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A New Dawn

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Chapter 1

Three vampires for her first hunt in months; Buffy was calling it a night. She felt a little rusty, a bit tired, too, but surprisingly not as much as she had expected to be. The Scoobies had told her repeatedly they’d keep patrolling for her as long as she needed to rest, but they didn’t seem to understand that she had had enough rest in the past months to last her a lifetime. She’d never have thought she’d miss patrolling, and late night strolls, and the way moonlight transformed Sunnydale. And yet, she had. All these things were part of her life – part of her normal life, as abnormal as her life may be – and she craved for it to return to the pace she was used to. The fact that she knew nothing would ever be the same again didn’t change that.

“What are you doing here?” a sharp voice asked behind her.

She whirled back, her stake rising toward what she instinctively knew was a vampire. Spike’s only reaction was to raise an eyebrow.

“What does it look like?” she snapped. “Or maybe you want me to give you a demonstration?”

He snorted. “Threats. How original. I’d almost started to miss that.”

She turned her back on him, trusting her reflexes as much as she did his chip, and started stalking away. This she had not missed, and she could have done without ever seeing this particular vampire again. She had thought about him much too often for her own comfort in the past months; how could she have avoided thinking of him?

She had guessed he would follow her, but that didn’t stop her from gritting her teeth when he did. Her fist clenched a little tighter on the stake too, until she could feel the grain of the wood as though it had been carved into her palm.

“Shouldn’t you be home?” he asked, the reprobation in his voice all too clear.

Buffy stopped walking abruptly and directed her fiercest glare at him. “What I do is none of your business.”

“If it concerns Dawn, it is my business,” he shot back. “And you patrolling definitely—”

With a frustrated grunt, she started walking again, a little faster now, hoping to get rid of him. She couldn’t imagine the gang telling him anything about Dawn, so he must have played his usual game, lurked in the shadows and gathered information. Why she wasn’t staking him, she couldn’t have said.

Yet again, he caught up with her, and walked by her side in silence for a little while. She pretended not to notice him and remained vigilant, attentive to signs that would announce the presence of a vampire – other than the one currently stalking her. She knew he wouldn’t remain quiet for long, and indeed he didn’t.

“I want to see her,” he said at last, his voice more subdued but still as strong.

Buffy’s heart felt like it had skipped a beat. She should have seen this coming. Her response was instinctive, and passed her lips before she even knew she was speaking.

“No way.”

Spike touched her arm and she pulled away from him.

“You can’t keep her from me,” he said, the tension growing in his words.

She snorted. “Really? Just watch me.”

He growled, apparently as annoyed as she was. “Slayer—”

“Exactly,” she cut in before he could say a word more. Stopping again, she gestured at him with the pointy end of her stake. “And you’d better remember—”

It was his turn to interrupt her. He did so with a wicked gleam in his narrowed eyes. “I’ll just go and ask your mom.”

Buffy swallowed back her threats and complaints. She couldn’t let him talk to Joyce. That can of worms, she never wanted to see open, not after she had fought her mother’s questions for months until Joyce had finally let the topic drop. The alternative was either giving in to his request, or staking him. If she’d been going to stake him, she would have done it already. The truth was, as long as he didn’t give her a reason to do so, she wouldn’t. And asking to see Dawn wasn’t a reason. On the contrary, a tiny part of Buffy was almost glad he wanted to see her. The thought that he didn’t care had hurt her more in the past weeks than it had any right or reason to. If she let herself think about it, she knew her parents’ divorce and the little attention her father had given her since were the reasons of her anxiety where Dawn was concerned. She knew it, that didn’t mean she thought they were good reasons.

“You keep my mother out of this,” she said, very slowly, her words quiet and forceful.

“I just want to see Dawn,” he insisted.

Her mistake was to look into his eyes – his too clear, too earnest eyes. She faltered, then sighed.

“Let’s go. But I’m warning you, she’s probably asleep and I’m not waking her up for you.”

For just a second, joy lit up his face. It was gone so fast Buffy thought she had imagined it. She remembered all too well the last time he had looked at her like this though. At the time, they had been engaged. Unlike many expressions that settled on his face as so many masks, this one was purely and truly him.

They didn’t speak again until they had reached her street. The silence made Buffy uncomfortable, but she didn’t know what to tell him. Dawn had changed many things, but Buffy was still a Slayer, Spike, still a vampire, and nothing would change that.

“Go to the back of the house,” she said on a tone that warned him against protesting. “I’ll open the window.”

She saw him nod from the corner of her eye, and saw the red arc drawn by his cigarette as he threw it to the pavement. She grimaced in distaste, but said nothing. At least, he knew better than to smoke around Dawn.

She entered the house as quietly as she could, almost holding her breath. The television was on, showing late night infomercials, and when she glanced into the living room she could see her mother asleep on the sofa. She tiptoed toward her and unfolded the afghan from the back of the sofa to cover her. It couldn’t be all that comfortable to sleep here, and Buffy felt a little guilty about it. Joyce wasn’t so young anymore, and she didn’t have a Slayer constitution to help her with the lack of sleep.

A little wary about what would happen, she climbed up the stairs and, still quiet, entered her room. They had been talking of finally putting the crib in the nursery they had prepared during her pregnancy, but Buffy felt too anxious about that. This night’s patrol was the longest she had ever been away from Dawn since her birth. She had seen so many terrible things as a Slayer, she couldn’t bear to imagine something happening to her daughter. She needed to be close to her and keep her safe as much as she could.

She stopped by the crib on her way to the window. Her child was asleep, suckling on her tiny fist. She didn’t doubt she would wake soon and demand to be fed, though. At just a little over a month old, Dawn rarely went more than four hours at night without showing she was hungry, and Buffy had been gone for more than three hours.

She unlocked the new locks she had installed on the window and stepped back, murmuring an invitation. She hoped she wasn’t making a mistake. Seconds later, Spike was slipping into her room.

“She’s asleep,” she whispered. “Don’t wake her.”

She watched, tense and a little nervous, as he approached the crib. He started grinning but suddenly stopped, glancing at Buffy for a second before looking back at Dawn again, his expression more neutral. He reached in, too fast for Buffy to stop him, and she could only watch as he caressed Dawn’s cheek with the back of his finger. Dawn made a little mewling sound as she woke up

“Spike!” Buffy hissed, annoyed.

Dawn was beginning to fuss. Glowering at Spike, Buffy stepped closer to the crib and picked her up. The baby was probably hungry, but Buffy certainly wasn’t ready to nurse her in front of him – even if he looked at Dawn with a soppy and slightly awed expression.

“You look tired,” he said out of the blue with his usual tactlessness but without the snark that would have once colored his words. “You could take a few more nights off. I can patrol for—”

“No need, I’m fine,” she stopped him abruptly. She had spoken a little too loud, and Dawn, startled, began crying. She rocked her gently and glared at Spike. It was his fault. Did he have to get on her nerves?

He glared right back at her, clearly aggravated. “Don’t be stupid. You’re sleeping on your own feet.”

“I’m not.” If she hadn’t needed both her hands, she might have taken out her stake and shown him exactly how stupid she was. “And I’d be stupid if I let a vampire do my job.”

He let out a noise that sounded too much like a growl for comfort. “And whose job is it to take care of Dawn? I’m her bloody father!”

He had raised his voice on the last words, and Dawn only cried louder. They were going to wake up Joyce if they continued like this.

“Keep your voice down,” she snapped, rocking Dawn and soothing her with quiet nonsense words.

For a moment, Spike kept quiet, hands deep in his coat’s pockets and unnaturally still. When Dawn had calmed down, he started again, more quietly.

“I can help,” he said urgently. “I don’t have money and I know nothing about babies, but I can help. I want to help.”

In no mood to keep fighting, Buffy gave in. As long as it got him out of her hair, he could patrol all he wanted. It wasn’t like she intended to rely on him anyway. “Fine. Just take Restfield Cemetery tomorrow. That’ll cut down on my patrol time.”

“I can do more than—”

She gave him an icy look. Couldn’t he tell when it was time to give up?

“Right,” he said with a small eye roll. “Restfield. I’ll do that, then.”

It would probably have been polite to thank him, but she couldn’t manage to say the word. He was the one who should have been thankful she was allowing him to see Dawn, she thought, sullen. She hadn’t asked for his help. From the very first day she had realized what was going on, she hadn’t asked him for anything. She hadn’t even told him anything, but he had guessed the first time he had seen her pregnant, it seemed. She had refused to talk about it, and he had given up questioning her. In fact, this night was the first time she had seen him since she had stopped patrolling – and the way he was looking at Dawn was starting to get to her.

“All right, you’ve seen her,” she said, more gently than she meant to. “Time to go. I need to feed her.”

He blinked and looked at her at that, his eyes suddenly worried.

“Feed her…milk, right?” He tilted his head as though listening to something. “I mean, she’s human, isn’t she?”

She remembered her own relief when she had realized having a vampire for a father had had no impact on Dawn, and forced herself to hide a smile. “She is. Human, and normal, and perfect.”

“And beautiful,” Spike murmured, reaching out to caress Dawn’s so thin, so blond hair.

Buffy allowed him this small contact, conscious that she could have offered him a chance to hold Dawn but strangely unwilling to do so. He might be Dawn’s father, he might be chipped and harmless, but he was still a vampire. It was hard to reconcile that train of thought, however, with her willingness to invite him inside her home to see Dawn.

“Come on, time for you to leave.”

He didn’t reply but he nodded before leaning in to press a kiss to Dawn’s temple. She started fussing again, no doubt more because she was hungry than because of Spike’s soft touch.

“Thank you,” he said, a little choked up, as he drew back.

Before she could answer, he had already slipped out of the window again. She went to close it, and paused when she saw him, standing in the backyard, his head raised toward the bedroom. She couldn’t see his eyes, but she could imagine he wore the same expression he had when first seeing Dawn; an expression she’d never have believed him capable to wear; an expression that stayed with Buffy long after she had locked the window and drawn the curtains, long after Dawn, fed and cleaned, had fallen asleep again, hiding eyes that looked so much like Spike’s.

Chapter 2

Buffy had decided to avoid going through Restfield cemetery the next night. She didn’t want to risk coming across Spike if he was truly patrolling as he had said he would – not that she really believed him. It wasn’t like him to offer help without negotiating for a cash reward.

She followed a hunch and started by patrolling the warehouse district on the edge of town, finding for her trouble some kind of glowy ball thing that would undoubtedly make Giles rush to his books in delight. The thing was light, in her jacket’s pocket, almost weightless. There was definitely more to it than a first look might indicate.

It was still too early to turn in after she had given up on the warehouses, and so she picked a graveyard as far from Restfield as she could think of. Her precautions proved useless however. She had been walking through the Riverside cemetery for no more than five minutes when she stumbled upon Spike just as he was pushing a stake through a vampire’s chest.

“And one more,” she heard him mutter as he brushed ashes off his clothes. He didn’t seem to have noticed her yet and she thought about retracing her steps and finding another place to patrol. She really didn’t feel like talking to him now. The choice was soon taken out of her hands however, when he saw her and came to her.

“This place is clean,” he said bluntly. “I’ll finish your round for tonight. You can go home.”

She crossed her arms and glared at him. Who did he think he was, trying to order her around?

“I thought you were taking Restfield.”

“And I did,” he replied with an infuriating grin. “And now, I’m here. Plan to take the park next.” Her continued glaring didn’t seem to bother him much. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t have a walk anywhere other than Restfield, did I?”

“And I didn’t say you could,” she shot back. “What kind of Slayer would I be to let a vampire patrol for me?”

His grin faded and he was suddenly very somber as he pulled a pack of cigarette from his duster and lit one. His entire body screamed of frustration.

“I’m just trying to help,” he said through gritted teeth. “You weren’t complaining when your merry band was helping, and they didn’t stake half as many on their best night as I did tonight in just a couple of hours.”

“I was pregnant!” Buffy exclaimed. “It’s not like I had a choice!”

Spike shrugged and went to sit on the edge of a nearby stone. “Well, now you’ve got a kid. We’ve got a kid. And I won’t let my daughter be motherless.”

Buffy’s blood seemed to reach the boiling point in just seconds. How dare he give her lessons in parenting when he hadn’t even tried to see Dawn for an entire month after her birth? She was taken by the sudden urge to strike and hurt where the damage would last longer than a simple blow.

“For all you know,” she said almost savagely, “she’s not—”

Spike didn’t let her finish. His relaxed demeanor changed at once. He jumped to his feet and stood in front of her, eyes flashing gold as his features rippled into those of the demon. She had to fight her instinct to step back.

“Don’t even finish that lie,” he said, practically growling. “I knew the first time I saw you and heard another heartbeat behind yours. I could smell myself on you.”

Buffy grimaced, forcing herself to focus on that last part rather than on the possessive tone of his voice or the warning bells seeing him wearing his vampire mask set off in her mind. “Eww. I don’t smell.”

Obviously calming down, he stepped back and took a deep drag on his cigarette. His face returned to its human features. “‘f course you do. Nothing wrong with that. Everyone has a scent. Unique. Unmistakable. Yours is…I’d recognize it anywhere. And hers…” He sounded a little softer, suddenly. “Hers is a bit like you and a bit like me. She’s my daughter. Don’t ever try to pretend she’s not.”

There was too much solemnity in his voice and eyes for her to play anymore. Her anger drained right out of her. Sitting up on the edge of a low wall enclosing a family plot, she sighed.

“She’s got to be,” she muttered. “There was no one before or after…” She looked up at him, shaking her head. “But everything I know says it’s impossible. Vampires don’t have kids.”

She had put just a hint of a question in those last words, and it made Spike smile around his cigarette.

“No, we don’t. Not that kind of kids anyway. But we don’t play nice with Slayers either, and we don’t kill random demons to pass time, or Dracula when he shows up in town and starts asking questions about the Slayer. We don’t have bloody stupid chips in—” He had worked himself up through his speech, becoming animated and starting to gesture, but that last thought seemed to deflate him again. “Right. Why don’t you trot home and I’ll finish your patrol.”

Buffy had been about to ask what he meant by saying Dracula had been in town – he couldn’t possibly mean the Dracula – but his last words brought back her irritation, now more annoyance than outright anger. Couldn’t he take a hint?

“I’m not letting you do my job, Spike.”

He rolled his eyes at her, looking and sounding exasperated. “Why not?”

She had no reason to explain herself to him, not any more than he had any right to question her. Still, before she knew it she found herself answering and voicing fears she couldn’t share with anyone else because they concerned them. It seemed she couldn’t talk to anyone anymore since she had told her mother and friends she was pregnant but refused to name the father. They supported her more than she had ever dreamed they would, but at the same time they looked at her as though she had betrayed them in some way.

“I’ve got my mother helping me take care of Dawn,” she said, the words coming out slowly. “She’s not feeling well and I’ve asked her not to tire herself, but she’s not listening. Giles hired me to work at his shop but really, it’s just an excuse to give me money and help with the baby too. He’ll even let me keep her there. Made a nursery in the back and everything. Willow… well, she helped me pass my exams at the end of last semester, and she’d be doing the same now if I was still attending.”

A few feet in front of her, Spike tilted his head and frowned, clearly puzzled.

“So what you’re saying is, too many people help you?” He snorted. “You poor thing.”

She scowled at him. She should have known he wouldn’t get it. “No, that’s not it. I’m grateful to all of them. But I’ve got to have something that’s mine. Something I do on my own. Slaying is my thing. I’m not letting you or anyone take it from me.”

He considered her for a few moments. When he brought the cigarette back to his lips, she could have sworn it was to hide a smile. “Bloody stubborn woman. A shame you can’t stop me from patrolling, isn’t it?”

Her hand clenched on her stake and she raised it in front of her. “You’re so sure I can’t?”

He took two steps closer to her, arms spread out on each side of him, his posture challenging her to take her best shot. “Go ahead, then.”

Without a second thought, she stood in front of him, the stake still raised. A few seconds passed, then she lowered it and turned her back on him. She started walking away, already knowing it’d take more than that to leave him behind, both literally and figuratively.

“Does anyone know she’s mine?” he asked after walking by her side for a little while.

Buffy almost missed a step. “No. But I think Willow figured it out.”

She almost expected him to ask why she hadn’t told them, and was a bit surprised when all he said was: “She’s a smart bird.”

Relaxing a little, she nodded. “Yeah. And I think Giles has suspicions.”

“Does he? How did he guess, now?”

She shrugged. “It was his bed,” she said simply, a flash of that strange night coursing through her mind and warming her body. “And then nine months later Dawn arrives… I’m sure he can add it up.”

Spike chuckled, but his laugh sounded forced. “That’d explain why he looked ready to stake me last time I saw him. More than usual, I mean. And he said he’d stake me if I got anywhere near Revello.”

Buffy frowned and glanced at him sideways. “When was that?”

“This summer. He was patrolling with the kiddies. I asked if the baby was born yet and…he didn’t like it much.”

There was something behind these last words, something dark and dangerous, something that hinted of stakes and threats proffered with more than just words. Giles could be quite convincing when he had to, Buffy knew. That explained, at least, why she hadn’t seen Spike in months until the previous night.

A little ahead of them, a vampire was pulling himself out of the earth. Spike started stepping forward. Buffy grabbed his sleeve and stopped him. When he glanced back at her, she threw him a dark look that warned him not to get in her way. He gave her a little mocking bow and let her walk past him. By the time she reached the grave, the vampire had freed himself completely and was waiting for her. She started with a kick, and followed with a punch that left the vamp disorientated.

“I wish I’d been there,” Spike said suddenly behind her, sounding almost wistful.

Startled, Buffy glanced back at him. “What?”

Taking advantage of her distraction, the newly risen vamp took a swipe at her. She glared at him.

“Do you mind? I’m trying to have a conversation, here.”

A roundhouse kick sent the vampire to the ground. She finished him with a thrust of her stake and turned back to Spike, an eyebrow raised questioningly.

“When she was born,” he explained. “I wish—”

“Don’t,” she interrupted him, wary of the turn the conversation was taking. “As miraculous as she may be, she was an accident. You and I sleeping together…” She shook her head. “That was an accident. As I recall you were as horrified as I was when the spell broke.”

He hadn’t merely been horrified, she thought to herself, the memory still unpleasant after ten months had passed. He’d threatened to kill her, “even if it made his brain melt” if she ever mentioned the incident to anyone.

“So let’s not make it more than it is,” she finished. “She’s your daughter. You can see her sometimes. But we’re not going to play house together, and however nice you try to be, the accident won’t happen again.”

She held his gaze until he had inclined his head and shown he understood.

“If she was an accident, why didn’t you…”

He didn’t finish, but she understood what he meant. She had thought about it, when she had found out she was pregnant, and even more seriously when she had realized who the father had to be. But in the end…

“I couldn’t.”

He didn’t say anything, but his expression asked for more. She lowered her voice to continue.

“I give death every night, and for once it was life I had to deal with.”

He nodded, but could he truly understand? He, too, was a master in the death trade, but did he remember the value of life?

She started walking again, this time toward the cemetery’s exit. It was time to go home. Dawn would want to be fed soon. “I’m off,” she threw over her shoulder. “Don’t do anything I’d have to stake you for.”

“You said I could see her,” Spike called after her.

Freezing mid step, she turned back to look at him. He was still standing where he had been, shuffling his feet as though uncomfortable. The sight was quite odd.

“We’re not going to make it a nightly thing,” she replied, a little annoyed.

“How often then?”

She sighed but didn’t answer. Had she really been a little miffed, just a few days back, that Spike hadn’t shown any flicker of interest in his daughter? Turning back, she started toward the large graveyard gates again, glancing back only to find that Spike still hadn’t moved.

“Come on,” she called, annoyed with herself for caving in so easily. “I don’t have all night.”

Chapter 3

The bread popped up in the toaster. The sudden sound startled Dawn and she jumped in her seat on top of the kitchen island. She started crying quietly, but Buffy turned to her and made soothing noises that calmed her down. Dawn smiled, the same way she had smiled at Spike the previous night when he had leaned over her crib. Without thinking, Buffy stroked her finger against her chubby rosy cheek, just like he had. He had looked just as awed, just as touched as he had the first night he had seen her.

Shaking her head lightly, Buffy pulled the bread from the toaster and started buttering it. She then cut the two pieces into triangles and added them to the platter on which she had already placed a cup of tea, a glass of orange juice and a rose in a slim vase.

“Oh, Buffy! Is that for me?”

She looked up to find her mother, wrapped in a thick robe, standing by the kitchen’s entrance.

“I was going to bring it up to you,” she replied, a little sheepish. “Are you feeling better?”

Joyce raised a hand to her head to touch her fingers against her temple. She grimaced. “A bit. The headache isn’t as bad as it was yesterday.”

Buffy tried not to show her concern on her face. Those headaches that had been plaguing her mother increasingly often for the past few weeks were beginning to scare her. She was actually starting to wonder if they were normal. They had come all of a sudden, and the doctor her mother had seen had found nothing wrong with her.

“So, it’s the big day?” Joyce asked.

Forcing a smile to her lips, Buffy sat on a high stool and watched her mother pick up a piece of toast and nibble on it

“Yeah. Giles wanted me to wear that weird witch robe but I figured Willow might be offended.”

Joyce smiled faintly before raising her hand to her head again. Buffy’s worry only increased.

“I think I’m going to stay home today.” She turned the chair around on the table so Dawn faced her, and cooed at her before looking back at Buffy. “I can take care of her if you want.”

If her mother had been feeling well, Buffy would have accepted in a heartbeat. As it was, though, she shook her head apologetically.

“It’s OK. Giles is fine with me bringing her to the shop.”

Her mother turned very serious suddenly. There even was a hint of reprobation in her voice when she said: “It’s a job, Buffy. Not a daycare center.”

Buffy had a hard time not gritting her teeth. They had had this discussion before when she had first told Joyce about the job Giles had offered her. “I realize that, Mom.”

For a few seconds, the only sound was Dawn’s babble as Joyce played with her. Absentmindedly, Buffy picked up one of the pieces of toast and started munching on it.

“Buffy?” Joyce now sounded and looked worried. “Giles is not going to make her a Slayer, is he?”

The question took Buffy by surprise and she half-choked on the piece of toast.

“He can’t make her a Slayer, Mom,” she said, shaking her head. “And his interest in Dawn is purely fatherly.”

Joyce’s eyes widened as her eyebrows climbed high on her forehead.

“Grandfatherly,” Buffy corrected herself quickly, stumbling on the word. “You know, non-watchery, old guy liking babies…” She groaned when she realized what she was saying. “This is so not what I meant.”

Joyce gave her a half smile. “I know.” Then out of the blue, she added: “Will you ever tell me who her father is?”

Buffy couldn’t help sighing. They had had this conversation before too.

“Mom. You knowing his name wouldn’t change anything.”

“But maybe—”

Standing, Buffy raised the handle of Dawn’s seat, locked it in place and picked her off the table. “Bye Mom. I hope you feel better.”

~

As promised, Giles had picked up Buffy early and driven her to the store. On the way there, she told him about her trip to the warehouse the previous night, and as soon as they arrived she pulled from her bag the glowing sphere she had been given and handed it to him. Dawn had fallen asleep in the car, and so Buffy carefully carried her to the small office room Giles had transformed into a mini nursery for her. She left the door ajar so she would hear Dawn cry when she woke up and returned to the store. Giles already had his nose in a book.

“This sphere is definitely out of the ordinary,” he replied absently when she asked him for his thoughts. “I’ll need some time to research…”

His voice trailed off as he became captivated by something he was reading.

“Maybe it can wait,” Buffy said after a little moment, amused despite herself. “We’ve got a shop to open, don’t we?”

A flash of confusion ran through his face before he remembered where they were – his newly leased, remodeled and stocked magic store – and what day it was – the grand opening day.

“Oh! Yes, of course.” He glanced down at his watch. “We can’t open late on the first day.”

He closed the book and carried it behind the counter, where he set it aside with the glowing sphere. He then pulled from a bag maroon robes and a wizard hat, both adorned with silver stars, and put them on under Buffy’s bemused eyes.

“Very fetching,” she assured him, trying very hard not to laugh. “What do you want me to do first?”

“You can flip the door sign and let in the first customers. After that, just remember to smile, double-check the change, and if you see that anything needs to be restocked just go ahead.”

“Sir, yes sir,” she quipped, giving him a mock military salute.

She officially opened the store, put on her best smile, and waited for the first customer to walk in.

Two hours later, Giles had gotten rid of the robes and hat and Buffy had lost her smile. They were still waiting for their first customer.

Four hours later, when Willow showed up, Giles was deep into his research of the glowing sphere while Buffy was in the nursery, feeding Dawn.

Five and a half hours later, the first customers finally walked in. By the time Buffy had rung up their purchase, three more had entered the shop. From then on, the flow never stopped. Willow was recruited to help, as were Xander and Anya when they dropped by around five. It seemed the entire town had decided to come and check Giles’ wares. Buffy was a little relieved when she heard Dawn crying and excused herself to the nursery. She took her time changing her diaper and cleaning her up, then sat down in the rocking chair Giles had bought for her, happy to get off her feet. In just a minute, she promised herself, she would go back. She just needed to catch her breath for a moment, just needed a bit of quiet and—

“Does the boss know you’re hiding?”

She bolted at that mocking remark and Dawn, who had been half asleep in her arms, was suddenly wide-eyed and protesting grumpily. She looked up, annoyed to find Spike leaning against the doorjamb.

“I’m not hiding. And what are you doing here?”

His grin was infuriating. “Checking if the new magic store in town carries burba weed.”

“Why don’t you ask Giles?”

His grin faded a little, and he glanced back behind him as though expecting to find Giles there. Whatever he saw made him slip inside and close the door. The room felt smaller, suddenly.

“You’re not welcome here. If Giles sees you—”

“I want a picture.”

She stared at him, unsure she had heard him right. He had spoken so fast, the words had blurred together.

“A picture?” she repeated, just to make sure.

He nodded, breaking eye contact to look at Dawn. His body lurched forward as though he had been about to take a step toward them, but he remained where he was, hands fisted in his coat’s pockets.

“Just want a picture of my daughter,” he muttered, quietly enough that she couldn’t even reproach him saying it where he could be overheard.

Buffy thought, and thought fast. She had a feeling that if she didn’t set clear limits very quickly, before long it would be obvious to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention that Spike had a very strong interest in Dawn.

“I’ll give you a picture,” she said. “But with one condition.”

He had perked up at her first words, but frowned when she qualified them.

“What condition?”

“You’ll do nothing to let anyone guess she’s yours.” She hardened her voice as much as she could. “That means not showing up here, and not lurking around my house.”

He seemed to think over the offer for a few seconds, then shook his head. Buffy’s stomach roiled unpleasantly.

“I want a new picture every time I ask for one,” he said slowly. “And I want to see her five times a week.”

Buffy blinked. She hadn’t expected him to actually try to bargain with her if she made him an offer.

“What does that mean, ‘every time you ask for one’? I’m not going to take pictures every week just because you feel like being annoying. And five is too much. My mom would notice.”

Her protests didn’t seem to touch him. “Fine. Every other night. And a new picture every time you finish a roll.”

Buffy’s first instinct was to roll her eyes. Who did he think he was, making demands like these? The answer floated back to the front of her mind and left a bad taste in her mouth. He was the man who could go to her mother, her friends, and Giles, and tell them all that she had slept with another vampire. They might not all believe him at first, but they would think about it, and her own refusal to name the father would not play in her favor then. She didn’t want to face the disapproval she knew would come if they ever learned who Dawn’s father was – and she didn’t want anyone to look at Dawn through different eyes because she was Spike’s daughter.

She looked at him more closely, and in the end it was what she saw that decided her. It wasn’t defiance that burned in his eyes, nor malice. Instead, it seemed like something she had rarely seen in him. Fear. Fear that she would say no, she realized. Fear that she would stop allowing him to see Dawn.

“OK,” she finally answered, almost surprising herself and definitely surprising Spike.

She raised her hand toward him. He looked at it as though unsure what to do with it before finally coming closer and taking it. His grip was cool but strong.

“You can see her every two days,” she repeated. “And you’ll get pictures. But if you ever let anyone figure it out, I swear you’ll regret it.”

She tried to convey the idea of a staking with her tone, but Spike didn’t seem too worried by the threat. He let go of her only to reach down and touch Dawn’s open hand. She immediately griped his finger and his smile widened for a second before he caught himself.

“Right,” he said, pulling back. “I’d better get out of here. With a little luck, there’ll still be too many people for anyone to notice me.” He opened the door a crack and peered out before looking back at her. “And maybe you should tell your Watcher to get a better lock for his back room.”

With those words and a smirk, he slipped out, leaving Buffy to wonder if she had been right in making this pact with the devil.

Chapter 4

When Giles had offered her a job, Buffy had been sure it would only be a façade, and that she would only need to show up to earn her minimum wages. Four days of working at the Magic Box convinced her otherwise. Customers did not continue to show up in mass as they had for the grand opening, but they came in steady numbers that more than justified her position. She was happy for Giles, certainly, and to see him so excited about making a profit was somewhat amusing, but she could tell already that she wouldn’t have a long career in retail. Of course, she couldn’t imagine herself having a long career in anything, so she’d stay there as long as Giles would put up with her. At the very least, even when the shop was at its busiest she still had time to care for Dawn.

She had started carrying her around in a sling as she worked, cradled against her chest. The sight of the cooing or sleeping baby seemed to do wonders to make even the most demanding customers forget to be annoying. Giles was not immune to Dawn’s charms either, and twice during these four days he told Buffy she could go home early. Buffy gratefully took him up on his offer both times, not so much because she was tired – the job was tiring, certainly, but not overly so – and rather because she was more and more worried for her mother. The headaches didn’t seem to be getting any better, and while going to get medicine for her at the hospital’s pharmacy, Buffy saw something that only intensified her fears. She brought her mother the prescriptions and immediately ran back to the store.

“Supernatural?” Giles repeated when she had finished explaining. His right hand rose to his glasses and the left was already holding a handkerchief. “Do you mean—”

“I mean I talked to this guy not even a week ago and he was as sane as you or me. And now he’s batty as hell but he knew about my mom. He said they’d come at me through my family.” Unconsciously, she cradled Dawn a little closer. “I have to find out what’s going on, Giles.”

Next to Giles, Willow seemed just as skeptical. “But if he’s mad…can you really believe him?”

“Can I afford not to?” Buffy shot back. “It’s my mom, Will. And who knows if they won’t go after Dawn next. I can’t let that happen.”

She sighed in relief when they both agreed to check if anything supernatural was hurting her mother. With the near constant flow of customers however, they didn’t figure out how she would do that – or rather, they didn’t until Anya and Xander came by the store. Anya’s suggestion to use a trance seemed a bit farfetched to Buffy at first, but when Giles and Willow both seemed to support the idea, if somewhat reluctantly, she decided to go for it. The advantage of working in a magic store… she didn’t have to pay for the incense and supposedly magical sand.

When she returned home, she took care of the most important things first. She fed Dawn, bathed her, then walked around the bedroom with her child in her arms, singing bits and pieces of lullabies until she had fallen asleep. Dawn let out a quiet sound when Buffy laid her in her crib; her lips were barely parted, her tiny fists closed tight on each side of her face. Buffy watched her for a little while, as always amazed that she had created such perfection.

“You’ll see, sweetie,” she murmured. “Grandma will get all better. She knows better songs than mommy does.”

Closing the door as quietly as she could behind her, she stepped over to the unused nursery, holding the store’s paper bag in her clenched hand. She hadn’t imagined, when she had chosen the perfect shade of lavender and the wallpaper border with dancing animals, that she would use the room this way.

Candles, incense, sand; she had asked Willow to repeat the directions three times so she would do everything right. All she needed now was to shed away her consciousness and slip into a trance. Thankfully, she had some experience in that domain. During her pregnancy, she had remained as active as possible, but in the last months she and Giles had focused on a different aspect of her training, more mental than physical. Even so, it took her some time to clear away her worry and determination and anger.

At last, she felt the familiar sensation slide over her, covering her like a snug blanket but at the same time leaving her senses sharper. She opened her eyes and stood, not wanting to lose any time, but what she saw gave her pause. The dancing animals and lavender walls were gone, as were the lace curtains and baby furniture. Instead, the room seemed to have returned to its former state of all purpose storage and junk room. She blinked, and the nursery returned; she took a step, and it disappeared again. Frowning, she left the room. She didn’t know what was going on here, but she would have to investigate later. Right now, she needed to focus on her mother.

But focusing on her mother, she soon found out, revealed nothing. Joyce looked at her askance when Buffy stared at her, and Buffy tried to smile as she returned back upstairs. The nursery, when she glanced in, continued to flicker in and out of existence. Taken by a bad feeling, she returned to her bedroom. Despite the trance, her heart tightened when she stepped in to find that the crib – and Dawn – had disappeared. She reached toward the empty space and they returned. Buffy’s hand closed on the edge of the crib and tightened until the wood started cracking. She didn’t know what was happening, but she knew already that she wasn’t going to like the answer when she found it.

~

Buffy hurt so much, she could have screamed.

That blonde bitch had been strong, stronger than Buffy had expected, stronger than any adversary she could remember fighting. It had been a fairly close call for her, and too late for the monk she had left behind, lifeless. Even now, halfway home, she could feel blood trickling from her temple. She couldn’t be bothered to wipe it off. Blood meant she was alive; she wasn’t sure she was, anymore, not when her heart felt as though it had been ripped out.

One step after the other. That was all she felt capable of, at that moment. Thinking, planning and anything that required her to think were beyond her. Her mind had been shattered by the last words of a dying man. All that was left was her memory.

She could remember, as though it had happened an hour earlier, the day she had realized what her tiredness and nausea meant. She could remember her denial and fear, and the faint taste of anger that an accident, something that should never have happened, that would never have happened without Willow’s bout of magic, had caused the worst possible thing to happen. She could remember, just as clearly, the night she had decided that, maybe, there were worse things after all than being pregnant. She could remember months of waiting that hadn’t felt quite as long as the final eight and a half hours, and the way her hands had shaken when she had first held Dawn.

She remembered. And now she knew. She had never given birth. She had never been pregnant. She had never slept with Spike.

All of it was nothing but an elaborate lie. Her child – her beautiful, perfect child – wasn’t really hers. She was going home to see her, but she dreaded the idea of looking at her now that she knew; dreaded things would be different. Hoped, beyond reason, they wouldn’t be.

She was about to reach the door when an all too familiar smell stopped her in her tracks. Part of her wanted to keep going, go inside and hold her daughter – her daughter, damn it! – until it was all nothing more than a bad dream. But she knew Spike wouldn’t give up so easily. It was his night. He wouldn’t leave until he had his few minutes with Dawn. With the bit of energy he believed was his daughter.

Rather than going to the door, she approached the tree and wasn’t all that surprised to find him smoking. Judging by the few stubs at his feet, he had been there for a while. Somehow, she felt comfort knowing he had been close, ready to defend Dawn if need be.

“Ever heard of discretion?” she asked, pushing words past her tight throat. “All my mom needs to do is look out and—”

“You’re late,” he interrupted her, throwing the stub to the ground and stepping on it. His nostrils flared. “And you’re bleeding. Some nasty got to you?”

She clenched her fists tight. If he only knew—

But he couldn’t know, could he? If she told him, what would he do? Would he believe her? Would he get mad, as he was so prompt to do, and do something really stupid?

Would he be as heartbroken as she was? Surely, it was enough that one of them hurt so much. He didn’t need to know.

“Go to the window,” she said, looking away as she became unable to hold his gaze. “I’ll open in a minute.”

She could feel his eyes on her as she walked away. She wondered if he could see how hurt she was inside as easily as he had noticed the blood.

The door was locked and the lights turned off, which meant her mother had to be in bed. Buffy felt a pang of added pain. She had been so sure she’d find the cause to Joyce’s health problems, so sure she’d find a way to cure her…and instead, she felt like she had lost Dawn.

As soon as she entered her bedroom, she couldn’t help approaching the crib and picking up her daughter, even if she knew it would awaken her. Only then did she go to the window and unlocked it. Spike slipped in right away.

“She’s awake, then?” he said very quietly. “I didn’t hear her cry or anything.”

“She’s awake,” Buffy repeated, looking down at the sleepy blue eyes that were watching her then back up at the wider, deeper one that were watching Dawn. The words passed her lips before she knew it. “Do you want to hold her?”

The startled look on Spike’s face would have been hard to miss. He even took a step back.

“It’s all right,” he said quickly.

He almost sounded panicked. Buffy could have smiled, if she hadn’t hurt so much still.

“Come on. You’re not afraid of your own daughter, are you?”

He glared at her but said nothing. Squaring his shoulders, he stepped forward again, holding out his hands. Buffy shook her head and showed him how to place his arms before depositing Dawn in them. The expression on his face was the same – awe, wonder and gratitude – as it had been when he had first seen Dawn.

“She’s so small,” he breathed. “She weighs nothing.”

The hitch in his voice was like a knife slipping into Buffy’s heart.

“She’s precious,” she replied, choked up. “We’ve got to keep her safe.”

He looked at her, an eyebrow raised. “We?”

She shrugged, then turned away. She didn’t want him to see she was so close to crying.

Chapter 5

Buffy did not get much sleep at all, that night. Whenever she closed her eyes, she could see that blonde woman, whoever she had been, taking Dawn from her. Killing her. She refused to believe they were prophetic dreams, but just the same, she ended up lifting Dawn from her crib as gently as she could so she could keep her close as she slept.

She wished she could have forgotten what the monk had said, forgotten what she now knew about Dawn, but his words kept ringing through her mind, each of them as sharp, as painful as the slash of a knife. She needed to tell someone, she decided when she finally got out of bed and stared at her sleep-deprived eyes in the mirror. And there was only one person she could tell.

Following the pattern they had established, Giles picked her and Dawn up that morning on his way to the store. He very gently asked her if she had discovered anything about her mother’s illness, and guilt swept over Buffy. She had been so affected by the news about Dawn, she had forgotten all about her mother.

“No,” she replied, slightly bitter. “I didn’t find anything. At least, nothing about her.”

Giles gave her a strange look at that, clearly wanting to ask more, but they had arrived at the store and Buffy turned away to unhook Dawn’s seat from the back. She bit down on the inside of her cheek as she did, and tried to push the tears away. She was stronger than this. She couldn’t just collapse when so much rested on her shoulders.

By the time she had entered the store with Dawn, she had a better grip on herself and she was ready. There was no sense in waiting. She went to what had already been dubbed the research table and placed Dawn, sleeping in the car seat, on top of it before sitting down in front of her. Only moments later, Giles approached her — approached them — and gave Buffy a piercing look.

“What is it?” he asked. “Something’s troubling you. Do you want—”

“Dawn isn’t my daughter.”

All at once, she felt relief and guilt at having voiced the words. Relief because she wasn’t alone in carrying that burden anymore; guilt because even just saying it felt like she was betraying Dawn, abandoning her somehow.

“Buffy? Are you all right?”

She let out a bark of laughter at that. “No, Giles, I’m not all right. I’m really not.”

He sat next to her and she told him, her eyes never leaving the peaceful sleeping features of her daughter, what she had learned the previous night.

“You can’t tell anyone,” she cautioned him when she was done. “I told you because I need your help to try to figure out who and what that woman is and how to beat her, but I don’t want anyone else to know.”

She could feel his eyes on her, heavy and measuring, calling for her attention. She finally looked at him to find that he was frowning slightly. He cleared his throat then asked:

“So…you won’t be telling her father, then?”

Ice slid down Buffy’s back and she merely stared at Giles. He sighed.

“I know, Buffy.”

His quiet words seemed to free her from a weight that had been pressing on her chest.

“Yeah,” she said quietly, the ghost of a smile touching her lips. “I figured you did.”

He dropped his gaze to the glasses now in his hands and she did as well, watching him needlessly clean the lenses.

“I have been researching the possibility of vampires fathering children,” he said slowly, “and I couldn’t understand how this happened. I know, now. He isn’t really her father—”

“Isn’t he?” she interrupted him. “She’s my daughter, Giles, and she has to have a father.”

Giles frowned at her. “But—”

“No buts. They could have made me a single mom, with no idea how she came to be. Or they could have made her the daughter of… of… anyone, really. Xander. Or you.”

Giles looked utterly scandalized at the thought. “Buffy!”

Shaking her head, she continued, her voice breaking now in its intensity. “But they chose Spike. A father with the strength and near immortality of a vampire. Not just that, but a vampire who can’t kill.” She had been thinking about it, that night, and that was the only way she could make sense of it all. “They’ve got to have chosen him on purpose, so he’d help me protect her.”

For long seconds, Giles looked at her as though trying to judge the value of her arguments. “Will he?” he asked at last.

“As long as he thinks she’s his, he will.”

“So that’s why you don’t want him to know?”

Buffy blinked. Giles’ had almost sounded relieved with these last words. If that was what he needed to believe…

“Yes, that’s why.”

He nodded and stood, his eyes resting on Dawn for a moment.

“All right then. It’s your choice and I will of course respect it.”

It was a few minutes past the store’s opening time already, and he went to unlock the door. Buffy took the opportunity to take Dawn to the nursery. When she returned, Giles was helping a customer. He waited until the woman had left before saying:

“What else can you tell me about that woman? Any detail you can remember might help.”

~

After a day spent thinking about Dawn, and the woman who wanted her, and the monks who had placed her in Buffy’s hands, the last thing Buffy wanted when Giles drove her and Dawn home after nightfall was to find Spike in her bedroom. And yet, there he was, standing by the crib, just two doors away from where Joyce was resting.

“It’s not your night!” Buffy hissed, incensed. “And what are you doing in here anyway? My mom could have heard you!”

“She’s going to hear you now if you don’t stop,” he sneered.

His eyes ran over Dawn in her arms, but before Buffy could say a word more, he was slipping out of the window and disappearing in the night. It wasn’t until she lowered a cooing Dawn into the crib that she noticed the rabbit plush toy there. She scowled at the toy. So that was what the idiot had been doing there. Couldn’t it have waited?

“Buffy? Is that you?”

Startled, Buffy practically jumped as she turned to find her mother behind her, dressed in a robe and her hair in slight disarray.

“Mom!” She dropped the rabbit in the crib as discreetly as she could. “Are you feeling better?”

Joyce smiled, but it did not escape Buffy’s notice that she didn’t answer.

“Are you going out to patrol?” she asked instead.

“I need to, yes.”

Joyce stepped to the crib and lifted Dawn out, to the baby’s delight. “Then this little lady and I will spend some time together. I never see her anymore now that you take her to the store every day.”

Buffy’s fists closed tight behind her and she said nothing as she watched her mom walk out of the room. This was just one more reason why no one would know about Dawn’s origins. Her mind buzzing with worry and anger, she quickly changed to clothes more appropriate for slaying. She had just thrown her top on the bed when she saw the square velvet jewelry box there, about the size of her palm. She knew who had left it there, of course, as much as she knew she didn’t want it. She slipped it in her jacket’s pocket, even angrier than earlier. She would need to have a talk with Spike. If after barely a week he couldn’t follow their agreement, maybe it was time to make him understand that agreements could be very easily revoked — even if she didn’t actually intend to shut him out of Dawn’s life, especially now.

She had decided she would go talk to him after her patrol, both so she would have time to calm down and figure out exactly what she wanted to say, but events dictated a different course of action. Her mind on other matters, she was too inattentive when she fought a random vampire a few hundred yards from Spike’s crypt. Too inattentive, too distracted, too slow, she didn't know which it was, but in the end, the result was the same. The result was her own stake protruding from her abdomen.

The vamp was as surprised as she was, enough so that she managed to get away and half run, half limp in the direction of Spike’s crypt, all too aware that the vampire was following her, throwing taunts at her, all too certain that he would kill her soon.

“Be there,” she muttered as she reached his crypt and banged on the door. “For Dawn’s sake please be—”

The door opened and she staggered inside, past a bewildered Spike.

“What the—” She heard his sharp intake of breath. “What happened?”

Buffy stumbled to the sarcophagus and leaned against it. “Vampire. He was following me. I—”

She never got to finish. Already, Spike was striding out, banging the door shut behind him. She stared at that shut door, mouth open, the pain shooting through her sharper now that she had stopped running. This wasn’t what she had come here for. The only thing that had been going through her mind since the stake had pierced her flesh was that she needed to tell Spike he had to keep Dawn safe. She had tried telling him the previous night, but she didn’t think she had been clear enough, and—

“What the hell happened?” He was back, looking even more bewildered than before. “You actually let that pitiful excuse for a vamp get past your defenses?”

Standing just feet from her, he stared at her with wide, incredulous eyes. Buffy’s anger resurfaced, reinforced by embarrassment.

“It’s not like I let it happen on purpose,” she shot back, unconsciously closing her jacket over the wound.

If anything, the movement drew Spike’s attention to her abdomen. He approached her and, batting her hand away, pulled the jacket back to expose her bloodied front. For just a second, she thought she could see his eyes turn gold before he took a step back and shook his head.

“I don’t have medical supplies,” he said gruffly.

“I don’t need—”

“Like hell you don’t.” He glared at her. “Stay here. I’ll be back soon.”

He picked up his duster from a battered armchair and before she could say a word left the crypt. She didn’t want to stay. She was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. It was Dawn who needed his protection, not her, and she would tell him as much as soon as he returned. In the meantime, she’d just sit down and rest a little—and try not to wonder where he had found his furniture. Judging by the smell of it, she probably didn’t want to know.

Maybe ten minutes passed. Spike returned. As soon as he pulled the disinfectant, cotton, bandages and tape from his duster’s pockets, Buffy knew he had acquired those the same way he had gotten the plush toy and whatever was in that jewelry box.

“Great,” she muttered as she rolled up her top, exposing the wound. “More stolen goods.”

She tried to grab the cotton ball he had soaked in disinfectant from him but he moved it out of her reach.

“If you’re not happy,” he said sharply, “feel free to bleed your way to the closest hospital.”

She actually considered it for a second or two. She couldn’t do it, though. If she went to the hospital, her mother would know, and Joyce really didn’t need anything more to worry about at the moment.

When she didn’t move away, Spike sat down on the rickety coffee table placed in front of the armchair and reached as though to clean her wound.

“I can do that,” she said, trying to reach for the cotton ball again.

Spike ignored her and started dabbing at the blood around the wound more gently than she would have expected. She kept quiet as he cleaned, trying to remain as stoic as possible, but even so she couldn’t help jumping slightly every time the sting of the disinfectant felt stronger on the open wound. And every time she did, a muscle twitched in Spike’s jaw, and his hand shook for a second or two. He was just about done dressing the wound when she understood he had felt every twinge of pain he had involuntarily inflicted on her. She couldn’t help feeling a little guilty at the thought.

“Thanks,” she muttered, unable to meet his eyes as he was finishing.

He didn’t reply, and in fact didn’t say a word until he had walked her almost all the way back home.

“So, you’ll let me patrol for you, now?”

There was an edge to his words as he said them, as though he expected the offer to be received as well as the last time he had made it.

“For a few nights,” she agreed grudgingly. “Until I heal.”

“Until you heal,” he repeated, but Buffy had the clear feeling he was only humoring her.

“It’s close enough,” she said, stopping down Revello. “I’ll be fine. And since you’re here…”

This wasn’t how she had planned to say it. It was hard to sound stern and reproachful when he had just patched her up, maybe saved her life.

“Please don’t steal presents for Dawn. Or me for that matter.”

He blinked, frowned, then sneered around his cigarette. “Right. ‘Will try to remember that. ‘T might be hard, after all, I’m just a vamp. What do I know of what’s proper, huh?”

He turned on his heel and left without a goodbye, giving her the clear impression he was angry. Buffy was left to stare at him, wondering what she could have said to set him off. She returned home, a hand pressed to her side, and tried to figure out how she would keep her injury from her mother.

Still, she wished she hadn’t felt so uncomfortable about the way Spike had left.

Chapter 6

Giles’ expression, when Buffy told him about getting hurt on patrol, was crestfallen. His eyes lowered to rest on Dawn in her arms for a moment, and when he looked back up, the guilt on his face was unmistakable. She grimaced, certain that she knew what was coming already.

“It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have let you go back to patrolling so soon after your pregnancy. We could have trained you more and—”

“Giles!” She rolled her eyes at him. “It wasn’t your decision, and I’m in top form.”

She bit the inside of her cheek and glanced down guiltily. Dawn continued to sleep in the sling, a tiny fist next to her cheek, unaware that Buffy had almost added “And I wasn’t even pregnant, remember?”

“If you were in top form, no vampire—”

“Giles!” This time she sighed. “I didn’t tell you so you’d blame yourself. I need you to help me figure out why Slayers die. How. So this won’t happen to me again.”

He slid his glasses back on his nose and looked at her thoughtfully. She gave him her best determined expression, and he finally nodded. She wasn’t sure if she was imagining things or not, but ever since the arrival of Dawn, he had seemed to accept her decisions more easily, treating her like an adult rather than his charge.

“Let me take care of that customer, and we’ll start digging.”

He might have been speaking figuratively, but what they did, for the remainder of the day, in between breaks to help customers or take care of Dawn, did feel like digging. They were pulling Slayers from their final resting place, forcing them to relive their lives — but never, never their last battle, which was what Buffy had hoped to find.

“This is useless!” she snapped after hours of research, closing yet another volume of Watchers journals more forcefully than she had meant to.

The outburst startled Dawn, who had been happily sucking on a pacifier, cradled against her in the sling. She started crying, and as Buffy tried to calm her down, she finally got it. She knew who could tell her how Slayers died — or at least, how two of them had. He had been there. Not only that, but he had done it.

~

That night, Buffy waited until both Dawn and Joyce were sound asleep, which took more time for the older of the two than expected. The headaches weren’t getting any better. She would have to be quick, she decided, and be back before Dawn could wake and disrupt Joyce’s sleep.

She felt a flash of annoyance when she arrived at Spike’s crypt and discovered it was empty, then remembered that of course, he wasn’t there. He had said he would patrol for her, hadn’t he?

She sat on the battered armchair for a while, but she soon grew restless. She started walking around, looking at the spare furniture, empty bottles and cobwebs. It was a good thing, she thought with an inward snicker, that the parental visits were happening at her place rather than here. The access to the lower level was just a few feet away, tempting her. He’d been in her room, doing God only knew what… It was only fair that she returned the snooping favor, wasn’t it?

Slow, careful steps took her down the ladder. It was even darker down there, but after a few moments her eyes grew accustomed to it and she started looking around the cave-like room. A large bed with tangled sheets, a battered dresser, a night table that seemed to be held up by duct tape… Something was peaking out of the night table drawer, something pink and white that looked oddly familiar. She took a step toward it then stopped, looking back toward the ladder. She thought she had heard something…but no, everything was silent. She shrugged at her own jumpiness and went to open that drawer, pulling a bib out of it, embroidered with Dawn’s name. It had been a gift from Willow, and Buffy had been looking for it for days. So that was where it had been. Frowning, she looked inside the drawer. One of the two pictures of Dawn she had given him was there, protected by a silver frame. And beneath that…another picture he must have stolen, taken just hours after Dawn’s birth, with her in Buffy’s arms. What was the point of their agreement if he was going to—

“Snooping, Slayer?”

She jumped, startled by the half-amused, half-reproachful voice behind her. She whirled back, holding the bib and picture behind her before she realized that she was just as entitled to be upset as he was.

“I snoop, but you steal.” She held out the offending items in front of her.

Spike didn’t even have the grace to look ashamed and he merely shrugged, smiling slightly. Then suddenly, the smile faded and he frowned instead.

“What are you doing here?” He gestured at her abdomen. “You should be home and resting. Didn’t you believe that I’d patrol like I said I would?”

She wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed by his protective tone or by the way he had deflected the conversation. She shoved the bib and picture in her jacket’s pockets and crossed her arms — and winced when she accidentally pressed against her wound. Pain shot through her, but she refused to let it pierce in her voice.

“I’m fine. And I’m not here about patrol.” She could see he was intrigued and pushed forward. “You’ve killed two Slayers. I want to know how.”

His eyes widened almost comically and he just stared at her for long seconds. “You… what?”

“I want you,” she said slowly, “to tell me how you won. What happened in those fights. What mistakes they made.” And because he still looked bewildered, she added: “I’ll pay you.”

That seemed to shake him out of his torpor and he scowled at her, stiffening under her eyes. “I don’t need your money.”

She couldn’t help looking around her at that. It was hard to believe such a claim from someone who lived in a crypt in such conditions.

“I sold the DeSoto to a collector last week,” he added, sounding almost offended by her wordless criticism. “Got a nice chunk of cash.”

“You had a car?” she couldn’t help asking, surprised. “And you sold it?”

“It’s not like I was planning on going anywhere.”

He said it in such a matter of fact way that Buffy couldn’t help feeling an unexpected pang of relief. He wasn’t going anywhere, she realized. Not as long as his daughter was in Sunnydale.

“So you’re not going to tell me about those Slayers?” she asked, trying to keep her gratefulness out of her words.

A calculating look emerged on his features, and the hint of a smirk pulled at his lips.

“I said I didn’t want cash. ‘Doesn’t mean I don’t want anything else as payment.”

“What do you want then?”

He took a few steps toward her, stopping within arm reach, and looked her up and down.

“My price is too high for you, Summers,” he drawled.

She rolled her eyes at him. She didn’t have time for his games now. “Just spit it out and let’s get on with it.”

For some reason, her outburst seemed to amuse him and he chuckled.

“All right, luv. Here’s what I want. A repeat of the night we had under the Witch’s spell.”

Buffy frowned, unsure what he meant by that or what he was leering about. And then she got it. Her cheeks flushed in anger, she slapped him before she even knew she had moved.

“You…you…you pig!”

Too outraged to stay there any longer when he continued to look at her like this, she stalked to the ladder and hurried up and out of his crypt.

She couldn’t believe he’d ask her that. She couldn’t understand why either. He had been as disgusted by their night together as she had been, he had made that clear when the spell had lifted, and they had tacitly agreed never to speak—

But they hadn’t done any such thing, had they? They hadn’t even slept together. The monk had said so with his dying breath. Everything that related to Dawn from her conception to her birth was nothing more than a lie. And yet, she realized as she hurried home, she could remember all of it. She remembered the feel of his fingers, cool and trembling when he had undressed her. She remembered how his eyes had widened when she had stood in front of him, naked, blushing and so excited. She remembered how her throat had tightened when his own body had been revealed to her eyes, his cock so hard, so beautiful that she had been unable to resist touching it and…

And she’d been celibate for far too long, she told herself, shaking the memories away, if what amounted to nothing more than a dream — or nightmare! — could make her so wet, could make her crave the touch of a lover. It was even sicker that it was Spike she was thinking of in that way.

Her feelings of guilt only increased when she reached her home and tiptoed to her room. She shouldn’t have left Dawn alone for this waste of time. That woman, whoever she was, might have found her, and then what?

Leaning over the crib, she watched Dawn sleep. Her fingers were curled over the ear of the plush rabbit Spike had offered her. Somehow, the sight brought back to the front of her mind Spike’s claim that he had sold his car. She straightened again, frowning. Why were his words coming back to her now?

She found her answer when her eyes fell on the unopened jewelry box on her dresser. He had told about his sold car on the same tone of voice he had used when she had told him she didn’t want stolen goods from him. Could it mean… could it mean he had actually paid for that plush toy, and for whatever lay in the jewelry box? She scowled at the innocent object. She wished she had thrown it away before knowing he had paid for it — and especially before he had asked her to sleep with him. To whore herself for information. Now she had a reason both to open it and not to open it.

She undressed, trying to shove both Spike and his unwanted advances and gifts out of her thoughts, but curiosity got the better of her. Clad in her pajamas, she picked up the velvet box and, her jaw locked in annoyance at both herself and Spike, opened it. She wasn’t sure what she had expected to find, but the oval locket on a fine silver chain wasn’t it. It gleamed softly when she got it closer to the night light, but the silver didn’t have that too bright sheen of new metal. Instead, its soft patina spoke of heirloom. Her fingers suddenly feeling very clumsy, she pried the locket open. Inside it, Dawn’s smile greeted her. It was another picture from the maternity ward, she realized. Another picture he had stolen from her and carefully cut to fit in the locket. Somehow, she couldn’t manage to be mad at him anymore.

She went to bed with the silver locket warming against her skin. She couldn’t fall asleep for a long time, too many thoughts battling in her mind. She was scared, so very scared of dying and leaving Dawn alone. Even more scared of being unable to protect her. Scared of losing her mother. More than anything else, though, she was scared of that little voice that claimed it wouldn’t be that bad if she took Spike up on his offer.

Chapter 7

A few days passed. Buffy continued to go to work with Dawn. Giles kept investigating the blonde woman without any result. The Scoobies patrolled for Buffy a couple of nights, then she felt well enough to resume her patrols. Neither they nor she saw Spike anywhere on patrol, but she did stumble on a couple of dead demons. She was sure they were his handiwork. Two of ‘his’ nights came and went, but he did not show up to see Dawn. Buffy couldn’t help feeling hurt on her daughter’s behalf, and was glad Dawn was too young to realize her father had already tired of seeing her. Or maybe it had all been a ploy to get into her pants – the fake interest, the visits, the gifts. He was pathetic, if he had sunk that low.

And Buffy knew herself enough to realize that mentally ranting about Spike while waiting on that uncomfortable hospital chair was just a way for her to avoid thinking of why her mother was in an OR. The CAT scan had showed…something. Clenching her teeth, she looked down at Dawn in her arms. She was playing with a brightly colored plastic ring Joyce had bought for her. It rattled whenever she shook it. It rattled, still, while the surgeon explained what he had found and asked questions Buffy had no answer for, questions she could barely comprehend when her entire mind was consumed by a single thought. She had to do something.

It was this same thought that took her back to the store. She had tried magic to diagnose her mother and it hadn’t worked, but now things were different. Now she knew what the enemy was, and magic could target it, and—

She froze on the sidewalk. Her heart was thundering in her chest suddenly, and she struggled not to hold Dawn more tightly. Ahead of her, just down the street, she could see the Magic Box. She could see, also, all too well, the woman who had just walked out of it – high heels, red spaghetti strap dress, blonde hair, and a bag from the Magic Box in hand. For long seconds, it seemed as though the woman was coming to her. Buffy wanted to run, hide, keep Dawn safe, but she was terrified that moving would bring the woman’s attention to her. So she stayed still, held her breath – and could have wept in relief when she turned into a side street. Shaking, she waited a few more seconds, just to be sure she was really gone, then ran to the store. If Giles was hurt, or any of her friends, she wouldn’t be able to bear it, not now, not when her mother—

She pushed the door open and the bell chimed. At the research table, Anya, Xander, Tara and Willow all turned toward her. Giles stood to the side, a book in his hands. They asked her questions about her mom, but Buffy barely heard any of it.

“Are you all right?” she asked, finally moving forward, her eyes going from one to the other. “She didn’t hurt you, did she?”

They looked at her as though she had been speaking a foreign language. Stuttering in her haste to get the words out, she explained what she had just seen. Their eyes widened incredulously.

“You mean,” Giles said faintly, “that the woman we’ve been researching just came to us and we didn’t notice?”

Buffy remembered the bag she had been holding when walking out. “What did she buy?” she asked, her voice urgent.

It was bad. It was very bad. A quick search told them what the woman was about to do. Buffy wouldn’t let it happen. She was helpless for many things, but monsters, at least, she could fight. She left Dawn to Giles’ care. She found the woman. She fought her, tried to prevent the demon she was summoning from rising.

For the second time in less than a week, she lost.

She tried to run after the giant cobra monster the woman had summoned, but it was too fast and she lost it. Wincing with each step, she returned to the Magic Box. As it turned out, it was the right thing to do. She hadn’t been there for more than a handful of minutes when the cobra burst through the front window and slithered in, coming within steps of Tara – Tara who was holding Dawn in her arms. Buffy rushed from the back of the room to protect her daughter, but already the thing was pulling back. It wasn’t there to kill Dawn, she realized. It had found her, and now it was going to report to its master. She had to stop it before that.

This time, she won. Giles drove her after the creature until she caught it. Fueled by sheer determination and terror, she pummeled the creature with her bare fists until she was bleeding. Even then, she didn’t stop. The thing was dead, but the woman who had summoned it wasn’t. She’d be back. She’d find another way to figure out where her key was. Twice, already, she had proved she was stronger than Buffy. What if the next time, when Buffy lost, the woman took Dawn from her?

Giles took her back to the store. She couldn’t help looking down at the mix of blood and demon goo dropping from her hands onto the car floor as she held them in front of her. Giles cleaned her hands, when they got there, and asked her how she was.

“Cold,” was all she could answer when he repeated the question for the third time.

She was so grateful when Tara gave Dawn back to her that she could have wept. She couldn’t, though. Not now, not when she got to the hospital to talk to her mother and her day went from terrible to worse. She had to put up a good front, had to be positive for her mother’s sake. The smile felt so fake that she was sure it couldn’t possibly fool her mother, but Joyce said nothing, and for that she was grateful. When visit hours ended, she was just too tired to walk home, drained both physically and emotionally. Clinging to a sleeping Dawn and envying her ignorance, she took a cab. As soon as she stepped out of it in front of the house, she could smell the cigarette smoke. She called across the lawn, too exhausted to even manage to sound annoyed.

“Go away, Spike.”

It would have been too much to hope he would listen to her. Instead, he came out from behind that tree, the cigarette already crushed beneath his boot.

“I had to try, didn’t I?” he asked as he stood in front of her, looking at Dawn sleeping in the sling, cradled against her.

“Try what?” she sighed, pushing past him and walking up to the door.

He didn’t reply but she could feel him following her. She turned back toward him after opening the door, and when she met his eyes, she knew what he had meant. His words and proposal from the last time she had seen him echoed in her mind. She could feel her anger trying to rise, but she was just too tired to put any heat behind her words.

“You’re a pig. And as I recall, you were as horrified as I was. I can’t imagine why you’d want a repeat.”

He still didn’t reply, but something changed in his eyes, something Buffy couldn’t deal with at that moment. She refused to believe he had felt anything but disgust when the spell had broken. She had been there. She had seen him react. She had been hurt, even through her own revulsion, when he had—

But none of it had really happened, had it?

“No.”

She wasn’t sure what she was saying no to, or why she was shaking her head. She just knew she had to get away from him, and fast. The door she closed behind her did not stop him, however, and she had just finished changing Dawn’s diapers when he entered the room behind her.

“Can I hold her?” he asked, managing to sound both defiant and meek in the same breath.

She opened her mouth, ready to send him to hell, but the words wouldn’t come. He seemed to take her silence as his answer and stepped closer, holding out his hands to take Dawn from her. She let him have her and watched, her eyes filling with unwanted tears, as he sat down in the rocking chair in the corner of the room with her, the black leather so out of place against the lace of the pillows. Everything that had happened that day was crashing down on her. She was so close to losing both her mother and her child, so close to finding herself alone, and then what would happen to her, what would she do?

And what would they become if she failed them and got herself killed first?

“I…I’ll go warm her bottle,” she murmured, her unshed tears threatening to break her voice.

She didn’t get to the kitchen. Just before she reached the bottom of the staircase, her knees gave out beneath her and she found herself sitting on the next to last step. She was cold again. She wrapped her arms around herself but it didn’t help.

She didn’t know how long she stayed there, her mind buzzing with fears and questions she couldn’t answer. It could have been a minute; it could have been two hours. In the end, slow steps coming down the staircase pulled her out of her daze, along with quiet words spoken on her right when Spike sat down next to her.

“What’s wrong?”

She turned her face away. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Is there something I can do?”

Although surprised by his offer, she thought about it. He couldn’t do anything about her mother, but maybe she could ask him to find and kill the blonde woman. It probably wouldn’t work, though, not when Buffy herself could barely touch her. Not only that, but he would ask questions, want to know why that woman needed to die. She couldn’t tell him about Dawn. He wouldn’t want to have anything to do with them anymore if she did, and then she would be down one ally.

When she didn’t answer, he patted her back awkwardly. The innocent touch broke something inside her, and the tears she had been trying so hard to suppress came to the surface. They felt hot when they rolled down her cheeks, almost burning. Spike’s hand stilled on her back, then tentatively slid to wrap around her shoulder and pull her closer to him. When she didn’t resist, he turned his body toward her and she soon found herself enfolded in his arms, her back against his chest and her head tucked beneath his chin. The position was far from comfortable, but for the first time that day she felt warm – safe – and so she stayed there until she had no tears left to shed.

“Whatever it is,” Spike murmured when she had calmed down, “you’ll beat it. You always do.”

“Do I?” she replied, sniffling. She pulled herself free of his embrace, and could feel him hesitating for a second before he let go. “I almost died the other night. And today—”

She bit her tongue. She couldn’t tell him. She couldn’t tell anyone just how scared she was. She had to be strong. They all expected her to be – even Spike did.

Silent seconds trickled by. Buffy grabbed the railing and pulled herself upright. She had to warm Dawn’s bottle. She hadn’t been able to nurse her since she had learned the truth.

Before she could walk away, however, Spike briefly touched her hand, pulling her attention back to him.

“That night,” he said slowly, looking up but not quite meeting her eyes, “you asked how I beat those Slayers.”

Her heart skipped a beat. She leaned against the banister behind her, holding it with both hands.

“That’s not the right question,” he continued. “The question is, why did they lose. They happened to lose while fighting me, but it could have been another vamp.” He grimaced as though admitting as much were painful. “They were at that point were everything was too much. They needed out. They needed rest. Maybe it was just for a second each, but they had a death wish, and I just happened to be there at the right time.”

She just stared at him for a little while, still processing his words. Only when his eyes finally rose to meet hers did she finally react.

“I don’t have a death wish. I want nothing more than to be there for Dawn and my mom.”

Spike stood and looked at her thoughtfully, his head tilted to one side.

“But is that enough, luv?” he murmured. “Other Slayers before you had kids. Mothers. People to care about and who cared for them. In the end, sooner or later—”

He stopped talking abruptly and she could hear his teeth clack as he closed his mouth. She could guess all too well how that sentence would have ended.

“I feel like killing a demon or ten,” he said as he looked away. “Any place you’d like me to check?”

It was only after he had left, after she had given a grumpy Dawn her milk bottle, after she had gone around the too quiet, too empty house to check that the doors were locked and the lights turned off, that she let herself wonder why he had gone out to fight. Was it because talking of killing Slayers had awakened the desire for blood his chip didn’t let him satisfy? Or was it because any demon or vampire he killed tonight would be one less candidate for the job of killing her?

She fell asleep with her hand curled beneath her chin, the silver locket warm against her palm.

Chapter 8

Behind Buffy, seated in her baby seat on the kitchen island, Dawn was grumbling unhappily. She’d been asleep, earlier, when Joyce had had a loud outburst. The doctor had warned Buffy this might happen when she had taken her mother home and she was doing her best to ignore the random pronouncements Joyce threw every so often. Dawn, however, had not liked the sound of Joyce’s shouting voice; at least she was too young to have been hurt by the actual words. Buffy bit down on the inside of her cheek at the memory and blinked away the tears, focusing on washing the dishes.

Small tasks. No thinking. Thinking was bad. Thinking made her wonder if it had been the tumor talking when Joyce had called Dawn a ‘thing’, or if she knew, somehow, the baby wasn’t her granddaughter. Thinking made her worry about the coming surgery. Thinking left her scared senseless, and she couldn’t afford to be, not now, not when so much rested on her shoulders.

Thinking made her forget this was one of Spike’s visitation nights.

Light knocking on the kitchen back door startled her. She whirled toward it, a knife in hand, and almost dropped it when she recognized the vampire now opening the door. She hurriedly turned back to the sink and shut the water off, then surreptitiously wiped her cheeks while pretending to be drying her hands with a towel.

“You’re here early,” she said.

She was glad her voice remained steady, but the way he frowned at her when she turned to look at him had her wondering if she was fooling him at all.

“It’s the same time as usual,” he replied, his eyes staying on her just a little longer before turning to Dawn. He came closer to her and her grumbling turned into happy cooing.

Buffy glanced at the clock on the microwave. It was indeed later than she had thought. That might explain why Dawn had been complaining. Her evening bottle was late. Buffy started preparing the formula, glancing back when she heard the security belt unclasp. She couldn’t help smiling. Not that long ago, Spike had seemed terrified at the idea of holding Dawn; he didn’t seem so afraid of picking her up anymore.

Upstairs, Joyce cried out some more nonsense. Buffy winced when Spike glanced up, his eyebrows rising.

“Would you like to give her the bottle?” she blurted out, hoping to distract him.

He did take the milk from her and listened as she showed him how to hold both Dawn and the bottle, then how to gently tap her back. As soon as Dawn had fed, though, and without raising his eyes from her, he asked: “Is your mum all right?”

“She’s fine,” Buffy answered at once, too fast to convince him.

He gave her a skeptical glance and Buffy felt the tears rising again.

“She’s…ill,” she said after a few seconds, much quieter now. “Tumor. In her brain. She’ll have surgery tomorrow.”

She could see the concern on his entire face, then the shift indicating the exact moment he realized this was what she hadn’t told him just a few nights earlier. She expected him to ask why she hadn’t told him then and a defensive retort already formed in her mind; she had agreed to let him have a part in Dawn’s life, not her own. Rather than complaining, though, he confused her a little more.

“If there’s anything I can do,” he repeated his offer from that first night, “just ask.”

She nodded a little stiffly and dropped her gaze to Dawn in his arms. She had fallen asleep.

“Well, you could start by putting her to bed,” she said with a forced smile. “And I’ll bring my mom her medication.”

He nodded but didn’t comment. She watched him go, only managing to shake herself into movement when he had disappear past the corner. She poured a glass of water first, thinking of what pills she had to give her mother now. A shout startled her and she dropped the glass. It shattered on the kitchen floor.

“Slayer! Upstairs! Demon!”

She was running before she even knew she had a knife in her hand. Was it the blonde woman? Had she found her, found Dawn somehow? If so, a knife wasn’t going to help much. She had the time, in those few seconds, to regret never telling Spike about this threat. He would have known, then, to run, to take Dawn and run with her and keep her safe—

Dawn was crying. It was all Buffy could hear as she reached the landing. She looked around. Her mother’s bedroom door was closed, and the crying came from beyond it. The other doors were open. Other than Dawn’s shouts, now slowly calming down, there wasn’t a sound.

Her crying redoubled at the same time as Joyce shrieked. The crashing noise in the bedroom sent ice through Buffy’s veins. She rushed forward and pushed the door open. One look was enough. Joyce was in the corner left of the door, clearly terrified but all right. Spike was by the bathroom door, Dawn in his arms. He was leaning back against the door and trying to push it closed while…something struggled to enter the room. Not Glory, then, but still a threat. He raised his head toward her, and in that one second she saw something in his eyes she had never seen there before, not even when she had held a stake to his chest, or when he had been hunted down by the Initiative. Terror. Not for himself, she was sure. For Dawn.

Rather than rushing forward, Buffy left the room again. Three steps took her to the bathroom. The creature, whatever it was, shrieked when she first stabbed it from behind. She did it again. And again. And again until the shrieking stopped. Dawn’s crying was the most beautiful thing she had ever heard. Dawn’s crying and Spike’s shushing noises meant she was fine. Buffy stepped over the dead demon and held out her arms. Spike hesitated, enough for her to realize she still held the knife in her hand. She dropped it, and he gave her Dawn. She held her close, rocking her to calm her down, and started breathing again.

“Buffy?” Joyce asked, her voice as shaky as she was. “What’s going on?”

And then, there were more noises—downstairs, those. The Scoobies called out, rushed up the stairs, stared, explained how and why they were there. Buffy couldn’t have cared less, not when her child was fine. More staring ensued, until Spike explained, amidst much hemming and hawing, that he had found a vamps nest, and figured he’d earn a few dollars telling Buffy about it.

It wasn’t until he had left, until they had all left and the house had fallen silent again that Buffy understood why he had lied. He was still holding up his part of the bargain. She thought the Scoobies had bought it, but she doubted Joyce had. She had seen, as much as Buffy had, the way he had held Dawn while fighting back that creature.

Buffy’s mind was still buzzing, that night. An attack in her home. The coming surgery. The blonde woman, always. All of it filled her with dread. The way Spike had fought to keep Dawn safe, on the other hand, was the one light at the end of a too dark tunnel, a light that still shone, the next day, while she waited hour after hour, for her mother to get out of surgery. And so, when Giles drove her and Dawn home, that night, she was tired but filled with hope after talking to the surgeon, and wasn’t too upset to find Spike waiting in her room even though it wasn’t one of his nights.

“The surgery was today, you said,” he said when a few seconds had passed in silence.

“It was. Mom’s OK.”

He nodded. “That’s good.”

She could have sworn there was something more behind those quiet words, but he changed topic abruptly.

“Can I?”

He gestured at Dawn, and the bottle of formula Buffy held. She figured he had earned that right, and handed both to him. He sat down in the rocking chair, and that awed look that never failed to settle on his face whenever he held her came to the surface.

The tension of the day had left Buffy tired in both body and mind. She toed her shoes off and climbed onto the bed. She wanted to lie down, but she couldn’t lower her guard that much with Spike in the room, so she sat up with her back to the headboard and clutched a pillow to her chest.

“Thanks,” she said after a while.

He didn’t reply, but the way he looked up at her, his scarred eyebrow rising just so, asked for an explanation. Buffy found herself fumbling for words.

“For making up that story about why you were there last night. And for keeping Dawn safe. And my mom.”

“Of course I kept her—them safe.” He rolled his eyes at her. “What did you expect?”

“That’s the thing, isn’t it? I never know what to expect with you. You wanted that chip out and now you’re killing demons. One day you’re threatening to tell my mom and then you’re making a story so she won’t know.” She snorted. “Heck, you said the memory of sleeping with me might drive you to suicide, and then you—”

She couldn’t finish. She knew what he had asked, and he knew it just as well. She didn’t need to finish. She didn’t even know why she was bringing it up again. It was the last thing she wanted or needed to think about. Her life was complicated enough as it was.

Lost in her thoughts, she didn’t realize he had placed Dawn in the crib and had moved closer until he was standing by the side of the bed, just beside her. Startled, she jumped back and bumped the back of her head to the headboard. She wanted to ask him what he was up to, but something in his eyes made it all too clear. She had seen that look before.

“Since you’re bringing it up again… I told you how I offed those Slayers. Never got paid for it.”

She felt a muscle twitch in her jaw. “I’m not sleeping with you,” she said as strongly as she could manage.

He didn’t look put off in the slightest. “Yeah, got that. How ‘bout a kiss then?”

She stared at him, unsure she had heard him right. Unsure, also why her heart was suddenly hammering in her chest as though she had chased a vamp through the entire city. She opened her mouth to say no, but he was already there, leaning down, his lips against hers, his tongue sliding in—

For the time of a heartbeat, she was back to those wish-filled hours that had not happened a year earlier almost to the day. If it had all been a dream, though, why was this so familiar, why did she feel like she had been waiting for this to happen again ever since their first kiss?

But it had never happened, had it? And she couldn’t want it to happen again, or at all.

She pushed him away, shaking her head. “I don’t want—” she said, and she wished her voice hadn’t shaken so much. She wished she had finished that statement. She wished her hands hadn’t still been on his chest.

His eyes were pure gold; they were all she could see.

“Don’t you?” he challenged.

Somehow, Buffy didn’t manage to find an answer — not before Spike kissed her again, that was, and by then it was too late to do anything other than kiss him back.

Chapter 9

A few days trickled by. Joyce healed from her surgery and was sent home. Giles left for England, hoping to get information from the Council about the blonde woman now that they knew her name, Buffy having heard her minion call her Glory. Willow and Anya summoned a troll that wrecked the store; thankfully Tara had taken Dawn out in a stroller at the time. Buffy dealt with the troll, because it was what she did. She remembered what Spike had said about whether wanting to live for others was enough; for her, it was. She took care of her family and friends, that was the one thing she was good at, and she could be happy with that. Most people led a quieter life than she did, but they couldn’t defend themselves or the ones they loved against bad things. She could, at least where demons were concerned, and as soon as Giles came back with information, she’d deal with Glory.

During these few days, Buffy tried very hard not to think about the kiss – the so tender, so passionate kiss she had shared with Spike. Every time she did think of it, a strange mix of lust and guilt would spread through her. She couldn’t afford to let herself be distracted like that, too much rested on her shoulders. Spike continued to show up every other night to see Dawn, and Buffy was very careful not to get close to him and give him any opening. More than once, she caught an amused gleam in his eyes, but he didn’t try anything – and that was for the best, really. She had decided she’d cut his visits if he tried to kiss her again. She couldn’t believe she had let him do it that first time; it had been a moment of weakness on her part, nothing more, after she had been so scared of losing Dawn and her mother. It wouldn’t happen again. It couldn’t happen again.

By the time Giles came back, the store was back to its original state, Willow and Anya had made peace, Joyce had started getting out of the house on her own again, Dawn had slept through the night twice, and Buffy was still feeling as guilty as ever.

Giles came to talk to her the same evening he returned to Sunnydale. The dark circles beneath his eyes and the way he moved revealed his tiredness, but Buffy was thankful he had come at once. Under the pretext of offering him a cup of tea, she drew him to the kitchen and away from Joyce who had fallen asleep on the sofa while reading.

“Did you find out anything?” she asked, keeping her voice down, as soon as they had entered the kitchen.

Giles sighed. “The Council was less than forthcoming, I’m afraid.”

Already disappointed, Buffy forgot about the tea and pulled a high stool to sit across from him at the island. “Did they say anything at all?”

“They hinted that they know something about who Glory is and what the Key does.”

Buffy couldn’t help grimacing at that. “But they don’t know that Dawn—”

“No, of course not,” Giles interrupted gently. “I only gave them as little information as I could get away with. I guess that’s in part why they returned the favor.”

A flash of anger coursed through Buffy; she suddenly felt like killing something. Would the Council ever cease to be a thorn in her side?

“So what now?” she grumbled, frustrated. “If they won’t tell us, how can we find out what they know?”

For the first time, Giles looked away from her, dropping his gaze to his glasses that he had pulled off from his face. He looked strangely uneasy, almost guilty, even.

“What is it?” she asked, her voice sharper than she had meant it to be.

“They might give us this information yet. They’re coming here, Buffy. They want you to go through some kind of…test.”

Her body tensed at the word, unpleasant memories resurfacing. Giles glanced up at her and gave her an apologetic look.

“If you pass, they’ll tell us everything they know about the Key and Glory.”

Buffy’s first instinct was to refuse, right there and then, to submit to another of the Council’s little games. At that moment, however, Dawn, upstairs, started crying. She couldn’t refuse, she realized. She needed that information to keep Dawn safe.

She stood, feeling like energy had been drained from her body. “When are they coming?”

“They’ll be here in two days.”

She nodded and led him back to the front door. They’d have time to talk about it and prepare at the store. Dawn had stopped crying when she finally climbed the stairs with a warm bottle in hand, and Buffy understood why as soon as she entered the room. Spike had picked her up from the crib and was rocking her gently.

“You shouldn’t have come in,” she protested half-heartedly, handing him the bottle. “My mom could have come up. What would you have told her?”

Spike shrugged. “She’s asleep. And you looked busy with your Watcher.”

Buffy’s heart stuttered as she frantically wondered whether Spike had heard anything he shouldn’t have, and if so what. She found out soon enough when he asked:

“Who’s Glory?”

Mouth dry and mind suddenly blank, Buffy tried to find an answer that would satisfy him without giving away too much. The entire time, she kept her eyes on Dawn in his arms. She couldn’t let him guess something was up with Dawn – for all their sakes, she couldn’t.

“She’s… a woman who’s giving me some trouble. A demon. Very strong. We’re not sure what she’s up to, but it’s nothing good.”

“What about that Key thing?”

Buffy’s stomach lurched. “We’re not sure,” she repeated, pushing the words out when they refused to come.

Spike remained silent for a few seconds, then offered: “If she’s a demon, I can help.”

She looked up at him and watched his serious expression for a few seconds before nodding slowly. “I know. And when I need your help, I’ll ask for it.”

As soon as the words passed her lips, he frowned, and she knew she had made a mistake. She wanted to kick herself. Until now, she had always been more than reluctant to accept his help. Of course he would be surprised, even suspicious that she agreed to ask for it.

He didn’t push for further details that night, but he continued to look at her as though trying to puzzle things out the next two times she saw him, making Buffy even more uncomfortable than the memory of their kiss. The arrival of the Council and the tests they started to inflict on her, supposedly to figure out how her pregnancy had affected her, did nothing for her peace of mind. It soon became clear that the Watchers had no clue whatsoever that Dawn was anything but a normal baby, and she was more and more worried about giving them a hint that she was more than that.

With her mind caught between Spike, Dawn and the Council, she almost forgot Glory. Glory, however, did not forget her.

The same day Buffy was supposed to undergo her final test with the Council, Glory showed up at her house. The visit was surprisingly civil – if one discounted the threats Glory uttered toward Joyce and Buffy’s friends. The entire time, Buffy tried to hold on to her calm and hoped – hoped so hard – that Dawn would not wake up and start crying. The last thing she wanted was to add another potential victim to Glory’s list; not only that, but she didn’t know if Glory would be able to tell that Dawn was the Key she was looking for if she ever laid eyes on her. When Glory finally left, Buffy started shaking.

“Who was that?” her mother asked, clearly scared. “Buffy, what’s going on?”

“Grab a coat, we’re leaving,” was all she answered as she rushed upstairs to get Dawn.

Less than ten minutes later, she was knocking on the door of Spike’s crypt. At her side, Joyce had given up on asking questions for now but she had made it clear that they would have a lengthy discussion later. Spike opened the door and his expression went in a flash from pure happiness when he saw Dawn to worry when he noticed Joyce. He let them in and Buffy led the way, all too aware of her mother’s heavy gaze on her back.

“I need you to protect them,” she told Spike without waiting for him to ask what was going on. “For a few hours, until I can have Willow and Tara secure the house somehow.”

His face darkened with worry. “Is it Glory?” he asked. “Did she come there? You don’t look hurt. What—”

“I don’t have time to explain now, Spike.”

“Will you ever?” he challenged, clearly annoyed. “I’m not stupid. I know something’s up and you’re not telling me.”

Their eyes met and she could tell, by the fire that burned in his, that he wouldn’t drop it. He might let her get away with it now, but he’d keep pushing and trying to figure things out. She wished she could have convinced him it was nothing, but she doubted she could.

“There’s things you’re better off not knowing,” she said, almost pleading. “Believe me, I wish I didn’t know. Just keep them safe, please.”

She held out Dawn to him. He cradled her protectively and had a quick smile when she babbled up at him.

“You know I will,” he said, looking back at Buffy. “I just wish I understood—”

She stopped him by pressing two fingers to his lips. His eyes flared golden again, and she knew this was yet another conversation she wouldn’t be able to dodge for much longer. She’d need to find a very convincing story to cover up what was going on.

“I’ll be back in a few hours at most,” she said, then turned away. She was almost startled to find her mother only a step behind her. Focused on trying to keep Spike in the dark, she had forgotten for a second that they weren’t alone.

Buffy didn’t like the slight frown on her mother’s brow one bit. She had a feeling Spike wasn’t the only one who was figuring out more than she wanted him to know, and indeed, when she came back to get Dawn and her mother later that night, Joyce waited until they had arrived to their now secure home – or at least, as secure as Willow could make it – before she asked:

“Is he her father?”

For a moment, Buffy was too taken aback to answer. Then she thought about deflecting, or even straight out lying, but there was something in Joyce’s eyes that made it clear that she knew, and nothing Buffy could say would change that.

“He is, but he’s not,” she murmured, holding Dawn a little closer. “It’s complicated.”

“It’s Dawn, isn’t it?” Joyce said gently. “There’s something about her…” She reached out to caress her hair. It had darkened, in the past weeks, and from light blond it had now taken a honey color. “When that woman said you had something of hers, she meant Dawn, didn’t she?”

Her throat too tight to speak, Buffy nodded. She couldn’t explain it again, not after she had told the Scoobies at the store. She had needed to, after what Quentin Travers had explained to them once she had made it clear she was done playing his games. If they were to fight a god – not just a god, but also these strange knights that had found and threatened Buffy on her way to the store – she had figured they needed to understand why.

More than ever, she was afraid for her child, but at least now she knew what she was up against. She didn’t know how she would defeat Glory, but she didn’t have a choice, she would need to find a way.

Somehow, though, when she went to bed that night, her biggest fear wasn’t about Glory, or the hellish world she wanted to bring forth, or the knights that were ready to destroy Buffy and the Key to stop her. Instead, she worried that Spike had seemed so determined to know everything. She hoped he had heard her when she had told him he was better off not knowing, but deep down, she didn’t really believe he would let it go.

How fast would he lose interest in Dawn, once he knew? How fast would he lose interest in both of them?

Chapter 10

Buffy’s dreams, the night after she turned twenty, held no hint of Glory or her minions, no vampires or demons to the exception of Spike, and none of these fears that, too often, lately, had pulled her from sleep and forced her to check on Dawn, Joyce or both of them.

Instead, she dreamed of a too sweet cake, and Tara gently kissing a bit of frosting off Willow’s cheek. She dreamed of music, kept low because Dawn was asleep upstairs, and Xander showing off a few nice dance moves. She dreamed of her mother’s smile, and of wrapping paper, ribbons and bows. She dreamed of the best birthday she had had in much too long. The only sour note had been her realization that she was alone when her friends all had someone. In her dream, though, the loneliness disappeared, replaced by sweet, so sweet kisses, kisses she didn’t dare think about by daylight but that kept her warm during those long, terror filled nights.

It was in the middle of such a kiss that Buffy woke that night. She remained still, her eyes closed, luxuriating in the memory of tenderness and passion. Something had awakened her; Dawn, probably. She’d wait and see if she cried again or if she had only been—

“Hush, love. That’s a good girl.”

For a second, she thought that the voice was pulling her back into her dream. The rustling of fabric – leather? – against wood – the crib? – put an end to that notion. Her heart leapt in her chest and she sat up, eyes wide, the stake she kept beneath her pillow already in her hand. The first thing she noticed was the open window. The moon, almost full and hanging low in the sky, cast enough light in that she could take in the rest of the scene in the next heartbeat. Spike was standing halfway between the crib and the window.

“What are you doing?” She frowned, annoyed and a little spooked that he had entered her bedroom without her knowledge or consent. “It’s not one of your nights. You can’t just—”

Words failed her when, in the same second, Spike shifted to his game face and she noticed he was cradling Dawn to his chest, half hidden by the side of his duster.

“Spike?” Her throat was so dry, suddenly, that just saying his name felt like swallowing crushed glass. She wanted to get to them, get Dawn from him, but she found herself unable to move, afraid of what he would do then.

“I’m taking my daughter.”

Buffy shivered at the ice in his voice. “You… what?”

“Because she is my daughter, Slayer. Not some Key, not a thing. She’s mine!”

Buffy’s world turned black. All she could see were Spike’s fiery eyes. Deep down, she had known he would find out sooner or later. She had known, and at the same time she had hoped he wouldn’t, hoped so hard…

“She’s yours,” she said, the words shaking as much as her hands, raised in front of her in a calming gesture. “She’s ours. You can’t take—”

“I can’t?” His voice was still quiet enough that Dawn didn’t seem to stir, but it held so much intensity that Buffy flinched. “And why the hell not? You only protect her because it’s your damn job! I protect her because I love her!”

The words felt like an electroshock. Buffy jumped out of bed, barely aware that she dropped the stake. All she knew was that Spike wanted to take Dawn away, and she couldn’t let that happen. Not because it was her job, as he said, and not because she didn’t trust him to take care of Dawn. It was much more basic than that.

“How dare you!”

For the first time, he looked uncertain. She didn’t give him time to say a word.

“She’s my daughter! Maybe I didn’t give birth to her, but I remember doing it. I remember eight hours of pain and being so fucking scared that I’d be a single mom and mess it all up!”

Dawn finally woke up and started crying out softly. Spike looked down at her, his face returning to its human features. He rocked her gently, all the fight having seemingly drained from his body.

“But you’ve been there,” Buffy continued, calmer now. “You’ve helped in ways you don’t even know.”

His head snapped up again and his eyes flared gold. “You should have told me!”

“And what? Watch you be torn apart, like I was?”

He snorted. “Why would you care that I hurt?”

“Why would you care that I hurt?” she shot back. “Or that my mom is sick? Or that I’m not getting enough sleep?”

He barely moved, but the way he held himself shifted just enough that he seemed smaller, his body curling as though to protect Dawn.

“She’s my daughter,” he said again, and this time Buffy couldn’t have said if he was defiant or pleading.

“Yes, she is.” She stepped closer and rested a trembling hand on Dawn’s back, right next to Spike’s. “And we’ll keep her safe.”

Seconds passed to the rhythm of Dawn’s breathing and Buffy’s heartbeat. Finally, Spike moved back toward the crib and laid Dawn back in it. His gestures were so gentle, she didn’t wake again, not even when he brushed his fingertips against her face.

He turned back toward Buffy, and again his voice shook with intensity. “How?”

Buffy blinked. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, how are we doing to keep her safe? Are we going after that demon? Glory?”

“She’s not a demon.”

He frowned. “You said—”

“I thought she was a demon. But she’s more than that. She’s a hell god.”

He stared at her, the incredulity all too clear on his face. Then he shook his head and said: “It doesn’t change anything. We still need to act first rather than wait for her to act.”

It was Buffy’s turn to shake her head. “We can’t risk it. Glory doesn’t know—”

“But she came here, didn’t she? She could come back. She could hurt Dawn without even realizing she’s what she’s looking for.”

In truth, Buffy had had those same thoughts. Even with Willow and Tara’s best protective spell on the house, she dreaded Glory’s return and what would happen then. All her worrying however had not brought her closer to a solution.

“What if we got her out of town?” Spike said. “Could your mom take her somewhere? With relatives maybe? Then she’d be safe while we attacked.”

As Buffy thought about it, she took a few steps back to sit on the edge of her bed. On one hand, she hated the idea of Dawn being away from her – and from Spike. On the other, Glory knew she had the Key, and she would come back looking for it. Spike was right, it was too dangerous to wait. Just the same, she couldn’t manage to agree.

“No, that won’t work. My mom is still not well. She’s better, but not enough to run off with a baby. And I can’t send Dawn away.”

“But think,” Spike insisted. “We can’t just leave Dawn here where Glory will find her. We need to send her to safety or take her there ourselves. I don’t like it anymore than you do but if that’s what it takes to keep her safe…”

Looking back toward the crib, Buffy bit the inside of her cheek. She could see his point, but she still couldn’t imagine parting with her child. “I… I have to think about it. Talk to my mom, and Giles.”

“Do it if you must, but the less people know about it, the better. They all know too much already.”

A couple of seconds passed before she realized what he meant by that – realized that it was bitterness coloring his words.

“They had a right to know what they were fighting for,” she said, her eyes meeting his. “And they wouldn’t say a word.”

“Wouldn’t they? If she takes one of them and makes them bleed, you think they wouldn’t talk?” He shrugged. “Hell, I didn’t have to bleed anyone to figure it out. A trip to your Watcher’s store after hours was enough.”

There was such pain in his voice that Buffy hurt right along with him, remembering how heartbroken she had been when she had discovered Dawn had been given to her. Remembering, also, how his presence, then, had helped her more than he even knew.

“Here.”

She carefully pulled the silver chain and locket he had given her from her neck and, standing again, she stepped closer to him. He remained completely still as she slid the chain over his head and let the locket slide beneath his t-shirt.

“Why?” he murmured.

“Because she is your daughter. Don’t ever doubt it.”

She couldn’t have said if she reached toward him first, or if he leaned down toward her. Either way, the result was the same. Their lips met in a soft, chaste kiss, so unlike the one they had shared before – and yet, Buffy felt just as touched by it. She couldn’t have said either which of them broke away first. Spike’s hand came up to touch the locket through the fabric of his shirt.

“Thank you.”

Buffy wondered, as she watched him slip out of the window, whether he had thanked her for the locket or for the kiss.

Chapter 11

On top of the coffee table, the baby seat rocked as Dawn kicked her feet. She laughed, the sound bright as sunlight. Buffy looked at her and smiled. If only she could have been as oblivious…

With a shake of her head, she returned her attention to what Giles was saying. She had called him at home, intruding on his Sunday to ask him to talk to her mother about Glory, and Dawn, and everything they had discovered. She could have told the same thing to Joyce herself, but she didn’t feel up to telling anyone else. Every time she said the words, it felt as though she were betraying Dawn.

Giles finished. He sat back in the armchair, picked his glasses off his nose and started cleaning them absently. On the other side of the coffee table, Joyce seemed very pale. She clutched her hands in front of her, and kept her eyes on Dawn. The silence, broken only by Dawn’s giggles, soon became too heavy for Buffy to bear.

“I don’t want you to feel obligated, mom,” she said, stopping her pacing to sit down next to Joyce. “It’s just an idea. We’re just talking.”

“What I don’t understand,” Joyce said, choking a little on the words, “is why I’d have to go alone. You could come with us.”

Buffy reached to cover her mother’s hands with her own.

“I wish I could, but it’d be too dangerous. Glory knows I have the Key. I’m her only clue. The only way for Dawn to be truly safe – Dawn and you – is if I don’t know where you are.”

“If no one knows,” Giles added softly.

Silence again. They hadn’t explained why the secrecy was necessary, but Joyce had to have figured it out. There was a risk that Glory would capture one of them and try to make them talk. Buffy couldn’t begin to imagine what she would feel if one of her friends was hurt this way. She realized she was holding her breath and forced herself to breathe calmly. In the baby seat, Dawn had dozed off.

“Well,” Joyce said at last, her voice very quiet, “I have been feeling much better. I suppose I could take my granddaughter for a little trip.”

Unable to say a word, Buffy hugged her. She knew it was the right decision, knew Dawn would be safer away from her, but just the same, her heart was breaking.

“When?” Giles asked, bringing them back to the core of things.

They agreed for three days later. Joyce would leave with a rental car, as much cash as possible – and Dawn.

~

That afternoon, Buffy left a sleeping Dawn to her mother’s care and went to Spike’s crypt. She wanted to tell him about the trip, and figure out what they would do after that. She had a couple of ideas about finding Glory and wanted to bounce them off someone. It hadn’t occurred to her, that morning, to tell Giles about them.

The first level was empty, when she arrived there. She figured he had to be in the lower level, probably sleeping. She thought about leaving and coming back later, but shrugged the idea off. He had intruded on her nights often enough for her to have a right to return the favor.

She wasn’t even halfway down the rusty ladder when Spike appeared at its foot, startling her.

“Not that I don’t appreciate the visit, but I’m late on my housework. Why don’t you go back up, Slayer?”

He didn’t give her much of a choice, already climbing behind her, and she complied.

“I talked to my mom,” she said once he had emerged. “She’ll take Dawn away in three days. That’ll give us an open field to get to Glory.”

He nodded, then gave a slightly worried look at the manhole still gaping open over the lower level. “Sounds good. And speaking of that, I got an idea about taking her down. If she’s that strong, we’ll need as much help as we can get, and… well…”

He almost sounded nervous now.

“And what?” Buffy asked impatiently. “The Scoobies will help, but we’ll need more than—”

She stopped when she understood what he meant by ‘help’. Drusilla was hoisting herself out of the manhole. Buffy’s eyes widened in incredulity and she reached for the stake in her pocket. When he saw her reaction, Spike stepped between her and Drusilla.

“Listen, let’s not—”

She glared at him, incensed. “What is she doing here?”

Drusilla’s hands came to rest on Spike’s shoulders and kneaded them possessively.

“That’s what I was trying—”

“You know what? It doesn’t matter. She’s dust. Get out of the way.”

He twisted his body out of Drusilla’s hands but remained between her and Buffy. He stared at her intently and his voice took an urgent tone.

“She showed up out of nowhere. I just thought she could help—”

“Help?” Buffy couldn’t believe her own ears. “You want an insane murderer to help? Why don’t you go straight to Gl—”

His hand rose toward her. Her first instinct was to block what she perceived as an attack and retaliate. Her blow caught him in the jaw. Behind him, Drusilla clapped and laughed.

“The party’s starting!”

Spike threw her a glare—“Don’t you bloody start.”—before throwing an equally nasty one to Buffy. “And you, don’t say her name. Don’t say anything you don’t need to.” He tilted his head toward Drusilla. “She is insane. But she can also help. She’s strong—”

“No. I’m not putting her life in her hands…” She grimaced, realizing how ridiculous she sounded. “You know what I mean. And I told you long ago she was dead if she came back in my town.”

Drusilla looked at her hands, frowning. “Dead? I’m not dead. Am I? Daddy tried to kill me but I didn’t burn.”

For the first time, Buffy really looked at her. Something was wrong with her face. What had happened to her? And did she mean that Angel—

One second, Drusilla seemed lost in her study of her own hands; the next, she pushed Spike out of the way and jumped at Buffy. Taken by surprise, Buffy let the first blow touch her. Sharp nails caught her cheek and warm blood started trickling down. Spike was an idiot. How could he have thought for a second that this raving lunatic could help them?

Pushing Drusilla back with a double kick, she pulled out her stake and lunged forward. It was sheer luck that she didn’t stake Spike when he jumped in front of Drusilla, hands raised in front of him in an appeasing gesture.

“All right, so maybe it was a bad—”

Once again, Drusilla pushed him out of the way and lunged at Buffy. The stake knocked out of her hands, it was all Buffy could do to grab Drusilla’s hands before they could come to her neck. They stumbled to the ground together. Kicking up, Buffy managed to roll on top, but her legs tangled in Drusilla’s long dress and she lost her edge. They rolled again, coming closer to where the stake rested. She reached out, extending her hand as much as she could while keeping Drusilla’s face and fangs back. She had just managed to touch the stake when suddenly Drusilla fell limp on top of her. She looked up, startled, and found Spike standing over them, a rebar in hand.

“Definitely didn’t go as I planned,” he muttered as he leaned down to pick up the unconscious Drusilla.

“Really?” Buffy snorted as she stood, the stake firmly back in her hand. “Which part? The one where your ex tries to murder me or the one where I dust her?”

She raised the stake. Spike cradled Drusilla closer to his chest, holding her in such a way that Buffy couldn’t stake her without hurting him. The betrayal she had first felt when he had placed himself between her and Drusilla resurfaced, amplified a hundred times.

“Let go of her, Spike.”

He didn’t move. “No. I’ll…deal with her.”

She snorted. “Right. You’re going to kill the love of your life. And right after that, you’ll go sunbathing, I’m sure.”

He gave her a strange look, head tilted to one side, lips pinched together as though he were stopping himself from saying something, but did not let go of Drusilla. Another flash of anger coursed through her. She dropped the stake and took a step back.

“You know what? I don’t care. Go play dolls all you want. I don’t need you to take care of Dawn.”

Drusilla was rousing in his arms, and raised a hand to caress his face. Angry with him for putting them in this mess and with herself for not putting an end to it – and angry, mostly, with how hurt she felt – Buffy stormed out of the crypt. She was glad the sun was high and bright, trapping him in. If he had come after her now, she might have staked him. And if he hadn’t come…

She shook her head and walked a little faster. By the time she got home, her cheeks were dry again.

~

All throughout her patrol, that night, Buffy was sure someone was following her. She didn’t have to think to know it had to be Spike. Another night, she might have called for him to get out of the shadows and talk to her. Not this time, though. She was still mad at him for putting her in danger – and for no other reason, she assured herself. She didn’t give a damn about what he had been doing with Drusilla in that crypt. She didn’t care that he had taken her side against Buffy. Not one little bit.

All things considered, she wasn’t too surprised that he waited until she got back home. He was in her room, when she entered it, leaning over Dawn’s crib and smiling as she babbled at him.

“Great,” Buffy said, rolling her eyes. “You hadn’t done enough for today, you had to go and wake her up.”

He straightened up at once and his smile vanished.

“I didn’t wake her up. She was awake when I got in.”

Buffy shrugged. “Whatever. It’s time for her to sleep.”

“Slayer—”

“So you do remember what I am. Good. You had me wondering for a moment there when you suggested that I work with someone who killed a Slayer not three years ago.”

He blinked at that, then frowned. “You work with me and I’ve killed two.”

She shook her head. Did he really think he needed to remind her? “And right now you can’t lay a finger on a human.”

A strange noise came from him; it took Buffy a few seconds to realize he was growling. He took slow steps toward her and her heart leaped in her chest. She wasn’t sure whether she ought to reach for her stake.

“So that’s why you let me get close? Because I’m as good as defanged?”

Buffy straightened up, standing as tall as she could while he was trying to tower over her.

“I let you get close because you’re her father. But if you want a desinvite—”

Without warning, he grabbed her shoulders and crushed his mouth to hers. At first, she was too taken aback to do much more than grant him entrance to her mouth, but when his tongue slipped against hers she kissed him back — only to feel bereft when he pulled back again.

“And that’s just because I’m her father, too?” he asked, almost gloating.

Buffy’s cheeks felt like fire. “Get out.”

He didn’t move or even let go of her when she tried to shrug off his hold on her.

“You’ve said your piece. My turn. I didn’t go to Dru for help. She came to me. I really thought she could help, but yeah, maybe I didn’t think that one through. But she’s gone now. And if she was still the love of my life, like you said, I’d be gone too. But I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere. And it’s not just because of Dawn. If you can’t see that…”

His hands, which had been tightening on her shoulders almost to the point of pain, released her suddenly enough that she wondered if the chip had fired. How much pain did he have to inflict on someone before it started punishing him? How did it even know that he was hurting someone? Or did it only know about his intentions?

Better to think of these trivial things than try to understand what he wasn’t quite saying. Better to think of his chip than think of how gentle his hand was when he pushed a strand of hair back behind her ear and touched the healing cuts Drusilla had left on her cheek. Better not to wonder why her arms were around him, suddenly, holding him tight as though he had just disappeared from her life, or why she was kissing him back so fiercely.

When he left, some time later, without another word, Buffy was more confused than she had ever been about him – about men in general. For the entire next day, she thought about how strange men were. She was thinking about it while chasing a sex robot throughout Sunnydale. She was thinking about it, still, when she went home that night and found her mother’s body.

Chapter 12

The microwave beeped and Buffy pushed away from the island to go to it. By the time she had crossed the two steps, she had forgotten about the bottle she had been warming. She found herself standing in front of the microwave, hands hanging at her sides, her mind buzzing with white noise. For two days, she had been strong. She had done everything that needed to be done, and kept her chin up the entire time. Her friends had asked her, repeatedly, if she would be all right, and she had truthfully replied yes. Now that they were gone, though, now that for the first time she was alone with Dawn in a house that suddenly felt too big, she didn’t know anymore if she would be. She didn’t know how to do this. She didn’t know how to live without her mom.

Two knocks on the back door window startled her. She turned to see Spike there, a questioning look on his face. She swallowed hard and nodded. The first thing she noticed, when he walked in, was the plush elephant in his hand. It was purple, and she was taken by a sudden urge to giggle that she barely managed to control.

“Hey. I came to say goodbye. At what time are they leaving?”

A moment passed before Buffy understood what he meant. He didn’t know, of course. As far as he was concerned, Dawn would be leaving the next day with Joyce.

“They’re not leaving.” The words grated like sandpaper.

“They’re not? Why? I thought—”

Buffy turned away from him and back toward the microwave, finally pulling out the bottle. “My mother…” She couldn’t finish. She had to start again, and say the words in a rush. “My mother’s dead, Spike.”

Two days worth of tears suddenly crashed through her, submerging the barriers she had erected. She didn’t want to cry, least of all in front of Spike, she had only cried too much in front of him already, but the tears were not to be stopped. She lowered her head, her body shaking with her silent sobs. Gentle fingers pried the warm bottle from her hand; equally gentle arms wrapped around her from behind and pulled her back against his chest.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and she only cried harder.

An hour later, Buffy’s tears were long gone, Dawn had been fed and cleaned, and Spike had proved he knew his way around the kitchen by making hot chocolate for the two of them. Leaning against the island, Buffy watched the tiny marshmallows melt in her mug and knew, without having to ask, who had taught him to make chocolate like this.

“We have to figure out something else,” he said suddenly.

She looked up from her cup to find him just two feet to her left.

“Figure out…”

She frowned and stared at him when she understood what he meant. With Joyce…gone, so was their plan to have her leave with Dawn. She couldn’t believe he could be so heartless, and she told him as much, her voice both bitter and pained.

“Your mum was a fine lady,” he replied, his face as blank as his tone. “I’m sorry she’s gone, even if she threatened to dust me a bit too much to my liking. But what I think, or what you feel, won’t matter one bit if Glory decides now is the time to attack.”

Buffy placed the mug on the island and pushed it away from her. The worse thing was, he was right, and she couldn’t deny it. She had been trying not to think of Glory, but she had been lurking right on the edge of her mind the entire time she had made preparations for the funeral and everything else. Glory wouldn’t give her time to grieve. On the contrary, if she learned what had happened, she might decide now was the right time to attack a weakened Buffy. Pushing her pain and grief away for now, she took a deep breath in, cleared her mind, and turned fresh eyes toward Spike.

“OK. What can we do, then?” She ached just thinking of the words, but she had to say them. “Getting her out of town still seems like the best solution.”

Spike nodded slowly, and watched her for a few seconds before he said: “We could go. The three of us, I mean. Take her away. Glory would never find us, and—”

“And we’d be running all our lives?” Buffy cut in. “No. We’ve got to get rid of Glory. And before we do, we have to make sure Dawn is out of her reach.”

She thought hard. Judging by his furrowed brow, Spike was doing the same. Maybe Giles would agree to take Dawn away, although they would need his help to figure out how to take down Glory.

“I know where no one would go looking for her,” Spike said after a while. Strangely enough, he grimaced as he said so. “Hell, even I wouldn’t look for her there.”

A strange mix of hope and anxiety filled Buffy. “Where?”

“Angel.”

For the space of three heartbeats, Buffy was sure she had heard wrong. Surely, he couldn’t mean… It was his grim expression that made her realize she had understood him perfectly – except, she didn’t understand. She stared at him, dumbfounded.

“You’ve got to be kidding. First Dru and now this? It’s crazy!”

“Exactly. None of your gang would believe you’d take your kid to him.”

She shook her head. He was making less and less sense. “Why does it matter—”

“She’ll come after them, luv,” he said with an eye roll. “We’ve gone through this already. She’ll try to get at you through them. They should get out of town too.”

Buffy felt a pang of fear. She knew the Scoobies were vulnerable, she had always known as much, but she couldn’t imagine her life without them, just as she couldn’t imagine them getting hurt because of her.

“Wait,” she raised her hands and took a few steps back from him, needing space and time. “It’s all going too fast. I need to think.”

Spike closed the space between them again. “You don’t have time to think. We need to get Dawn out of Sunnydale. The sooner the better.”

She turned her back on him, wrapping her arms around herself. “But there’s got to be another way. You hate Angel, and he’s my ex! I can’t ask him to take care of our…” A thought struck her out of nowhere. She whirled back toward him, glaring. “Wait a minute! He’d realize she was yours, wouldn’t he? That’s just one of your games to hurt him!” She wanted to kick herself at her own blindness. She should have known! It had always been about vengeance, for him. From their first alliance, that was all he had ever wanted. “It’s all a game isn’t it? You’ve been playing with me all this time and now—”

Feeling hurt and silly for having believed he cared about her, she tried to take a swing at him. He grabbed her arm and held tight when she tried to pull free.

“No.” He looked at her intently. “I’m not playing. Not with you, not with him if we do this.”

She snorted. “And I’m supposed to believe—”

He used his hold on her to bring her closer to him and crush his mouth to hers. She pushed him back and finally pulled her arm free.

“Don’t you get it?” he snapped. “Do I have to actually say the words for you to know what I feel for—”

“Don’t!”

The edge of panic in her own voice shocked her, as much as it seemed to surprise Spike. Just a moment earlier, she had felt hurt at the idea he had been playing with her and her feelings; now, she couldn’t bear the thought to hear he hadn’t been. Spike had said it himself. They didn’t have a minute to spare. She couldn’t afford complications of any kind. She couldn’t let herself be distracted.

Spike muttered something she didn’t catch and stepped back, putting some distance between them. “I’m not trying to fuck with Angel’s head. I don’t give a damn what he thinks about Dawn as long as he keeps her safe. Dru said he still has a soul, but the way she said he acted, it sounded more like Angelus to me. There’s no one else other than the two of us I’d trust to keep her safe from Glory.”

Blank minded, Buffy could do nothing more than stare at him for a few seconds. Why did his successive explanations make less and less sense?

“You’d trust Angelus to keep a baby safe?” she said at last, incredulous. “Are you out of your mind?”

“That’s not what I said. I’d trust Angelus to do anything he had to. And I’d trust his soul to take care of your kid. He won’t be happy she’s mine, but I don’t think that would be enough to stop him from helping you.”

Without thinking, she looked up toward the living room where Dawn was asleep, blissfully ignorant of their discussion. She hated Spike’s suggestion, but try as she might, she couldn’t come up with anything better. Out of nowhere, the memory of her mother jumped at her. Her heart tightened painfully and she bit down on the inside of her cheek so she wouldn’t cry.

Joyce had always tried to do what was best for Buffy, and some of her decisions couldn’t have been easy to make. Placing her in the mental institution had to have broken her heart, Buffy was sure, and moving out of Los Angeles, abandoning her career, her friends, her life to start from scratch – to give Buffy a chance to start from scratch – had to have been one of the most difficult choices she had made. And yet, she had done both things, not because they were easy, not because they would help her own life, not because she had known with an absolute certainty they were the right choices, but because she had thought they were what Buffy needed. Right or wrong, she had tried to do her best for her daughter. All Buffy could do was try to follow her path.

Turning her attention back to Spike, she looked into his eyes and found the same thing there that she had seen, so often, in Joyce’s eyes. He wasn’t happy about what he was suggesting, but he thought it was for the best. She swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded.

“OK. My mom’s burial is in the morning. We can go tomorrow night.”

Spike’s face, in no more than a second, went from anxious to relieved to determined. “No. Let’s go now. No one will know we were even gone.”

Buffy tried to find an argument to refuse, but she couldn’t come up with anything. In truth, she didn’t want to leave Dawn to someone else’s care, she didn’t want to lose her when she had just lost her mother. She simply didn’t want to be alone. What she wanted, however, had no bearing on the situation. What she needed to do was keep her child safe.

In just minutes, they were ready. She prepared a bag of clothes and toys, another one with diapers, cleaning towelettes, milk and bottles. They took Joyce’s car and she sat in the back, next to Dawn asleep in her car seat. She spent half the ride looking at her, and the other half writing instructions on a pad about how to prepare the milk, Dawn’s night time routine, and everything she could think of that Angel might need to know. Spike didn’t say a word the entire time, but the way his thumb kept beating against the steering wheel betrayed he was as much on edge as Buffy was.

Once they arrived at Angel’s hotel, he turned toward her in the car and cleared his throat. “It might be easier if you talk to him alone.”

She snorted, and only replied with one word. “Coward.”

His idea of staying behind forgotten, he carried the bags while Buffy took Dawn, both of them hurrying in hopes that they wouldn’t be noticed. They looked at each other when they reached the door but said nothing. She entered first, Spike following right behind her.

Chapter 13

Buffy had lived through very awkward moments since becoming the Slayer. Life had a tendency to take unexpected turns when demons and magic were a part of your every day life. Rarely, though, had she been in a more uncomfortable position than standing in the lobby of a hotel with a baby in her arms, between two vampires – one her first love and ex-boyfriend, the second the father of her child and… she wasn’t too sure who Spike was anymore. Small mercies – they appeared to be alone.

“Angel, please put the stake down.”

For the first time since he had come out of his office and growled at the sight of Spike, he looked directly at her, and finally noticed Dawn in her arm. His hand, and the stake in it, went down. His eyebrows went up.

“Buffy? What’s going on?” He threw Spike a glaring look, and even if he didn’t move toward him in any way, the tension in the room just climbed a notch higher. “What are you doing here with him?” His eyes returned to Dawn. “And who’s this?”

She ignored the first question for now. They’d get to it soon enough, and she still wasn’t sure how she would tell him. “This,” she said, turning Dawn toward him, “is Dawn. My daughter.”

His eyes went wide. It couldn’t have been more obvious, as he looked from Dawn to Buffy and back again, that he had forgotten about the stake in his hand, or why he was holding it.

“How old… how old is she?” he asked, his voice shaking a little.

They didn’t have time for chit-chat, Buffy knew it, but with every second spent talking to Angel was one more second of holding on to Dawn. “Just over six months old, now.”

“Six months… so she was born in August?”

“Yes.”

He frowned briefly and his lips moved silently. Buffy could have sworn he was counting. Wondering what he was doing was just one more way to delay the inevitable. A light touch of Spike to her shoulder made her look back at him; he nodded, encouraging her. He looked almost ashen. This wasn’t only difficult for her, she realized. It was his idea, but he didn’t like it any more than she did. She returned her attention to Angel, but before she could say a word, he said, sounding almost in awe:

“She’s mine, isn’t she? She’s my daughter.”

Spike’s laugh was much too tense to be fully genuine. “Guess again,” he said, sneering.

He stepped forward to stand at Buffy’s side rather than behind her, but Angel didn’t appear to hear or notice him. He only had eyes for Dawn.

Buffy blinked several times, confused. Why would he think she was his? It had been years since the fateful night they had shared. “How could she be—”

“I was human,” he said quickly, looking back at her with…was it guilt? “For just a day. I know you don’t remember, but you were here, and we… well, we slept together. And we had ice cream. And Dawn… she’s got to be mine. The dates—”

She shook her head. “The last time I came here I didn’t even stay ten minutes! You’re not making any sense.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Spike said, his voice harsh and cutting.

Angel’s head whipped toward him as though he had just remembered he was there. His eyes flared golden.

“Use your nose. You’ll know she’s mine.”

Angel’s nostrils flared. He didn’t say anything, didn’t ask how or why, but his expression closed at once, the awe and emerging happiness of just a second earlier disappearing in a flash. Instead, he looked betrayed. Part of Buffy ached for him, but she still didn’t understand why he had thought she was his in the first place. She swallowed back a sigh, and steeled herself for what she had to say now.

“She’s not yours, Angel, but she needs your protection.”

He snorted. “Aren’t the two of you enough? A killer and a Slayer, what else does she need?”

She winced at the bitterness in his words. “You. And a safe place to stay until we can get rid of the threat.”

“What threat?”

“I… we will take care of it. We’ll find a way. But Dawn needs to be away until we manage to do it.”

Turning his back on them, Angel walked away and threw his hands in the air. “You want me to take care of a baby but you’re not even going to tell me what we’re up against?”

Buffy looked at Spike. She raised a questioning eyebrow at him, and received a slight shake of head in response. She turned back toward Angel to find that he had observed their interaction.

“The less you know,” she said, apologetic, “the safer for everyone. Just know that if we fail, if Dawn falls into her hands, we’re all dead. The entire world is dead.”

Angel frowned. He was going to ask more questions, Buffy was sure of it. She didn’t allow him to.

“Will you do it?”

He looked at her for long seconds, then at Dawn, very clearly ignoring Spike on purpose.

“I don’t know anything about babies,” he muttered at last.

“You’ll learn,” Spike said. “And you have your pet humans to help, don’t you?”

“They can't know where Dawn comes from, though,” Buffy said quickly. “No one must know.”

A few more seconds passed before he finally nodded and stepped back to them. Her throat very tight suddenly, Buffy held Dawn out to him. From the corner of her eye, she could see Spike look away as Angel carefully took their daughter. He remained at a distance for the next few minutes as she tried to give Angel a crash course in caring for Dawn. It seemed like a terrible idea, suddenly, to leave her here, with someone who knew nothing about babies. She trusted him, though. She had no choice but to trust him.

They were halfway back to Sunnydale when she realized Spike hadn’t said a word since she had given Dawn to Angel.

“It was a good idea,” she said very quietly.

He didn’t reply or look at her.

“She’ll be safe,” she insisted.

“She better be,” he replied at last, and there was the promise of pain in Angel’s future if anything happened to Dawn.

She watched him for a moment, wondering just how hard it had been for him to leave his child to the care of someone he hated. Twice, during that time, his hand left the wheel to touch his chest, and only the second time did she realize he was touching the locket.

“I miss her too,” she murmured.

He turned his head briefly to look at her. He didn’t say anything but took her hand on her lap and held it until they were back at Revello. It was a simple touch, but it warmed Buffy, and made her realize just how cold she had felt since leaving Los Angeles. Letting go when they got out of the car proved much more difficult than it should have been.

“Will you stay?” she asked, unable to look at Spike as she said it. “I don’t want to be alone.”

“All right.”

She realized, when she let him in, that he might interpret her invitation much differently than the innocent way she meant it. Feeling the heat creep up in her cheek, she gestured toward the living room.

“The sofa isn’t very comfortable but that’s the best I have.”

She counted up to four before Spike answered, and wondered what went through his mind during that time.

“It’s OK. I’ve slept on worse. At what time is the funeral?”

The word hit her like a slap, reminding her of a reality she had tried to ignore for the past few hours. Spike’s hand rested on her shoulder, barely there yet heavy enough to anchor her.

She took a deep breath in and answered. “Twelve.”

“I can’t come,” he said quietly.

Buffy frowned briefly. She hadn’t even thought of asking him to come, but now that he had mentioned it, she was taken by the unreasonable desire that he would. “I know,” she said simply.

“I wish I could.”

“Do you?” Buffy asked, but even as she did, she knew it was the truth. His eyes weren’t lying, as clear and limpid as Dawn’s. She shrugged, and regretted it as soon as he pulled his hand back. She tried to smile as she added: “She threatened to kill you, you said.”

One corner of his mouth lifted in a half grin. “Only because she loved you. And Dawn. She wanted you two to be safe.”

Buffy nodded. She didn’t trust herself to answer without tearing up. She started up the staircase, looking back to say: “I’ll get you a blanket.”

When she returned a few moments later with a couple of blankets and a pillow, Spike had removed his duster, shirt, t-shirt and shoes and sat down on the sofa. He stood when she approached and took the covers while she placed the pillow down and tried very hard not to stare at too pale skin she hadn’t seen – or touched - in quite a long time. The silver of the locket was barely any darker than his skin. When she was done, she couldn’t make herself move. She looked at him, and saw the same loss on his face than she felt herself.

“Do you think…”

She couldn’t finish, but as it turned out, she didn’t need to. Spike knew exactly where her mind was. He brushed the back of his knuckles on her cheek and nodded.

“She’ll be fine. He’ll take care of her.”

“Thank you. For suggesting we take her there. It wasn’t easy for you to suggest it, was it?”

He chuckled humorlessly. “As easy as it’d be to tear my own heart out.”

He rested his hand on his chest as though to demonstrate. Very slowly, Buffy rested her own on top of it.

“Thank you,” she said again, very quietly.

Spike nodded and pressed forward into her hand, coming just a little closer to her. Buffy pulled her hand back, smiling apologetically. She felt drained, both physically and mentally, and in no way able to take another round of the so passionate, so confusing kissing they seemed to share more and more often.

“I’ve got to catch some sleep. Tomorrow’s going to be a long day.”

He tilted his head just a hair to the side and watched her for a few seconds. Whatever was on his mind, all he said was, “Good night, luv.”

“Good night, Spike.”

She returned upstairs and went straight to bed. Somehow, she felt better knowing she wasn’t alone in the too big house. For once, it wasn’t her fear that kept her awake. Rather, it was the almost physical voids left by Dawn’s and Joyce’s absences. She missed them, more than she could have expressed in words. She had to keep reminding herself that she would go back to get Dawn soon. She couldn’t imagine anything else. She finally fell asleep in the small hours of morning. Her dreams remained indistinct. She woke up, a little before ten, to the sound of shouting.

Chapter 14

Her mind still foggy from too little sleep, Buffy stumbled down the steps and toward the raised voices that had awakened her. Her first thought, when she had been abruptly pulled out of sleep, had been that Glory had returned and was hurting Spike. Her heart ached at the thought. Before she reached the first floor, however, she recognized the voices now arguing about decency and how inappropriate it was to look at other men’s “goodies”. The temptation was great to return to bed and pretend this wasn’t happening. It was too late, though. She had been noticed.

“Buffy!” Willow came to her from the living room, her frown softening into relief. “Are you all right? Is…” She glanced up toward the second floor. “Is everything all right?”

What she was asking, Buffy realized after a beat, was whether Dawn was safe. She started worrying that the noise would wake the baby up, but suddenly the memory returned, accompanied by a very unpleasant twisting sensation in her guts. Dawn wasn’t there.

Was she awake, she wondered dazedly, or was she still asleep in Angel’s hotel? Had he put her to sleep in her car seat, or had he found a crib he could use? Had he fed her, yet? Had he remembered to—

“Buffy?” Willow repeated, touching her shoulder lightly.

Buffy snapped out of her daydream and swallowed the lump of fear in her throat. “I’m fine. What’s going on here?”

She walked to the living room’s entrance and, with Willow at her side, took in the scene. Tara stood to the side, clearly uncomfortable, leaving center stage to Xander and Anya, who had been the ones arguing just a minute ago. Spike was sitting on the sofa, a cigarette hanging from his lips. Buffy’s train of thoughts derailed when she realized that he had to be naked beneath the afghan pulled over his lap, and she had to give herself a little shake to find her words again.

“Hey guys. Not that I’m unhappy to see you or anything, but why are you all here?”

“Why are we here?” Xander sputtered before gesturing behind him at Spike. “How about why is he here? And naked?”

His last word ended on a shrill note that made Buffy wince. Willow touched her elbow, bringing her attention back to her.

“We came to pick you up, remember? We said we’d all go to…to the cemetery together.”

The last of the fog in Buffy’s mind lifted, and the numbed pain of her mother’s passing resurfaced. “Yes, of course.” Her words rose no higher than a whisper. She looked down at herself, only now realizing she was wearing her pajamas. “I’ll get dressed.”

“Could he get dressed too?” Xander asked before she had even moved. “And then explain—”

“I’ve got nothing to explain to you,” Spike cut in, then, just as Xander turned toward him, he picked up the jeans at his feet and stood, seemingly unconcerned about the display he was offering all of them.

Xander immediately looked away, sputtering unintelligible protests. Next to him, Anya let out an appreciative hum; she didn’t avert her gaze in the least, Buffy noticed absently while doing the same thing. That explained the argument she had had with Xander.

“I’ll get dressed,” Buffy said again, shaking off her trance when Spike started putting on his shirt. “I’ll be right back.”

She turned back to the staircase but hadn’t climbed two steps when she stopped again as Willow suggested:

“Tara and I can get Dawn ready for you so we won’t be late.”

Her hand clenched on the banister. She looked back at Willow, but her eyes rested on her only for a second before looking for Spike again across the room. He gave her a slight nod and smile, half encouraging, half reassuring.

“Dawn… Dawn is not here,” she said very quietly.

“What?” Xander exclaimed, even as Willow asked: “Where is she?”

Buffy shook her head. She hadn’t thought before now about what she would tell all of them about Dawn’s whereabouts. She couldn’t tell them where she was, but what could she tell them?

“She’s somewhere safe,” Spike said when the silence had stretched for a few painful seconds. “And that’s all you need to know, for her safety and yours.”

Eyes turned toward him at his words, then back toward Buffy. It was Willow who voiced what had to be in all their minds.

“You won’t tell us where she is, but you told—”

Her eyes widened in shock, and Buffy knew at once that her suspicions from the past months had just been confirmed. Once her surprise subsided, hurt and betrayal took over.

“Why didn’t you tell me? You said I didn’t know him. I thought we didn’t have secrets for each other.”

“Tell what?” Xander asked, clearly puzzled. “Who’s ‘him’? What secrets?”

Quick looks at Anya and Tara, who was now just a step behind Willow, quickly confirmed that they had figured it out as well.

“I didn’t want you to feel responsible,” Buffy said quietly, meeting Willow’s eyes with a hint of apology.

“Why would I…” Once more, her eyes widened, and she covered her mouth with her hand. “Oh no. I caused this? It was my ‘will be done’ spell, wasn’t it? Oh Buffy…”

“Responsible of what?” Xander joined them at the foot of the staircase and looked from Willow to Buffy, still not understanding. “And that spell was ages ago, why are you bringing that back up again? What does that have to do with where Dawn is?”

“Are you always that thick?” Spike snickered behind him, but his glee faded at the hard look Buffy threw him.

He rolled his eyes and marched on to the kitchen, muttering something about feeling peckish. Buffy had no doubt he’d be listening to every word that was said. She sat down on the staircase, remaining at eye-level with her friends and remembering another time when she had sat there, feeling so lost and scared. Now, she merely felt annoyed that this had come out just when she had to say goodbye to her mother. She sighed and clasped her hands in front of her, resigned. Whether she liked it or not, the cat was out of the bag. The least she could do was put everyone on the same page.

“Spike knows where Dawn is,” she said, not quite meeting any of their gazes, “because he’s her father. We… slept together when Willow went wish-happy last fall. I didn’t tell any of you because I didn’t want you to look at Dawn any differently if you knew who her father was.”

Odd looks were exchanged under Buffy’s impassive eyes. A few months earlier, she would have been terrified of admitting she had had another tryst with a vampire. Now, though, and to her own surprise, she wasn’t afraid of being judged. If they couldn’t support her, the way she had supported their own choices, maybe they weren’t the friends she thought she had.

“I don’t get it,” Xander said at last, and she could tell he was making an effort to keep his voice as non-confrontational as he could. “The monks made Dawn, so she doesn’t really have a fath—”

Something crashed on the kitchen floor; glass, by the sound of it. Buffy stood and replied fast, before Spike could do so himself with added threats.

“He is her father every bit as much as I am her mother. And the less we all talk about those monks, the better. Now I do need to get dressed. I still have a funeral to attend.”

~

The house was silent when Buffy came back in the early afternoon; silent and cold. Part of her had been sure it would rain. It would have felt more appropriate if it had. Instead, they had all stood by that open grave on a beautiful day, her friends hand in hand behind her and Giles at her side. She had been grateful for their presence, just as she was grateful they had consented to leave her alone for a little while. She needed time to think, and focus.

Her shoes in hand, she climbed up to her room. By pure habit, her eyes went straight to the crib when she entered, and Dawn’s absence was once more thrown to the forefront of her mind.

“Are you all right?”

She jumped at the quiet words, startled, and looked in the direction of the voice to find Spike sitting in the rocking chair, seemingly as lonely as she felt herself.

“I will be.”

She dropped her shoes and took slow steps toward him until she was standing right in front of him. He looked up at her, meeting her eyes for the first time since she had entered the room. His hand rose toward her, palm up, and when she placed her own hand in it he gently pulled her forward and onto his lap. She resisted for a second before resting against him, her head on his shoulder, accepting the wordless comfort he was offering. His arm curled around her waist, not too heavy but tight enough to show he didn’t want her to go. She couldn’t think of anywhere else she would have wanted to be at that moment.

“I didn’t think your merry band would leave you alone so fast,” he said after a few minutes of comfortable silence. “Especially with me in the house.”

“They went home to change,” she replied, keeping the sigh out of her voice. Did they really have to talk? “They’ll be back in a couple of hours. And Giles, too.”

He snorted. “Why the big reunion?”

“So we can talk about Glory, and plan what to do now.”

“Good thinking. It’s time to move first rather than let her pick all the steps of this dance.”

Buffy didn’t reply. She had a feeling it wouldn’t be as easy as his confident tone implied. She could let herself believe, though, at least for a little while. Silence stretched over them for a few more minutes and Buffy started to fall asleep until Spike broke the peace again, this time with a whisper.

“I called him.”

The meaning of his words permeated her mind and she wanted to ask what Angel had said; instead, she sat up so she could look at him and heard herself chastise him.

“You shouldn’t have. We can’t afford to leave a trail and have anyone guess what’s going on.”

His fingers came up to touch his chest in that now familiar gesture. “I know,” he said, sounding miserable. “I just…I just had to know she was all right.”

Her hand trembling a little, she rested it on top of his over the locket and linked their fingers together. “What did he say?”

His lips curled, just barely. “Said she’s fine.”

She leaned in to just brush her mouth against his before resting her head on his shoulder again. She closed her eyes, smiling to herself. He shouldn’t have called, but she was glad he had.

“And then,” he said after a few seconds, “he promised to make me regret ever touching what’s his.”

It took Buffy a few moments to understand what that meant, and when she did she wanted to roll her eyes. Trust Angel to play the jealous boyfriend even when he was the one who had broken things off between them.

“Just let him try,” she murmured. “And I’ll show him what happens when someone touches what’s mine.”

It was the sudden tension of his body that made her realize what she had said. Her eyes opened wide and her heart jumped inside her chest, suddenly beating furiously. Where in hell had that come from?

Spike’s hand at her waist tightened just enough for her to notice. “Slayer—”

“Don’t call me that,” she interrupted him, more because she was afraid of what he would say than because she minded the nickname. As gently as she could, she stood from his lap, prying his hand off when he tried to hold her back. “I’m famished,” she blurted out, not quite looking at him before she walked away. “I didn’t have anything to eat since last night. I’ll go—”

“Buffy.”

She froze on the threshold of her room, wishing she had already been down in the kitchen and in the same instant wishing she had still been in his arms. She could remember with a startling clarity the last time he had said her name on that tone of voice. He had been on one knee in front of her at the time.

She didn’t look back. She couldn’t look back. Something would happen, if she did, and she was scared of what that would be exactly. Too much was going on in her life, she didn’t have time for more complications. She didn’t have time to wonder when or why she had stopped reacting with violence when Spike touched her as he was doing now, a gentle hand on her shoulder making her turn back toward her, the smallest pressure of his fingers tilting her face up toward his. She didn’t have time to wonder why his eyes always seemed to light up with fire when he was about to kiss her. She didn’t have time to wonder when he had fallen in love with her, or when she had started falling for him.

Chapter 15

Buffy had steeled herself for the questions, complaints and recriminations about Spike that were bound to rise with the return of the Scoobies, but ten minutes after they had all arrived she could only be amazed, and a little taken aback, that everyone was behaving. There were looks thrown his way across the dining room table where they had all sat down, of course, some of them puzzled, others less than pleasant, but nothing more. As for Spike, he was keeping his usual snarky remarks tightly in check. It was almost eerie, and Buffy couldn’t help becoming more and more tense as time passed; when the clash came, she was sure it would be very loud. Except that no clash came. Everyone remained civil, and while they didn’t figure out a grand plan that would rid them of Glory, several ideas came up that might help them gain an advantage they sorely needed.

Willow told of this teleportation spell she had been experimenting with. “I don’t get the most reliable results, but it could be a last defense kind of thing.”

In truth, Buffy didn’t think that sending Glory elsewhere would do much more than aggravate her, but they never knew what could be useful.

“Have you looked into containment spells?” Giles asked, looking at her and Tara in turn. “If we could lock her up, even for a little while, it might give us opportunities to study her and find weaknesses.”

The two girls promised to look into it.

“No offense Buff,” Xander said after that, “but she’s got the advantage in brute force. So how about weapons?”

“I don’t think ordinary weapons would do much good,” Buffy replied, frowning slightly. “She’s a god after all.”

“How about extraordinary weapons?” Anya chimed in. “We still have Olaf’s hammer. It might not kill Glory, but it’d slow her down.”

Buffy nodded. “Sounds good. Do you have any contacts left in the demon world? Anyone who might have something like the hammer, but even better?”

Anya didn’t seem all that convinced, but with a little prodding by Xander she agreed to try and ask.

“The problem,” Giles said then, “is that we just don’t know much about Glory. We know she’s strong, obviously. She has followers that can do magic for her. She wants the Key. But none of this tells us how to fight her.”

For a few seconds, they all considered that. It had taken them a long time to learn Glory’s name, and what she was. If the Council hadn’t been able to tell them more, where could they look, Buffy wondered. If only those monks had still been around… or those weird knights that had threatened her when the Council had been in town…

“I know of a bloke,” Spike said slowly. “Don’t know him personally, but I’ve heard he deals in a lot of black arts stuff. A hell god might be right up his alley.”

Giles sat up in his chair. “That sounds promising. You and I can go see him at nightfall.”

“I’ll come as well,” Buffy said, and immediately all eyes turned toward her. She tensed, feeling on the spot suddenly. “What?”

“Maybe a night off would do you some good,” Giles suggested. “You’ve had a lot going on—”

“I’m fine,” she interrupted him. “I’m not staying home while you all work on defeating Glory.”

“Maybe your Watcher’s got a point. I don’t know how my guy would react to a Slayer barging in on him.”

She glared at Spike, to no apparent effect, and ended up throwing her hands in the air. “Go alone, then. But I’m not staying here by myself.”

It was only when her friends’ expressions turned from worried to sad that she realized what she had said. The reminder turned her blood to ice in her veins.

“I mean, I’ll just go patrol,” she muttered, looking down at the table in front of her. “I’ve got to keep myself in shape for when I finally fight against Glory.”

None of them replied, for which she was thankful, but she doubted she had fooled anyone. It was as simple as those few words that had escaped her. She couldn’t bear the idea of being alone in the too big house. She was thankful Spike had been there when she had returned from the funeral, and she was just as thankful when he said a quick, “I’ll see you later” as he was leaving with Giles.

“So… does he live with you now?”

That quiet question told Buffy exactly why Willow had offered to accompany her on patrol while insisting that Tara get a ride back to their dorm. She couldn’t blame her friend for being curious; she just hoped Willow wouldn’t ask any question she didn’t have an answer for.

“No, of course not,” Buffy replied, not quite looking at Willow.

“But he was there this morning,” she insisted. “So he must have spent the night. And he was naked.”

A flash of heat coursed through Buffy at the memory, but she shook it off, just like she shook off what Willow was implying.

“It was late when we came back. I just offered him the couch.”

“Back from wherever you left Dawn, you mean?”

She stopped walking and waited until Willow had looked back at her to answer. “I’m sorry, but I won’t tell you where she is, and I don’t want to talk about it. It’s safer that way, for all of us.”

The look of wounded betrayal on Willow’s face was painful, but it didn’t change Buffy’s mind. It had broken her heart to leave Dawn with Angel; sharing that information would make the separation useless.

“It feels like you’re not telling me anything anymore,” Willow said, her voice coming very close to accusing Buffy. “You know you can trust me, right?”

Buffy raised her hand toward Willow, and within seconds Willow had taken it. “I do trust you. It’s just all so complicated…” She gave her friend a half smile. “Remember when my biggest problem was being in love with a vampire? It’s about a lot more than that, now.”

Willow’s hand tightened on hers even as her eyes widened. “You’re in love with Spike?”

Buffy winced. “It’s not what I meant—”

“But you are, aren’t you?”

Every fiber of Buffy’s being demanded that she deny it. She didn’t want her friends to think she was in love with a vampire, yet again. They had suffered more than enough because of her choices in partners already. Still, she couldn’t manage to lie.

“I can’t be,” she said in a very small voice, now clutching Willow’s hand as though it were a safety line. “This is the worse possible time to be in love with anyone, let alone him.”

She changed the topic after that, and to her relief Willow let the subject drop, although she did give Buffy weird looks for the rest of the evening. It only reinforced Buffy’s certainty that it was all a very bad idea. She was in the middle of a war. She couldn’t afford to let herself be distracted. She would tell Spike exactly that, she decided, as soon as she saw him again. But when she did see him again, the thought just left her mind. He was in her kitchen when she returned home. He had made hot chocolate. And when he handed her a mug, she noticed that his t-shirt was torn and bloody across his stomach.

“What happened?”

She put down the mug on the island and crossed her arms over her chest so she wouldn’t reach for the wound and fuss over Spike as she so itched to do.

“This?”

He plucked at the bloody t-shirt, revealing a glimpse of what lay beneath. Buffy winced.

“That’s nothing. Just your Watcher warning me not to mess with you.”

Buffy’s eyes widened. She couldn’t believe that Giles would hurt Spike merely as a warning, especially when they needed all the help they could get. “You’re…you’re kidding, right?”

“Of course I’m kidding,” Spike replied, deadpan. “Although he did threaten me, pretty much in the same words your mum did.”

As soon as the words passed his lips, his slight grin vanished and he seemed to regret bringing up the topic. It was the second time he had brought up her mother warning him, though, and while Buffy had let it pass the first time, she now wanted to know more. She was ready to hear more.

“When did she threaten you?” she asked, leaning back against the island. “What did she say?”

Spike shrugged, clearly uncomfortable, but he did answer. “Remember when you brought her and Dawn to me?”

Buffy nodded.

“The day after that. She came back, and said the same thing Giles said today.”

“Which is?” Buffy prompted when he stopped.

He affected a new accent that didn’t even remotely sound like Giles’, but that lightened the mood a little. “I don’t approve but it’s not up to me to tell her what to do anymore. But if you hurt her, I’ll drive a stake through your chest myself.”

In the same instant, Buffy smiled and tears clouded her eyes.

“My mom said that?” she said, choking on the words.

Spike’s hand rose, very slowly, and came to wipe the tears from her cheeks, one after the other.

“She did. She loved you. Wanted you safe. Same as your Watcher. Same as me.”

He didn’t quite say the words, but she heard them just the same, loud and clear. She shook her head, dislodging his hand. They didn’t have time for this now. They had a war to lead. Everything else needed to wait.

“So who hurt you if it wasn’t Giles?” she asked, getting her emotions under control.

For a few seconds, she though Spike wouldn’t answer. His jaw was clenching and unclenching and his eyes seemed to see right through her. Whatever upset him, it disappeared in a blink and he finally replied.

“Turned out that that demon didn’t just know about Glory. He worshipped her. He didn’t take it too well when we talked of killing her.”

He smiled almost savagely at that, and Buffy didn’t need to ask if they had killed the demon.

“Anyway, we found a book at his place. How to worship a hell god in twenty lessons, or something like that. Your Watcher took it home for light reading, said he’d tell you what he finds tomorrow.”

She nodded, but, thinking about it, was taken by a deep feeling of longing. “It’ll be weird to go back to work without Dawn.”

Spike grimaced, and she almost apologized at having reopened the wound for him too.

“I need to get some sleep,” she said, and held her breath to see how Spike would react.

“Do you want me to stay?”

She looked away, a little embarrassed. Things had seemed so clear when she had thought about it earlier, but now that he was in front of her, it was more complicated. “I’m afraid it’s all going too fast,” she said slowly, and looked back at him. She hoped she didn’t look as hesitant as she felt. “Maybe we should slow down.”

Spike laughed. “All we’ve done is kiss! That’s pretty damn slow for me. Any slower and we might as well stop completely.” He gave her a sharp look. “Is that what you want?”

She steeled herself and met his eyes. She had to do this. It was the best course of action, and… and she couldn’t bear the idea of being alone.

“No. It’s not what I want.”

A second was enough for her to be in his arms. Their kissing lasted much longer than that.

Chapter 16

“The ritual would open a tear between our world and the place where Glory came from. She would go back there, I imagine, but other… things would come into our world. It would be, literally, hell on earth. If she started this, if somehow she puts her hands on the Key and started the ritual, the only way to close the tear…”

For the first time, Giles faltered. He stood from his seat at the research table, leaving there the book he and Spike had retrieved from that demon’s house the previous night. He had been reading it all day, taking notes, comparing it to other references, refusing to say a word to Buffy until he was sure. Only when Spike had emerged from the basement in the middle of the afternoon had he said he had news.

Buffy kept her eyes on him as he took a few steps, absently cleaning his glasses. “Giles,” she said at last. “Whatever it is, just say it.”

He put his glasses back on his nose and returned to the book. His finger slid on the page until he found the right place. She couldn’t remember his voice ever being as void of feelings as it was when he started reading.

“The blood flows, the gates will open. The gates will close when it flows no more.”

Buffy frowned, looking down at the polished wood of the table in front of her before she looked back up at him. “What does it mean, ‘when it flows no more’?”

Once again, Giles turned away.

“It means when she’s dead.”

There was just the hint of a growl in Spike’s words. Buffy turned to look at him just in time to see him push away from the bookcase behind her and step forward. He was glaring at Giles through golden eyes.

“It means,” he continued, the anger rising in his voice, “that your Watcher is suggesting killing our daughter.”

Buffy rolled his eyes at him. “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course he’s not.” She looked at Giles, taking him to witness. “Tell him.”

After long seconds of silence, Giles looked back at her. She knew before he said anything, but even so each word felt like a knife plunging into her flesh.

“It might come to that. If Glory—”

“Don’t.” She stood, pushing the bench away from the table. The sound was loud in the empty, suddenly freezing store. “Dawn’s away and safe. Glory won’t get her. And even if she did, there is no chance on earth or in hell—”

“That’s exactly what we’re talking about.”

Giles seemed angry. Somehow, Buffy doubted he was only angry with her. He didn’t sound as though he wanted to keep talking, but he did.

“If she did get her, it would be hell. The only thing to do—”

A loud crash interrupted him. Buffy jumped, startled, and looked at Spike. He had struck the bookcase next to him and broken a couple of shelves. Books were still tumbling to the floor, a few pages flying loose.

“Don’t ever talk of hurting her again,” he said, now practically growling, “or I swear, chip or no chip, I’ll kill you.”

A little alarm inside Buffy flashed red. Spike had just crossed a line. She had to say something. She had to let him know this wasn’t acceptable.

Seconds passed. She watched the books on the floor, then crouched down and started picking them up without a word. Spike passed by her, and she watched, from the corner of her eye, as he took his cigarettes out of his pocket and left the store through the back door. Giles’ presence behind her was almost oppressive. She imagined his eyes on her, so full of disappointment. When she had picked up all the books, she finally looked back at him. He was sitting on the other side of the table, with his back to her. Elbows resting on his knees, he had his head in his hands.

“Giles…”

“I had to say it, Buffy. I like the idea no better than you do, but—”

“Giles. I know you mean well. I know you’re just doing your job—”

He turned to look at her, frowning. “My job? We’re talking about the fate of—”

“—and that’s why I’m not threatening you like Spike did,” she finished, unyielding. “But for your own sake, never bring up killing our daughter again.”

His features twisted unhappily. “But that’s the thing, Buffy. She’s not—”

Ice crept inside her, encasing her heart. “That’s something else you want to avoid saying where Spike can hear it. Or me, for that matter.”

Their eyes met and clashed. She held on until he took off his glasses and picked up his pointless polishing.

“All I hope,” he murmured, “is that you’re right, and that she’s truly out of Glory’s reach.”

Buffy silently agreed, and tighten her fists so she wouldn’t be tempted to pick up the phone and dial Angel’s number. Needing to get away from Giles for a while, she slipped out to the back alley, where she found Spike with two fresh cigarette butts at his feet and a half-smoked one hanging from his lips.

She sat next to him on a crate. The thought returned that she had to let him know threatening Giles was unacceptable, even if he couldn’t hurt him. She prepared the words, rehearsed them in her mind, but they never passed her lips. Instead, she said, keeping her voice low:

“Nothing will happen to her.”

“You’re damn right about that,” he spat, looking at her with fiery eyes. He seemed to deflate right in front of her, and his shoulders hunched as he added, more quietly, now: “We should have told him not to let anyone but us get her back.”

“Giles wouldn’t—”

“Are you sure about that?” he cut in.

She held his challenging gaze. “I’m sure.”

“Would you bet her life on it?”

“I’m sure,” she repeated, hoping her voice wouldn’t shake. “We’re going to deal with things here, and then we’ll get her back and everything will be fine.”

After observing her silently for a few seconds, Spike nodded. Buffy wished she had truly been as certain as she sounded.

~

Earlier that afternoon, Buffy had understood Spike’s anger; she had even shared it. His annoyance that evening, however, and his grumbling were getting on her nerves.

“If complaining is your idea of helping, I don’t think I need you here,” she said as they passed the park’s iron gates.

He threw her a sideways glare. “All I’m saying is, if I had her scent we wouldn’t need to be looking around blindly. This is getting us nowhere.”

“And staying home would?”

A vivid image of what they might have been doing if they had been home flashed through Buffy’s mind. She shook it off and cleared her throat.

“As for having her scent…” She shrugged. “She doesn’t know about you. I say that’s good. That could give us an advantage when it comes to a fight.”

Spike didn’t reply. For a little while, they kept walking, searching in the light of the half moon, listening for anything unusual. Spike’s patience didn’t last long.

“Explain to me again. Why here?”

Buffy threw him an annoyed look and let out a slow breath that sounded like a sigh.

“Because,” she said, looking around them at the quiet park, “we have to start somewhere. When Glory summoned that demon to find the Key, this is where I caught up with it. It was going back to her.”

“And why didn’t you tell me about that?”

This time, she didn’t even try to disguise her sigh. “Because it was dead and there’s nothing you could have…”

She frowned and stopped walking. Was it…

“Ben?”

Spike stopped as well and looked at her before following her eyes. “What is it? Who’s that?”

They were at some distance of the parking lot where a man was talking to a demon -- threatening him, it seemed -- but as she kept looking, Buffy became certain it was Ben. Just as she was certain the demon was one of Glory’s minions.

“See that guy?”

“Not blind. Friend of yours?”

There was just an edge of ice to his words. Distracted, Buffy glanced at him. His face was expressionless. She looked back at the parking lot to see Ben drive away while the minion limped into a house.

“He’s a doctor at the hospital where my mom was treated.”

Something flashed through Spike’s face, and despite the painful memories of her mother in the hospital, Buffy found herself a little amused when she realized he was jealous.

“And the demon he was roughing up, that was one of Glory’s minions.”

The jealousy faded, replaced by a pensive frown.

“Do you think the minion was asking questions about you?”

She shrugged. She didn’t know much more about Ben than his name, and she didn’t think he knew any more than that about her. Still, it was an uncomfortable coincidence.

“Maybe. We should check out that building.”

He nodded and they started walking toward the house. Just as they were approaching the door, Buffy stopped Spike with a touch to his arm.

“When I said we should check it, I didn’t mean now. Glory might be in there.”

Spike only answered with a raised eyebrow.

“So we ought to be careful,” she finished. “Get help.”

His expression didn’t change. “If she’s in there, it’s not about being careful anymore. It’s about killing her.”

“And that’s why the gang is looking for weapons and spells. So we won’t—”

He didn’t let her finish and merely started forward again. She hissed his name, but he ignored her. All she could do was hurry after him so that she was right behind him when he entered the mansion.

The first floor was empty. It seemed to be no more than a formal entrance hall. An elevator faced the front door. When Spike started toward it, Buffy grabbed his sleeve and stopped him. When he gave her an annoyed look, she pointed at the staircase in the back of the room.

“Stealth?” she murmured.

A muscle ticked in his cheek but he nodded and they quietly stepped to the staircase and up. Buffy could feel a bead of cold sweat running down her back. This wasn’t good. They should have come back later, with magical support and weapons. At the same time, though, part of her was glad that Spike was ready to fight for their daughter.

They reached the second floor without running into anyone and started looking around. Buffy found a walk in closet; the clothes and shoes inside looked just like what Glory might have worn. Her heart started beating faster. This had to be the place. She turned around to signal Spike and try to convince him to come back later, and could only stare as he grabbed the minion she had seen outside and broke its neck.

Buffy frowned at him as the minion’s body hit the floor. “We could have interrogated him,” she pointed out, annoyed. “He could have given us information about Glory.”

Spike looked around the room then pointed at the bulging curtains by the full-sized windows. “Well, let’s just ask that one, then.”

Chapter 17

The minion shrieked again as Spike tied a last knot, securing her hands with a curtain cord.

“My mistress will avenge us!” she shouted, her voice shaking in both outrage and fear. “She will be back soon, and she will destroy the infidels!”

Spike was rolling his eyes when he straightened up and looked at Buffy. “Are you sure I can’t kill her now?”

She didn’t answer that question, focusing instead on what the minion had said. “If Glory is truly coming back, we’ve got to get out of here. Now.”

The prospect of leaving didn’t seem to appeal to Spike. “Let’s have a look around first,” he suggested. “We might find something useful.”

She would have bet he was just trying to find an excuse to stay longer. She knew he was itching to have a go at Glory. She knew just as well that he didn’t realize what a formidable adversary she was.

“Quick, then,” she said, frowning lightly. “I’ll call Giles and have him pick us up.”

The last thing they needed was to attract too much attention while dragging the minion back to the Magic Box. She kept an eye on the minion as she made the call using Glory’s own phone, and tried to ignore her renewed shrieking. With as few words as possible, she explained the situation to Giles and he promised he’d be right there.

“Slayer,” Spike called out from the next room where he had disappeared. “Come and look at this.”

She debated leaving the minion in the main room, but finally dragged her along, ignoring her protests.

“I told you not to call me that,” she reminded him, slightly annoyed. “What did you find?”

The new room was little more than an oversized closet. The small bed and its plain covers looked strange after the opulence of the other room. As for the scrubs at the foot of the bed, they hardly seemed like anything Glory would wear. Buffy’s puzzled frown only deepened when Spike handed her an ID card from the hospital.

“That’s the guy we saw outside, isn’t it?”

She took the card with a shaky hand and scrutinized Ben’s picture. What was going on? She looked around the small room again. Did he live with Glory? Her eyes fell on the whimpering minion again.

“Who lives here?” she asked, her words harsher than she had expected.

For the first time, the minion stopped complaining. Pressing her lips together, she raised her head and looked at Buffy defiantly.

“She’ll talk,” Spike said darkly. “Just give me a few minutes with her.”

She eyed him, considering the thread of violence that was so obvious in his voice. She didn’t like his tone, nor did she like the thought of him doing what he was suggesting, but there was no place for her squeamishness here.

“At the store,” she said sternly with a sideway look at the minion. She hoped threats would be enough. “Let’s get out of here.”

Spike looked around a little more before they left, but he didn’t find anything. Buffy wasn’t all that surprised; it would have been too easy if Glory had kept a manual on how to kill her on her bedside table. They dragged the minion to the street, and only had to wait a couple of minutes before Giles arrived, driving a little too fast, his expression a little too anxious.

“Is Glory—” he started, but Buffy didn’t let him finish.

“It looks like she lives there,” she said, sitting in the passenger seat. Behind her, Spike had plopped the minion in the backseat and was seating next to her quivering form. “Let’s not be here when she comes back.”

The engine roared as Giles sped away. After a few seconds, Spike’s voice rose from the back seat, his tone as innocuous as though he had been talking of the weather.

“Say, Watcher. Got any knives at the store?”

Buffy saw Giles frown, just as she was. He gave a look in the rearview mirror but of course that didn’t help. He looked back at Spike, and when he faced the road again, his lips were set on a strange little smile.

“I have a few ceremonial daggers. People buy them as letter openers but they’re very sharp. Good quality.”

Spike made a little humming noise. “I guess that’ll do. It’s been a while since I tortured anyone with knives but I’m sure it’ll come back to me.”

Shocked, Buffy turned her head toward him and stared with wide eyes. Next to him, the minion was shaking and whimpering almost inaudibly, her eyes screwed shut in obvious terror.

“Now, don’t get on your high horse, Slayer,” Spike said, a strange gleam burning in his eyes. “It’s not like I actually want to torture the poor thing. If she gives us some information, I won’t need to.”

He wasn’t talking to her, she realized. He was saying this for the benefit of their prisoner, she was sure of it – just as she was sure that he would use the knives if the minion didn’t talk. Part of her still couldn’t bear the mere thought of it, but a little voice, deep inside her, was glad he was ready to do anything he had to, anything she couldn’t do, for Dawn.

Spike continued chattering about torture techniques with an occasional word in from Giles until they arrived at the store. Buffy did her best not to listen. At last, Giles parked in the back alley and they entered through the training room door. In no time, the curtain sash was replaced by actual chains and the minion was tied to the wall. She had been crying softly for a little while now, and when Spike asked about the knives again, she moaned and started straining against her bonds again.

“Don’t hurt me!” she wailed. “My mistress will punish you! She will show you the extent of her magnificence and your pain will have no bounds!”

Buffy watched, both repulsed and expectant, Spike and Giles standing side by side just two feet in front of the pathetic creature.

“Is she right?” Spike asked, crossing his arms and turning a mildly curious look toward Giles. “Is this Glory demon that dangerous?”

“We don’t know much about her,” Giles conceded even as the minion shrieked:

“Blasphemer! The magnificent Glorificus is no demon! She could crush this entire world beneath her heel if she wanted! She—”

“Could she?” Spike asked, now addressing the minion. “That sounds like a lot of talk but I haven’t seen much happening since she turned up in town.” He looked at Giles again. “You?”

Giles chuckled dryly. “Well, I’ve got to admit I expected more from her. She’s supposed to be a God—” The minion wailed. “—but all we’ve seen so far didn’t rank much higher than your exploits at causing mayhem.”

With a snort, Spike turned toward Buffy. “Are you really that worried about her?” he asked, grinning. “Or did you just want to have me around a little more? She doesn’t sound all that threatening—”

“Be silent, blasphemer!” The minion kicked ineffectually in Spike’s general direction. “When the glorious Glorificus finds her Key—”

“Right. She needs her super secret weapon.” He looked back at Giles. “She can’t be all that dangerous if she needs a weapon—”

“You fool! The Key is no weapon! The Key will free my mistress from the mortal flesh that traps her in your pathetic world! She will become grander than you could ever imagine!”

Something shifted in both Spike and Giles, though Buffy couldn’t have said what made them react. They both seemed more focused, suddenly, leaning toward the minion a little more eagerly. And yet, Spike’s tone remained mocking as he once again addressed Giles.

“Want to know how grand she is? She’s got a doctor living with her. I’ve got this feeling she’s much more fragile—”

One last time, the minion interrupted him. Her face was turning purple with her anger and indignation, all fear forgotten as she yelled.

“Do not speak of that which you do not understand! Ben is no doctor! He is the shell the Great One—”

The minion cut herself abruptly, horror freezing her features in shock. Color drained from her face. It was her reaction as much as her words that clued Buffy in, and she realized now what she had missed earlier.

“The shell?” she repeated, frowning, as she came to stand by Spike. “You mean that Glory is inside Ben?”

“No!” the minion wailed, but it wasn’t denial anymore; it was dismay at having betrayed her mistress.

Wincing at the ear-splitting shout, Buffy motioned for Spike and Giles to move away from the creature. They retreated to the store, and Buffy could barely contain herself.

“Finally!” she exulted. “We have something new! Glory is inside Ben’s body! We can use that knowledge, right?”

She looked intently at Giles, and noticed the pointed look Spike was giving him. He gave a small nod, though she couldn’t have said if it was to her or Spike.

“Of course,” he replied, moving on to the bookshelves. “Maybe we can trap her inside him and make her inoffensive. Magic…” His voice trailed off just as he opened a book. He looked up, frowning. “Hmm. What was I saying?”

Buffy shrugged. “I’m not sure. You mentioned magic. You think we could do a truth spell on the minion, see if we can get anything out of her that way?”

“I suppose,” he said, and looked down at the book he held again.

“A truth spell?” Spike repeated. “What for? She told us all we needed to know.”

Buffy rolled her eyes at him. “Of course. Hearing that Glory is going to kick our asses was very helpful.”

He stared at her, incredulous. “What the hell is wrong with you? She just told us Glory hides inside that Ben guy!”

She returned his stare, as did Giles.

“Glory… is Ben?” Giles said very quietly, sounding taken aback.

Spike’s frown shifted back and forth between him and Buffy. “Are you two very stoned? She just told us! Not two minutes ago!”

“She told us what?” Buffy asked, mildly surprised that she would have missed something significant during the exchange that had taken place in the other room.

For a few seconds, Spike’s eyes bored through her, as though willing her to understand something. Buffy had no idea what he had in mind, however, and she quickly lost patience.

“What?” she snapped, uncomfortable beneath his stare.

“You really don’t know, do you?” he murmured. “Clever. Very clever.”

“You’re not making any sense,” she complained.

“I guess not.”

He shook his head, turning his eyes back to the training room door. A long moment passed and Buffy wondered if he had lost his mind. Could the fear of losing Dawn have hurt him? As she watched him worriedly, she noticed the familiar gesture of his hand rising to touch the locket on his chest.

“Are you OK?” she asked, concerned.

“Yeah, just thinking.” He sounded calmer, now. “How about leaving our guest here to anticipate the torture? By morning, she’ll be ready to say anything she knows, with or without truth spell.”

Unsure, Buffy turned to Giles to see what he thought.

“It’ll take me some time to find the right spell,” he said, shrugging. “And it would probably work better if Willow or Tara did it. A few hours can’t hurt.”

“What if Glory comes for her?” Buffy objected.

“She won’t know where to look,” Spike said. “Come on, we’ll get everything we need from her tomorrow.”

In the end, Buffy let herself be convinced. Spike was better at scaring people than she or Giles were, she supposed. If he thought this would help…

Spike was very quiet as he walked her home, but, lost in her thoughts, Buffy didn’t really notice. His presence was enough. Only when they arrived at her house did he get her attention, a gentle hand settling on her arm just as she was about to walk in. She turned her gaze to him. The determination in his steely eyes was almost frightening.

“What?” she asked, suddenly self-conscious.

Spike dropped his hand and shoved it inside his coat’s pocket. She could see he had fisted it.

“Remember when you said you wanted to slow down?”

She raised an eyebrow at him, unsure whether to be amused or miffed. With everything that was going on, she hadn’t imagined the topic would resurface so fast. Then again, this was Spike; he was nothing if not single-minded.

“Are you starting to think I was right?” she asked, trying to make her tone teasing.

“No,” he replied flatly. His face was nearly as expressionless as his voice. “I think that it’s a dangerous game we’re playing here.”

She dropped the pretense and frowned.

“With Glory,” he explained. “One of us might not make it.”

A flash of near physical pain coursed through Buffy, stealing her breath and making her heart stutter. She knew this, it had always been at the back of her mind, but she didn’t like to linger on the thought. It was good that he was broaching the topic, though. This way, someone would know her wishes.

“If it happened,” she said, forcing the words past her tight throat, “I know you’d take good care of Dawn.”

His eyes widened for an instant and he started shaking his head. He quickly stopped and raised a shaky hand to her face. He seemed to hesitate for a second before he caressed her cheek with his fingertips.

“I know you don’t want to hear this,” he murmured, “but I’ve got to say the words.”

At once, she knew what he meant. Her heart stuttered again, but this time there was no pain. She covered his hand with hers, pressing it along the side of her face. “Why do you think I don’t want to hear it?”

Relief passed through his eyes and a corner of his mouth lifted in a half smile. “You stopped me when I tried to say it before.”

“I was scared before,” she admitted, wondering even as she said the words why she wasn’t afraid anymore, why the prospect of hearing a vampire declare his love wasn’t sending her running for the hills.

Clearly, he wondered the same thing. “You’re not scared anymore?”

She shook her head lightly, and realized what had changed. “You said it yourself. I might not have enough time to be scared.”

His second hand came up and settled on her cheek so that he was now holding her face in both his hands. He scrutinized her face as though memorizing every freckle, every eyelash. With each passing second, his expression only grew more desperate and Buffy started becoming uncomfortable. She didn’t want him to think about what it would be like if she died. She didn’t want him to get ideas about keeping her out of the fight and safe. She just wanted him to come back to the track he had been following earlier.

“Well?” she said, hoping her impatience would cover her nervousness. “Aren’t you going to—”

He kissed her. It wasn’t like any kiss they had shared so far, not comforting or mischievous or dangerously forbidden. Instead, the same edge of desperation she had seen on his face came through his lips as they moved against hers, in the same instant tender and demanding. He held her face for a few more seconds before letting his hands slide down to wrap around her and pull her closer. She could tell the effect their kissing had on him and she kissed him more deeply, instinctively pushing a little harder against the hardness pressed against her belly. They remained like this, on the threshold of her house, for a few more seconds. When they finally pulled away, Buffy was breathless, and Spike’s eyes were pure fire.

“I love you,” he finally said, his voice shaking with the intensity of his feelings.

Buffy swallowed hard and opened her mouth, but she couldn’t manage to say a word. If he was right, if she left her life in this fight, it would only make things harder for him to remember her words and what could have been. She could give him better. She could give him something he had asked for, once, as payment for his help. Something she wanted to give, now, for very different reasons. Taking his hand, she pulled him inside, closed the door behind them and without a word led him up the stairs to her bedroom.

Chapter 18

Buffy’s heart was thundering when she and Spike reached her bedroom. She would never have imagined this would be how her day would end, but she couldn’t regret what was happening. They might not get another chance, and she wanted this. She had wanted it for quite a while, if she was honest with herself. She wanted it even more for these memories she now knew were nothing more than a dream. As familiar as Spike’s hand felt in hers, this was new territory. They had a child, and yet it would be the first time they made love.

She turned her face toward him, and paused when her mind played a trick on her. They weren’t on the threshold of her room anymore, they were in Giles’ mezzanine. They hadn’t just talked of Glory and dying, they had talked of love and marriage. Spike’s words, though, when he looked back at her, were the same they had been back then, with the same hesitation, the same fear she’d say no, the same hope she’d say yes.

“Are you sure?”

~

Buffy gulped. To think that minutes earlier Spike had been tied up in Giles’ living room, and now… She looked down at the ring on her left hand. She couldn’t believe this was happening. She couldn’t believe she’d be so lucky that Spike would want her as much as she wanted him.

“Luv?” he murmured.

As she looked at him, he pulled her right hand up to his mouth and kissed her fingers.

“Are you sure?” he asked, just as quietly, so Giles wouldn’t hear them.

She looked at the bed in front of them, impeccably made, the cover tight and neat over it. This wasn’t what she had imagined – not that she really had imagined any such thing – but she couldn’t bear to wait.

“I’m sure,” she said, tightening her hand over his. “I don’t want to wait, I want to show you how much I love you. Now.”

He kissed her and started undressing her.

~

Her hands shook a little as she undressed him, making the task more difficult than it ought to have been. Rather than helping her, Spike seemed content to let her take her time. He remained still beneath her hands, and when she dared to look up from the stubborn buttons of his shirt at his face, his eyelids were half closed, his gaze very intent. It didn’t soothe her nerves, far from it. How could he be so calm?

When she was finally done, she let her hands slide over him, her fingers awakening a touch memory at the sensation of cool smoothness. She expected him to undress her in return, but he surprised her by taking a step back and sitting on the edge of her bed.

“Undress for me?” he asked with just the smallest hint of a smile.

Without thinking – without allowing herself to think – she did as he asked. It was worth it, if only to see flames light up in his eyes. The burning heat in her cheeks, on the other hand, she could have done without. Soon enough, she was done. He raised a hand toward her and she took it, allowing him to pull her onto his lap, with his cock and her breasts trapped between them, with his mouth already hungrily devouring hers, and the coolness of his flesh at the same time refreshing her and making her burn even more for him.

~


She wasn’t a virgin, she told herself as she reached for his cock. There was no reason for her cheeks to feel so hot suddenly, no reason for her hand to shake like this as she wrapped it around him. She swallowed hard and stroked gently up and down. He was so hard, already, and they had barely started. Was it because of her? Did she have such an effect on him? It was hard to believe, but she couldn’t help feeling a thrill at the thought.

Spike hand came to cover her own. He stopped her small movement and tightened both their hands at the base of his shaft. She looked up at him, her blushing now turning to shame.

“Did I do something wrong?” she asked, stumbling on the words. “I’m sorry, I…”

He stopped her with a shake of his head. “Nothing wrong, luv. The opposite. If you keep this up, I’m going to come in your hand. And as nice as it sounds, I want to be inside you the first time.”

All she could say was a quiet, pleased little, “Oh.”

Very gently, Spike pulled her hand away. The look of loss on his face was obvious. Holding on to her hand, he guided her to Giles’ bed and made her lie down. He then proceeded to map her body with his lips and tongue. Within seconds, Buffy was squirming beneath his ministrations, biting her lips to keep quiet.

~

Hands splayed over Spike’s chest, Buffy raised herself, then slid down again, taking him deep inside her. He arched under her, amplifying her movements, senseless babbling words rising from his lips, like as many fluttering caresses. His hands remained tight on her hips, helping her movements, but never tight enough to become uncomfortable or painful.

She moaned aloud, and was surprised at the neediness in that wordless sound. She was close, so close that she was shaking, so close that she had trouble keeping up the hard rhythm she had established. Spike’s hands came up to wrap around her and pull her down, closer to his chest. The change of angle sent a shiver down her spine. Without warning, he rolled their bodies and, in the same movement, started thrusting inside her, each thrust at a slightly different angle, until sparks blew up in front of Buffy’s eyes, blurring her vision. His pace only accelerated and Buffy heard herself moan incoherently even as she clutched at his shoulders. She wanted to ask him to stop, it was too much, too good, she didn’t think she could bear—

A second wave of pleasure crashed over her and she forgot how to speak. Her vision had cleared, and now she could see him, as she rode the wave, could see his face contorted in pleasure, so beautiful, could see his eyes, boring into her soul, light and blue as heaven, as her child’s, could see his love — and she wondered how she had ever doubted it.

~

Spike was poised over her, eyes wide and gleaming with gold. They were both trembling and panting, both still breathless from their shared pleasure. He was watching her with such intensity that Buffy was almost afraid. Unbidden, her first experiences with men were creeping up in her mind, and a cold shiver ran down her spine at how bad things had gone after those first nights. She couldn’t bear it if the same thing happened again. He had asked her to marry him, but what if he changed his mind?

Reaching with a shaky hand to caress his cheek, she murmured his name. The sound seemed to break him out of his trance and he blinked before smiling.

“I love you,” he replied, no louder than a whisper but as fiercely as though he had shouted. “I’d do anything for you. Do you know that? All you need to do is ask and my life is yours. I’m yours. Today and forever. And for me forever is more than a pretty word.”

Unable to say a word, she did the next best thing. She kissed him.

~

“What do you think her first word will be?”

Buffy smiled and shifted against Spike, finding the perfect spot to rest her cheek on his chest, her hand resting on smooth, pale skin just inches from her face.

“I don’t know, but I have a feeling she’s going to be daddy’s girl.”

His laugh was barely a rumble beneath her. He reached to run his fingers through her hair and she closed her eyes. “As long as it’s not ‘stake’.”

“As long as it’s not ‘bloody’,” she shot back. “Or ‘hell’. Or any of your sweet words.”

He huffed. “I bloody well can behave in front of her!”

Despite herself, Buffy snorted. “I’d like to see that.”

The mood shifted in the room. Spike became very still. His next words were a little hesitant. “Would you? Really?”

“I… yes, I’d like that.” With a light finger, Buffy started tracing random patterns on his chest. She felt very self-conscious, suddenly, and nervous enough that her voice shook a little when she suggested: “Maybe you could just… move in.”

“I thought I pretty much had, already.”

Buffy lifted her head so she could see him. His expression was guarded, but she thought she knew him enough by now to recognize hope shining in his eyes. It made her next words easier to pronounce.

“I meant, really move in. Not just until we deal with Glory. Bring your stuff over, and have blood in the fridge, and…”

She choked, unable to say more. Not that long ago, she had acknowledged that dealing with Glory might not end in the best possible way for her. If she died, she did want Spike to take care of Dawn, but would he be able to do it on his own? How would he buy food for her? He would need a job – a night job, given what he was. Who would take care of Dawn when he was gone? Would the Scoobies, maybe—

The tender touch of his hand cupping her face and his lips brushing against hers jolted Buffy out of increasingly worrying thoughts. Spike seemed to know exactly what she was thinking; his smile, when he pulled back, was just a little too sad for comfort. Buffy rested her cheek on his chest again and shut her eyes tight so the tears wouldn’t come.

“Move in,” he said softly, “and raise Dawn with you?”

Buffy swallowed the lump in her throat and pushed out a single word. “Yeah.”

Very gently, Spike resumed stroking her hair. “And then, in a few years, I could help get her ready for her first day of school.”

“You could,” she whispered.

“And when a boy breaks her little heart, I could scare him halfway to death.”

A smile pushed its way to her lips. “As long as it’s only halfway.”

“And she’ll grow up, and become as beautiful as her mom.”

She turned her head to press her lips to his chest. “Thank you,” she whispered, unable to say more and tell him just how much she wanted to be there to see all this; how scared she was that she wouldn’t; how grateful to know he would be there for their daughter even if she couldn’t be.

“I love you,” he said, just as quietly.

“I love you,” she replied, and his arms tightened around her, holding her close enough that she could let herself imagine he’d never let go.

She fell asleep in his arms.

When Buffy woke up in the morning, Spike was gone. On the pillow next to her, the silver locket gleamed, soft and cold.

Chapter 19

Buffy was in a foul mood when she got to store that morning. After awakening alone, she had looked around the house for Spike, for a note, anything, she had even gone by his crypt to check on him, but she had found nothing. She wasn’t far from considering her curse with men, and how they always seemed to be a different person the morning after. But that couldn’t be it, could it? They had been talking about Dawn, before falling asleep together. He had sounded delighted at the idea of living with her and their child. Why would he have left? She touched the familiar locket on her chest. And why would he have left the pendant behind?

Giles, a cup of tea in hand, threw a silent look at the clock as she came over to the counter but he didn’t comment on her tardiness. At the research table, Willow and Tara looked up from dusty volumes just long enough for quick greetings before plunging back into their research. Maybe if she got Willow alone she could talk to her about Spike, ask for her opinion and try to sort out her thoughts… Later, she promised herself, then turned to Giles.

“Anything new?”

“You mean, anything other than our prisoner wailing all night?”

She noticed then that his clothes had the distinct look of having been slept in, and she couldn’t help feeling a pang of guilt. She should have stayed as well and helped question the minion. She would have, if she hadn’t been so tired, and if Spike hadn’t seemed so sure they wouldn’t get anything from the minion. She frowned at the memory. Why had he been so sure, anyway? What had he known that she and Giles didn’t?

“You haven’t seen Spike, have you?” she asked.

Giles looked at her in surprise. “Spike? No. I didn’t see him after he left with you last night.”

She nodded and looked away. “I thought he might have swung by. He looked like he didn’t want to question the minion in front of me.”

The look Giles gave her over the edge of his cup was too blank not to be carefully controlled. “Well,” he said slowly, putting the empty cup down on the counter, “I wondered as much, actually. I suppose he wouldn’t be too keen on letting you see that part of him.”

She nodded again. It made sense, except for a simple fact. He hadn’t come back to the store. Where could he be? He couldn’t be stupid enough to go after Glory on his own, could he? She froze as she remembered what he had said, that they might not both make it. She had been sure he had been talking about her, but what if he had been talking about himself? What if he had been planning something very stupid?

Her heart stuttered as an even more terrible thought flashed through her mind. What if Glory had taken him? What if she had seen him and Buffy together, in the past few days, and decided to get at her through him?

She was still trying to control her thoughts and not try to imagine what Glory might do to him when the bell rung behind her. Hoping beyond hope that it was Spike, she turned to see who had entered. Two men in suits were approaching the counter. They flashed their badges and introduced themselves as detectives from Sunnydale’s finest. They were looking for Giles.

“I am Rupert Giles,” he said, coming out from behind the counter. “Can I help you?”

“We hope you can. We found a letter addressed to you at a murder scene. We thought you might help us understand it.”

Giles blinked twice very fast. He sounded shocked when he asked: “A murder scene? But who…”

His voice trailed off as they handed out a picture to him. He took it gingerly and gave it a brief glance before turning wide eyes to Buffy. Scared of what she would see, she approached and took the picture from him. Spike stared back at her, eyes open but vacant, a pained grimace pulling at his lips. Frowning, she looked up at Giles, unsure what to think. He shook his head slightly, clearly not understanding any more than she did.

“We found the letter in his pocket,” the taller of the two detectives said, looking from Giles to Buffy. “Do you know who he is?”

Buffy’s mouth opened, but words refused to come out. She couldn’t understand what was going on. Had Spike been attacked and left for dead? Of course the police would think he was dead with his slight lack of pulse. But what was up with that letter?

“His name…” Giles hesitated. “I know him only by William. He does odd jobs for me sometimes. I don’t know what else I can tell you.”

Again, the tall man’s eyes settled on Buffy as though he expected her to say more, but she returned his look blankly. He held out his hand, and she belatedly realized he wanted the picture she still held. She gave it back with some reluctance.

“Why don’t you take a look at the letter?” the second detective said. “See if you can tell us what it means.”

He pulled out an evidence bag from inside his jacket and handed it to Giles. Buffy leaned in to read along.

“Ben is Glory. Don’t ask, just believe me. If I can do this, they’ll be safe. If I can’t, you know what to do.”

That was all. The note wasn’t even signed. Buffy thought she was about to be sick. She moved away, turning to the counter and clutching it with both hands.

“I don’t know what this means,” she heard Giles ask despite the loud buzzing in her ears. “But this murder… Who died, exactly?”

“An intern at the hospital. Benjamin Green. This… William… are you sure you don’t have a last name? Hmm. He killed the doctor. Snapped his neck.”

The queasy feeling in Buffy’s stomach only amplified. She looked back at them, shaking her head.

“It’s not possible,” she said, trying to focus her blurry vision on Giles. “He couldn’t do it.”

Before Giles could say a thing, the tall detective said slowly: “And yet, we have him on surveillance tape observing Green for a while before he sneaked up on him from behind and broke his neck. He looked high on that video. Do you know of any drug use? No? Well, something had to be wrong with him. He was shaking before he ever laid a hand on the doc, and Green hadn’t fallen to the floor yet that William was taken by convulsions. The doctors there said they lasted at least ten minutes. They couldn’t do a thing to save him. So now we’ve got two bodies, a cryptic note, and two people who aren’t telling us everything they know.”

“Two bodies?” Buffy said, the words tearing at her throat. “Where is he?”

“At the morgue. Waiting for an autopsy. What is it that you’re not—”

Horror spread through Buffy. “Giles! They’re going to cut him open!”

He nodded. “Let’s go.”

The detectives were still sputtering behind them when they walked out of the store. They got in the car without talking. The engine roared to life and they were off. Buffy clutched her hands in front of her so they wouldn’t shake.

“Did he ever mention this ‘Ben is Glory’ thing to you?” Giles asked after a couple of minutes.

Buffy shuddered. “No. We told you what we found in her house, but he never said he thought—” She couldn’t finish. Why hadn’t Spike told her? What had he found out, and how? “Do you think… do you think it’s possible? That Ben and Glory… It’s just absurd!”

“I don’t know, Buffy. It’d make sense for Glory to be restricted in some way. A human body would work fine for that. And if Spike collapsed after killing him, Ben had to be human. Although how he managed to actually do it without the chip taking him down first…”

He shrugged. They didn’t say another word until they had arrived. Buffy jumped out of the car before Giles had even turned off the engine. She ran to the metal doors of Sunnydale’s morgue. They were shut, with a magnetic key lock on the wall next to them. Gritting her teeth, she kicked the doors in and hurried in, Giles now behind her. The corridor seemed endless until she finally pushed open a second set of doors. They swung with a loud banging noise and startled the man, dressed in scrubs and with a mask over his face, that was leaning over Spike’s body with a scalpel in his hand.

“Get away from him,” she snarled, “or I’ll break your arms.”

The coroner straightened up, clearly startled. “What?”

She didn’t reply and walked closer, glaring. The coroner stepped back, both hands held up as though he had been held at gunpoint. Something tightened inside her when she saw Spike lying on the metal slab, as pale as the sheet that half covered his naked body. She gripped his shoulders and started shaking him.

“You idiot,” she muttered, her eyes filling with tears. “Wake up, now.”

“This man is dead,” the coroner said, somewhere behind her. “He’s not going to wake up.”

Buffy ignored him and only shook Spike harder. Nothing happened. After a moment, she let go and gently stroked his eyelids upward, opening his eyes. She leaned over him, wincing at the total lack of life in his empty gaze.

“I swear,” she said, choking out the words, “I should stake you for pulling something that moronic on me. Come on, Spike. Wake up so I can stake you.”

Giles came to stand by her. “You really think that’s going to help?” he asked quietly.

But just as he finished, Spike blinked.

Gasping, Buffy pointed at him. She glanced at Giles for a second, but had to look back at Spike for fear she would miss something. “Did you see that?”

“I did,” he said. “But don’t get too excited. It might not mean anything. From what the detectives said, the chip was firing before he touched Ben, and for a long time after he did. If that was last night, if he hasn’t awakened since…” He sighed. “His brain might be irremediably damaged.” He paused and rested a hand on her shoulder. “It might be kinder to stake him than to let him live in that state.”

Buffy shook her head, and his hand fell away. She ran her fingers against Spike’s face, hoping to bring forth another reaction. She was sure she could feel something beneath her touch, the barest hint of movement. She wanted to feel something.

“Giles, he’s a vamp,” she murmured. “He’ll heal. He just needs time.”

She looked at him, pleading for him not to rip away the thread of hope she was clinging to.

“Buffy,” he started, but didn’t add anything.

Turning toward the coroner, Buffy glared some more at him for good measure. He raised his hands higher, shaking.

“Where are his clothes?”

“You… you’re insane,” he stammered.

She didn’t blink. “I asked you a question. Do you really want to piss off the insane woman?”

Still trembling, he pointed at a plastic bag on a counter nearby. Buffy opened it and took out the jeans. Pulling off the sheet that covered Spike, she slipped each foot in a pant leg and started tugging the jeans on, never stopping to consider the ice in the pit of her stomach, or the total lack of movement from Spike that had put the ice there. After a moment, Giles started to help, and things got faster after that. They got the jeans on him, and his shirt. It hung open on his chest, the buttons having been torn off. His t-shirt was in tatters as well, no doubt courtesy of the medical staff that had tried to help even though he had murdered one of them. She gritted her teeth at the thought. She didn’t want to think about that now, didn’t want to wonder if Ben’s body was somewhere in the room as well, didn’t want to hope that Glory was truly gone, but at what price.

Satisfied that Spike was decent enough, she wrapped the duster over her arm and picked him up, one arm beneath his knees and the other at his back. His head hung back and she shifted her hold until it rested against her shoulder. She started for the door and Giles hurried to hold it open for her.

“Where are you taking him?” he asked when she had sat in the back of his car, Spike cradled against her.

She brushed her lips to Spike’s forehead and didn’t think twice before she answered. “Home.”

Epilogue

“Hi honey. We’re home.”

Buffy pushed the apartment door closed and dropped her purse and keys on the side table, kicking off her shoes in the process.

In her arms, Dawn clapped and called out, “Dada!”

A few steps took both of them to the living room. Lying down on the sofa, Spike was glaring. Buffy laughed.

“Feel free to tell me to shut up any time you want, sweetheart.”

His left eye twitched and a muscle in his jaw tensed. He turned his eyes back to the television. Strange that someone who liked so much to give pet names to other people couldn’t stand all the little annoying names she threw his way.

“Aww, look at that, Dawnie. Daddy’s pouting. Give him a kiss?”

Standing by the sofa, she held Dawn out toward Spike. The child laughed and kissed his cheek with a resounding ‘smack’. The glare melted into warm affection. Buffy put Dawn down into the playpen next to the sofa. She took a couple a wavering steps before she let herself drop onto her diaper-padded bottom next to her favorite plush toy. Turning back to Spike, Buffy leaned down and pressed her lips to his. His eyes gleamed.

“I’ll get dinner.”

Buffy walked away, looking back before she entered the kitchen. Dawn had pushed herself back to her feet and, purple elephant in hand, was tottering back to Spike. Smiling, Buffy watched them for a few seconds before she pushed herself into motion again.

Dinner for Spike had the advantage of being easy. She pulled a container of blood from the fridge and poured it into a mug, already thinking of what she’d prepare for her own dinner and Dawn’s. While the blood warmed, she grabbed a syringe and elastic band from a drawer. She pulled up her shirt’s sleeve and, with practiced ease, tied the elastic around her arm. She grimaced when she inserted the needle into her arm, more from habit than from pain. She’d gotten pretty good at drawing blood.

She finished just as the microwave beeped. With quick movements, she freed her arm then grabbed the mug and emptied the syringe in it. Dropping a straw into the mug, she returned to the living room. The purple elephant was now in Spike’s hand, and Dawn was on the floor, playing with her cubes.

“How about you make some room for me, you couch-hogger.”

She rested the mug on the floor for a moment and, with gentle hands, raised him off the couch just enough to slide behind him, her legs on either side of him. He hummed quietly when she draped an arm over his waist and she pressed her lips to his temple. Carefully picking up the mug again, she brought the straw to his lips. She ran her fingers through his hair as he drank, her mind drifting from one thought to the next fluidly.

His hair was getting a bit long. She liked the curls, but the color looked odd, platinum tipping dark honey. She’d need to cut it soon. Maybe even dye it for him. The thought gave her pause and she wondered, for a second, whom she would really do it for—him, or herself.

She glanced at the mug. The level was going down steadily. It was a relief. The first few weeks had been tough, when he had been unable to swallow on his own. She didn’t know how she could have done it all without the help of her friends. She didn’t know either how she’d ever be able to thank them.

He was getting to the bottom of the mug. She angled it so he could get the last drops then put it down on the floor again. She’d give him his second evening mug after she had fed Dawn. With both hands free, she wrapped her arms around Spike and rested her cheek against his. The news were on, the afternoon soaps long over.

“The daycare is going to the zoo, next week. I’ll be chaperoning.”

She thought about telling him of her own experience with the zoo, years earlier, but she figured she didn’t need to worry him. She was fairly certain nothing of the sort would happen this time, but if she was honest, that was why she was going. Thankfully, she had no classes that day, and she didn’t doubt that Giles would give her the day off when she asked.

“I won’t be there for your lunch,” she continued, “but I’m sure Giles or Willow won’t mind dropping by.”

He let out a quiet groan.

“Yes, I know. But I can’t leave you alone all day.”

Another groan.

“No, I can’t. I won’t. Now stop being difficult.”

He didn’t reply. She rubbed her cheek against the side of his head. If he was complaining about Giles and Willow, he would like even less what she had to say next.

“Speaking of Willow, she and Tara are busy tonight. So Xander and Anya will come babysit Dawn.”

That brought forth an even louder groan. She stifled a chuckle.

“Why, honey, I’d almost think you’re not excited about having company.”

The television abruptly turned black with a press of his thumb on the remote beneath his left hand. The plush toy in his right hand tumbled to the floor inside the playpen. Dawn looked up, her blue eyes opening wide. Babbling, she crawled to the toy and picked it up before hoisting herself to her feet. This time, she placed the elephant on Spike’s stomach before returning to her cubes.

Sighing softly, Buffy kissed the back of his head.

“Fine, fine. I’ll tell them you’re asleep, you won’t have to see them. How’s that?”

The problem had more to do with them seeing him than she opposite, she knew that. Spike had been adamant the last time they had played the ‘blink a letter’ game.

“When you’re better, you can babysit her when I patrol,” she promised quietly when he didn’t answer. “But you’ve got to get all better for that. You have to be healed.”

“Am.”

The raspy word took her by surprise, and tears were welling up in her eyes before she even knew it. She buried her smile into his hair and tightened her arms a little more around him.

“Are you?” she asked, her voice trembling but brimming with happiness. “’Cause if you are all better, we need to have that talk about you running off to do something incredibly stupid. You’re ready for that?”

This time, the answer was a groan.

“I didn’t think so. Now stop arguing or I’ll call you something ridiculously silly in front of Xander.”

She covered her hand with his and flipped the TV on again. She left her hand there, curling her fingers around his. He squeezed lightly and held on to her as they caught the end of some movie or other. In Buffy’s mind, that simple word echoed, ringing like clear bells. No, he wasn’t ready for that talk yet, but he would be, sooner or later. She doubted she’d want to rant at him anymore by then. She and Dawn would have him back, and that would be more than enough.

 

The end