. Maybe we could start there.”
It had been a good while since their last tumble, Spike realized, and he had missed it. “I don’t know, luv,” Spike said, deliberately baiting her. “I haven’t slept for a while, and I might not be up for it, still bein’ so weak an’ all.”
Buffy lifted an eyebrow, appreciating his sally. “Oh, I’ve got something that will definitely get you going, mister. Besides, you keep telling me you’re all better. Maybe you should prove it to me.”
“Oh, I’ll prove it to you, luv,” he growled. “What about Meg and the others, though? I don’t want us getting interrupted.”
“Dawn’s picking Meg up from school, and Enid’s got the other kids this afternoon,” Buffy replied, sliding her hand under his shirt. “They won’t be expecting us anywhere for hours.”
“And you’re sure you don’t want to sleep?” Spike teased.
Buffy shook her head. “Plenty of time to sleep tonight. Right now we have time and an empty house. And I want you now.”
Kissing and making up was definitely the way to go.
Hannah didn’t think a day—or a week—could get much better. There was the part about seniors not having to take finals, which meant that while last week had been a flurry of papers and projects, the next couple of weeks were all downhill. She wouldn’t be graduating valedictorian, but she was close.
Actually, Hannah was fairly relieved about that part. She had no desire to give a speech at the graduation ceremony.
The next couple weeks were all about saying goodbye, hanging out with friends, signing yearbooks, and that sort of thing. As the final year drew to a close, Hannah was finding that she had more admirers than she’d previously imagined. People who hadn’t been willing to brave the wrath of the football team to befriend her were going out of their way to write encouraging messages in her yearbook.
She and Sam had laughed about that, both of them amused by the fickle crowds.
And Sam was going to UCLA. Even though he assured her it wasn’t completely due to the fact that she was going to be there, Hannah knew that was a big part of it. He was actually involved with her training now—Wesley was teaching him simple self defense maneuvers, and it turned out he had a magical gift of his own. Not a big one, nothing like Willow, but enough to be a help.
The papers finalizing her adoption had come through a few days before, and they’d all gone out to dinner to celebrate. It had been a perfect evening with a family she’d never thought she would have. Hannah now officially had two parents and three younger siblings.
How freaking cool was that?
This evening just seemed to put things over the top, seemed so perfect as to overshadow anything that might come in the future. Hannah knew that if she never had another good day, this last week could carry her through the rest of her life.
The knock on the door pulled her out of her reverie, and Hannah turned. “Come in.”
Nika stepped through the door and smile. “Oh, cariad, you look beautiful.” She came to stand behind the girl, so that they were both reflected in the mirror. The dress revealed Hannah’s curves, as well as her toned arms and shoulders, in a way her regular clothing rarely did. Her pale, creamy skin was in sharp contrast to the dark blue material that shimmered under the lights, and her fiery hair had been tamed into a mature chignon.
Hannah smiled into the mirror. “It’s like a dream.”
“Every woman needs a night like this,” Nika replied softly. “I had such a night when Wesley asked me to marry him. It was perfect, and that’s what this shall be for you. Although I do hope you aren’t thinking of marriage quite yet!”
She giggled. “No, but Sam’s already talking about how great dating in college will be.” Hannah sobered slightly. “Nika, I think I love him.”
“He is a wonderful young man, Hannah. I’m not surprised.” Nika turned her. “You are coming back here afterwards?”
Hannah smiled ruefully. “While our classmates might be getting hotel rooms tonight, neither one of us wants to tell the world that we’re sleeping together. It’s just so cliché.”
Nika raised her eyebrows. “That and Wesley or Spike would beat him to death.”
“There’s that, too.”
“Hannah! Sam’s here!” Will said, sticking his head through the door. He stopped cold when he caught sight of Hannah. “Wow,” he said reverently.
“How do I look?” she teased.
“You look really good.” His tone was wistful, as only a young boy can sound when pining after an older girl.
“Tell Sam I’ll be right there,” Hannah said, smiling at him. Will stayed stock still, staring at her for a moment longer, before dashing off. “I think that’s my cue.”
Nika kissed her on both cheeks. “Have fun tonight. We’ll see you at breakfast in the morning.”
Hannah went to meet Sam, who was waiting for her with a corsage and a nervous expression on his face. “Hey.”
“Hannah, you look—” He stopped, at a loss for words.
It was like the two of them were the entire world for a moment. She let him put the elastic of the corsage over her wrist, and then—with a charm and grace she hadn’t known he possessed—Sam placed a kiss on the back of her hand. “I think I’m going to be the luckiest guy there tonight,” he said.
Hannah blushed and murmured a thank you, and then the world rushed in again. There were pictures that Nika insisted on taking, and then a flurry of goodbyes. Then, of course, they had to do it all over again, since Sam’s mom had insisted they come by so that she could take pictures as well.
As much as Hannah loved them all—and really liked Sam’s family, who were all about as normal as anyone could get—she wanted him to herself. This was their evening, and it was slipping away like sand in an hourglass.
Renna and Cal snapped their own pictures when they stopped by, and Sam’s younger brother stared at her in much the same way that Davey and Will had. Then it was done, and Sam rushed her out the door and into the car, heaving a sigh of relief to match her own. “I thought we were never going to get out of there.” He grinned at her, the same one that had softened her up considerably. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t be,” she replied. Now that it was over, Hannah could afford to be magnanimous. “They’re good people.”
“They really like you,” he replied.
Hannah smiled. “Wesley and Nika really like you too.”
“Starving,” was her reply.
The restaurant they ate at was nice, although not fancy. She saw a number of other couples from their school, all going out before the dance. She was grateful to have a table to themselves, away from everyone else, where they could talk about her slaying, and his self defense lessons, and her upcoming tests this summer in England.
It was different, having a friend her own age who knew about the other world she inhabited. It was better.
When they got to the dance, that feeling of being the only two in the world had returned. Both of them returned greetings absently, focusing only on one another. As they danced, Hannah thought that she would never love anyone else the way she loved Sam.
Maybe that was just the way first loves worked.
“What are you thinking?” he asked, his voice low.
Hannah tilted her head up. He’d shot up another three inches over the last few months, and now her head only came up to his shoulder. “I’m thinking that I love you.”
They’d never spoken the words to each other before. “I love you too.”
“Do you think we can always be friends?” she asked. “Even if…”
“Hannah,” Sam said quietly, “you introduced me to a world I never believed existed. Even if something happens—which it won’t—you’ll always be the girl who came riding to my rescue.”
She smiled at him. “Most guys don’t like that.”
“Yeah, well, most guys aren’t liberated like I am,” Sam retorted. “Trust me, after you get shoved into a locker a few dozen times, Joan of Arc looks pretty damn good.”
“Is that how you think of me?” Hannah asked. “She got burned at the stake, you know.”
Sam pressed a kiss to her lips. “Joan was a hero,” he replied, “but she didn’t have anyone to watch her back the way you do.”
“Very true,” Hannah sighed, and laid her head on Sam’s shoulder as they continued to dance.
It was after one before they got back to her house, whispering and laughing, drunk on each other’s company. They had no plans for going to sleep, but instead fully intended to put a movie on and then spend the next few hours making out.
They were surprised when they found Will waiting up for them.
“What are you doing up?” Hannah asked in a whisper.
He looked embarrassed and defiant at the same time. “I wanted to see you guys when you got in,” he replied. “And I couldn’t sleep.”
Hannah and Sam exchanged looks, and for a moment Hannah had every intention of sending him back to bed. Sam just shook his head, his face soft. “You want to watch a movie with us, Will?” he asked in a tone that suggested Will was a friend, not a pesky little brother.
The boy’s face lit up. “Can I?” he pleaded, looking at Hannah, sensing that she was the one he needed to convince.
“Sure,” she said. “I’m going to get out of this dress first.” The innuendo passed right over the boy’s head, but Sam had to stifle a laugh. “Get your brain out of the gutter, Samuel.”
By the time she got back in sweats and a t-shirt, Sam had removed his jacket and tie and was sitting on the couch listening intently to a story Will was telling. The younger boy was almost glowing from the attention, and Hannah suddenly knew that Will would be okay. Sam’s attentions would go a long way towards soothing the wounds that his peers had inflicted, and with any luck, this new school would be better for both him and Davey.
She plopped down on Sam’s other side, leaning against him when he put his arm around her. The night had turned out to be absolutely perfect after all.
Or it would, as soon as Will dropped off to sleep and she got to make out with her boyfriend.
“So how was it, pet?” Spike asked several nights later as they patrolled. “Good?”
“Perfect,” Hannah replied with a happy sigh. It had been a quiet evening with just her and Spike. Buffy had been coming with them on a regular basis, but she’d had a rough week with the morning—and afternoon and evening—sickness, and so Spike had insisted his wife stay home.
It was nice, though, just them with the cemeteries quiet. It was more like going on a walk with a good friend.
“That good?” Spike asked. “I’m glad, Sweet.”
Hannah was quiet for a moment. “We’ve talked about marriage.” Spike looked over at her, shocked, and she laughed a little. “We probably wouldn’t even get engaged for a year or so, but—” She sighed. “I know we’re really young, Spike, but I don’t know how much time I’ve got.”
He stayed silent, knowing that she had a good point. Even though things were different now, Buffy had been the one to take care of the bulk of the emergencies over the last three years since Faith had died. Buffy or Connor, anyway. He and Angel had done their parts, but things were different now.
Hannah was old enough, and well trained enough, to be on the front lines, and that’s where she would be.
“If you’re still together in a year, that would make sense,” Spike said finally.
Hannah took a seat on a tombstone. “I never thought it could be this way.”
“What do you mean?”
“Life. That it could be good.” Hannah met his eyes. “I’m not saying I have a death wish or anything, but if I died tomorrow—it wouldn’t be so bad. You know what I mean?”
Oddly enough, Spike did. “You mean you’ve got no regrets.”
“Yeah,” Hannah agreed. “I’m happy. I can remember thinking that I’d never be happy, and now I am.”
Hannah’s words echoed in Spike’s mind long after he’d dropped her off at Wesley’s. He stood in the darkened living room of the house he and Buffy shared and thought about what the last fifteen years had brought him.
Love, children, mortality—all things he’d given up on. Things he’d had no right to expect. He’d been a monster, and Buffy had loved him anyway.
She loved him now as a man.
It was a priceless gift.
“Spike?” He turned to see Buffy standing on the stairs. “Are you coming up?”
He smiled. “Yeah, luv. Just got in.”
“What were you thinking?
“Just about what a lucky bastard I am.” He stood at the bottom of the stairs, gazing at her, the expression on his face much like it had been so long ago when she’d come back from the dead. Buffy couldn’t help but agree with his words, although she felt as though she was the lucky one. Death had not killed Spike’s love for her, nor had her anger and violence. Time had not altered it, nor had the daily struggles that life so often threw at them.
Spike was her bedrock—just as she was his.
“Not as lucky as I am,” Buffy replied, holding out her hand to him. “Come to bed?”
“With you? Always,” he replied with a familiar smirk and followed her up the stairs.
When they came together that night it was in celebration of all they had built, of the new life they had created, of the life they would continue to share. They had managed to build a love that would endure long after they were dust. Spike could not regret the immortality he’d given up in order to have this—the chance to leave something of himself behind, the chance to grow old and change, and be a part of the rhythms of life that he’d once put behind him.
The opportunity to be with Buffy through this life and beyond.
Spike was completely content. He finally had a love that would last.