Buffy and William lay in bed, bodies nested together. His arms encompassed her. His skin felt warm against hers. With his fingers, he drew maps on her flesh, dividing and conquering as they lay, simply breathing.
She said, “What would you call that? What we just did?”
He hummed, buried his face in her hair.
“Really. Good. Sex,” he said.
“Was it debauchery?” she asked, playfully. “Was I debauched?”
“Hmmm. No,” he said. He traced a finger down her chest, all the way to her belly button.
“Our connection is pure, Buffy. So long as it’s something we both want and we’re in our heads about it, there’s nothing wrong with what we do.”
“Interesting view. Not sure the rest of the world shares it, but…”
“Bollocks to them. Don’t want ’em in our bedroom,” he said. He ran a strong arm over her body, drawing her tighter into the curve of his.
Buffy smiled. She took his hand in hers, pressed his flattened palm to her abdomen.
“Here,” she said. “Feel this.”
“I don’t… feel anything,” he said. Erring on the safe side, she thought. Smart man.
Buffy guided his hand over the small swell of her belly. “This,” she said.
“Oh, I get it,” he said. “Little Bit’s a little bigger. Soon to be a lot bigger, I’d wager.”
“It’s strange, but I feel like she’s every part of me, William. Every tiny cell and tissue. Every breath, every… thing. Is it weird to feel that way?”
“Way it should be, pet,” he said.
“It’s changing,” she said. Saying it made out loud made her feel scared. “Everything’s changing.”
Downstairs, directly below by the sound, they heard a noisy crash.
Buffy and William sprung from the bed.
As he pulled on his jeans, he said, “Some things are the same.”
What they thought was random demon activity turned out to be Andrew in an eye patch. He’d taken one of Xander’s for a test drive when he came down to the kitchen in search of orange juice. But with his diminished capacity for depth perception, Andrew had misjudged the height of the counter, and the OJ carafe paid the price.
“Why?” was all William could say.
Andrew slunk against the bar stool while Buffy and William picked up the pieces.
“Because eye patches are way more sexy than severed limbs,” Andrew lisped. He’d gone days now without shaving and had an uneven mesh of fuzz on his pouty chin.
“So the option’s to have… both?” William asked. He pulled a hand towel down from the rack on the oven to swab up the sticky floor.
Andrew sucked breath over his bottom lip. “I just miss my hand, Spike,” Andrew lamented. “I knew the back of it so well.”
Both on hands and knees, Buffy and William exchanged a tired look.
“I can’t even play my game systems because you need both hands to work the controls. Both hands!” He sighed. “I don’t expect you to understand.”
William straightened, taking offense. “I lost both… look out, Buffy, there’s a sharp bit there… I lost both my hands fighting that off-her-nut Slayer, or do you not recall?”
Buffy stood up. “Ow,” she said.
“It did smart. Fiercely. So I do under…” William said.
“No. Ooow,” Buffy said. She raised her hand, palm up, to reveal an inch-long sliver of glass embedded in her palm.
William squinted sharply at Andrew before stalking to the pantry for the first aid kit.
“Lose the eye patch, mate,” William seethed. “Or I’ll give you reason to wear it.”
William returned to the bar with Giles’ tin box of medical supplies. Buffy, having had experience with buckets and buckets of blood in her time, thought it strange that now, the sight of it made her suddenly weak and queasy. She thought maybe it was the feral marathon sex from before that made her legs all trembly, but as she stood there, her palm filling like a cup with her blood, she felt the strangest tingling sensation…
Buffy opened her eyes. She was on the floor, and everyone was looking down at her. She craned her head.
“Are we playing light as a feather?” she asked. She tried to sit up, but, funny thing, her body refused to comply.
“Just stay put, Buffy,” Xander said. “We’ve got paramedics on the way.”
Worry. She saw worry on his face. Buffy panned with only her eyes, to find alarm, worry and more alarm on the faces of the others.
“Para…medics?” she said. “Strange word. Will there be two?”
“I’m sorry, Buffy,” Andrew mewled. “Thorn of glass… I didn’t know.”
“Didn’t know… what?”
Buffy opened her eyes again. This time, she was in bed, but not her own bed. This bed had handrails and a remote control attached to the rails and a curtain on a swivel chain to hide the bed from other… patients.
“Oh God,” she said. “Dawn? William?”
Giles stepped into view. He seemed to tower over the bed, like she was sunk deep into the mattress, like a tiny bug stuffed down into the frosting on a cake.
“You’re going to be just fine,” he said. Sounded like he was under water. Or, maybe she was?
“The baby?” she asked. “The Little Bit? Is she…?”
William’s hands took one of hers, curled it between them. “She’s fine, too. Just lost a little blood is all. All about the blood.”
Buffy oozed into the pillows, lulled by the hushed tick of machines at her bedside.
Across town, Lorne hovered while Willow, Faith, Oz and Connor pored over a hand-drawn map on a crisp sheet of parchment. There was a tension sharp as a Ginsu knife in the room, and while Lorne knew that he had the mixins for an apple-tini in the kitchen, he had been trying to lay off the booze of late.
Anjelica came in from the bathroom, still drying her hands.
She paused, just outside of the silent circle of map-starers, and clasped her hands. “Any decision yet?” she asked.
Willow was shaking her head. “I still feel reluctant to take the Ghuntasch Gate, guys. Big five-headed guardian beast. Plus, supposed pits of oozing gunk…”
Faith threw her hands in the air. “We’ve been over this. Let’s say we skirt the oozing pools. What is it you suggest instead?”
Willow sucked in a deep breath. “The Cotswolds,” she said.
Lorne held up his hands in a time-out gesture. “Hold up, Miss Scarlet. You wanna go through the Deeper Well?”
“Well, yeah. It’s like the Express Mail chute to other dimensions. Non-stop service to hell.”
Oz pinched his goatee thoughtfully. “Sounds… convenient. Why the opposition?”
Lorne chuckled and reconsidered his apple-tini. Less apple, more tini. “Oh, well. Nothing. Unless you wanna occupy the same holding cell as – oh – some thousand or so tombs of ancient dead gods.”
“But if they’re dead,” Connor began.
“Which they are,” Willow said. “Deeper Well spell drained them. Remember?”
Lorne was nodding. “Sure. They are. But you bet your bottom dollar that the inter-dimensional grave robbers will have turned up in droves to disinter the Old One’s treasures. Ever heard of King Tut’s curse?”
“Yeah,” Oz shrugged.
“Well, Pharoah’s got nothing on an Ancient One scorned,” Lorne finished.
Connor put the heels of his hands over his eyes and massaged them. Willow looked at him and could almost taste his frustration. Across the table, Faith chewed the inside of her lip.
“Nah,” she said. “I’m more concerned about finding this Thellian freak once we’re down. Given any thought on which zip code in Hell might be his hang out?”
Oz said, “We can just pull over and ask directions.”
“We do have Maya’s Looking Glass,” Anjelica said, meekly.
“And I’m coming up haystacks and needles,” Lorne said.
Connor pounded his hands on the table top. “There has to be a way,” he shouted.
“Willow can cast a spell. We have to find him.” He looked up at each of them with eyes that flashed with pain. “I have to find him.”
And here they were again. Same place they had been for a week. Every discovery they made had some insurmountable flaw in it, some great risk they didn’t feel the group could take. Connor knew they were stalling, waiting until his shattered shoulder healed up from Lalaine’s gunshot wounds. Meanwhile, Thellian and Luxe were getting further and further away.
And Connor thought of nothing else but the face of the man who killed his father.
“We will find a way,” Willow said, quietly. “But it has to be the right way.”
Connor’s body hummed like a hive of anger. He stared off into a safe middle distance, trying his best not to hate them for their reluctance and concern. It wasn’t their Dad who had died. It was his…
Then came a soft knock on the door, and the mood broke like a Prince Rupert’s Drop. Lorne excused himself, but his feeling of relief evaporated the moment he looked through the peephole to see Nighna standing on his doorstep, dressed to kill in her oxblood leather pantsuit and pointy-toed Prada boots.
Lorne stepped out quickly on the icy walk, closing the door behind him.
Nighna stepped back, balancing precariously on her ridiculously high heels.
“You’re here for Clarisse,” Lorne said. He folded his arms and looked down his straight green nose at her.
Nighna hugged her arms to her chest. “Seems the danger’s passed,” she said.
Lorne narrowed his eyes. Nighna, surprisingly, seemed to wither.
“Did they…” she began. She cleared her throat. “Was there a service for him?”
Lorne tilted his head, confused. “For him? For who? Luxe?”
Nighna scoffed. “Like anyone would mourn him,” she said.
Lorne shook his head. “Who are you…?”
“Andrew,” Nighna said. The name squeaked painfully in her throat.
“Didn’t die, Nines,” Lorne said.
Nighna made a series of befuddled sounds unbefitting of her slick London street clothes.
Lorne wasn’t laughing. “The boy lopped off his hand,” he said.
Nighna sputtered. “His… hand?” She laughed, but stopped herself.
“He’s not so jazzed about it,” Lorne sneered.
Nighna pushed past Lorne and strode into the dazzling neons of his living room. Everyone looked up, and the pressure in the room seemed to crank up a few degrees. Lorne turned up behind her, rushing to explain. But Willow was ahead of him.
“You’re Nighna,” she said.
At the sound of the name, Clarisse turned into a loony bird in her cage, squawking and flinging herself against the bars of her metal cage. Nighna crossed the room, cooing as she walked, until the myna settled enough for her master to remove her from the cage. While everyone watched, completely enthralled, Nighna skimmed her fingers over Clarisse’s glossy black feathers. She offered a Clarisse a scrap of bread from her pocket.
Nighna turned with premeditated grace to face the Lorne’s guests.
“Oh, gods,” Nighna said, smiling. “You’re going after them, aren’t you?” With Clarisse preening on the bend of her elbow, Nighna strutted across the room to examine the map and collected texts on the table.
Oz raised his hand into the air, slowly. “Um… who’s Nighna?” he asked.
Willow leaned in. She whispered, “Andrew’s ex.”
“But I thought he was…”
Nighna turned. “The Cotswolds,” she said. “That’s your best bet. Quick passage. The walls are thin.” Nighna nodded her approval as she squared off with Willow. “But, how do you plan to find them?”
“We were just…” Connor said.
Anjelica hopped in with both feet. “We hadn’t planned that far,” she said.
Nighna paused. She roughed Clarisse’s feathers with her fingertips. The bird made a throaty pleasured sound and fluffed out her plumage.
“You haven’t much time,” Nighna said. She looked then to Connor. “Thellian despises Luxe. They will part their ways soon, and then…”
“Wait,” Connor said. “I don’t give a damn about Luxe. Thellian’s the one I’m after.”
“Oh, but you should,” Nighna said, giving them all a knowing smile. “I know exactly where Luxe is. Anywhere. Anywhen. He is bound to me.”
Buffy dreamed while she was out. Dreamed of Sunnydale in its Glory days, when Dawn and her Mom had to hide out in the caves under Spike’s crypt. She dreamed of Willow in Hell, fighting forked-tongued devils who wielded flaming pitchforks. She dreamed of Angel putting a dagger through his heart. There were other flashes, too.
Dismemberments. Torture chambers. A strange inverted pyramid spray-painted across a brick wall. Bubbling cauldrons of viscous green gunk that smelled of bad home perm. But more than anything, there was blood. Great red splashes of it in the style of Paul Verhoeven.
This time, when she woke up, she decided it best to just remain awake.
Dawn was at the bedside, sketching in her notebook, which required her to turn the book at odd angles to capture the border of the checked hospital bedspread.
“How long have I been in here?” Buffy asked.
Dawn looked up. “Three whole… hours,” she said. She smiled. “The doc says your blood pressure shot up, hence, the passing out. Kinda girly.”
Buffy looked herself over. Bandage on her hand, but other than that…
“Did I hit my head or something?”
“No, Spike caught you before you could fall down,” Dawn said. She set the book aside and came closer. “Romantic when you think about it.”
Buffy prickled with nagging irritation. She felt an unbearable heaviness settling on her chest, like a metal plate clamped down and tightened with an unseen vise.
“Only if you’re Vivien Leigh,” Buffy said. She slipped from the hospital bed before Dawn could lodge a formal complaint. Alarmed again, Dawn jumped from her seat.
“Oh. Buffy. You’re not supposed to be out of… What if you…?”
“I fainted, Dawn. I’m pregnant. It happens. Where are my clothes?”
“Hey!” William rounded the corner. “You’re out of bed.”
“You’re real astute,” Buffy snapped.
“I tried to tell her,” Dawn said.
Buffy put her hands to her temples. “Dawn, I hate hospitals. You know that.”
“She does,” Dawn agreed. “Can’t we just get her out of here?”
“Rupert…” he said, poised between Buffy and the exit, as if he meant to hem her in.
“Isn’t here,” Buffy said. She swallowed hard. “Where are my clothes?”
“You should lie down,” he said. Eyes narrowed. “Something’s not right with you.”
“Something’s not right with Buffy,” she said. “How original.”
The doctor strode up behind them, eyes fixed on a chart. He said, “Is there some trouble here?” Then he looked up.
“Oh,” he said dryly. “It’s you lot.”
Buffy, William and Dawn halted where they stood. It was the same doctor who had tended to Giles before…
“Dr. Chapman,” Dawn said, suddenly recalling the name.
He did not seem amused. He turned his unamused eyes to William. “You’re the dad, I suppose?” he asked.
William blinked. He was confused and off-guard, like he had just missed a step in a dance, and now he was lost. “Yeah,” he said.
Dr. Chapman’s nostril twitched with distaste. “I’ve just come with release papers,” he said. He leveled his eyes on William’s. “She needs rest. And folic acid. There’s the prescription.”
The doctor passed the clipboard to William and pulled a pen from his breast pocket.
Again, William was lost. He scanned the release form. There was an X marked next to the line for Signature of Spouse.
“We’re not…” William began.
Dr. Chapman gave a derisive snort. He retrieved the clipboard and passed it instead to Dawn. “You’re a blood relative, right?” he asked.
Dawn nodded, then briskly signed for Buffy’s release. She tore to the prescription from the metal clamp and folded it into the breast pocket of her demin jacket.
“That’s all?” Dawn asked.
The doctor was already retreating. “Rest,” he said, forcefully. He backed out of the over-sized door and disappeared into the hall.
Buffy stood opposite William, her body tensely rigid. Not one to back down, he pulled his shoulders up and stared directly into her eyes.
Dawn shifted uneasily between them. “That was weird,” she ventured. “Dontcha think?”
Buffy remained unmoved. “Where are my clothes?” she asked.