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i like your moxie, sassafras!


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Long Buffy fic: "Two-Part Invention" (part 14)
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away
innie_darling
She became aware of the music as she climbed the stairs. It was coming from Spike's room. Her pleased smile broadened; a plan of attack was forming in her mind.

She silently pushed open his bedroom door and poked her head inside. The curtain had already been drawn, and the light was dim at best. He was sitting on the floor, knees drawn up to his chest, his duster draped over him like a blanket. His back was to the door, but her own nerves and hammering heart kept her from seeing the tension that stretched the muscles of his back and shoulders, the grief his mind and body equally bore. "Is this the song you said you'd play for me?" she asked, her voice only a touch higher than normal.

He was so startled that he leapt straight to his feet. The heavy leather coat slid slowly off him, as if it wanted to linger against his body. She knew how it felt. His back was still to her, but he turned his head just enough that he could see her out of the corner of his eye. "No."

The syllable was rough, and she mistakenly attributed his gruffness to being caught by surprise. "Well, shouldn't you put our song on?" she asked playfully, inching ever closer to his still form. "After all, you promised -"

He turned on her with savage ferocity, shouting as if she had maddened him past the breaking point. "I never promised!" His strong hands were like vises on her arms, holding her stiffly at arm's length. "I never promised you anything. What good would it have been even if I had?"

Buffy was so thrilled at first that Spike was looking at her, speaking to her, touching her, that it took her a few moments to understand what he was saying. She snapped out of her happy daze and stared him in the face. "What do you mean, it wouldn't have been any good?" Her voice hovered between menacing and hurt, and Spike took a step back shamefacedly.

One look at her blazing eyes and fragile throat, however, and he stepped defiantly forward again. "What I mean," he hissed between clenched teeth, "is that I'm not going to be the one that gets you killed. You've had incredible luck so far. You've made your own luck. But whether your good luck outweighs my bad, I don't know, and I'm not willing to gamble your life to find out."

"What bad luck?"

"Everybody I ever loved is dead," he ground out.

She tried to reason with him, aware that she had to tread carefully. "I don't know what happened to your dad, but your sister was in an accident. That wasn't your fault. And your mom got sick. That sucks, but it also wasn't your fault. You can't keep thinking you're to blame -"

"What about when it was your mum that was ill?" he interrupted. "I was standing right there when the doc told you what was wrong, and don't you dare tell me that wasn't guilt I saw creeping across your face!" he snapped.

Suddenly she was equally enraged. "You want to talk about my mom? Alright, fine, let's talk about her! She's somebody you love, so why the hell isn't she dead? Why isn't Dawn a corpse right now?"

He turned and pulled the plug on the record player.

Her words went relentlessly on. "You can't honestly think that there's some sort of curse on you that dooms you to walk the earth alone!" her voice high and incredulous. He still was refusing to look at her, so she slammed the door shut. The noise made her feel slightly better. "I mean, you were with Drusilla for a hundred . . ." she trailed off, finding her legs no longer willing to support her. She sank bonelessly onto the bed. "That's who you're really thinking of, isn't it?" she asked, her voice low.

His jaw was clenched tight as he whirled to face her once more. "Of course it is! She died because she loved me! You saw it - you were there - she sacrificed herself to save me. And she had never promised me anything, but for a hundred years she saved me - she was somebody to love. She loved me." He was frantic now, pacing madly in tighter and tighter figure eights. "And the worst part is, I wasn't even worth it. The minute thrice-damned Angel started working his hellish thrall, I lost my faith in her. Don't you see?" he cried in a tone of pleading outrage. "I'm the one who promised her. I promised her the moon, the stars - and my eternal love."

"But that's what you gave her, Spike," Buffy cried, frustrated that he couldn't see what was so plain to her. "She was happy with you that whole time - you had to be giving her what she needed. You kept your promises, Spi-"

He cut her off with a roar of anguish and yelled at her, "DON'T!" He made a visible attempt to gather himself, and when he spoke again, the quiet rage was worse than any scream. "Don't start that Hallmark bollocks. I did not give her what she needed. I failed her." Seeing her stubbornly shake her head, denying the bitter truth, only made him blunter. "You don't think I failed her? Take me out of the equation and think about it rationally, Slayer. What would you think of a man who left his girlfriend because she'd been raped? A man who did nothing while her abusive ex-boyfriend decided he hadn't hurt her enough the first time around?" She had her eyes closed as if she were willing him out of existence. He stepped closer, his voice low in her ear, "You'd think he was a cowardly, judgmental shit. You'd think the poor girl deserved better. And that's exactly what I'm telling you - I agree with that."

He thought he'd achieved his pyrrhic victory until her eyes snapped open and he could see a mutinous spark in their depths. "But she didn't know. She didn't know what she was doing under the thrall. The whole time, in her heart, she was faithful to you. She never believed that you betrayed her. She didn't understand . . ."

"Well, then, guess I was awfully lucky Angel made her a loon before he used the thrall, wasn't I?" Spike sneered in the most self-loathing voice possible. "Do you realize what you're saying? You're saying that because Angel broke her mind, she didn't know that I believed the worst of her - and that that's a good thing! I'm glad she never knew, that she carried to the end the image of me, as loyal and loving as she was, in her heart. But that's not really the point, is it? The point is, I know that I broke my promises to her, and I can never make it up to her now."

Buffy felt as if a thick veil had dropped in her brain, cutting her off from all the truths she had clung to before. All that she had left were the harsh words spoken in this room, words that hurt and betrayed. She spoke as if she were picking her way across a bog, trying desperately to feel solid ground beneath her feet. "She loved you. She died, loving you." All around her were treacherous waters. "And I live, loving you." She took a deep breath and allied herself with Drusilla, once a foe, and now, suddenly, an ally in her struggle to keep Spike from ruining himself. "How could two such women be wrong?" He started a bit in surprise. "I feel like I finally know my heart. She knew hers the moment she met you. And we both know yours. Please, Spike," she said, walking slowly towards him, "lay the blame where it belongs. With Angel, who kept the thrall going until that demon made him human. You've got nothing to blame yourself for. Even if you thought she was playing you, you still stood by her. You did everything you could to take her out of his reach. You loved her, and you didn't stop. You still love her." He nodded nearly imperceptibly, but she caught it. "You never, ever hurt her. I know, because I saw her face when she saw you there, ready to fight for her again." He bowed his head, and she was struck breathless by the beauty of him in a state of grace. There were tears on his face as he said goodnight to his sweet princess at last.

Buffy watched him and tried to think of the perfect words to bring him to her. Nothing came, despite her desperation not to lose him, her instinct that this was the moment on which everything depended. Still nothing came, and she choked back a sob and headed for the door.

His quiet voice, at peace at last, stopped her. "I love you, Slayer," he rasped. He took a step towards her, but she was quicker than he, her mouth on his, her palms on his cheeks, before he could even think to take another step. At the touch of his lips, kissing her, shaping her name, her own tears were released, and as she pushed him onto the bed, he could hear each tiny splash.

"I love you, I love you," she kept repeating as she cried and tore the clothes off their bodies. The litany ceased only when they were both naked. She looked deep into his eyes. "I am so in love with you. That's the only promise I make to you."

"I promise too," he affirmed, and strained upwards for her saving kiss. She met him halfway, kneeling over him, pressing her palms against his, entwining his fingers with hers. She was trembling slightly from desire and the last aftershocks of her fear that she had lost him, and he resolved to make her shake in earnest. He freed his mouth from hers, raised her hand, still linked in his, to his mouth, and with the very tip of his tongue traced the complicated patterns of her fingerprints. She was lost in delight at his tenderness when without warning but without haste, he surged forward between her spread knees, pushing himself off his back and laying her down on hers. He kissed down the center of her body, savoring the salty-sweet sugared almond taste of her, of her luxuriant skin, at last reaching his goal. On her and in her, his tongue moved in the same loops and whorls and swirls he'd discovered on the pads of her fingers. She was keening, teetering between pleasure and loss, and finally let go of both with a long cry.

He brought his mouth back to hers with dizzying intensity. Her breath caught in her throat at the sweet friction of their legs, and his sea-bright eyes darkened at the sound. She closed her eyes languorously and gave herself up to the wonder of the moment, of each successive moment that he offered up to her like pearls on a string of gold. This time she was more prepared, better equipped to handle what he did to her, what he drew from her, what he made of her. //Surely no one has ever been as happy as I am right now// was all she could think before sensation overwhelmed her again.

For Spike, Buffy's hitching breath had paved the way for memory. The disbelieving rapture he'd felt on their first night together had given way to a wondrous certainty of joy. Their second night was a palimpsest; he felt her every move even as he felt with equal conviction everything they'd done together on that October night. They came together again and again with the inevitability of oppositely charged magnets. And when at last he kissed her throat, flicking her jaw with his sooty lashes and spilling his seed inside her, and whispered hoarsely, "I love you, Buffy," she knew that her life had somehow been permanently, marvelously altered.



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She awoke to see him sleeping on his stomach, one arm thrown across her waist. She turned her head and traced the ropey, sinewy muscles of his back and shoulders with her eyes and then her fingers. His throaty voice came out of nowhere. "Good morning to you, too, love," he murmured, turning his head to face her.

It touched her ridiculously to see that his almond-shaped eyes had narrowed into joyous little crescent-moons at the realization that she had awakened happily in his bed. Unable to resist, she trailed one slender finger down the bridge of his nose, and then back up it. He sighed contentedly and nuzzled her hand. His cheek scratched pleasantly against her palm, and abruptly her eyes widened.

She sat bolt upright, swung her legs over the side of the bed, and grabbed his hand, dragging him across the mattress with her. "Buffy?" he questioned cautiously.

"Mirror, mirror," she was muttering to herself. "Of course there's no mirror in this room! Come on!" she said, and pulled him along with her across the hall to her room. "There!" she said triumphantly, and propelled him to stand in front of her dresser mirror.

"Buffy, what's going on?" he asked as she pushed him to face the mirror and then took her place behind him. She looked in the mirror and saw only herself on tiptoe, trying to see over Spike's non-reflecting shoulder.

She sank back onto her heels dejectedly. "I thought maybe you'd turned human," she said in a soft voice. "I felt stubble on your face, and I assumed that meant -" she broke off with a gasp. Spike, who still wasn't showing up in her mirror, was nevertheless standing unharmed with one shoulder in direct sunlight, waiting with uncharacteristic patience for her to finish her explanation.



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He didn't notice, and so was exasperated when she grabbed his hand again and started to drag him out of the room. He dug in his heels, but only when he caught hold of the door jamb did he succeed in getting her to stop. "Okay," he said, "what's gotten into you? I know you've got super-strength, but today it seems to have increased exponentially."

"You must be good for me," she grinned up at him.

"And second, why are you dragging me buck-naked all over the house with your mum and sis just down the hall?"

"Mom's not home and Dawn's got another half hour before her alarm goes off," she said dismissively. "And I was only going to drag you once more place and then back to bed."

"Where?" he asked, resigned to his fate as her rag doll.

"Back porch."

"Naked?"

"I'll get us some towels."

Draped in bright terrycloth, they stepped onto the porch. She pulled him into a welcoming kiss, and walked backwards until she felt the sun on her back. She released him then. "Notice anything different?" He squinted a little at her, unused to the bright morning light, the way the sun picked out the gold in her hazel hair. His eyes widened at the realization and he finally became aware that the sunlight was washing over him as well. She smiled at him, tears of happiness in her eyes, and said, "We'll go by the Magic Box later. But for now, let's just get back to bed."



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By the time they were walking to the shop a few hours later, they had managed to establish a few things. Spike was immune to sunlight, and his hair was growing again (Buffy swore she could see his roots coming in), but he was clearly not human. He could not be seen in mirrors, blood remained his primary food group, his heart and lungs stayed non-functional, and his body temperature was still low. Buffy, meanwhile, was still extra-strong. "Maybe it's the sex," Spike offered.

"What?" she was too giddy at the sight of him in daylight to pay proper attention.

"Last time, we cleared the sky. This time we both gained extra powers. Next time we'll establish peace on earth."

"Shut up," she said tenderly, kissing him soundly as they walked into the Magic Box.

The shop was free of customers, so they spilled the story to Giles and Anya, both of whom looked completely baffled. The Watcher nevertheless began gathering books that might be relevant and dumped them on the big research table. Buffy pulled Angel's thrall-text out of the pile and the four of them began to read.

A chill swept over her as she reread the passage she had just skimmed. "The vampire who sins against his kind, who breaks the two greatest laws of our glorious race, shall be punished with death. The highest gift - immortality - shall be revoked." It was too vague to make sense to her, but she knew somehow she had found what they'd been looking for. She read it aloud to the other three, then immediately appealed to Spike. "What are the laws you broke? Are you dying now?"

He kept his place in his own book with a finger, then answered her. "My guess is (1) never fall in love with a human - the food source. And (2) create more vampires - as many as you can."

Giles blurted out in surprise, "Are you saying you never sired a childe?"

Buffy remembered suddenly Spike had confessed as much to her before, but before she could corroborate his story, Spike replied, "I'm saying I never made so much as a minion, let alone a childe."

"You never turned anyone?" Anya's question sounded almost disappointed.

"No. Never wanted to."

"Wait - what about Buffy's, er, friend? The one that made that deal with you?" Giles asked.

"Dru turned him. She needed a proper feed."

"So now you're dying?" Buffy cut in, anxious to return to her main concern.

"Easy, love. I'm dying like you're dying. I'm not going to keel over tomorrow. I'm just not immortal any longer. Hence the stubble and the roots - I'm aging."

"Why aren't you more upset about this?" she demanded suspiciously.

"Breaking the rules has its rewards," he grinned, and opened his book and read aloud. "'Only a vampire who has never sired a childe may father a child. Should such a vampire beget upon a mortal woman a child, he shall have earned life with them in sunlight as well as moonlight.' Does that answer your question?"

"I'm pregnant?"



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"Is it a boy or girl?" Anya asked eagerly.

Giles's worried "How do you feel?" came at the same time.

Buffy turned to Spike. "Like I can't wait nine months to hold our baby." He swept her up in his arms and just held her as tightly as possible. "Hey, I still need to breathe," she said; "we still need to breathe," she corrected, with a proud pat on her lower abdomen.

"How do you feel? Are you okay?" he was instantly nervous.

"Actually, I've never felt better. I think the pregnancy is what's giving me that extra power."

"Really?"

"Really. But if it makes my morning sickness extra strong too, you're a dead man."



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"So does this mean you guys are getting married?" Dawn asked just before Joyce walked into the house, dumping her overnight bag at the foot of the stairs. She headed straight for the kitchen, seeing Buffy and Spike sitting hand-in-hand at the counter and Dawn rummaging in the fridge.

"Hi, Sweetie," she said, sharing the term of endearment among the three of them.

"Hey. How was the trip?" Buffy asked.

"Exhausting, but very fruitful." Dawn choked on the juice she was chugging straight out of the carton.

"Mom, I've got news," Buffy said nervously. She clutched Spike's hand a little more tightly before continuing. "I'm pregnant." Now that it was out there, she realized she had no idea at all about how her mother would react.

"Do you want to have this baby?" Joyce asked.

"Yes," she replied without hesitation.

"Spike?"

"Yes, me too," he answered honestly.

"Then I guess I'll be a grandmother."

"That's it? No lecture?" Buffy asked in disbelief.

"Do you want a lecture?"

"Noooo."

"Buffy, look, I know you've had to grow up awfully fast. You are capable of making your decisions and accepting all the consequences. But we do need to talk about this." She sighed. "Have you thought about what's going to happen to your child if something happens to you while you're patrolling?"

Spike shot Joyce a grateful look; he hadn't wanted to be the one to order Buffy to stay at home. His face suddenly turned worried; Buffy wouldn't kick her own mom's ass, would she? He hurried to back Joyce up. "Yeah -" he started, but then Joyce, unbelievably, turned on him.

"That applies to you as well, Spike. You're the father. Your baby will need you too. You can't just rush off for a 'spot of violence' anymore." He gulped and sank back into his seat.

Buffy spoke up. "Believe me, Mom, I have no intention of risking this baby. I'll figure out a way to have more magical protection - maybe get Will and Tara to whip up that ball of sunshine, now that Spike's immune. More brain-work and less leg-work, I promise."

Joyce nodded, knowing this was as good as it was going to get; Buffy couldn't simply give up her responsibilities. "Okay, we'll find you a good obstetrician and make an appointment for this week." She hesitated, then asked, "Are we going to be planning for a wedding as well as a new baby?" She noticed with happy relief that Buffy and Spike met each other's gazes without skittishness or nervousness; they simply smiled into each other's eyes, knowing neither would be hurt by any answer.

"Actually, Mom, I don't have any interest in getting married. I've got everything I want already." Spike was nodding in emphatic agreement.



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Anya was so relieved to be the only Scooby bride that she wasn't even offended that she hadn't been named one of the baby's guardians. Joyce, Dawn, and Giles were sharing that responsibility. Willow and Tara's ball of sunshine didn't quite succeed - the best they could manage was a brief burst of illumination that terrified and immobilized the vampires they were eliminating - but Buffy didn't need it anyway. Her pregnancy was giving her unprecedented strength, more than enough to compensate for her dwindling mobility. And Spike was there, of course, watching her back as she fought, holding her hand as she was examined by her obstetrician. It was so surreal it had to be true.



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"What do you think of 'William'?" Buffy called over her shoulder as she walked into the kitchen, Spike a few paces behind her, still pulling on a shirt. The Sunday paper lay on the table between Dawn and Joyce, and their heads were bent over the crossword.

"Can't say I was ever crazy about that name," Spike answered, trying his best to smooth his dark curls into some semblance of order, since Buffy had long since confiscated his hair gel.

"So it's a boy?" Dawn asked excitedly; she hadn't been home when they'd returned yesterday from the latest visit to the obstetrician.

"Actually, bossy here wouldn't let Dr. Lockhart tell us." She shot a mock-glare at Spike. "Why do you want to be surprised anyway?"

"It won't be a surprise to me." Buffy was taken aback by his calm certainty.

Joyce steered the conversation back to where it had been. "So not William then? What about . . . 'Charles'? That's what you would have been named if you'd been a boy."

Buffy wrinkled her nose, but Spike stayed silent. "Doesn't grab me. And maybe it's a girl. So . . . 'Jennifer'?"

Spike rolled his eyes but still said nothing. Then he reconsidered. He shot a teasing glance Dawn's way and asked, "How about 'Kevin'?" She blushed, and the tide of the conversation turned to Dawn's budding love life.



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"No, really, why are you all dressed up?" Buffy asked suspiciously. "And why are you driving me to school?" Spike pretended not to hear her over the car radio, tuned to an R&B soul station. He pulled up short outside the English building and gave her a quick kiss. She got out and came around to his side of the car for a more satisfying goodbye, but as she popped her head in, he just pecked her cheek and handed her what was clearly the large economy-sized lunch bag brimming with healthy food. His foot was on the gas before she could say thanks.

//It's ridiculous to be this nervous// Spike chided himself. //It's just a job interview, not another bloody apocalypse.// He parked the car, straightened his tie, and walked through the front door trying to look like the best damn academic publisher in the world.



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Not only had she stopped dyeing her hair, revealing that her natural color was even darker than Spike's, but she was just beginning to show; Spike thought she'd never looked better. She felt magical, had felt it since the moment of conception. She was dense, packed solid around the fiery jewel inside her. She had been hollowed out to make room for the cosmos in her womb in which her child, a lonely, pearly planet, spun. She was strong. She was serene. And she was scaring the shit out of badasses the world over.



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"I need help! I need protection! I - whoa, you're hot!" said the boy as he ran into Angel Investigations and got his first look at Cordelia Chase. She allowed herself a small smirk but made sure he didn't see it; she so didn't need another geekboy stalker.

"What's the problem?" Wesley asked, coming forward and perching on Cordelia's desk.

"Are you the boss?" he asked suspiciously.

"The four of us are equals here," Gunn answered.

"Where's the fourth?"

"Here," said Angel from behind the boy. "What's your name, kid?"

"Scorpion. And I'm not a kid."

Cordelia stood, claiming the boy's attention once more. "Okay, Scorpion," trying not to laugh at the pseudonym, "why don't you tell us why you need help."

"Well, I was in this bar, and this guy came up to me and we started talking. He asked me what I do, and I told him - I'm the world's greatest computer hacker." As he narrated, he drew a business card out of the back pocket of his jeans and handed it to Cordy. On the card was a firered scorpion, the word "hacker" embossed on it, one letter per body segment. "So then he says he wants to hire me to do some research work, and do I know a guy who can help him out with some magic stuff. So I say no problem. My girlfriend is this super-hot Wicca chick, so we can handle whatever he needs. So then - and this is where it gets weird - he asks if I've ever heard of 'the slayer.'" He made air-quotes as he spoke, unaware of the new tension in the room. "So then he tells me this long story about 'the slayer,' some chick - or maybe there's two - with superpowers that have suddenly gone into overdrive and he wants to know why. He says the only thing he can think of is this spell he found to combine several people into one, but he didn't think it could last this long, and it's been about five months."

"Five months?" Wesley interrupted, thinking of how dangerous it could be to summon the First Slayer for such a long time.

"Yeah, five months. So he gives me a list of stuff you'd need for this spell, and tells me to see if any of this stuff has made it into a town close to here called -"

"Sunnydale," Angel supplied.

"How'd you know?"

"I've heard of 'the slayer' too," Angel replied, repeating the air-quotes gesture.

"So I get on it - the guy paid me a couple hundred in cash for starters - and there's nothing. No movement of spell ingredients. And there's no way anyone could have had this stuff lying around - some of the stuff has to be fresh. So when I see this guy again, I tell him that. He gets pissed, starts beating me up, trying to get his money back. Won't listen when I tell him the spell hasn't been worked. Then he says to get my girlfriend to do a sensing spell to check if that magic has been used at all."

"Sounds like a good idea," began Gunn, only to be interrupted.

"Yeah, great idea, genius! Only I don't have a girlfriend!"

"Wait, what?" Wesley asked. "Not twenty seconds ago you were bragging about her, now you're saying she doesn't exist?"

"Well, there's a girl online that I chat with - she's sorta like my girlfriend. And she really is a Wicca."

"Whatever. So why didn't you ask her to help you out?" Gunn asked, losing patience with their latest client.

"I did. She never got back to me," he explained sullenly. "But then I had this idea. Like, what if this 'slayer' is on steroids or something - like sudden strength, doesn't it sound suspicious? But I haven't been able to go home and check since that guy is always waiting at my apartment. I think he's going to kill me."

"We've got a system you can use. Check and see if your friend left you a message. Then I'll make sure you get home safe," Angel said, and led Scorpion to the back room.

"Oh my God, how sad was that?" Cordelia asked.

"What's really sad is that Angel, the detective, didn't realize we'd moved the computer to the front room," Wes responded, leaning back slightly so that his spine just touched the monitor.

Angel and Scorpion came back to the main room, and the latter seated himself at the keyboard as Wesley hopped off the desk. "No . . . no messages. But I can access hospital records from here, see if this Buffy chick has had any appointments lately to get her 'vitamins.'" Again he made air-quotes and Gunn was tempted to break his fingers. "Whoa, jackpot! She's been to some Dr. Lockhart six times in the last five months. I think you guys should check out this Lockhart guy."

"It's a woman. Look, her first name is Sabrina," Cordelia cut in, gasping when she read over his shoulder the initials that followed the doctor's name. Dr. Lockhart was an obstetrician. Buffy had to be pregnant.



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Joyce poured three cups of hot chocolate and waited for Buffy and Spike, just back from patrolling, to join her in the kitchen. "Hi, honey," she said when her daughter finally appeared. Spike followed close on her heels, questioning Joyce with a look.

At her nod, he said, "Slayer, your mum may have come up with the perfect cure for those backaches you've been getting," and took Buffy by the hand. He walked into the den and saw the rocking chair he and Joyce had commissioned from Xander. He sat down and pulled her gently onto his lap, making a cradle of his body. Between the pliancy of his body and the easy rocking, Buffy lay soothed, her pain vanishing. Joyce surreptitiously got the camera and captured the two lovers, their dark heads close together. The picture finished the roll, the ninth since she'd heard of the grandchild on the way.



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At Cordy's gasp, Angel, Gunn, and Wesley crowded around to peer at the computer screen. "How?" Angel asked, discretion in front of Scorpion no longer a priority.

"You think it's supernatural?" Gunn asked. "Shit, man, girl's got a man. What's so mysterious about it?"

"No," Angel responded, "I don't think he's been around for a while. I don't remember seeing him, or smelling him on her."

"Well, it does raise interesting questions about Slayer lineage," Wes broke in pensively; "I don't believe a Slayer has ever lived to bear a child."

"Well, I don't think it's a mojo baby," Cordelia declared. "No portents, no visions, no headaches."

"We have to know," Angel cut in. "I think we should call her."

Gunn clearly thought he should mind his own business, but Cordy and Wes looked curious. Scorpion watched them all with his mouth hanging open. "You guys know her?" he squeaked. "Shit, I'm toast!"

"Don't worry. We'll protect you," Gunn assured the trembling hacker. Then turning to his colleagues, he said firmly, "This isn't part of our job, and I don't think she'd appreciate it if we butt in. Don't make that call."

Wesley looked rather shamefaced and Cordelia nodded. "You're right," she responded.

Angel turned to Scorpion with a dangerous glint in his eye; the boy gulped and nodded, scrolling through Buffy's records until he found the entry under "Father's Name." Angel took one look, let out a roar, and jumped into his car. Cordy, Wes, and Gunn read the screen, but "Marlowe, W." meant nothing to any of them.



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Spike carried Buffy upstairs to his room, helping as she sleepily took off her clothes. Last to go were her socks, and as he knelt down to peel them off, he said, almost to himself, "Vestem induitur, formosa; extuitur, tota forma est."

She smiled even as her eyes closed, then realized she had no idea what he'd just said. "That wasn't some of Xander's Klingon love poetry, was it?"

"Nope. Latin," he said as he tucked her in.

"So, Mr. Fancypants, what does it mean? More stuff your dad taught you?"

"This isn't anything he would have taught me," he grinned. "It means, 'clothed, she is beautiful; naked, she is beauty itself.'"

She snuggled luxuriously into the soft bed. "Why don't you join me, gorgeous?"



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Angel was fuming. Only a few miles outside of Sunnydale and he got a flat. He couldn't even walk the distance since dawn was about to break. He racked his brain trying to figure out where he could take shelter. He called Lorne, remembering the host knew all the demon bars up and down the coast - he'd be safe at one of them. He grimaced when Lorne's machine picked up; if he was screening his calls, he'd only pick up if the person calling sang. Tunelessly, he muttered, "Her name was Lola. She was a showgirl." He hummed the next bit because he didn't know the words, then continued, "At the Copa, Copacabana -"

That's when the demon finally picked up. "Angel! Baby! Got to tell you, that's the finest example of sprechstimme I've heard in a long time. What's up?"

"I'm going to be burnt to a crisp unless you can tell me you know a safe haven a few miles outside of Sunnydale."

"Yeah, great place called The Concrete Blonde. You probably passed it a few minutes ago. Purple neon sign. It's a bar and a bed-and-breakfast. They understand not everybody wants to be a beach bum."

"Great. I better go."

"You're welcome, big guy."

Angel walked into the building just ahead of the sun. The cyclops at the front desk eyed him as he signed in. "Bar's closed, but I can show you to your room right now," she cooed.

"Yeah. Could I get some room service?"

Her eyelashes fluttered as she asked coyly, "What did you have in mind?"

"Blood."

"Oh." The inviting smile left her face. "We're out right now but we'll get some by noon. Do you have a preference? One of our other guests requested B-."

"Animal." He took the key from her hand, careful to avoid her fatally sharp nails, and followed her up the stairs.

He lay restlessly on the bed for hours. His senses had been dulled by rage, so when there was a knock on the door, all he smelled was blood. He opened the door incautiously and saw Darla holding a large mug in her hand. "Room service," she said with a smile.



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Spike checked the clock again, unable to concentrate on the collection of Browning/Barrett courtship letters he was supposed to be editing. Tonight was the Niblet's surprise party. She knew about the Sweet Sixteen bash planned for tomorrow night at the roller-rink (he remembered exchanging a wry look with Joyce when Dawn exclaimed, "Just like we did when I was young!") but tonight was a strictly Scooby enterprise. He fidgeted again; Dawn and Joyce had a knack for picking perfect gifts, a skill in which he and Buffy were sorely lacking. He had no idea if the dress Buffy had picked out or the Swedish Chef doll he'd selected would cut it in the eyes of a newly-minted sixteen-year-old. He straightened the purple tie she'd given him - "it totally makes your eyes look indigo" - and concentrated on his work.



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//Is he looking at me? I think he's totally looking at me. Or maybe he's just looking out the window.// Dawn turned a little, noting with delight that Kevin's soft brown eyes hadn't shifted. //He's got the most gorgeous eyes.// She was barely listening to whatever it was Mr. Nicks was saying about Gregorian chants and polyphony, but she heard enough to be irritated by the distraction. //Music is to dance to, not something you have to think about.// The class finally came to an end, as the strident bell signaled.

"Hey, Dawn," Kevin said.

"Hey," she responded, trying to sound casual.

"Tomorrow sounds cool," he said.

"Yeah, it'll be totally retro."

"What're you doing?" he asked.

"Umm, we're rolling-skating, remember?" her voice betrayed her confusion.

"No, I meant what are you doing now?" he asked, as if she should be able to form a rational sentence when he was doing that goo-inducing thing with those chocolate eyes.

"I'm, um, well, I got, um, permission to stay late in the art room. I'm really close to finishing that painting of my mom, and I want it done before summer vacation."

"Mind if I tag along?" She shook her head and followed him out of the room. She grinned when she finally noticed that his shirt was purple. //It's a sign.//

They set up their easels close together and worked for some time in silence. When she finally put her brush down, he came over to look at her canvas. Joyce was sitting on the couch, leaning forward as if to continue a conversation with the viewer. In front of her, on the coffee table, were a blue shirt of Buffy's and a pink dress of Dawn's that had long ago been deemed dustrags; she was evidently using them to make patches for a quilt, half of which lay across her lap. Behind her was a vase of daisies - Joyce's favorite - and a pair of small bronze statues - Aurora on tiptoe, arms outstretched, and Diana with her bow at the ready. Dawn waited for Kevin to say something, but he was silent for a few moments. She looked anxiously at him, and he turned to face her, smiling. "I like her eyes," he said.

"I like yours," she blurted out. Panicking, she looked at his canvas, but she couldn't pretend she had been offering artistic critique; he was painting a landscape, not a portrait, a snowcovered scene with delicate, chilly birch trees and icicles made luminous by the sun. //I wonder where that is// she thought just before he kissed her.

Continue: Part 15/15
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