January 28th, 2006

the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

Veronica Mars fic: "The Bars"

Through 1x15, “Ruskie Business.” Veronica’s dream. L/V interaction. Every night, Veronica is Logan's jailer.

Note: This fic is based on a dream I actually had. For the purposes of this story, ignore the actual layout of the Mars Investigations office. Here, it’s shaped like a reverse L (so it’s made up of a short section and a long section). The door is at one side of the short section and Veronica’s desk is in the short section, facing the intersection of the two lines. There is an extra-wide archway leading from the short section to the long. The long section is empty except for a floor-to-ceiling jail cell that is at the very end.


The first time she slammed the door shut, he smirked at her through the bars. His mouth puckered to kiss the air mockingly, and she thought he might have said something that the sound of the clanging bars drowned out.

The next time when she closed the cell, more quietly this time so the reverberations wouldn’t ring in her ears for hours, his hand reached between the bars to pinch her ass. She’d skipped nimbly away, but the rough friction of her sneakers on the ugly, worn blue-grey carpet - who had chosen that carpet? she knew it hadn’t been her choice - had sent up sparks anyway. He’d smiled at her again, a smile not much different than his movie star father’s, cruel in its intensity and intent.

The third time began differently. This time Veronica found herself walking Logan to the cell that, improbably, occupied fully a third of the space that comprised this odd version of the Mars Investigations office. He wasn’t resisting; in fact, it almost felt like he was snuggling against the cautionary arm she had around his waist. But when she dropped the arm, he went willingly enough into the cage and spoke his first words. “It’s cold in here.” It was quiet, barely a complaint, more an observation he thought she might be interested in. This time, he kept well away from the bars as they clicked shut; he knew how icy they were to the touch. As she walked away, she purposely dug the toes of her sneakers into the ground, hoping to ignite some sparks. When she reached the wide archway she turned right without a glance behind for Logan. Not even the red light that fell on the desk from the stained glass windows seemed to make the space any warmer. She pressed her fingertips into the hot, heavy skin around Backup’s thick leather collar, scratching him gently and murmuring endearments to him. She felt his muscles surge beneath her hand as he stood expectantly, growling softly at the door. A moment later, the door opened quietly, and a head peeked stealthily in. Veronica’s keen eyes and Backup’s bared fangs were more than enough to make it disappear. She sighed as the door slammed shut, and turned back to face forward. All she could see was the large archway and the dingy white wall beyond it. She’d deliberately tucked her desk far enough into this alcove so that she couldn’t see Logan, even peripherally. But now she’d have to get up and walk around her desk if she wanted to see him, make plain that she’d made a choice to go back there and see him; there was nothing in the other room but bare walls and his cage. She doesn’t remember making the decision, or even taking a deep breath to steel herself, but she must have, because she’s in front of his cage, looking at his childlike profile. He’s sitting on the floor and he’s folded himself up like an origami puzzle. His arms are wrapped tightly around his knees and it hits her that his cage is underneath a vent blowing frosty air. She whistles for Backup as she fumbles with the keyring at her waist. She unlocks the door and the pit bull runs in, nuzzling Logan gently. She watches Logan unfold his long body and start to relax, stretching out his legs so the dog’s heavy head can rest in his lap. His long fingers are stroking Backup’s stubbly fur. He has a hint of a sweet smile on his face. She turns away sharply on her heel, jingling the keys in her hand to drown out the voice inside her head that’s listing all of the more pleasurable ways in which she could have warmed Logan up.

The fourth time it’s all completely casual. She lets him walk to his cell alone, laughing as he half-turns to say something funny. She joins him in a moment, hot box of pizza in one hand and a few paper plates in the other. Somehow he’s got a body pillow in his cell, and he leans casually back against it as he eats. He’s amusing himself by holding a folded piece of pizza above his mouth, letting the cheese ooze out so that he can catch it with a swirl of his tongue. She tries to keep her eyes down, keep the vibe as effortlessly friendly as it’s been this time - she wonders briefly what it will be like next time - but she remembers all of the things Lilly told her (half-bragging, half-educating) that Logan did with his tongue. She wonders how he knew to do those things, if they were things he did because Lilly liked them, or because he did. She’s idly picking the peppers off her slice as she muses, and his hand shoots out to steal a mushroom from her piece even though the box isn’t even half empty yet. When she glares at him, though, he looks so unaware of having offended that she realizes he’s treating her as a friend. It’s been a long time.

The fifth time he throws her for a loop. Once she’s locked him in, he leans his forehead against the bars, his hands holding them above his head. “What am I in here for, Veronica?” he asks, softly enough that he sounds neither accusatory nor malevolent. His eyes lock on hers and at her silence they begin to well up. “Never mind,” he says as he pushes his body away from the bars, away from her, and he starts to pace.

The sixth time he’s a beast. He’s listing all of the things that have gone wrong with her life recently, and somehow he knows that there’s something there that she’s never told anyone before. He presses every advantage, not letting her shy away or rage back at him. She’s just crying, neither responding nor running. The bars aren’t between them any longer as he looms over her, circling her, backing her into the darkest corner of this dingy office. She’s crouched in the corner, sobbing, when she registers silence. She looks up and dimly sees him locked securely in his cage, peering out at her perplexedly.

The seventh time she brings him a deck of cards to amuse himself with. She’s seen the way his quick hands can manipulate the cards. She stretches her arm between the bars to proffer the pack. He takes them with one hand, jumping up and plucking off her cap with the other. He quirks a crooked grin at her and does a bow, flourishing the hat. She smiles back briefly and starts the walk back to her desk. His voice, caught between fury and anguish, stops her. “You bitch,” he snarls. She looks at him over her shoulder and his eyes are boring into her. She walks back and stoops to pick up the cards he’s thrown to the ground. She cannot understand what has brought about this vengeful misery. She fans them out in her hand, looking them over, but sees nothing. She looks up at him, at his hardening face and bitter, burning eyes and looks back down at the cards. The faces of the queens are flickering, back and forth, between their own and Lilly’s. She drops the cards and runs, hearing his screams behind her.

The eighth time he’s mocking her, ticking off the days he’s been in the cell as they’ve both seen prisoners in war movies do. He’s making quite a production of drawing each large line in the pad he’s somehow stolen off her desk. She realizes he’s drawn way too many lines. She approaches to tell him so. He seems to know her objection, and without looking up, begins to recite dates, pointing at each date to a long, stark line. The dates begin about eight years earlier, and she’s got enough sense to stop protesting and start writing the dates down, on her arm, since Logan’s got her pad. She recognizes a few; one was Duncan’s birthday, and she’d wondered why Logan had skipped school and ruined the surprise homeroom party she’d planned. It comes to her slowly, that these are all days he’s missed from school, from the summers, from when he could have been with Lilly. She draws her breath in to ask why, to confirm the terrible suspicion forming in her mind, but he cuts her off. “You already know,” he says, and hides the pad under his pillow.

The ninth time they walk to the cage in silence. He gets in and faces her directly. His eyes are unwavering. He takes her hand. She wakes up.
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

short Buffy fic: "Alexander LaVelle"

Set after "Hell's Bells."

You sit, like a lady, in your A-line housedress. You are perched on the living room couch, ankles
properly crossed. You might be waiting for something. Suddenly something catches your eye,
through the blinds. It's the fierce glare of the sun coming off her bright red hair; it hurts, and you
wish for a pair of sunglasses. You wish for a whiskey, but your hand knows there's only a glass
of ice water already there, waiting patiently for you on the end table. You watch her come in but
you don't answer any of her attempts to ascertain who is in your house. "Hello?" she calls, and
her voice is as strong and bright as her hair was, even though you can tell from it that she's been
crying. You close your eyes. You did your crying yesterday, when your beautiful boy slunk out
of his own wedding, leaving his jilted bride with meaningless presents and a heart of sorrow. Oh,
yes, you did your crying. And you decided he needed to know the truth. Maybe then he would
find his way back to you.
* * *
Willow goes to the Harris house knowing she won't find Xander there; his parents have never
been his refuge. But she knows he's left things in the basement – things he hadn't thought were
appropriate to his ‘grown-up' apartment – and it is all she can think of to comfort him. She sorts
through the odds and ends scattered in the basement. She stops short when she sees the sealed
envelope on the chair, Xander's name written across it. Tucked over it is a note addressed to her.
The copperplate script is betrayed by alcohol. "Willow, please see that he gets this. Stay with
him as he reads it. Help him. You have always been his friend. I thank you for that."
abandons any further search. She leaves the basement and tries to think where Xander could be.
* * *
You see her go back into the sunlight, hair shining like a weapon. You squint, and she softens,
and you can see why she has always been Xander's comfort. You remember that you had your
own comfort once.

You remember being five years old when a huge bundle of blankets was put in front of you.
"How do you like your new baby brother?" someone asked, and you couldn't figure out what you
were looking at. And suddenly there was a snuffling sound and the blankets parted to reveal a
tiny face that seemed to be weighed down by its huge dark eyes. And you knew you loved him,
your new baby brother, Alexander.
* * *
Willow couldn't get her brain to work. She had to figure out where Xander could be, assuming,
of course, that he hadn't simply left town. But I would know, wouldn't I? I'd feel it. She tried
to think of when he had last seemed happy. She thought of him at Halloween, announcing his
engagement. She remembered him kissing Anya over the Magic Box counter. She thought back
to . . . she stopped suddenly, aware of the ache in her legs. She'd never been aware of how much
his happiness was wrapped up in Anya. And now he's blown it. What in the world could have
made him walk away from her?
She shook her head. There was no possibility whatsoever that
he was with Anya right now. Quite apart from wanting to stay away from the girl he'd humiliated
and abandoned, his return to the apartment or the Magic Box would have set off one of the
magical alarms she'd set after the whole debacle.

She cast her mind further back. Okay, when else had Xander been happy? With Faith? She
snorted derisively. There hadn't been time for Xander to be happy with her; she'd used and
discarded him like a tissue. Cordelia? No, thinking about it as objectively as she could, she
couldn't say that happiness had emanated from him during that relationship. He'd seemed giddy
and fearful, and frankly, more than a little confused, but he hadn't seemed truly happy.

This was starting to get sad. Had it been so long since her best friend was happy? How had she
not known? Do I even have the right to call myself his best friend? I suck at this best man
And then it hit her, where he would be, and she took off running, so that her legs and
lungs burned.
* * *
You are happy, and you know you are happy, that's the magic of it. You spin stories by the hour
that leave you drained and yet seem so natural, so untouched by anything you know in the real
world. You look down and see him lying on his stomach, sprawled so that his quick-moving
fingers are in danger of hitting your knee as you sit cross-legged, and you watch him draw the
tales you are telling. His dark hair is the color of rust in shadow, but mossy soft.

And when he looks up to hear the rest of your story, your heart turns over at how much you love
him, everything about him, your baby brother, from the wide dark eyes to the golden shower of
freckles that lies across his cheeks. You love the lashes that block out the world and let him see
you as he wants to see you; not the awkward girl who sits alone at every dance, but the brave
bard, the loving sister, the one who sees him as extraordinary too. And you open your mouth and
the story continues.
* * *
She runs like a madwoman, runs until she gets to Star Park, to where he had dabbed ice cream on
her nose once, only a few years ago. Her nose feels cold just at the thought. She pants as she
scans each bench. And there he is, away from the jungle gym and swing set, on a perfectly
ordinary bench that's a little too close to some trash cans to be a desirable seat. He's not
wringing his hands or cradling his head in his arms or even crying. He's so still she thinks for a
scary moment that he's gone catatonic. But when she moves to stand directly in front of him, he
knows. And he looks up to face her.

She blocks the sun, and it illuminates her from behind, and he has to shake his head to rid himself
of the vision of a superhuman avenger; he knows very well that an active vengeance demon
wouldn't look so beautiful. He blinks and tries again, and this time it's just Willow.

He doesn't try to speak, and there is silence as she sits beside him, half-turned toward him. His
head is on her chest, the ribbed fabric of her shirt soothing him with its faint prickliness. His eyes
are leaking tears as her arms go around him, and they sit that way for long minutes. When he
pulls away, he tries to joke: "Absorbent."

She looks down at her shirt and agrees: "Yeah." She slides her hand into his, and says, "Xander,
I've got a letter for you." He starts to shake his head even as he reaches for it. "It's not from
Anya." His hand drops but there's still pleading in his eyes. "It's from your mother."
* * *
You only want a quiet place to study French, away from all the jabbering girls and the ludicrous
boys with their pencil-thin mustaches in your class, so you go to the fields and spread out your
books. You don't hear the whistles in the distance, you aren't aware that not far away the
football team is scrimmaging. You are with Roland and his men on the top of the hill, until a
football lands on top of your bag. You look up, startled, your eyes weak from reading such fine
print, and you see . . . a hero, strong and wide-shouldered, his hair a golden halo in the sun, a
pleased smile on his face. Your heart is thumping strangely as he retrieves the errant ball and says
in a voice straight from a dream, "I'll have to be sure to throw the ball out of bounds again if
there are such pretty girls hidden all around. Or are you the only one?" You feel your face flush,
and you are saved from stammering only by going completely mute. "I'm Tony," he says, as if
there is no reason you should know the name of the quarterback, the boy to whom every
cheerleader gives her brightest smile. "And you are?"

"I'm Jessica," you say tremulously, gasping when he takes your hand, to shake or caress, you
can't tell which.

"It's very nice to meet you, Jess," he grins, and then trots away as the coach bellows, "Harris!"
* * *
His face hardens, and she can almost see him putting up a wall between them. "I don't want to
hear anything she has to say," he says with finality.

"You don't have to hear her," she replies, her mouth quirking up into a half-smile; "she wrote it
all out. You just have to read it." But it's too soon for jokes and he refuses to smile or answer.
He plucks the letter from her hand and turns it over a few times. He's about to rip it in half when
she snatches it back from him. "No, don't!" she cries.

"Why should I read it? She's probably just disowning me anyway." He laughs bitterly. "And,
really, who could blame them? Yesterday I let everybody down. Again."

"Xander, listen to me. You have never let me down. I promise." He wants so desperately to
believe her. She raises a hand to his face to brush back a wing of his dark hair, or maybe to rest
her palm on his cheek, like a benediction. Her thumb finds and soothes away the fine lines of
strain at the corner of his eye. "Please read this letter. It would mean a lot to her."

He ducks instead of nodding, but she knows he has agreed. His hand catches at hers as it leaves
his face. "You'll . . . you'll . . .?" is all he can say.

"Yes," she nods, "I'll stay."
* * *
You can't quite believe this is happening, but Tony Harris, of all people, has asked you to go out
with him tonight. You pull on a blue dress first, and then a green one, and then you're standing in
your slip in front of your closet, as if waiting for a spotlight to fall on exactly the right dress to
charm him. You have no experience at this sort of thing; it's a mark of shame to you that it took
three semesters at college for someone to ask you out, and now that he has, you're in a complete
tizzy. Your eye falls on the pink dress you bought last year, just as your mother comes in with
her best shoes.

You're waiting for him with knots in your stomach, and you're so nervous that even the stories
won't come. Alexander, meanwhile, is sitting beside you with his arms crossed, like a bodyguard.
Your father keeps his newspaper up, sitting on the easy chair like it is a throne, and your mother
twitches the drapes into place, straightening out the magazines on the coffee table, refilling the
crystal candy dish. You wish that they weren't here, that they weren't so obviously anxious about
your big chance. You don't want him to know this is your first date, and one look at your parents
would tell him the whole story. You wish it could just be you and Alexander waiting for Tony,
continuing your latest story, perhaps working a new hero into it, a big, bluff man with golden hair
and a winning smile. You close your eyes to picture his face, and the doorbell rings.

You've never appreciated how tall he is until he's shaking hands with your father, leaning down
to converse with him. He's talking easily with your father about business schools and football,
and then he's charming your mother too. He waves and winks at Alexander, and then your hand
is in his and you're out the door.

You sit next to him at the movie theater, unsure of what to do if he tries anything. But he simply
holds your hand and watches the screen. Your spine stiffens when his arm goes around your
shoulder, but it's only to put his jacket around you because the air-conditioning is too high.
You're so won over by his courtesy that when he mentions a party after the movie, you don't
demur. He takes you to his fraternity, and there is a blast of body heat and loud music when the
front door finally opens. "Hey! A. A.!" someone shouts in greeting, and the wide smile is back
on his face as he half-waves, half-salutes in return with a hand that somehow, improbably, is
already clutching a beer with a blue label.

"A. A.?" you say questioningly.

"My name is Anthony Alexander, so the guys call me A. A. They think it's a riot." You smile a
little unsurely. You are not in your element here. He offers to get you a beer, but you have never
had a drink, and you don't want to betray yourself tonight. "Would you like something fancier?"
he asks.

"No, I'd just like to enjoy the party," you answer stupidly, dimly aware that the only way to enjoy
a get-together such as this is with copious amounts of alcohol.

He grins and squeezes your hand. "I'm just going to say hi to a couple of people. We'll leave in
five minutes." He heads to the back of the room, already calling out to his fraternity brothers.
You are lost already, without him by your side, and you wander, almost on tiptoe, into a space
that has been decorated to look like a living room. You perch on the edge of the couch, ready to
spring up the moment he calls. After a moment you realize you are uncomfortable like that and
you move back a little and ease his jacket over the precipice of your shoulders, sinking back a
little more. You hear his voice, and you turn quickly, trying to catch sight of him, and you get a
glimpse of him, holding aloft a brown bottle with a pretty red label, and saying something about
"good girls." He looks around, and you duck your head just in time, and a little while later he
stands in front of you. "Ready to go?" he asks, looking amused.

It makes you a little nervous, the way he drives, one hand on the steering wheel, the other
restlessly fiddling with the radio or drumming along the back of your seat. But then he turns to
you and smiles and your fears are allayed. He walks up the porch steps with you and while you
are occupied with taking off his jacket and trying to thank him without having to look right at
him, he draws you close with a steady hand on your back and bends his head to kiss you. His lips
are firm, softer than you had imagined, and he tastes of beer. He lets you go after a moment,
unbearably watching you blush, and as you fumble for your key, he says, "Goodnight, Sugar. I'll
call you tomorrow."
* * *
She watches his eyes skim quickly down the page and go cold. "Sobriety's not big with her, is
it?" he sneers, as he holds out the letter so she can see the meandering writing.

"Come on, Xander. Please." She keeps her voice soft and winning. All the while, she's chanting
inside that this letter will magically heal him, but she knows it won't be so. What could his
mother have to say now that couldn't have been said before?

She tracks his progress by the steady movement of his eyelashes, moving steadily from left to
right and then cutting abruptly back again, just like the old typewriter she used to play with when
she was little. She sees him shake his head slightly, and she's on him in an instant. "What? What
is it?"

"I . . . I have an Uncle Alexander. Or I guess I had an Uncle Alexander. I wonder what happened
to him? Maybe I was named . . ."

She smiles in relief that the letter is not, after all, denunciatory, and relaxes a little and feels the
sunshine on her face.
* * *
You can't quite put your finger on it, but for some reason, Alexander doesn't seem to like Tony.
You can't get him to talk about it, which is strange. He just shrugs and won't meet your eye.
Surely he's not jealous that finally you have someone to love, someone other than him? You pry
a little and he smiles and says that's not the problem. But when you press, he clams up again, and
you're getting frustrated. You're on top of the world, and all you want is your beloved boy to
share it with you. "Don't you know," you say, "that you are the most important person in the
world to me? That if I had to pick between you and Tony, I'd pick you every time?" It is true,
and his face says he knows it, but he still won't answer your questions.

Maybe, you think, weeks later, it's that he thinks Tony doesn't treat you right. But that's
ridiculous. You wish he were here to see for himself. Tony is coming to pick you up; he said it
was an important night, and for you to wear your best dress: "Something green, maybe, Jess, to
bring out your eyes?" You looked at him when he said that, and you realized that his eyes were
somehow colorless, like water, vaguely blue, or maybe they're gray, maybe there's a snaking of
green in them. You opened your mouth to say something about that and he pulled you close and
kissed you again. It was the seventh time. You couldn't believe you were still counting kisses,
but who knew how much longer this fairytale would last?

So you stand and wait in the green dress you bought last week, and you can feel the new shoes
already pinching your feet so badly that soon you will be bleeding, but you can't sit and wait.
You wish Alexander were there to talk to, but he is at the carnival with his friends, and won't be
back until late. Your stomach rumbles loudly, and you hurry to the kitchen for a few crackers,
trying to appease your stomach without spoiling your dinner. Tony says he's taking you to the
best restaurant in town. And you wait, brushing crumbs off your skirt, pushing back a stray curl,
straightening your stockings. And you wait. And you wait.

Your mother takes one look at your drawn face and just holds out her arms. You wander into
them and she tells you everything will be okay. But you're not crying. You're not even
surprised. You just keep thinking that you should have been more prepared for this moment,
when he came to his senses. But then you remember how he insisted that this was going to be a
special date, and you grab the phone. One of his fraternity brothers tells you that he left hours
ago for the date, and you start to get worried. You sit by the phone, praying for it to ring. When
it does, the sound is so sharp it seems to slice right through you. You grab it, but it's a wrong
number, and as you hang up, there is a flash of light in the driveway. You run on your bleeding
feet, pull open the front door, and see two policemen on your front step. You didn't even hear
your parents come up behind you, but they must have, because someone caught you when you
heard the smaller policeman say that Alexander was dead.
* * *
"He died." His voice seems to come from far away, and she opens her eyes to look at him. He
sees the question on her face. "My Uncle Alexander. He was killed by a drunk driver when he
was fourteen."

What can she say, she whose every possible sibling was lost in a miscarriage? She has no idea
what kind of devastation that would wreak; the only standard she has is Buffy and Dawn, whose
circumstances are too peculiar to be applicable. "Xander, I'm so sorry. Were, um, were they

He nods painfully, feeling the loss although he never knew the boy. "Yeah. Sounds like. Sounds
like they were . . . like us." That makes it real for both of them, and they clumsily, hurriedly, wrap
their arms around each other, as if their bones and muscles have somehow transformed into
invulnerable armor. His lips are on her neck, just below her ear, and she feels rather than hears
him say it. "I love you, Willow."
* * *
You are a bride. You are in mourning. The juxtaposition doesn't bother you.

You have never alluded to that night, but it is all you think about. When Tony showed up the
next day, bedraggled and with bloodshot eyes, with a story about his car breaking down in the
middle of nowhere, you nod. And when he finally takes you to that restaurant and proposes, you
nod again, your head feeling too heavy for your neck. What else is there for you to do? You
have lost what you needed most. All you can do is gather the shreds of your life and try to move

And so you stand in a hall in a white dress and repeat the words the old man is intoning. You
have heard some of the nosy old biddies declare that you just shrugged off your brother's death,
getting married so quickly. As if you didn't have to force every beat of your heart. And you hear
others, misty-eyed with sentiment, swoon that true love has found you in your hour of sorrow.
As if Tony were an acceptable substitute in any way for Alexander. But you do feel something
for him, and he has convinced you that he loves you, and so you hold a bouquet of pink and white
carnations and say your vows.

And later that night when the guests and your parents have gone, you are in a lacy nightgown,
your hands gripping the peach silk sheet. You lost track of him after the ritual of the first dance,
and as he comes into the room, you can tell by the exaggerated caution with which he makes his
way to the bed that he is drunk. You shrink a little, and he catches it; you are startled to see him
looking hurt – you didn't know you had that kind of power over him. His cheeks redden, and he
is deliberately gentle as he sits on the bed and reaches for your hands.

After an appreciative look, he frees you from the soft white nightgown. You are still too shy to
make a move, so he strips off his own clothes, and he lays you down. You can keep your eyes
closed, you realize, but there is no way to temporarily shut down your sense of touch. And you
are clinging to him through the pain and the faint pleasure lurking behind it, happy that at least
you have given him what he wants. He lies next to you for a moment and then he sits up, saying,
"You don't want to sleep in that. I'm going to call for fresh sheets." You nod and pull on your
nightgown. He looks at the blood on the sheets and gives you your first kiss of the night.
* * *
His shoulders are stiffening under her protective arm. "That's when she married my dad. Right
after. I guess she just wanted to get away." For the first time he sounds like he's differentiating
between his parents. His mother has offered him a way into her life, and he is taking it, leaving his
own problems behind for a while. Even though he knows how the story ends, this journey is too
compelling for him to stop now. He needs to know how she became what she is today. He needs
to know.
* * *
You are in the kitchen of your tiny apartment, fixing coffee and cutting cake for Tony and his
parents. His mother, a whisper of a woman always dressed in a cream-colored dress and a string
of pearls, is hovering in the doorway trying to pretend that she doesn't hear her husband and son
arguing. You can make it out clearly without straining. You hear your father-in-law shouting
incoherently and Tony yelling back. "I did it! I married her!" he screams. "Now where's the
house you promised me?!"

Your mother-in-law blushes painfully and tries to distract you. "Jessica, my dear," she murmurs
in that reedy voice, as if cruel fingers have bruised her larynx past mending. "Jessica. I was so
happy when Tony asked you to marry him. You've been so good for him, my dear." She smiles
quaveringly and you nod because you can't bear to let her down. "I know he's much happier with
you than he would have been with that Cathy Shipman." Your throat tightens as you remember
Cathy's giggling innuendoes in last year's French class. "You don't know what a girl like that has
been up to," she continues, gaining confidence as the shouting from the bedroom dies down, and
another hesitant smile flits across her face; "and I could tell just by looking at you that you've
always been a good girl." There is pride in her voice now. "You're a real lady."

You turn back to the counter, clenched fists resting on either side of the cake-plate. You've
never had the chance to be anything but a good girl. Aside from your wedding night, Tony hasn't
touched you once. Most nights he spends hugging the toilet in your tiny bathroom, too drunk to
sit up. On the nights he makes it into bed and crawls on top of you, he is too inebriated to
accomplish much – or stay awake. You're back to writing stories in your head. But they all peter
out without your other half, without Alexander.
* * *
"It sounds like it got bad for her pretty fast," he says, trying to sound matter-of-fact, but she sees
through that, sees through him to the tender heart that beats within. She knows that it is his
greatest strength, knows too that he would never see it that way. "They moved to Sunnydale a
few months after the wedding to start over. Our house was a wedding present from my
grandparents," he tells her, not expecting a response, but needing to tell his mother's story out
loud. She is not just a good listener, he realizes; she is the only one to whom he would care to tell
this tale.
* * *
You are sick of the ugliness of this house your father-in-law bought you; your virtue was, it
seems, the price – Tony has become far less reticent about his past in recent months. If the blood
on the sheets paid for this house, you think, then it should be a place you love, and so you have
decided to redecorate, to make it a sanctuary. Tony's paycheck from the mannequin factory can
be stretched to redo the living room, if you paint the walls and make the curtains yourself. You
are considering color schemes when the doorbell rings.

The man on the step takes your breath away. His dark eyes, wavy black hair, and clear features
belong to the hero of the last story you dreamed up with Alexander. He nods politely and you
realize he's not long out of boyhood although he seems to be not much younger than you. "Mrs.
Harris? I'm from Valley Carpets. You called about selecting a living room carpet?" He seems
nervous, you realize as you smile and beckon him in. There are twin thuds as he sets down each
book of samples to accept the glass of iced tea you hold out to him.

Something is coming over you, and you're thrilled to be conscious of every moment of it. You
lead him into the living room, swishing your hips slightly. You are in control here, and you revel
in the headiness of your newfound power. He speaks as though you were a snake-charmer who
has left him without a will of his own. He tells you that his name is William LaVelle. An arched
eyebrow from you and he confesses, "But everybody calls me Willy." He plays clarinet in a jazz
band but sells carpet to earn the money his father, a bitter bartender, charges for letting him sleep
in the basement. His life story comes pouring out and you are enthralled. It is the five o'clock
siren that breaks that spell, and you have to turn on the lamp to see the colors of the carpet
swatches clearly. You decide on a soft green, and even when he has gone, you cannot stop

You paint the walls a rosy buff, finishing in two days. The next day, three men come to install the
carpet you have chosen. And the following day you are up in the attic sorting through boxes of
knickknacks when the doorbell rings. It's Willy, dressed in a nicer suit than last time, smiling
nervously, saying something about a courtesy follow-up appointment. But you take him by the
hand and lead him to the living room and you smile at him as his fingers fumble with the
fastenings of your dungarees. You take your time, undoing his tie, teasingly caressing each
button of his shirt. The new plush carpet is softer than grass, more yielding than earth, under your
bare back. He has left the bandanna in your hair, and his hand smooths over your shoulder as you
draw him down to you. His uncertainty has inexplicably made you a siren, transformed you into a
heroine of the tales you once told.

And then he is gone, the warm autumn sunlight catching him in a glow, and you know he is gone
for good when a few months later you get a postcard from an Army base with only his initials
inked on the back. And that is the night you realize that you created life that gorgeous November

Tony must believe that his virility has been unaffected by alcohol, because he is accepting his
drinking buddies' congratulatory slaps on the back without a twinge. And you feel no flicker of
shame. And your boy has his father's dark hair and his uncle's wide eyes, so you name him for
* * *
He stands suddenly, and his face is alight. He preempts any question she would have asked.
"Willow, I need you to check something for me. I need you to find out Willy's last name." He's
acting like his mother's letter is a map to buried treasure, and she agrees without a murmur to do
whatever he needs.

His head is spinning. He's not the child of that monster, of the man in whose house he was raised.
That blood does not flow in his veins, and if nothing else, being friend to both Buffy and Dawn
has taught him the importance of blood. He just might be free.
* * *
Tony thinks your son was named after him and his father – Paul Alexander Harris – and seems to
believe that LaVelle is your mother's maiden name. He doesn't like the baby's need for constant
care, but he tolerates it for some time. His patience wears off quickly when he sees nothing of
himself in Xander, and there is nothing you can do to keep him from neglecting the boy. Or from
hating you both.

And a small child can provide no refuge for you, and you succumb to Tony's ugliness, answering
him back in kind, fighting his abuse with the same dirty weapon. You are tarnishing yourself, and
you are losing your boy. But by now you have lost sight of Alexander, and Willy, and Xander;
the whiskey that numbed your pain destroyed your heart bit by bit. The last living piece is
screaming now, and you put down the glass to hear it. You want to make it all up to him. You
push away your tumbler, find some paper and a pen, and start to write.
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

short Buffy fic: "Becoming"

[To answer the "Older and Far Away" question: how does Halfrek know Spike?]

Sally bobbed a curtsy and left the room with a basket full of mending to do. Cecily smiled at her
reflection in the glass, pleased. Sally had done a marvelous job with her hair, pinning it up in
intricate coils and patiently curling the locks that still lay on her neck with hot tongs. She smiled
and looked herself over one last time before heading downstairs.

She took the stairs carefully in her new high-heeled shoes. Painful, if not recent, experience told
her that the stairs that Morris kept polished with such pride would be slippery. She held her skirts
and negotiated the descent. Mama was waiting for her, dressed in a new gown of a rich wine
color that suited her fair skin and honey colored hair. Cecily stood to face her, knowing that
Mama's eyes were the mirror that truly counted. "You look lovely, my dear," she said. And Cecily
did. She had been right in not allowing her daughter to wear a gown in the new apple-green; it
would have made her skin, pale under the long dark hair, look sallow and unhealthy. This light,
foamy pink was much better, and the light green bows kept the whole effect from being cloying.
"Show your father and then we'll be on our way to the ball," Mrs. Halford instructed, turning to
accept her cloak from the footman.

Cecily found her father sitting before the roaring fire in the library. "Thank you, Papa, for my
lovely dress," she said with automatic obedience.

"It suits you," he said, something akin to pride in his eyes. Her mother was undeniably pretty, but who would have thought he had it in him to produce such a beautiful child? Samuel had been individual looking at best, but then, Horace Halford recalled, his first wife had not possessed beauty equal to her dowry. He smiled at his daughter fondly; he had great expectations for her. With her charms and his money, he was sure that she'd be able to win a titled husband. Perhaps even Lord Roederer, the catch of the season. "I
expect you'll put all the other girls to shame at the ball tonight," he continued. "Now run along. I'll be at the Hurstons' later in the evening."

The footman, Miller, helped her up the carriage steps, and she arranged her voluminous skirts
carefully so that they wouldn't be crushed. It was a twenty-minute ride to the Hurstons' house,
and she gasped when she saw how brightly it blazed with candles and the new electrical lights.
She descended from the carriage as if in a dream. Her first ball! Mama kept a tight grip on her
forearm, keeping her at her side, and Cecily was grateful for the support. She only wished she'd
had the chance to ask her about the young man who had been consuming her thoughts for weeks.
She didn't know if she'd be allowed to talk to him at the ball, or if he would even have been
invited. Not that he seemed like anything but a gentleman, but still, there were rules she knew
nothing about.

Once inside and divested of her gossamer-thin cloak, she glanced around eagerly, the shy, curious
look on her face piquing the interest of many of the young men talking amongst themselves. She
flushed in disappointment when she caught no sight of him, emphasizing the pink of her cheeks,
achieved by pinching in the carriage. Well, that was at least as much good as it was bad. He
wasn't there to make her first ball complete, but that also meant that she wouldn't find herself
weak-kneed and tongue-tied in his presence. She wished she knew what that meant. Mama had
explained that love was a feeling that was born only after marriage, that physical sensations were
reserved for men and also, alarmingly, claimed by women of ill repute. But Cecily hadn't quite
believed her; the headiness of being near him, aware of his soft eyes fixed on her face, was too
delicious to be wrong. It couldn't be love, though; all of the heroines of Miss Austen's novels
displayed their love by being witty and sparkling in front of their suitors, not by feeling butterflies
in their stomachs. She didn't know what it was that made her feel so strange when William
Meredith was near.

She was fairly sure, nevertheless, of his feelings. He loved her, that young man with the honey-
brown hair and inky fingers. She'd glanced surreptitiously over her fan at the Brinkmans' party
several times, and he'd had those blue eyes either on her face or on the papers in front of him. His
face brightened each time she laughed, he looked lost when she spoke of riding on the Row. Such
things were beyond his pocket. She'd known then that she had him, this innocent boy, eyes wide
behind his spectacles. And she didn't know what that meant.

She was spinning round the floor in a waltz - George Stevenson danced divinely - easily making
polite conversation about the ball, the season, their families. George looked down at her pretty
face, her dreaming eyes making him take the turn too quickly. She was wondering what sort of a
dancer William was, how she'd feel if he held her like this, if she'd be able, finally, to speak when
he looked at her. The song ended, and she smiled charmingly at George as they applauded the

A murmur ran through the crowd, and Mrs. Hurston looked positively giddy with delight. Lord
Roederer had made an appearance at her ball! She had no daughters to marry off, so she was
satisfied with her triumph. It was up to some other parent to pull of the coup of claiming the
viscount as a son-in-law. He walked in, top hat properly in his hand, but the dominance was clear
in his face. His maple-brown hair was brushed straight back from his brow, his piercing eyes and
high-bridged nose casually possessive, his mouth, thin-lipped but flexible, smiling with conscious
invitation. The thwack of his gloves as they landed inside his hat seemed to release the spell of
silence, and the party resumed its vivacious hum.

Cecily was waiting for George to return with refreshments, chatting with several other girls her
age. Not one of them had a dress as pretty as hers, and her spirits lifted again. She felt a tap on
her shoulder, and she pivoted to see George standing before her, a full plate of ice in his hand, an
admiring look on his face. She smiled up at him, looking around for a place they could sit and eat,
when there was a tap on George's shoulder. Lord Roederer stood there. "Well, George?" he
asked, his voice deep and rich. "Aren't you going to introduce me to your charming friend?"

"Oh! Certainly. Miss Cecily Halford, this is Lord Frederick Roederer," George stammered, unsure of
himself beside the dashing viscount.

Lord Roederer took possession of Cecily's hand and brushed it with his lips as she curtsied. "Very charming indeed," he said, smiling down at her. "Would you honor me with the next dance, Miss Halford?" She glanced uncertainly at George, wishing her mother were there to guide her through the tangles of proper etiquette. She looked back at Lord Roederer, his arm extended in offer, and she laid her hand on it. Surely, she thought, a viscount should know the rules of etiquette. If he saw nothing wrong in asking her to dance in front of George, then how could it be wrong for her to say yes?

Horace Halford emerged victoriously from a game of whist in one of the drawing rooms to see his
daughter being whirled round the floor by Lord Roederer himself. He smiled in approval. They
were certainly a well-matched couple. He was feeling so pleased with himself that he even danced
with his wife.

* * *

Every day since the Hurstons' ball, the Halford house had seen Lord Roederer as a visitor. Cecily
received his calls with her eyes demurely down, listening as he spoke easily of his travels, his
prowess as a sportsman, the fun to be had in London. He worked hard to catch her gaze, noting
that she looked up only when he spoke of the arts he patronized. "Would you like to go to the
Exhibition tomorrow?" he asked. "I hear there are some very fine paintings there. Portraits
especially. Have you ever had yours done?"

Wonderingly, she shook her head, then realized she still hadn't answered his first question. "That would be most agreeable to see the Exhibition. I am looking forward to tomorrow already." He stood, recognizing his cue to leave. As he walked down the front steps, he turned, wondering what had finally put the sparkle in her eye.

Cecily dressed with care for the excursion. It had been days since she'd last seen William
Meredith, and even then it hardly counted, as she'd seen him walking along the street, his lips
moving as he read silently to himself from his pocket copy of The Aeneid. She'd been in her
carriage, tucked next to her mother, on their way to pay afternoon calls. Still, it was possible,
perhaps even probable, that he would be at the Exhibition. She knew he was passionately
interested in art. So she put on her best afternoon gown, butter-yellow silk with a fine froth of
creamy lace at the hem, sleeves, and bodice, and called Sally to do something special with her

She walked into the Exhibition on Lord Roederer's arm. He paused for a moment in the doorway,
as if to court the gazes that were already on him, accepting it as his due. Many of the male gazes
were filled with envy, and he leaned down and said softly, "I think your beauty is distracting to
those with aesthetic sensibilities." She smiled at the graceful compliment, turning slightly away at
the same time. She headed for the nearest painting, standing behind the semicircle of spectators
already gathered in front of it. It seemed to be made up of one large party, for when the elderly
lady among them moved on to the next painting, nearly all of them followed obediently. Only one
man still stood there.

She knew without having to look that it was William. He pivoted, apparently alerted by that same sense, and smiled. "Good afternoon, Miss Halford. You look lovely." He bowed slightly, his slim form limber in its charcoal grey suit.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Meredith." She'd never spoken his name out loud before, and his eyes widened slightly at the surprise. She was a vision, standing before him in a dress the color of sunshine, stray curls resting against her delicate throat, her dark eyes meeting his directly, her sweet voice softly uttering his name. A large figure appeared suddenly behind her, and the pale, perfect oval of her face stood
out sharply against the expanse of black broadcloth. William raised his eyes to greet her escort,
hesitating when he realized the man was a stranger to him.

"Lord Frederick Roederer," the viscount said casually. "Is one of these yours?" he gestured at the paintings that adorned the walls, his eyes never leaving William's fingertips, stained with inks.

"No. I follow a different form of art. William Meredith," he answered, holding out his hand. After a deliberate hesitation, the viscount shook it. Cecily watched them carefully, hoping to finally puzzle out what she felt for William Meredith. He was unlike anyone else in the world.

* * *

A few weeks later, the Halfords held a party. It was expected when one had a daughter in her first
London season. Cecily couldn't work up too much excitement, since she knew that William
would never be on the guest list that her father had approved. She obeyed her mother's choice of
dress and hairstyle for her, and greeted the guests as they arrived with a pleasant expression firmly
fixed on her face. She started when she saw William approaching. "Miss Halford," he greeted her.
"A friend of mine, John Shelley, was invited to your party, but he was unable to be here. He asked
me to convey his regrets in person. I accepted the charge with pleasure." She smiled warmly at
him. She should have known that he wouldn't miss an opportunity to see her and speak with her.

"I am sorry that Mr. Shelley will not be joining us, but you are most welcome. Doubly so, once as
his proxy, and once on your own merits." The butterflies in her stomach hadn't disappeared, but
at least she was able to speak rationally again. He brightened at her sincerity, and moved inside,
not wanting to hold up the line of guests any longer.

She kept him at least in her peripheral vision as she moved from group to group, chatting, flirting,
playing the good hostess under her mother's watchful eye. Miller and the other footman circulated
with trays of hors d'oeuvres and drinks. She had just finished telling a funny story, when under the
cover of the laughter, Miller whispered, "Mr. Halford wants to see you in the library, Miss
Cecily." She nodded and excused herself. As she exited the room, she caught William's eye and
smiled. His answering smile was so bright that even across the room she felt its light.

She entered the library to find her father smoking one of his best cigars and beaming from ear to
ear. "Come in, come in," he ordered jovially.

"What is it, Papa?" she asked, smiling already at his evident good spirits. She wished he could be like this more of the time. He had only become interested in her in the last year or so, but still he rarely spoke to her.

"You're going to be married, my dear," he answered, grinning around the cigar clenched in his teeth.


"Lord Roederer was just in here with me, asking for your hand."

"Why did he ask you?" she asked foolishly, her shock making her forget what she knew very well about how marriages were arranged.

His jaw tightened. "Because it is right. A man must approve of the man who is to
provide for his daughter."

"I don't need any providing for. We've got money," she said.

His face had turned a dull red from anger. "I don't intend to have a spinster for a daughter. Lord Roederer
has asked for you, and I have accepted on your behalf."

"But that's not what I would have answered!" she cried. "I do not love him, Papa."

He relaxed a bit, thinking she was only giving way to maidenly modesty. "No doubt you will soon enough," he chuckled.

"I can't ever, because I love somebody else."

The moment she said it, she split into two. One part of her was floating, free because she finally
understood and acknowledged what William meant to her, while the other half cowered in fear
because she knew she had gone too far.

His face darkened with rage, and he threw his cigar into the fire that blazed behind him. His fingers dug into her soft upper arm. "Who is he? Tell me, girl! Who is he?"

"William Meredith," she answered softly.

"That puppy! His father was in trade, and I hear the boy himself is good for nothing but books in dead languages." He was almost amused until he saw the love on her face. "Have you lost your virtue to this blackguard?" he shouted, his fingers demanding.

"No, Father!" How could she explain that she loved him and that he had never touched her? That the closest he had come was slipping a poem he'd written for her into her hand, his fingertips gliding softly against her wrist, the folded paper crackling between their palms?

"He hasn't ruined you?" he demanded once more.

"No." There was a quiet finality in her tone.

"Well, then, the marriage can go ahead as arranged." He saw the light of protest in her eyes, and his grip
on her arm tightened until she thought her bones would break. "You will marry Lord Roederer, or
else you will no longer be a daughter of mine. You will leave this house. Your mother will not
know you. And you will be penniless. There will be no one to take you in." He looked her hard in
the face, trying to impress his will upon her. "Lord Roederer is a viscount. Your sons will be of
the nobility. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, Papa," she answered, but her spirit was not yet broken.

He saw it, briefly admired it, and moved in for the kill. "Likely this Meredith fellow was
only after your money. He wants to step up in the world, no doubt. But remember this: he is
beneath you. And that is what you must tell him the next time he dares to speak to you. William
Meredith must be beneath Lady Roederer."

She headed back for the main room in a daze, her father close on her heels, still holding tightly to
her arm. He felt the tremor that passed through her and her unnatural stiffness when she saw
William again. He followed her longing gaze and saw only a tradesman's son. "Go," he hissed,
pushing her forward. "Tell him now." She was moving on shaky legs when a few men, boisterous
from drink, blocked her path, snatching up the papers William had been writing on during the
evening. Avoiding William's attempts to recover his property, they took turns reading aloud in
ridiculous, sing-song voices. William flushed with embarrassment, but he calmed when he met
Cecily's eyes. As long as she wasn't laughing at him, he could withstand anything. He frowned in
anxiety when she turned and fled the room.

He went after her, not noticing that her father had followed as well, listening intently. She sat on
the couch, her face paler than usual, her voice unsteady. She wanted just once to hear him say it.
She asked, "Are your poems about me?"

Didn't she know? "They're about how I feel," he answered.

"Yes, but are they about me, William?" The sound of his name dropping from her pale pink lips intoxicated him.

"Every syllable," he breathed. She closed her eyes, knowing she would hear those words for the rest of her life. And she had to let him go. He took her silence for disdain, and hastened to explain. "Please, they're only words, and if they're no good. . . . . I'm a good man." His dignity moved her, and she opened her eyes to see love plainly written on his face. What need had he of words when his eyes could say so much? "All I ask is that you see me," he said, kneeling in front of her.

She blanched as his movement revealed her father standing in the doorway. "But I do see you, William. That's the problem. You're beneath me," she said as her heart broke.

* * *

The wedding was announced a few days later. Cecily had never been allowed to read a
newspaper, but her father instructed that it was to be made available to her so that she could see
the length of the article about the engagement. Morris offered her the freshly ironed society pages
as she sat in the morning-room, trying in vain to write letters to her aunts instead of to William.
She had to explain to him. He must know that she loved him, even if she could never marry him;
she owed him that much at the very least. She glanced through the paper disconsolately, unaware
that Morris was still standing next to her until he cleared his throat. "Letter for you, Miss Cecily,"
he said, and offered her the silver tray again. She opened the letter neatly, read it through, and ran
up to her room, sobbing bitterly.

Horace Halford was drying himself off in front of the fire when the library door slammed open. He
spun around to see his daughter, her tears as fierce as the rainstorm outside. "He's dead! You
made me kill him!" she raged, waving John Shelley's letter in one trembling hand.

"Who is dead?" he asked, fear freezing him in place.

"William! William is dead!" she mourned aloud. "He left here and was immediately set upon by murderers." She was choking on her sorrow. "He's gone. And he never knew how I loved him," she whispered brokenly, so softly that her father couldn't make out her words.

"I am sorry, my dear," he said stiffly. "London can be so dangerous. Upsetting to think such vile people could be lurking so close by. You go upstairs and lie down. You'll want to be well-rested for the play tonight."

She stared at him in disbelief. "I will not be going to any play."

His face seized with alarm. "Yes, you will! Lord Roederer has invited all of us to share his box! Most certainly we are going!" She turned and left the library without a word.

Up in her bedroom, at least, she could be alone. The tears came again when she remembered all
the light leaving William's face when she spoke those cruel words - her last words - to him. "What
have I done?" She thought about her father, and a hatred like nothing she'd ever known could
exist took her over. She would make him suffer. She would make him pay for William's life, for
the lives of the children they would have had, for her own life too.

The scaly hand on her arm didn't startle her nearly as much as it should have. She looked up and saw a demon. "I am D'Hoffryn," it said in a low, rumbly voice. "I can help you attain your vengeance." She smiled and reached out to take the necklace he held out towards her. "It looks good on you, Halfrek,"
D'Hoffryn smiled in return, watching as power suffused her being and she set aside everything
that had been her, except her love for William and her hatred for her father. Those two were
enough to sustain her. She walked towards the library.
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

long Buffy fic: "Two-Part Invention" (part 1)

Summary: What happens when Buffy's dreams contradict a prophecy?
Story Notes: Sort of season 5, but I'm seriously messing with the timeline here. The whole Riley surgery thing never happened – and he's still a commando. Professor Walsh was killed under mysterious circumstances and the Initiative's numbers greatly reduced, but Adam never happened (and the First Slayer spell didn't either, but if it did it would require more than a gourd). Oz's return never happened. Giles owns the shop. Spike loves Buffy (she doesn't know) and he's told her about killing the two slayers ("Fool For Love") but the last scenes (Dru's revelation, the attempted kiss, the two of them on the porch) have not happened. Dawn has a new crush on Spike ("Crush") and also a lingering one on Xander ("Real Me"). Buffy's with Riley. Joyce is not yet sick, but Buffy's living at home anyway. Harmony's gone for good. Tara's still in the background. Glory/Ben is nowhere around and none of the Key complications have yet arisen. Dracula never showed up in Sunnydale. And the only Angel spoiler is for the episode "I Will Remember You" – otherwise, nothing on Angel ever happened. Oh, and Spike's crypt has a sliding door. Trust me, it'll be clear when you start reading.


A pair of four-inch stiletto heels encased her small feet. Slender, strong legs balanced perfectly on them, carelessly revealed by the short, emerald-sequined minidress she wore. Long bronze hair hung in provocative disarray down her back. She pivoted, finding him instantly in the crowd by the light glinting off of his glasses - //Giles, get with the program and just get some contacts.// She didn't know the song she was about to sing, and yet she wasn't at all nervous; these people watching her were in for a treat. His mouth never moved, and she couldn't really see his eyes because of the reflection from his glasses, but she knew that somehow he was giving her the words of the song, saving her from humiliation in this cheap karaoke bar. She opened her mouth to sing, realizing too late that her song was a duet, and she was alone on the stage, swallowed by the hot spotlight, trapped by the cigarette smoke and expectations of the bar's patrons. When the music started, however, a male voice chimed in: "Turn around . . ." He wasn't singing, really; it was more like he was speaking as if he had a melody in mind. It was Spike, perched on a stool that looked like the seat of a poet at a coffeehouse. He was in the shadows, tucked in the corner of the stage. She didn't need to look at him to know that two cigarettes dangled from his lower lip, and that he was waiting for her to sing her line: "Every now and then I get a little bit lonely, and you're never coming round." She gave it all she had.


She awoke in a panic, feeling not dread but considerable embarrassment. //What a bizarre dream! What was with my tacky, tacky dress? And what's with the big 80's love-theme?// She frowned, remembering that she hadn't been alone, but unable to summon up memories of who else had been there. Suddenly she had an image of Spike smoking two cigarettes and speaksinging around them. //What the hell?// And then she grinned, the grin of an impish girl just out of her teens, the grin of a daughter who'd discovered an episode in her father's past that he'd sooner forget. //Giles knew that song! Ooh, he's got some 'splainin to do!// Predatory smirk still on her face, she snuggled into the blankets on her bed and fell back asleep.

Her dream had left her without any signs of fatigue, and she was bright-eyed ("Turn around, bright eyes" she remembered suddenly) and chipper when she ran into Willow the next morning. She related her dream as if it were the best joke she'd heard in some time. The two girls came giggling into the Magic Box, determined to unearth a little more of Giles's closelyguarded past . . . or at least to discover why he knew the words to "Total Eclipse of the Heart." They entered the store together, the picture of innocence, and effortlessly cornered Giles. The Watcher looked up as they came towards him, enjoying their rare good-humored ease; quite a bit had been thrown at them lately, and he wished he didn't have to be the one to stop their smiles. "Hey, Giles, does the name 'Bonnie Tyler' mean anything to you?" Buffy asked as Willow snorted in laughter next to her.

He frowned, momentarily distracted. "'Bonnie Tyler'? Oh, you - you mean the singer? The one who sang that god-awful song? Something adolescent and pretentious . . . 'You are my eclipse,' or some such nonsense . . ." he broke off as Buffy and Willow exploded into laughter in front of him, clutching each other just to be able to stand. He sighed in good-natured exasperation, waiting for the explanation.

"Are you sure you hated the song, Giles?" queried the witch.

"Yeah, 'cause it seemed like you knew it awfully well," Buffy chimed in, grinning up at her Watcher. She lost her beat when he refused to question her, forcing the information out of her with only a raised eyebrow. "I . . . I had a dream last night that I was, um, at a karaoke bar, and I had to sing that song, and you were my teleprompter, sort of." As he continued to look rather balefully at her, she stumbled a bit more, lamely concluding, "I guess you had to be there."

In response, Giles turned slightly to face Willow, the interrogation clearly not over. "Oh, no, I wasn't there," the redhead faltered, "in, in the dream bar. I wasn't wearing a spangly dress and stiletto heels. It was just you and Buffy and Spike."

"That sounds like a fascinating combination, Buffy, and yet I might have an even more intriguing topic to discuss with you," Giles replied, waiting until Willow had scurried off before leaning into the slayer, murmuring, "at least tell me I wasn't the one in the dress and heels." Buffy shook her head, biting back another smile, and turned her full attention to the man in front of her.

"Buffy, I've had a warning that a bad time for Sunnydale - yes, another one - is coming soon. It was cryptic, to say the least, but it seems to have something to do with the weather. I don't have anything more specific, and I don't know quite how to prepare for some vague meteorological danger, but I think some extra focusing and meditation exercises would not come amiss."

"Giles, I've seen this X-Files episode. The culprit is the geeky weatherman."

"Buffy, do take this seriously. It came from the Council of Watchers."

"But don't they hate us? Maybe they're just yanking your chain."

"No, it seemed to slip out accidentally when I was on the phone with Thomas yesterday. He's never lied to me, and I'd like to think we're still friends despite my . . . rocky relations with his colleagues. Something bad is coming."

"Then let's go train." There was a spring in her step.


"God, it's muggy!" Buffy snapped, frustrated that she had to keep blinking to keep the sweat out of her eyes as she patrolled the cemetery. //I hope none of these vamps thinks I'm trying to bat my eyelashes at them.// She was alone, something that wasn't quite the norm these days, and she missed being able to banter with an ally as she did her job. But Riley was visiting family over fall break, Xander had yet another night-shift job, and Willow had looked like she was ready to pass out from heat exhaustion before they had gotten very far from Revello Drive. Something flashed in the corner of her eye, and she pirouetted to see three vamps fanning out to catch her from all sides. She smiled her best Mona Lisa smile, inviting them to their doom. She dispatched two of them almost instantaneously, but the third was elusive. He was quick, almost graceful, and she admired the way that he moved, used to seeing only lunging, awkward undead. He spun sharply just as she closed in and she found herself face-to-face with a fourth vampire. She pulled an extra stake out of her waistband, and the fourth foe was dusted with a swift lefthanded blow that caught him just as he raised his arm and ran at her. She was shoved by the graceful vamp, and the stake was knocked out of her right hand as her wrist smacked against a headstone. Lying flat on her back, she raised one foot and caught him in the gut as he charged at her, and his momentum and her strength forced him over her head in a demented parody of the "airplane" games she'd played with Dawn when they were little. As he sailed over her, the stake in her left hand caught his heart. But before he turned to dust, her shoe had gotten caught in his belt buckle, and her leg, pulled too far from its normal course, snapped just below the knee. It fell stiffly in front of her, the end of the bone straining to break through her skin, and her back arched for a moment as the pain hit her. It didn't last long; she passed out almost immediately.


Spike could smell sweat and vamp dust in the air as he strolled through the graveyard, and he headed toward the mingled aromas, knowing he would find the slayer there. He was surprisingly content for someone that had been forced by a dream - a very good dream - to realize that he was in love with his mortal enemy; he supposed the weather had something to do with his ebullience. It didn't affect him or his kind, but it had sent the rest of the Sunnydale population scrambling for their air conditioners, leaving the streets empty of those against whom he was harmless. He could take on anybody he met on the streets these days, and have a good fight, no chip interference. He finally felt like Big Bad again, and it was a welcome release.

He strode along briskly, leather duster stinging sharply on his jean-clad legs as he moved, and nearly fell over the slayer, lying unconscious next to a headstone engraved with too many words. Bone peeked out of her shin, and she was completely helpless. He sighed, too many thoughts running through his mind to make any sense. //I wonder who did this to her? How come they didn't come back to finish the job? Big Bad saving the Slayer's sorry hide. Damn, if I'm going to save her, couldn't she at least be aware of it? I can't believe how light she is. Doesn't she eat?// He scooped her up and headed for her house.

Joyce met him at the door, standing aside so that he could move past her with his precious burden. Spike marched into the den, heading for the long couch. He was so intent on not jostling her leg unnecessarily that he laid her down awkwardly. Her legs were straight, but she was bent slightly at the waist, her left shoulder edging off the couch, one long curl of her hair touching the carpet. He straightened her out as best he could and turned to face her mother. She pointed with her chin to the kitchen and put the kettle on. He wrapped his hands around a mug of hot chocolate and she seated herself next to him, clutching a glass that was more ice than iced tea.

"I wasn't there," he said, answering her silent question. "I'm thinking she got four or so vamps - there was a lot of dust - and one of them managed to get close enough to hurt her. I don't know how exactly her leg was broken, but with her healing powers, I'm sure she'll be right as rain soon enough."

Joyce sucked on ice chips and watched his face as he talked, noting that he hadn't answered the question she really wanted to ask. So she put it straight to him. "Why did you help her? Your truce is over, isn't it? I know you can't hurt humans because of your chip, but that doesn't mean you have to help, does it? Or is it some sort of Good Samaritan chip?"

"No, that's not it. I . . . I don't know. It just seemed wrong to leave her where any old beastie could get her, no skill necessary. She's known for being the best slayer in memory - and some of us have very long memories. I couldn't just let it end for her because of a bone that'll heal in forty-eight hours. Plus this way I get marshmallows." He grinned cockily but endearingly at her, suddenly not wanting to meet her eyes.

"If you come by again tomorrow night I'll make you another cup of cocoa," she offered out of the blue. "Buffy can be a bit much when she's bed-ridden, and I'd appreciate all the help I can get in keeping her distracted."

"Certainly. I'll be by after sunset. Night, Joyce."


"Beware of geeks bearing gifts!" Xander proclaimed cheerily as he, Anya, and Willow marched into the air-conditioned Summers den the next evening. He was carrying a videotape, Anya was clutching a finger puppet, squishing it out of shape, and Willow held out towards Buffy a pint of chocolate peanut butter cup ice cream.

"Dawn! Spoon!" Buffy bellowed, awkwardly shifting her legs so that there was a bit more space on the couch. "Thanks, you guys. This is really nice. But I'll be up and about tomorrow probably."

"See, Xander, she doesn't need us. Let's go home and have more sweaty sex. This is your only night off," Anya jumped in.

Willow rolled her eyes at Buffy, who merely shrugged and whispered, "Even this is better than the Bonnie Tyler replay that's going on in my head." Willow's eyes gleamed conspiratorially and she went to the kitchen to dig out a spoon for Buffy.

Clutching it, she went to the foot of the stairs and called out, "Dawn? Do you want to come watch a movie with us?"

"What movie?" Dawn shouted back.

"I don't know, but Xander picked it out, so . . ." Willow was cut off by the pounding of eager feet on the steps. Dawn appeared just as her mother pushed open the front door.

"Hi sweetie. Look who I brought home for some hot chocolate and to keep Buffy busy so she won't drive us crazy."

Spike's sleek head appeared over Joyce's shoulder and he grinned at Dawn and Willow. "Oi, Platelet, how's school? Any teachers I need to eat?"

"As if you could."

"Hey! I was bein' nice, not even mentioning what the humidity's doing to that nice smooth hair of yours." Dawn stamped off towards the den, leaving the other three to follow.

Willow held the spoon out to Buffy. The tip of the slayer's nose was dark brown; apparently she'd been licking the inside of the carton's lid, too impatient to wait for a proper utensil.

"You're looking lovelier than ever, Slayer," Spike said sardonically, and Buffy's eyes widened at the sight of him standing next to her mother as if he were family.

Xander jumped up to protest Spike's presence, but Joyce stopped him with a look, and calmly asked, "So that's six of us for dinner, plus Spike? How does pizza sound? Xander, why don't you put your movie in? I'll phone in the order."

"What did you get, Xander?" Buffy asked, trying to alleviate the tension in the room. Willow seemed okay with Spike's presence, Anya seemed indifferent, and Dawn seemed almost . . . excited by it. It was only Xander who seemed to have Spike stuck in his craw. He cleared his throat, gamely ignoring the vampire.

"I got Little Shop of Horrors. I thought it would be fun to sing along, and you know, be twelve again."

"Really? Does this movie somehow make one seem younger than one really is? Is there a youth-granting demon released by the movie?" Anya wanted to know.

Buffy ignored the questions and simply said, "I've never seen it. It sounds like fun. Pop it in."

//Who knew that Spike could sing?// Buffy thought. He'd been silent early on, clearly unsure of how much of a friend he was supposed to be; watching Xander and Willow enthusiastically sing the parts of Seymour and Audrey, he'd relaxed, realizing that they didn't care that he was part of the audience. His eyes widened a bit when Willow let out a perfect Audrey squeak, right on cue. The witch flashed a grin at him as he remarked, "Nice stuff, Red. I always thought that squeak was added in later." So he was loose and nearly carefree when Audrey II finally began to speak, and he jumped right in. He got an extra kick out of sliding his eyes Xander's way as he recited the plant's lines: "Must be bloooood. Must be freeeeeesh." But he didn't really want to spoil the mood, and he'd noticed the protective frowns the Niblet had been shooting his way, so he gave up on oblique threats and simply sang along.

Buffy was taken aback, noting that his voice, while clearly untrained, was clear and strong, with just a bit of rough smoker's edge to it. //So he can sing - why didn't he in my dream?// She told herself to just let it go, and sank back among the cushions and listened to her friends sing merrily along. Spike was especially good at "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space."


They were all a bit surprised when Spike got up abruptly just before the final confrontation between Seymour and Audrey II. "Spike? Is something wrong?" Willow asked.

He grinned at her, "Nah, Red, I just don't like this ending. The original's better. And it's time for a smoke anyway." He walked out to the porch, fished around in his pockets, and sat down, inhaling the hot smoke. His mind wouldn't let go of the songs, and as he hummed them to himself he remembered Buffy's surprised smile. And thinking of her smile made him remember that dream he'd had, the one where they whispered words of love and desire to each other. His grin faded, leaving him alone with his lonely thoughts. He was saved from total depression by the arrival of the delivery boy.

He beckoned the boy to follow him and led the way into the Summers kitchen. He stopped abruptly, blocking the pizza boy's view and path when he saw Joyce sitting at the kitchen table with her head in her hands. "Joyce? Buffy being that much of a pain?" he awkwardly halfjoked, noting even as he spoke the fine lines of strain at the corners of her eyes, the way she held herself stiffly, as if she were bracing against something.

"No, I'm fine. . . . Just an on-again, off-again headache," she tried to reassure him, surprised by the concern he clearly felt.

"Ma'am, that's twenty-five ninety-nine," the delivery boy impatiently broke in.

Joyce nodded weakly and handed him three ten-dollar bills from her worn leather purse. Spike inched closer to her, stopping only when he was close enough to murmur. "Can I get you anything? Water? Those little pills?"

She smiled faintly and said "Water. Buffy knows where the aspirin is."

He nodded, closed the door behind the delivery boy, and then strode into the den, saying firmly, "Slayer. Get off your behind and show me where the aspirin is kept."

She looked up at him, not catching the emotions running under his words, and smiled haughtily at him, "Why? Is the chip giving Spikey a boo-boo? Anyway, hello, my leg is broken."

"I'll bet you can stand on it by now. Now move, and get the pills! Your mum's not feelin' so hot."

She hobbled off the couch, testing her injured leg, smiling slightly when it held underneath her, and led the way up the stairs to the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. She was disconcerted when he followed closely behind her, hesitantly helping her climb; it was even stranger when she realized she was alone in all of the mirrors, surrounded only by tile and chrome. She rummaged quickly, and he snatched the bottle out of her hand as soon as she held it out. "Calm down, Spike," she said. "It's just a headache, isn't it? She'll be fine in a few hours." He didn't bother to answer as he disappeared, and she was left to make her own way downstairs, no strong arm around her for support.


Dawn sat on her bed, diary on her lap. Her favorite pen was in her right hand, and she flicked the feather that crowned it back and forth over her cheek while she considered her next words. //Spike is so cool. He can't do anything to any of us, but he still seems to mean all of his threats. How does he have so much self-confidence? And how does he dye his hair that wicked color if he can't even see himself in a mirror? I wonder what Xander would look like with bleached hair . . . no, that would just be weird and wrong. And sad. But maybe it would be enough to make Anya stay away from him. What was up with that finger puppet she brought? It just hung on her finger like a blob. She doesn't even know how to have fun. I bet she thought playing with it would make her break a nail. I wonder how Spike gets his nail polish so neat. Is he still dating that stupid ho who pulled Xander's hair? What is up with guys and not-so-hot blondes?// She snorted, dismissing Anya and Harmony with a toss of her long dark hair. She started to get up off the bed, then remembered that she couldn't play music or watch any more TV because of her mother's headache. She lay on her stomach and turned to a blank page. Frowning in concentration, she began to write a poem about the two men who'd been in her den that evening. //They just can't stay away from me// she thought, wishing it were true.


Spike stalked back to his crypt, his strides lengthening with each step he took. The sting of the duster on his legs was oddly satisfying. Joyce's headache had unnerved him, shattering the ease that had been blossoming inside of him as he sang along with a silly movie. //Calm down, mate. It's nothing to do with you. Medicine's advanced quite a bit since your day. She'll be fine.// No matter how many rational, soothing words he offered himself, he couldn't forget the sight of Joyce's face or the too-familiar mask of pain that covered it, just as it had his own mother, over a hundred years before.

At the door of his crypt he paused and walked over to his car, opening the trunk and pulling out two heavy packages. Once inside his lair, he unplugged the television and hooked up the record player. He lifted the needle, but his hands were still trembling slightly from worry. At least they'd been steady enough when he'd opened the aspirin bottle and shaken out two dark pink pills onto his palm. He made an effort to control himself, and finally placed the needle carefully in the first groove. The soothing strains of Bach's French Suites filled the crypt as he pushed aside the soft, warm blankets, lay down on the cold stone bed, and closed his eyes.


"Buffy! Get up, sweetie!"

Buffy blinked herself awake, and rolled across her big bed to check her clock. "I'm up, Mom," she called, breathing in the smell of apple pancakes. "I'll be down in a minute." She brushed her teeth and pulled her flannel pajama top on, covering the tank she had slept in. She skipped down the stairs and slid in her stocking feet into the kitchen, coming up behind her mother who was facing the stove.

"You're all better!" they said simultaneously with relieved smiles.

"No more headache?" Buffy pursued, and her mom smiled and said, "No, thanks to Spike. He's been quite the little do-gooder, hasn't he? Carrying you home, making sure I got some medicine. All for the promise of cocoa."

"He carried me home?"

"Yes. Don't you remember? No, wait, you were still unconscious when he left." Joyce smiled, remembering how gingerly he'd placed Buffy on the couch, not noticing that her daughter was frowning in confusion. "Ready for pancakes? Go wake up Dawn and we'll have a real family breakfast."

"Sure, Mom," she said absently, suddenly remembering that she'd had a dream that a little baby Audrey II was growing in her yard - and smoking two cigarettes.


The minute she stepped outside, she groaned in frustration and went back inside to change. The mugginess hadn't abated, but the air-conditioning had fooled her into thinking that it had. She stripped off her leather pants and long-sleeved shirt and changed into a sage green tank and dark grey jeans. She stepped back outside and looked up at the sky, noting the heavy cover of clouds blanketed across the sky. //I sure hope Riley's having better weather in Bumblefuck, Iowa// she thought with surprisingly bitter loneliness. //He's only been gone for four days - what is my problem? And he deserves to have a break.// But not even having Riley at her side would make her current task - thanking Spike - any easier.

She walked toward the crypt, knowing he'd have to be there, as it was daytime. She got the feeling that he didn't sleep all that much, and there was a chance she could catch him and thank him quickly. She pushed the door open, coming upon the wholly unexpected sight of Spike doing some housecleaning while a Partridge Family song played on a record player she'd never seen before. He was singing along, "I'm sleeping, and right in the middle of a good dream, and all at once I wake up from something that keeps knocking at my brain; before I go insane I hold my pillow to my head and spring up in my bed, screaming out the words I dread: I think I love you." She started to laugh, but he didn't hear her over the song and the sounds of furniture being moved. He went on, "Believe me, you really don't have to worry, I only want to make you happy, and if you say 'Hey, go away,' I will, but I think better still I'd better stay around and love you - do you think I have a case? Let me ask you to your face: do you think you love me?" He turned just as he sang the last few lines, catching sight of her at last. She expected that he'd be embarrassed, and then overly sarcastic to cover for it, but he merely grinned cheekily at her and took a bow. She had to applaud, and he said, "Tickets are still available. Call TicketMaster now!"

Buffy laughed, then sobered as she said, "Well, I really only came by to say thanks. You know, for helping, and especially for helping my mom."

All the mirth left his face in an instant as if it had been wiped clean away. "She's alright then, your mum? No more pain?"

"Yeah, she's fine. I think it's just stress - you know, her job, raising two kids on her own, all that kind of stuff."

"Good to hear. She's a nice lady. I've never felt even the smallest desire to eat her."

"Yeah, you're a prince, Spike," she replied, rolling her eyes.

"Does that translate into 'thank you' in Buffy-talk?" he responded, equally snarky.

"No - but that's what I meant. Thank you, Spike," she said firmly, looking into his eyes. He dropped his own in some confusion, and glanced back at her as the emotion in the air lightened. "So, what's with the Partridge Family record? Don't tell me you're a fan. That's worse than Giles music."

"Nah, it was Dru," he said, leaning back against the tomb with a fond smile that was echoed by his eyes. "She thought it would be funny to make David Cassidy into a minion and have him turn all the girls who were screaming for him. She said it was the quickest way to raise an army of the undead."

"So what happened?"

He started at her question, clearly lost in memories. "Nothin', of course. She never followed through with any of her grand schemes. They came to her, but she wasn't really interested in world domination. All she wanted was someone to be with."

//That's all I want too// Buffy thought, tears unexpectedly springing to her eyes. //Great - I'm just like the evil loony toon.//

She had to get out of there. "Thanks again, Spike. I'll see you around." She pushed out of the crypt as abruptly as she'd entered. //What is wrong with me? I've got someone to be with. Riley. He said he loves me - loves all of me, Slayer and Buffy. Why didn't I say it back?// She was back in the humid air, threading a path through the graves toward the Magic Box, when a vampire surprised her from behind. //What the hell! It's daytime!// Buffy staked the vamp quickly, seeing long red hair and a party dress swirl into dust, before she let herself deal with the implications of the attack. //If the sun isn't shining, they can come out and play, no matter what time it is.// She began hoping even more fervently for rain, both to cool the air down and to get rid of the thick, static clouds hovering in the sky. She made it to Giles's shop without further incident.

Buffy breezed into the store and let her back rest against the door for a moment as she got used to the beauty of the air-conditioning. She made her way to the back of the shop, unaware that she still held a stake until she saw Giles looking at it as she approached. "Giles, did you know that as long as it's not sunny, vamps can be out during the day? It was sort of a nasty surprise for me, but I figured it out pretty quickly. I think I deserve an A."

"I wonder if this is the weather problem that Thomas mentioned," he thought out loud. "I thought it was the heat - potentially enervating and all that - but it seemed to make Sunnydale safer, since everyone was indoors and not really issuing vampire invitations. But this blocking of the sun . . . that could be a huge problem. That would mean you'd have to be on patrol twentyfour hours a day."

She didn't want to think about what he was saying, so she tried to joke with him. "Giles, I've seen this Simpsons episode. The culprit is Mr. Burns."

He whipped off his glasses, ready to go into lecture mode when he stopped and read her face. She knew, none better, what vamps on the loose meant, and she wasn't going to let that happen. "I think we'll probably have a brief respite," he said finally. "After all, most vampires won't come out during the day simply because they're used to sleeping then. And they can't be certain that the sun won't come peeking through. If this weather persists, however, and they become aware of it, they'll most likely throw caution to the wind and come out in full force. We must be ready. We'll train now, and afterwards I'll call the Council and see if they're willing to extend any help. I doubt it, but the effort must be made. And Buffy . . . I think you should take Xander and Willow and the others with you on patrol, make sure they're on their toes. If the weather doesn't change, we'll need them to patrol while you sleep." She nodded grimly and moved into the back room.


She walked back to the house, keeping her eyes peeled for unseasonably active vamps, but saw none. She was sweating more from the trip home than from her long workout; all she wanted was to peel off her sports bra and bicycle shorts and take a long cold shower. She headed upstairs and paused, thinking she heard crying. She saw her mother lying on her bed, sniffling quietly as tears ran unchecked down her cheeks. "Mom? What's wrong? Where's Dawn?"

"I sent her over to Wendy's house when I felt another headache starting. But I'm fine now."

"No, you're not. I've never seen you cry. Come on, we're taking you to the hospital."

"Are you going to call Rupert?"

"No, I can't," Buffy said in dismay, remembering that Giles had been heading out of town, hoping to find some more exotic merchandise for his shelves.

"It's okay, honey. I don't need a hospital. All they'll say is get plenty of rest, don't let your stress build, all that kind of stuff. Just get me some aspirin and I'll take a nap."

"Wait - Spike! He has a car. And I'm sure he'll do it. He said he likes you." Buffy waited for her mom to agree, but Joyce had her sheets in a white-knuckled grip and was gasping in pain. Buffy took off for the crypt at a run.

She broke into the crypt just as Spike was sitting down to watch Passions. "Spike! I need your help - with my mom. She's sick again, and could you drive us to the hospital? I don't know how to drive, and Giles is away, and Xander . . ." she burst out, babbling madly in her panic.

"Shh, pet, of course I'll give your mum a lift. Is she really that bad?" he frowned, something uncomfortable happening in the pit of his stomach, a kind of fear he hadn't felt in a long time.

"Yeah, she's even crying with it . . ." she replied shakily, pushing panic aside as she saw him pull on his coat and pat the pocket for his car keys. His face darkened, and he led the way to his car.

Continue: Part 2/15
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

Long Buffy Fic: "Two-Part Invention" (part 2)

Joyce was propped up in the front, Buffy sitting in the back but hanging over her mother's seat as Spike pushed hard on the accelerator. After an agonizing delay in the emergency room, Joyce was finally admitted, and Spike and Buffy were led to the waiting room on the same floor. She slumped down on the love-seat, knowing that someone else had - temporarily - taken responsibility for her mother, and that she didn't have to be strong for the moment. She couldn't relax, however, and she suddenly bolted upright. "Oh, damn it! Spike, do you have any change? I need to call home and leave a message for Dawn that we're here, and my money is in the pants that I changed out of for training."

"Easy, love, don't fret," he soothed softly, recognizing her stream of words as a return to panicked babbling. "I've got a quarter." She charged out of her seat towards the pay phone and left a completely unintelligible message on the machine.

She returned and sat stiffly next to Spike. After a moment he ran a cool hand over her hair, murmuring, "Come on, pet, relax. There's nothing for you to fight at the moment. Take advantage of the lull, and be able to show your mum a cheerful face when she walks out of that room." She nodded, and her adrenaline seemed to bleed right out of her; she sagged against his left side, and he put a cautious arm around her, shifting so that she was more comfortable.

She was so still that he thought she'd fallen asleep, but then she spoke. "Thank you, Spike," she whispered, her lips directly above his heart.

"You're more than welcome, love. Now rest."

She nodded sleepily, but continued talking. "I'm glad Dawn didn't have to deal with this. I don't know what she would have done."

"Oh, she's a big girl. She'd have come through, right enough. She knows how to get things done," he said, unaware of how much affection was betrayed by his voice.

Buffy heard it, and tilted her head and pushed back a bit until she could catch his eyes without straining her neck. "You seem awfully fond of Dawn. What's the deal? And what's with all those nicknames you have for her?"

"Not to worry, Slayer, Little Bite-Size is not on my grocery list. I just like her, is all." As Buffy still didn't look satisfied, he sighed and admitted, "And she reminds me of my sister."

"What?!? I didn't know that you had a sister! Spill, Spike. What was she like, what was her name, is she a vamp too, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera." Her curiosity was winning out over the dread for her mother, and he decided to indulge her.

"No, she's not a vampire. She died not long before I did. We were almost-twins, two children born the same year, ten months apart; I was the younger one. We might as well have been twins, though; we looked so much alike when we were little. She had long brown hair and wide blue eyes, just like Dawn, but a totally different facial structure. Dawn's face is rounder, a little softer of feature. But the Niblet reminds me of her anyway - they have the same spirit, the same determination."

"So what was her name?" He shifted a little, not sure why he was holding that back. It wasn't as though her name - or the memory of his family - was some sort of talisman to be held onto in the harsh light of day, in the hopes that the happiness he had known with them would return . . . was it? "Spike . . ." Buffy prodded, waiting not very patiently.

"Her name was Stella," he finally answered.

"It's a pretty name," she mused.

"I used to call her mica mica parva stella," he continued - in for a penny, in for a pound.

"That's . . . not so pretty," Buffy teased gently, waiting for the explanation to continue.

"'Stella' means star, Slayer, and 'mica mica parva stella' is the first line of Latin my da ever taught me: 'twinkle twinkle little star.'"

"Oh, so you had a whole family tree? Tell me about them," she said, shifting so that her back was pressed against one of the armrests, drawing her right leg up to lie flat on the cushion, leaving her left leg dangling in front of the couch. Spike moved to mirror her, and their shins pressed against each other.

He met her eyes, trying to read her thoughts. "It's not that exciting, Slayer, I assure you," he started, pausing when he saw only interest in her eyes, and perhaps a touch of compassion as well. Nothing on earth would make him deliver his treasure - his memory of his dead family - to someone who wouldn't understand that it was something precious. But her eyes were saying all the right things, and he loved her. "Are you sure? It's a long story."

"No, I want to know," she said, surprising herself with her sincerity, "and, you know, we have plenty of time before we hear anything about my mom," she added, her forced smile hinting at sadness.

"My father's name was Robert Marlowe . . ." he broke off to smile at her, as he could practically see the wheels in her head turn as she filed away his last name for future reference, ". . . and he had a fairly normal childhood, I suppose. Not aristocracy, of course, but sort of gentry, raised to work but also to have a gentleman's tastes. The only work he ever wanted to do was to be a scholar, so he went off to Oxford and took a First in classics."

"So, he was, like, Giles-y?"

"No," he denied quickly, but then considered and recanted. "Yes, I suppose. But . . ." he trailed off, suddenly unsure of what he wanted to say. "In any case, he had his degree, and no idea what use he could make of it. He had just enough money not to work, but he loved what he had studied. He finally heard that positions as private tutors were available in London, so he set off for the city. He stayed at his uncle's house, and it turned out he was just in time for their twenty-fifth anniversary celebration. All sorts of relations showed up, including my mum. Elizabeth Dashwood. She was a niece on the other side; my parents had a cousin in common. Every time he told this story, Da used to swear that as soon as he saw her everyone else seemed to fade. It wasn't just her looks; it was the way she carried herself, the way she unwittingly made every social blunder in the book, the way she had of saying what she thought. And she couldn't flirt worth a damn. She was terrible at it. He said that's why he went over to her, to save her from making a complete fool of herself with one of his cousin's friends. But by the time he reached her side, she'd clearly put her foot in it, saying something that would have been treason coming from a man."

"What? Wait, Spike, hang on. What did she say? What do you mean, treason?"

"Well, saying Indians ought to be allowed to govern themselves. She was born there. Her father worked for the East India Company. He got married to a proper girl, but neglected to tell her that's where they would be living. She was none too pleased. She had a child - my mum - within a year of arriving in Bombay, and took to her bed after that. A lot of women did that in those days, but I don't know how many took it to the extreme that she did. She simply refused to hear about anything that had to do with the world outside of her bedroom door. My mum grew up with pretty much no supervision, playing with the servants' children, learning Indian games and songs and stories and dances. Her father was too involved in his work, and her mum was of no bloody use, and she had no governess, so she grew up on her own. She wasn't even properly educated, but she loved to read, and during monsoon season she sat and read all day long. Her parents died when she was eighteen, of a fever that swept through the city; she nursed them both but lost them in the end. Her mother's older sister wrote and offered her a home, and she sailed for England. She wasn't exactly what anyone was expecting." He smiled, picturing her young, independent, alone. "She horrified them."

"What did she do?" Buffy wanted to know, unable to narrow down the list of what would have elicited horror from proper Victorian ladies.

"Well, she was dark-skinned, Slayer."

"What? So?"

"Living in India, staying out in the sun, had darkened her skin and lightened her hair. Her aunt said she looked like a perfect heathen, and started pressing powder onto her immediately. But she was just too dark; it must have looked awful on her. Anyhow, she was instant scandal. Humming Indian songs, dancing along, all of that. But the dam burst when she said she thought the stories in the Bible were nice, but not as exciting as the tales of Krishna and the other gods." A smile began to form on his lips. "She told us that all you could hear for a moment was thud after thud as her aunt and cousins fainted left and right." He looked like he wanted to burst with laughter too.

"It all ended up with Da marrying her. He called her his golden girl on account of her complexion, and he said she made all the society beauties, painted holding white roses next to their skin to show off their own pallor, look dead. He loved her."

"So it was happily ever after?" Buffy asked, surprised, not knowing if her surprise was caused by the idea that a Victorian marriage could be happy, or the knowledge that Spike was a child of love.

"Well, not the way you're thinkin', Slayer. He loved her, and she loved him, but like friends, like the way you an' Red love each other. They were more best friends than melodramatic lovers. They were comfortable with each other. My da had never expected to meet a woman he could talk to - about books, ideas, anything - the way he'd talk to another man, and my mum had thought no man would understand how much the freedom of her old life had meant to her. They just fit together. They were happy." She smiled, letting him know with her face that she understood. He gleamed in appreciation at her, and she curled up against him once more, ready at last to relax.


"Sir? Sir?" a voice repeated insistently. Spike, lost in thought, smoothing back the slayer's hair, snapped into awareness, trying hard to ignore the pliant warmth of Buffy as she leaned against him in sleep. He turned to locate the voice. "Sir, we're going to be keeping Mrs. Summers here overnight. Why don't you and the young lady go home, and we'll give you a call when she's ready to be picked up," the voice said softly, trying to be soothing but sounding only impatient and overtired.

"Yes, all right," he replied finally, trying furiously to decode the words, needing to know if there was bad news hidden under the calming tones. He turned to wake Buffy but couldn't bring himself to do it. He scooped her up easily and minutes later he was tucking her into her own bed. He made his way back downstairs and into the kitchen, noting the answering machine blinking. He pushed play. All he heard at first was Buffy's garbled, hysterical voice. The machine cut her off, and Dawn's voice came on.

"Mom? Wendy wants to know if I can sleep over. It's Friday, so please, can I? I told Wendy's mom that you'd call to say yes . . . or no. Love you. Bye." Spike sighed a little in relief, thankful that the Niblet was being spared what Buffy was going through. As big a girl as he knew she was, she was still pretty young. //Buffy's not much older, and look at all she deals with// an inner voice piped up. Nothing could change the fact that she was the slayer. //Poor girl. But I guess that's destiny.//


Buffy slept for hours, awakening only when her internal alarm informed her it was time to patrol. She stretched lazily, like a kitten in sunshine, before springing out of bed and nearly tripping over Spike. He was sitting in the hallway outside her room, back against the wall, phone an inch from his hand. His eyes were closed, but they slid open at her less than graceful approach.

"Spike?" she questioned. "Why are we at home?"

"Your mum's staying in hospital overnight. They told us to go home and wait for a phone call," he replied as gently as he knew how.

Her face fell immediately; she'd imagined that her mother was safe and sound in her own room, sleeping off whatever medicine she'd been given. "Oh."

"And the little one's at a friend's house and wants to spend the night. There's a message from 'er."

"Okay, you call and say it's okay. I'm going to shower and then to patrol. I really need to hit something right now . . . preferably with a stake." He nodded, not seeing a threat to his own well-being in her menacing words; at first she was surprised, but as she headed for the bathroom, she realized she really hadn't meant him at all.


The phone rang at ten the next morning. Buffy hurled herself at the ringing instrument, nearly colliding with Spike, who was sleepily shuffling over to get it. "Hello? Hello?" But it was only a telemarketer, interested in switching the Summers women's long-distance carrier. Spike saw Buffy's face cloud over in confusion; she couldn't understand what the words "AT&T" had to do with her mother's condition.

He snatched the phone from her hand, listened for a moment, then barked into the receiver, "Stop tying up the bloody line! If and when she needs you and sodding AT&T, she'll give you a call!" He slammed the phone down, only to have it ring again. It was the hospital; he handed the phone to Buffy immediately and took a step back. She turned to face him and took hold of the sleeve of his black t-shirt.

He paused, and she nodded up at him, but he had no idea what that was supposed to mean. She hung up, her expression uncertain, and informed him, "They're ready to release her, but they want to talk to us." He nodded and grabbed his car keys off the coffee table, thoughts shamefully alternating between concern for Joyce's well-being and a little whisper of joy that Buffy had said "us."


Buffy maintained physical contact with Spike throughout the drive and even once inside the hospital. She didn't seem to be aware that she was doing it, and the state of her nerves was worrying him. Right now she had a finger threaded through one of his belt loops as if she had been told that the buddy system was the only way she'd make it out of the hospital alive.

As they approached the nurses' station, he drew her hand away from his waistband and held it loosely in his own. "We're here to pick up Joyce Summers. The doctor wanted to talk to us," he informed the pretty, slender nurse on duty. She nodded briskly, competently, and led them down the hall to Joyce's room. Joyce lay on the bed, looking startlingly fragile and drawn, her eyes tired.

He tugged at Buffy's hand to bring her to his side and then pushed her gently ahead of him, releasing her. But she clutched blindly at him, and so he stepped into the room as well, instead of waiting out in the hallway as he'd intended. Her grip on him was bruising, but her voice was light as she faced her mother. "So, Mom? Ready to go?"

"Almost, honey. The doctor says there's something we should know. He should be here any minute. Where's Dawn? Hi, Spike."

"Dawn spent the night at Wendy's. Don't worry about that - we'll pick her up on our way home. How are you? Are you feeling better?" Again, the ease of her voice belied the pressure of her fingers on his forearm, and he understood that his flesh was all she could grasp of reality.

Dr. Isaacs came in and closed the door behind him, gesturing for Buffy to sit down in the hard plastic chair in the corner. She shook her head briefly and faced him straight on. He talked for a few minutes, his voice low and concerned, but all she could hear was "brain tumor." She hoped Spike was paying attention, because she couldn't. The two words echoed in her head, growing frustratingly louder each time, and time seemed to drag to a near-halt. She saw motes of dust as they fell onto her mother's blanket, she heard the rasp of one of her mother's labored breaths, she felt Spike's arm, cool and malleable under her fingers. She looked at the doctor with wide, uncomprehending eyes. He had shifted his gaze to Spike and was continuing his diagnosis, his list of danger signs, of symptoms, of what needed to be done to care for her mother. Spike was memorizing every word.


Buffy watched her mother change out of the hospital gown, feeling off-balance without Spike's arm for support. She tried to shake herself out of her fogginess. She smiled at her mother, and was relieved beyond measure when she smiled back. "Honey? It's going to be fine. Didn't you hear what he said? It's operable - they caught it early. Thanks to you. You insisted that I come down here." She paused, noting Buffy's uneasy silence, and teased, "You get a gold star." Buffy smiled wanly at the familiar joke, put an arm around her mother's waist, and they left the room together.

Spike was pacing in tight figure eights in the hallway; he stopped abruptly when he saw them. His body was tense, and he stood perfectly straight, almost at attention, as Joyce came down the hall. Buffy looked down at his arm and could see four purplish smudges on it where her fingers had dug into his flesh, marring the pale expanse of skin. He looked taut, coiled to spring, muscles bunched but ready to ripple smoothly. He started toward Joyce, holding out his arm in an oddly formal gesture. She took it, smiling slightly, and he handed Buffy the car keys so she could run ahead and have her mother's door open. Just before they stepped outside, he murmured to Joyce, "Now, it's bloody hot outside. Might make you feel a bit dizzy. You just take your time and hold on to me. We'll get you home." She wrapped a weak arm around his cool waist, and let him guide her to the car and to Buffy.


Buffy was taking inventory of the people in the house. She had a feeling she'd be doing that a lot from now on, if only to calm herself down. Dawn was upstairs in her room, probably writing about the hospital visit and the sleepover in her diary, her mother was in the shower, and Spike was sitting at the kitchen table, writing earnestly on a yellow legal pad. He didn't notice her approach until she spoke. "Spike? What are you doing?" His handwriting was incongruously beautiful, even upside down. She remembered that he'd been educated in the nineteenth century; penmanship probably counted for a lot.

"I'm writin' down everything the doc said, so that you don't need to keep running to the crypt. I wasn't sure how much you . . ." he trailed off, not wanting to make her feel under any obligation to him.

"Heard? Understood?" she asked bitterly. "Not much. I was too busy freaking out."

"Easy, Slayer. It's hard to hear when it's your own mum that's bein' discussed. You were there when she needed you."

"So were you," she responded quickly, knowing she probably wouldn't say the words later. He looked surprised, then shrugged, as if he were just a worker doing the job he'd been paid for.

"Now," he said as he stood up to go, "I'll drive you to hospital, should your mum need it, day or night. Just come get me."

"No," she said, "I'll call you," and handed him her cell phone. He met her eyes as he eased into his duster and slipped the phone into its pocket. He looked down at the pad and back up at her, signaling her to read what he'd written. She bent her head to read, and saw a neat list of all the things that Dr. Isaacs had said. At the bottom, underlined twice, were the words "Doc says she'll be fine." She looked up to thank him, but he'd already slipped out of the house.


Buffy did a quick daytime patrol with Willow and Xander, since the clouds hadn't budged and no sunlight filtered through. She lagged behind in the conversation, her face and voice displaying none of the animation of her two best friends. "Buffy? What's wrong? You haven't said a word since we got out here," Willow asked anxiously.

"Nothing," she replied pensively, the memory of her mother's overtired face filling her mind to the exclusion of nearly everything else. //I need to reread Spike's list. How am I supposed to take care of her and be on constant patrol too?// She said nothing, not wanting to talk about it until she straightened it all out in her head.

Xander smiled, thinking he understood her absent-mindedness. "Isn't Riley coming home tonight? Are you planning something special?"

"What? No, not really. I guess maybe the Bronze . . ." she broke off, her nerves tingling, and spun around. Two lumbering vampires were heading for them, believing they were an easy kill. Buffy's impatience at the vamps' slowness abruptly got the better of her. She threw a stake with a flick of her wrist and the smaller of the two was transformed into a pile of dust. //That was too quick// some hurting part of her mind said. //Better make this other one count.// Before Willow or Xander could utter a rebuke or warning, she had launched herself at the larger, darkerhaired vampire, the heel of her hand cracking sharply on his jaw, making his head snap up. She kicked at his gut while he was disoriented, breaking his nose with one hand. She was moving with nearly blinding speed, weakening the vamp, letting out some of her pain and frustration on his bruised and battered form. Just as tears started to rise in her eyes, she pulled out a stake and plunged it into his heart. She swayed a little on her feet, emotions and adrenaline doing battle inside her even as the oppressive heat clouded the air around her. She pulled herself together with a monumental effort and turned to face her friends. "I don't think we'll be seeing any more vamps for awhile, do you?"

They both shook their heads, looking worried. "I could really use some air-conditioning. Let's go to the shop," Buffy suggested.

Willow immediately looked better, and Xander's face brightened at the thought of seeing Anya, flushed and happy because Giles had left her in charge for the weekend. //What have I done?// she asked herself silently as they headed for the shop, barely listening to Xander and Willow chatting. //I've never tortured a vamp before. Killed them, yes. Made bad jokes, yes. But hurt one when I could have easily staked it? This thing with Mom is really getting to me// she realized grimly. //At least there's a phone in the shop. I'll be able to call home.//


"Oh good it's you," Dawn said when she heard Buffy's voice over the phone. "I'm on the other line with the hospital. They said that if we bring Mom in today, at six, they can do some of the other tests."

"Why, is she feeling bad again?" Buffy asked, guilt flooding her body. //Oh God, I shouldn't have left the house. Xander and Willow could have handled patrol. Now this is going to be my fault . . .//

"No, I don't think so. She's up, she looks fine. The hospital just said that the machines for these tests are usually booked, but they had a cancellation, so they can take Mom today," Dawn answered.

"Cancellation? As in someone died?" Buffy asked sharply, her voice rising in panic.

"Oh my God, I . . . I don't know. They didn't say." Dawn's voice began to shake as Buffy's words forced her to realize her sister's worst fear.

"Never mind. That was a dumb question," Buffy hastened to respond. "Just get back on the line with them and tell them we'll be there at six. I'll be home soon."


She stood outside Spike's crypt; her feet, having taken her this far, refused to walk the final few steps that would bring her to him. She looked around, feeling a bit dazed by the events of the weekend. She smiled a bit when she saw that he'd hung house numbers on the front door of the crypt, in a bizarre domestic fit: 666. She saw a few scattered cigarette butts on the ground. She could see a slightly worn patch of grass, trod everyday by the heavy boots he wore. She took a step forward and heard fragments of a melody. She lifted her foot to kick open the door and then stopped. She was here as a friend; or rather, he had offered her friendship, and she ought to live up to it. She knocked instead. He was wearing a carefully bored expression as he opened the door, and it vanished as soon as he recognized her. "Is it your mum?" he asked, reading her downcast face.

"Sort of," she said, trying in vain to produce a smile. "Can I come in?" Wordlessly, he stepped back, holding the door wide open, and she ducked beneath his outstretched arm. As he pushed it shut, the music began again.

He saw her looking at the record player and went over and turned the volume down. "I didn't hear the phone ring, pet, I'm sorry. I thought vamp hearing would be enough . . ." he trailed off when he realized she wasn't moving, that there was no urgency in her, just a slow, dull ache.

"That's really nice," she said, pointing toward the record player with her chin in a gesture that brought Joyce sharply back into his mind. She looked up at him, her face completely blank, offering no clue about her muddled thoughts.

"It's Bach," he said, to break the silence growing larger and larger between them. "Cello Suites."

She nodded once, as if to indicate that the information was being filed away in the appropriate place. "So . . . what's the situation with your mum? Do you need me to take you to hospital?"

"Later. At six tonight. They're going to run some test. Can you . . . ?"

"Six is fine," he soothed her. He'd have time to catch a nap, have a bag of blood, and then go over to Revello Drive. He saw her shoulders sag briefly as if some great weight had been lifted from them, and he started to smile at her, to reassure her that she wasn't alone. He stopped when she bowed her head again, looking for all the world as if she'd just been beaten. //There's something else - something besides her mum - eating at her// he finally realized. He waited for her to speak, frowning when she simply stood in front of him, looking miserable.

Just as he opened his mouth to ask what else was wrong, she looked up, said "Thanks, Spike," and turned on her heel. He closed his mouth only when the door of the crypt clicked shut.


She walked into the house and saw her mother's smiling face. "Hi, sweetie. Are you in the mood for Chinese? I had promised Dawn a take-out night in front of the TV, before the hospital called. We decided that we'd just make it a late lunch. I sent her to get it; I think she needed to get out of the house for a bit," Joyce said, reading the anxiety in Buffy's eyes. "Don't worry, I feel fine. I'm sure this test is just a formality - Dr. Isaacs said it was to gauge when my operation should be."

"Spike's going to take us over for the appointment," Buffy said, proud that her voice remained steady. "He'll be by probably around five."

Joyce just smiled again. "I'd invite him over to share the food, but something tells me he wouldn't really enjoy it. I'm just going to eat and then take a nap. You look like you could probably use one too."

Buffy relaxed at her mother's joke, and felt the tiredness wash over her in waves. "I think you're right, Mom. As a matter of fact, if Dawn doesn't get here soon, I'm going to fall asleep right here. You'd better catch me." She sat next to her mother on the couch, leaning her head against that comforting, warm shoulder, feeling her mother's deep, even breaths reverberate through her head. They stayed that way until Dawn walked in holding yellow plastic bags filled with white cartons of food.


Dawn protested, tears in her eyes. "But why can't I come with you, Mom? I want to be there at the hospital for you!"

"Sweetie, I just don't think it's necessary. I feel bad enough making Buffy come. I'd like to think that one of my daughters is not ruining her Saturday night plans. Just go do whatever it was you were going to do. Just - no sleepovers, and no staying out past ten. Deal?"

Dawn looked to Buffy for help, but Buffy simply nodded at her in a way that meant to give up and just listen to their mother. "Fine," she muttered, then relented and caught her mother in a tight embrace. "I was just going to have Wendy and Heather over anyway."

"That's my girl," Joyce smiled down at her, smoothing back Dawn's hair, frizzy from the humidity. "And no using my name to rent a dirty movie."

"I never!" Dawn began indignantly, then smiled sheepishly as she recognized the joke as her mother's way of easing her mind. "Don't worry, Mom, the triple-X video store is too far to walk to, especially in this heat," she smirked prettily.


Spike and Buffy were sitting on the same damn couch, waiting for the test to be over. Spike at least was more relaxed than he had been the last time, having seen Joyce's clear and untroubled face, knowing there was no pain for her at the moment. He watched Buffy fidget restlessly, her nimble fingers picking at the ancient fabric of the couch, pulling it apart in frustration.

"Talk to me, Spike," she finally asked, not caring how pathetic she sounded; she needed a warm and caring voice in her ear, even if it were only spouting inanities.

"What do you want to hear?" he asked, forcing her to think about something, anything other than her mother and the newfound vulnerability she represented.

"Um . . . I don't know." She looked down and saw the bruises on his arm, saw where she had marked him with her pain. Something in the back of her mind clicked. //He said he was a geeky poet when he was turned. But what kind of poet has muscles like he's got? It's not like he could suddenly go the vampire gym and bulk up - you stay the way you are when you're turned.// "Tell me about your life life - I mean what you were like, and what you did, before you were turned."

"I thought we covered this already," he said, suddenly wary; he'd seen the wrinkling of the nose that usually accompanied deep thought on her part, and he knew she would no longer be satisfied with the bad-poet story he'd given her.

"Come on, Spike," she said, rolling her eyes, "I am taking a poetry class. No way was Keats in the kind of shape you're in. What were you really doing?"

He sighed, resigning himself to spilling the truth. "My mum insisted that we - Stella and I, both - do something with ourselves. She didn't want us to just sit around, wait for the proper match, grow old, and die. Not that Stella would have been the proper maiden in any case - she was a right hellion." He grinned at the memories. "But me - I don't know. Perhaps I would have been ordinary, the sort of quiet scholar my da had been, but my mum wouldn't hear of it. She was all for book-learning, but she said nothing would change if all the smart people stayed home and read all day. Anyhow, Stella got involved in hospital reform, and when she came home from the meetings at hospital, stories would just pour out of her, about all the suffering she'd seen. It was like she was dying from the pain, but she was more alive too, because she was useful, she was making a difference. She came home one day covered in filth, smelling like a sewer. She said that a little boy had come to hospital, frantic because his mum was dying, and he just grabbed Stella's skirt and tugged. She went with him, and he took her to his room in the slums. There were twenty people all sharing the one room, and the boy's mother was lying in one corner. Stella said the air was stale and thick with illness; all she could do for the woman was hold her hand as she died. She covered the woman's face and asked what should be done, but no one answered her. She said no matter how many times she asked, no one wanted to answer her questions. But she came home so angry at the way those people had to live . . ." his voice trailed off, picturing the ugly scene her words had painted for him so long ago. "I was at university, and I knew some of the boys that fancied themselves revolutionaries. I went to one of their meetings and said something about what Stella had seen, but they didn't want to hear it. They said certain things weren't meant to be changed, that the poor were poor for a reason, and that I was starting to sound like the crackpots who wrote for that radical newspaper The Fortunates. So of course that was my next stop. I began to write for them, do the kind of work they were doing. We did what you'd now call investigative journalism, doin' our best to expose the evils that society turned a blind eye to, that sort of thing. My first project was to discover more about the people Stella had seen. I wanted to know what kind of landlord would permit such squalor, such a breeding-ground for disease; I didn't realize how common such a situation was. It took me weeks, followin' people, talkin' to servants, but I finally was able to trace the ownership of the building to one of the richest, most well-respected men in London, Jerome Whitely. It made me sick; here he was, eating off fine china and dressed in silk, when he took all the money these people had and gave them one corner of a dirty, unventilated room. I'd never felt anything like the rage that coursed through me as I wrote my story. I came home with a copy of the paper and read it for my mum and Stella. They were so proud of me; Mum started to cry as she said Da would have been too. So it was the three of us against the world, fighting for things we believed in. We used to come home every night and share stories about Stella's hospital, my latest piece, or Mum's experiences as a suffragette. We had it good for a few years." He swallowed, remembering the feeling of camaraderie they'd shared . . . and how deeply he'd betrayed it.

"What, Spike? What happened next?" Buffy asked softly, surprised by the pain on his face. There was a long silence. Finally, he spoke.

"My mum died," he said harshly. "She was sick, and she just kept getting weaker and weaker. None of the doctors could figure out what was wrong with her. It was scary, seein' her look pale for the first time, seein' her just sitting there instead of doing something. But she held out for longer than anybody thought she could; she was that strong. After she died, my work seemed unimportant. It was Stella who kept me going; she said that we had each other, that we'd be honoring Mum's memory only if we continued our work. She said she'd never leave me. But then three months later, she was dead too." He drew his breath in sharply, surprised at how much it hurt to be telling this story, telling it for the first time. "She was coming back from hospital. She was crossing Union Street, when a horse took fright at something and trampled her. She was dead before I got to see her. And it was just me. Alone." He sat back, his eyes closed tightly against the pain.

She couldn't just sit there, ignoring his grief, but patting him on the shoulder or arm was hardly adequate. She reached over and pulled him half onto her; his forehead was pressed against her collarbone and his arm was draped loosely around her waist. She made soothing noises and stroked his hair until she felt him relax. He rolled recklessly away from her, flinging aside the arm that had encircled her, and resumed his story without opening his eyes. "I stopped working completely. I just wanted to get away from anything that brought my mum and Stella back to mind. And then I met her. Cecily. She seemed so fragile, so untouchable. She was as different from my mum and sister as it was possible to be; to me, that simply meant that she wouldn't die and leave me. I pursued her, writing her bad poetry, wanting to court her properly. But I wasn't important enough for her. The night she finally, openly rejected me, I met Dru. And she was so easy to love . . ."

Buffy tensed beside him, willing herself to keep quiet, but her mutinous mouth disobeyed the SHUT UP order her brain was handing down. "What?!? How could she be 'easy to love'? She's crazy, Spike, remember? She has tea parties with a damn doll! And she left you, for Angel, even after you'd taken care of her!" Buffy cried out desperately, not understanding why she was so worked up. Yes, Dru had taken Angelus back into her bed, but Buffy had already lost him at that point, at the moment he'd lost his soul.

Spike's face hardened. "Yeah, Slayer, Dru was crazy, but it was your precious Angel who made her that way. By the time he got through with her, she was lost. But there were moments when she found her way again, and those moments made everything else worthwhile. And the rest of the time, she was like a child, hurt but still trusting. How could anyone with any feeling at all not love her?" He quieted, then added, as if it were an afterthought, "And she loved me too."

"But how can you say that if she went back to Angel?" Buffy was almost pleading.

His face was grim. "I know she loved me, Slayer. Me. But she was . . . helpless . . . before Angel. He had a sort of thrall thing over her; it's something that most vamps can only do with a childe."

"So how do you know that you loved her - really loved her? Maybe you were just under her thrall."

Spike sort of smiled. "No, you see, I didn't really have a sire. She knew that Angelus would destroy any childe of hers; he didn't want anybody taking her attention away from him. So she drained me, but then pretended to collapse just as it was my turn to drink from her. Angelus was spying on her and he saw her fall. My neck had the marks of her turning-bite - it was different from a killing-bite - so he couldn't just let me die. I was turned by her drinking me and me drinking the blood in his veins. So I was caught between two sires, neither bond strong enough for the thrall. And Dru knew that, having half-sired me, Angelus would feel bound to keep me. So he mostly left me alone, aside from forcing himself on me a few times, instead of torturing me as much as he'd've liked. And Dru and I had all the time in the world to fall in love." There was something in his eyes that made her breath catch in her throat. "We were happy, Slayer. We had each other for more than a century."

Buffy could tell that he meant it. He had been secure in Dru's love. She swallowed back tears; Spike's words had made her consider who Dru really was, and she saw with awful clarity how monstrously cruel Angelus had been. She wanted to let him know she understood. She smiled faintly at him and asked, "So . . . did you two have a song?"

He rolled his eyes at her, glad to be back on less emotionally charged ground. "We were together for more than a hundred years, love. We had lots of songs."

"Yeah, but wasn't there one that seemed more right than the others? Which one was your favorite?"

He took his time, considering. "Well, there was one . . . but it's more about her than about us."

"What was it?" she asked with surprising eagerness.

"'And She Was' - Talking Heads," he replied.

"Hey!" she protested.

"Now what, Slayer?"

"I like that song! That can't be Dru's song!"

"Too bloody bad. The first time I heard it, I knew it fit her - beautiful, crazy, intuitive. And there was one part" - he grinned salaciously - "that we made fit after we heard it." He sang a little of the song, softly, reliving good memories: "And she was drifting through the backyard, and she was takin' off her dress, and she was moving very slowly, rising up above the earth." Buffy found herself blushing faintly at his suggestive tone, but she forced herself to look unaffected as he turned his eyes her way once more.

She didn't really want to dispel his newfound contentment, but her curiosity was overpowering. "So what happened with you guys, Spike? Why aren't you still with her?"

His smile faded, and she inwardly cursed her runaway tongue. "It just got to be too much for me, Slayer. I mean, I knew she loved me, that the Angelus fixation wasn't really her, but it hurt too bloody much to see her with him, mooning over him, blocked from even thinking about me. I couldn't be second best - not with her, the one girl I'd really loved. I got her away from him, but I couldn't make myself feel the same towards her, especially since the thrall hadn't been broken. She kept crying out for him . . ." he choked a little over the words, "and all I could do was take care of her. That's as close as she let me come to her. And after that it didn't matter what her song was," he finished, something lonely and sad creeping into his eyes.

Buffy was shocked to find herself wanting to comfort him once more, to hold him tenderly and reassure him he wasn't alone. She found herself wanting to rationalize the fact that he was a vampire, a killer. "Is that when you started killing just to kill, not just to feed?" she asked, offering him an out, already nodding in silent agreement with her own theory.

"What? No. Buffy," he said firmly, once he got over his surprise, "I started killing as soon as I was turned. It was the first time I'd felt power - real power. For all the stories I wrote, nothing much really changed. But once I was turned, I made things change. I killed Jerome Whitely that night. I only attacked people callous to the suffering of others. That kept me busy for quite some time."

Beside him, Buffy relaxed a bit. //Sure, it would have been great if he hadn't killed anybody in cold blood. But I guess the next best thing is this, him being the Robin Hood of vampires.//

He saw her relief and pushed on, unwilling to lie to her, to trick her into loving him. He forced himself to enunciate, every word, as clear and vibrant as the tone of a church-bell, dropping into the space between them. "But somewhere along the way, Buffy, I discovered I liked killing, and soon it stopped mattering who was on the receiving end of my bite."

She was clearly shaken, but she lifted her chin and launched into her best junior-Watcher lecture. "The demon inside you was what wanted to kill, Spike. Not you. You . . ."

"No," he cut her off without compunction. "It was me. The demon just made it easier for me to kill, but I was the one that wanted to do it."

She felt lost, like she was drowning, and there wasn't a lifeline in sight. It felt like he was pushing her head further underwater when he said, "You need to know, Buffy." He hesitated. "You need to know what I really am," he was saying when suddenly his eyes softened at something over her shoulder and he stood up, smiling slightly. Buffy turned to see her mother being wheeled down the hall toward them.


Buffy helped her mother up the stairs and into bed, glad that the house was quiet. Dawn had left a note saying that she'd gone out for iced coffee with her friends, and that she'd be back, alone, by nine. Buffy stalked into the den and sat on the couch, shoulders tense, as she thought through everything Spike had said as they waited for her mother's test to be over. She tried to sort it all out in her head, but she couldn't concentrate. Once she had the carton of ice cream that Willow had brought over in her hand, however, she found she was able to think a bit more rationally. Much of what he'd said sounded startlingly familiar to her - he'd had a mother and sister that he loved beyond measure, he'd dedicated much of his life and unlife to fighting the good fight. //Where, then, do we differ? Obviously, I've never been a vampire. And I certainly haven't been able to have a long-term relationship, like he has.// She smiled bitterly at the thought. //And I've never killed out of the joy of killing.// But she knew even as she thought this last bit that she was lying. //When I was patrolling with Will and Xander, I relished that last kill. I wanted to keep hurting that vamp. Spike was right - it was him, not the demon. I know, because I've done it too.// Hot tears flowed down her cheeks and into the ice cream, and the admission seemed to break the tightness in her chest that had been crushing her for so long.


She stopped crying only when she heard Dawn's key being pushed into the lock on the front door. She hastily wiped her eyes, tossed the ice cream carton in the trash, and went to the door. Dawn was cursing the lock under her breath when Buffy pulled the door open. "I forgot to lock it when I came in. That's why your key wouldn't turn," Buffy explained as her sister walked in.

"How's Mom?"

"She's fine. We'll have to go back at some point to hear the results, but right now she seems okay. She's even planning on going into the gallery tomorrow, at least for a little while."

Dawn smiled, reassured, not noticing in the dim hall light the redness of Buffy's eyes. "Good. Do you think she's asleep? Or can I go talk to her?" Dawn asked.

"Why don't you go on up and see. I'm going out to patrol. I'll be back in a few hours." She armed herself and stepped out into the humid air.


She was efficient but not brutal on patrol, dusting vamps left and right. //The more of them I stake at night, the fewer Will and Xander have to deal with during the day.// She moved like a well-oiled machine, and with about the same level of enthusiasm; there was no banter tonight as she did her job methodically. She had finished her rounds when she spotted Willow in the distance - there was no mistaking that red hair. "Will!" she called and jogged in her direction, suddenly wanting to let everything that had happened that weekend spill out of her. She pulled up short when she saw another girl with Willow, and automatically concealed the stake she was carrying.

"Buffy! Hi! This is Tara, from my Wicca group. Tara, this is Buffy. She's my best friend." Buffy smiled and gave Tara a friendly nod, inwardly screaming in frustration that Willow hadn't been alone. Willow could see that Buffy was tense, not with the anticipatory tightness she got when she was patrolling, but in a bad way. Pulling Buffy aside, the witch asked "Is everything okay? Where have you been all day?"

Buffy softened a bit at her friend's evident concern, but only responded, "Nothing urgent. We'll talk tomorrow. Go have fun with your friend. I'll see you at the shop after you and Xander do a daytime sweep, okay?"

She turned away, and was surprised when Willow caught her arm a minute later. "Tara said you looked really upset, and that she'd take a rain check on our . . . plans. Why don't we talk now?" Buffy nodded in relief, and Willow steered them both to her room. "So . . ." Willow began, and was interrupted by a rush of words from Buffy.

"It's my mom. She's sick. I mean really sick. She's got a brain tumor, can you believe it? And we've been in the hospital all weekend, just waiting for her to come out of the room. And Giles said that the weather is being magically manipulated, which means there are vamps running around 24/7 now. The only good part has been Spike, and even that is weirding me out. I mean, there I was, relying on him, trusting him, and he was living up to it, and then suddenly - wham! - he says I shouldn't forget that he's a killer at heart. What am I supposed to do?" Willow sat beside Buffy on the bed, and put her arms around her, but Buffy was too confused to even cry. They sat together in silence, cheek-to-cheek.

Continue: Part 3/15
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

Long Buffy fic: "Two-Part Invention" (part 3)

Buffy didn't know what to think when she saw Spike sitting on her front porch, smoking his last cigarette. She'd sat with Willow, been held and comforted, for only an hour, before she remembered that she'd promised to be home by eleven. "Spike? What's wrong?" she asked, fear clenching up her throat before his fairly relaxed demeanor registered.

"Your Watcher just called me," he replied, holding out her cell phone. "Was a bit flustered when he got William the Bloody instead of Buffy the Slayer, but eventually he sputtered out his message."

"And that was what?" she asked wearily, sure of hearing more bad news.

"That you've got to do the daytime patrol tomorrow, pet. Apparently the Council of Wankers sent over a big box o' books on this weather situation we've been havin'. So he needs Willow and the whelp to help him read, leaving you to do the slayin'. He seems to think three heads are better than one, even if one of them is Xander's."

Buffy half-smiled at his derogatory tone and he smiled back. "But why did you come all the way over here? You could have just called."

"I tried that, love, but I kept getting your soddin' machine, and it kept bloody cutting me off."

"There must be a lot of messages on there. Dawn must have turned off the ringer so that Mom could sleep. Do you want to come in?" He followed her in and sat at the kitchen table while she played the messages. The first was from Xander and the second from Willow. She stiffened in surprise when she heard her dad's voice next, leaving the phone number of his hotel in Spain, where he'd be on business for a few months. Giles was next, and she relaxed slightly, hearing in his voice all the paternal affection she hadn't been able to detect in the previous message.

Her Watcher's speech sounded curiously flat coming out of her machine: "Buffy? Are you there? Is everything all right? I tried your cell phone, but . . . Spike . . . answered it. He said you offered it to him so he'd have a way to reach you if the Initiative returned. But, um, I have good news. The Council has sent over some texts that they feel may help us with the meteorological situation at hand, and I was planning on recruiting Willow and Xander to help me go through them tomorrow. That means you'll have to do the daytime patrol as well. We'll meet at the shop after that, at around two? I'll see you tomorrow, Buffy."

Spike could hear Giles's love for Buffy in his voice and smiled; too often the Watcher seemed like only a stern taskmaster disciplining a wayward child, but that evidently wasn't the case. //Good thing she's got him, considering that wanker that claims to be her father obviously doesn't give two shits about Joyce and the kids.//

He frowned as Riley's voice, punctuated by several small gaps of static in which words were lost, filled the kitchen: "Buffy . . . Riley . . . flight's delayed . . . tomorrow night . . . miss you . . . class on Monday? . . . need to talk . . . do this over the phone . . . tomorrow." The message was long, and filled most of the remainder of the tape. Buffy was guiltily aware that she'd forgotten that Riley was due in that night, and felt even more ashamed that she was glad his flight was delayed; after the Friday and Saturday she'd had, she didn't know how much more she could take.

She stopped beating herself up when she heard Spike's recorded voice on the playback: "Slayer? Niblet?" Quieter, he asked "Joyce?" He paused and then continued, "Listen, Slayer, your Watch-" The machine cut him off. He was swearing as he started to leave his second message, speaking more quickly this time: "The Watcher called your cell and got me instead of you. So of course he thought I'd made away with you, despite the soddin' chip in my head. Like I'd answer your phone if I'd just finished draining you! Really -" The machine cut him off again. This time, as his third message started, his curses were more fluent. "So after a good bit of backand -forth, he says that no one's pickin' up at your house, and he needs to be certain you get the message that you're on for daytime patrol tomorrow, and would I make sure you get the message, as I've got nothin' better to do -"

Buffy waited for a fourth message, but there wasn't one. She turned and faced him, trying to arch one eyebrow the way he and Giles could. //It must be a British thing// she decided when she realized she couldn't do it. He looked slightly sheepish for having left so many rambling messages, but instead of teasing him, she offered him a real smile. "What?" he asked, unsure of what he'd done to merit that sweet smile.

"Thank you for not telling Giles or anybody about my mom, about this weekend."

"But you are going to tell him, aren't you, Slayer?" he asked, his brow knit with worry.

"Yes, of course. But it's just nice that it's up to me to decide when." He nodded in understanding, knowing how much she cherished control. They sat in silence for a moment, and then Spike pushed his chair back from the table and stood, ready to leave. "Do you want to come with me tomorrow?" she asked. "To patrol? And then to the shop? You could help us go through the books."

It was on the tip of his tongue to ask why the hell he'd want to sit in the same room as Xander, but then he looked at her tired face and found himself agreeing. "Don't know how much help I'll be, though, love. The way the Council writes, taking eight pages to say what only needed a few lines - it's enough to drive a bloke mad." She was looking at him questioningly, as if he hadn't really answered her, so he said, "I'll pick you up here at eleven. That good?" She nodded and walked him to the front door.


//She's lovely in the light.// That seemed to be all he could think as they patrolled the cemeteries together at high noon. Of course, there wasn't any direct sunlight. It was just that the air didn't have the dusky darkness that he associated with the sight of her. He watched her as she moved smoothly among the headstones, her grace never quite concealing her strength.

He didn't realize that she was watching him too. She saw his loping gait, the power and energy he held in check evident just in the fluid way he walked. She remembered his warning - "You need to know what I really am" - and the fateful way in which he'd said those dangerous words. But it was easier said than done. Who knew what Spike really was anymore? He was a master vampire with a chip that kept him from hurting humans, a man and demon in one, and the friend who'd done everything he could for her mother. She didn't know if Spike knew any better than she did who he really was. She wondered why he'd uttered that caveat.

She spun as she heard him shout, "Buffy! Behind you!" Her right foot shot out automatically, and she kicked one of the vamps that was heading for her to the side. She dared a glance in Spike's direction, assessing their situation. He'd been jumped; one vamp was crawling up him like a child wanting a piggyback ride, and another two were grinning at him, satisfied that he was helpless. His stake had been kicked out of his hand. //No!// she refused to see Spike beaten. Her newfound rage aided her attack, and soon all five of the vamps that had been gunning for her had fallen before Mr. Pointy. Spike was still struggling, but there was a wicked glint in his eye that gave her pause. He'd shaken off the clingy vamp and kicked her hard enough for her to think that crawling away was a good idea, but he was still at a disadvantage, facing two big vamps without a weapon. One of them reached out and pushed him on the chest, and Spike went down easily. //That was too easy// Buffy thought. //He must be planning something.// And indeed his fighting grin was suddenly plastered on his face. Half-sitting, half-reclining on his forearms, Spike's hand moved to his waistband and he unfastened his belt with nimble fingers. He pulled it free of his jeans and wrapped it around his hand a few times, letting the heavy buckle swing loose. In one clean, forceful motion he swung it at his two attackers as they leaned forward to get him, and the edges of the buckle, carefully sharpened for just such an occasion, sliced neatly through their necks. They fell into dust before his eyes.

Buffy ran up to him as he was putting his belt back on. "You missed a loop," she said in an overly dry tone.

He looked down at her, catching the uncertainty she thought she'd hidden. "What's the matter, love? A bit too gruesome? I discovered last time that I don't like bein' left without a weapon. So I made a virtue of necessity."

"I thought you always had a weapon. You know . . ." she gestured vaguely at his face.

"Oh, the vamp powers? Yes, they're all well and good, but drinking a vampire is like drinking the Sahara. 'Sides, the belt comes in awfully handy." She was still silent, so he prodded a bit more. "What is it that's botherin' you? Is it that they died because of a belt, or that the belt is mine?" She felt strangely compelled to answer him.

"It's that you were enjoying it so much. And now I know what that's like. I did it too." Her voice had sunk to a shamed whisper.

"Did what, love?" he asked, stepping close so that he could hear her quiet voice.

"The day we found out about my mom, I had to do a patrol. And there were only two vampires. I dusted one quick, but then I . . . toyed with . . . the other one. I tortured him. I wanted to inflict as much pain as I was in. It was like music every time I heard another of his bones snap, every groan he made. I couldn't believe it was me doing all that, but it was." She finally looked up at him, and he could see tears swimming in her eyes, waiting to fall.

"Shh, easy now, love," he murmured as she stepped into his arms. "So it's happened once. And I doubt, from what you're sayin', that it'll ever happen again. You were hurt and confused, and you had all of this power inside you, screaming to be let out. Usually you're able to control it, but too much had happened, what with your mum bein' ill and your mortal enemy bein' the only person who was around. Trust me, love, I've felt that bloodlust much worse, and I haven't given in to it in over thirty years. Since before you were born. You'll never succumb again, I promise you."

"No," she breathed.

"Buffy?" he questioned her, his head tipping to one side as he studied her.

"No, you're not my mortal enemy," she continued as if he hadn't interrupted. "We were enemies at one point, but now . . . I don't know. I think we might be friends."

He stepped back and held her eye as he declared defiantly, "I'm not one of your bloody Scoobies."

"No," she agreed. "You're special." He grinned at that, and moved forward once more to hold her. He had the right to hold her.


They walked into the Magic Box together, Buffy feeling more relaxed than she'd believed was possible. "We're done patrolling, and we're ready to read!" she announced in a voice that was almost cheerful. Giles, Xander, Willow, and Anya all turned to look at her, and the odd looks on their faces made her distinctly uneasy. "What? I'm not late, am I? Nope. It's quarter to two. I'm actually early. What's the matter?" Xander and Willow looked down, and Giles cleared his throat uncomfortably; only Anya maintained her level gaze.

Behind Buffy, Spike shifted uneasily. His first thought had been that it was his presence, or rather the presence of him and the Slayer together, that was bothering her friends; he quickly realized, however, that none of them had even glanced his way. He put a hand on the small of the Slayer's back and guided her to a chair at the end of the research table. She sank into it slowly, and repeated, "What?"

"Buffy," Giles began, "we need to talk to you . . ." He had been going to add "alone," but then he noticed how she'd angled her body to keep Spike in her line of sight, how she leaned back in her chair when he touched her shoulder briefly.

Buffy heard his unspoken word, however, and she said, "Spike stays. I asked him to help out, and he agreed, so anything that has to do with this weather thing involves him too. This is about the weather thing, isn't it?"

"Yes," her Watcher agreed quickly, then stopped, at a loss as to how to proceed. He took a deep breath and pushed forward. "When we opened the box, there was a letter concealed between two of the books. It was from Thomas, and it was addressed to me. It said that the books would be a nice addition to my library, but that they wouldn't prove useful in breaking the hold of whatever's got Sunnydale's weather in its grip. He said he did some unauthorized poking around and found the prophecy that would help. He sent it in the letter - it's quite short. As much as I hate it, Buffy, I have to believe that this prophecy is the one we need. Thomas's sister called me this morning; he was found dead outside Council headquarters."

"I'm sorry, Giles," she responded immediately, reaching a hand out towards him.

The heaviness on the Watcher's face remained. "You still need to hear the prophecy, Buffy," was his only answer. He looked down at the letter in his hand and opened his mouth, but found he couldn't bring himself to utter those words. He pulled off his glasses and rubbed the back of his hand savagely across his wet eyes, holding out the paper with his other hand.

Xander reluctantly took it and stumblingly read it, his voice clogged with unshed tears: "Two souls, one of darkness, one of light, must ally. Their onion - sorry - union . . . Their union alone can separate day in night and night in day."

"Three guesses as to who the 'soul of darkness' is," Buffy said miserably, looking down at the wooden table.

"What's this about 'union,' Watcher?" Spike asked, stepping forward.

"Union, you know . . ." Giles faltered.

"No, I don't know. That's why I asked. It can mean anything from simple alliance to . . . sexual tie. Is that the best translation job they could do? We need to find the original text and translate it ourselves."

"Spike," Giles answered, keeping his voice low, "this prophecy was written in English. They're not all in dead languages. 'Union' is the word we have to deal with. My guess would be that it means the sexual liaison that you mentioned, as Buffy and Angel are already, in a sense, sort of allies, albeit long-distance ones."

Buffy flinched when she heard Angel's name spoken so openly, and Spike's eyes shifted to her instantly. "Slayer?" He made it a question not with a lift in his voice but with the concern written across his face.

She raised her eyes slowly to meet his, unable to look at anyone else in the room. "I think I liked 'onion' better," she said softly before she ran out of the shop on unsteady legs.


Trembling or not, the girl was endowed with Slayer speed, and only Spike was able to catch up with her. He caught her in his arms, allowing her to sag against him and beat oddly harmless fists against his chest. "I can't do it, Spike," she said in a ragged whisper. "I can't let him back into my life. Not ever, but especially not now, with everything else that's going on."

"I know, love, I know," he soothed, seeing her Watcher approach. The dismay on her face as he let go of her nearly broke his heart, but Giles pulled her into an embrace before she could say a word. She shifted in Giles's arms so that she could see Spike; satisfied that he wasn't going anywhere, she closed her eyes and let her Watcher rock her gently.

"Giles," she said into his chest, hearing Xander and Willow come running up, "I have bad news too." She could feel Spike standing next to Giles, and his presence gave her the strength to continue. "It's my mom. She's got a brain tumor, and she needs to have an operation. I found out yesterday." She kept her face buried in his chest as she talked, but she knew they'd heard every word.

Giles abruptly stopped rocking and stepped back, putting his hands on Buffy's shoulders so that he could look her in the face, but she kept her head down. Spike came up behind her and looped one arm around her waist, offering her his strength to lean against. She drooped against him, her back resting on his chest, and she finally looked up to meet Giles's distraught gaze. "Buffy, I'm so sorry," he said. "Any help I can give you is yours - you know that." His words were echoed by Willow and Xander, hovering anxiously over her.

"Thank you," she said, a small smile on her face at last. "I think we've got it covered, but it's good to know there's always backup. I really wanted you guys to know."

She turned to Spike, ready to go, but he was looking at Giles. "What now, Watcher? What are you going to do about that prophecy?"

Giles wanted desperately to avoid the question, but he forced himself to answer Spike. "I suppose I'll call Angel, let him know what the situation is. Hopefully he'll understand that this is not an invitation back into Buffy's life; it is simply necessity, a matter of life and death." Giles looked up to see Spike's eyes meeting his sympathetically, as if they were allies, and he knew the vampire didn't want Angel back any more than he did. The Watcher's eyes widened as realization hit - Spike was in love with Buffy.


When he saw disbelief on the Watcher's usually impassive face, Spike knew his secret was out. He held Giles's gaze, willing him to understand that he hadn't told Buffy; the last thing she needed at this point was upheaval in her love life. Giles was startled by the message Spike's eyes were sending him, and he kept quiet, knowing Buffy would need as many allies as she could muster if she was going to deal with her mother's illness and the monumental awkwardness brought about by the prophecy. Spike nodded, satisfied that the Watcher would keep his secret, and steered Buffy home.

They weren't touching as they walked along, but each was acutely aware of the other as a physical presence. //It's like there's a bubble around us, so that there's only us right now// Buffy thought confusedly. //It's nice.//

Her mother met them at the front door, wearing a purple sleeveless dress, and Spike brightened perceptibly at the sight of her. "Up and about, are we?" he grinned at her, pleased that she looked strong and healthy once more. "Looks like you won't need a chauffeur for much longer."

Joyce smiled at him, touched by his obvious pleasure. She turned to Buffy, still smiling. "Sweetie, you've got a visitor. Why don't you go see him, and I'll make Spike some hot chocolate," she said, winking conspiratorially at the vampire.

Spike's heart sank as he understood that Riley was waiting for Buffy //she's his girlfriend, you wanker// inside the house. "No, thanks, Joyce," he said quickly. "Don't want to wear you out. But I'll take a rain check, all right?"

"Are you sure? It's no trouble. And I'd really like to do something for you, after all you've done for me."

"You already have," he said, turning from her to look at Buffy for a long moment before he turned and walked down the front porch steps.


She couldn't believe she'd forgotten about Riley again, in the space of less than a day. She'd spent the day thinking about her mother, slaying, crying in Spike's arms, dreading the return of Angel, and crying in Giles's arms. //True, these aren't small problems, but what kind of a girlfriend am I that Riley seems like just one more obstacle to face, one more problem to solve?// She realized that there wasn't a single part of her mind that had whispered that things would seem better once he came back; her mind had apparently chosen Spike to fill that role.

Riley stood when Buffy walked into the den, noting that her eyes were rimmed with pink, matching the color of her tank top. "Buffy? What's wrong?" he asked, wanting to hold her and kiss away all of her problems, knowing even as he thought it that she never had crises that were so easily solved.

"It's um . . . nothing. Just with this weather, the vamps have been carousing around the clock, so we're all kind of tired, and probably a bit on edge." She tried to laugh deprecatingly, inwardly wincing as she heard how false it sounded, but Riley didn't seem to notice.

"Buffy," he began, and bent his legs and then straightened halfway up again.

"Yeah?" she asked, sitting next to him, and he finally decided to sit all the way down too.

"Buffy, we need to talk." Without meaning to, her head dropped toward her chest, making it nearly impossible for him to see her face clearly. He moved off the couch and got on one knee in front of her, peering up at her. "I did a lot of thinking this week. About us, about what my life was before you, and what you've made of it since. And I love you; I want to be with you forever." She hated that word, the word she'd used in her head every time Angel came near her, the word that ultimately betrayed. All she had "forever" were memories, more painful than not. "But I don't know if you want that too."

"What?" she asked, surprised by the turn in his speech. "Riley, I -" She paused, expecting him to interrupt her, but he simply knelt and watched her. His silence unnerved her; she went on the attack. "What do you mean? Of course I don't know about forever! We haven't been dating for that long, and anyway, we're too young to be having this conversation."

"No, Buffy, we're not. People younger than us break up all the time." She gaped at him, unable to believe she'd heard him correctly. He gave her a sad smile and continued. "It was weird being home, staying in my old room. My folks hadn't changed anything. All my trophies were still lined up against one wall, plaques hanging above them - debate, wrestling, football, Olympics of the Mind, everything. And, dumb as it sounds, I thought I'd like to bring you to Iowa someday, and have you see all these awards, have you meet my family, introduce you to my friends." She looked like she was about to cry. He hastened on, "But then it hit me. What those trophies really meant. All my life, I was an overachiever. I put my mind to it, worked hard, kept my nose to the grindstone, whatever clich, you want to use. And I succeeded - the trophies proved it. But at the end of the day, all they meant was that I was an ordinary kid who was just a bit smarter or faster or stronger than the rest. They didn't make me special." She opened her mouth to argue, but he didn't give her the chance. "You are special, Buffy. You're extraordinary. And you don't have any trophies - people can't even conceive of what you do, let alone design a hokey metallic commemorative figurine for it. Looking at those trophies, I realized I'd never be special enough for you, that I wasn't the guy you were going to end up with. I mean, they write prophecies about you! Demons the world over are gunning for you. I don't belong with you; I'm just too ordinary." She couldn't find any words; she couldn't even hold onto any one emotion long enough to recognize it. He stood slowly and bent to kiss her cheek. "I'm sorry, Buffy."


She was numb. He'd closed the door quietly as he left, but she hadn't moved a muscle since he'd kissed her. She got up and put the kettle on, moving dazedly about the kitchen, filling a mug with cocoa mix and hot water, adding a splash of milk at the end. She finally came out of her haze as the first gulp of cocoa slipped down her throat, scalding as it went. Buffy smiled bitterly - //at least I didn't have to tell him about the Angel prophecy//. She sipped her drink again, wincing at its heat even though the air conditioner was running at full blast. ////I wonder if the Powers That Be did this - getting Riley out of the way so that I'd be free to have my goddamn union with Angel.// She considered it briefly, then dismissed it - //no, he sounded sincere. And the Powers would have done something more dramatic, like him dying in a fire, trying to save a kitten. They'd never have him just . . . leave me.//


"All's well with you and Phineas?" Spike asked as he walked up the front porch steps that night, ready to patrol with the Slayer.

"Who?" she mumbled, not really listening; she'd found that she couldn't seem to concentrate on any one thing for more than a few seconds.

"Soldier-boy. Finn." When she still looked blank, he rolled his eyes and said, "You know? Your ever-exciting boyfriend?"

//Oh, yeah. Him.// "He seems to be fine," she answered. "He apparently did a lot of thinking while he was away."

"Yeah? Come up with anything earth-shattering?" he asked, sarcasm heavy in his tone even as he talked around the cigarette he'd bent his head to light.

"Yup. He's not worthy of me, so as a favor to me, or the universe, or somebody, he's let me go. Never mind my opinion of the whole matter. He's off like a speeding bullet." //Why do they always leave me?//

The cigarette fell from Spike's mouth as he gaped at her. "He's gone? No more Mr. Mazola?" Elation was building up inside of him until he saw how small she'd made herself by hunching over like a mistreated puppy. "You alright, love?" he asked more gently. "Wait . . . " - suddenly there was pure anger on his face - "this wasn't because of the damn prophecy, was it?" //Damn him for hurting her now. It's not like she wrote the prophecy herself to get Angel back.//

"No, he didn't stick around for story hour. He just went on and on about how I'm special, I'm on a cosmic scale, and he's just a regular guy with some dinky trophies."

The last part threw him a little, but he smirked, "Maybe he was smarter than I thought. Ordinary's exactly the right word for him."

She turned away, and what he could see of her profile betrayed the emergence of a longstanding sadness. "Buffy? What is it, love?" She shook her head stubbornly, not wanting to share what had hurt her the most about Riley's grand finale. But Spike was not about to be denied. He stepped over to her and turned her to face him. "What? Tell me, pet. You're not in any shape to go patrolling when you're wound this tight."

She knew he wouldn't relent, so she spoke quickly, in as flat a tone as she could muster. "When he said he was ordinary, I was thinking that that sounded like a good thing. But then he started saying that I wasn't ordinary. I knew he meant it as a compliment, but it felt like he was calling me inhuman. You know, he's human, and I'm different, so what does that make me? As much as I hate it sometimes, I don't want to stop being the Slayer, ever. But I wish it didn't make me feel like a monster." Despite her best efforts, her voice fell at the last word, becoming nearly inaudible, but Spike heard her anyway.

"Monster?" he repeated, taken completely aback. "No, not at all. Look, love, as big of an ass as he was - is - he really was giving you a compliment. You are extraordinary. Bein' the Slayer makes you so. You can do things most humans can't. But that's not what makes you special - what makes you special is being Buffy, being the kind of friend and sister and daughter you are. Even with the handicap of being the Slayer, you've held on to your humanity. And that's something lots of ordinary humans can't do. Understand?" She nodded slightly, marveling at his eloquence, at his defense of her. "Speak up, love, I can't hear you," he teased, chucking her softly under the chin. When she rolled her eyes at him, he knew she was okay. "You'll have to do better than that" - he mimicked her tiny nod perfectly - "or else I'll make you write 'I am special' fifty times on a blackboard." She grinned at the Simpsons reference and abruptly did a cartwheel on her front lawn.

"Better?" she asked, only half-joking.

"Yeah," he smiled, "and see? You always end up right side up."


They worked effortlessly in tandem as they patrolled and fought. Buffy could feel that her mind was letting something simmer on the back burner, but it wasn't ready to become conscious thought yet. She shrugged mentally; she felt surprisingly strong, and she knew she'd be able to deal. Rounds done, they walked towards the shop, bantering as easily as they had in the graveyards. They were having a discussion about each other's best moves of the night, demonstrating them as they went along. "I liked this one" - Buffy crouched low, her weight mostly on her left haunch, and then sprang up suddenly, right foot lashing out, leg hooking around as she pivoted, aiming for an imaginary vamp's throat - "a lot."

"Yeah, it's a good move," he agreed with no false modesty at all.

"But you know what makes it even better?" she sidled up to him, giving him a sideways glance. "The duster. The way it hid your legs from your opponent, the way it settled back around you after you finished the kick. It just looked so cool, so Matrix-y."

"Yeah?" he queried, clearly pleased. "Wish I could have seen it, then." He paused, then asked, "What do I look like?"

She was startled out of her ease. "What do you mean? You look like you did before you were turned, when you could still see yourself in mirrors."

"Yeah, but it's been a long time, love. And mirrors back then weren't entirely reliable; they were still figuring out the chemical processes needed to make glass reflect. I just want to know."

"Um, okay. You've got dark blue eyes, a really noticeable scar on your eyebrow . . ."

"That part I know, Slayer," he said, sounding amused. "I very distinctly remember getting that scar. I mean what do I really look like? Do I still look like this?" He dug in his pocket for a slim, flat wallet, and pulled a small square of paper, folded a few times, from its recesses. "Matthew - the man who did the illustrations for the newspaper - did a sketch of me the night I finished my first story." She took the paper and unfolded it eagerly.

There on the page was Spike. He had longer, darker hair, and it was slightly curly, and he wore a pair of thin-rimmed glasses; the eyes, however, were pure Spike. He had a look of energy, of determination. Matthew had captured him in a few strokes of a pen. The hollow cheeks, the direct gaze, the emotions in his eyes, all confirmed the latest version of his autobiography. "Yeah," she said in surprise, "you do still look like that."

He glanced at her briefly, then shrugged and put the paper away again. "Just curious." They walked along for a few minutes before he said, "Know which move I liked best?" She shook her head. He jogged a little ahead of her to give himself room to demonstrate. "It was this one." He planted himself firmly on both feet, right leg slightly behind the left. Without warning, he delivered a snap kick to the chin of an invisible foe. "And you know what the best part is? That you've got a stake in his heart even before your leg has come down. Now that's class." He grinned at her and turned, surprised to discover that they were directly in front of the Magic Box. He held the door open for her, and they went in to the sound of the door chimes overhead.


He plowed into Buffy, who'd gone stiller than a statue just inside the doorway. Spike froze too when he saw Angel sitting in one of the work table chairs talking to Giles. Xander, Willow, and Anya were standing in a stiff line, watching the two men. All five turned when they heard the chime. Angel stood and walked toward the Slayer, unable to keep his eyes from her beautiful face. She took an involuntary half-step back, and her heel ground down on the toe of Spike's left boot. He made no move to release his trapped foot, remembering how desperately she'd held his arm in the hospital; he wished he could touch her again, reassure her that she had somebody unconditionally on her side. But he knew he couldn't, that she needed to appear strong and independent in front of the man who'd broken her once before. "Buffy," Angel said with a smile as he approached her.

She couldn't speak. Behind her, she heard a voice //Spike's voice// fill the void and drawl, "Bit eager, aren't you, mate? Came rushin' down as fast as your little legs would take you?"

Angel stopped moving and looked at his impertinent childe. "Spike," he acknowledged with a curt nod.

"Or did you tear off in the Angelmobile, braving that infamous L.A. traffic for a chance to see her again, knowin' that this time she couldn't refuse you?" Spike continued without pause. "Odds are, you're a bit early, mate. There's still rituals to be done, to determine the best night for the prophecy to be undertaken, all that sort of thing. So you might have spared us, and only come down at the last minute."

Angel's eyes narrowed, but Giles interrupted, surprised out of his silence. "How did you know about the spells?"

"I've been around for a good long time now. I've got the order of things pretty much down."

"Actually, Spike," Willow stepped forward, trying to ease the situation so that Buffy would stop looking petrified and come sit down, "I'm not that experienced in casting these sort of spells. It'll be easier for me if I've got both Angel and Buffy in the same room." Spike looked at her and nodded, understanding why she'd spoken. He pushed Buffy gently to the table, pulling out the chair that was the most removed from Angel's. She sank into it without a murmur.

Xander stepped forward and cupped her shoulder protectively, showing his disdain for Angel by completely ignoring his presence. Spike backed off, wanting to give them a little privacy, but Xander frowned as he moved away, and indicated with a jerk of his head that Spike should stay right where he was; it was his intent to keep Buffy surrounded, to keep her from having to look at Angel. He began chatting with Spike so that Buffy could follow their conversation rather than be alone with the thoughts in her head. Spike kept up his end of the repartee, his estimation of the boy soaring. Anya was moving excitedly about the shop, gathering the items necessary for the spell, and Giles was coaching Willow quietly in one corner, referring to a large leather-bound book on his lap.

Angel approached Buffy once more, saying quietly, "It's good to see you again, Buffy." She nodded without looking up, and smiled wanly. "How is everything?" he continued.

"Fine," she said, not wanting to tell him the truth about her mother. //He and Mom never really got along anyway. It's not like he'd really care; he's only making small talk.//

"School okay?" he asked, wanting her to look at him.

"Yeah, we start again tomorrow, actually," she said, looking up at last, but going no higher than the third button on Angel's shirt.

"And how's, um, that guy - Riley?"

"Oh, he's super," she responded. "He's got lots of trophies."

Xander frowned at that, but Spike only shook his head at him in a way that discouraged him from pursuing what Buffy had meant. "Great, that's great," Angel replied, unsure of what to do next. He abruptly pulled out the chair opposite hers and sat down, moving so quickly that she was startled into looking right at him.

At the sight of Angel, Buffy went into emotional overload. She realized again how handsome he was, and remembered how charming he had been. She cursed the timing of the prophecy, knowing that only a few years ago she'd have been more than happy to oblige the Powers by jumping into bed with him. And then, suddenly, all she could feel was anger. This man had once claimed her as his soulmate, as the love of his life, declaring that he was the love of hers, and where had that gotten her? //If you're the love of somebody's life, you stay for life. You don't make promises that you don't intend to keep.// She knew that she wasn't being rational, but she couldn't bring herself to care. She remembered the way Spike had looked when he talked about Dru; she had been insane, completely helpless at times, and still she had someone with her, loving her, for one hundred years and more. //Maybe that's just his nature - to do anything for love. And maybe Angel doesn't have that.// She didn't want to believe that; some part of her wanted to believe that Angel had been everything her dreams and heart had promised her first love would be. But now that he was gone from her life, she was able to see with clear eyes where he'd fallen short of her wishes, and more importantly, of her needs. Something else kept nudging at her brain; she couldn't catch it and keep it still long enough to identify it, but it still eased her mind. She raised her gaze to Angel's, feeling suddenly calm and sure of herself as she faced him, knowing that she'd laid the part of her that clung to his memory to rest. "Thanks for getting here so quickly. I guess you were as shocked as I was at such a prophecy?" she asked.

"Oh yeah," he affirmed with a gusty sigh. "Somebody up there must really like the idea of the two of us."

She nodded, adding, "It probably appeals to their sense of irony."

Anya returned, her arms full, and caught the last few remarks. "Oh, the Powers don't really have a sense of irony. But I am surprised that the prophecy was so cheesy."

Angel looked up at her in surprise. "What do you mean?" he asked, looking to Giles, who had risen at Anya's penetrating voice.

Anya saw that the whole group had gathered around her. She said, "You know, Hollywood-ish. It's straight out of Ladyhawke."

"What's Ladyhawke?" Buffy asked.

Willow started to answer her, "Oh come on, Buffy, I even made you watch . . ." but was cut off by Anya's gasp of comprehension.

"Of course! The Powers aren't stealing from Hollywood; Hollywood executives must be the Powers in disguise." No one commented on Anya's theory, and Willow responded once more to Buffy's question.

"Remember when I was going through my Matthew Broderick phase, and I rented everything he was ever in? Ladyhawke was one of them. It's the one where there's a woman - Michelle Pfeiffer - who's a hawk by day and her lover is a wolf by night. They were separated by evil enchantment."

"And Matthew Broderick was the guy?" Buffy frowned, not remembering the movie at all.

"No, he was the thief," Willow responded, unaware that her answer didn't help in the slightest.

Anya jumped in, "They needed to break the spell, and then there was an eclipse, and that did it. End of story."

"Uh-huh," Buffy tried to look as if she were understanding the synopses flying through the air.

Anya sighed in exasperation and grabbed the prophecy from Giles and read it aloud: "Two souls, one of darkness, one of light, must ally. Their union alone can separate day in night and night in day."

Willow nodded, saying, "Wow. That last bit's almost verbatim."

Giles rolled his eyes and took Thomas's letter back and said, "Why don't we get started? Everybody's got an early day tomorrow, so the sooner the better. Are you ready, Willow? Angel? Buffy?"

Continue: Part 4/15
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

Long Buffy fic: "Two-Part Invention" (part 4)

Drusilla frowned at Darla's back as the blonde vampire paced restlessly about the cramped room. Miss Edith frowned too. All of that scrumptious Watcher blood had been theirs for the taking, but Darla had said no. She didn't even explain. And Miss Edith would not have been greedy. Darla was muttering to herself as she prowled, alternating words of frustration with words of encouragement. Her plan couldn't fail; it had worked like a charm up until this moment. Soon Angelus would be hers again.


Just as everybody had settled into their places for the spell - Willow, Angel, and Buffy forming an isosceles triangle while Anya, Xander, Giles, and Spike hovered nervously at its edges - Xander shattered the silence. "Wait! I just thought of something. What if the um, you know, union causes Angel's soul to go bye-bye?"

They all stopped, dumbfounded because none of them had remembered the danger. Anya grabbed the prophecy again and read it aloud once more, this time laying great emphasis on the word "souls" as she recited.

"Yeah, An, I know, but there's no mention of 'souls' after the deed is done," Xander responded. "It just says the weather thing will go away, but it doesn't promise that we won't be left with yet another problem." His chin jutted unmistakably towards Angel's hulking form.

Willow looked worriedly to Giles, asking, "They wouldn't do that, would they? Make us follow a prophecy that will cause even more problems? And what about Angel? He's . . . he's been on the good path, haven't you, Angel? Were you told that you'd have to make this decision again?" He shook his head silently.

Giles sighed heavily and tried his best to answer the witch. "I know it's not much help, Willow, but I have seen the Powers That Be work in mysterious ways . . ."

"I think you mean Pimps That Be," Spike muttered just loud enough for everyone to hear. Angel stood abruptly at the words, but Spike stared him down, then turned to the Watcher, appealing to him with outrage evident in his eyes. "I mean, where do they get off, makin' the Slayer into their personal prostitute? 'Shag this one and the end of the world won't be so nigh'? She's supposed to fight evil, not have to seduce it! And did anyone think that she might not want to do this? She's risked her life time and again, and it's still not enough! Now they're tellin' her to sell herself when in fact she's been doin' quite well, slaying vamps morning, noon, and night - she's countering the weather's effects already." He let his eyes fall at last on Buffy, and she was staring at him, open-mouthed. He dropped his eyes quickly before she understood all of his reasons for speaking out.

They turned as one in Angel's direction, and he directed his gaze at Buffy as he answered them all. "I don't know why this is happening, or what will happen when we follow the prophecy. All I can say is that I don't think that the one-moment-of-happiness punishment will activate this time."

"Why?" queried Giles, honestly curious about what the large vampire would say.

Xander stood with his arms crossed, ready to lash out if Angel maligned Buffy in any way at all. "Because I would know that she was with me because of a prophecy. Because it wouldn't be about me, about us, but rather about saving Sunnydale yet again."

It didn't escape Spike's attention that Buffy was almost involuntarily nodding in agreement with Angel's sad words, her eyes clear but fixed on a distant point. //She's not in love with the wanker anymore.// He wanted to shout it from the rooftops.

Giles cleared his throat and focused on the Slayer. "Buffy? What do you think?" She considered for a moment and then answered slowly, biting the inside of her cheek as she spoke, "I believe him. I think he'll still be Angel afterwards. But I think Spike's right too. I mean, so far, we've kept the vamp levels pretty much normal simply by routine slaying. And Spike can do the daytime patrols while I'm at school this week. So I don't think we need to bother with the prophecy after all. Do you?"


Spike felt like crowing. He was walking the Slayer home after she'd left the ponce with a flea in his ear. Giles had asked Angel to stick around for a few days, just in case the situation somehow worsened and the prophecy needed to be enacted after all, but Angel hadn't looked at all happy. //Maybe he's finally figurin' out this is not a girl you can just love and leave. That she's not goin' to sit by and wait for him when she's got a life of her own to live.// They reached her house, and he walked up the steps with her.

She had her key in the lock before she turned to face him and said, "Thanks, Spike. It was like everything became clear when you said what you said. I mean the whole prophecy was icky - hello, emotional baggage! - but when I saw him, it was like I just couldn't think at all. I felt sort of doomed to obey." He nodded in understanding as she met his eyes. She opened the door, then smiled and said, "And sorry for volunteering you for daytime patrol, but I just wanted a good reason not to go through with the prophecy-sex."

He grinned back mischievously and said, "Not to worry, pet. I've been handed worse assignments . . . like washing Harris's delicates." He faked a shudder, and she had to laugh.

As she stepped into the hall, she heard her mother call out, "Is that Spike? If that's him, bring him in, Sweetie."

She turned to him and said, "You heard the woman. Come in or I'll be grounded." He laughed and stepped willingly inside.

They found Joyce in the kitchen looking enormously pleased with herself. She met Spike's eye questioningly as he entered and at his slight nod she put the kettle on. "Mom? What's going on?" Buffy asked suspiciously.

"Nothing. I just got Spike a little something to say thanks."

He backed up a step, shaking his head, "No, Joyce, you didn't have to do that. I told you. I'm happy to be of service."

"Nonsense. And anyway, it really is a little thing." She reached over to a basket on the counter and handed a fruit to Spike. He cocked one eyebrow at her and decided to play along. He began peeling it, and his eyes widened as he pulled it in two.

"What is it?" he asked, sounding like a child.

"It's a blood orange," Joyce laughed at his surprise. "I saw them when Dawn and I went grocery shopping today and we thought of you. You don't have to eat it. I just thought you'd get a kick out of seeing it."

He seated himself at the counter and smiled up at her as he popped one sliver into his mouth. "There's something else," she went on.

"Another gift? No. I can't accept it," he said firmly.

"But this one is for me, Spike," Joyce answered quickly. He was clearly puzzled, but he obeyed when she said, "Just close your eyes."

He felt something being placed on his head and opened his eyes when he heard the mingled laughter of mother and daughter. "What? What is it?"

"See for yourself," the Slayer answered, and he pulled it off his head to look. It was a chauffeur's cap, black with a velvet visor.

"I couldn't resist," Joyce said, half-guilty, half-gleeful.

"Put it on again," Buffy said. "It looks good on you." He obliged but pulled it off quickly when he heard Dawn coming toward the kitchen.

"Hey, Snicker-Snacker," he greeted her just as his mug of hot chocolate was placed in front of him.

"Hey, Spike. Nice hair," she responded.


He reached up a hand to smooth it back down, but Buffy said, "Don't. I like it better this way." He shrugged and turned his attention back to his drink and the orange's sweet crescents. Between sips of her own cocoa, Buffy eyed Spike surreptitiously. His tousled hair was catching one of the bright kitchen lights, and it looked like straw that had been spun by magic into gold. A knot was forming in her stomach; it almost hurt to look at him.


Buffy was making her way through toast and orange juice Monday morning when Dawn suddenly gasped and dropped her spoon, splashing milk and Rice Krispies onto the tablecloth. "Oh, crap! I forgot that our weekend assignment was to write a poem and be ready to read it out loud for the class!" She yanked open her backpack and pulled out a notebook, flipping hastily to a blank page. She tapped her pen impatiently on the paper, waiting for inspiration to strike, but nothing happened. Then she remembered the poem she'd written in her diary on Thursday and raced upstairs to copy it into her notebook. She had to run all the way to school, but she still managed to snag a seat next to Kevin in homeroom.


Spike awoke to an unfamiliar sensation that at first he couldn't identify. After a moment's reflection, though, it hit him. Some vestigial sense of responsibility, aided and abetted by his pride in the Slayer's trust, had prompted him to wake up and do the morning patrol as he'd promised. He pulled on his dark clothes, cheerfully recollecting Buffy's epiphany from the night before - //she doesn't love him anymore//. He left the crypt with two stakes, whistling "Patience" as he walked through the first graveyard.


Buffy was in class, trying half-heartedly to pay attention. //It's not like I'll ever need math anyway.// She was too busy recalling the dream she'd had the night before, cut off abruptly by her alarm clock's shrill insistence. She'd been dressed in liquid gold, watching a wolf prowl. It was no ordinary wolf, but there was something about it that wouldn't allow her to classify it as a werewolf of the Oz type either. It stalked almost impatiently in front of her, making tight figure eights, although there were no chains or cages to keep it where it was, in the pouring rain. She looked into its golden eyes as it came steadily towards her, padding softly on its powerful, precise paws. She reached out and her slender fingers were lost in its dense, midnight-black fur, at once coarse and comforting. Abruptly the dark fur had transformed into black leather . . . and there the dream had ended as she'd been jerked out of sleep by the deejay's inane morning chatter.

Sitting in class, she felt her heart racing as it had the night before. She'd been having quite a few odd dreams, and she'd been remembering them, which was unusual unless they were prophetic. //But these aren't, and they're not important. I've got to stick to what's important right now// she ordered herself sternly. She watched as the professor worked through a few examples of integration before another thought popped into her mind. //I wonder how Spike's doing on patrol.//


Spike had moved from Guns 'n' Roses to Widespread Panic, and was still whistling as he worked. He'd only had a few vamps to stake, and it had helped that they'd been strangers to him. He switched from whistling to humming as he made his way to the fourth cemetery. Nothing was stirring, so after a quick walk around the perimeter, he headed for the gate once more. Something glittered in his peripheral vision, and he walked toward the grave marked "Elizabeth Sumner." There, dangling from the top of the tombstone, was a thin gold bracelet set with four small emeralds. Spike shook his head in disbelief and backed away. He looked down and saw the imprint of old-fashioned ankle boots on the dirt and sparse grass of the grave.

//That's got to be bloody Darla's soddin' bracelet.// He remembered the battles that had raged, Dru tearfully trying to appropriate it, claiming Miss Edith was insisting it be her tiara. Miss Edith wanted to be a princess just like Drusilla.

Spike had a clear picture in his mind of what must have occurred only a few short hours before. He saw Dru traipsing through the graveyard, Miss Edith tucked under one arm and the bracelet she'd stolen from Darla clutched tightly in her hand. She'd wandered until she saw this grave, and she ran her fingers over the inscribed name, murmuring, "Nasty slayer." She arranged Miss Edith prettily atop the tombstone and fastened the bracelet becomingly around the doll's head. And Dru and her doll drank tea and ate cakes on the grave of a young girl whose name closely resembled the slayer's.


//Deep breaths, Buffy. Come on, you can do this.// Buffy gave herself a wholly ineffective pep talk as she approached the classroom door. //So what if Riley's there. You don't need him.// She walked in with her head held high and her eyes found him immediately, staring off into space as if he were building castles in the air. It took a while for him to notice her, and he looked over at her with an uncertain smile. She nodded back and sat down as Professor Lillian came in and started taking attendance. //Just get through these ninety minutes and you can go to the shop// she promised herself. She perked up considerably at the thought.

She was utterly absorbed in class when suddenly her thumbs pricked. //Something's coming.// There was a sensation along her spine as if three of her vertebrae had been struck with xylophone mallets. //Vampire.// Her lips parted slightly as it felt like her stomach was filled with butterflies. //Spike.// She checked the clock and the window. The moment class was dismissed, she shot out the door and saw him, his long leather coat making him conspicuous among the barely clad college students. "What's going on? What's wrong? How did you find me?" she asked hurriedly, blinking in surprise when he put an arm firmly around her waist and walked quickly down the hall.

"We need to get to the shop. I found something," was all he said.

"Well, I was going there after class anyway, after I grabbed some lunch."

"We should go now," he responded, scanning the crowd alertly, "while I can keep an eye on you."

Giles was sitting at the research table, muttering under his breath, watching Anya with a jaundiced eye as she moved perkily about the shop. His gaze lightened as it fell on Buffy, and he appealed to his slayer. "Look at her! Says I don't arrange the merchandise properly, I don't deal with customers well, I don't know what's in stock. She says I'm lucky I've got her. I'll tell you, though . . ."

"Watcher," Spike cut in, "I've got bad news."

Giles fell silent and Buffy paled a little at Spike's somber words. He reached into his duster pocket and out came a clenched fist. He opened it so that they could both see at the same time the delicate bracelet lying on his palm. Buffy peered at it and then picked it up carefully, saying, "It's gorgeous."

"It's Darla's," he answered shortly, and she dropped it as if it had come to malevolent life in her hands. Spike told them what he'd seen and deduced while patrolling that morning.

"So Darla and Drusilla are back," Giles said, leaning back in his chair. "And they're after . . ."

"Angel," Buffy replied, just as Spike said "Angelus."

Buffy looked at him in surprise. "Not you?" Spike frowned, not understanding her question. She tried to clarify. "Wouldn't Dru be here to get you back?" she asked, her throat clenching so much it cost her an effort to spit out the words.

"Don't know. Depends if the thrall's broken."

"Shouldn't it have broken as soon as Angelus became Angel again? Like, ten minutes after you carried her away?"

"You'd think so, but it lasted well past that moment," he reminded her in a rigidly emotionless voice.

Giles stepped back into the conversational ring. "But why are they back now? Could they have gotten wind somehow of the prophecy? It can't just be coincidence, can it?"

"Doubt it, mate," was all Spike could say.


Buffy was at the door in a heartbeat. "Where are you going, Buffy?" the watcher asked, worried because he wasn't able to discern what she was thinking.

"I'm going patrolling," she said tightly.

"But Spike just finished . . ."

"She means to go to the mansion," Spike interrupted Giles, his strong fingers flexing unconsciously. "I doubt they'll be there, love."

She moved so fast that she was toe-to-toe with the vampire in less than a second. "Where else would they be?" she demanded, her eyes getting frantic. "What if it's not just Angel they're after? They could be plotting something even bigger. They're so powerful! Darla's his sire, and Dru's his . . ." She broke off when Spike's face tightened at the mention of his ex-lover's name. "Spike?" she asked in a small voice, "what happens if Dru wants you back?"

Giles frowned at the silence that followed that question. Spike was fighting for control, trying to resist the urge to take her in his arms and finally tell her that he loved her. At long last, he answered her. "Nothing happens, Slayer. I'm not getting back together with her. My love for her is a thing of the past. I loved her, I lost her, I moved on."

"But you said that the thrall was Angel's - I mean Angelus's - doing," Buffy argued, unable to believe she was virtually urging him back into Drusilla's arms. "That wasn't her choice. Maybe she still loves you."

"I hope not, Slayer. I don't want to hurt her. But seeing her under his thrall nearly destroyed me, and the only way I could put myself back together was by existing without her. At least she didn't intentionally betray me," he said, his mouth twisting in a sad smile. "She didn't make me regret being in love, and that meant I was able to do it again." Spike's eyes widened as he realized how close he'd come to letting the cat out of the bag.

Buffy had her eyes down, so she didn't see Spike's panic, but Giles did and he interrupted the tete-a-tete instantly. "Buffy? I'm sure Spike needs his rest, and Dawn needs to be picked up from school in about fifteen minutes. Get her and go home. But come by the shop tonight before your patrol and hopefully we'll have figured out where Darla and Drusilla might be hiding. All right?" She nodded, and the slayer and the vampire parted at the door.


Dawn was talking to a tall boy with dread locks, laughing at something he'd said even as she turned away, saying, "Bye. See you tomorrow." The carefree expression disappeared when she saw her sister walking toward her. "Buffy? What's the - Is it Mom? Is she okay?"

"Yes," Buffy answered firmly. "It's just that there are 24/7 vamps, and now they include Drusilla and Darla, so someone will be walking you home from now on."

Dawn's face dropped a little, but she understood the danger too well to argue. As the Slayer's little sister, she was a prime target. Then she brightened. "Can it be Spike?"

"I don't know," Buffy replied, taken aback. She'd been prepared for Dawn to demand Xander, not the vampire. "I can ask him, but we've already got him doing morning patrols. I don't know when he's going to sleep, since I'm sure he'll want to do the night sweeps too."

"Okay," Dawn agreed amiably. "Just ask him. And if he can't, get Xander." Buffy could only smile at her sister's resilience.

Continue: Part 5/15
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

Long BUffy fic: "Two-Part Invention" (part 5)

"Nothing? Nothing at all?" Buffy was asking incredulously. "Even with all these books?"

Giles felt horribly guilty, sending his slayer flying blind, when he knew Darla and Drusilla were on the loose, but he simply hadn't been able to find anything, either in his books, or through the demon grapevine, about where they might be.

As she stood, Spike was right there beside her. "Don't worry, pet, you won't be going in alone."

Willow looked up from her seat next to Giles and smiled at them as they turned to leave the shop. "Be careful, Buffy. You too, Spike," she called, and as they exited Xander entered to pick up Anya.

When she saw him, she smiled but continued on with her enthusiastic restocking; Giles, in an effort to win some quiet research time for himself, had capitulated completely to her demands to reorganize the shop. Xander sighed, knowing he wouldn't be going home with her anytime soon, and seated himself next to Willow. "Hey, G-man, what's with the frown?"

"It's Spike," Giles answered slowly.

"I know the feeling. The bleached wonder always makes me want to turn my smile upside down."

"No, it's . . . it's . . ." Giles hesitated before taking them into his confidence, turning to make sure Anya was nowhere near. "Spike's in love with Buffy," he informed her two best friends in a low tone.

"What! Has the whole world gone mad! He can't!" Xander exclaimed, overturning his chair in his rush to leap indignantly from it.

Willow looked taken aback, but she seemed fairly calm. "How do you know, Giles?" she asked.

"I . . . um . . . deduced it," he finally responded, not wanting to say that he'd read it in the other man's eyes. "And you can't deny that he's been acting quite differently around her for some time now."

They were all silent for a moment. "He's been different around all of us, don't you think?" Willow finally ventured, smiling a little.

"Will? How can you be so calm when you know he's out there with her now? Alone with her right now?" Xander demanded frantically. "Am I the only one who remembers the Angel saga in excruciating detail?"

"No," she replied a little defensively. "I just don't think that applies here. I mean, if Spike's in love with her, he's going to be good. And the soul thing is moot, no matter what happens. And, anyway, we've already seen the worst he can be, when he had the Gem of Amara, and it wasn't that bad. He just went straight for the kill, no head-games, no torturing. And now he's chipped. I don't see how this is a bad thing."

Xander could feel her logic squelching all of his arguments, but he hated to admit it. When he looked into her eyes, though, he knew she'd seen his internal admission of defeat. "Okay. He can be in love with her." She smiled. "But he can't do anything about it," he insisted, just for good measure.


Spike was having a cigarette outside his crypt when Buffy found him the next morning. "Slayer? What are you doin' here, pet?"

"I've come to patrol with you. My classes don't start until noon today."

He smiled and fell into step beside her. It took some time, but they finally came upon a trio of vampires, all of whom charged at Buffy once they heard her heartbeat in the stillness of the cemetery. Spike grinned and threw a crosscut at the blond vampire's jaw. He staked him and turned to find the other two still advancing on Buffy. She was backing away, trying to get them in positions where she could see them both simultaneously, and they were falling for it. Abruptly, she stopped looking scared and lashed out with fists of fury. Her stake found one vampire's heart even as her leg locked around the other's waist. He twisted to avoid the plunge of her weapon and flipped her on the ground. She was up in an instant, panting hard.

Spike's grin was faltering. For anyone else, the moves Buffy was displaying would be damn impressive, but something was wrong. She was a touch slower than usual, she wasn't recovering from the blows she'd been dealt as quickly. He finally realized what was really bothering him: she wasn't bantering at all. He stalked over and had his stake in the vamp's back before he could land another punch.

As the dust between them fell, Spike faced Buffy and noticed the fine sheen of sweat on her face and the slight trembling of her limbs. "Buffy? What's wrong, pet?"

"Nothing," she insisted, shaking her head as if to clear it. "It's just the heat."

"Well, if you're feelin' it, love, why don't you go home and rest a bit? I can finish up the patrol." She shook her head stubbornly, but before an all-out argument could erupt, her eyes rolled up and she collapsed.

Spike caught her as she hovered on the edge of consciousness, and picked her up to carry her home. He was on her front porch, trying to pry the key out of Buffy's tight pants pocket without dropping her or doing something that would make her slap him later, when a car pulled into the driveway. "Joyce?" he called, surprised. "Is something wrong?"

"No, no. I'm just not feeling very well," she replied as she climbed the front porch steps.

"That seems to be going around," he replied, a worried look stealing across his face as she unlocked the door. In his arms, Buffy began to stir. He stood her on her feet in the hallway and said, "You two go right upstairs and get into bed. I'll make you some tea. I'll be up in a minute." He watched in amazement as they turned to obey him instantly.

He ascended the stairs with a mug of chamomile tea in each hand. Buffy's bedroom door was wide open, and as he entered to put the tea down on her dresser, he could hear her splashing the water in the bathroom sink. He continued along the hall to Joyce's room and found her propped up in bed in faded navy pajamas. He placed the mug on the coaster on her bedside table and turned to see her patting the space in front of her. He sat gingerly, not wanting to rock the bed with his weight. "Thanks, Spike," she said, and he smiled in a way that suggested embarrassment.

"Joyce? Should you have been drivin', if you felt ill enough to come home?" he asked.

"No, I guess not. But it's not so far, and I just wanted to get home. And I couldn't ask Carol to close the gallery just so she could drive me home."

"Buffy gave me her cell phone. If you need a ride, just call. I won't mind, I promise."

She nodded and took a sip of her tea. "I appreciate that, Spike."

He looked around awkwardly and was getting up to go when her face scrunched up in pain and she pressed a shaking hand to her forehead. The attack subsided and she looked up to see his wide eyes fixed on hers. He reached out a hand and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and froze when he realized what he'd done. She smiled up at him in realization. "What was she like, Spike? Your mother?"

"A lot like you," he answered quietly, knowing he didn't need to say anymore to be understood. They sat in silence as Joyce finished her tea. He reached out a hand for her empty mug and said, "You need your rest. I'll be downstairs."

"No. Stay. Talk to me."

"Won't that hurt your head?"

"Nope. You've got a nice voice," she teased gently.

"And you've got two of the nicest ears," he responded in kind. "I remember how good a listener you were when I came here after Dru left me."

"I remember too," she nodded. "But you never told me that much about her except for how she left you. What was she like? What was it about her that made you love her?"

He looked at her askance, but her curiosity seemed genuine. "My da was a scholar. Giles-y, as Buffy said. One of his favorite texts was Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici. There's a line from it that explains Dru and me better than anything I could come up with. It says, 'Certainly there is no happiness within this circle of flesh; nor is it in the optics of these eyes to behold felicity. The first day of our jubilee is death.'" He drew the words out slowly, like a prize orator. "I'd been happy as a human until everyone I loved was taken from me. It was only with Dru that I got that back. 'The first day of our jubilee is death.' When I was with her, I reveled in being dead, in the way she made me feel. It was so intense, so unadulterated. And I thought it would last forever. Dead with Dru, nothing without her. But," he laughed bitterly, "that bastard Angelus changed all that. So that's it. End of story. I lost her, and I'm not in love with her anymore."

Her hand on his knee startled him into meeting her knowing gaze. "But you are in love again." His eyes got so round she thought they'd fall out of his head. She laughed at his expression. "Mother's intuition. Go on, you can tell me," she encouraged.

Suddenly he felt fearless. He took a deep breath. "It's Buffy," he admitted. He waited for Joyce to throw something at him, to pull a stake from under her pillow, to scream at him to get out and never darken their doors again. Instead, she merely mulled over his confession, thinking over the interaction she'd seen between him and her daughter.

"Yes, you do love her, don't you?" she finally said, and he flopped onto his back in relief.

Suddenly he could hardly contain himself. "She's the one, Joyce. You know? Dru made me feel dead, like that was the best I could be, and for a while, it was. But Buffy makes me feel alive. 'When I am from her, I am dead till I be with her.' That's Sir Thomas again. That was my da's favorite line. And now I finally know what it means."

He smiled his sweetest smile at her as she leaned down to stroke his cheek. "That's the best thing I've heard in a long time, Spike," she said softly. "Now I'm going to sleep. Wake me in time for Passions?" He nodded and closed her curtains. He came back around to her bedside table to pick up her empty mug.

"I'm just going to check on Buffy," he said. "Sleep well."

Until she heard those words, Buffy was convinced that she'd been spontaneously paralyzed. //Spike's in love with me! How? Why? God, how can I make him feel like that when I'm so messed up?// But when she realized he'd be at her door in a matter of moments, she leapt into bed and drew the covers up and got to work feigning sleep.

Spike paused at the doorway to her bedroom and noticed her mug was still full. He sighed in mock exasperation //it's supposed to help her sleep//. He walked over to her bed and saw that she was indeed asleep and smiled at the sight of her at rest. He frowned when he picked up on her racing heartbeat. //She must be sicker than she thought if her heart's goin' a mile a minute even when she's sleeping.//


Spike was walking back to his crypt, feeling more tired than he could remember being in a long time. He was missing his regular daytime sleep. He'd taken Buffy to college, spent a delicious hour with Joyce analyzing Passions and basking in her silent approval, and picked up Dawn when it occurred to him that she should have an escort, given the vamp situation of Sunnydale at the present time. He was ready to drop when he made the last turn and saw Willow sitting in front of his crypt with a stake, a bottle of water, and a paperback novel. "Hey, Red," he greeted. She waved back and stood aside so he could open the door. "Why didn't you just go in? It's not like the place is locked," he queried.

"That would be rude!" she said, looking surprised. "You can't just walk into someone's house uninvited."

"I can't, but you can. If you need it, you now have my permission to come in anytime you want," he responded. She smiled up at him. He sighed inwardly, knowing he was destined not to sleep that day; he recognized her "talk face." "So, what's on your mind?"

"Spike," she began slowly, "we're friends, right?"

"Sure," he said, looking surprised and even flattered as they sat on the tomb.

"And even before, when we weren't, we somehow managed to talk the way friends do. When Dru left you and you . . . took . . . me, we ended up really talking. And then again when you came into my dorm room to bite me, you listened when I needed someone to." She turned slightly to see him looking wary but pleased, and she realized with a pang how lonely he must have been, for so long. She reached out and clasped his hand. "So don't you think we should talk now?"

He was still confused. "Umm, okay," he agreed, then waited for her to make the next move.

Willow rolled her eyes; the subtle approach obviously wasn't going to work. "Giles told us that you're in love with Buffy. Is that true?"

He shot to his feet in surprise, then mastered himself. "Yes," he said simply.

"Why haven't you told her?" He paused, trying to work out if her tone had been disapproving or not. "Well?" she prompted.

"She's had a lot goin' on in her life recently," he protested. "Her mum being sick, school, the constant patrols, that idiot boyfriend of hers dumpin' her . . ."

"What! Riley dumped her?!" Willow yelled, her voice echoing angrily in the stone enclosure.

"Yeah, simpering prat said the Slayer bit was too much for him after all. It crushed her."

"Poor Buffy," Willow's face dimmed, then brightened. "But now you're here!"

Spike blinked. "Does that mean you're on my side, Red?"

"Of course." At his evident astonishment, she smiled and told him the same things she'd told Xander. "Plus," she added, "I remember thinking you were a good boyfriend when you were talking about Drusilla. I want Buffy to have that."

"Yeah, but does Buffy want it?" he said, his tone making it only a rhetorical question. Willow smiled sympathetically.

"Well, what about you, Red? Any new blokes on the horizon?"

She shook her head. "Nope."

"Anything new and exciting in your life?" he tried again.

"Well, I joined a Wicca group at school."


"Yeah, and there's this one girl, Tara, who's really powerful, and we've been working on some spells together. She's been really great." She smiled happily, dreamily. "Remember when that thing with everybody's voices being stolen happened? She's the one who helped me. All we had to do was clasp hands."

"And . . . magic?" he asked slowly, aware of the double meaning.

"Yeah," she agreed nervously, not quite believing that Spike was the person she was suddenly coming out to. He saw her agitation and did his best to ease the tension.

"Red, you're not making this up to turn me on, are you?"

Willow looked up. His teasing words and kind eyes together allowed her, finally, to speak the whole truth. "I'm in love with her." He smiled and nodded, but she was disconcerted by his easy acceptance. "That's it? You're not going to try to talk me out of it?" she asked disbelievingly.

"Who's been trying to talk you out of it?" he demanded, on the edge of anger.

"No one. You're the first person I've told."

"Oh." He was taken aback. "Well, look, I don't know what you want me to say, but give me a little credit, ducks. I'm not some uptight, ultraconservative shit. Besides, isn't that what we've been talking about? No one can choose who they fall in love with," he said as he slung a companionable arm over her shoulder.


"Pretty Spike. Pretty Spike. Pretty Spike," Drusilla was chanting as she and Miss Edith waltzed around the dingy room. Darla was ready to slap her, but knew she couldn't afford to knock those precious visions out of Dru's feverishly bubbling brain. She looked over to the far corner of the room, where Magda sat. They'd found her putting up flyers on campus for the college Wicca group and Dru had immediately sensed great power lying dormant in the girl. Darla had turned her, leaving Dru to feed on the leader of the Society for Creative Anachronisms, who'd been captivated by her otherworldly demeanor.

Magda was good, but she was a beginner, both as a vampire and as a spell-caster. Darla frowned, her optimism fading. Who knew how long the weather would remain this way? Magda was tapping a fraction of the power that was blocking the sun for a spell Dru had found in her cards. The spell to leech the Slayer's power needed to be done quickly, so that Buffy would have no choice but to obey the prophecy and sleep with Angel. And then the real reign of terror could begin.


"Hi Dawn. Is your sister home?" Angel asked.

"No, she's got class. She should be home in about forty minutes."

"Can I come in and wait for her?"

"Nope. My mom's not feeling well, so no guests, no noise. But you can wait out here on the porch. I'll keep you company. Let me just get my homework."

She sat on the step next to him and pulled out her French workbook. He alternated between watching her and thinking about Buffy. He saw her flick a long lock of dark hair back away from her face. "You have pretty hair." She looked up with a smile. "Is that the color Buffy's is naturally?"

"No, her hair is actually a little darker than mine," she answered, waiting for the next question. But he was apparently done talking. She'd gotten through three of the workbook units when he spoke again.

"Has Buffy picked a major yet?"

"Um, no, she doesn't have to declare until the end of this year. But she really likes her poetry class."

"I gave her a book of poems once," he said, pleased by his foresight.

"Really," she said flatly. "That's great." Dawn finished her French and got to work on her geometry. //God, he's boring! Buffy's life must really have sucked for a long, long time.//

With all of her homework done and Buffy still not home, Dawn needed something to do. She turned to Angel. "What were you like as a vampire?"

He was startled. "I still am a vampire."

"Yeah, but I mean, a real vampire, without the soul."

"I don't think I should be telling you those stories."

"Why not? I'm the same age Buffy was when she was called."

"I just don't like to talk about it."

Dawn rolled her eyes in frustration and gave up. "What do you want to talk about?"

"Shouldn't Buffy be here by now?" he asked, his voice cutting over hers.

She checked her watch. Buffy should have been home twenty minutes ago. "She's probably just slaying on her way home. I'm sure she'll be home soon." They sat in a bored silence and waited.

The sound of a book falling drew the attention of both immediately. Buffy was coming down the street, weaving almost drunkenly, her eyes fixed on the sidewalk. "Buffy? What's wrong?" Dawn asked as she ran to meet her sister and pick up the textbook she'd dropped.

"I think I've got the flu," Buffy said as she wrapped her arm around her sister's shoulders to steady herself. "So stay away from me. I might be contagious."

"Not to me," Angel said, and he lifted her arm off of Dawn and wrapped it around his own waist. "Let's get you inside."

Joyce was sleeping on the couch in the den, so Angel took Buffy straight up to her bedroom. Dawn appeared, holding the yummy sushi pajamas and a wet washcloth. Angel waited in the hall while Buffy changed and got into bed, Dawn smoothing the washcloth on her hot, moist forehead. "Buffy, I think we need to talk," Angel said as he stepped back into the room. "About the prophecy."

Buffy tried to sit up and nod without dislodging the washcloth. Dawn was incensed. "Can't this wait, Angel? I mean, she's sick. She needs to rest."

"You're right, I'm sorry. I'll come by before she patrols. What time will that be?"

"I don't know," Dawn answered for her already sleeping sister, crossing her arms defiantly. "I'm not sure if she will be patrolling tonight. She looks pretty bad."

"Dawn, I'm in Sunnydale to help. I just need to talk to her."

"You want to help? Then help Spike patrol tonight and hold off on the conversation bit until tomorrow," she responded, ushering him out of the room and closing the door firmly behind her.


"Oh come on! Live a little!"

"I don't live at all, pet."

"Don't you want to see what it's like to be human in the twenty-first century?"

"And eating ice cream is going to trigger this epiphany?"

"Yes!" She leaned toward him and whispered, mock-confidentially, "It's home-made ice cream."

"I'm not going to get any peace until I agree, am I?"

"Nope!" her hair was a blur of red as she shook her head like a three-year-old.

"All right then, but if I fall asleep, you have to carry me home."

They set off for the ice cream parlor, window-shopping along the way. He was punchy from lack of sleep and she was wired from having finally confessed her true feelings for Tara, and everything they said seemed to them uproariously funny. Spike was doing his impression of Giles as a Fyarl demon ("It's a little tail. It hurts when I sit.") when they ran smack into Riley. He was clearly on a mission, and his squad was following thirty paces behind him, dressed in civilian clothes. Willow was a bit quicker on the uptake than Spike; she took his hand and pulled him into one of the side streets before he could be identified conclusively as Hostile 17. "Thanks, pet," he murmured when he finally realized what she'd done. "I guess a wanker's work is never done."

She squeezed his hand, and said, "Forget the ice cream. Do you want to meet Tara?"


"What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?" Tara could hear her mother's voice in her memory, recalling the marvelous way in which her voice would bring to life words on a page. Romeo and Juliet had been her mother's favorite play - the sole claim to romance in her short, unhappy life. Tara began scrabbling through her bookshelves to locate the well-worn volume, but gave it up in frustration. She was too restless to read. She needed peace. She put a CD on and closed her eyes, willing calm throughout her body. Suddenly, there was a soft knock at her door. She opened the door with a happy smile. As she'd sensed, Willow was there, but she was holding the hand of a striking-looking man dressed in black. Tara dropped her eyes immediately and started to stutter out her greetings.

Spike could feel Willow's hand trembling nervously in his own, and it touched him that his opinion of Tara mattered to her. He squeezed her hand reassuringly and turned his attention to the other witch.

Tara knew something was off with this man that Willow was clinging to. //Why is she touching him? God, please don't let her say that's her boyfriend.// She decided to try a quick spell - more a trick than a spell - that her mother had taught her to get a glimpse of someone's aura. She looked up, needing to lock eyes with Spike so that a mental connection could be established, only to find those clear dark eyes already on hers. //He knows the trick too.// She wanted to blush, to squirm under that level gaze, but she didn't. He was watching her, clearly assessing her, but with an air of wanting to be pleased. He wasn't sitting in judgment; he was looking at her, seeing her.

Willow looked on silently as Tara and Spike examined each other, and she slumped a little in relief when Spike's face, immobile as a mask, suddenly softened; he went from unblinking gaze and sharp cheekbones to laugh lines and an easy grin. "Tara?" he asked, extending a hand for her to shake. "It's nice to finally meet you. I've heard a lot about you. And," he pulled on their joined hands a bit so that she came a few steps closer as his voice dropped, "I'm a sucker for any girl who listens to Bach."

Tara broke into a shy, lopsided grin. "He's my favorite! My mom and I knew the whole Notebook for Anna Magdalena by heart."

"Mmm," he caught and responded to her enthusiasm. "I always liked the instrumental stuff better than the vocal stuff, myself." He hummed a bit of his favorite minuet. They turned as one toward Willow, wanting to include her. She nodded gamely, although what she knew about classical music could have been written on the back of a postage stamp.

Spike had seen that Tara shared Willow's feelings, and the thought of his newfound friend's potential happiness spurred him on. He decided to give her a bit of a push. "Bach wrote a series of songs for a woman named Anna Magdalena Wilcke, who became his second wife." He paused, knowing Willow would understand what he was really saying. "She was the love he found when he'd lost the one before." He was intensely aware of the heat suddenly emanating from Willow's slender frame. "I've got to go, ducks. I'll see you soon." He ducked out of the room, leaving the two witches alone.

Alone with Tara at last, Willow couldn't seem to find words momentous enough for the occasion, words big enough to declare her love. "Tara?" she asked with an uncertain smile, "umm, about Spike? There's something you need to know about him?" Her nerves were causing her voice to rise at the end of each sentence, making her sound fifteen again. "Just hear me out before you say anything, okay? He's a vampire? He used to kill people - a lot of people. But now he can't, and he doesn't want to either. And he's a friend."

Tara smiled reassuringly at the redhead. "I thought his hand seemed kind of cold. But no one who knows his Bach could be that bad." The acceptance was simple and sweet, and all at once Willow figured out what she wanted to say.


Buffy snapped out of sleep roughly, her eyes and fingertips tingling, scaring Dawn, who'd been bent over her sister, changing the washcloth that still lay on the slayer's forehead. "Jeez!" Dawn exclaimed as she jumped back, one hand on her racing heart, the other clutching the damp cloth.

"Sorry," Buffy apologized in a near-shout.

"Hey, keep it down, okay? I think Mom's still asleep."

"How long has she been asleep? What time is it?" Buffy couldn't seem to modulate the volume of her voice; it was still much too loud for the small room and the proximity of the sisters.

"Pretty much all afternoon. It's seven-thirty now. She was dropping off when Spike and I got home, and she slept right through Angel putting you to bed. Hey, thanks for asking Spike to get me, by the way. He walked right by Kirstie when she started to put the moves on him, and she looked like she was gonna die when he came up to me. It was soooo great." She ended her soliloquy when she noticed that Buffy's nose was wrinkled thoughtfully. "What?"

"I forgot to ask Spike to get you. In fact, I forgot to ask anybody to get you. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. Even if it was just a one-time thing, now everybody thinks I'm a bad-ass because I was with him. It's kinda cool." She eyed her sister's face and tucked the blankets back around her once she sat up. "So how are you feeling? Still flu-ish?"

"No, I feel good. Almost too good. It's like all the energy I didn't have this afternoon is coming back now in spades. Still, no need to look a gift boost in the mouth. I can slay tonight."

Dawn knew better than to argue, and indeed Buffy did look remarkably better. "Can you come downstairs and keep an eye on Mom? I'll make dinner."

Buffy turned on the den lamp and tilted the shade so that the light wouldn't hit her mother's face. With a put-upon sigh, she pulled her math book out of her bag, turning to page 89. She stared blankly at the page and the symbols that adorned it. //What the hell is this? I know I suck at math, but why doesn't any of this make sense?// She dug around in her knapsack until she held the syllabus in one triumphant hand. //Oh. Section 8.9, not page 89.// She was about to flip back the pages of the textbook when something caught her eye. There was a shaded box on the page, the kind used to highlight important formulas, equations, and notations. This one was a review of the symbols used throughout the chapter. "Remember!" was at the top. The first item on the list was " is the symbol for infinity." //Okay. Great. I'll keep that in mind. Figure-eight is about how long it'll take me to get through this stupid assignment.//


Spike walked to the Magic Box, trying to shake himself out of his sleepy state. He entered to find Anya chatting with a customer in her over-eager voice and Giles mumbling to himself as he paced the second floor with an open text in his hand. He nodded at the ex-demon and went up to talk to the Watcher. "Well? Any leads on where Darla and Co might be holed up?" he interrogated Giles.

"Ah. Spike. No, not as of yet. But I'm sure you and Buffy will find them, if not tonight, then certainly in the very near future."

"Don't think Buffy'll be patrolling tonight. She damn near fainted this morning, and she had an afternoon full of classes. She and Joyce and the Niblet are probably having a Summers girls night in. S'alright. Not a lot due to rise tonight - I can take care of it by myself." The door chime sounded, and they were surprised to see Angel walk in.

Spike would have been content to watch Angel try in vain to detach Anya from her customer all night, but Giles called out a greeting from above. Angel took the stairs three at a time, as a way of warming up before patrol. "I just wanted to let you know that Buffy's sick. She won't be patrolling tonight. I'll take care of it."

"Bravo. Standing ovation. Very moving." Spike stood there in the shadows, his eyes mocking, his body leaning indolently against a pillar.

Giles tried to preclude a confrontation by saying, "Yes, I know about Buffy. Spike told me." Then he added mildly, "The two of you will patrol together."

It was hard for Giles to decide which vampire was more pissed off. Angel's eyes narrowed but he stayed silent. Spike, as usual, did not.

"Are you daft? There's no way I'm going anywhere with this git!" He was rocking his weight from his heels to the balls of his feet and back again, clearly itching for a fight. He didn't notice Anya's customer looking up nervously at the second floor and backing away slowly from the counter.

At Angel's low, sibilant hiss, "Spike . . ." the man turned tail and fled.

"That's it! If you two want to be stupid males, at least do it where the customers won't hear you! Training room - now!" Anya shouted. She'd just been on the verge of convincing the man that blue phoenix feathers, five times more expensive than the green ones, were five times as effective. It was a lie, of course, but unattractive men were so gullible.


//No no no no no.// Buffy stopped again. //I haven't been splashed with demon blood. So why am I hearing everyone's thoughts again?// All around her were whispers, voices.

"Hi, Marge."

"Why does that girl keep stopping and looking around?"

"If you'd done what I asked, you wouldn't be in this mess."

//Wow, these people must lead boring lives if these are their secret thoughts. Maybe I should put one of them to the test.// She walked up to the nearest man. "Hi."

"Hello," he answered, looking surprised. She waited, but none of his thoughts transmitted themselves to her.

"Are you okay?" he asked, reaching out a hand.

"Fine!" she blurted out - //God, I must look like such an idiot.// "I just wanted to know if you knew what time it is."

He backed up a step and consulted his watch. "It's almost nine. Um, is there a reason you're shouting?"

"Loud concert last night - still can't hear very well" was the best she could come up with.

//What am I hearing if not thoughts?// She picked up the pace and started to jog in the direction of the magic shop. //Giles will know.// Suddenly it hit her. //I'm not Miss Cleo. I'm just bat-girl. I've got super-hearing all of a sudden.// She needed quiet, a little island of peace so that she could sort this out before patrol. She ducked into the alley behind the shop, heading for the back door that led into the training room.

She paused with her thumb on the latch when she heard Angel's voice. "What's the matter, Spike? Didn't you get the memo? I was in hell, and now I've been forgiven. I do good now. And I don't particularly care if you don't like me being back in Sunnydale." His tone was more than mocking; it was downright provocative.

Spike's voice was hard and flat and curiously hollow. "I'm not playing around. You can taunt all you like. After what you've done, you think a little jaunt in hell is going to make it go away? It won't - you left her behind to suffer."

Angel's smirk was apparent in his voice. "Don't tell me you've got a crush on Buffy? Because that's just so -"

"I'm talking about Dru, you fuck!" Spike was choking with fury. "You got her under your thrall . . ."

"No," Angel interrupted angrily. "That was Angelus. That wasn't me."

"Give it a rest, you bastard. You can't lie to me. You and I both know the soul is just a crutch. Angel and Angelus are one. It's just a matter of who's in ascendence and who's in abeyance. I've got both William and Spike inside of me; I call myself by the demon's name, but you can't even admit that your demon is always with you. You bloody coward!" A harsh sob ripped out of his throat, but when he spoke his voice was controlled, at once low and deadly. "Rape." He over-enunciated, and the ugly word rang out so sharply that Buffy's head throbbed as she crouched outside the door. "That's what it was. You got her under your thrall and you raped her up and down. She had no will of her own and you turned her into your whore."

"Oh, she was my whore before then too," Angel responded, his own fury fully roused.

Spike's voice was suddenly weary and infinitely sad. "Not after she met me."

"Well, isn't this touching? A soulless murderer worrying about rape."

Buffy opened the door a crack and watched as Spike whirled and charged, his tears and his left hook catching Angel by surprise. Every punch he landed was retribution, every blow he received penance for not being able to shield his princess.

Angel's head thunked loudly on the wall, and Giles came running. Flinging the door open, he cried, "Stop! I will not have you fighting over Buffy."

Spike clumsily wiped his face dry with his hand as Angel sat up slowly. "Buffy?" he asked, his eyes darting from Spike to Giles and back again.

Spike walked over to the watcher and shepherded him gently out of the training room, closing the door after him. "I knew you had a crush on her. Do you really think she'll . . ."

"I don't have a crush on her. I'm in love with her."

Buffy nearly fell over. She'd almost talked herself into believing that what she'd heard him tell her mom had been a dream, or that she'd misunderstood. Angel was apparently having trouble digesting this information as well. "So if you've got a thing for Buffy, what was all this about Dru?"

Spike's rage rose again. "That was about you hurting someone who couldn't defend herself. That was about me loving her and her loving me and you needing to destroy that even as you hid behind your game face."

"And after all that, now you want Buffy?" Buffy couldn't help wondering if Angel was being deliberately obtuse.

"Yes. People can fall in love more than once."

"Look at that. It thinks it's people."

There was a long silence after Angel's comment. "You know," Spike said finally, in a voice that mimicked calm almost perfectly, "I think that's the first time that you've ever been funny with your Angel-face on. Typical that it should be at my expense."

Angel had gotten his bearings back. He stood up slowly, and pushed into Spike's personal space, deliberately looming over him. "You know you don't have a chance in hell with her."

"That's for her to decide."

"There's nothing to decide. She and I are soulmates. She'll never love anyone the way she loves me."

"You do know she moved on, right?" Spike's voice was cocky, but he was shaken by the certainty in Angel's eyes.

"To Riley? Please. Anyone can see that she doesn't really love him." Angel eyed his step-childe narrowly. "Just like she'll never love you." Spike pushed against Angel's chest with one hand, but the older vampire caught his wrist in a tight grip, not allowing him to leave. "We were two halves of the same person. We were one. We are one."

Spike had thought his emotional roller-coaster had come to a complete stop, but with a sudden jerk it zoomed forward again. He broke free contemptuously of Angel's restrictive grasp and spat, "Listen to yourself! Do you know what you just said? You probably think you sound like some fucking romance novel, but what you sound like is a bleeding idiot! 'We were two halves of the same person!' So where did the other half of her go when she was with you? The half you couldn't be bothered with - the person she was with her friends, with her family, with people who didn't know she was saving their hides every night? You forced her to be less than herself."

Angel stared at him in disbelief. "Wow. Talk about getting it all wrong."

"No, I don't think so, mate. I've seen you in action. You need weakness. And she was ripe for the picking. Hell, she still had baby fat in her cheeks! When you met her she had a new Watcher, new friends, and her mum didn't even know she was the Slayer."

"And now?" Angel's words were clearly a challenge.

Spike rose to meet it. "And now she's sure of what she means to all of them. She knows her own value. And she's not going to fall for some pretty words and a melancholy face." He bent his head to light the cigarette that was suddenly between his lips. "I'm going to patrol." He turned and headed for the back door just as Buffy nudged it closed.

Continue: Part 6/15
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

Long Buffy fic: "Two-Part Invention" (Part 6)

Buffy pushed open the Magic Box's front door and tried to look as if she hadn't been shaken to her very foundations by the words she'd overheard. "We're closed," Anya sang out, her back to the door. "But you can come back tomorrow with your money."

In response, Buffy locked the door behind her as she scoured the shop for her watcher. "Giles?" she called, and Anya stopped counting bills long enough to say, "He's in the office. Probably making more tea."

Buffy made her way slowly to the small room in the back, trying to give herself time to think. Just as Giles emerged from the office, a wave of dizziness hit her and her super-hearing was gone. Giles came toward her, catching her by one arm so that he could get a good look at her face. "Buffy? Are you feeling well?"

"No," she admitted, her teeth close to chattering. "I think whatever I had this afternoon just came back."

"Then I'm taking you home," he said in a voice that would brook no dissension.

Dawn answered the door in pajamas, wrapped in a blanket so worn it had holes in it. As soon as she saw Buffy's glassy eyes and strange pallor, she moved out of the way so that Giles could carry his slayer to her room, and followed him upstairs. "I'll put her in bed. Could you do me a huge favor?" Giles nodded at once. "Could you carry my mom upstairs? She should be in bed too."

"Of course."

As soon as he'd left, Dawn began stripping her sister, trying to dodge her weakly flailing limbs. She pressed an anxious hand to Buffy's burning forehead. She heard Giles's step on the stair and hastily began threading Buffy's arms and legs into her pajamas. Giles waited until Dawn had tucked her mother in and gotten a fresh washcloth for Buffy's head before asking her how sick Buffy had been that afternoon. Dawn relayed the whole story, including colorful commentary on Angel. "Do your best to keep her in bed, Dawn," was all he said when she had finished. "With two master vampires on our side, there's no need for her to patrol until she's completely well."


He would never have heard the chirp of the phone if he'd remembered to take his duster off before falling asleep. He fumbled briefly for it and pushed the talk button. "Yeah?"



"Yeah. Are you doing the patrol this morning?"

"Sure am, pet. Why?"

"Can you put it off for a little while? Or maybe get Angel to do it?"

"What's the matter, love?"

"My mom's still sick, and Buffy relapsed last night and I can't wake her up. I think they both need to go to the hospital."

"I'll be there before you know it. Just sit tight."

As they were entering the hospital, Spike turned to Dawn. "I'll take your mum up to the sixth floor. Can you handle checking Buffy in? Good girl. I'll meet you on the sixth floor waiting room couch."

Dawn had a fairly quick time of it. All she'd needed to say was "It might be the flu," before the nurses started clucking maternally at her and at Buffy, who was still not fully conscious. "We'll take care of her, don't you worry. We'll page you if we need any more information."

She stood up when she saw Spike finally heading her way. "Spike?"

"What is it, Munchkin?" he asked, his voice fond but preoccupied. He sank into the couch with a sigh and she sat back down as well.

"I . . . I just wanted to say thanks. You've been so great with my mom, and I thought you should get a thank you from someone, even if it's only me."

Spike sat up a little straighter and turned to face her. "You're welcome." She shrugged slightly. "And there's nothin' only about you, pet." She looked up at him, a shy smile on her face. He touched the tip of her nose with a cool fingertip. "Trust me." She laid her hand down exactly halfway between them. He picked up on her cue and held it in his own. "And your mum and sis will be fine."

Buffy padded softly across the linoleum floor. She'd promised the nurses she would come back and be a model patient if they'd give her ten minutes to see how her mom was doing. After a lot of whispered arguing, they'd finally given in, and she'd made her temporary escape gladly. She stopped moving when she saw Dawn curled up against Spike on the couch. Dawn was sleeping soundly after a night spent tending to both her mother and sister. Her chest rose and fell with each deep breath. Spike, however, was perfectly still. His eyes were closed, but he hadn't relaxed fully into sleep. It struck Buffy for the first time what an extraordinarily ascetic face he had, all clean lines and sharp bone. And yet he could give off such sexual energy. //It's all in the eyes// she decided when they suddenly opened and fixed on her.

"How are you feeling, pet?" he asked her, trying to make room for her on the couch without jostling Dawn or removing the protective arm he'd laid over her.

"I'm a little tired, a little weak, but otherwise okay," she answered, perching on the arm of the sofa. That brought her very close to Spike, and he blinked a little at her sudden proximity.

"Your mum's in the same room as last time. But the doctor from last time isn't here today," he informed her. "And they don't have the test results back yet." She nodded and stood up. She had only taken a few steps when she heard him call her name. "No tricks. When you're done seeing Joyce, go back to your room and let the doctors fix you. Give the Niblet here one less person to worry about."


"Rise and shine, Sugarplum," she heard a deep voice coax. She moaned and burrowed her head deeper into the soft, musky material under her cheek. "Come on, Platelet. Here comes your mum."

Dawn lifted her head from Spike's shoulder to see her mother being wheeled her way by a friendly-looking orderly. "You must be Dawn," he said. "Your mom told me that you had the biggest blue eyes anyone's ever seen. I told her I've heard that before. But she was right. You take the cake." Dawn blushed a little and Spike grinned at her. He stood up to shake the man's callused brown hand.

"Thanks. We'll get her home," he said, and the orderly winked as he strolled away.

Spike paced awkwardly in front of the vending machines as Dawn threw herself into her mother's arms. He saw a tear leave a glistening track over one round cheek. He took his place behind Joyce as they broke the embrace and wheeled the chair down the long hallway, leaving Dawn to walk beside her mother and hold her hand. Every glance, every gesture betrayed their love for each other, and Spike watched it all with a fiercely protective gaze. //There's just something about these Summers women.//


//Where the bloody hell is he?// Giles was silently fuming. Spike had called to apprize him of the hospital run, and they needed Angel to carry out the morning patrol. But the large vampire hadn't told anyone where he was staying or how to get in touch with him. Giles sighed heavily and began to prepare himself to walk Buffy's beat. He explained the situation to Anya and left the shop, an overstuffed duffel bag slapping against his side with each step. He touched the cross in his pocket, uttered a quick prayer, and headed for the nearest of Sunnydale's numerous graveyards.

He was lucky at first. There were no vamps up and about for the first forty-five minutes of his sweep. As soon as he stepped into Shady Rest, however, he could sense the presence of one of the creatures he was seeking. She was pale to the point of being grey-tinged, and her awkward, uncoordinated movements as she drank messily from a homeless man's throat indicated to Giles's practiced eye that she was fairly newly turned. He stepped forward, the cross clutched firmly in his outstretched hand.

Magda could feel the hot blood work its magical way down her cold throat. She was thoroughly enjoying her first fresh meal. She'd snuck out while both Darla and Drusilla had succumbed to heavy slumber, knowing instinctively that unless she fed she wouldn't have the strength to maintain her spell.

Suddenly the blood lost its potent coppery tang, and Magda frowned, her fangs still buried in the wrinkled flesh. She looked up to see a middle-aged man advancing towards her with a cross. She snarled, confused, and clutched her prey closely to her chest as if he'd tried to run away. Defiantly, she turned her back on the living man and began to drink again from the dead one. At last presented with a clear target, Giles thrust his stake home, lingering only to brush the dust from the dead man and gently close his eyes.


His lips were rough, urgent with need and desire, but as she slowly opened her mouth to let him in, his tongue was gentle, confirming the love he'd declared and expressed for over one hundred years. Dru moaned in her sleep, remembering the way she'd felt as Spike loved her. A few tears escaped from beneath her long eyelashes when she remembered distantly that she hadn't felt his touch for years. //What happened to my happy home? What drove my sweet William away?// Try as she might, she couldn't remember, even in her dreams, and Miss Edith preserved a discreet silence.


She kept seeing someone out of the corner of her eye. She'd take a few steps and sense movement beside her, but every time she turned to look, there didn't seem to be anybody there. She tried running, but couldn't seem to lose her fellow traveler. She tried the trick of stopping and starting suddenly to flush out the other person, but his steps continued, sometimes slow, sometimes quick, no matter what she did. Frustrated, she decided to ignore him and simply make her way out of the lush, dark forest she was in. Looking down, she became newly aware that she was stepping on scattered, oversized white and black piano keys. Buffy willed herself to concentrate, going deep inside herself as Giles had taught her, and gradually she began to hear the melody she was making. She stopped to catch her breath and heard another melody next to her. She tried to move toward the sound, but something kept her on her own path, and her own music began again. A strong, slim-fingered hand reached through some dense foliage, and she took it without hesitation. They walked side by side, making separate melodies as they went. She saw a clearing ahead, and when at last she stepped into the sunlight, she looked up and saw that her companion was Spike.


Not even the loud scrape of the heavy door against the stone floor of the crypt could awaken Spike. After running so long on a heady mix of love, rage, and guilt, he had finally ground to a complete stop and abandoned himself to sleep. Angel stood next to the tomb on which his bastard childe lay and looked down at his still form. His fingers twitched, and he rummaged through Spike's stash of junk for a pencil and paper. He'd always wanted to draw Spike, but the younger vampire never stayed still long enough, unless he was comforting Dru, and then he'd always made sure there was a closed door to keep Angel out. Angel's long-standing rage at Drusilla's betrayal surfaced again as he remembered how often she had turned to Spike. //She was mine, my diamond in the rough. I found her, I made her. And she turned instead to that pathetic poet.//

Just as he was seriously considering dusting Spike, he found a pencil and paper and turned once more toward the tomb. His fingers flew as he sketched quickly, and he was done in a matter of minutes. He looked at the drawing in his hand, marveling at how beautiful Spike appeared in it. His sharp features were softer in sleep, his skin unlined, his eyelashes dramatic against his pale cheeks. //He's the new Dorian Gray. And I'll make sure that people see this picture, this truth.// He hastily added bumps and ridges on the smooth forehead and long fangs, crude but effective, between the slightly parted lips. Angel grinned in satisfaction at the portrait of a monster. He put it on Spike's pillow and then went in search of Buffy.


//If one more ice-cold stethoscope gets shoved down this stupid paper "gown," these doctors will witness Slayer power firsthand// Buffy promised herself. The doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with her to cause her dizziness. They'd run every test they had on her. They'd even checked for pregnancy. Twice. But to no avail. She shook her head experimentally, trying to dislodge whatever was blocking it; remarkably, it felt like it had worked. She smiled in relief as excess energy surged into her, and she hopped briskly off the bed to find someone who had the authority to check her out of the hospital.

She caught the downtown bus from outside the hospital and was in front of Spike's crypt twenty minutes later. She opened the door slowly, trying to be quiet in case he'd managed to fall asleep. She saw a Spike-sized lump lying utterly still on top of the tomb, and she inched closer, her face softening as she took in how dear and vulnerable he looked, asleep in the pearly light of the crypt. He shifted restlessly so that he was on his side, and in the stillness she heard a crackling sound. Curious, she stepped closer and saw that he'd nearly rolled right onto the business end of a pencil. With trembling fingers, she eased it away from his body and looked around for a place to put it. Then she saw Angel's sketch lying next to Spike's head.

Her gasp must have been much louder than it was meant to be, because Spike went from lying down to sitting up so fast that he looked like a marionette whose strings had been yanked. Even though she was still shaking from her discovery, Buffy couldn't help noticing the firm planes of his chest and the tight definition of his abs, his adorable bed-head, and the fact that he was blinking sleepily at her, a confused but happy smile stealing across his face. "Buffy? What is it, love? How are you feeling?" he asked, the one thought clear to him in the jumble of his mind being that he had left her in the hospital.

She tried to get herself under control and answer him. "I'm fine, Spike. What is that?" she pointed to the space next to him.

He turned slightly and his eyebrows shot up in surprise when he saw the wrinkled paper on his pillow. He tried to play it off casually. "Looks like that pillock Angel got out his sketchbook again."

Buffy was having none of it. "I know what this means, Spike," she said angrily. All she could see in her mind's eye was that picture of Jenny Calendar. "Why is he drawing you? Why did he leave this pencil next to your heart?" Her voice was shaking, and he laid one hand on her arm to calm her. Her eyes slipped shut. "Just tell me why, Spike," she managed to say quietly. "Were you fighting over Dru?"

He snatched his hand away from her as if he'd been burned, and said roughly, "I don't know what you mean."

He'd been dreaming about Dru when the slayer had awoken him. Her bright face, her tiptilted eyes, her hand as it slipped confidingly into his own. She'd had a smile she kept just for him. Sometimes she craved danger, sometimes she needed comfort, but it was always him she wanted. He was getting lost in these thoughts again when Buffy spoke.

"I don't blame you for being mad. You told me what he did to her . . ."

"It's no worse than what I did to her," he muttered, not even aware that he was interrupting.

"What? What did you do that was so wrong?" she queried in surprise.

"I wasn't there for her, Slayer," he explained angrily, his voice close to breaking. "There she was, being raped by that pillock Angelus, and I wasn't doing a thing to stop it. I thought she was betraying me." He couldn't believe now he'd been so stupid, when one hundred years of evidence pointed against her infidelity. His face was wracked with guilt, his body held punishingly tight.

Buffy sat next to him and laid a comforting hand on his shoulder blade. "No, Spike, I know you did what you could. You even came to me with a truce, remember?"

He remained stiff despite her warm touch. "But she was hurting, and all I could think about was how much it bothered me. I didn't get it, not even when she took off with that Chaos Demon. Dru hated Chaos Demons! And still I didn't understand. I'd never had a proper sire, I never sired a childe; I knew next to nothing about the thrall. But still, I should have known. I should have saved her." His monotone recitation ended as tears streamed silently down his face, and he hunched over, his face in his hands.

When at last he lifted his head, she could see trails of tears glinting silverly on his face. He looked surprised to see her still there, even though she'd had her hand on his bare back the entire time. She gave him a tiny smile when he finally met her eyes and dropped a feather-light kiss on his shoulder. "I know it hurts when you can't save the one person you love with all your heart." Her tone was low and intimate, acknowledging that the two of them were more alike than dissimilar. "I know what it's like to fail. But you tried. You know that. And if she doesn't already, she will someday. I promise, Spike." She was close to tears herself when he wrapped himself around her in a fierce embrace. When he sank back down onto his pillow, she went with him, cradling his head against her body. She felt the sketch crackle underneath her, pulled it out from under her, and ripped it savagely in two, flinging the halves away from them. "I won't let him touch you," she swore as she lay back down, their heads on the same pillow, their eyes level for once. He nodded trustingly and closed his eyes in exhaustion. She kissed her fingertip, laid it gently on his wet cheek, and then slipped out of the crypt.


The familiar smell of stale sweat hit her as she entered the locker room. Dawn's nose wrinkled automatically as she made her way to her locker. She'd wanted to ask Spike to wait an hour before dropping her off so she would miss gym, but he'd looked like he was ready to drop from lack of sleep, so she reconsidered. She waved to Wendy, sitting on one of the benches. Dawn was just tying the laces on her sneakers when she heard Kirstie's dramatic voice. "Well, well. Look who decided to join us."

Dawn looked up, her lips pursed tightly together, trying to keep from responding to the other girl's baiting. "Oh, Dawn, honey, did you have a late night last night? Because you've got serious bags under your eyes." Kirstie shook her head in simulated sympathy. "I guess that job of yours is keeping you busy, huh? Tell me," she said, leaning in confidentially, fully aware that the gaggle of girls that surrounded her was leaning in too, "does the teen porn industry pay well?" There were giggles all around.

"What?" Dawn was beyond surprised. "What are you talking about?"

"Your name is a dead giveaway. I mean, 'Dawn Summers'? Why didn't you just pick 'Misty Rainbow' or 'Kandi Kane'? And that guy you were with - Mr. Black Leather and Cigarettes? Who is he, the director of your little movies?"

"Oh, Spike?" Dawn had recovered from the shock; she was even beginning to enjoy this. "No, he's my bodyguard." She strolled casually out of the locker room, happy to have finally had the last word.


He became aware that he was having trouble breathing; she was coming towards him. He could feel the strength and passion of her like a wall of heat. And then suddenly she was right in front of him, demure as a schoolgirl, her straight lips looking like they'd never been kissed. He raised a hand to touch her, but there seemed to be a halo, a repelling energy field all around her, contoured to fit her shape. She didn't lift a hand to try to touch him, and the sad smile of her eyes remained constant.

The basketball hit him squarely in the side of his head. Riley looked up to see Forrest striding towards him, pausing only to scoop up the ball he'd passed. Graham looked at Riley in concern, asking quietly, "Is it the drugs, Ri?"

Riley could feel only tremendous relief at the excuse he'd been offered. "Yes, it's the drugs. I guess weaning myself off them would have been smarter than going cold turkey. But Professor Walsh wasn't obliging enough to leave any samples lying around."

He could see Forrest out of the corner of his eye watching him with contempt, muttering bitterly, "Buffy." He slammed the ball down with all his might.

Riley felt like he'd been spat on. Forrest was right; the only drug he was experiencing withdrawal symptoms from was Buffy. She challenged, confounded, eluded him. And all he'd done was love her. Loved her knowing she didn't love him back. She'd tried, but her heart had been absent even as she allowed him access to her body. He pictured her slender figure and vivid face. //How could I have let her go?// A towel was flicked at his backside. He looked up to see Graham looking worriedly at him, and a little further off, Forrest looking at him with disdain. //No. You know she never let you be strong. You know she never let you in// he counseled himself sternly. //You know she never treated you like a man, let alone like the man she loved. You were right to leave her.// He raised his head proudly and met Forrest's eyes directly; he'd made his choice. One last thought occurred to him as they walked off the blacktop court. //You don't owe her a thing. It's time to be a man again. Take back what's yours.//

Continue: Part 7/15
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

Long Buffy fic: "Two-Part Invention" (part 7)

//That makes no sense.// Buffy was turning something over in her mind as she walked home from Spike's crypt. Instead of feeling like his tearful confession was yet another burden being placed on her weary back, she felt like she'd been relieved of a great weight. She hit upon the reason without even realizing it. //I'm just glad I could be there for him, after all he's done for us recently. Now I don't feel like such a freeloader.//

She walked up the stairs to the second floor, still pondering the extraordinary level of trust that he'd revealed. She looked into Dawn's empty room, realizing belatedly that Spike must have taken her to school after dropping their mother off at home. She moved along the hallway and heard rustling sounds coming from the spare bedroom. She saw her mother, flushed with exertion, surrounded by piles of clothes.

"Mom, what are you doing?" she asked, unsure if she should be concerned.

"Oh, hi, honey. I'm turning this room back into a bedroom. We've all got enough dresser and closet space not to use this room as a walk-in closet."

"Should you be doing all of this?" Buffy asked. "I mean, shouldn't you be resting?"

"I'm fine. Really. The doctors said I'd have good days and bad. This is one of the really good ones. And I'm almost done in any case."

"Why are you doing this anyway? Are we having company over?"

"Not 'company' exactly . . ."

"It's not Dad, is it?" Buffy blurted out. She didn't think she could deal with him right now, even if it was nice for Dawn to have him around.

"No, Sweetie. I wouldn't ask your father back into the house without asking you and Dawn first." Joyce pulled the last shirt out of its dresser drawer and folded it as she spoke. "The room is for Spike."

"What?" Buffy was taken aback.

"I told him I wanted to do something for him, but he wouldn't let me before." Joyce smiled to herself.

"Ooookay," Buffy said slowly. "I get it. But why didn't you just fix up the basement?"

"He's not a pet, Buffy!" Joyce said sharply.

"I know that! I just meant, you know, the less sunlight, the better."

"I know what you meant," Joyce replied quietly. "But I want to show him that he's an equal here, that he's family. He's not just something handy we keep around, he's somebody we want with us because of who he is." She gathered up a large stack of folded shirts and said, "Besides, this room's only got one window. He'll be fine."


Buffy had just emerged from a steam-filled bathroom, showered and dressed, when Dawn came home from school, escorted by Giles. Buffy could hear her watcher speaking patiently to her sister. "I'll be happy to take you to the hospital to see Buffy, Dawn; let's just check on your mother first."

"No need," Buffy called out as she made her way down the stairs. "We're both fine." The happy surprise on their faces when they saw her was sweet to see, and Buffy realized that it was that kind of acceptance and intimacy that her mother wanted for Spike. "Giles," she said, "do you have your car here? Could you drive me to Spike's? Mom wants him to move in here."

Dawn's mind went into overdrive as it processed what Buffy had said. //Spike! Here! In my house! That means I can see him whenever I want. That means . . . he'll see me with bedhead, he'll see me in my jammies. He'll see me like a little sister.// She gave up the dream with a sigh. //That's all he'd ever see me as anyway. It's so obvious he's into Buffy.//

Giles, meanwhile, was more calmly pondering Joyce. //It's so very like her. In the midst of her own problems to be helping another. That's where Buffy gets her heart, her compassion. It's not part of the Slayer package; it comes from family.// "Certainly I'll drive you there, but then I really must get back to the shop. I imagine that if Spike's moving in here, he'll be bringing his car, so you won't have any problem transporting his belongings?"

"Guess not. Thanks, Giles." Watcher and Slayer turned as one and headed out the front door.


"I never thought I'd say this, but the constant kills are getting boring." Forrest was back to his usual chatty self, now that Riley had committed himself wholeheartedly to the Initiative once more. "You know? I mean at first, daytime HSTs were kind of a thrill, but these things aren't even putting up a fight. Let's find a real challenge."

"Yes, let's," Riley agreed, adrenaline beginning to flow through him. "And I know just where to find one."

"Remember, this is a capture, not a kill," Riley said to his squad. "Finesse, not force. Got it?" He eased open the door of Spike's crypt and crept stealthily inside, his weapon at the ready as he checked and cleared every dark corner. His shoulders slumped in disappointment when he saw his target sound asleep on top of the tomb. Motioning for the others to follow, he walked over to where Spike lay and looked down at him, noting the tracks of tears still evident on the vampire's face. //You'll soon have much more to cry about. It's back to the lab with you, Hostile 17.// They surrounded the tomb, three of them ready with a net made of an Initiative-developed alloy, four others finding fingerholds on the other side of the tomb. At Riley's signal, the four lifted the lid of the tomb just enough to roll Spike into the net.

"What the fuck!" Spike roared as the net was closed behind him. Taking in his situation, he forced himself to calm down and think. He stood, the net settling back around him when he stopped moving. "Oh. It's you, is it then, Phineas?" he said almost conversationally to Riley, his brain desperately engaged in trying to formulate an escape plan. "You needed all this weaponry and seven of your wanker chums to collect one chipped vampire? Doesn't say a lot for you, now, does it?" He continued talking when Riley betrayed no response. "But then, you're probably just following orders. Very much the proper soldier. Programmed just so. Makes you wonder if I'm the only one in this room with a chip in my head." He smiled mock-genially as Riley came closer. "Doesn't it?" The only response he got was Riley's fist in his face. And then he lost consciousness as bursts of electricity from eight tasers flowed into him.


They were driving along the road that circumscribed Spike's cemetery, heading towards the main gate. The cemetery was bounded by a high wrought iron fence and ringed with evergreen bushes. At the gap in the greenery, Buffy turned her head automatically to scope out any graveyard activity. What she saw made her yell "Stop!" at Giles and run up to the fence to get a better view. She saw Riley and several of his men carrying a net-bound creature. She gasped when she saw the familiar platinum-topped head. She leapt back into Giles's passenger seat, giving terse orders through clenched teeth. "Turn the car around and duck down. When the Initiative van comes out, follow it without being obvious. They've got Spike again. Who knows what they're planning on doing to him this time."


Spike came around to find himself lying on the floor of a moving van, still trapped inside the net. Riley was watching him with an expression of chilling eagerness. The Initiative had operated on the assumption that vampires and other HSTs were mere animals, incapable of organized thought; as a result, all the experimentation had been only physical, never psychological. The chip had been their first foray into mental manipulation. Riley was all set to begin round two.

He allowed his team to rough the vampire up a little as they transferred him from the van to an operating theater inside the building complex. He watched in satisfaction as Spike's bare chest, wrists, and ankles were bound to the metal table, but held up a curt hand when they would have strapped down his head as well. Riley remembered the sardonic look Spike had worn whenever he saw the uneven interaction between him and Buffy. //He's seen too much.// He motioned for his men to discard their weapons and gather around the table near him, knowing Spike would be more humiliated at being held by unarmed men than by a team with weapons in their hands. He leaned in and saw Spike clench his teeth in a concerted effort not to provide the soldiers any amusement by ineffectually vamping out. Riley had just opened his mouth to taunt the vampire, to begin the mind-games, when the heavy double doors at the top of the amphitheater opened. Riley spun around to see a pretty Asian doctor making her way down the steps, an armed guard at the door watching her hesitant movements.

Riley turned on his men and demanded in a low, tight voice, "Who called her in? Who?!"

"I did, sir," the youngest responded, standing stiffly at attention. "While you and the others were containing the Hostile in the mobile unit, I followed 'capture' protocol and radioed ahead for a doctor."

Riley was furious, but there was nothing he could do now without losing face, so he nodded brusquely at the boy. Spike closed his eyes, relief that Riley wasn't going to have his way with him warring with dread at the medical tortures he'd shortly be enduring. His nostrils flared when a familiar, enticing scent made itself known to his fear-heightened senses.

Buffy knocked out the guard at the theater door, deftly catching his weapon as it fell out of his unresponsive hands. She made her way to the side door and silently slid it open, moving stealthily until she was between Riley's men and their weapons. She trained her gun on Riley's chest and cleared her throat. The deliberately casual sound caused the squad to jump, Dr. Ng to shriek in fear, and Spike to smile. "Hi guys," she said. "Remember me?" Forrest snarled at her and Riley affected not to recognize her. She moved a step closer. "I've got an idea. Why don't you guys go into that little soundproof room over there?" she said brightly.

"Or else what?" Forrest demanded.

Buffy pulled a disbelieving face. "Hello, I've got a gun aimed at your fearless leader, here."

Riley spoke to his men, his eyes never leaving Buffy's face. "She's bluffing, men. The Slayer is sworn to protect humans - all humans."

Buffy's eyes snapped up to meet his. "The thing is, I've always been a little different than the average slayer. Didn't keep the secret identity secret, didn't jump when the Council said to, didn't even stay dead. But that's not the point. The point is that all rules go out the window when my family is hurt. So I've got no problem pulling this trigger."

Spike's eyes flew open when he heard what she was saying. Riley was scoffing as he moved to stand at ease, his legs slightly apart, hands clasped at the small of his back. "Spike? He's your family? What is he, the long-lost albino second cousin?"

Buffy had had it. "I mean in my heart. He's family. And that means no one touches him. So are you going to do what I asked or are you going to get shot?" When they didn't move, Buffy fired at the space between Riley's legs. "Move it. I'm not going to ask again." She herded them into the small, dark room and bolted the door behind them, sealing them in indefinitely.

She turned to face Spike and saw the doctor, paralyzed by fear, still clutching a clipboard and leaning weakly against the back wall. "Hi, Doc," she said, an idea coming to her. "Do you want to do me a favor?" Seeing that the woman could barely breathe due to fright, Buffy unloaded her weapon of ammunition and tossed it aside. She walked towards the doctor, her bare hands clearly visible. She spoke in soft, soothing tones. "You're a doctor, right?"

A nod.

"You've worked here for how long?"

"Se-se-seven weeks."

"Have you ever performed any of the operations?"

Another nod.

"So you can do one more, okay? I'd like you to remove his chip."

"No," Dr. Ng shook her head, sounding horrified. "I can't do that."

"Yes, you can," Buffy urged, keeping her tone friendly. "He's not a threat. I would never let a dangerous vampire loose." She saw that this line of reasoning was getting her exactly nowhere. "Look," she started over, "do you have a family?"

The doctor nodded involuntarily, fear evident in her eyes. "A brother. My little brother," she said. "Please don't hurt him. I'll do what you . . ."

"I'm not threatening your family!" Buffy cut in, stung. "I'm explaining to you that this vampire here is the one who helps me keep people in this town - people like your little brother - safe. Now please help him."

"I'll do it," Dr. Ng said in a soft voice. "I want Nelson safe."

As Dr. Ng went to the sink to begin washing up, Buffy crossed the room and stood by Spike's side. She was just reaching out a hand to undo his restraints when he looked at her and spoke. "Don't do this, Slayer." It was half-plea, half-command. Her hand fell to her side in bewilderment. He turned his head away from her before he spoke again. "Don't send me away."

Buffy was more confused than she had ever been in her life. "Spike, I'm just getting the chip out. I'm not banishing you from the kingdom."

"Damn it, Buffy!" he shouted. "Didn't you understand what I said earlier? What I said about Dru? I can't trust myself to know - or do - what's best, what's right. If you take my chip, how can I be sure I won't hurt you or one of your mates? It's been so long since I've fed . . ."

Buffy turned his head back to face her and was startled by the tears in his eyes. She let go of his chin and ran her thumb over his cheekbone. "Didn't you understand what I said just now? You're family to me, Spike. I trust you. The chip is irrelevant to me, to us, but not to you. It's not fair to you. Once it's out, you'll see I'm right." She squeezed his hand and smiled at him as Dr. Ng approached them, ready to begin.


//Bloody technology.// Giles was sitting in his car, parked just outside the area monitored by Initiative surveillance, worrying about his slayer. She'd been inside the building complex for quite some time, and Giles was starting to sweat. He knew his logic was slipping, but he couldn't stop himself from thinking //stupid cell phones. If I had one I could call Willow, get her over here to do a sensing spell to make sure Buffy's alright. If they didn't make those phones, I'd have no way to call Willow, and I wouldn't be worrying so much.// He cursed himself again for disdaining the advances of the twentieth century. He was actually wringing his hands when he saw Buffy and Spike, running hand-in-hand towards him. He turned the key and the engine turned over smoothly. Giles grinned in appreciation of modern technology.


Spike was lying on his stomach, since the surgical scar at the back of his skull meant he couldn't lie on his back for a day or so. That he was on a soft bed made up with clean sheets in the Summers house was mind-boggling. He turned his head slightly to look over his shoulder when he finally sensed Dawn behind him, admiring the nice rear view he was unwittingly offering hallway passersby in his tight black jeans and t-shirt.

"What's up, Niblet?" he asked.

"Oh, I, uh, brought you this, 'cause the room's still kind of bare." She held out a plush doll of the Count from Sesame Street. He grinned at her, but she still saw that something was bothering him. "What's wrong, Spike?" she asked, perching gingerly next to him.

He moved over, ostensibly to give her more room, but really to keep himself from touching her. He could hear the steady thrum of her heart. She bent over a little, looking curiously at his still face. Her apple-scented hair bobbed in front of him when she moved. The fragrance was so strong, the concern on her face so clear, that he tentatively felt his own face for ridges, assuming his heightened senses meant his game face was on. His fingertips encountered only smooth flesh. "What's wrong is that you all trust me, the lot of you Summers women. You're trusting me right now, sittin' here beside me. I could have you bone-dry before you could open your mouth to scream."

He was startled when Dawn only smiled confidently down at him. "Yeah, you could. But you won't."

"How do you know that?" he cried out in desperation.

"Because I've seen you without your fangs. Because I know that you didn't have to help Buffy patrol, or help me with my mom. Because I know you love us." She was getting emotional, but though her voice got lower and lower, it carried the same tremendous conviction of her earlier declarations. "I know what this town is, Spike. Believe me when I say that when you're around, death seems to get farther away from us. You keep us safe." She stood up and laid the doll in her place. "You should get some sleep. You've got a big day tomorrow."

"Yeah?" he asked, one eyebrow arched interrogatively.

"Yeah. Mom found out there's a viewers' choice Passions marathon on tomorrow afternoon, which means Buffy and I are running away from home, leaving you behind as the sacrificial victim." She grinned. "Enjoy!" she sang out as she left his room.


"Ah. The very best in brothel chic. Thanks, mate." He examined the round, red velour throw pillows Xander had given him in disbelief. Knowing money was tight for the Summers household because of hospital bills, Willow had suggested to Xander that they should get some stuff for Spike's room that looked like it belonged in a house and not a crypt. The only things Spike had ended up moving were his record player, his record collection, and his clothes.

"The pillows were Anya's idea. She told me to get either red or black. She says they're your favorite colors, or at least the only colors you ever wear," Xander explained.

"Yeah," Willow cut in, "and she wanted to give them to you herself, only -"

"Commerce called," Spike finished for her. "I get it. Thank her for me, would you, mate?"

"Sure," Xander answered, slightly thrown by the normalcy of it all. "I haven't given you my present yet, Spike."

"Oh! Me neither!" Willow exclaimed, and darted off to Joyce's room to retrieve her room-warming gifts. She came back with a tube of posters under one arm and a houseplant in her hand. Spike unrolled the posters, grinning excitedly. He turned to examine the blank walls, trying to decide on the placement of the images, when he heard something being thrown on the bed.

He pivoted again and saw an envelope on the bed and Xander refusing to meet his eye. "I, um, talked to Buffy's mom, and she told me about everything you've done for her," Xander said slowly. "My gift is to help you paint this room any color you'd like. She said it was okay."

Spike understood immediately; the boy's offer was less about individualizing the room than about the promise of spending time together - time free of acrimony - as they painted. "Thanks . . . Xander," Spike said, sticking out his hand.

They shook, and then Xander made his way to the door. "The envelope's got paint swatches. You pick the one you like, and I'll go to the store and get a couple of cans. See you." He left, leaving Spike and Willow alone together.

"So, pet? How's that pretty girl of yours?"

"Oh, so great!" Willow said, stars in her eyes. "She got you something too, but she said she had to give it to you in person." She checked her watch and said, "I've got to go. Her class gets over soon, and I'm moving my stuff into her place this afternoon. Bye, Spike."


Word had finally gotten out about the lack of sunshine, and vamps who'd always longed for a taste of the hellmouth flocked there in droves. Darla smiled in wicked anticipation; some of the vamps had had the foresight to turn fairly powerful witches, and the havoc they wreaked with their spells meant that routine patrols, no matter how often they were carried out, were not going to keep Sunnydale safe. Darla's eyes closed in bliss when she imagined what the very near future would bring, and she whispered, "Soon, Angelus, soon."

Across the room, Drusilla heard the words, and fear gripped her. Her fingers tightened convulsively in Miss Edith's hair as images, brighter than life, flashed across her inward eye: Angelus, one hand clamped around her throat, the other reaching roughly under her velvet dress, smiling when he realized that she couldn't scream unless he willed it so; a look from his eye commanding her to kneel in front of him with her mouth open, his hands jerkily tangling in her long hair. //No. This can't be.// She knew she wasn't remembering what Angelus had done to her as his newly-turned childe; Spike had helped her heal all of that pain, kissing every spot her sire had bruised, listening when she spoke of her family, holding her when she needed to cry. //But where is he? Where is my pretty Spike?// One last memory pushed its way through the cacophony of her mad mind, and she saw herself silently ordered to laugh, to kiss, to caress her sire while her true lover watched helplessly from a wheelchair. She went cold inside and slumped over on the dark wood floor. Now she knew what had driven her darling boy away.


Spike fingered the empty cardboard carton in his pocket. Joyce hadn't said anything about his smoking; all she'd said when she pulled him aside the night before was that she really appreciated him being there, but she knew he was used to his own space, so if living with a family was ever driving him crazy, he should feel free to escape to his crypt for a little while. He'd bent his head to kiss her cheek and whispered in her ear, "A bloke'd have to be mad, leaving a house with three beautiful girls." //Three beautiful girls with healthy lungs// he reminded himself now. He looked down at the carton in his hand for a moment before crumpling it and tossing it in the trash.

The door opened, and Dawn made a beeline for the vampire while Buffy headed upstairs to finish the reading for her five o'clock class.

"How was school?" he asked.

"Fine, fine," Dawn said impatiently. "How's your head?"

"Just dandy. Poke around all you like, Pixi Stik."

She took him literally, and crawled behind him on the couch and felt around his skull with clumsily gentle fingers. "Really all better?" she asked, a smile growing on her face.

"Really all better," he confirmed with a nod. "How much homework you got, pet?"

"Not a lot. But I've got this stupid test on Florence Nightingale and the Crimean War tomorrow. Help me study?"

"Of course," he answered, and held out his right hand. They had thumb-wrestled through three study sessions, and Dawn's grades had never been better; Spike thought her concentration was akin to the mental focus Buffy achieved when she trained her hardest physically. He grinned when he captured her thumb and asked, "What was Florence Nightingale's nickname?"

Her brow furrowed as she tried to work her thumb free, and the answer slipped out of her automatically, "The Lady with the Lamp."

He was smiling at her when they finally finished, their thumbs sore. "Looks like you're all set to ace another test, Platelet."

She noticed that his teeth weren't quite straight, that when he grinned he looked endearingly like a little boy. "Hey Spike," she blurted out, "how come your teeth are so nice?" He looked completely confounded by her non sequitur. "I mean, Mr. Halloran is always telling us really gross stuff about whatever time we're studying. Like he said people used to only shower once or twice a year, and stuff like that. If you're so old how come you look like us?"

"My mum was very strict with us about that sort of thing, Niblet. She grew up in India, and she noticed that the Indians, who bathed and cleaned their teeth everyday, hardly ever fell sick. She was sure it was the cleanliness, so she made us do the same."

"She sounds smart."

"She was. And my da too. When it became apparent that I was left-handed, the parish priest said that I must be trained to use my right hand instead; he said being left-handed was a sign that I was a devil child. My parents heard him out, closed the door behind him, and didn't go to church after that."

"Wow," she said, straightfaced, "who knew the priest was right?"

"You think I'm a devil child, do you?" he asked, one eyebrow beginning to arch. "Does this seem like what a devil child would do?" He kissed her lightly on the temple, distracting her as his nimble fingers found her tummy and began tickling her unmercifully.

Continue: Part 8/15
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

Long Buffy fic: "Two-Part Invention" (part 8)

"Where have you been?" Angel's accusing voice cut through the still, dark night as he got up from the bench outside the Peaceful Slumber cemetery. Spike eyed Buffy quizzically, realizing from her own puzzled look at him that she'd made no plans to meet Angel for patrol tonight. Angel grew even more irritated when he noticed the silent communication. Of course he knew why Spike was hanging around Buffy; the real question was, why was she letting him?

He stepped forward as if to greet them and wedged himself between them. Buffy, aware of the tension between the two vampires, maneuvered herself so that they flanked her. Angel immediately repositioned himself. //This is like life-sized three-card monte// Buffy thought crossly. She shot a look at Spike, curious as to why he wasn't acting equally territorial, and a little peeved that he seemed to be taking it all with equanimity, his fluid strides never faltering.

They walked for a little while in silence. They had just reached the top of a high but gently sloped hill when they came upon a canoodling couple, both human. They turned away, Buffy wistfully lingering a moment longer, and came face-to-face with a large group of vampires and their witch-minions.

Buffy was getting incredibly frustrated. Angel used his bulk to great advantage, not only against his opponents, but against her as well. He kept her shielded from the fray, and the tilt of his shoulders kept her from seeing very much of it. She ran around so that she was next to Spike, as far from Angel as possible. The blond vampire grinned fiercely at her, and they moved in unison to stand back-to-back for the fight. Buffy and Spike finished off their attackers, and turned to challenge Angel's opponents. He was fighting two at once, but it was the third creature who caught Spike's attention. The figure raised its arms and chanted to the sky, and the tiny hairs on the back of Spike's neck stood on end; it was as if the whole world had blinked at once. Twin screams could be heard even as the power surge died away. Spike raced back up the hill and saw the human couple they'd seen before struggling in vain with invisible bonds even as the creature that had chanted appeared behind them and drained them both. Buffy was just in time to witness the deaths. "Oh, God."

The sound of her voice seemed to recall Spike to the present moment. He turned to her, his voice low. "We need the witches. We'll need them first thing tomorrow morning."

"What witches?" Buffy asked, confused.

"Red and her bird, love. I'll go talk to them now, get them started. I'll see you later, Buffy." She nodded automatically in mute agreement despite her confusion and saw Angel, blood dripping from his knuckles, ready to escort her home.


"What's an eleven-letter word for beauty?" Dawn shouted out from the den when she heard Buffy's key unlocking the front door. She and Joyce were down on the den carpet, regular and rhyming dictionaries scattered around them as they hunched over the Sunday crossword puzzle.

Dawn let the thesaurus slip from her fingers when she heard Angel's voice and not Spike's, as she'd expected. "How about 'Dawn Summers'?" the vampire joked.

Into the awkward silence that followed, Buffy spoke. "Come on, Angel, let me get the first aid kit and clean you up."

As soon as they were out of earshot, Joyce closed her eyes and sighed, "Please don't tell me they're together again."

"Not if I can help it," Dawn promised, and the two shared a secret smile.

Buffy got the gauze and ointment out of her first-aid drawer and motioned for Angel to sit on her bed. She angled the lamp so that its light would hit his hands. She taped his knuckles until he looked like a prizefighter. The sound of Dawn's laughter drifted up the stairs, and Angel said abruptly, "Dawn seems really jumpy around me. Is something wrong?"

Buffy considered for a moment, then answered, "Well, I told her . . ."

"About the prophecy?!"

"No! About our history. About how we got together and then everything got bad." She paused, assuming a spurious air of nonchalance. "I mean, she knows that you weren't responsible. It was Angelus. Angel and Angelus have nothing to do with each other, right?" She hit just the right note of idle curiosity, but she hadn't forgotten for a single moment the anguished words she'd heard Spike choke out as she eavesdropped in the alley. She needed to believe that he was wrong, that Angel's ignorance of Angelus's deeds hadn't been feigned, that the kiss they'd shared before she plunged her sword into him had meant what she'd thought. //If it doesn't, then fighting with Xander, lying to Giles, deserting Mom and Dawn, endangering everybody, getting Kendra killed, would mean nothing. I did it all for him. That's got to mean something.// Angel had just opened his mouth to answer when the phone rang, startling them both. They could hear Dawn race to get it.

"Spike!" They heard her gleeful exclamation as they put away the medical supplies and made their way down the stairs. "Mom!" Dawn yelled, pitching her voice loud enough to be heard several rooms away, "he says it's 'pulchritude'!" She giggled a bit, then said, "Yeah, they got here safe and sound. Well, he was hurt a little, but Buffy fixed him up." She listened for a moment, then finished the conversation with "Okay. See you soon." She walked back to where her mother and Buffy sat in the middle of a sea of books and papers. "He says he'll be home in an hour."

She plunked herself down between them and whispered "Scooch over" to her sister just as Angel, who'd been sitting on the couch, stood up.

He stood tall, looming in judgment over them. "'Home'? I thought he lived in that crypt."

"He's got a crypt," Buffy agreed, narrowly avoiding an outright lie.

"Good," he relaxed, "because even with a chip, Spike's dangerous around humans."

Just before either of her daughters could leap to Spike's defense or spill the beans about his de-chipped state, Joyce let out the loudest, fakest yawn in history. There was no way she was going to let some jackass vampire who'd deflowered and betrayed her daughter lecture all of them about trust and boundaries. "Well," she said, melodramatically feigning sleepiness, "it was so nice to see you again, Angel." She began hustling him to the front door. "I'm sure we'll see you soon. You have a good night." She closed the door firmly and secured the deadbolt. After all, Spike had a key.


Crouched behind one of the bushes in the front lawn, Angel could hear the lock click as Joyce turned it. He noticed, though, that she left the front porch light on. //Something's going on.// He remembered the message that Dawn had relayed, and got comfortable, ready to wait an hour for Spike's return. He settled down on the grass.

Fifty minutes later, he heard the sound of heavy boots scuffing along the sidewalk. He raised himself back up into a crouch, grimacing when he heard a twig snap beneath him, but the sound was masked by the shrill ringing of a cell phone. He could hear Spike answer it. "Yeah? . . . Niblet, shouldn't you be fast asleep? It's a school night. . . . I'll quiz you tomorrow over breakfast. Deal? . . . Night, pet." Angel's mouth hung open in disbelief as Spike snapped the phone shut, unlocked the front door, went inside, and turned off the porch light.


Buffy was having caf, au lait while Spike heard Dawn recite her irregular verbs to prep for her French exam. Joyce walked over to the table and set a full plate in front of her younger daughter. "Here you are, honey. French toast."

"Ha ha," Dawn muttered sarcastically.

"So I think theme breakfasts are funny. Sue me."

Buffy drained her cup and stood up. "Ready?" she asked Spike.

"Yeah. Best o' luck, Jellybean. Bye, Joyce."

They walked to the Magic Box, going over what they'd witnessed the night before. "So Red 'n' Tara said they'd spend the night looking up spells and such."

"Who's Tara?"

"Willow's girlfriend," he answered, surprised by the question. Off her look, he added, "Pretty. About so high. Blondish-brownish hair. Nice voice."

"Willow has a girlfriend?" Buffy asked.

"Yeah," he answered, and left it at that.

When they entered, Giles, Anya, and Xander were sitting at the table. For once, Giles didn't have a book in front of him. He was sipping tea, listening to Anya relating an anecdote - something from her demon days - with a fixed smile; Xander did the same. "Morning, all," Spike greeted them. Willow and Tara walked in with a few books.

The meeting began with Spike relating what had happened on the last patrol. "Good Lord," Giles murmured. "They're using power from the sun-blocking spell to fuel their own smaller, deadlier spells."

"Yeah," Spike affirmed, "and that's where the Wiccas come in."

Willow stood up. "Well, Tara did some sensing spells, but couldn't find the source of the main spell. And I looked through every book we've got, but as long as the big spell is in effect, there's pretty much nothing we can do about the little ones." She took a deep breath and looked apologetically at Buffy. "So it looks like we'll have to use the prophecy after all." Buffy nodded bravely. She'd dreaded that it would come to this.


Angel had worked himself up into a towering rage, pacing all through the night, when he remembered Spike saying something about a meeting first thing in the morning. He ran to the magic shop, slamming the door open so hard that it came off its hinges. The whole group looked up, startled by the force of his entrance. His smoldering eyes narrowed when he saw Spike sitting at the table between Buffy and Xander. "What's going on here?" he asked menacingly.

Buffy got up and walked toward him. "We were talking about the situation here." She swallowed hard. "And about the prophecy. It looks like our only chance."

Angel straightened his body from its predatory hunch. "The prophecy? As in you and me?" She nodded. "No dice."


"Not until he's out of your house." He pointed an accusing finger at his step-childe.

"What does that have to do with anything?" Buffy asked, torn between rage and confusion.

"He's dangerous. I don't want him anywhere near you."

"But -"

"No, Buffy!" he interrupted. "I'm the one in the prophecy. I'm the one who can help you. I'm the one who came down from L. A. the minute I heard. Not him. And I'm the one you lied to last night." He paused before adding, "Just think of this as my payment."

They all gaped at him. Spike stood. "Fine," he said. He was seething at the stunt Angel was pulling, but he had no choice since the larger vampire was, in effect, holding the entire population of Sunnydale hostage. "I'll be out of the Summers house and back in my crypt this afternoon."

Angel didn't bother to acknowledge him, but turned to Willow and asked, "So when's the big night?"

Willow picked up the blue book Giles had used before and flipped to the right page. "Buffy," she said softly, "you need to come too." She led the way to a corner of the room; Buffy and Angel followed.

Giles, Anya, Xander, Spike, and Tara all stayed at the table. Xander said, "As soon as the prophecy is completed, I say we stake him."

"But he said he wouldn't lose his soul," Anya reminded her lover.

"Soul, shmoul. Look at him. Even with a soul, he's evil."

Spike's mouth quirked in a half-smile. It broadened when he heard Giles mutter, "Tosser!"

Tara sat in Buffy's seat, next to Spike. She got his attention by touching his arm gently. "I . . . I . . . uh . . . know my timing's off, but I haven't had the time to do this before. Um . . . after you move your stuff, could you come by my place? I want to give you my room-warming gift."

"Sure, pet," he answered, gratified. "But you didn't have to get me anything. I mean, we've only met the one time."

"But look what I got out of it." She smiled fondly at Willow, across the room.

The spell the redhead was working dimmed the lights. Colored balls of fire generated in her hands. She chanted ceaselessly. Then it all spun out of control. Buffy had to dodge as the blue fireball darted at her; the red one singed Angel's hair. Willow collapsed, panting. Giles rushed over to her and carried her back to the work table. She came around when Tara held her hand. "Sorry," she said weakly. "The spell didn't work."

Tara turned to face the group. "The full moon is in three nights. That's a night of natural power. You should be able to do it then." She gathered Willow into her arms.

"Sounds fine," Angel said.

Buffy turned to Spike and said, "I'll call you for tonight's patrol, okay?"

"No need," Angel interjected quickly. "I think our boy Spike should take the night off." He stepped close to the blond vampire and locked eyes with him. "Buffy and I need to get our rhythm back" - he raised his eyebrows suggestively - "if we're going to save Sunnydale in three days. We'll be better off on our own."


Spike stalked back to the Summers house alone. He stepped inside the kitchen to make himself some hot chocolate and found Joyce hanging up the phone. "Oh, Spike, I'm so glad you're here. That was the hospital. They've scheduled my operation for the day after tomorrow. They want me there tomorrow morning."

Spike was startled by the suddenness of it all. "That's all the warning they're giving you?"

"Apparently this is how it works," she replied. "I'll have to let Carol know. At least I don't have to worry about Buffy and Dawn, since you'll be here." She shot him a relieved smile and went upstairs to finish getting ready for work.

As soon as she'd driven off, Spike loaded his car with his records, record player, posters, throw pillows, and clothes. He tucked Xander's envelope in his duster pocket. He gave the room one last look and saw the doll Dawn had given him lying on the bed. He picked it up, closed his door, and went into her room. On a sheet of her purple stationery, he wrote a short note. "Hey Twizzler - Long story short. That bloody sod Angel wanted me out of your house. According to some prophecy, he's the one who can help your big sis save Sunnyhell, and he refused to play ball until I promised to leave. Sorry to run out without saying goodbye. I've still got the phone, so call me whenever you want. But do NOT come to me - ugly things are happening here, and I don't want them happening to you. I'm taking your mum to hospital tomorrow morning, so I'll see you then. Love, Spike." He tucked the note under the Count's cape and placed the doll on Dawn's bed.


Giles hung up the phone and went back to the training room where Buffy was still stretching. "Anything important?" she asked.

"It was Spike. He wanted to make sure someone picked up Dawn this afternoon. He said she was expecting him to come get her."

"Oh." Buffy didn't know what to say. She looked up hopefully at her watcher. "Could you?"

"Of course. I'll bring her back here so she won't be alone in the house." He paused and then took the plunge. "Buffy, what do you feel about what happened this morning? About Angel's demands?"

She looked surprised to hear such questions from him. "It made me mad." He nodded encouragingly; Buffy was at her best when she knew her own emotions. "I mean, who is he to question my mom's decision? And Spike has been great with Mom, great with Dawn. It's good to go patrolling with someone who can more than hold his own. So, yeah, it got me mad." She looked at Giles, whose eyes were fixed so intently on her she knew her other feelings had not gone unnoticed. His paternal smile pushed her on. "And I guess I'm scared. What Angel did this morning - it made me wonder if we're really on the same side. It made me wonder how much he deserved the credit I've always given him. It really hurt, Giles."


Spike walked over to Tara's building and knocked on her door. It had only taken him ten minutes to put away his things, ten minutes in which he felt acutely the disparity between his crypt and a home. Tara opened the door and said, "Pe-Pe-Perfect timing. Willow's got classes the rere -rest of the afternoon, so we've got plenty of ti-ti-time."

"Plenty of time for what?" he asked.

"To make your p-p-present." She led the way past boxes of Willow's stuff to a large circle drawn on the carpet in light green powder. They sat down Indian-style in the circle, and Tara spoke without a stutter.

"Remember when you came here with Willow and you saw into my mind?" He nodded. "Well, that spell went both ways. I got a peek into yours."

Again, he nodded; he'd felt her reciprocating, but it hadn't bothered him. "What'd you see, pet?"

"Your family." He went still. "I found a spell about a year ago to translate thoughts onto paper. It took me until now to become powerful enough to work it." She looked down. "I could tell how much you miss them. If you want, if you trust me, I could be your conduit. You just think of them, I'll look into you, and they'll come out on this paper," she explained, laying a large sheet of heavy sketching paper between them. In response, he held out his hands. She clasped them and looked into his eyes.

She could tell the moment he stopped seeing her. His eyes softened, and their dark blue deepened. Images formed slowly in her mind as she concentrated fiercely. She saw a man and two women. Sweat beaded on her face as dark lines began to form on the cream-colored paper.

When the spell was finally done, Tara was panting heavily. The sheet was covered with images: his father with his nose in a book; his mother in the red dress she'd made from a silk sari; his sister laughing; his father on horseback; his mother's darkly beautiful face; Stella as a child, holding her little brother's hand. He looked it over wonderingly, and when he met her eyes again, she thought she would cry. He knew he had to say something to acknowledge the enormity of what she had done for him, but before he could even think of anything appropriate, she said "Wait!" and stepped out of the circle. She took a large picture frame from her dresser drawer, hastily scraped off the price tag, and handed it to him. "Now it's done." He stood up and saw a similar picture of a woman on her desk. Understanding that he didn't need to say anything, he kissed her cheek and turned to go.


Dawn was surprised, but a little glad, that it wasn't Spike who picked her up after school. She'd finally gotten her poetry assignment back - word was that Ms. Okan had had a fight with her boyfriend and accidentally left the assignments at his house when she stormed out - and she wasn't sure if she wanted Spike to see it. The poem was, after all, a paean to him and Xander. So she hopped into Giles's sports car cheerfully.

When she walked into the Magic Box, she was startled to find Buffy waiting for her with her arms crossed. "Don't you have class?" she asked.

"In a little bit. Dawn, I need to talk to you. Could you please come back here?" Buffy escorted her sister to the training room. "Um . . ." Buffy began, pacing nervously, "Spike's not living with us anymore."

"What? Why not?!" Dawn was outraged. "Did you guys have a fight or something?"

"No, not at all," Buffy replied, taken aback. "There's, um, this prophecy that says that Angel and I can fix the sun-be-gone we've been experiencing, and he said he wouldn't help unless Spike moved out. Dawn -" she said, holding up a hand to ask for her sister's continued attention, "that's not even the big news. Spike called. He said he saw Mom this morning. Before he got a chance to tell her he was moving out, she said that she had to be at the hospital tomorrow. Her surgery is the day after."

Buffy watched helplessly as Dawn's eyes filled with tears. "What do we do, Buffy?" she asked, her voice shaking.

"We stay with Mom tonight, and tell her Spike stayed away so we'd have family time. Then we go with her when he drives her to the hospital tomorrow morning."


Dinner was surprisingly low-key. They had comfort food - homemade macaroni and cheese - they all made together, giggling as they added way too much grated cheddar. They trooped into the den, Buffy and Joyce collapsing under the weight of so much food; their eyes widened when Dawn appeared with bowls of ice cream-topped brownies.

They savored dessert slowly, talking incessantly between bites. Dawn giggled as her mother told the story of her first haircut - at Buffy's hands, with a pair of orange-and-white safety scissors. "You're just lucky I couldn't find the pinking shears," Buffy said with an evil smile.

"Hey, guess what?" Dawn jumped in.

"What, honey?"

"I, uh, won first prize in the poetry contest."

"Spike would be so proud," Buffy said wryly.

"Really, sweetie? That's great! Can we hear it?" Joyce asked.

"Yeah, of course." Dawn rooted around under the sofa for her knapsack, and finally pulled out a piece of looseleaf. "It's about Spike and Xander," she admitted, blushing a little. Buffy stopped hearing her sister's nervous voice after the first few lines: "He moves like the moon, / Body darker than night, hair brighter than lightning, / A walking eclipse of a man."

//Think, brain, think// Buffy commanded herself. Dawn's words had set off an alarm somewhere in her mind, but she couldn't locate it. //It'll come to me. Eventually.// She came back to the reality of the den when she heard her mother's enthusiastic applause.


She felt it the minute Angel seemed to materialize next to her. He smiled easily at her as if their confrontation that morning had never happened. "Hi, Buffy."

"Hi." They stood without speaking for a few moments while she searched desperately for equilibrium. When she had a reasonable facsimile, she said, "I think we should go back to the place we were attacked last night. We can do quick sweeps of the other cemeteries on our way." He nodded agreeably and they set off.

It wasn't until the fourth graveyard that they came across some vampires. Buffy moved in quickly for the kill, dusting three in a matter of moments. She brushed the dust from her pants and tank top and headed for the exit. "Buffy, wait. What's the matter?"

"What are you talking about?"

"I've patrolled with you before, remember? You used to banter. You used to have fun."

"As I recall, you and I didn't patrol that strenuously. We were busy doing other things." As soon as the words left her mouth, she regretted them. She hadn't meant to sound like she was issuing an invitation to a repeat performance.

She flushed hotly when Angel smirked knowingly at her and moved even closer to her. "I can vouch for the fact that a good time was had by all." He laid one hand on her arm and ran the other through her loose hair. "And soon we'll be together again," he whispered.

She looked down as she stepped back and hid the shame from her voice. "But not tonight."

When they finally reached the scene of the previous night's fracas, Buffy could hear the sounds of a struggle. She ran around a cluster of imposing mausoleums to see Spike, a stake in each hand, fighting with a trio of orange-robed vampires. A lucky blow rid him of one of them, and by the time Buffy reached his side, he'd managed to dust the other two. "Loser vamps 0, fashion police 3," she quipped.

He smiled down at her. "All's well with your -" Spike broke off when Angel finally came into view.

"Yeah," she affirmed quickly, trying to explain with her eyes that Angel didn't know anything about her mother's health. Spike got the message instantly.

Angel stood next to Buffy. "Spike."


"Why are you here? I told you to take the night off."

"Shouldn't that be the Slayer's call?" Spike asked carelessly, as if it were all academic.

Angel grinned. "It is. I know you heard the prophecy - our 'union' binds us together." He draped a heavy arm over her shoulders. "We are one," he said, remembering how much that phrase had discomfitted Spike before.

When Spike hissed in disbelief and turned to Buffy, he saw two huge green eyes mutely beseeching him to give in with good grace. "All right, then, Peaches. Playing field's yours. Take care, pet," he said as he strode back to his crypt.


They were heading for the gate when Angel's cell phone rang. Buffy moved so that she was out of earshot; she needed space from him and his high-handed ways. She looked around, puzzled, when a faint electronic beeping reached her ears. She peered through some bushes to see Riley in full camouflage gear, an infrared body heat sensor in his hand. Despite registering on his screen, she still surprised him when she stepped up to face him. "Riley." She kept her tone non-committal.

"Buffy!" His eyes widened, but then he got his reaction under control. "Figures I'd find you here. I'm guessing the other little blip on my screen is your new boyfriend. God, what barrel were you scraping the bottom of to find Spike?"

His assumptions were so off-base that she didn't, for a moment, know how to respond. "Spike is not my boyfriend. And I know you must be itching to drag him back to your lab, but here's a friendly warning: the chip is out." He stared blankly, not wanting to believe her. "And the cold-blooded body showing up on your monitor is Angel, my ex-boyfriend, another vampire I'm warning you to steer clear of."

"Why? Who's he? Your great-grandfather's twin brother?" Riley asked snidely.

"He's not family. He's an ally. So run along, soldier. No one for you to kill or capture here."

Riley's silence convinced Buffy he was thinking over what she'd said. Until he muttered, "Except you."

"Excuse me? When did you decide delusions were fun?" Buffy asked, laughter escaping her. In response, Riley punched her across the jaw. She absorbed the blow calmly, not even bothering to shift into a fighting stance. She questioned him, more curious than upset. "Why are you hitting me? When did you decide we were enemies?"

"When you allied yourself again with the demons."

He continued to beat on her, but it seemed to have no effect. "Riley. Stop. You can't win." He kept up his attack. She backhanded him almost casually, and the force of it sent him staggering. She followed with a leaping roundhouse kick that left him sprawled on the ground, blood pouring from a cut on his temple. The last thing he heard before he passed out was, "Next time a girl says stop, listen to her." She knelt beside his body and turned on his walkie-talkie so that his men would find him quickly.

Angel was still on the phone when she headed back in his direction, winding up a conversation with Cordelia about the latest at the karaoke bar. Buffy mouthed, "I have to go home" and pointed at his watch; without waiting for his response, she turned on her heel and headed for Revello Drive.

Continue: Part 9/15
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

Long Buffy fic: "Two-Part Invention" (part 9)

The alarm blared insistently. One eye opened to a sliver, and she glared balefully at the clock. //5 a.m.! What the hell was I thinking?// Buffy snaked one hand out from underneath the covers to turn off the alarm when memory came rushing back in. //You were thinking that Mom has to go to the hospital today, and you want as much time as you can get with her.// She rolled onto her back, aware for the first time that something was holding her waist down as securely as a seatbelt. She looked down to see Dawn's arm. Her sister was curled up next to her, looking troubled even in her sleep. //I wonder when she snuck in here. Poor baby.// She nudged her sister awake, and they got ready to face the day together. Brushing their teeth, taking turns spitting into the sink, they moved with the silence and timing of a long-married couple. Showered and dressed, they pulled their damp hair into tight ponytails and went downstairs.

Spike was sitting next to Joyce on the couch in the den, his hand cradling hers. A comfortable silence reigned. "You guys eat something, and then we'll go, okay?" Joyce suggested, as if their destination were the grocery store or the hairdresser.

They nodded obediently and went into the kitchen. Dawn got out the cereal bowls. "I'll eat in a second. I just need to make one quick phone call," Buffy said.


Joyce rested as best she could in the inclined hospital bed, gauze pads taped to the insides of her elbows. Her left arm dangled off the bed, and Spike's thumb and forefinger kept a gentle grip on her pinky. As she'd asked, he'd seen the girls off to school and patrol, but then he drove back to the hospital to stay by her side. He seemed to know when she needed speech, when she needed silence. And he'd been so self-effacing that even when visiting hours were over, no one asked him to leave.

Unbidden, thoughts of her ex-husband entered her mind. Hank had been nothing but trouble when she was in the hospital. He was bad enough when she was in labor, but when she'd had the appendicitis scare - about six months before he left her - he'd been a downright nuisance. He had yelled at the doctors, paced the hallways, and ignored his daughters' fear. Even when her life had seemed to hang in the balance, he hadn't been looking at her, holding her hand, whispering tenderly to her; he'd been shouting at the top of his lungs that when the doctors had killed her, he would sue.

She shook her head slightly to rid herself of painful memories, and Spike broke the silence of his vigil. "Need anything, Joyce?" he asked.

"No. I was just thinking what an extraordinarily restful person you are to have here by my side." He smiled shyly, his expression at odds with his bad boy hair and clothes. "Buffy's very lucky to have you - to have someone so in love with her that he'd do all this for her."

He leaned forward, swallowing hard. "It's not Buffy. I mean - yes, I love her. But I'm not sitting here with you because of her, or even for her. I - I love you too. I'd love you even if you weren't her mum. Granted, I probably wouldn't have met you if you weren't, but still . . ."

He trailed off when she smiled and answered "I love you too, Spike. And not just because you take such good care of my girls."


When Joyce's eyes began to close that night, and Dr. Isaacs finally suggested that they go, Spike led the way to his car.

"So we can't see her until tomorrow?" Dawn asked plaintively, her voice high and lonely as they walked through the parking lot.

"Your mum'll be out until then," Spike affirmed. "But you can see her as soon as the surgery's over, Jujube."

Buffy squeezed her sister's hand. They reached the car, and Spike unlocked the passenger door. Buffy climbed in, and turned to see Dawn following her, so she slid into the middle of the bench-seat. When Spike got in next to her, her richness called to him. She smelled like rain. His hands gripped the steering wheel tightly as he drove them home.

"Spike," Dawn began, "as soon as Angel leaves, you're moving back in, right?"

Spike was silent for a moment. His greatest fear was that Joyce wouldn't make it through tomorrow, and he'd have to move back, if only to act as a second guardian for Dawn. He didn't want to consider the possibility; he didn't want that to be the way he came back. "Course, Niblet," he finally answered. "Who else is going to keep you on the straight and narrow?"

He met her eyes as he stopped at a red light, startled to see her tears; she'd figured out his silent thoughts. Buffy sat quietly between them with downcast eyes. When they pulled into the driveway, Spike put the car into park but left the motor running. "I'll pick you both up from the magic shop at three tomorrow so you can see your mum," he reminded them.

Dawn tucked a folded piece of paper into his hand and leaned across Buffy. "Thanks, Spike," she said, hugging him awkwardly. He turned his head to kiss her downy cheek. She opened the door and stepped out of the car, and Buffy slid towards the exit.

She looked over her shoulder and saw that his lips had been dampened by her sister's tears. She touched the shapely hand resting on the gearshift to get his attention. "Thanks, Spike," Buffy said before her lips found his cool cheek.


Buffy went straight into the kitchen, Dawn on her heels. She checked the machine, surprised that their dad hadn't yet called back. She turned to her sister and said, "I've got to go patrol. Who do you want over here to stay with you? Xander? Willow?"

"Giles," Dawn answered.

Buffy called her watcher, then dialed the number Cordelia had given her that afternoon. It was Angel's cell. "Angel," Buffy said when he came on the line, "my study group just left. As soon as Giles gets here to watch Dawn, I can patrol. Meet you at the little graveyard in half an hour?"


Spike spread his thickest blankets neatly over the top of the tomb and climbed up. He'd patrolled briefly but found nothing, so he'd decided to go back to his crypt and try his best to relax. He saw that Willow's tube of posters had rolled off the tomb so he bent down to retrieve it. He unfurled the stack again, this time really looking at the images. She'd found old-fashioned maps of all the cities he'd ever lived in, or at least been known in. //This must have taken her days of going through Watchers' Diaries and the like.// When he recalled some of the gory details that were surely recorded in such journals, his pleased smile faded. //Unless . . .// Unless Willow's gift was an oblique way of saying she understood that his past was truly past, that what counted with her was the present. //That would be lovely.//

He rolled the posters up again and slid them back into the tube. He'd only pin them up once he was back home. He sighed when he remembered the Niblet's wistful question, and recalling her face reminded him of the paper she'd slipped into his hand. He reached into his duster pocket and pulled it out, shedding the coat. At the top of the page, in red ink and deliberately dashing handwriting, were the words "Congratulations! First prize!" Beneath it, in blue, was Dawn's familiar hand, small and loopy. He read the poem a few times, understanding its meaning even as he noted the admirable metrical rhythm she'd achieved once she hit her stride. Spike breathed in sharply; her love for him was right there on the page, and it warmed him up inside. He found a pen and scrawled, "Ta, Rapunzel" across the bottom before folding the sheet back up and putting it on top of his coat. He paced around the crypt a few times, too restless to sleep, despite the fact that his time in the Summers house had transformed him back into a diurnal creature.

On his third go-round, he saw Tara's gift out of the corner of his eye. He picked it up and sat down heavily on the tomb, anxious exhaustion abruptly getting the better of him. With delicate fingers he traced the beloved visages. Mourning for his lost family, praying for his new one, he sank slowly to his side and drew his knees up towards his chest, falling asleep with the frame clutched tightly in his hand.


Buffy climbed into her room through the window for old times' sake and found herself missing Spike. Patrol with Angel had been quiet; in truth, it had been mind-numbingly boring. Angel didn't like to chat while he was patrolling; Spike had told her the best dirty joke the last time they'd patrolled together. In a way, Angel's determined silence had been a blessing, as it meant she didn't have to lie about where she'd been all evening, her mother's health, or her fears for the coming day.

She went downstairs and saw Dawn nodding off in front of the TV and Giles reading a mystery novel. Buffy realized in a flash that Dawn had wanted Giles with her simply because he wouldn't force her into conversation, when all she wanted was space to think about her mother. //She's growing up so fast// Buffy thought, half-admiring, half-resentful of the circumstances that had pushed her sister so far. "Thanks for staying, Giles," she said, walking into the den and turning off the television.

"Of course. When - tomorrow?"

"Spike's getting us at three," she answered around the lump in her throat.

"Then I'll see you tomorrow, Buffy," he said, squeezing her shoulder as he headed for the door.

Buffy climbed into bed, clutching Mr. Gordo for comfort, until Dawn crept in and asked if she could stay. "Do you think it'll be okay, Buffy?" Dawn asked as she slid under the covers.

Buffy stroked her sister's hair tenderly before promising, "Yes." She could feel Dawn's body relax gradually, as the single word somehow allayed her fears.

Dawn snuggled comfortably into Buffy's side, on the edge of sleep, and whispered, "I just hope Spike's car is big enough for all of us."

"Mmm," Buffy absently agreed. "Dawn, what was it you called him? In that poem you wrote?"

"'A walking eclipse of a man'?" Dawn answered wearily.

"Yeah, that's it. That's really good, you know?" Buffy kissed her sister's forehead and felt her slide into sleep.

//Eclipse. That's it.// She remembered the dream she'd had days ago - lifetimes ago - in which she'd sung "Total Eclipse of the Heart" in a dingy karaoke bar. //And Spike was there.// The dreams she'd had and couldn't forget began to flash in front of her mind's eye, at last incredibly obvious. A tiny Audrey II smoking in her front yard. //Spike.// The golden-eyed wolf whose black fur had become supple leather. //Spike.// Her fellow musical traveler in the deep dark woods. //Spike.// A crazed grin spread across Buffy's face as she lay next to her sister in the dark. //Is Spike animal, vegetable, or mineral?// She'd dreamt of him in so many guises that it was a little bewildering. But what did it all mean? //I'll figure it out - after tomorrow// she promised herself as she succumbed to sleep.


At noon, Anya rang up purchases with none of her normal good cheer. Giles saw the customers out and then locked the door and hung the "Closed Due to Family Emergency" sign in the front window. They settled down in silence to await the arrival of the troops. Buffy and Dawn were the last to let themselves into the shop. They all sat without speaking or looking at each other until the sound of Spike's horn broke the silence. They walked out into the heat of the autumn afternoon and piled into the DeSoto, inwardly thankful for the black paint on the windows that kept them from seeing the outside world.


//They look like zombies.// Dr. Isaacs surveyed the eight people huddled anxiously in the waiting room. When he cleared his throat, eight pairs of eyes locked on his. He shuffled nervously; public speaking had never been his forte. "Ah . . ." he began, unsure whom to address - her daughters, the responsible-looking older man, or the leather-clad man who'd sat by her side all day yesterday. "Ah . . ." he said again, and Buffy felt her stomach sinking as if she were being whisked upwards by a demonic elevator. She suddenly wished she had a stake in her hand. Dr. Isaacs met Spike's gaze and began to speak. "The operation. It seems to have been a complete success. We have to keep her here for a few days, of course, but Joyce will be as good as new very soon." He smiled awkwardly at the suddenly beaming group. It was only then that Buffy began to sob.

Tears poured out of her as her frame shook with each harsh, hitching breath. Her arms stretched out blindly for comfort. Spike wanted desperately to hold her close to him but held himself back. //What you want isn't what she needs.// It was Dr. Isaacs who reached out to hold Buffy's trembling hand. "Come on," he said, helping her to her feet, "you can all see her for yourselves."


Giles sat in his apartment, playing the old records that Joyce liked best. Xander asked Anya to marry him. Willow held her lover as Tara spoke of the domestic abuse and breast cancer that had taken her mother's life. Dawn wrote frantically in her diary, the words coming in torrents. Spike lay flat on his back on a patch of soft grass, staring up at the sky with wide eyes. Buffy sat on the pommel horse in her training room and let herself think. Joyce slept a dreamless sleep.


The crypt door slid open slowly as Buffy pushed it, and she found herself facing Spike, pulling on a black t-shirt, his hair not yet slicked back. He looked like he was preparing to patrol; he had a stake tucked into his back pocket, and a few more lay on top of his duster, draped over the chair. At the sight of him, readying himself for a fight that wasn't really his, she found the courage to say what she had never before been brave enough to utter. "Spike . . ." she began, "you don't . . . you don't have to patrol tonight. I asked Angel to take care of it for this one night." She didn't want to look up at him to see how he took that statement, but she found she couldn't look away from his face. "I know you heard the prophecy, and I understand that I have to . . ." she trailed off, cursing the fate that once would have been so welcome. "But that's not what my heart is telling me is right. I want to be with you, Spike. And it's not about rebellion, about going against the stupid Powers That Be and their prophecies. It's not about wanting to hurt Angel - I realized I don't really care what he thinks anymore. It's not about gratitude for what you've done for my mom. It's about love, Spike. I love you." He kept an iron grip on his tongue, not allowing himself to interrupt her. He felt like he'd been broken into thousands of pieces, each with a mind of its own, yet each clamoring confusedly for her, for the girl he'd loved for so long. He thought he'd die as she moved towards him, whispering, "Do you still love me, Spike?"


He held very still as she came to him, unable to believe in the truth of the moment. She stopped in front of him, looking up at him, waiting until he finally met her eyes. She leaned in and kissed the still pulse-point of his throat, the tip of her tongue darting out for a glancing taste. She kissed along the underside of his jaw, at last reaching his mouth. He felt her tongue tracing the outline of his lower lip, and she kissed his mouth open while he moved his hands to her back, gathering her to him. Their kiss was fantastically tender, each holding back not in fear but from a desire to cherish. His arms tightened around her, and she fastened hers around his neck in response, letting her fingertips roam freely through the baby curls just above his nape. He swung her around with a cry of delight, spinning madly with her, holding her waist until she wrapped her legs around him, and he dropped his hands to keep her there. His hands clasped underneath her, he walked over to the tomb he'd made into a bed, and let her perch on the side. Their eyes stayed locked as they undressed each other. She made quick work of his clothes, but he took it more slowly, murmuring, "Salom, and the seven veils." When he was finally done, he held her face between his palms, kissed the tip of her nose, and whispered hoarsely, "Top or bottom, love?"

"Bottom," she answered, knowing that if he was going to take things so deliciously, achingly slow, she'd need something to brace herself against, to keep from melting into him and losing herself utterly.

Her head hit the pillow like a sunburst, dark golden hair flying in all directions, and she kept her hold on him so that they were skin-to-skin along the entire length of her body. He swallowed at the sensation of a warm and loving body beneath his, and she shifted so that his strong legs lay between hers. She crossed her ankles across his back, and flushed at the rightness she felt. Angel and Riley were both so broad that she'd usually been splayed wide open beneath them, feeling like a frog pinned to a dissection tray. But Spike's slim length, his lovely litheness, fit her perfectly. He could hear her heartbeat accelerate as she crossed her ankles, and he turned his head to see. The sight of her rosy feet and slender ankles moved him inexplicably, and he finally resumed kissing her.

He was moving so slowly, so voluptuously, as if they had all the time in the world to discover each other, but he was doing so many things to her at once that she still felt she might explode from his next caress. Soon she was producing a constant hum, dazedly moving her hands and mouth on his body as he was doing to her. Her senses were on overload. She caught a glimpse of a black-painted fingernail as it scraped gently across her breast; she heard him murmuring his love for her continuously; she tasted the strong smooth skin of his throat; she smelled arousal in the air; she felt his mouth on her everywhere. He never let up. His ears were filled with the sound of her humming, broken only by moans; he saw the rich honey of her hair; he felt her skin warming his with continual contact and excitement; he smelled how much she wanted him; he tasted the proof at last, lapping her up like a man dying of thirst. He worked his way back up her body and pushed into her, smiling as she opened herself up ever more, accommodating his long, luxurious strokes. He didn't lose control until the very end, and then he unleashed his full power, knowing she would meet it halfway.

He held her lovingly as she trembled through her third orgasm. He nuzzled her collarbone as she quieted and propped himself up on one elbow, frowning suddenly as she opened her eyes. "Spike? What is it?" she asked quickly, fearfully.

"Nothin', pet. I just got a shock. I think I saw my reflection in your eyes."

"Well, feel free to look. You've earned it."

That got her a grin. "Nah, love, I'd rather look at you any day."

She was just letting a slow smile spread across her face when he suddenly dove at her neck. "What are you doing?" she asked lazily, feeling a delicious lassitude overtaking her.

"Never noticed before, but you've got these tiny birthmarks all over. One in your eyebrow, one above your lips, one on your throat . . ." As he spoke, he placed a tiny openmouthed kiss over each point he mentioned.

She knew she should speak before she lost the ability. He found the one on the bottom of her right foot, tickling her with the tip of his tongue. "Yes, but what are you doing?"

"Clearly, love, I'm playing 'Connect the Dots,'" he answered, waiting with an arched eyebrow and a wicked grin for her to point out where else a birthmark lay . . . or where else she wanted to be kissed. His mouth was at her navel when he saw her face crumple. "Buffy, love, what's the matter? Did I hurt you? Shall I stop?"

"No, never," she responded quickly, continuing brokenly as he waited. "It's just that . . . I've never had this before. The whole deal. You slay with me, you play with me, you make sure I see the worst of you, you love my family. And you let me love you."

Her tears streamed down her face, and he kissed away every last one, waiting until they had subsided before answering her. "You're my equal, the one who has all the same bits and pieces as me, put together in much the same way. And you let me love you too." He watched as a smile began to show on her face, kissed her sweetly on the mouth, and added, mock-gruffly, "'You slay with me, you play with me'? There's only room in this bed for one bad poet, love. Quit while you're ahead."

"Are you sure you want me to stop now?" she asked, rolling them over so that he lay prone beneath her. "I was all set to try something new."

"Give it all you've got, love," he grinned up at her, and then all he could see was her, as she bent down for another kiss.


Some time later, it was Buffy who propped herself up on one elbow to look down at her lover's face. The tip of her index finger moved languorously over the marvelous architecture of his cheekbones, the strong jut of his shark-fin nose, all of the thousand and one lovely kissable spots she saw when she looked at him.

"Oh, no!" she said suddenly, "I did this all wrong!"

"On the contrary, love, it doesn't get any better than this," he grinned, knowing from her tone she was being funny.

She continued as if he hadn't spoken. "I can't believe I slept with you before we went out even once - we don't even have a song!" she pretended to sulk.

"Actually, I've got one in mind, Slayer," he confessed, reaching up a hand to thread through her hair.

"Really?" she asked, a grin stealing across her face. She wiggled the tip of his nose with her own. "Oh, look who's the born romantic."

He smiled up at her. "I'll play it for you sometime."


A little while later, Buffy lay flat on her back with Spike, lying on his right side, flush against her. His left forearm lay between her breasts, and his fingertips smoothed over her collarbone. They lay there in silence, breathing each other in. He reached down with his right hand to clasp her left. Something about the contact jolted Buffy into laughter, free and delighted.

"What is it, love?" he asked, moved by her obvious joy.

"This. We're holding hands. It's so . . . normal. People do it all the time." Her eyes drifted down. "Not usually when they're naked, of course, but still - we can hold hands." She turned her head to face him, clearly intending what she said to be a promise. "And I want to walk into the shop tomorrow holding your hand, Spike." She didn't say anything for a moment, then grinned mischievously. "It'll be fun to see their faces when they realize what's going on."

He let her savor the scenes playing in her head for a few minutes before bursting her bubble. "Actually, Buffy . . ." he cleared his throat, "they already know. About me, anyway."

"What? Who knows?"

"Giles figured out that I was in love with you. He told Willow and Xander, who told Tara and Anya. And I told your mum myself. And my guess is that the Jellybean's got a bead on me. Sorry to ruin your surprise, love."

"They all knew?" Buffy gaped. "Why am I always the last to figure this stuff out?"

"Oh, you knew. You just didn't know you knew."

Her pouty face became solemn. "I know now. And I'll always remember, Spike," she swore as she pulled him into another kiss.


Buffy shifted so that her position mirrored Spike's, and they faced each other, heads on the same pillow, her right leg draped over his left hip. There were no words as they stayed close and let their happiness cordon them off into a separate serene world. After a little while, Buffy spoke. "Not that I want to kill the mood, but I'm freezing."

Spike broke his contemplative silence with a spurt of laughter. "Can't have that, can we, love?" He got to his feet and headed for the trunk that held the extra bedding. He was surprised to find her right behind him.

When he arched his eyebrow at her, she said, "Oh, you're not getting rid of me that easily, love." She did her best to mimic his accent on the last word. He grinned and pulled a soft quilt from the trunk, looping it around her and using it to pull her close. She came willingly into his arms. She looked up and saw his lovely face, half shrouded in shadow, half dimly luminous in the pale, diffuse light. "What's that light?" she asked, and he pointed to the small opening time had worn in one corner of the crypt's masonry.

"It's the stars, love." He took her by the hand and led her back to the tomb. He lay down, and she stretched out on top of his lissome form and drew the quilt over them both.


//It's entirely possible I'll be a morning person from now on// Buffy thought. Spike kept stealing kisses as she tried to get dressed and be ready to meet her friends at the shop. She had just pulled her shirt on when he came up behind her and lifted her hair to kiss the nape of her neck. When she bent down to slip on her shoes, he was crouched in front of her, capturing her mouth in unmistakable invitation. "We can't right now," she gasped out, but she let him see the fire in her eyes.

They were at the door when she turned and kissed him fiercely. "Mmm," he sighed into her mouth. "Wait - my duster," he said, lifting his head just enough to speak.

"It's been like a million degrees out, Spike," she said. "You don't need the coat." She reached behind her with one hand and slid the door open even as her other hand brought his mouth back to hers. She backed out of the crypt, clutching at his t-shirt as he turned to grab the duster. It was the fact that he was bent slightly backward, curved like a bow, that saved him; if he'd stepped outside with her, he would have been burned to dust by the bright sunlight that spilled over the cemetery.

Continue: Part 10/15
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

Long Buffy fic: "Two-Part Invention" (part 10)

He pulled, and she pushed, and their combined strength spilled them in a tangle of limbs on the stone floor. She turned her head to confirm visually what she'd felt on her back: the presence of sunlight. She looked down to see Spike smiling wistfully up at her. "What?" she asked.

"Well, you're here with me. That's one. And the sky problem's been fixed. That's two. But I wanted to go with you to the shop, pet."

She smiled down at him and lowered her head so that they were nose-to-nose. "You still can - just take the underground railroad."

He was a little startled to see her waiting there when he pushed aside the manhole cover, located in the darkest corner of the Magic Box basement. She grinned at his bemused expression. "Yeah, I've been keeping an eye on you for awhile."

"I told you you knew," he shot back. She extended her hand, and he wrapped his around her forearm and let her help him up and into her eager arms.

"Yes, you're very smart," she said against his mouth; "now shut up."

Their first entrance as a couple made virtually no dramatic splash. It was Spike alone who seemed to cause a sensation. Thomas's letter was falling apart from being handled so much; Willow looked up from reading it for the thirty-seventh time. "Did you know you had a soul, Spike?" she chirped in lieu of a greeting.

"That's rot, Red," he answered amiably. "Don't you think I would've known?"

"But how else do you explain that the sun's out again?"

Buffy's hand stayed comfortably in his as he gestured his ignorance. "I don't know, ducks, but there's got to be something else. Where's that big box of books?"

Giles emerged from the back room. "I just got off the phone with the hospital. They said Joyce should be sleeping all day, so no visitors tonight. If she's alright today, we may be able to bring her home the day after tomorrow." He smiled encouragingly at Buffy, who was looking positively radiant. She lost a little of her glow, however, when he continued to speak, his thoughts on what he'd heard Spike say. "So that means we've got all day to research what has happened."

"Can't we just say 'yay for Buffy'?" she asked, trying to look as pathetic as possible.

"Take me to the back room and have your wicked way with me and I'll say it," Spike murmured in her ear, and looking sad became impossible.

"Why don't we start with what you observed this morning?" Giles said, unable to keep a slight smile entirely off his face. //I've never seen her like this. Not that I'm thrilled she's with a vampire. Again. But the fact that she came here with him, that she's letting us all know they're together, no coy pretense, no spurious disavowals. She's trusting us with her happiness. She trusts him. And she's finally trusting herself again.//

Spike went first. "Nothin' unusual in the sewers. Same old lowlifes, same poker games even."

Buffy chimed in, "Yeah, well above ground, it was like a big old vamp ring-around-the-rosy happened."

"Meaning?" Giles frowned.

"'Ashes, ashes, we all fall down,'" Xander sing-songed, causing Anya to put her hand to his forehead to check for fever, biting her lower lip worriedly.

"Piles of dust. Like everybody in Sunnydale dumped their vacuum cleaner bags out in the street."

"So all the dumb vamps got burned?" Anya asked happily.

"Probably not just the dumb ones. I'll bet a lot of the rabble-rousers got crispy too. It's not like there was a warning."

"Yes there was," Spike cut in suddenly as it clicked. "The stars, love. Last night was the first time since this whole thing started that they've been visible." He pounded the tabletop in frustration. "I should have realized sooner. Might have been able to skip the fright this morning. Took twenty years off my life."

"So what's to research?" Xander asked. "If the sun is shining and the bad guys went poof, what do we need to figure out? I say we play ultimate frisbee instead."

"We still don't know what brought the sun-spell to an end," Giles reminded him. "And I don't know what that prophecy really means. Let's start researching." He divided up the books and they all began to read diligently.

It was Xander who found the prophecy that the Council had insisted was in one of the texts they'd sent. "I got it! Sweet merciful McGillicuddy, I found it! 'Two champions, broken and reborn, alone can heal the skies. If affinity is understood, no power can harm the balance of the world.'"

"Yes," breathed Giles, "that's more like it. How ever did you find that?" he asked, looking at the dense text that spilled into dark columns in the book he was reading.

"It was in a shaded box marked 'Prophecy,'" Xander answered, holding up his book so they could all see. Tara was the first to give in and laugh.


Dusk was falling, Dawn had finished her homework, and Giles was getting ready to drive her home and then take her to Wendy's for a second straight sleepover night. Once they were in the car, Dawn had Giles take a slight detour, and together they packed Spike's stuff and brought it back to Revello Drive.

Alone in the shop, Buffy and Spike were waiting for Angel to join them for a routine patrol. "I'm glad it was you in the prophecy," she said softly as she climbed onto his lap.

"And I'm glad that sex wasn't included," he answered.

She halted her head's descent towards his. "What?"

"The prophecy said nothing about sex. And that means that what happened last night was entirely ours. You came to me of your own free will. And -" he was cut off by the pressure of Buffy's mouth on his.

She pulled back moments later, not wanting to start what they wouldn't have time to bring to a thoroughly satisfying conclusion. "Let's do some pre-patrol training," she said, and led the way to the back room.

They were fighting with the same abandon that had been so exhilarating the previous night. And yet the same tenderness that had dominated before still held sway; they allowed themselves to get no closer than a hair's breadth to actually striking each other. Angel's entrance startled them so much that Buffy's heel caught Spike squarely in the shin, and his fist crashed into her cheekbone; they both cried out, more from surprise than real pain.

Angel darted forward. "Buffy, are you alright?"

"Fine, thanks," she said, "and ready to patrol."

He nodded but didn't move towards the exit. "Buffy, I came here through the underground tunnels. I was going through the one that connects the library with the strip mall -"

"That's the long way round," Spike interrupted; "why didn't you just take the tunnel that leads to the shop?"

Angel studiously ignored his step-childe, "- and as I passed the branch that leads to the art museum, I sensed something."

"What was it?" she asked.

"My sire. Darla."


She was so wrapped up in bewailing the destruction of her plans to recover Angelus that she nearly didn't sense the three of them approaching. Drusilla only had eyes for Miss Edith, whose corkscrew curls needed detangling. Angel, Buffy, and Spike stood in the doorway for a moment until Darla looked up with a deliberately casual smile. Angel was instantly weak-kneed. Ever since he'd drunk the bright blood spilling across her breasts the night she'd turned him, desire for her had coursed through his veins. She was more bewitching than any singing siren. He stepped towards her. Buffy stood beside Spike, gazing, as he did, at Drusilla. The darkhaired vampire looked warily confused when she saw Angel, but when she spotted Spike, her trepidation vanished, and she whispered, "My Spike." He held his arms open, and she flew into them, cutting off Angel's path to Darla.

Angel felt the old rage at Drusilla's defection burning through his desire for Darla. As his creation, she should have stayed loyal to him. But she was murmuring, "Spike . . . Spike . . . Spike," while her former lover held her close. Angel glanced at Buffy. //At least there's no way in hell he'll ever get her. Not if he's going to let Dru slobber all over him.//

Buffy waited for the feeling of betrayal to hit her, but it never came. The arms with which Spike held Drusilla were so tenderly fraternal, the expression on his face so sweetly solicitous, that all Buffy could feel was wonder at his capacity for love, both giving and inspiring it. For Drusilla was nestled against him, her cool cheek resting on his - //Dru must be a lot taller than me; the top of my head only reaches to his chin// - and an expression of peace on her face.

The way in which she clung to him, trembling, alerted Spike to the fact that his princess had suffered. For one brief moment, when she pressed her cheek to his, he thought that she'd forgiven him for running out on her. But when she pulled back to look into his eyes, he knew better. The expression in her violet eyes was all too familiar to him; it was the relatively carefree gaze of lunacy. He was grateful that her broken mind had kept her from understanding the true depths of degradation and extremes of torture that Angel had inflicted on her through the thrall, but he was bitterly, guiltily aware that her madness, the madness Angel had sown, meant that the woman supported by the protective parentheses of his arms had no idea that he'd betrayed her. He felt emotion choking him up as Dru rested her forehead against his in the old familiar gesture.

It was Darla who broke the silence, wresting Spike's gaze from Drusilla, and focusing all attention on her. "Isn't this cozy?"

Spike pushed Dru behind him as he turned to face Darla; Dru laced her fingers through his as she stood at his back.

Buffy stepped forward to engage Darla herself. "What are you doing in Sunnydale, Darla?" she asked, something primal uncoiling inside of her as she mentally prepared herself for battle with the Master's favorite and most powerful childe.

"You're slower than I thought, Slayer," Darla sneered. "I've been here for weeks, just waiting for you to obey the prophecy I wrote and jump your ex's bones and restore him to his former glory - and his place by my side."

Spike couldn't believe what he was hearing. "For an emasculating bint, you're dumber than dirt. It doesn't take a shag from Buffy to unleash your boy Angelus."

"No? What does it take, Spike?" she asked. A cold smile grew on her face at his silence. "Cat got your tongue? How about stake got your heart?" she said, unsheathing a hideously long wooden stake and pointing it at him. "I think it's long enough to get both you and your little Ophelia behind you, don't you? Start talking."

Spike shot an anguished look at Buffy and began to speak, edging away from Dru as subtly as he could. "Vamp powers," he said slowly, sensing Buffy preparing herself to attack. "You can have Angelus whenever you want . . . any way you want. All you need is the thrall," he said just as Buffy launched herself at Darla and knocked the stake from her hand.

Buffy heard Angel shout "Spike!" angrily, but then she heard a sound like she'd never heard before. It was Dru's shriek of shame and rage when the word "thrall" unlocked her memory, and images of her rape and forced submission burned once more into her consciousness.

Spike turned his attention from Buffy's battle against Darla to Drusilla just in time to keep her from attacking Angel. "No, love, please, love, don't, pet, please, pet," he pleaded softly, holding her close while she sobbed out her rage; he knew that in the emotional state she was in, she'd be no match for her sire. "It's done, it's over, he won't hurt you again," he soothed, but Dru knew he was lying, that there was nothing to prevent Angel from using the thrall again. Her beautiful face was a mess of tears as Spike tenderly smoothed the hair back from her brow.

His gentle touch eased her shuddering sobs and restored to her the power of coherent speech. "Angel hurt me," she told Spike. "He hurt me everywhere. And he made me hurt you." Buffy heard Dru's words, the high, childlike voice in sharp contrast to the grunts she and Darla made as they grappled fiercely. Angel stood paralyzed as the two most important women in his life fought to the death.

Spike's reply was pitched low, meant for Dru's ears only. "Doesn't matter what he did to me, love. Let me help you now," he said, clasping her hand.

She looked deep into his eyes and saw his love for her there. "Do you forgive me then, my Spike?" she whispered in awe, her long fingers tracing his cheekbone over and over again.

Spike closed his eyes, unable to meet her candid gaze any longer, and his voice, choked with the consciousness of her benediction and his own contemptible, galling guilt, grew louder in a crescendo of fury. "I've got nothing to forgive you for. It was all him. Angel was the one who used you. He raped you and took away your will. What he did is unforgivable. But I knew all along that you loved me, pet. Rest easy on that score. But Angel . . ."

Buffy couldn't help hearing Spike's words, and Darla took advantage of her distraction, beating on her mercilessly. Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy saw Angel square his shoulders and pull out a stake, an unreadable expression on his face. Buffy maneuvered so that she was facing him and he'd have a clear shot at Darla's back. But he marched past them and raised the stake high, clearly aiming for Spike's unprotected back.

Drusilla was standing in the charmed circle of Spike's arms, his duster pulled tight on his body to accommodate her slender figure as well. It was only at the last moment that she raised her eyes from Spike's dear, pained face to see her sire looming over them, apoplectic with rage. Angel was infuriated that Spike, having already taken Drusilla from him, was detailing the thrall in an effort to steal Buffy as well. His stake began the downward plunge to Spike's heart. //No!// thought Buffy, panting heavily as she delivered another kick to Darla's head. //No!// thought Dru. She was not going to lose her darling boy to Angel again, not when she'd just found him, loving her despite what she'd done. She twisted Spike away desperately, but the duster that enveloped them both hampered her mobility, and all she could do was pivot them, leaving her in her lover's place. She looked up into Spike's eyes just as the tip of Angel's stake found her heart.

The stake clattered noisily on the ground as she disappeared, and Angel stepped back in shock. Spike sank to his knees, a cry of despair ripped from his throat, covered in the dust of his first love. Darla hissed as the stake Buffy held missed her heart by inches. She swept Buffy's feet out from under her and the slayer fell hard. Darla kicked her once more for good measure and then fled the building. Buffy was in no shape to go after her.

She crawled over to Spike, still on his knees, his face grey and his brilliant hair muted by the dust. She reached out to touch his shoulder blade, sharp and prominent even through the duster, but he remained utterly still.

Angel ran up to Buffy, needing to explain. "You saw, didn't you, Buffy? You saw her throw herself on my stake. I never meant to hurt her."

Neither Buffy nor Spike bothered to dispute him, despite their knowledge of how intimately he'd hurt her with the thrall. "Buffy . . ." he tried again, only to be startled by her shout.

"What the fuck were you going after Spike for?"

"I . . . I . . ."

"Darla's beating me to a bloody pulp three feet away and you decide to attack Spike?!"

Unwilling to admit his motives, Angel couldn't find an answer. He turned and left the building.

Continue: Part 11/15
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

Long Buffy fic: "Two-Part Invention" (part 11)

Buffy unlocked her front door with relief. Spike was behind her. He was on automatic pilot, following her blindly and silently. She watched him walk quietly up the stairs, and heard the door to his room open and close. She hadn't wanted to force him to talk. She herself was bruised and battered, and aching inside for his grief. And if she was in no shape to talk, he certainly wasn't. He was so raw with pain that he'd slipped into numbness. She decided to let him sleep as long as he wanted, then try to talk to him when he finally emerged from his room. She climbed wearily into bed and laid her bloody face on the pillow and let sleep claim her.


Buffy awoke earlier than she had meant to. Unable to fall back asleep despite the lulling warmth of her blankets and softness of her pillow, she got out of bed and showered. She noticed the blood staining the bedlinens, and she stripped them away. She tucked fresh ones on her bed, and fell into a sort of waking dream in which Spike's cool body slid and burned against hers under these crisp sheets. Sternly, she shook herself out of that state. //No. Not until he's had a chance to mourn Drusilla.// She went downstairs to call the hospital and check on her mother's condition. Ten minutes later, she stood outside his bedroom door, but couldn't bring herself to open it or cross that threshold, even if it was only to check on him. //I have to give him space.// She left a note for Dawn on the back of the front door and went to find Giles.

Buffy found her watcher drinking tea and reading the paper in his apartment.

"Buffy?" he asked when she walked into his living room. "What's the matter?"

"I'll give you the good news first," she responded. "We can bring my mom home tomorrow." She stopped, unsure of how to broach the bad news. "Last night, Spike and I went out on patrol. With Angel. He'd found Drusilla and Darla. Spike was trying to keep Dru from attacking Angel, and I fought Darla. And Darla said she wrote the 'two souls' prophecy. Anyway, in the middle of it all, Angel tried to stake Spike, but Dru got him out of the way, and Angel ended up dusting her instead."

"Dear God!" breathed Giles, an unexpected feeling of kinship with Spike stealing over him; Angel had killed his lover as well. "Do you want me to talk to him?" he offered.

"No," Buffy said, surprised. "I just needed to let you know what happened."

"Go back a moment," Giles said; "why did Darla write and plant the false prophecy?"

"Oh - she said she wanted Angelus back, and the only way she could think of was to have him sleep with me again." She frowned, trying to remember the rest. "But Spike said she could do it with the thrall. Like the one Angel used on Drusilla."


Spike felt he was awake, but he couldn't stop the nightmare that was running on an endless loop in his mind. Over and over Drusilla raised clear eyes to meet his, each time exploding in a shower of dust. Everything he'd loved for a hundred years vanished in one grey swirl. She'd just been starting to smile her slow-blooming smile at him when she was killed. He awoke to find himself shaking violently. He remembered that he hadn't showered last night, and so his tossing and turning in the night had ground her dust into his every pore. He shivered at the thought.


Buffy was walking home from Giles's apartment when she heard a honk. It was Wendy's mom, driving Dawn home. She climbed in next to her sister and they walked into the house together. Before Buffy could warn her, Dawn ran up the stairs, shouting "Spike!"

"I'm in my room, Sweet Bit," he replied in a nearly normal voice.

"I'm glad you're back home!" she said.

"Yeah, me too," he said, adding suspiciously, "what exactly do you want, Niblet?" She was looking up at him with hopeful eyes.

"Well, Wendy and I were talking about Halloween costumes, and her mom heard us, and she said that a lot of the parents had decided that because Sunnydale isn't safe - I mean, duh - there shouldn't be any trick-or-treating. Just a big lame party at the school." Sitting on the landing at the top of the stairs Buffy could hear every word. She could imagine Dawn's pleading expression. "Like costume contests - dumb. And bobbing for apples - unsanitary. Wendy's mom said they were thinking of getting extra cops, but the town budget couldn't cover it. And she said that there would have to be volunteer chaperones if we wanted to go trick-or-treating."

"What's the fuss, pet? Halloween, there's no vamp or demon activity."

"I know, but we can't exactly explain that to them. So I was hoping you'd take me and my friends out."

"I wouldn't have to get dressed up, would I?" he asked, a note of alarm creeping into his voice.

"No, you don't have to, but I was hoping you would." She gave him the puppy-dog eyes again, and he smiled exasperatedly, realizing he was incapable of denying her anything. //Especially now. This is what kids do. She needs to be a kid again after the whole scare over her mum.//

Buffy wasn't surprised that Spike gave in - it was clear he doted on Dawn - but she was a little disappointed. She'd allowed herself to imagine some private time for the two of them that night, since for once patrolling was unnecessary. She heard a squeal and an excited clapping of hands. "Okay, we've got just under two weeks to Halloween. Is that enough time for you to grow a beard?"

"You could give me until the end of the universe and it wouldn't be enough time, Platelet. My body is dead. My hair doesn't grow, my nails don't grow - nothing."

"Is that why you never have roots?" she asked, fascinated.

"Yep. The only way I'll ever get my natural hair color back would be to dye it again. And that's not going to happen, Lollipop."

"Okay, scratch that idea. But I'll come up with something else."


Dawn was writing in her diary when Buffy knocked on Spike's door. "Got a new idea already, Jellybean?" he called out.

"It's not Dawn. It's Buffy."

There was a long silence, and she jumped a little when the door opened suddenly. He filled the doorway. She swallowed at the sight of him. "Thanks for agreeing to take out Dawn," she began.

He shrugged warily and finally looked her full in the face. He stretched out a hand towards her only to let it fall before he touched her. "What?" she asked.

"You've got a bruise on your cheek," he said tightly.

"I've got a lot of bruises," she blurted out.

"This bruise is from me," he said.

"It was an accident," she said dismissively. "Spike - I was hoping we could talk about yesterday . . ."

He backed up a step. "I can't, Slayer. I can't talk about it."

"Okay. I understand. But I'm here when you want to talk." He nodded automatically. "I love you, Spike."

"I know," he said, and shut the door.


Giles jumped about a foot in the air when a familiar voice spoke from the shadows of the training room. "Giles. I need your help." Angel emerged dramatically from the darkness, and winced when the watcher sharply flicked all the switches, flooding the area with light.

"My help? With what - killing Spike?" Giles was giving no quarter.

"Believe me, I'd like to," Angel answered, not picking up on the vibe of Giles's sympathetic alliance with Spike. "But it's not that. It's Darla."

"Ah - the thrall."

Angel nodded, sighing heavily. "You've heard. Well, unless we can figure out how to block it, we're all in danger. Whatever Darla's got in mind - it can't be pretty."

"Murder so seldom is," Giles agreed with steely eyes. He faced Angel dead on. "But then, neither is rape."

Angel's broad face showed only confusion. "Rape? What rape? What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about your own experience with the thrall - as a master. You raped Drusilla."

"Is that what Spike's been telling you?" The vampire chuckled. "And you believed him? Come on, as a Watcher you should know better than to believe a soulless demon."

"Leaving aside the question of my credulity for the moment, why should I help you? The spell blocking the sun has been broken, and you're free to return to Los Angeles."

"You can't afford not to help me. The first thing Darla would have me do is kill Buffy. Who knows, maybe you too. I don't know what her specific methods would be, but I was with her long enough to get the very ugly gist."


"Two research parties in two days? What have I done to deserve this?" Xander moaned, slumping over a large pile of books.

"I know I say this every time, but our lives are on the line, so read!" Willow answered without looking up. They read steadily for some time, finding nothing about how to block the thrall.

"Break?" Xander asked, and Willow nodded. "So Buffy and Spike are really together, huh? All hand-holding and smiley."

Willow beamed. "Yeah, actually I've never seen her that smiley. She was happy, but at the same time relaxed. I think he's good for her." Xander grinned his agreement. "And did you notice that when Spike smiles, his teeth are a little crooked? It's so cute," Willow added.

"I'll take your word for it."

"Giles," Xander said after a few more fruitless hours, "why don't we just do this the easy way?"

"Which would be?"

"Stake Angel - then who cares what kind of mojo Darla's working?"

Giles was too lost in thought to answer. He got up abruptly and picked up the phone to call Spike.


"No, she can't. Not on me," Spike said decisively, dismissively, standing in the shop. "Two reasons. First, I haven't got a straight bloodline - I haven't got a proper sire. Second, she doesn't know how to work it."

"Darla doesn't know how to enact a thrall?" Giles asked in disbelief.

"She never needed it. Vinegar bitch got by for hundreds of years just by being the Master's favorite - everything and everybody she wanted handed to her like John the Baptist's head - on a silver platter."

"Without that kind of power, why would she be the Master's favorite?" Willow asked.

"I've heard she was extremely . . . adept," Spike answered tersely.

When Buffy finally spoke, all eyes were drawn to her. Spike stared greedily, drinking in the very sight of her. Standing there, looking at once formidable and vulnerable, her somber black shirt and grey pants matching the expression of her eyes, she asked, "So should we stop researching? Or do you think she'll figure it out?"

He took his time answering, wanting any excuse to keep looking at her. "I don't think the answers will be in any books known to Watchers. But -" he paused as Xander made a great show of pushing the pile of books as far away from himself as he could "- Darla's got nothing but time. Unless she's dusted, she'll keep looking, and she'll figure it out eventually."

With a sigh Giles signaled the end of the research session. Xander jogged to the counter and flirted with his fianc,e. Willow smiled at Spike. "You want to get that ice cream I promised you forever ago?"

He was on the verge of accepting when Willow turned to include Buffy, who nodded enthusiastically. "Can't, Red, but thanks. Got to see a guy."


"I work from eleven to dawn. No overtime. I get paid in cash each night." His assurance impressed the nightclub owner.

"Some of these are phony. Some are real. Sort them," he said, handing Spike a pack of ID cards. Spike's slim, strong fingers moved like a casino dealer's, and he unerringly divided the cards into two piles. "Impressive. But you don't look big enough."

"Bring in your biggest guy," Spike offered in a bored tone. "I'll have him on the ground in two minutes flat." The owner took him at his word.

Spike's fighting grin was unnerving the no-neck bouncer who had already been hired. Spike was agile, thorough, refusing to engage in a serious attack; had the chip still been in his brain, it wouldn't even have jolted him. Nevertheless, the bigger man was on the ground in thirty seconds, glued there by Spike's right boot lying across his throat.

"You're hired. When can you start?"

"Day after tomorrow," Spike answered; tomorrow night was for Joyce. "And I'm taking Halloween off."


Hands on his hips, Spike supervised imperiously while Dawn turned blue in the face from blowing up so many balloons. "Why can't you do some?" she complained.

"Don't breathe, pet," he said briskly, frowning when he saw how many were left in the bag.

She handed him the one she'd just done, muttering, "Liar." He deftly tied a knot to seal the balloon.

"Not lying. Vampires don't breathe."

"But you do it all the time!"

"Habit. But not necessity."

By the time they were done decorating the den, it was early evening. It was a good thing it was October; the dark fell a little sooner in the fall, and Spike was determined to be the one to bring Joyce home. Buffy and Dawn pressed up against each other in the back seat while Spike drove them to the hospital. They barely had time to thank Dr. Isaacs and the nurses before Spike had Joyce bundled up and ensconced in the passenger seat.

All the lights were on as Spike pulled into the driveway, and there was a round of applause when Joyce walked in the front door. She was about to accept the glass of raspberry punch Giles was holding out towards her when Willow jumped in front of her to hug her. Joyce smiled and stroked the witch's bright hair, releasing her after a moment. She was nearly clotheslined when Xander stepped forward to hug her, unaware that Anya had not released his hand. "You're alive!" Anya exclaimed happily. "And we're engaged!"

"You're what?" exclaimed so many voices that it was hard to keep track.

"Congratulations to you both," Spike's voice filled the pause.

"Yes! That's what I meant! Congratulations!" the voices hastened to add.

A few hours later, the party was still in full swing. Buffy made her way over to Spike. "When did you two become so chummy?" she asked affectionately, the tilt of her chin pointing to Xander, his face dazed with happiness.

"Right about the time the oversized idiot started whisking you away for private patrols," he answered, his voice as suddenly taut as his body.

She moved so she was standing directly in front of him, so that he couldn't avoid her eyes. "I wish he hadn't." His face stayed tight and immobile, so she tried again. "I -"

"Spike?" He turned to face Joyce with a fond promptness. "Could you get my red sweater from my closet?"

"Of course."

Angel watched from the front lawn. He saw merriment, and was tempted to go in and have some fun. But then he saw Spike inside, and he started in surprise. //Didn't waste any time getting your foot back in the door, did you, Spikey?// He paced a little in frustration, and when he looked back up, he saw Buffy talking to his step-childe. All Angel could see was her back and Spike's tense face as he looked down at her. Something inside him relaxed. //He wouldn't look so pissed if he had any kind of a chance with her.// He smiled. Buffy was still his, and it didn't seem like that could ever change.


Angel left Sunnydale to track down some volumes of vampire lore that could help him elude Darla's thrall. Willow and Tara brought a kitten home from the animal shelter. Anya read bridal magazines out loud to Xander and Giles. Dawn flirted with Kevin every day during third period. Joyce recuperated. Spike kept Vanitas free of underage kids and nasty drunks. And Buffy found herself with plenty to think about.


"Niblet?" There was a knock at her door. "People are starting to pile into the den. Are you ready?"

"Come in, and tell me what you think."

Spike entered her purple bedroom and saw Dawn in a green tunic, skirt, and opaque tights. Her toy bow and arrow, glued together so that she'd have a free hand for snatching Halloween candy, lay on the dresser. "You look just like Robin Hood. At least the Disney version, if they'd had a pretty girl instead of a fox."

She was twisting her long hair into a bun on the top of her head so that her little green triangular cap could cover it. She turned to face him as she reached for the feathered cap. "Did you say pretty?"

"Splendid, I meant to say," he said almost sadly. She looked so much like Stella the night she'd first been permitted to wear her hair up, the night of her first formal ball; the excitement in the wide blue eyes was just the same. //God, I miss her.//

Dawn brightened at his words and a mischievous smile danced across her lips. "Are you ready for your costume?" She ran to her closet and pulled out a faded pair of blue jeans and a ripped navy blue t-shirt.

"I'm a charity case?"

"No! You're a roofer," she said, digging around for the tool belt Xander had lent her. "You can change in your room, but come back for the final touch."

He was back so quickly that she only had one of her brown ankle boots on. She limped over to her dresser and pulled a red bandanna out of her top drawer. She folded it deftly and tied it on his head as she'd seen construction workers do to keep dust out of their hair. "I thought the hardhat would be a bit too much. Don't you think?"

"Just as long as you're happy, Sweet Bit."


//Damn but it's good to be chip-free// Spike thought as he swung the boy into a brick wall. He wasn't being very rough, considering the provocation, but he was firm enough that Mark would remember this for a long time to come.

Spike had been a little dismayed by the size of the group he was expected to protect. //Looks like I'm the only poor bugger who volunteered.// And he'd known immediately to expect trouble from the tight knot of sixteen-year-old boys, protesting loudly that they were old enough to be escorting groups of their own. But their parents had prevailed, and there was a curfew in effect for anyone under eighteen not accompanied by an adult. So they swaggered along, always at the back of the pack, trying to dissociate themselves from the rest. With his vamp hearing, Spike could make out their whispers, mostly dealing with the availability of the girls in the group. Mark made the mistake of not only singling out Dawn but actually trying to detain her physically and get her into a shadowed alleyway.

Spike found them there in the dark, Mark's arm preventing Dawn from leaving. Spike pulled a few bills from his jeans pocket and handed them to her. "Take all your mates to that shop across the way for some hot chocolate, pet. My treat." She smiled in relief and scampered off. Spike turned his cold eyes on the boy, and within moments Mark was ready to take a vow of celibacy then and there.

Continue: Part 12/15
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

Long Buffy fic: "Two-Part Invention" (part 12)

Blood was delivered to the Summers house every morning, thanks to Spike's steady paycheck. He spent the rest of it on his girls, resolutely steering clear of personal gifts, choosing only things for the house. If he was aware that the things he bought - bone-china cocoa mugs, scented candles, throws for the den couch - would be enjoyed by Buffy as well as Joyce and Dawn, he refused to acknowledge it. He was treading a fine line, trying to be just her friend when he wanted - and could have - her as a lover. //But not for me.//

Memory was at once searingly sweet and gratingly bitter. For she had come to him that night, just two weeks ago, with something missing from her eyes. The constant fear, the anticipation of a heavy, unavoidable blow, was gone. The wideness, the greenness, the openness of her eyes said that with him the great struggle of her life had been laid to rest. She didn't have to choose between her sacred duties and her love for her family and friends because he stood beside her in both.

Even now, he was aware, those eyes followed him constantly, waiting for his guard to drop. But he couldn't afford to. Drusilla's murder had been more than a rude awakening; it had been a revelation. //I'm death to any girl who loves me. Friends are fine, but love is out. Better she learns it now than later.//


Buffy couldn't deny it any longer. It had been two weeks since that terrible night and Spike still hadn't talked about it. And while he seemed to be fine with everyone else from Xander and Giles to Joyce and Dawn, the only person he shied away from was her. He was friendly enough, but the tension that took hold of his body, the way his honeyed voice turned gravelly, betrayed him. And yet she knew he still loved her, for his eyes, defiant, lonely, pleading, broken, told her the one he was punishing was himself. And she couldn't think of a way to bring him back.


So matters went on for a few weeks, but nobody seemed to notice how different Spike was with Buffy, since he was his old self with everyone else. And then Angel came back to Sunnydale, proud possessor of a text that would protect him from the thrall.

Buffy walked to the Magic Box with Spike. He was still holding back from her, acting like he needed to win her, when she'd already been won. But he hadn't left, and he still watched her back. He was keeping his unspoken promises. They walked into the shop, as usual the last to arrive.

"There are three ways to avoid the thrall," Angel stood, clearly in lecture mode, holding up his text for emphasis.

"One - kill you. Two - kill Darla. We know. What's three?" Buffy asked impatiently.

Angel turned in surprise at her tone. He couldn't figure out why she was being bitchy, but he knew he couldn't afford to alienate her. He made his voice soft and wooing and bent to catch her eye. "The third is to receive the blood of my true love. That's you, Buffy."

"Really?" She kept her tone cool. "Not Darla? You were with her for a hundred and fifty years."

He really wished they didn't have an audience. "Buffy, when I was with her, I didn't have a soul. You can't love without one."

"Hey!" Anya exclaimed.

"You are my soulmate."


"You're the only person I have ever loved."

"HEY!!!" Anya's cries grew louder and louder, and the finger with which she was poking Spike moved more quickly and emphatically. She'd never mastered the art of whispering, so her promptings were heard by the whole group. "Tell her! That's not how it works. Remember? We talked about this!" Anya nagged until Spike stood up.

"She's right," he said as noncommittally as possible; he loathed having to play the olderand -wiser being - Buffy had been through enough without being condescended to. "Dru and I summoned the Judge," he began, his voice steady and clear, refusing to rewrite history as Angel always did in order to shift the blame. "When he finally awakened, we were the first ones he wanted to burn - the love we had for each other was a human weakness. It is possible to love without a soul." Sitting at the table, Anya nodded emphatically. Spike paused. He knew he had to continue, but his heart felt too bruised to take Angel on. He looked at Buffy's sad, wondering face and took the plunge. "But when Angel showed up, the Judge said there was no humanity - no love - in him."

"Because I didn't have a soul!" Angel shouted.

"No - the soul wouldn't have made a difference," Giles said, grasping Spike's point. "For you not to feel love as a soulless creature means you didn't feel love with a soul." It wasn't until he heard his own words that he understood all the implications, and his eyes shifted immediately to Buffy.

"I loved you," she said quietly, looking up at Angel. "But it seems you didn't love me. Guess I'm not your true love after all." She reached out and took the book from him and handed it to Giles. "Can you see if there's some other way?" she asked her Watcher and turned and left.

Xander, Willow, Tara, and Spike caught up with her outside. Giles took the text into his office to read, and Anya began straightening up the area with such pissed-off determination that Angel decided to leave.

Buffy and her friends walked quietly. They were all surprised when the cell phone in Spike's duster pocket rang. With a puzzled frown, he answered it. It was Giles. He handed the phone to Buffy. "Buffy," the watcher began, "I've been reading this text Angel brought. The third way to preclude the thrall wasn't exactly what he said. It was simply the voluntary gift of blood from any human being."

"But I already did that," she said, surprised.

"I know. Before graduation."

"Why did he lie? Why did he say all that true love stuff?" she asked angrily, clutching the little phone with tight fingers.

"I . . . I think he wants you back, Buffy. Though why he's willing to risk his soul . . ."

"Because it doesn't matter. It doesn't make a difference if he's got a soul or not. And I'm not just talking about love. He kept working his thrall over Drusilla even after Willow resouled him. The things that Angelus does have always been in the back of Angel's mind." She stopped, then asked, "Have you told him you know what the third way really was?"

"No, he seems to have left. In high dudgeon, would be my bet. Do you want me to call his mobile?"

"No. He's safe from the thrall and he's far away from me. What could be better?" She could hear Giles's humorless laugh. "Thanks, Giles," she said and disconnected the line.


"That was a really dirty trick Angel pulled today," Xander said as he passed the salad bowl to Dawn. The nine of them were sitting around the Summers dining table - lengthened by a few leaves - having dinner. Joyce had felt marvelous and strong all day, and she'd celebrated by cooking.

"Yes. He told many lies," Anya added. Her face lit up. "I know a vengeance demon whose specialty was people who made insincere declarations of love. If you like . . ."

"No," Buffy smiled, "that's okay. That's not the part that bothered me, actually."

"What did upset you?" Tara asked, leaning forward as if she half-suspected the answer.

"It's sort of about what Spike said," she began, her eyes sliding sideways to take in the vampire sitting next to her, "but more about Darla. He had no love in him. None at all. I guess it wasn't such a shock to hear that he didn't love me - there have been other clues. But what does it say about him that there was no love in him for Darla? How do you spend a century and a half with somebody and not love them at all?" Spike kept his eyes down.

"He's a monster," Dawn said simply.

After dinner was finished and both the pecan pies were completely gone, Joyce stood. "Before I ask who wants coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, I've got a request. Tonight has been wonderful," she said, smiling when there was a chorus of agreement. "I'm glad you concur. Because I want to make this a weekly tradition. Every Wednesday night we'll all get together here; I'm home from work early, the shop is closed, and no one seems to have late classes. So we'll make it set in stone. No excuses. Okay?" she looked sternly around the table and noticed Dawn silently mouthing something to her. She smiled sheepishly. "Except next week. We'll make it Thursday because it's Thanksgiving."

Buffy was carrying drinks to everybody in the den. Giles was talking to her mother, Xander and Tara were Anya's captive audience as she explained problems with weddings through the centuries, and Willow was impressing Dawn with her old levitating pencil trick. Spike was standing slightly apart, his eyes on Joyce's animated face. Buffy took a deep breath and headed over to him; she'd saved his drink for last.

"Spike," she said softly and he turned the bright angles of his face in her direction. He felt a pang when he saw her eyes, looking like bruises in her worn face. He dropped his gaze to the mug she held, and he did a slight doubletake when he realized it was blood, not hot chocolate. "I, uh, put some of that spice that you got from the Indian grocery store in it," she said shyly.

"Ta, Hebe," he said, touched. He looked down at her small shape once again and knew he had to speak.

"What you said at dinner," he began. "I know . . ." he faltered. "I know about losing the person whose love was the center of your life." Buffy felt a tingle pass through her. Spike was finally talking to her about that night that had pushed them asunder. "It must be even worse when the person you loved didn't deserve you." He could hear her heartbeat accelerate, and she parted her lips to speak. He knew she'd heard his words as a cue to pledge herself to him, so to preclude that painful moment, he added with stark honesty, "You've never loved or been loved by a man who deserved you." Her cry of protest stayed silent when she saw the dangerous jut of his jaw and the fragility of his eyes.


She was more than a little surprised when he slipped on his duster just as everyone else got ready to leave the Summers house. "Where are you going?" she asked. "I thought the club was closed Wednesday nights."

"It is, pet, but I thought you might want some company on your patrol." She smiled in acquiescence, an irrepressible bubble of hope floating inside her when he added, "Better grab a coat, Slayer. Seems more than brisk outside."

She was learning her lesson, and her refusal to push him to speak was rewarded with a companionable stroll. He held back and let her take on the first four vamps they spotted; a few deft flicks of her wrist and they were history. Turnabout was fair play, and the next round was Spike's. He faced three big vamps, the smallest standing well over six feet. He straightened his spine and took them on. Buffy watched. She loved that he never let his size or the odds daunt him. She loved that he was trying to be her friend when every other man she'd known had run off. She loved everything about him.


Despite the awkwardness with Spike, everything was going well. Too well, Buffy thought. All afternoon, the sounds of laughter and happy squabbling emerged from the kitchen as they all tried to cook Thanksgiving dinner together. When Buffy, unconsciously exerting Slayer strength, snapped the can opener in half, it was Spike who liberated the condensed milk with one thrust of a fang. The carefree spirit lasted until the phone rang just when they were sitting down to the meal. Everybody froze, knowing it couldn't be good news.

"Buffy, hi, it's Cordelia. Listen, not to be rude but L.A., even if it's not on a hellmouth, has its quota of demons, and we think it's time for you to just slay whatever it is you're fighting already, and send Angel home." All this was said without even the smallest of pauses. //Guess being head cheerleader really did improve her lung capacity.//

"Cordelia. Angel's not here. We took care of the sun problem weeks ago." It took a moment for anxiety to hit. "He still hasn't gone back to L.A.? Well . . ." she stalled, "maybe that's a good thing. Maybe he just needed some time out of the office."

"He's on vacation?!" For the first time, Cordelia sounded truly outraged. "Tell him," she hissed, "that Gunn, Wes, and I all got hurt taking on a Neirax demon that he could have taken care of in a heartbeat, seeing as how he doesn't need to breathe and all. Tell him Gunn's lungs are filling with fluid, Wes's trachea nearly collapsed, and the migraines haven't left me. How dare he!" She slammed the phone down.

When four sharp knocks were heard, Dawn flew to answer the door. "You didn't have to bruise the wood. We've got a doorbell, you know," she muttered brattily as Angel treaded on her heels.

"Buffy," he said, "I need to speak to you."


"Yes. This can't wait any longer. It's too important."

Dread ran through Buffy. This was not the fear of the Slayer, as when she'd faced the Master or the mayor's reptilian incarnation. It was the pain of the girl, who had loved and lost and been betrayed. The look on Angel's face warned her that this would be worse than the heartbreak of killing him when his soul was replaced, worse than the splitting of her heart when Giles washed his hands of her for shielding Angel, worse even than finally understanding that despite the outpouring of her heart, he'd never really loved her. She couldn't do this again. "I've got nothing to say to you," she informed him, lifting her chin.

"Then listen," he said, moving forward to clasp her arm, propelling her towards the den.

She jerked free. "If you're determined to have your say, you'll have to do it here. I need my family near me." She looked at the people seated around the table and immediately felt buoyed up by their silent support. Only Spike was looking down, his fists clenched and the cords of his neck straining. //God. What must seeing Angel be doing to him?// All patience with her first love fled. "What is it, Angel?" she asked, not bothering to soften her voice.

"Buffy, I shouldn't have tried to trick you with the thrall cure. But it's the only way I could express what I wanted from you." He paused to gauge her reaction and took a step forward. "And no matter what anyone says, I did love you. I do love you. And I know that you still love me. I want us to be together."

"Long-distance relationships never work, Angel," she said. She clarified when she saw his confusion. "I'm bound to the hellmouth. And you've got responsibilities in L.A.," she reminded him, an edge to her voice.

He didn't hear it. "I'd give all that up for you, Buffy," he replied.

"It's not something you get to give up, Angel! You have a duty, and -"

"Buffy," he interrupted, "you're the one with the sacred calling. I can fight for you here in Sunnydale. I deserve a second chance with you, and this time I won't walk away."


He saw, at last, that he was losing ground. "I'll do anyth- I'll even find another Mohra demon and this time I won't give up being human. If being human means being with you, Buffy, I'll do it."

Only Anya and Spike immediately understood what exactly Angel had revealed but it didn't take long for the others to catch up. Buffy was the last, as she was still reeling from the shock. "You were a human again?"

"Yes. The Mohra's blood mixed with mine and made me mortal. And we were together. In the sunlight. In my bed. I'd never seen you so happy."


"Your memories were erased when I gave it up."

She was trying so hard to fight him. She knew she'd only be able to get through this as the Slayer. She stumbled backwards slightly and ended up leaning into Giles, whose arm moved automatically to circle her waist.

"Why?" Buffy heard her Watcher's question only blurrily, as if her head were submerged.

"Why what?" Angel asked.

"Why did you return such a gift?"

"They said that it wouldn't help anything. Buffy would still die. And I would die too."

"How dare you!!!" Willow screamed. Angel blinked as the eight people sitting around the table rose as one, Giles and Joyce supporting Buffy between them. Willow remembered with almost unbearable clarity the agony Buffy had suffered because of Angel, how often she'd wished that humanity might be granted her lover again. Her rage burst. "How dare you come here to tell her you threw away what she wanted most? How dare you hurt her like that? You should have been grateful that her memories were taken away because then she couldn't remember that you valued your own life above whatever life the two of you would have had together. You know what? I hope you do live forever, because I know you'll never have her. You deserve to live alone."

Angel looked around the table for an ally but found none. He turned to Buffy and flinched when she looked dead into his eyes. "Get out." It was Buffy's voice, but the authority of the Slayer was threaded through it. She locked and bolted the door behind him and whispered to herself, "It's over."

Continue: Part 13/15
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

Long Buffy fic: "Two-Part Invention" (part 13)

Buffy was going insane. Slowly. By inches. She was in the den, surrounded by her friends and by piles of photocopied articles. She was trying to write a term paper, but Spike's silent presence in the den was proving to be too much for her. She shifted her gaze to Dawn, being quizzed on her vocabulary words by Tara. Buffy inwardly cried in frustration when she heard the list the witch was going through. Every SAT prep word Tara uttered in her soft, relentless voice - "halcyon," "evanescent," "azure," "limber," "uxorious" - seemed to Buffy's mind to be about Spike. She snuck another longing glance at him as he sat sprawled on the couch reading the mystery novel Giles had left behind weeks ago.

"Buffy? Dawn?" Joyce called as she hung up the kitchen phone. "Could you come here a minute?" They walked past the table, still stacked high with empty pizza boxes. It had been Xander's turn to provide the Wednesday night dinner. "Okay, now I'm not mad or anything," Joyce smiled a bit dubiously, "but which one of you called my cousin Ellie and told her I was sick?"

The girls exchanged a glance. "Neither of us. Why?"

"That was her on the phone. 'I could see, Joycie, that you've recently walked in the valley.'" Her voice took on a high, affected lilt as she did a dead-on imitation of her cousin's flaky manner. "'But now I see you emerging triumphant to walk in the light.'"

"What?" Buffy and Dawn were torn between disbelief and laughter. "She really said that?"

"Yes. Are you sure you didn't tell her - either of you?"


"Oh, damn. Maybe there's more to her psychic pretensions than we gave her credit for. Anyway, she wants us to spend Christmas with her in Arizona."

"Cool!" Dawn was instantly in favor of getting out of Sunnydale for a few weeks.

"I don't know. Hellmouth - the ties that bind," Buffy said.

"Well, honey, your friends have managed before, like when you visit your dad. Let's ask if they feel up to it again."


"This is a mob scene!" Joyce exclaimed as she was bumped yet again. "The flight is going to be packed. I should get in line - get our boarding passes."

"Safe flight, Joyce," Spike said. She stepped into his embrace, her temple resting securely against the incline of his cheekbone. He lifted a gentle hand to touch her hair, at last liberated from a long line of silk scarves.

"Thanks for the ride, Spike."

"Take care of yourself," he answered and she headed for the gate counter.

"I wish you were coming with us," Dawn said.

"Love to, Sugarcube, but I've got a sacred duty." At her inquisitive look, he grinned, drawling, "Gotta keep the drunken patrons of Vanitas from making complete asses o' themselves, don't I?"

"Yeah, whatever. Send you a postcard." She pretended to turn away, and he caught one long lock of her hair and tugged.

"Oh, I know you don't think you're getting off that easy," he said. From her vantage point, Buffy could see the identical grins on their faces, which were quickly hidden when Dawn turned to face the vampire again.

"Ow! That hurt!" she lied, reclaiming her hair. "Sometimes I wish you still had that chip in your head."

"Now, now, Platelet. You don't mean that. Remember the fun we had with that pissant Mark?" His voice was completely unrepentant, and she threw her arms around him.

"Bye, Spike."

"Have a good time, Niblet," he answered, hugging her back. She scampered off after her mother, leaving him alone with Buffy.

Standing before him in a black and forest green wraparound dress, she was irresistible. Until the thought of the pain he was capable of causing her returned to his brain. He ignored the blood screaming inside him to work its will and took a step toward her. He saw her hesitant smile and heard her galloping heartbeat, and knew he needed to make this quick. He clasped her in a brisk, comradely embrace. She closed her eyes when he surrounded her, giving herself up to the sensation. The briefness of the contact jarred her eyes open. She fumbled for something to say. "I'll . . . call you when we get there," she finally said, and he nodded and pulled his duster more tightly around his body.


Buffy's absence was more than relaxing; it was positively soporific. For the first time since Drusilla's death, he was able to sleep soundly. He had been on high alert for too long, constantly on guard against Buffy's love and the vulnerability she didn't bother to disguise.

He noted dispassionately that the patrons of Vanitas grew sadder as Christmas approached. The women wore tighter clothing, the men spoke more loudly; their loneliness came across in their brittle, frantic gaiety, the speed with which they went home with strangers. How different from his friends. Anya, Xander, Willow, Tara - not one had a home except for the ones they'd made for themselves. //Just like me.//


"A toast!" Anya exclaimed happily. Her New Year's party was turning out so well; she was a natural at this hostessing thing. "Here is to the new year - a new year means we will all get older and more wrinkly and more forgetful . . . Why are we celebrating this anyway?" she asked.

Giles, who'd been watching Spike's closed face - that face that would never change no matter how many new years he saw - spoke up. "It's a celebration of togetherness. That we're all here, ready to take on anything that happens in the coming year."


The Summers girls were glad to be home, and Spike was eager to show them his Christmas gift. He pulled the DeSoto into the driveway and said sternly, "Now, no rushing inside to peek. That means you, Bite-Size."

Her face gleamed with the thought of another present. "Give me a hint!" she pleaded.

"All right," he answered, disarmed by her eagerness. "They're usually green, but I had them do this one in purple since that's your favorite color." Dawn turned for help to her mother and sister, but they were as bewildered by Spike's clue as she was.

As soon as they were inside the house, Dawn dumped her bags and demanded, "Present!" Joyce and Buffy's faces were equally alight with curiosity and anticipation. Spike opened the door to the basement, flipped the light switches, and led the way downstairs so that they could see the new pool table that dominated the space of the room. "Eee!" Dawn said, clapping her hands excitedly and running her fingertips over the purple felt. "Can we play now? Please?"

Spike turned to Joyce, who was already shrugging out of her jacket in preparation. "Sure, Rapunzel. Oldest and youngest versus the two in between," he said, picking up a cue. The three of them moved to form the teams, all of them assuming he had paired Joyce and Dawn together and partnered himself with Buffy. "No," he said, at once exasperated and amused, "I'm the oldest, remember? It's me an' the Niblet."

Joyce especially looked startled by the reminder. In a low voice, she asked, "But are you really? Older, I mean? If your body hasn't aged past twenty-seven, has your mind?" He didn't know how to answer her; he'd had experiences she'd never dreamt of, but it was true that he had always lived a young man's life. She continued when she saw his doubt. "I know how different I am now than when I was in my twenties or thirties. And recently I've changed so much. Looking death in the face does that to you." He realized then that she'd had experiences he could know nothing about.

"I don't know, Joyce. Who's lived more? I'm older, but you're more mature," he finally answered.

"What's the matter, Spike?" she asked, his heavy silence contrasting with Dawn's happy chirping voice, exulting over the pool table with Buffy.

"I guess it's just hitting me for the first time," he said. "That my personal evolution has been stopped dead in its tracks. That I'll forever be a twenty-seven-year-old vampire, world without end."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."

"You didn't," he smiled into her worried eyes. "Now let's play. I have a sneaking suspicion you're a hell of a player, Joyce."


Buffy was at Willow and Tara's place, and Dawn was in her room, reuniting with her beloved diary, when Spike found Joyce in the den with the TV on. He settled down comfortably next to her, both of them muttering the answers as they watched "Jeopardy!" on the new gameshow network.

At the first commercial break, Joyce asked, "Spike? Could you really afford that pool table?"

"Yeah, Joyce, don't worry about it. Gary - my boss - was ordering new tables for the club, and he gets them at a good deal." She nodded. "'Sides, the Sugarcube's been after me to teach her how to shoot, and I figured better here at home than at the Bronze, where it's full of smoke and drunken idiots. Don't want the wrong crowd to get a glimpse of our girl." He finally noticed the smile creeping across her face. "What?" he asked, ready to share in the joke.

He was taken aback when she said, "I don't think your personal evolution stopped, Spike. You're a better parent than Hank ever was." He didn't know what to say. She took pity on him and turned back to the TV. "I hate Alex Trebek, don't you?"


Three days after New Year's Day, school began again for Dawn. She came home upset and went in search of Spike. She knocked at his door. "Yeah?" he finally answered, his voice sounding tight over the music pouring from his speakers.

"Can I come in?" she asked.


Her tale of woe was already spilling out as she entered his room. "So I go to art today, and there's a message on the board that Ms. Miniver is on maternity leave, and that all of her students have been reassigned to music appreciation for the semester! I mean, what am I supposed to do? I'm working on that portrait of Mom - I wanted to have it done before summer vacation. And now -" she broke off abruptly when she finally noticed his unusual silence. Spike usually was so focused, but now he seemed distracted. She peered more closely. No, he wasn't distracted; he was focused on something inward, so intensely that she doubted even some crosses and holy water would shift his attention. "Spike? What is it?" she asked, swallowing nervously at the unshed tears that appeared in his eyes. "Spike?" She had to lay her hand on his shoulder to bring him back to the real world. "What's the matter, Spike?"

He stared at her for a moment before shaking his head and saying, "I miss her, Niblet." He closed his eyes again, and "Stella by Starlight," which was on instant repeat, began once more. "My sister," he continued, his voice as plaintive as the sweet, drawn-out notes Miles Davis coaxed from gleaming metal, "Stella. My big sister. Today's her birthday." He waited out the rest of the song, and then in the pause between the end and the time it took the record player to reposition the needle at the beginning, he added, "It's like this song was written for her. She would have loved it."

She didn't know what he needed. "Do you want to talk about it?" she asked tentatively.

He opened his eyes. "Please just go," he said softly.


Buffy walked into the house an hour later and saw a note from Dawn on the kitchen counter. She snapped on the radio and a woman's haunting voice sang, "Oh, your gaze is dangerous, and you fill your space so sweet . . ." An image of Spike, his wide eyes fixed on hers as he held himself above her, came rushing into her mind. She shook her head to dismiss the thought and turned off the radio - //he's been avoiding me - how can I get him to even talk to me, let alone love me?// She flipped the light switch to read Dawn's note. A last-minute change of plans meant Joyce was taking Carol's place on a gallery trip to L. A., so she'd only be back the following evening. And Dawn was at the first basketball game of the new semester, cheering Kevin on. Buffy looked up from Dawn's loopy handwriting with a smile. If Spike was in the house, she finally had him alone. And she was going to win him back.

Continue: Part 14/15
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

Long Buffy fic: "Two-Part Invention" (part 14)

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.


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.


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."


"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."


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?"


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


"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.


"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?"


"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.


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.


"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.


"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.


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.


"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.


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.


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.


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?"


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?"


"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.


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.


//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
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

Long Buffy fic: "Two-Part Invention" (part 15)

When she figured Angel had spent enough time gaping at her, unaware even that she'd spilled most of the blood in setting down the mug, Darla launched herself at him, fastening her arms around his neck and kissing him ferociously. He could taste the B- on her tongue, and the feel of her, soft and yielding in his arms, intensified his pleasure. Darla had always been better at this than anyone he knew. It wasn't so much her looks - the golden hair wasn't quite enough to make the overlong nose and too-wide mouth fade into insignificance - but her supreme confidence, the knowledge with which she moved her body against his.

She had her hands on him now, touching, teasing, goading him until he lost the will to be anything but what she chose to fashion him into. He ripped open her silk bathrobe and clutched at her flesh with greedy, grasping fingers. Her back was against the wall and she smiled as he repeatedly rammed into her. The moment he was done, she shoved him away and kept her eyes on him. "Welcome back, lover."

For every step forward she took, he took one backward. She didn't bother to close her robe as she moved toward him. She scratched a shallow cut along her belly, and he was unable to keep his eyes off the bright blood that flowed from her lush body. "Hungry?" she purred in that distinctive, almost metallic voice. "Me too. Let's go out and get ourselves some fresh food."

"We can't!" he exclaimed. "This is a demon-bar. We can't feed on our own kind." He knew there was another reason he should be protesting her plan, but he couldn't think when she was on display and within arm's reach.

"We don't have to stay here. Outside of this place there are thousands of humans practically lined up for us."

"No - sunlight. We can't go out," he argued feebly.

"Oh, if that's your only objection, I don't mind waiting until it's dark and we're back in Sunnydale. I always preferred a home-grown meal to all this unhealthy take-out."


Buffy silently blessed Spike for coming up with an idea that would keep Dawn safely at school while preparations for the surprise party were being made. Presents and snack foods were piled high on the pool table; all that would have to be smuggled into the house were the Scoobies. She heard his step in the hall and went to greet him. He swung her up with one arm, kissed her soundly, and whispered, "Jujube home yet?"

"No, she's still at school working on Mom's portrait."

"Still?" he frowned. "It's six o'clock."

"Yeah, but remember Mom said dinner was going to be at seven 'cause she's working late? And anyway, it's still light out. I love summer."

"Me too - now," he said with a protective hand on her belly. He picked up the bags he'd dropped at her greeting and followed her up the stairs.

They were sprawled on the floor of his room, trying to wrap Dawn's presents. The dress was packed in a standard rectangular box, but twenty minutes later, the first roll of wrapping paper gone, it still wasn't properly wrapped. Bits of tape were caught in her hair, and he had one dangling from his clean-shaven chin. "Sod it! Why didn't we just let the salesgirl do it yesterday? She was practically begging to."

"Because you said if you had to stay in the mall one more second your head would explode," she reminded him pertly as she removed his facial adornment. "Wait! One year Mom and I had a fight and she made me cover my own textbooks. I think I remember how I did that." Worrying her lower lip between her teeth, she made flaps and tucked and taped. When she was done, it wasn't pretty but the box was completely covered.

She looked up in triumph and caught him looking at her with his whole heart in his eyes. "Saw something at work today that reminded me of you," he said, his gaze locked on hers. Her heartbeat accelerated slightly.

"Have I ever told you how sexy it is that you're a working man?"

He blinked in surprise. "Really? I was just trying to do the right thing. Got a family to support, and I wanted to be able to patrol with you, so no more nightclub."

She smiled and leaned a little closer. "Really," she affirmed. "It's incredibly appealing."

"Yeah?" he asked, arching one eyebrow in his Big Bad way, and moving in for a kiss.

"Oh, how rude of me! I interrupted. You were saying?" she asked mischievously when his face was only inches from hers.

Without moving or breaking eye contact, he began to recite the poem he'd found. "Lying asleep between the strokes of night / I saw my love lean over my sad bed, / Pale as the duskiest lily's leaf or head, / Smooth-skinned and dark, with bare throat made to bite, / Too wan for blushing and too warm for white, / But perfect-coloured without white or red. / And her lips opened amorously, and said - / I wist not what, saving one word - Delight. / And all her face was honey to my mouth, / And all her body pasture to mine eyes; / The long lithe arms and hotter hands than fire, / The quivering flanks, hair smelling of the south, / The bright light feet, the splendid supple thighs / And glittering eyelids of my soul's desire."

She shivered happily as his resonant voice, both dark and tender, played over her body. "Nice," she breathed, and finally gave him that kiss. His hands came up to cradle her head. He pulled away in surprise when his fingers got caught on a piece of tape stuck in her dark hair. "Guess we should finish wrapping presents," she said, giggling. He grinned and got out the plush doll.

It was infinitely worse than the box. Neither one of them could conceive of a plan of attack, and another half a roll was wasted in their clumsy attempts to cover the doll. "This is so frustrating!" she cried.

Finally Spike had had enough. Grabbing the doll, he wound it in the rest of the wrapping paper, creating a tube with the Chef trapped inside. Then he twisted each end of the column and tied it shut with ribbons. It looked like an enormous hard candy when he was done. "Good enough. Niblet knows it's the thought that counts." He stood and reached down to help her off the floor.

As she rose, she gasped slightly.

"What is it, love?"

"Baby's kicking!" she laughed.


Joyce walked into the house a few minutes later to see them sitting on the couch with expectant faces, their eyes trained on Buffy's belly. "First kick?" she guessed. They nodded in unison. "Trust me, the thrill will wear off," she smiled. "Spike, can you come help me get dinner ready? Buffy, can you ask Dawn to come downstairs? The two of you can start working on the salad."

"Dawn hasn't come home yet. She said she was staying late after school," Buffy answered, trying not to be specific and reveal what exactly her sister was working on.

"It's almost dark out - she should be home."

"I'll go fetch her," Spike said, but then he heard movements on the back porch. He flung open the kitchen door, and he, Buffy, and Joyce saw that Dawn was home. She barely seemed aware of that fact, however, since she was too involved in kissing Kevin to notice.


"So what with all the fucking, you never told me why you're back in Sunnydale," Darla continued. She remembered just how to play him, that he liked soft curves and a hard head, a woman he could physically dominate but never have to coddle. He was vaguely ashamed that it was so easy for her to use him, but he kept his mouth shut; he didn't exactly need her help in killing Spike, and she'd only be in the way when it came time to deal with Buffy. He still didn't know what he would do or say when he saw her. She walked her fingers up his bare arm and cooed, "Angel? Don't you want to tell Mommy?" A vision of his mother's head, lying at his feet seconds after he'd torn it from her body, flashed into his mind. And then he saw Darla in her noblewoman's dress once again, the thin, distinct light picking out her form as she stood in the alley, knowing he would come to her. He surrendered; it was his destiny to follow her lead. She would know just what to do when they saw the slayer.


"You should know better than to spoil your dinner like that, Jellybean," Spike finally said when it became clear that the participants in the tonsil hockey match were less interested in oxygen than each other. Dawn and Kevin jumped apart at his voice; she blushed and was mortified to see her mother and sister watching, but Kevin's dark brown cheek showed no change in color. Spike could sense the blood rushing to the boy's face, however, and it reassured him that the Niblet had not been making out with the Lothario of the high school crowd.

"Sorry about that," Kevin said, his charm beginning to show even through his nervousness. "I hope I haven't made Dawn late. We were working on some stuff after school and we sort of lost track of time."

"Come on in," Joyce said, trying to process the fact that her baby had apparently grown up overnight. "Would you like to stay for dinner? We're just having salad and mashed potatoes and veggie burgers, but you're welcome to stay."

"Um, thanks," he half-nodded.

"Phone's over here if you need to call home," Buffy volunteered. "By the way, I'm Buffy."

He smiled shyly at her across the room, then realized he hadn't told them his name. "I'm, uh, Kevin," he said, and stuck his hand out to Spike.

"Spike," he answered, and shook the boy's hand. Upon hearing that name, Kevin looked questioningly at Dawn; there'd been a wild rumor going around school months ago that Dawn was dating a biker-gang leader named Spike. He'd dismissed it as nonsense, but clearly there was some truth to it, or else there wouldn't be a Spike in her kitchen.

He turned back to Spike and saw him slipping an arm around Buffy, who relaxed into him. Kevin smiled again; this Spike guy had clearly picked his Summers girl, leaving the other one free and clear. "Dinner sounds great, Mrs. Summers. Let me just call home."


Cordelia slammed down the phone. Angel's cell was still going straight to voicemail, and she was tired of leaving messages imploring him to call the office. In a way, it was almost worse to know that his unavailability was not due to danger - she'd had no visions of him in peril. But she couldn't shake the feeling that trouble was brewing. She kept having brief flashes of prophetic vision, images so short they made her more normal visions seem positively epic, of a man with dark, curly hair in mortal danger. Three quick flashes later she'd seen enough to recognize the setting as Sunnydale but not the man himself. "Guess where bad stuff is happening again?" she asked Gunn and Wes, who'd returned from escorting Scorpion home hours ago. They armed themselves and got in Gunn's truck, ready to face whatever Sunnydale had to offer.


Kevin left right after dinner, but he'd been a big hit, especially after a question of Spike's revealed that he was a cousin of Bryan, the orderly who had taken such good care of Joyce on each of her hospital visits. "Knew there was something familiar about you," Spike nodded.

Dawn walked him to the door, and he asked her to the spring formal, three weeks away. "Yes," she smiled down at him from the top step. "See you tomorrow." He trotted off to the curb, where his father had just pulled up.

"Well?" she asked when she returned to the kitchen.

"You have good taste, sister," Buffy said.

"He seems very nice," Joyce added.

Dawn turned to Spike, clearing away the dinner dishes. "Seems a good bloke, Sugarcube. And he seems to appreciate his luck."

She grinned and threw her arms around her mother. "This is the best day ever!"


"First you said no. Now you're saying yes. Pick one!"

Gunn rolled his eyes at Cordelia's tone. "All I'm saying is, if Angel took off because he knows the father of Buffy's baby, then she's directly involved. So we should call her, tell her we're coming, give her a heads-up about her ex."

"Why? It's not like he went all Angelus again," she replied.

"No, but he always seems more capable of it when she's concerned," Wesley put in. He dialed Buffy's number on his cell phone. When Spike answered, he spluttered a bit in surprise. "Is this - ah - Spike?"

"Yeah. Who's this?"

"Wesley. Buffy's former Watcher."

"What can I do for you, mate?"

"What are you doing there?"

"I live here. Why are you calling?"

Wes was silent, trying to wrap his mind around the fact that Spike was living in the slayer's house. Suddenly, something he'd read long ago popped into his brain. "Spike. Is your surname Marlowe?" he asked, as Cordy and Gunn turned to stare at him, comprehension blossoming on their faces; Gunn stepped on the accelerator.

"Yeah - what of it?"

"Angel knows about the baby. He's coming to get you. We'll be there as soon as we can."

"Bollocks!" was all he heard before the line went dead.

Spike took the stairs two at a time and went into the bathroom to talk to Buffy, soaking in a hot bath. "Love, Hairboy found out about the baby somehow. He's on his way over."

Her eyes flew open in alarm. "Dawn - Mom - we have to get them out of here."

He pulled her out of the tub and wrapped her in her favorite towel, a plush lavender bath sheet. "Where could we send them where they'd be safe? Besides, it's just me he's after. He has no reason to go after them."

"Do you really think he'll be guided by reason?" she asked.

"Trust me, he won't touch them. He won't get the chance."

"Okay. Guess I should call Will and Xan and tell them the party's off."

"Why turn away our allies? They can help us fight the bastard. And besides, they're probably already on their way."


"I don't get it. Where is he?" Buffy asked impatiently, training her gaze on Cordelia and Wesley. They and Gunn were sitting with most of the Scoobies in the basement while Joyce kept Dawn occupied upstairs.

"I don't know. He had at least a twelve-hour head start on us," Cordy answered.

"You don't think he's out recruiting, do you?" Gunn asked.

"Maybe. I'd better use the general invite-revoking spell," Willow said; she and Tara got to work at once. Gunn went to his truck to retrieve the weapons.

When they had all regrouped, there was nothing to do but wait. In the meantime, the party would go on as planned. Spike went to the foot of the stairs and called up. "Joyce? Niblet? Up for a round of pool?" He ran back to the basement and gave the signal to hide. When Dawn scampered down the basement steps, Joyce hot on her heels, they all popped out at once, shouting "Surprise!"

Dawn shrieked happily. "Really? Another party?" She caught sight of Cordelia. "You came down from L.A. for this?"

"Sort of," Cordy tried to play it casual, cutting questions off by pulling her into a hug.

CDs, a Magic Eight ball, the Swedish Chef doll, and plenty of wrapping paper lay on the floor as Dawn got to work unwrapping Buffy's present. Her jaw dropped as she held up the dress her sister had picked, a floor-length sleeveless navy blue satin with a V-neck. "I'm going to try it on! Come upstairs with me!" she said, holding her hand out for Buffy. Joyce stood as well, pocketing her gift. Dawn had just slipped on the dress and put on the antique silver earrings and pendant that were her mother's present when they heard the front door being opened. The crowd in the basement, shooting pool, chatting, and chowing down on Cheetos, was oblivious, except for Spike, profoundly grateful that his ability to walk in the sun hadn't cost him his heightened senses. When he signaled emphatically for silence, Gunn was immediately at his side. The two of them, followed closely by the rest, ran up the basement stairs and came out to the front hall to see Angel pressing against the invisible barrier that guarded the doorway.

Angel scanned the group quickly for Spike, not realizing at first that the man with the brown curls and lightly tanned skin was his bastard childe. His mouth fell open in shock, then betrayal. //Look at him. The dark hair, the dark skin. He's turned human! He's stolen my girl and my destiny!// He tried to launch himself at Spike, but was kept in check by the deinvite. "I'll kill you," he swore, looking at Buffy's lover.

"Come on, man, you don't want to do this," Gunn said, keeping his finger on the trigger of the stake-gun Xander had handed him. "This isn't your fight - you've got no cause to be starting trouble with him just 'cause he's with your ex."

"Stay out of it, Gunn. I don't need you telling me what to do," Angel snapped.

"Evidently not - when you've got Darla doing just that," said Wes, catching a glimpse of her behind Angel.

The large vampire ignored him, his sights still fixed on Spike. "Come on out here and fight me like the man you think you are," he challenged. Spike shrugged an acceptance, as if it were all a lark, but he was on high alert. Darla and Angel backed up into the front yard, a wider fighting arena than the porch, and Spike went out to meet them, flanked by Gunn and Wes. Cordelia ran upstairs to give the Summers women - fiercely bickering about who was and was not allowed downstairs where the action was - an update. Willow and Tara joined hands to begin their semisuccessful ball of sunshine spell.

It wasn't hard for Spike to hold off both Angel and Darla. Not only were they dangerously overconfident, since they clearly believed he'd become human, but they came at him as two separate opponents instead of working together as a team. Out of the corner of his eye, he sensed furtive movement. The bright light Willow and Tara produced flashed moments later, in time for everyone to see Darla crumble into dust, Xander's stake stuck in her back. Angel stood still in disbelief. "Funny how no one ever bothers to notice where I am, isn't it?" Xander asked, locking eyes with Angel. Then he turned, grinning, to Spike. "She must've thought that nearby heartbeat she kept hearing was yours."

"True. And that reminds me," Spike said, turning to his foe and vamping out, "I'm not human, pillock. But I am a man. Come near here again and you'll see." Some part of his brain couldn't believe he was actually going to let Angel go, this fiend who'd betrayed Buffy, who'd broken, raped, and murdered Dru, but another part of him knew that whatever personal vengeance he attained would never be enough to make amends.

Buffy, having finally won the argument, was just coming down the stairs with Cordelia when Spike disdainfully turned his back on Angel, who was still standing motionless, staring at the place where Darla had been killed. "Angel," Wes started, "if we leave now, we can be in L.A. before dawn. We can call on the Powers tomorrow night and -"

Angel snarled viciously and ran after Spike, who was just walking up the front porch steps and smiling at Buffy, waiting in the foyer.

She saw him coming towards her, and Angel charging after him with a stake held high in his hand. Spike was at the open door when Buffy suddenly remembered that Willow and Tara had set their spell for all vampires. There was no time even to shout a warning. "Spike! Come in!" she cried, and her lover stepped through the barrier just before Angel slammed into it.

The force of impact was so great that the stake in his hand shattered into hundreds of pieces. It felt like being pierced by the blessed sword all over again. He looked down to see the largest fragment embedded in his chest. It felt like his insides were trying to swirl into dust; the wood was a hair's breadth from his heart. He looked around for help. Cordelia's face was a mask of hostility and Gunn's eyes were filled with disgust. It was Wes who finally approached him. "I don't know how to extract that without endangering you," was all he said, but it was clear from his tone that he was appalled that Angel had wanted to murder a man in front of the woman carrying his child.

"I do," Tara said clearly. Without hesitating, she walked over to him and concentrated; with her magic, the bulk of the stake dislodged and fell to the ground in front of him. Without a word, she turned and entered the house.

"Hey!" Angel called. "What about - there's other splinters still in me."

Tara's voice was suddenly so cold it seemed to have hit absolute zero. "Wood's biodegradable. You'll just have to live with it." Willow, Xander, Gunn, and Wes filed into the house after her and closed the door.

Within a minute there was a knock on the door. "If that's him, I'm staking him right now," Xander said, and flung open the door.

Giles and Anya, each holding a wrapped box, stood on the porch. "Sorry we're late," Giles began.

"Inventory!" Anya sang happily.

"Where's the birthday girl? We didn't miss all the excitement, did we?" he asked.


Rumors of Buffy's prowess had slowed the stream of vampires entering Sunnydale to a mere trickle, and patrols became long walks hand-in-hand with Spike, occasionally punctuated by a swift and unchallenging dusting. To their own surprise, neither of the prospective parents felt bored or restless; they had enough to do, preparing for their child. They were redoing Buffy's old bedroom, making it into a nursery; Buffy had hoped Spike's choice of paint color would give her a clue about the baby's sex, but he'd picked a buttery yellow, rich and bright. He moved Xander's rocking chair up there, placing it near the window. While he stripped off the wallpaper and primed the walls for paint, he whistled along with Bach's Two-Part Inventions, switching frequently and randomly between the two contrapuntal themes. The women, sitting in Spike and Buffy's room to avoid the paint fumes, heard his schizophrenic snatches of melody and smiled. They were examining the cradle Joyce had brought down from the attic.

It was made of cherry wood, and looked well-worn. "This is what you girls used to sleep in," Joyce explained, her eyes growing misty. "I used to rock it with my foot while I was drawing or sewing or reading."

"I can't believe we used to fit in that," Dawn remarked. "Ooh! I have to get ready! He'll be here in a few hours!" She scampered into the shower and then pulled on the dark blue dress and silver jewelry. Hair curled and lipstick on, she was just stepping into her heels when Kevin rang the doorbell, tux on and a white lily corsage in his hand.


"He doesn't breathe, Giles," she said, sounding amused. "How do you expect him to be my Lamaze coach?" Giles had to concede she had a good point. "So I want you to help me with some breathing-concentrating-meditating techniques and stuff," Buffy continued. "You can even throw in some Slayer stuff for good measure," she added, then grinned in a way that reminded him how much he loved this girl. He nodded and pointed to the thickest training mat. Obediently, she sat down and inhaled deeply.


"Oww!" yelped Wesley, caught by surprise as Cordy's pool cue jabbed him in the ass. He turned to see her knees giving out, and he raced to catch her. Holding her with one arm, he signaled to Gunn, getting a round of drinks at the bar, to bring some water.

Her eyes fluttered open to see both men's faces hovering anxiously over her. "Another vision of Angel," she answered their unspoken question.

"He doing anything in this one?" Gunn asked; he was getting irritated with visions that incapacitated Cordelia but offered no information on their former colleague's whereabouts.

"No," she answered, trying gamely to steady her breathing. She sipped water from the glass Wes held up to her lips. "He was just sitting there."

"Any sign where he was?" Wes asked gently. She shook her head. "Anything different at all?" he continued to prod.

"No . . . wait! This time he looked constipated."

Gunn laughed and pulled her to her feet. "It's still your shot," he said, handing her the cue.


The nursery was ready; Spike had finished painting it, Willow and Tara had placed magical protection over it, and Dawn had hung the framed portrait of Joyce on the wall. There were flowers in a jar on the windowsill. Buffy surveyed the room, golden from end-of-summer sunlight, with an incredulous smile. There were only six weeks left until the due date.


The seven of them were getting finger-cramps from gripping each other's hands so tightly. Buffy had been in labor for three hours. She'd called Spike as soon as she'd felt her contractions begin, and he'd stepped numbly into the crisp October air and driven home. Only after he'd checked her in did he remember to pull out his cell phone to let Joyce and the others know. He stayed in the waiting room just long enough to survey the assembled group before dashing off to find Buffy.

She was sitting up in bed, her face tight with fear. She met Spike's eyes, extra blue over the surgical mask he wore, and relaxed, remembering everything Giles had taught her. Her hair was sopping with sweat, but her face was serene as she held Spike's hand and breathed and pushed. The nurses were clucking encouragingly, Dr. Lockhart was giving orders, and Spike watched his beloved girl perform a miracle. High-pitched cries, the mewling of an infant, suddenly rent the air, and Buffy sank back against the pillows. Spike took his daughter from Dr. Lockhart, marveling over her. He placed her in Buffy's arms. "Hello, Stella Marlowe Summers," he said, unable to tear his eyes away from the pair, glowing with vitality and incandescently lovely. "Welcome to the world, acushla."
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

long Firefly fic: "Phyxius" (part 1)


She’s on her way to church in the dress Ma had insisted she wear so that she couldn’t sneak around to the city garage and lend a hand. It’s difficult to walk in these high-heeled shoes, and she has to concentrate. She swears as a gadfly lands on her cheek and crawls quickly up into her hair. She rips the bow from her hair and shakes it loose, wanting nothing more than to feel the insect fly away. The violent motion and the treachery of her shoes pitches her forward.

A steadying hand finds her arm and sets her back on her feet. It’s a friend of Daddy’s, Uncle Bill. “Kaylee? Honey? Whatcha doin’, dancin’ in the street like a monkey?” he teases.

She flushes a bit and quickly finger-combs her hair, but recovers to say, “I’m off to save my soul. And maybe I could put up a prayer for yours too since you cain’t be bothered.”

He guffaws and shifts his fishing gear to the other shoulder, watching her clumsily braid her hair. “Would ya, honey? That’d be mighty nice.” He takes off, whistling cheerily.

She watches him go fondly and sighs when she turns back to the direction of the church. The heels on her shoes have given slightly, so she has to pick her steps even more carefully. She’s achieved a pretty decent pace, even if she’s not looking graceful, when a familiar smell stops her dead in her tracks.

She takes her eyes off the road to see a man with dirty blond hair watching her. She pauses, unsure of the intent of his look. She’s used to the boys who’ve known her all their lives givin’ her that come-here-if-you-want-to-get-laid look, and gettin’ it in return too, but she knows she ain’t pretty enough to be attracting such looks from total strangers. All he’s wearing up top is a vest made of some tough, dusty-looking material. He hasn’t bothered to do up the fastenings, and there’s a streak of engine grease revealed by the parting. She smiles to herself. That grease isn’t there by accident. He’s deliberately smeared it on himself to draw attention to his chest, to his rough-and-tumble attitude. It’s the smell of it that draws her near.

He’s grinning from ear to ear because his gambit worked. All he needs are a few soft words and this little backworld church mouse will be lifting her skirts for him. It’s almost too easy. He reads the name cross-stitched on the bookmark tucked into her bible. “Afternoon, Miss Kaywinnit,” he tosses off, noting that she hasn’t met his gaze yet, that her eyes are demurely down.

Or maybe not so demure. She pushes her forefinger into his chest hard and lets it skid up, transferring some of the grease to her own skin as she does so. “Don’t tell me you’re using this stuff still. Ain’t you got moonshine grade at least?” His eyes pop open in disbelief. She’s stripped him of his pretty words and all he can do is watch as she starts putting the grease back on his torso. “You a mechanic?” He nods, watching the finger move lower, past the tattoos. “Where?”

“Ship. Called Serenity. It’s a firefly . . .” his voice trails off as that finger reaches his navel and comes to rest there.

“Show me,” she says, as her eyes finally meet his.

They’re walking toward the ship and she’s glad that he’s a few proprietary steps ahead of her. She doesn’t want to share the excitement the sight of the pretty firefly kindles in her. She doesn’t much care if he thinks the excitement is for him. She just wants to be on board Serenity. She’s savoring every moment, absently following the boy as she takes in the enchanting simplicity of the design, remembering the dusty plans Daddy had showed her. He’s about to veer off in the direction of his bunk, but she stops him and points with her chin to the engine room. “There,” she says, and his smirk is back, as if he’s earned her arousal all by himself. He’s got a hand on the sash at her waist even though they’re twenty paces from the engine room yet, and he’s careless enough that he runs right into the man who’s standing there in the shadows looking like the whole thing is just amusing as hell.

She’s afraid for a moment. She’s afraid until she looks right at him. Then she knows. This man is her kind.

He’s not the captain. He’s not built for that, the diplomacy and the sneakiness. He’s built for strength, for speed, for stamina. He’s the shelter on this boat.

She’s looking him up and down, and it seems he’s willing to do the same. The boy she came here with is gettin’ antsy, but that’s his problem. She’s not done here. “I’m Kaylee,” she says; no point giving him the name some preacher carelessly bestowed on her while her Ma lay close to death. She wants him to know her real name. She smiles and he flinches the tiniest bit.

“Jayne,” he says roughly. He fixes the boy with a look and brushes past him territorially, bumping him hard enough that his hand falls from her waist.

But it’s back soon enough, pulling at her sash like her nephews tugging at her hand when they want her attention. She’s hot enough now, metal all around them, thoughts of the man Jayne in her head, that she’s stripping the boy in front of her and herself when he can’t get it done fast enough. She’s on her back, looking at the engine upside-down, and it’s like a beautiful new world, made of cool light and responsive surfaces. He’s finally positioned himself, but the hand on her skin is too small, too indecisive. She closes her eyes, and Jayne’s hand, veined from work, cups her breast. It’s Jayne’s beard that scrapes teasingly along her belly, not the boy’s pants which are pooled just below his hips. She’s so close . . . but then something soft and skittery brushes against her face, and her eyes snap open. It’s the boy’s hair, and the fantasy is lost. He doesn’t seem to notice, and keeps thrusting away. Her eyes drift back to the engine. She frowns, noticing something awry with the reg couple. And that’s when, for real, the captain walks in.

Continue: Part 2/21
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

long Firefly fic: "Phyxius" (part 2)


Kaylee knows the captain is doing her a favor, setting down here. There’s no need for supplies or assistance, but on this brown-friendly planet, she can maybe find a way to send her Ma a line, maybe some of the wages the captain insisted she take for getting them to Paquin in good time, even though she’s only been on board a week. Then she thinks maybe she isn’t the only one the captain is pleasing; he understands the importance of morale, the dynamics of camaraderie, and the ways in which journeying can tell on people. It’s funny what you would never think about yourself until you read it in someone’s eyes.

And it’s funny, too, what you’re willing to deny yourself by not looking someone else in the eye.

She’d kept well clear of Jayne, instead using her first days getting to love Serenity, find out what makes her happy, what makes her purr. She’d worked with Wash on the bridge, played chess with Zoe, and cooked with the captain. Jayne hadn’t made it difficult to avoid him, and until yesterday that was going just fine.

She’d been taking advantage of the fact that they were docked on Paquin – Jayne and Wash were handling the transaction – to take the engine apart to clean. She’d just finished reassembling, and was thinking about a quick, cool shower, and maybe a meal when the com squawked. The captain’s voice came through. “Kaylee? We need you in the infirmary. Quick, but not urgent.” She gets there to see Wash in a chair and Zoe sitting on the countertop with his hand in her lap. She’s splinting the last two fingers of his right hand, humming an old love song as she works. Her voice is low and soothing, and Kaylee is starting to relax, until she turns and sees Jayne perched on the opposite counter, his left arm held awkwardly away from his body. She gasps, thinking that it’s been broken, or the muscles slashed, but the captain steers her close with a hand on her back and says, “Ain’t as bad as it looks. He’s just been cut up pretty good. Now, I got to get up to the bridge. Can you handle this?” She nods dumbly and he takes off.

Closer up, she can see that Jayne is keeping his arm away from his body because his side is bleeding right through his shirt. He sits up a little straighter as she approaches, and grabs the back of his shirt with his good hand. “Wait,” she says, looking for scissors to cut it open instead, but she can’t find them and by the time she’s turned back to him, he’s pulled the shirt off. She catches her breath sharply. She’s hoping he’ll take it for concern at the state he’s in, but of course it’s not. It’s for that skin, tanned by dozens of suns, for the taut muscles beneath, and the soft dark hair that covers his chest. She inches closer, trying to assess the damage. She can’t stand at his side because of the counter’s sharp corner, so she ends up standing between his legs. The heat coming off him is making her a little dizzy. She’s never seen someone so fully man. Wash has the dinosaurs she and Zoe caught him playing with, and even the captain, for all the weight his shoulders bear, has one of the sweetest baby-faces she’s ever seen, but Jayne seems to have burned through all of his boyhood and left it far behind. Standing in the V of his legs, she reaches for the rag and bowl of water the captain left out for her. She’s trying to hold Jayne’s arm away from his side with one hand and wash his wounds with the other, but she’s only dextrous when it comes to machines. He makes it easier on her by stretching his arm straight ahead, draping it heavily on her shoulder, leaving her right hand free for her ministrations. His side is covered in blood from long, shallow cuts, the dirt of Paquin coating it all. She washes away the dirt and begins to gloss her fingers over the wounds, touching them with ointment. The smell of the unguent, the heat coming off Jayne’s body, and Zoe’s contralto hum are assaulting her heightened senses, and she’s breathing more quickly. She’s nearly panting by the time she’s finished bandaging him, the white gauze throwing his dark gold skin into high relief. “There,” she says, her voice sounding unnaturally loud. There’s silence all around; she can’t hear Zoe’s song anymore and she realizes with a start that she’s alone in the infirmary with Jayne.

He moves with surprising speed, using his heels to push at the backs of her knees, his left arm shifting so that the forearm now steadies her and gathers her close. “Kaylee,” he says. His eyes are dark. His right hand reaches out and cups her face, his thumb slides along her cheek. She thinks at first that he must be wiping away some grease, but then she realizes with a rush of warmth that he just wanted to touch her. Her hands are on his thighs as she leans in. He meets her halfway, and their upper lips are touching, all it would take for their mouths to meet is an infinitesimal shift.

The captain’s voice comes through the com beside them just then. “Everybody okay? Ship needs to look shiny now, we got a fella comin’ on board, thinking of renting shuttle number one off us.” They’re both startled into pulling away, and in the space between them she remembers why she hadn’t wanted this to happen. She backs away quickly and takes off at a near run.

It’s the day after and Kaylee’s still ashamed of herself for running. She’s looking forward to being on land, though, and Mahaladu certainly looks nice. The air is crisp and vaguely apple-scented. Peeking out from behind Zoe’s tall form, she sees a woman at a roadside stand selling cider.

As Kaylee drinks, Zoe assesses the surroundings. A small smile dances across her face. “Kaylee, this place looks safe enough. Be okay on your own?”

Kaylee nods, “Just point me in the direction o’ the post point.”

“The post point is on my way. I’ll take you there,” the first mate responds.

“Ah . . . ladies?” they both hear and spin around. It’s Wash, wearing a shirt so bright it makes the eyes ache.

“Yes?” Zoe lifts an eyebrow.

“I, uh, need some advice,” he begins. And stops. Zoe and Kaylee share a glance. He wishes they wouldn’t do that. He takes a breath and tries again. “Mal asked me to try to line up a job for us.” They both nod, Kaylee encouragingly, Zoe noncommittally. Again he lapses into an expectant silence.

“So what’s the problem?” Zoe finally asks.

“I have no idea how to do this!” he says, surprised that she can’t see his incompetence for herself, a little warmed by the faith she evidently had in him. Or maybe he’s reading too much into it. She’s so efficient herself it probably doesn’t occur to her that doing her job gives him the willies. He’s happy up in space, just him and the stars. The day-to-day stuff, being the brains behind their subsistence life, would overwhelm him.

“Jayne knows this world better than any of us. He’ll show you the ropes,” Zoe replies.

“Jayne’s gone,” he says, missing the way Kaylee goes still because he’s only looking at Zoe, beautiful, deadly Zoe. “Captain says he was the first one out this morning. Don’t know when he’ll be back.”

Zoe sighs, understanding the personal day she’d asked for isn’t going to happen. She turns to the little mechanic. “Post point’s a mile in that direction. On the south side of the central square. You can’t miss it.” Turning back to Wash, she offers, “I’ll take you where you need to go.”

“Great!” he smiles, starting towards her until he sees her hand come up in the “stop” position.

“But first, you’ve got to change that shirt,” she says, and leads him back inside the ship. “And shave off that mustache.”

Kaylee looks around her with amazement. She wasn’t expecting this. The post point back on Rasam was a counter with Pop Hickson and his snail-slow machine on one side and a line a mile long on the other. This is a building full of gleaming self-serve computers. An officious voice calls, “Miss! Station 12 is open! Miss!” She scuttles over, and her heart sinks when she realizes this “Telefonix” is one machine she can’t figure out. She turns to try to find that voice again, and she freezes when she sees that the man standing at station 11 is Jayne.

He’s typing his message quickly, reading off a sheet of paper he’s got propped up next to the screen. She’s mesmerized, watching him, until he folds the piece of paper and tucks it into his pocket. He’s about to leave and she has to say something. “Jayne?”

Her voice is small, but he hears it. His head pivots sharply. “What’re you doin’ here, girl?”

She’s so relieved he’s speaking to her that the words tumble out of her. “I’m trying to send a message to my Ma, send her some of the credits the cap’n gave me. But I don’t know how this machine works. And she’ll be frettin’ over me.” She looks up at him hopefully.

“Just give me a minute,” he says, turning back to his station to attach credits to his message. His letter stays up on the screen for a moment, just long enough for her to read the beginning: “Dear Mamma.” He clicks the screen to send, and the message scrolls quickly by. “Love, Jayne” she reads and the screen goes blank, ready for the next customer.

“Where’s your ident?” he asks, and she fumbles for the card. He takes it, swipes it, then studies it. “Nice picture,” he says, laughing softly as he hands it back. He reads the message on the screen, shifting so that she can see it too. “Says here you ain’t got your card registered to send messages, but you can get around that.” He taps a few keys and the screen flashes WELCOME. “Mind, that don’t work on Core planets,” he warns. He turns to go but she grabs at him. She begins to type hesitantly, knowing he can read everything over her shoulder. “Dear Ma and Daddy and Linus and Allan and Rohan and Marcus” she begins. “Holy hell,” he mutters, “this is gonna take all day, innit?” She pokes him with one index finger and continues typing with the other.

Forty-five minutes later, she’s finally finished. “Done now!” she says triumphantly, turning when there’s no response.

Jayne’s got his back to her, his eyes on a man holding an enormous gun straight out ahead of him. It’s easy to see the man’s a novice; he’s gripping the weapon much too tightly, and Jayne figures one shot ought to do it. “Hey, boy” he calls, and the man spins fearfully over to him. “I’ve got a gun too you know,” he taunts, draws Meena, and begins to move forward, ever so slowly.

“Stop right there!” the man yells, his voice cracking mid-command.

“Why? Looks like that toy you got ain’t even loaded.”

“It’s loaded!” the man screams.

“Then why didn’t ya shoot out the security scanner?” Jayne’s voice drips with sarcasm. The man turns and aims high for the scanner. The recoil from the missed shot lands him flat on his back, his arm throbbing, the gun inches from his outstretched hand. Jayne reaches him in one long step, flips Meena in his hand, and clubs the man once with the butt of the gun. He’s unconscious when Jayne kicks his weapon away.

He turns back to Kaylee to find her watching him with her mouth hanging open. He shuts it, pushes her aside, attaches her credits, and sends the message. Before the screen can even fade to black he’s got her hand in his and they’re walking out of the post point. They’re out on the street before he puts Meena back in her holster. He glances again at Kaylee, who’s still looking at him wonderingly. “Boy was just whoo dahn,” he says brusquely, walking her back to the ship.

Zoe can’t believe her eyes. The closet in Wash’s bunk is open, and it’s appallingly clear that the man cannot dress to save his life. All she sees is violently patterned fabric, in hues guaranteed to make the eyes bleed. She looks over at him silently. It’s not as if he’s some mouse of a man who’ll never be noticed; that shock of bright hair, the easy way he walks, the breadth of his shoulders are all worth looking twice at.

He’s still rummaging, evidently in the hopes that someone slipped something sober onto his shelf. “Aha!” he calls, enthusiasm undimmed. “How about this?” he smiles triumphantly, holding out a wondrously ugly shirt, light blue with heavy orange circles.

“No,” she says, casting about for a suitable pair of pants, giving up after a minute. “I need to talk to the captain. I’ll be right back.” She exits quickly, looking for Mal.

She finds him sitting in one of the unoccupied bunks with his eyes closed. “Sir, why is the person who always looks like he’s just walked away from an explosion in a pigment factory the one handling undercover work for us?”

He’s tickled by her description of Wash, and the amusement is evident in his voice, “Cause we don’t need it.” His eyes are still closed, but he knows that one of her eyebrows has gone up. “You and Jayne and me . . . we all needed a little time away,” he clarifies, “and I thought the time had come to see how Wash handles himself in these situations. For future reference. Course, this is a no-pressure situation, so it ain’t exactly a proper test, but if he can do it today, I think he’ll be able to pull it off later. Pilots are used to pressure.”

She nods grudgingly. “I’ve agreed to take him around,” she says.

“Oh, Zoe,” he says, covering his face wearily with his hands, feeling a little guilty, “you don’t have to . . . I’ll do it. I know you don’t favor him much.”

“No,” she admits, “I don’t. But maybe he’ll grow on me. And you could use the rest, Sir.”

He smiles and says, “You might get a little extra if you help him land some work today.”

His eyes slide open just in time to see a wicked grin flash across her face. “Oh no, Sir. My reward will be seeing the look on your face when I tell you he’s going to have to borrow your clothes.”

Mal feels the smile creep across his face, and it warms and worries him at the same time. Ain’t often that a plum job lands in their laps, but Zoe had come back to the ship and said firmly, “We found a job. Legal.” She said “we” and her eyes politely gestured towards Wash, but Mal had a hunch that the pilot had had nothing to do with the bargaining. And it sure as hell ain’t often that a man gets a meal this fine on board a little ship. Zoe had thought to bring some of the spicy food Mahaladu was known for back on board. It’s odd for him to feel so content, but with his belly full and happy faces around the table and Serenity floating sweetly through space, he’s hard-pressed to feel anything but.

“Whatcha smilin’ for, Cap’n?” Kaylee asks.

He tunes back into the conversation. “Oh, I’m just thinkin’ ’bout the run of good luck we’ve been having. Been going on for little more’n a week.” He cocks his head to the side, pretending to study her. “’Bout the same time you joined, isn’t it? I’m thinking young Kaylee here’s our good luck charm.” He turns to Wash and Zoe as he says this last, and raises his glass.

Kaylee beams at him and covers his hand with hers. She stands and asks, “Anybody want any more to eat?” At their negative responses, she starts scooping up the leftovers.

“Still hungry, Kaylee?” Mal asks, eyeing the full plate.

“No, Cap’n, I’m fixin’ a plate for Jayne. He shouldn’t miss out on this treat just cause he’s got to keep an eye on the radar.”

He smiles up at her, pleased at how well she’s fit into this family he’s tried to form, admiring the care she’s willing to show even for a hardass like Jayne. “Well, slow down, there, girl. He’s not a growing boy anymore. He’s big enough already.”

She smiles, thinking of the way he’d hidden her from the gunman’s view with his large frame even while he’d kept him from killing anyone else. “Yeah. He’s big enough to save us all.”

Mal catches Zoe’s eye at this and he lets out a bark of laughter. “Jayne as savior of the worlds! Kind of hard to picture Jayne savin’ instead of killin’ –” He stops abruptly as she drops the serving spoon back in the largest pot, splattering him with rust-colored sauce. “Kaylee?” he says, his hand on her elbow. She’s twisted away from him and he can’t get her to meet his eye. “What’s the matter?” he asks.

“He ain’t just a killer,” she says, her eyes down.

“No,” he flounders, “he’s not.” He needs help here, but Zoe is as much at a loss as he is. “He’s a tracker, and a hunter, and a fine cook, and an awfully enthusiastic hoopball player, and . . .”

She cuts him off: “You don’t think well enough of him, Sir.” She picks up the plate and turns on her heel.

“Xiao mei-mei!” he stands and calls after her. “I’m sorry. I thought you were just kidding around.”

She softens a bit at the term of endearment. She sets the plate back down and tells them what happened at the post point.

Kaylee’s gone to deliver the food, and the captain is in his room, trying to figure the best way to organize the new job, so Wash is at last alone with Zoe. It’s not her turn to clean up, but since she copped out on the cooking she figures she should do something productive.

She’s barely aware of Wash sitting at the table; she’s thinking through what the little mechanic said as she soaps up the dishes. It’s not hard to believe the worst of Jayne. It’s probably not hard to believe the worst of her, either. The war left her with a conscience stained through.

Her thoughts are in turmoil, but she’s characteristically neat-handed as she works. Wash watches her, thinking there’s a strange allure to a woman with this little fuss about her. He clears his throat softly, but she doesn’t hear it over the running water and the voices in her head. “That was some meal, huh?” he tries again.

“Glad you liked it. The spices can be a bit much for some,” she responds, turning to him as she finishes, drying her hands on a threadbare towel.

“No, I meant after . . . with Kaylee’s story. But the food was good too,” he hastens to add. She nods. “Why . . . I mean, if you and Mal think of him just as a killer, then what’s he doing on this boat?” he asks.

“Jayne tracked us. Mal and me. Not only that, he got the drop on us. We hadn’t been overly careful of our trail, but we hadn’t exactly been laying out a path of little white stones either. Captain figured anyone who could track us, we wanted on our side. Plus, it made him not shoot us.”

“Okay. But that was months ago. Why is he still here?”

“Don’t rightly know.” She pauses for a long minute. “Captain’s pretty good at reading people. He thought Jayne was just another mercenary, he’d’ve gotten rid of him awhile back.”

They’re dancing so close to the topic he wants to address that Wash can feel his heart pounding excitedly. “And me?” he asks. “Captain think good things about me?”

She’s surprised enough to answer him honestly. “Yes. More than I did.”

That’s not exactly the response he was hoping for, but in light of recent events he lets it slide. “But you like me now, right?” he says, starting to grin. She nods slightly as he keeps talking. His face is engagingly open; the mustache made a big difference. “I like you too, Zoe. I more than like you.” He stands up, takes her hand, and presses a kiss on her wrist, still warm from the hot water.

She pulls away, startled by the direction this is going. “I like you,” she says evenly; “I thought we had a nice day today. But that’s as far as it goes.”


“There’s nothing more there,” she repeats.

His mouth is off and running before his brain can catch it. “Then why were you flirting with me yesterday?”

She’s shocked into stillness. Flirting! She hasn’t flirted with anyone, been easy and free enough to flirt, since before the war made a mess of her life, took away a woman and put a soldier in her place. She finds she’s holding onto the back of Mal’s chair to keep her hands from shaking. She says as steadily as she can, “I was not flirting with you yesterday. I have never flirted with you. I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“The infirmary,” he reminds her, upset that she’s backtracking now, denying what was plain as day before. “You had my hand in your lap, remember? You were singing me a love song, remember? Any of this coming back to you?” He knows his anger will only push her away, but he’s too hurt to care.

“I . . .” she falters, unable to think of a tactful way to point out what is obvious to her, “I had your hand on my lap because I was trying to splint your fingers. It’s the most convenient position.”

He crosses his arms tightly across his chest and nods like he doesn’t believe a word she’s saying. “And the love song?” he challenges.

“I didn’t even realize I was humming yesterday. It’s something I used to do during the war, whenever I was bandaging injuries. Keeps me and the soldier I’m tending a little calmer. Captain used to joke the men were getting injured on purpose just to have someone sing to them. Only logical explanation for why so many of our side were getting hurt.” She pauses again. She doesn’t want everything to be about the war. She shakes her head as if to clear it. “I must just have had that song in my head yesterday.”

“Don’t you think that means something?” he asks, his voice softening, taking her hand again.

“No,” she says with finality, pulling free and walking away.

Jayne is considering the new mechanic as he does pull-ups from a length of braided leather he’s shimmied through the ceiling grate. At first glance, he’d thought that she was a nice piece of tail, and was considering making his way off the ship on the chance he’d meet another cute Rasam girl. Then she’d seen him. And by the way she’d looked at him, he’d known that Bester had gotten himself a feisty one. He’d reconsidered then, thinking maybe the thing to do was not look for another girl, but take this one from Bester. He could see by her eyes she was willing. But then she’d smiled at him.

When he’d first been hired onto Serenity, he couldn’t quite believe his luck. Ten percent, his own bunk, and the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen on board. After a few weeks of watching her, though, he’d lost interest. Her eyes were always heavy-lidded like she’d just fucked, but the expression on her face never changed. Even when she laughed at one of the captain’s jokes, he could sense that there was something inside of her that stayed hard, hurt, hot. There was a trapped animal within Zoe, and it was something he had no desire to tangle with.

But Kaylee’s different; her face is a kaleidoscope. She’s not beautiful, but she’s always on the verge of being so, and he’s been the sole witness to a few of the moments when it had been achieved. The first smile she’d given him, heedless of Bester’s presence, lit up her face with delight. He’d shied away that time, unprepared for the sudden glow about her. The tender look she’d worn when she stretched her fingertips out to tend his wounds transformed her, so that the grease that smeared her skin looked like God’s fingerprints. And that time he’d made a move, leaning in towards her brightness, and she’d been the one to run.

There’s a sound behind him, and he drops down, sweating, and turns in time to see her walking in with a plate piled high with food.

“Hungry?” she asks with an odd smile.


That’s all she needs. She sets the plate down carelessly and takes his face in her hands, drawing him down for a kiss.

Her mouth is open, her little tongue hotter than hell, and Jayne scoops her up so that he doesn’t have to bend down quite so far. Her legs slide around his waist easily, and one arm curls around his neck to keep him close. His arms, still burning from exercise, begin to give, and he doesn’t think he could manage to locate a chair. He presses her up against a wall instead, and her hands, no longer needed for balance, are immediately everywhere, holding his face, slipping under the neckline of his olive green shirt, like she can’t get enough of him. His left hand slides up from beneath her to tangle in her hair and cradle her skull, keeping it from pressing against the cold metal wall. She’s lost track of time, reveling in the sensations of being held aloft by those flexed arms, being pressed flush against that strong chest, of being teased by that talented tongue. She’s getting light-headed, and she pushes him back a bit so she can catch her breath. He’s panting too and she’s getting the shivers watching him try to control himself even as the heat of his body is pressed right up between her legs. He’s ducking slightly, trying to catch a glimpse of her face, when there’s a sound from the control panel. He slides her through his hands to let her down before turning to look at the radar.

“Somethin’s gettin’ close,” he mutters. She turns to the com, but Wash strides in, cutting her off. Jayne looks up at the angry sound of his boots and taps the radar screen.

The pilot recognizes the code the ship is sending out and says, “Don’t worry. Just someone else asking for directions.” Kaylee sighs in relief. “Jayne,” Wash continues in that clipped tone, “thanks for staying up here. I got it now.” He notices the plate of food. “Go, eat your dinner in peace.”

Jayne grins and grabs the plate with one hand, pulls the leather strip free with the other, and says, “I’ll be in my bunk.” Wash nods distractedly, not noticing Kaylee slipping out to follow Jayne.

She runs smack into him just outside the door, and he takes advantage of her surprise to push her against the wall with his hips and kiss her again. She breaks free after a moment, looks up at him, then bolts in the direction of his bunk, giggling. He knows he’s grinning like a crazy fool as he goes after her. When he finally makes it to his quarters, it feels like he’s been kicked in the gut. Kaylee’s standing there in a white tank top, purple panties, and a smile. She points to his chest. He twists just enough to deposit the plate on the dresser behind him without breaking eye contact, then obliges her by pulling his shirt off. He grins wolfishly and points to her top and then to her underwear. She pretends to be taken aback, but strips as he pulls off his shoes, socks, and pants. He’s advancing toward her when she shakes back her hair, hands on her hips, and looks pointedly at his boxers. “Right,” he growls, pulling them off and throwing them carelessly behind him. He reaches one arm out to her waist and pulls her forward as he lets himself fall backward onto the bed.

She’s all sunshine and delight, laughing and moaning in his arms. He likes the look on her face, somewhere between concentration and bliss, as she moves over him. He’s got one hand cupping her head, and she likes the sensation that she’s being cradled. Her head falls back in pleasure as the rhythm starts to get to her, and he takes that as an invitation to lean up and kiss roughly along her throat. His movement shifts the angle at which they meet, and her eyes, open all this time, grow even rounder. The size of his hands makes it feel like he’s touching her everywhere at once and she’s moved to kiss him once more. His beard is prickly against her, but his skin is smoother than she would have guessed. She’s close now, and she slaps her palms against his as she pushes down harder. She finds her release only a moment before he finds his. She slumps forward for a moment before resting her chin on his scarred chest and smiling into his eyes. He reaches out a hand to toy with her hair, trying to buy some time. His face is not exactly an open book, but she knows what he’s worrying over.

“Jayne,” she says, leaning a little closer, seeing herself in his sharpshooter eyes, “I had fun. Din’t you?”

“Yeah,” he allows, waiting for the kicker.

She doesn’t deliver it. “That’s all it has to be. You, me, some fun.”

“Helluva lot of fun,” he corrects.

“I ain’t expectin’ you to buy me posies, or hold my hand during dinner. I just think we could have some good times together.”

He can’t believe he heard her correctly, but she’s nodding to convince him, and he grins up at her. “Whatever you say, darlin’ girl.”

She relaxes and repeats her earlier question: “Hungry?”

This time, his answer is different: “Yep.”

She turns her head to look at the dresser and her hair whispers against his nose. “Food’s right there,” she informs him, clearly waiting.

“You got to be on top. You get the food,” he responds. She sighs and grabs the plate, then begins feeding him, sneaking every third bite for herself. He’s got a shine in his eyes now, like he can’t quite figure out how his life has gotten so good, and she kisses his cheek softly.

“Jayne? How old are you?” Mealtimes have always been a noisy time, full of discussion and argument, in her home.

“Thirty-seven. You?”

“Twenty-two. You the oldest?”

“Only child,” he says shortly.

The food is gone, and she leans over to put the plate back on the dresser. Out of the corner of her eye she sees his pants, a folded piece of paper peeking out of the back pocket. “Jayne?” she asks, remembering the post point, “why ain’t you with your Ma?”

He’s not going to lie to her. “Weren’t safe for her, havin’ me around.” He’s not going to tell her the whole story either.

He thought his face clearly signaled the end of that discussion, so he’s startled into stillness by her gathering him into her arms. She’s afraid she’s hurt him, and her fingers are tender as they smooth over his forehead, her lips are soft as she kisses away his crow’s-feet. She holds him close to her breast and feels him relax slightly. “Sorry,” she whispers, looking at him so sweetly that she glows into another moment of beauty. She pushes away a little and kisses down his chest.

“whoo dahn” “stupid” / “xiao mei-mei” “little sister”

Continue: Part 3/21
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

long Firefly fic: "Phyxius" (part 3)

Flashback: Roxiticus

Jefferson Cobb is the meanest man on the planet, people say. Or at least that’s their best guess. When a man’s built the way the blacksmith is, better not to find out for sure what his personality’s like, folks reckon. He’s six foot three, brawny, with a grip that can break your hand. When he walks into the bar in Shey after delivering an order of horseshoes and spinning-wheel parts, the noise flattens out. He takes his seat and waits for a girl to come by. The one who does is kinda pretty, pert nose, long black hair braided up, taller than average. She’s calling an order over her shoulder as she approaches him. She turns to face him and he’s lost forever, pulled in by the softness of her big brown eyes.

Sasha’s not having an easy time of it, and Jefferson rides like the wind to fetch the doctor from his office in Shey. He’s little more than a boy, and he blanches when Jeff demands help for his wife and firstborn. When they enter, Sasha is crying and sweating, hands clutching her belly. She knows something is wrong, and she prays the doctor can fix it. Her prayers are not answered. The doctor makes the wrong cut, and her eyes close in grief.

The second baby is lost in a late and bloody miscarriage. When she gets pregnant for the third time, Sasha seeks out a midwife. The woman listens to what the doctor did and shakes her head. She gives Sasha some herbs and promises to ease her delivery. The baby’s a week past its due date, and Jefferson’s away delivering goods to a buyer down the river, when Sasha feels the pain begin. The midwife, sleeping in the next room, hears her cries. When Jeff comes home his wife is looking at him over their son’s head, her eyes luminous. “Jayne,” she tells him exhaustedly and sinks into sleep, her baby clutched to her breast.

She’s certain her child is extraordinary, if only for the way his little face lights up whenever she or Jeff is near. He crows with laughter when she cuddles him or when Jeff throws and catches him. He’s four when he begins to follow Jeff to the smithy, seven when he gets his first gun. He’s eight years old when he’s able to hunt well enough to put supper on the table every night. He’s twelve when his world changes.

Sasha looks at her son proudly as he stirs the stew. Only twelve and nearly as tall as Jeff, with the promise of his father’s build already there in his slim height. She pulls out the pile of mending and has to light some candles to thread her needle. By the time she finishes the shirts, the stew is ready for extra spices, but Jefferson still hasn’t come home. She sends Jayne to the forge and nearly upsets the stew when he runs back in, terror written clear across his face. Jeff is lying unconscious in the field, halfway between his workshop and his home; together, she and Jayne manage to pull him into the house. The doctor they bring in from Cho says something’s eating Jeff from the inside, and there’s nothing he can do.

The next three years are tough. Jeff is too strong to slip easily out of life, too weak to beat back the sickness inside. Most days, he can’t even see her, just the pain. He can’t work, can’t hardly move, and she tends to him while she makes suppers to sell to the men who work along the river. And Jayne is the one on whom she depends, to find enough game to cook, to keep an arm around her as she cries, to give up on schooling and be the man of the house.

She wakes one morning to find her husband and son gone. She rushes out to the porch Jefferson built the year they were married and sees Jayne carrying his father back from the outhouse. He’s taller than his father now, and as broad across the shoulders as Jeff once was. He looks older than fifteen. She stands out of the way to let them in the front door and pulls Jayne aside when he’s set his father gently down. “The Mayday festival’s comin’. Men down the river sent word they’d pay extra for deer instead of rabbit stew,” she tells him.

He nods dubiously. “Take longer,” he points out; “gotta go deep in the woods for deer.”

“It’s fine,” she responds, gesturing to the large basket of mayflowers she’d gathered last night as Jayne fed his father, “they want wreaths for their sweethearts too. That’ll take me most all day.” He nods, stoops to kiss her cheek, and shoulders his gun; she watches him walk out into the sunlight. It’s the day her world will be torn apart.

He’s in the woods, setting his sights on a buck. He’s already bagged a few rabbits, but this is the prize he’s after. He hears a shot and a cry, and the buck is lost, bounding through the woods, white tail up in alarm. He traces the sound and sees a man with a pistol examining the man he’s just killed. “Hey!” Jayne calls, and the killer flees. There’s no point chasing after him now, when he’s got work to do. He kills two deer and brings them home.

He’s gutting the first when the sheriff approaches, the murderer at his side. “That’s the man who killed Seth!” the killer declaims, pointing a clean hand at Jayne, up to his elbows in blood.

And suddenly there is fear, freezing him and slowing him down, so that he can’t answer the sheriff’s questions, only say, “No, it were him,” over and over again. Sasha comes out of the house at the commotion in time to hear him say, “All I killed was these deer. And them rabbits,” in a voice about to break with panic. He’s looking at her, pleading with his eyes, but nothing she says keeps the sheriff from putting the heavy manacles Jeff made long ago around Jayne’s wrists and leading him off to jail.

They tell him he’ll have to spend the night there with the sheriff keeping an eye on him. He can’t figure out what to say in response, so he says nothing. In the morning the sheriff leaves and his deputy takes over. He’s a mean little man, full of the authority the star on his hat gives him. When Sasha comes in at a run, he takes his time looking her over. “He killed a man in cold blood,” he declares, grinning insolently at her.

“No!” she protests. “He din’t even know that man! He’s just a boy!”

He sneers, “Biggest ‘boy’ I ever seen. He’s full-grown. Legal,” he says, drawing out the last word as he pantomimes a noose with his hands.

She blanches. “Wuh de tyen ah! He’s only fifteen,” she cries; “look, I brought his birth-papers.” She draws them out of her blouse and hands them to him, keeping her eyes on him and not on her baby boy; she needs to stay strong.

The deputy looks at the papers but his eyes don’t move, and she realizes he can’t read. He throws the papers on the desk. “Not good enough. But could be I could convince the sheriff to let your boy go,” he says, and she knows what he’s asking for. She bows her head like a lamb for the slaughter and tries not to flinch as his hand reaches for her.

“No!” Jayne screams from the cell, yelling so loud and for so long the noise reaches the bar next door where the sheriff is nursing his drink. The deputy can’t shut him up from the other side of the bars, and he’s not about to get into the cell with anybody Jayne’s size.

As the sheriff storms in, Sasha scoops the birth-papers off the desk. She reaches into the cell and draws Jayne forward, holding his gaze. When the sheriff grabs her arm, she shows him the proof of her son’s age. It’s not enough to clear him, but it’s enough to get him out of jail; no one wants to hang a fifteen-year-old boy.

Back home, he stays inside with his father, but it is Sasha who must face the people of Roxiticus, who spit on her, throw stones, and whisper that the food she’s selling must be poisoned. There is no sign of it stopping. Three nights later, he leaves. He kisses her cheek just before he goes. She thinks it’s part of her dream and brushes her hand across her face.

“wuh de tyen ah” “dear god in heaven”

Continue: Part 4/21
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

long Firefly fic: "Phyxius" (part 4)

Mahaladu: II

Pacing. Pacing. It’s been hours. Zoe’s worked herself into a fine rage over the idiot pilot’s comments about flirting. Next thing he would have said: “You were asking for it.” She looks down to see her hands clenched in fists so tight it hurts when she starts to uncurl her fingers. No. Why not stay this way. Why not pound something. She wants to make contact with another body so badly. At least with Jayne, it won’t be complicated.

She knocks once on his door and descends before he’s given her permission. He’s sitting with his back to her, a small folding table in front of him. He’s cleaning a gun, and the scent of gun oil is almost his cologne. He’s taking his time snapping the pieces back together, making sure he hears each click, wiping each part down with a rag. She recognizes the rag as the torn shirt he was wearing in the infirmary, and she finds it only too appropriate that he treats his guns and his body the same.

She’s not getting any more patient, waiting for him, but she knows it would do her no good to interrupt. He puts the last piece in its place and asks, “Spar?”




“Knives?” he offers, hanging Meena up, starting to reach for Raji.

“Skin.” She turns and climbs out of his bunk with him right behind. They make their way to the space in the belly of the ship, cleared like a boxing ring. Without warning she kicks at his side, but he blocks with the heels of his hands. She throws a knockout punch. He catches it, twisting her fist in his palm, and tags her with his free hand. That he’s honoring the rule of no hard contact while she is not is only enraging her further. While he’s still got one hand closed around hers, she kicks upward viciously; knee or groin, either target will do, but the length of his arm allows him to skip nimbly back.

“Ruttin’ hell, Zoe!” he snarls, “that ain’t nice.” He shoves her backwards. “The hell’s the matter with you? Ain’t never tried that chou ma niao before. And it ain’t gonna do you any good now,” he adds as she comes at him again. He knocks her flat and pins her quickly, trapping her legs with his thighs, pushing her biceps down with his big hands. “You’d be dead right now,” he tells her. She’s still clawing at him, and her nails reopen the wounds Kaylee had cleaned yesterday. He shifts his grip to her wrists as she struggles, her shirt riding up to leave a few inches of skin exposed. “Zoe!” he bellows, dropping his face down to hers, forcing her eyes to meet his. She goes still when the first drops of his blood hit her bared belly, and then the tension melts out of her. He shifts off her and watches her retreat inward, pull the wildcat back in by the tail. There’s a diamond glint of a tear in her eye. He reaches out and swipes some of his blood off her with a callused finger. His thumb captures the tear the minute it hits her skin. She lies still under his clumsy ministrations. “Let me get Mal.”


He can tell she means it. He shifts uncomfortably.

When she finally sits up, she scoots closer to him. She pulls off his shirt, and though he lifts his arms automatically to help, he doesn’t know what is happening now. She wraps one warm hand around his middle and bends her head, examining his freely bleeding side. “Should cover that again,” she says professionally, and he shrugs, understanding that she’s back to being the unflappable first mate, the resident stoic.

That leaves him free to play toughest man in the ’verse. “Din’t need to be babied last time,” he growls. “Ain’t happenin’ again.” He stands and reaches a hand down to her.

She surprises him all over again by taking it. “It’s an order,” she says, squeezing his hand gently as she brushes by him and heads for the shower.

She stands under the hot water and lets the sweat skim off her, lets Jayne’s blood roll down into the drain. The water is pushing her, flattening her hair into a blanket so heavy she can hardly move her head. She scrubs it clean with gramme powder and twists it atop her head, allowing the spray to hit the nape of her neck. She rolls her shoulders and feels some pressure ease.

The flow of water doesn’t sputter, but it loses its temperature steadily after a few minutes. It cools rapidly but she doesn’t leave. In her mind, she’s back on Veena, the year she turned sixteen.

“chou ma niao” “stinking horse piss”

Continue: Part 5/21
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

long Firefly fic: "Phyxius" (part 5)

Flashback: Veena: I

Standing on a ledge sprayed by a cool waterfall, she is daring her brother to jump. Nikhil keeps questioning her as if her answers will shorten the distance to the lake below. “How old were you when you first did this?”


“And that scar on your head isn’t from some rocks down there?”

“It’s from the hiking accident. You know that. Don’t be such a baby.”

“And why did you jump from up here?”

“Anlee pushed me,” she says, giving him a small shove that sends him over the edge. Her laughter drowns out his yells, and she screams exuberantly as she leaps after him.

Down in the lake, he’s waiting to scowl and lecture her. “You’re crazy, you know that?”

She grins unrepentantly. There are some things her baby brother would never do on his own; he just needs to be steered in the right direction. “Fun, huh?”

A reluctant smile inches across his face. “Yeah.”

“Want to go again?”

He stares at her. “You are crazy.” He turns toward the bank. “I’m going home.”

“No, stay, Nik. We can –”

They’re both startled by a splash a few feet away. Quan swims up to them. “Jumping?” he asks with an eager grin.

“She is. I’m going,” Nikhil says as he heads for the bank. Once he’s on land, he looks back at them and calls, “Hey, Quan! Zhu tamin ya min – she’ll sneak up on you.”

Zoe turns her most innocent face to Quan, trying to look appalled at her brother for making such a slanderous statement. “Don’t even try it,” he says; “I know you too well.”

She shrugs as if she’s given up. “Fine.” She treads water, moving in a slow circle around him, her head just above the surface. “How’s Anlee?” she asks quietly.

“Don’t mention this to anyone. Not even Nik,” he says seriously. He leans a little closer even though there’s no one around to eavesdrop. “I saw her yesterday. She says she’s doing real well, that Lok has a good job.” He can’t believe his family has been torn apart because of one piece of paper. “What does it matter that they’re not married?” he shouts, forgetful of his earlier caution. She reaches out a hand to him, he calms as it rests on his upper arm. “Baby’s cute, anyway. Just like his uncle,” he grins. He shrugs her hand off. “Come on, race ya to the top.” He swims swiftly to the shore and pulls himself onto land. He turns back to taunt her for being so slow but the triumph dies on his lips. She’s emerging from the water, and he’s shocked by how beautiful she is. He shakes his head.

“Water in your ears?” she laughs, coming up behind him, tapping a playful rhythm on his shoulder blades. “Come on, I thought we were racing.” She speeds ahead, running easily up the grassy slope, darting nimbly among the rocks. Her every movement is grace, and he can’t believe that he’s never noticed before how her bronze skin glows, how her curls tighten when they’re dripping wet, how her smile is dangerously alluring. She reaches the top and turns so fast he doesn’t have time to hide the longing on his face. She goes still. She waits for him to reach her. And then she kisses him and it’s soft and sweet and wet.

“zhu tamin ya min” “watch your back”

Continue: Part 6/21
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

long Firefly fic: "Phyxius" (part 6)

Mahaladu: III

Zoe is snapped out of her reverie by a pounding on the door. She can hear the concern in Kaylee’s voice. “Zoe? Y’alright? Are ya hurt?”

“No, I’m good,” she calls back, turning off the icy water and wrapping a towel around herself. She dries herself quickly and steps out into the hall to reassure the girl. “Just thinking, is all.” She watches Kaylee head to the engine room and makes her way to her bunk. She pulls on some soft night clothes and lies down, trying to clear her mind. Don’t, she warns herself, don’t go any further. Just stop right there. Don’t even think about what happened a few years later. It’s too late, though; Wash’s words have sent her reeling, and the control she found in Jayne’s rough care is gone again. The memories are insistent.

Continue: Part 7/21
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

long Firefly fic: "Phyxius" (part 7)

Flashback: Veena: II

She and Quan are dressing each other by the waterfall, their movements much more leisurely than their hasty disrobing had been. She’s got her hands on his shoulders as she steps into the shorts he’s holding ready for her. She lets her hands drift down a bit; she loves the smooth muscles of his back, tapering down to that trim waist. He pulls away to put his shirt on, but then steps back to her. She finds her sandals with her feet, unwilling to let go of his hands.

Nikhil finds them like that moments later. He rolls his eyes. “Are you guys flirting again?”

Flirting. It’s a pretty word, but much too insubstantial for what’s been going on. We’ve been loving, she wants to say, but she notices the look on her brother’s face. “What?” she asks.

“Weren’t you supposed to be doing the mending with Mam?”

“Tzao gao.” She’d forgotten all about that when Quan had showed up with the sun behind him, tapping on her bedroom window. But Mam won’t mind; she hates the mending too, the endless parade of bedlinens, and the beauty of the day probably beckoned her outside anyway. “I’m sure we’ll take care of it tonight,” she tells Nikhil, his face tight with anxiety for her.

“You’re gonna get it this time,” he warns. “Da’s going to be mad.”

“Trust me. Just follow my lead,” she responds.

A familiar look, admiration mixed with resignation, is on his face. “Don’t I always?” he asks. She gives him the last smile of her girlhood.

He turns to lead the way home, the fish he’s caught waving like a banner from his hand. She and Quan follow hand in hand. Halfway home, she sees a gray uniform out of the corner of her eye. And then another. And another. The closer they get to their home, the more there are. And while the Alliance is a presence on this world, it’s usually only a few silent, unobtrusive guards scattered across the landscape. Quan squeezes her hand and drops it, and takes the path that leads to his house, anxious for his parents, even more so for his sister who’s out of his reach. Nikhil turns to exchange a serious look with her, knowing there’s nothing to do but keep heading home. They push open the front door with an unaccustomed feeling of dread and see their father sitting opposite a row of Alliance officers.

She looks at her father’s face and his eyes are completely blank. She swivels to face the uniformed men again and notices that one of them is holding something. “What is that?” she asks, her throat knotted. He says nothing but pulls the white cloth away too quickly for her to cover her eyes. It’s the painting her mother has been working on. There is a long, angry streak running across it, and it takes her a minute to realize that it is her mother’s blood. She sways a little on her feet, catching herself before any of these men can; she doesn’t want them anywhere near her. This is what was happening while she was out with Quan, leaving her mother alone outside.

“Sergio Rahersi,” the man in the middle of the cluster says formally, “you are bound by law to stand down. I arrest you in the name of the Alliance for the murder of one Annah Rahersi.” And now she can’t speak at all. They are taking her father away. It all happens too quickly to comprehend. She and Nikhil protest his innocence, but he is uninterested in defending himself. He is lost without his wife. The Alliance’s speedy prosecution is made easier by his silence. Veena is a valuable playing-ground for the wealthy; they would not come if they suspected danger, a murderer lurking as they frolic, but a simple domestic crime among the staff is not their concern.

She leaves Nikhil at home when she walks to the main square for their father's execution by firing squad. She stands tall and looks at him straight on, but his eyes pass through her. She turns and leaves, the buzz of gossip ringing in her ears. All she sees as she walks away are the grey uniforms of the Alliance men as they stand in orderly rows.

She cannot distinguish the shots fired that day from the shots she hears now, worlds away, on the battlefield on Acheron. She crouches back down in the trench and eyes Nikhil. He has not spoken in the months since their father’s death; whenever he’s near a flat surface, his hand traces the design of their mother’s last painting over it. She cannot think of how to bring him back. But that has to wait until she’s delivered the mortal blow to the Alliance. She springs out of the trench, firing at the soldiers on the other side, feeling a sharp glee for each one who falls. She looks back at her brother and beckons him forward. He responds, obedient as a pet, eyes only on her. She sees the arc of the grenade as it lands in front of him, and then he’s gone. She’s sobbing as she sinks to her knees, heedless of the Alliance’s retreat, of the Independents’ forces gathering to regroup.

She’s stroking his outflung arm, tears running down her face, unaware of anything but the texture of his rapidly cooling skin under her fingers. She stays like that until a firm hand on her shoulder pulls her back. She is enraged and her hand reaches instantly for a knife. The point is pressed to the man’s throat, but he doesn’t back away. “Let me help you bury him,” he says, and all she can do is nod.

“tzao gao” “crap”

Continue: Part 8/21
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

long Firefly fic: "Phyxius" (part 8)

Mahaladu: IV

Mal walks into the mess hall a little disoriented, feeling off-balance because he hasn’t yet talked over the new job with Zoe, heard her low, logical voice flow in agreement with his. He sees Wash in one corner, trying to make himself unobtrusive behind a large and dusty book. Kaylee’s there too, sitting silently as she forces down a bowl of protein mush; it always tastes worse after a night of proper food.

Zoe walks in, her heels ringing against the metal grating, an odd bulge in one of her pockets. She looks a little puffy-eyed, and he frowns, trying to work out what might have upset her. “Zoe,” he greets her, waiting for a cue.

“Sir,” she nods briskly back.

“Missed you last night. Thought we could talk over this job on Pixley,” he says, still trying to ascertain the cause of her discomfort. “You get too busy?”

“I was . . .” she falters, never having had to account for herself to him before, “with . . .”

Jayne walks in at that moment with a gruff “Mornin’.”

Mal catches the note of defiance in the folds of the mercenary’s voice, sees the way he can’t quite look straight at Zoe. He turns and finds his first mate looking unflinchingly at Jayne, an unreadable expression on her face. His confusion gives way abruptly to anger. If he’s tried anything . . . He strides furiously over to Jayne, halting only when something large and bright flies right in front of his nose. Jayne catches it neatly and Mal looks down into the man’s hand to see a blood orange. He looks up, confused again, and sees Zoe’s face telling him in no uncertain terms to back off. He takes a step away from Jayne, his mind racing. That’s got to be the last of Zoe’s share of the fruit from the job before Rasam, the stuff she’s been hoarding for well over a fortnight. And now she’s tossed it to the mercenary, in part as a gift, and in part to keep him from confronting the bigger man. It’s a mite unsettling how the women on this ship have been eager to feed and defend Jayne, he thinks, but if Zoe’s got no quarrel with Jayne, then he doesn’t either.

He clears his throat and gets on with the day’s work. “Zoe, you and I will go find our client and bring the goods back to the ship.” She looks up at him, eyes saying she’s ready. “Wash,” he says, “I want us ready to get to Pixley soon as Zoe and I get back. Map out a quick route that won’t use more’n two-thirds of our fuel cells.” He doesn’t wait for acknowledgment before he turns to Kaylee. “Your turn to do the laundry. Best to get it done while we’re on land and can fetch the extra water.” She nods but by the way her gaze remains trained on his face, he can tell she has no idea what the chore involves. She’s probably used to doing the wash by hand. “Jayne’ll show you how the washer works,” he reassures her, turning to Zoe once more, hitting the button to extend the docking ramp on their way out.

Wash uncurls from his seat in the corner, letting the mapbook fall heavily on the table. He’s beyond surprised that Zoe didn’t go running to Mal last night after their confrontation. They’re closer than lovers, more interdependent than twins. He envies them that closeness. Or maybe it’s just Mal he envies, knowing that Zoe’s shining eyes will always turn to him first, that her voice will always second his, that she will always hold him back from whatever darkness he courts.

He sighs, rubbing tiredly at his cheeks, covered in stubble. No point in dwelling on Zoe now. He needs to get the ship ready to run. Pixley sounds like a nice place, a little out of the way but firmly in Alliance territory. It sounds kind of like Bolus, he thinks as he makes his way to the bridge.

Continue: Part 9/21
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

long Firefly fic: "Phyxius" (part 9)

Flashback: Bolus

She’s nervous as a bride when he comes in and she hurries to get a hot dinner in front of him. She isn’t aware she’s gripping her apron with tight fists until she sees him looking at them. She flushes and opens her mouth to speak. “Went to the doctor today.”

He pauses, fork in mid-air, next bite ready. “Doctor?” he frowns.

“I’m pregnant.” She says the words in a rush.

His face goes blank from shock, but then his eyes crinkle up in that way she loves. “Gorram! Esme, girl, here I was thinkin’ you were just gettin’ fat!” he laughs. He can’t be serious for even a minute. Lord knows how he isn’t giggling all day at court when he’s defending his clients.

She’s built on generous lines and she knows she isn’t showing, but there’s nothing wrong with a snappy retort. “When’s the litter you’re carrying due, then?” she asks, with a soft slap to his belly.

He guffaws and pulls her down to his lap, kissing the top of her head. Her hair smells like fresh bread. A sudden thought freezes him. “Esme, you ain’t . . . too old for this?” The girls are fifteen, the second set of twins twelve. He’s seen the births, knows it takes strength to push for so long.

“No, Father Time, I ain’t too old,” she tries to joke, but his arms tighten around her and she can’t continue. “I'll be fine,” she promises quietly.

He intends to hold her to her word. “When are these new brats due?” he sighs, playing weary.

She rolls her eyes at the melodrama. “Not brats. Brat. This time there’s just one.”

“Really?” he asks, surprised.

“Really. This one’ll have no shadow.” She knows already this child will be spoiled rotten. “He’ll have to go it alone.”

She repeals that declaration when they put her newborn child in her arms. He’s got an absurdly endearing crest of reddish hair and his tiny fist clutches her forefinger with an iron grip, wiggling it around like a joystick. It’s the first time she’s been able to concentrate on the baby at her breast; with the twins, she was always worried about the child she wasn’t feeding, the one out of the circle of her arms. The sensation of his steady sucking at her nipple is overwhelming, and she nuzzles the top of his head with her nose. This is the one she’s never letting out of her sight.

Continue: Part 10/21
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

long Firefly fic: "Phyxius" (part 10)

Mahaladu: V

They didn’t have to go far to draw water, but it was certainly a pain trying to bring it down to the laundry area without spilling it all over Serenity. Kaylee doesn’t know how she’ll be able to manage this chore in the future without help; she’s too short to pour the water easily into the washing machine. But for now she’s got Jayne, who empties their pails into the wringer while she gathers the clothes and sheets and towels from the big hamper. He helps her stuff them in, shows her how much cleansing powder the load needs, then leans nonchalantly against the large machine.

Her breath catches when she sees that he’s wearing that smile. His right hand reaches out to undo the long row of hooks that runs down the center of her sleeveless top. “Jayne!” she protests, glancing nervously around the open space.

“Ain’t nobody around but us,” he reminds her, continuing swiftly with his task. He’s about a third of the way down the row when she gets both hands on his right arm, pushing him so that her weight traps his arm and his back is pressed against the machine. It doesn’t seem to disconcert him, and his left hand slips in and resumes the job. His fingers are deft despite their size and he lets the tips brush against the skin he’s uncovering. She gasps. “What’s the word? Learned it once. Oh, yeah,” his palm flattens against her belly, “ambidextrous.” The wicked grin on his face as he says the last word is too much for her and she shifts to press her bare breast into his hand.

His eyes darken and he lays her down without any ceremony. He’s pulling at her shorts and she’s fumbling for his zipper, and they’re naked within moments. She’s got her hands on the shifting planes of his broad back, pulling him tightly to her, but it’s his turn to be on top, to set the pace. He’s going slow and deliberate, just to torture her, just to make her plead, “Jayne!” She licks at the side of his face where she thought she saw something like a dimple when he grinned at her. His thrusts become stronger, more insistent, and she’s moaning sweetly, almost in time to the rhythm of the machine rocking above them. “Jayne,” she breathes. “Jayne.”

Continue: Part 11/21
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

long Firefly fic: "Phyxius" (part 11)


They’ve been flying for three days, and Wash is tired. He’s glad to be able to get on the com and say “Pixley’s within sight. We can land in an hour.”

The whole crew assembles on the bridge, peering at the planet while Mal gives orders. He plucks playfully at Kaylee’s lopsided ponytail. “You’ve got a shopping list to make, young lady.” He elaborates when she frowns her confusion. “Pixley’s s’posed to have one of the better junkyards in this corner of the ’verse, least that’s what our client on Mahaladu said. Good man, Linden.” Now she’s looking a little dazed, so to hurry her along, he swats her bottom lightly. “Hop to it, mei-mei. Half the credits from Mahaladu for engine parts.” She squeaks her delight and runs along to coo over the engine, figure out what exactly Serenity needs.

He closes the door behind her, wanting her out of earshot before he discusses the Pixley job. “Zoe,” he says, turning to her, “you remember what Linden said about women not bein’ welcome to do official business on Pixley? That means the buyers don’t see you. You’ll be off keepin’ an eye on Kaylee.” He stops her before she has a chance to protest. “Let’s call it girls’ day out, alright?” He knows she’d rather be skulking around with a rifle, watching his back, but he can’t risk the deal. “And no guns; they’re illegal on Pixley. Knives only,” he says, nodding at Jayne, making sure he gets the message to leave Vera, Meena, and their sisters in his bunk. “Wash,” he turns to the pilot, “we’ll land and Jayne and I will locate the buyers. We’ll bring ’em back to the ship and you’ll let down the ramp and bring down the goods. That’s all. Easy as . . . somethin’. Everyone good?”

Kaylee’s making her list when she sees Jayne, shirt in hand, walk by the engine room’s open door. “Hey,” she calls, part playful, part seductive as her eyes follow the line of hair that runs down his flat stomach, “come here, big man.”

He grins at the appellation but he’s shaking his head. “Cain’t. Gotta get ready for the job.” He keeps walking towards his bunk, and he pulls a well-worn Blue Sun shirt out of a drawer. It’s a little loose on him, and it won’t reveal all of the weapons strapped to his body. He pulls tight black bands high on each arm, sheathing small throwing knives there. Larger knives are placed at the front of his waistband and at the small of his back. Nelle is tucked into his left boot, and he wears Raji boldly on his hip. Job’s perfectly legal, but that’s no reason to go in unarmed.

He reports back to Mal for final instructions. “What’s the cargo?” he thinks to ask.

“Spices and all kinds of dried food. Mayor of Pixville’s gettin’ married, wants a proper feast for the shindig. And willin’ to pay mighty good coin.”

“What’s all that?” he points to a slim flat package lying on top of the captain’s coat.

Mal smiles and picks up the packet. “If you can believe it, it’s official paperwork declaring our goods legal. And taxable.” Neither one of them has seen an official Alliance goods seal that’s not a forgery and they laugh nervously over it, running surprised fingers over its embossed richness, as Serenity begins her descent.

Kaylee, her list, Zoe, and the credits the captain promised are all on their way to the junkyard as Mal and Jayne walk down the main street of Pixville towards the mayor’s mansion. They stop when they hear a voice close by ask, “Captain Reynolds?” They pivot as one, and Jayne automatically drops a step behind as Mal locates the speaker and answers, “That’s the name I answer to.”

The man smiles charmingly. “I’m Mayor Jenkiss. Welcome to Pixville. Have you got my goods?”

There’s something a little odd about his eagerness, and Mal smiles back, equally charming. “If you’ve got my coin.”

“Good fellow! Lead on, Captain,” Jenkiss says, as one of the many men behind him holds up a small sack and shakes it to make the currency jingle. He keeps up a steady stream of commentary as they head to the Argent Docks. “Oh, look at that ship! Quite nice, quite nice. If yours is anything like that, Captain,” he nudges Mal jovially, “you’re sitting pretty.”

Serenity’s a firefly,” Mal answers shortly. He’s not used to prattle, and he’s thinking maybe legal jobs aren’t the way to go after all.

“Oh, a firefly! Delightful, delightful!” Mal’s never met someone so in love with the sound of his own voice. Jayne’s sour face says he agrees.

“Here we are.” He sees Jenkiss open his mouth to say something, so he keeps talking. “By the way, I never congratulated you, Mayor, on your marriage. All the best to you and the future Mrs. Jenkiss. Hear tell she’s quite a looker.” He’s lying through his teeth; Linden had said the woman had a face marked by inbreeding but the credits to cancel that out.

“She’s well enough,” Jenkiss answers. “How about you gents?” There’s an unsettling look in his eyes. “Any ladies on board?”

Mal pats the exterior of his ship in a swift rhythm. “Nah. Serenity here’s the only girl I need,” he responds, thankful that Kaylee and Zoe are not on board. Wash hears the signal and opens the main hatch and lets the docking ramp descend. “You can see your cargo, Mayor, right there,” Mal continues with a broad gesture. He pulls the papers from his coat pocket. “Just sign there and I’ll have our pilot bring it down.”

At Jenkiss’s nod, one of his men hands the coin pouch over to Mal, another produces the official signet ring, and a third moves forward with a hot wax dispenser. Jenkiss presses the ring to the small puddle of wax and gestures for Wash to bring the first of the crates down. “Have you no one else to help him, Captain?”

“No rush, is there?” Mal smiles, but Jenkiss understands that there’s no one else on board.

It’s clearly the cue he’s been waiting for as he shakes a small knife down his long, flowing sleeve and plunges it high into Mal’s left arm.

“It’s a tough decision,” Kaylee says, gnawing her lower lip worriedly.

“You can make it. Fact, you’re the only one who can,” Zoe reminds her. “No one else can tell which one of these parts is most likely to need replacing but you.”

“Okay. Let’s take these then . . . but we’ll leave that one till the cap’n’s in a good mood from gettin’ paid again.”

“Good plan,” Zoe nods approvingly.

The parts are well wrapped, making several neat bundles that can be carried easily under the arm. They walk along in a comfortable silence. Kaylee brightens when she sees the familiar silhouette of Serenity, small and stark black against the dusky sky. She looks happily at Zoe, and says, “She looks right pretty there, don’t she?” Zoe smiles in response, leading the way back to the ship.

Jayne moves faster than thought, snapping the neck of the man who scooped up the money sack Mal dropped when he was stabbed. He’s got Raji in his hand, ready to plunge into Jenkiss’s heart, when one of the gang throws a knife that buries itself in his shoulder. He loses his grip on Raji, but catches her with his other hand and slashes the nearest man across the chest.

Jenkiss shouts, “Come on, boys! Kill the big one! We can take the ship!” and starts toward the docking ramp. Mal manages to trip him and one of his men, and flings his blade into the follower’s heart. Jenkiss is too quick to be killed though, and is up again in an instant, knife in hand. “You’re a lot harder to kill than the mayor of this gorram backwater and his ugly bride-to-be were,” he grunts as he faces Mal. Mal’s hands are wrapped around Jenkiss’s wrist as the knife comes closer and closer.

Jayne has a knife in each hand, and his arms and chest are covered in bloody slashes from the weapons the bandits have been throwing, which lie scattered around him. Each time he gets a bandit within arm’s reach, though, he’s able to thrust with enough force to spill the man’s lifeblood on the dirt of Pixley. He wonders how much longer his strength will last.

Jenkiss pushes against the knife embedded in Mal’s arm with his free hand, shaking Mal’s grip on the knife poised at his face. Mal howls as the blade rips through his skin; a thin and bloody river, from the edge of his eyebrow to the bottom of his ear, appears on the map of his face. His empty hand closes around Jenkiss’s neck.

Jenkiss’s men are not happy. The big one is not going down, apparently not weakening at all. The only knives they’ve got left aren’t balanced for throwing; they’re meant for close combat, but no one wants to challenge the mercenary and his formidable wingspan. They can’t edge past him, and the pilot has dropped the cargo in order to carry a very large gun and hold Serenity. “Not worth it,” one of them mutters, and soon it’s their chorus as they retreat.

Mal sees Jayne approach and removes his hand from Jenkiss’s neck, pushing him roughly away. Jenkiss, caught off balance, lands hard on his backside. In a single fluid move, Jayne drops to one knee and slices Raji across Jenkiss’s throat so savagely that the blood spurts out in a heavy spray, underlining the words “Blue Sun” on his shirt. He looks over at Mal to judge the shape he’s in and sees Zoe heading over to the captain and Kaylee staring at him with horror on her face, carefully wrapped engine parts falling from her nerveless fingers to lie among the scattered bodies of the men he’s killed.

Zoe’s just gotten an arm around Mal as he stumbles backwards when she hears a crash. She looks over to see Kaylee’s empty hands shaking and the packages lying at her feet, metal peering out from the cloth wrapping. Girl’s lucky she didn’t slice off a toe with that trick. She should get inside. “Kaylee,” Zoe calls, “can you get the captain into the infirmary?” She waits until Kaylee has looped Mal’s arm over her shoulder before she turns to Jayne. The mercenary is covered in blood, and his breathing is a little hitched, but he’s looking into her eyes steadily. He stoops suddenly to pick up Nelle and she asks, “They get away without paying?”

“Naw,” he grinds out; the quick movement was not a good idea for someone getting lightheaded from blood loss. She can see he’s about to drop, so she does it herself, turning over the slashed corpses with the toe of her boot, nudging them aside until she gets to the bottom of the pile. She turns over the last one and finds his hands still clutching the money pouch. She’s surprised to see that there’s not a drop of blood on the bag when she plucks it from his grasp, and she quirks an eyebrow at Jayne. He knows what she’s thinking and he answers, “Broke his neck.” She nods at his pragmatism and turns toward the ship. She looks at him again when he doesn’t move. She’s about to reach out to him when she realizes he’s so used to doing the final sweep, to being the last one to board, that he’s waiting for her to go ahead of him. She runs swiftly up the ramp and hears his heavy steps behind her. She knows he’ll follow, so she heads for the infirmary.

“Seal her up tight,” she can hear Mal bellow to Wash, “and get us off this planet.” The next world over is easily half a day’s journey, and the sky is clear of other ships, so Wash simply takes off and lets Serenity fly. He checks the control panel once more and then hurries back to the infirmary. He nearly collides with Zoe, anxious to tend to Mal; she shoves something into his hands and he looks down to see the coin pouch.

She’s already pulling the alcohol and gauze out of the cabinets when she looks the captain full in the face. She bites her lip and gets out the needle and thread. “We’ve still got the goods, and we’ve got their money,” he announces to the group gathered around as she reaches for him.

“Shh,” she says, beginning to swab the long, grim line that splits his face.

“We need to figure where we can sell some of this cargo,” he continues from his perch on one of the beds.

“I can make you shut up, Sir,” she tells him, and he buttons his lip obediently. She’s cleaning the cut as best she can, but he’s starting to sway a little, and some of the alcohol is dangerously close to getting in his eye. She gives up on that for the moment and unbuttons his shirt. He looks at her with mock malevolence as she peels it off, and hisses a bit. “Shh,” she soothes again, her voice slipping easily into a low melody. He recognizes after a moment that she’s humming one of the tunes that kept them sane in the trenches, a bawdy drinking song. He smiles, remembering that she was the only one who knew every verse. He sings along softly, his head back against the wall, groaning when she cleans the stab wound in his upper arm. It’s deep but not jagged, and she wraps it quickly in a tight bandage. She turns her attention back to the cut on his face. He tries to help by leaning forward, but his head is lolling like a heavy blossom on a slender stem. She needs him still if she’s going to sew him up. She gets up on the bed and pulls him into the light. She’s got a good grip on his thick hair as she cleans the cut again, but he can’t keep from moving a little. She sighs and pulls his head onto her chest, looping her left arm tight around his neck. She swabs him one last time, then slides the needle steadily into his skin.

The alcohol and the needle burn, but it’s been some time since he felt this comfortable. Zoe’s scarlet shirt is soft under his cheek, and her heartbeat is about to lull him to sleep in her arms. He remembers the last time she held him like this; his scalp was stinging from a medicinal wash as she was raking through his hair with a fine-toothed comb, looking for lice. Makes no sense that trenches worlds away from earth-that-was should have lice, but they did. He remembers having to paw through the short mass of curls on her head when she was done with him. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for her.

She feels him sink heavily into her and she’s amazed that he can succumb to sleep when she’s got an inch and a half of metal piercing his face, but it does make her task easier. She finishes and lays him down full-length on the bed, turning to the patient on the other bed. She’s surprised neither Wash nor Kaylee has thought to at least clean Jayne off. She gets a bowl of warm water and a rag and approaches him. He’s sitting mostly upright, but his eyes are unfocused, and she needs to strip him to determine how much of the blood that’s covering him is actually his. She starts with his face. She wipes the grime and blood gently off with the wet rag, and she sees that his skin has gone grey. She drops the cloth and cuts his shirt off with the knife he’s got lying on his lap. The broad expanse of his chest is a raw and bloody mess, and around several of the wounds the skin is puckered angrily. He slumps forward and she throws the knife to the side so that she can catch him. He catches himself when the knife rings loudly against the stainless steel bowl, and collapses against the wall at his back.

She’s startled by Mal’s long string of curses behind her; she hadn’t realized the crash had woken him. She turns to consult him, only to find him looking tearfully at Jayne like a long-lost lover. “Kaylee,” she says, pleased that the girl hasn’t screamed or fainted, “go through these drawers and see if you can find a small orange tin. Round. Size of your palm. And Wash, come help me lay him down.” She leaves Wash to unlace and pull off Jayne’s boots while she gets up on the bed, sliding her arm around Jayne’s shoulders, letting his head lean against her collarbone. He’s groaning in pain and shifting restlessly; he’s close to kicking Wash in the face more than a few times, but he quiets down when she pulls him close and hums softly, just enough for him to feel the vibration. Kaylee appears next to her, holding out the tin, her eyes fixed on Jayne’s chest with a horrified fascination. Wash finally swings Jayne’s legs up onto the bed, and she shifts so that the back of his head is lying on her chest. She washes out the wounds as best she can and starts applying the medicine, trying to pinpoint exactly which poison must have been on the bandits’ blades. The harsh odor of the ointment is making her eyes water, and Jayne starts to choke. She pushes him upright as quickly as she can, seeing hazily through her tears Mal bounding across the infirmary to steady him. Wash, suddenly, is next to her, his arms filled with pillows. While Mal holds Jayne up, she slides off the bed and puts the pillows in her place; together, the three of them gingerly lay Jayne back down. She finishes as quickly as she can, covering all of the wounds with the cream and then with gauze. He’s fighting for consciousness through the whole thing, so she hums melody after melody to give him a lifeline.

When she’s finally done, Mal mutters, “Wash. Get up on the bridge and make sure we’re headed someplace decent. Kaylee, you best get going too.” He stands at Jayne’s side and, along with Zoe, watches the mercenary at last sink into unconsciousness.

She can’t stand seeing her captain look so lost. “Sir,” she says, waiting until he drags his eyes from Jayne to meet hers, “we need to figure out what happened.”

He knows she’s right. “What happened is a bunch of whoo dahn bandits with a shiong-muh duh kuang-ren for a leader murdered the mayor and his bride-to-be and tried to make it a clean sweep by takin’ out Jayne and me.”

He stops, but she knows that’s not all. “Are you sure he wanted to kill you, Sir?” she asks. “’Cause a wound in the arm and one on the face aren’t fatal.”

It’s a good point, and he stops to consider. “Well, he said something about me bein’ hard to kill, but he might have meant to keep me alive to take the fall for killing the mayor. But sure as certain he meant to get rid of Jayne. He told his men to ‘kill the big one.’”

She follows his gaze back down to Jayne’s recumbent form. “What else, Sir?” she asks, turning to face him squarely, her voice as detached as she can make it.

“They were gonna take Serenity,” he confesses, his voice so low she has to lean in close to hear him.

She steps forward a bit until his eyes are locked on hers. “They didn’t get her, Captain. She’s still yours.” He nods and watches her remove Jayne’s belt and cover him with a light blanket. “Both of you need your rest,” she says, nudging him back to the opposite bed. She turns out the lights as she leaves the infirmary.

Zoe nearly knocks over Kaylee, lurking just outside the infirmary doors. “What are you doing here?” she asks, surprised that the girl would disobey a direct order from Mal.

“The engine parts,” she stammers, “they’re still in there. I didn’t want to interrupt.” She’s wringing her hands, and there are tears on her cheeks.

Zoe remembers that the girl has in all likelihood never seen so much blood before. “Kaylee, you don’t have to go in there. I’ll get the parts.” She turns but sees the mechanic’s hand shaking as she tries to steady herself against the wall. She thinks maybe Kaylee hasn’t stopped trembling since she saw the evidence of the massacre back on Pixley. She reaches out and cups her chin, but Kaylee’s eyes are still fixed on the infirmary doors. “Kaylee,” she tries. She moves so that she’s in the girl’s line of sight and the mechanic seems to come to herself.

“There was so much blood,” she moans. “Did he do all of that?”

“Jayne and the captain both,” Zoe answers. “It was self-defense,” she says, thankful that she’s able to say so truthfully; she’s done plenty of killing herself that she couldn’t so easily justify.

But it’s not enough to comfort Kaylee, who continues rocking from side to side like a beaten animal. “Self-defense? How . . . how could he have the strength if there were so many of them?” she whispers, sounding ever more lost.

“We saw him save the captain’s life,” Zoe says, trying to remind the girl of the end since she evidently can’t justify the means in a way that will mean anything to Kaylee. But it means something to her, and, she’s sure, to Jayne as well; it’s hard to sit still when you’ve killed someone before knowing he was out to get you too. “I’ll get the parts,” she says as she turns back to the infirmary.

Kaylee climbs into her hammock, nearly upending it when she can’t control her trembling limbs. She’s safe here in the engine room, her queendom. No one around to insist that she realize that the eyes that so often gazed at her could coolly look at a man and judge how best to end his life, that the hands that have been all over and in her are instruments of death. She’s shuddering more violently now, not quite crying, as she remembers the angle of Jayne’s knife, the brightness of the blade, the sweeping motion of his powerfully muscled arm. She dreams it again and again until he’s bending over her and the knife begins its dark descent, slashing across her own throat.

Everything is different when Jayne finally wakes up. He wishes the light overhead were a bit brighter, as the skin on his chest feels uncomfortably taut, and he needs to see the damage those bastards wrought. He blinks and then realizes that the light isn’t dim; it’s just that Zoe’s standing next to his bed, her head shielding his eyes from the light. She opens her mouth but doesn’t say anything, and he’s surprised to discover he understands her silence. Her eyes are offering him an apology; she wants him to forgive her for tending Mal first. He knows quite well that in healing the captain first, she was really ensuring the survival of two: Mal and herself. And self-preservation is an instinct he’s well acquainted with. He nods as best he can while still lying down and she relaxes. He motions a bit with his chin and she moves to help him sit up. It’s worse that way; his skin pulls even tighter and it hurts to breathe. He slides back down and looks at his chest. “Hell, Zoe,” he says as he takes in her handiwork of small, neat gauze patches, “I look like a ruttin’ chessboard.”

“You do, somewhat,” she concedes with a quick smile. “Do you know what they had on their blades?”

“Naw. Where we goin’?”

“Wash and the captain figured something out. Want some food?”

He shakes his head. “Mal good?” he asks when he sees the bed across the way is empty.

Zoe’s got the tin of medicine in her hand as she stands in front of the infirmary com. “Sir? Jayne’s awake.” She turns back to the bed, holding up the tin. “I need to put this stuff on again,” she says as he sighs. She’s peeling off the first white square of gauze when she hears Mal’s step in the hallway. A moment later, she’s shouldered aside.

“Let me,” says Mal. “You go up and convince that crazy pilot that we don’t need to be stopping on any Alliance planet.” He doesn’t bother to watch her out the door, trusting that she will obey. He looks down at Jayne’s prone body and peels away the gauze. Every wound is staring up at him, and it’s hard to believe that they could have looked any worse. But their original blistering red has faded to a painful pink, and the swelling has reduced a little. He unscrews the lid of the ointment tin, forgetting to keep it as far from his face as possible; the acrid odor makes his eyes well and his throat close. He jams the lid back on and waits for his eyes to clear. Once they do, he dips a clean finger in the tin and starts applying the unguent to Jayne’s wounds. Over and over, he finds a wound, scoops out some ointment, and applies it, his finger making careful circles. He keeps his mind closed against the horrific injuries, knowing that they might well have been on Zoe’s body had he allowed her to accompany him. This could easily be Zoe writhing wretchedly under his insufficient ministrations; this could easily be Zoe scarred and weakened. He owes Jayne everything.

“How is he?” Wash asks before she’s even stepped fully into the room.

“Not good,” Zoe replies evenly. “Not yet. But there’s nothing Alliance doctors could do for him that we can’t.”

“Alliance?” he asks, his face crinkling up in a puzzled frown.

“Captain said you were looking to land on an Alliance planet,” she says.

His face clears. “Yeah. Bolus. Where I’m from. My mother’s a healer; not a doctor, but knows natural remedies. It’s less than half a day from here.”

It’s a good idea, and she knows it, but there’s one thing she needs to get straight before she persuades Mal. “Did you fight against the Independents?”

“Didn’t fight at all.”

She nods and pushes the com to connect to the infirmary.

Mal nearly runs her over because she’s moving about without looking where she’s going. His hands curl familiarly over her shoulders and she’s vaguely aware of their grip and his crimson shirt. Only Mal and Zoe wear this red, the color of deserts and dry, dusty battlegrounds where your lips would crack because your canteen was empty; she remembers her uncle’s letters. It’s red like blood, life spilling on the ground. She squirms a bit under his touch, trying half-heartedly to avoid the dull buzzing sounds in her ears. When he shakes her a bit, she realizes he’s been talking to her.

“What’s the problem, Kaylee?” he asks, not quite sure if he’s amused or troubled by her inattention. But she doesn’t answer, looks like she can’t even process his question. Truth to tell, she’s like a nervous animal, the ones his mama taught him to gentle so’s they wouldn’t break. He runs his hands up and down her arms, keeping his voice soothing. “Kaylee?” He follows her gaze to a huge, bloody handprint wrapped around the jamb of the common room arch. Jayne’s handprint, from when he stumbled onto Serenity after the Pixley job. He swings her around so her back is to the doorway and makes sure he’s got her full attention before he asks, “Want to get rid of it?” At her nod, he smiles. “We’re hittin’ a likely-looking planet today. Pick up some paint. For your room too if you’d like.”

“shiong-muh duh kuang-ren” “violent lunatic”

Continue: Part 12/21
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

long Firefly fic: "Phyxius" (part 12)


Her hazel eyes don’t shift from Jayne’s face, but she knows precisely where her son is at every moment. She can’t believe she’s got him back, at least for a little while, until she heals this man he’s suddenly calling a friend. She tears a large, thick leaf in half, allowing a heavy green syrup to ooze out, and collects it in a small bowl. This will help more than the ointment they’ve been smearing all over him, and smell better too. She applies it with strong, steady fingers, but Jayne remains asleep. The fragrance of it is still hanging in the air when Zoe walks in. “Sorry,” she says, stopping uncertainly at the doorway. “May I come in?”

Esme only nods, watching Zoe look down at Jayne. There’s a little bit of guilt there, though she can’t figure out what for, and there’s a lot of relief; she’s sure Zoe’s had to look at fallen comrades before, but most of them probably wouldn’t have still been breathing. She knows that any moment now, Zoe will catch her eye. “Thank you,” Zoe says before walking out again. Behind her, she hears her son sigh, and she finally realizes why he’s been so uncharacteristically silent.

She finishes tending to Jayne and turns to face her son. “In love?” she asks, smiling a little at how absurd it is that her baby boy thinks he’s grown up enough for this.

She sobers up quickly at the longing on his face. “I want to marry her.” For certain he’s grown up. She would have more likely bet her money on the little one, the girl who nods knowingly when he speaks of the ship. But it’s not for her to say who he should love. Not when he’s the only boy she’s got left.

She smiles brightly at him and changes the subject. “Hungry?” His nod is so eager that she laughs. “Who does the cooking when you’re up there?” she asks, curious about how he lives everyday life.

“We take turns. Jayne there’s the only one who’s any good at it.”

“You let the only decent cook get cut up and poisoned?” she asks, cuffing him affectionately. “I knew I should never have dropped you on your head when you were a baby.”

“Did it seem like a good idea at the time?” he asks, straightfaced, and she follows him out of the room, laughing, reminded of why she loves him so.

Continue: Part 13/21
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

long Firefly fic: "Phyxius" (part 13)


He must be a heavy sleeper if he missed this. He wonders if he snores too.

Somehow, he can’t quite fathom how, there’s an exercise bench and a full set of weights in the big common area where he and Zoe and Mal sometimes spar. Mal’s beaming like an idiot and rubbing his hands together gleefully. “Wanna try it out?”

Jayne looks over at Zoe, and she nods, confirming that he’s fully healed. He can’t quite keep from grinning a little as he lies on the bench and pulls the weighted bar off the rack. He’s become unused to this kind of exertion, and his arms are soon screaming, but it feels good to know he’s useful again. He looks up at Mal, who’s been spotting him, and tries to smile his thanks. But the storm of emotions on the captain’s face stops him; maybe he got it wrong, though, and Mal’s eyes weren’t shining with guilt and grief, he thinks later. After all, he’d been looking at him upside down.

Kaylee’s keeping an eye on the radar, and the others are having dinner and discussing where best to try to sell the goods from the Pixley job. “Orlo’s the kind of world where they’d appreciate all that fancy kind of foodstuff,” Wash argues.

“Yeah, but they’re also likely to already have more than they need, so they won’t pay as well,” Mal counters. “We need to find a place where these things aren’t readily available but the folk have enough money to spend fair for it.” A lull descends as Jayne continues to shovel food into his mouth and Zoe is absentmindedly pushing a slice of tomato around her plate. “Zoe?” Mal ventures.

“Hmm?” she responds, still not paying attention.

“Hey, you should eat that,” Wash says; “it came from my mother’s garden.” He’s unprepared for the way her eyes snap up to meet his, studying him intently even as she takes a bite.

“Zoe?” Mal says again, a little impatient.

“Small, Alliance-friendly planet’s our best bet,” she says, shifting her gaze to Mal. “Goods are legal, and we should take advantage of that rarity.” She finishes her meal and takes her plate to the sink. She waits for the others to follow suit, as it’s her turn to clean. Each man comes up beside her and puts his empty plate in the sink, and she sees only their hands: Jayne’s big and callused, Mal’s wide and veined, Wash’s strong and square. She turns on the water, trying at the same time to turn off her thoughts. He’s got his mother’s hands, healer’s hands. He won’t hurt her. He’s got a good heart; he brought Jayne to his family. Maybe he meant what he said. She’s not used to men thinking of her as a woman; to most, she’s too good a soldier to be desirable. Maybe she should give him a chance.

If ever Zoe could look mutinous, Mal thinks, it’s at moments like these, which have become all too frequent. She knows what’s coming before he even opens his mouth. It’s a skill he appreciated in battle. Right now, though, he’d prefer the cool courtesy she’d give a stranger. “All right, people, let’s get Serenity lookin’ shiny. Got another person maybe interested in renting shuttle one comin’ onboard.” There’s vague grumbling at the work this will entail when they’ve all got plenty to do already, but there’s hope too that this will be the last time they have to go through this whole thing.

But Mal doesn’t like the man from the minute he steps onto Serenity. He’s a rich kid not quite as grown-up as he thinks, looking to thumb his nose against parental restrictions. He’s willing to pay handsomely, and to give a little extra if Kaylee and Zoe wait on him. He’s not attentive enough to see Mal’s face closing against him, but the others are and know that their two months of such visits have just been extended yet again.

He can’t tell what she’s up to. Kaylee’s not been after him once since he got hurt on Pixley. Maybe she’s worried he’s still healing and doesn’t want to aggravate his injuries. Maybe. But she hasn’t looked up at him with that shyly knowing look either, that darkens her eyes and stretches her smile, the one that’s enough to get him hard. Could be she needs him to make the first move. Jayne leaves his bunk and heads for the engine room. But it’s empty, so he heads to the kitchen to find some grub.

He comes upon her unexpectedly, a small paintbrush in her hand as she decorates the inside of the archway. She’s already covered the lowest section with a meandering design of vines, leaves, and poppy blossoms, and is arching her back slightly as she examines the area above her head. Seeing her in that pose, her throat long and fluid, her hair falling down her back, he remembers the last time he saw her like that, when she was on top of him, rising up over him as a flush pinked her skin and her breath started to come sharp and fast and shuddering. He stands there trapped by his desire for her. He can’t move even when her eyes lock abruptly onto him. And he still can’t move when she gives no sign of recognition or emotion and turns back to face the doorway.

“Goods are legal, shouldn’t need lot of muscle for this job. Jayne, you’ve earned a day off, so . . .”

“No,” Jayne cuts off Mal. “Anybody’s gonna be backing you up, it’s gonna be me.” He’s not about to be left alone on the boat with Kaylee, who’s acting like she’s never met him before, let alone moaned his name in a hundred of Serenity’s shadowy nooks. He’s finally figured it was the blood on Pixley that’s causing her to avert her eyes, but what the hell did she expect? She couldn’t have thought his entire job was to stand behind Mal and look mean. She’d seen him clean his guns, teased him about the polish he lavished on his knives. Wasn’t like he ever shied away when she was covered from ass to eyebrows with engine grease. “Guns okay this time around?” He waits to see her flinch a little before he asks, “Or is it knives only again?”

This is not something Zoe wants to get used to, being left behind while Jayne is sticking to the captain like a burr caught in a saddle blanket. It’s always been her job to guard his back, during the war, but especially now. To try to save him a little bit everyday, the way he saved her as they buried Nikhil.

All of her weapons are in perfect working condition, since she cleaned them last night, thinking she’d be accompanying Mal onto Orlo. There are no jobs for her to do. She heads to the kitchen and peers into her cabinet. She doesn’t hear Wash come up behind her until he opens the door to his own cabinet.

“Hungry?” he smiles politely. She can’t decide between a nod and a shrug, so she simply smiles back. He swallows, then clears his throat. “Well, I’ve got plenty of food from Bolus. Didn’t know if there was a common cabinet, but it’s meant for all of us. Why don’t I fix you something?”

She’s charmed by the offer, but wary of accepting it. She has to be sure before she takes this any further. “I’ll make my own. What are you having?” He pulls out handful after handful of fresh food, laying it all on the table. She fetches two plates and some utensils and sits, waiting for him to join her. Placing a piece of flatbread on her plate, she reaches for the jar of coriander spread.

“Careful,” he warns; “that’s homemade, and my mother likes things spicy.” She spoons it on liberally and hands him the jar. Soon they’re passing jars and cans of his mother’s food back and forth, constantly having to clear space on the crowded table. There seems to be a story behind every dish, and she finds herself remembering and even sharing some of her father’s recipes. Little things she’d thought she’d forgotten are coming back to her now, and her eyes are shining with a mournful peace. Wash is more in love than ever.

“Nice tidy profit,” Mal announced; “looks like Orlo was a fine idea.” He nods amicably at Wash and sees Zoe smile at the acknowledgment. “And we got ourselves another job. Seems a few folks from Orlo – indentured servants, mostly, who’ve earned their freedom – decided to settle on a planet the next system over. They’re in need of iron goods. We’re to pick those up on Lowry and then meet them on Visick for the delivery.” He sees the question on Wash’s face. “And I picked up fuel cells for a journey three times as long. Sky’s ours.”

Continue: Part 14/21
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

long Firefly fic: "Phyxius" (part 14)


“You’re here!” Kaylee says, a little startled. Her face is shiny with sweat and she’s beaming happily. She holds up for Mal’s puzzled approval the parts she’s found in the salvage yard. “These’ll come in mighty handy,” she assures him. “Let’s see what you got.”

He grins and reaches into the sack he’s carrying, setting it gently down. Out comes his hand with a horseshoe, and he waves it around a bit. Behind him, he hears Jayne let out a disgusted grunt and unceremoniously drop the two sacks he’s been hauling around.

“You know parts and metalwork,” Mal says. He holds it out to her and she takes it. Kaylee examines the shoe and hands it back. “Shiny, Cap’n,” she says cheerfully, marching past the men with an armful of parts.

“Mal,” Jayne says once she’s out of earshot, “these shoes and supplies are no good.”

“I know they’re heavy, Jayne,” the captain responds, taking the mercenary’s words as a complaint.

Jayne gives him a look, then takes the horseshoe out of Mal’s hand. With some effort, he snaps it in half. “They’re no good,” he says again, emphasizing each word.

Mal’s jaw has dropped. “How did you . . .”

“Saw it from the minute you started flashin’ that thing ’round at her. Bad metal, bad work.”

“Yeah, but how did you . . .”

“My pop was a blacksmith. He’s the one showed me how to make gun oil.”

Mal sighs, considering their options. “None of it’s any good? What about the folk headin’ over to Visick? They already paid for this fei-oo.”

“Ain’t my call.”

“That was not a fun time,” Mal says, rubbing at his face tiredly with one hand and turning off the video feed with the other. It’d been a chore trying to convince the people leaving for Visick the wares they’d bought would be of no use to them. Better to leave your horses unshod than put such uneven shoes on them, he’d said; don’t want to strain their muscles. He’d had to hold one of the broken shoes up to the cortex monitor before they’d believed him. He swivels around in Wash’s chair and sees Kaylee holding another of the defective horseshoes.

“Cain’t believe I let you down, that I didn’t see it,” she says, looking up at him regretfully.

“Whoa, whoa. No lettin’ down happened here. Your job ain’t to inspect ironwork. Quit frownin’ lines into that pretty face,” he orders.

“How’d you know?” she wonders as she examines the shoe once more.

“Jayne.” He can tell by the way her head whips back up that he’s surprised her. “Said somethin’ after you took off.”

“Oh,” she says, trying to guess what the mercenary was thinking. If there was ever one person whose thought processes she thought she could figure without strain, it was Jayne. But now he’s gone and thrown her for a loop.

Zoe must be workin’ through an idea of her own, or else she’d be with him right now, trying to figure what to do next. The ’verse is theirs; they’ve got fuel cells, credits, and the sweetest ride in space. He wonders if there’s anyplace she’s always wanted to go.

He wouldn’t be surprised to find her in the bridge with Wash. Since the Orlo job, he’s seen that she’s been making an effort to get along better with the pilot. Practical woman, Zoe is, and a damn fine second; she knows that a friendly word now and then will keep Serenity flying. But when Mal reaches the bridge, he doesn’t see her making polite conversation. Instead, she’s failing to keep a straight face as she and Wash play a game of chess. She’s on her feet the minute she spots Mal. “Sir?” she asks. “Something come up on the cortex?”

“No,” he admits, leaning against the nearest wall. “Just wanted to know if you had any ideas about where we could be headin’.”

“No one in this corner of the ’verse I’m inclined to say hello to,” she responds, sinking back down to her seat. She feigns absent-mindedness, pretending to consider the possibilities while she maneuvers her queen into striking position. She knows Mal sees through her; she also knows he won’t give her away to Wash.

But Wash is too focused on Zoe to miss any of her moves. His reply is quick, keeping his king out of danger. Mal nods approvingly, then examines the pilot more closely. “How about you, Wash? Any leads on a job or likely world for work?”

“No, I don’t know this area too well. Don’t even know the hub planet,” he says, groaning as Zoe’s knight knocks out one of his rooks. “Can’t talk now, Sir, she’s storming my castle.”

The dinner that Jayne made keeps them too busy stuffing food in their mouths to talk much about where they’re headed. And Mal recognizes the rare sense of relaxation, and decides to let the issue wait until morning. He’s enjoying the camaraderie, and proposes a game of hoopball after the kitchen’s left clean, Zoe and Jayne to be captains.

Kaylee watches as Jayne wins the toss. Her heart sinks a little when his eyes pass right over her and he chooses Wash. Every time he’s been captain before, he’s chosen her, and at some point in the game, gotten her up on his shoulders to score a few easy points. Before she can say anything, Zoe’s chosen Mal, and she’s left to wait on the sidelines as a substitute. The game starts off slow, even a little clumsy. She finds herself watching Jayne all the time, as he maneuvers and passes and shoots and positions himself. She hears his voice calling for the ball, whooping encouragement, mocking as he blocks shots. She sees how easy he is with his body, how sure of himself he is physically. There is a reason he’s still alive at thirty-seven, having been a mercenary for so many years. She still doesn’t like his job, but he’s good at it, and he’s necessary. She realizes now they’d all be dead – Captain and Wash right there on Pixley, she and Zoe as they tried to return to Serenity – if Jayne hadn’t been so capable. She sees Jayne call for a time-out and Wash head to the sidelines; when she comes onto the court, she tries to smile at Jayne. He ignores the hopeful look on her face and passes her the ball.

Serenity’s been floating carefree for weeks, in no particular rush to get anywhere. Mal’s worked out with Jayne for the last week, and once, when the muscle strain got to be too much, he’d chased Kaylee out of the engine room where she’d been holing herself up by taunting her for not knowing how to play Tall Card. It’s kind of silly to have only two players, but Jayne said he needed to exercise his legs, and he’d seen Wash heading to Zoe’s quarters with the mapbook tucked under his arm.

“Do you get it now?” he asks, smiling as he sees her bite her lip in concentration.

“No,” she admits cheerfully. “Where we headed?”

“No plans as of yet. Why?”

“Just curious. It’s nice, seeing the worlds like this,” she says, smiling around at the warmth of the common room, unaware that she’s tilted her cards so that he can read them.

“Now, see, if you’d put these two cards down, you’d’ve won,” he informs her.

“Really? I won?” she asks, beaming like a child, raising her arms for a victory pose.

“Not exactly –” he begins, but is cut off when she jumps up and hugs him from behind. “Yes, mei-mei,” he amends; “you’ve won.”

It’s been an odd kind of day, he thinks as he lies on his bed, his feet still on the floor. One of his hands is resting idly on his chest, and he can feel his heartbeat. The rhythm is picked up in a faint thrumming at the door. That’s Zoe, doing her fingertips-only knock; it means she wants to talk. “Come in, Zoe,” he calls, and sits up.

“Sir,” she acknowledges as she peeks around the door. Her face is grave and her eyes are shining, and he’s not sure what to make of it. He waits for her to have her say. “Mal, I’m getting married,” she nearly whispers.

He tries to stave off the panic that overwhelms him. He can’t think, but he must. Where could she have met anyone? They haven’t been on land long enough for her to do much more than nod professionally at men whose eyes were trained on her gun instead of her face or form. It occurs to him, suddenly, in a wave of despair that renders his panic trivial, that she hasn’t asked if he’d be willing to bring her husband aboard; she’s leaving. Leaving him, leaving Serenity. “When?” he finally asks. He needs to know the worst right now, needs to know how long he’s got until she takes off with his will to live.

“Don’t know. I haven’t asked him yet,” she says, her forehead knotting as she takes in how defeated he suddenly looks.

“What? Don’t joke,” he pleads. He still can’t figure who she intends to wed. “Give me a time.”

“I haven’t talked it over with him yet. I wanted to come to you first,” she says, gesturing almost helplessly, as if she wants to reach out to him but isn’t sure her touch would be welcome.

He wishes she would touch him. He needs an anchor to reality right now. “Goin’ about this a bit backward, ain’t you?” he asks, his heart crumpling as her hesitance with him proves that she means what she says. She really is going to marry and leave. She’s really found someone who can fill the holes in her heart and not just show her the holes in his.

“Mal, please,” she begs. “I want this, but I want you . . .” she trails off, unsure if she can put into words what he means to her, what she needs from him.

“To give you my blessing?” he finishes, torn between sorrow and rage. “How can I do that, Zoe, when he’s taking you away?” The rage might be winning.

She sees now that he’s on the wrong tack. She hastens to reassure him. “Wash and I won’t be leaving Serenity, Sir.”

Wash?” his disbelief is total, and so, in turn, is hers. Who else did he think she was spending time with and falling in love with? At her nod, his face hardens a bit. The rage is definitely winning, but at least he’s not repeating all of her complaints about the pilot.

She sees that he’s clamped his mouth shut, his lips turning white from pressure, in an effort not to say anything hurtful. In the silence, she finds her own words. “Yes. Wash. I love him. I know we have next to nothing in common, but that little is enough. I trust him. I love him.” She glances at him, but his face is still angled down and slightly away from her; she’d have to stoop to catch his eye. She steps close instead, laying one hand on his chest. Her fingertips drum out the rhythm of his heartbeat automatically. He’s startled into looking up and they both straighten their spines. Eyes level with his, she continues. “But I could never leave you. You are a part of me, Mal, the best part. You’re so deep inside me that I can’t be me without you.”

He’ll take it. It might not be eloquent, but he knows she means it. He knows because that’s all he could say to her in return. You are me, Zoe, and without you I’m lost. He cups her cheek tenderly, and then she’s in his arms, and he has to be careful not to crush her to him. Instead, they stand there, warm in each other’s embrace, and there’s no need for anything else.

“Monty? Really?” Mal asks.

Zoe nods. “Makes sense, Sir. He’s been on Thalia long enough that he’s got some say in how things there are run, and we can be there in a few days.”

“And you got business to take care of,” Mal finishes. “Would be good to see the old walrus again,” he muses, “and mayhap he’ll have work for us. All right.”

She squeezes his arm as she slips by him, heading for the bridge. “Thalia,” she says low in Wash’s ear, and he plugs in the coordinates before swiveling around to face her.

When he sees her smile, he’s startled. “That’s where we’re getting married?” he blurts out. “Don’t you want to go somewhere nice, someplace shiny, where you won’t be the only woman who’s not marrying her cousin?”

She laughs and explains, “It’s the closest decent world from here. And as long as Mal is there, the rest doesn’t matter to me.”

His face darkens. “As long as Mal is there?” he repeats.

“Yes,” she says staunchly. “He belongs there. I’m not getting married without him.”

He’s hurt by her insistence. “Does the groom matter at all? Would you marry Jayne on Thalia if Mal was there?” He’d envisioned it being just the two of them, lost in each other; he wasn’t bargaining on this sort of menage a trois.

“Of course you matter,” she says plainly. She searches for a way to make this right, and the sight of his face bathed in starlight inspires her. “Look,” she says, gesturing to all the worlds visible from Serenity’s bridge. “Tell me what you see.”

He’s confused, but knows she’s trying to explain herself. He plays along. “I see . . . planets. Stars. New worlds to build lives on.” She stays silent, so he figures he owes her more. “And . . . there’s a balance, an order . . . it’s beautiful.”

She nods. “And when it’s just you up on the bridge, just seeing this view makes you sure your life has meaning, a purpose maybe even you haven’t figured out yet?” He’s dumbfounded by the way she’s seen into him, and seeing his astonished face, she explains, “What the stars do for you – that’s what Mal does for me.”

“fei-oo” “junk”

Continue: Part 15/21
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

long Firefly fic: "Phyxius" (part 15)

Thalia: I

Squinting in the dim, dusty light, Zoe finally spots him and indicates her success with a hand on Mal’s arm, over the scar he acquired on Pixley. They stride over and wait for Monty to raise his gaze from his drink. When he does, the riotously shaggy beard parts to let them see his broad, surprised smile. “Mal and Zoe,” he crows, clapping them each hard on the back, “what in the good gorram are you doin’ here?”

“Hoped you might help us out,” Mal says as he slides onto the barstool next to Monty’s.

“With what exactly? What are you up to?” he asks Zoe, knowing that any straightforward answer would come from her.

“Gettin’ married,” she smiles.

Monty’s jaw drops as he swivels jerkily to face one and then the other. “But you . . . no . . . that ain’t . . .”

“I ain’t the lucky man, Monty,” Mal breaks in before his old friend dizzies himself further. “But Zoe’s tellin’ you true. She’s gettin’ hitched. Can we do it here?”

Monty holds up a finger and quaffs his drink in one long gulp. He shakes his head like a wet dog and looks back up at the two of them. “Certainly!” he says in his normal voice. “Fact, the Thalia ceremony’s kinda cute.”

“Cute?” Mal asks as Zoe looks perturbed.

“You know . . . quaint. But nice and short. No fuss.”

“Sounds good.” Mal stands to go, offering Monty his hand. “Would you like to meet the man? Come back to the ship with us.”

“Not today, but I’ll be by to talk business with you soon.”

Thalia weddings, at least those between a man and a woman, Mal is surprised to find, require four participants. As he waits for Zoe, he wonders what the procedure is when two men, or two women, wed. Jayne’s been teasing him all day about his role as “Bride’s Best,” and he wonders if there’s an alternate title. He tugs a bit on the leather bands that Zoe had stripped from her own throat and wound about his. “Doesn’t seem bridal, Sir,” she’d said, her voice teasing and her eyes glowing, “but I’d hate to think that if somebody got shot at my wedding, we wouldn’t be able to fashion a damn good tourniquet.”

“Don’t get sentimental on me now, Zoe,” he’d joked half-heartedly, but the laughter turned real when they saw Jayne bearing his wedding gift.

“Last of my pop’s gun oil,” he bragged as he set the small bottle down before Zoe.

“Speaking of sentiment . . .” Zoe smiled, halfway between tears and mockery.

Jayne flushed a bit. “Figured you could always use it,” he mumbled, and his hand gestures grew more vigorous and vague, “and . . . I thought . . . I want . . . your marriage to be as happy as his,” he finished quickly, the last words coming out in a tangled rush.

Zoe’s eyes brimmed, and Mal was surprised to find himself brushing away some moisture from his own. She smiled sweetly at Jayne and reached out a gentle hand to pat his abdomen over long-healed scratches and they flashed a conspiratorial glance at each other. “I’m givin’ Wash some soothing cream, since I know what those nails of yours can do,” Jayne smirked as he wrapped a careless, fraternal arm about Zoe’s neck. He allowed Zoe to shoo him out of the room, but at the last minute he turned. He met Mal’s eye briefly and nodded like a comrade in arms before vanishing.

The sound of Monty clomping toward him brings Mal back to the present moment. He’s in no mood to be greeted so cheerfully by someone who’d tossed out the innocent word “cute” without explaining it. “Monty,” he says, as he advances as threateningly as he can, “what exactly does being ‘Bride’s Best’ entail?”

Monty reddens a bit and kicks the dusty ground. “Shoot, Mal, it’s an honor. Know how many brides never actually became wives because folks lookin’ to be Bride’s Best got a little too competitive?”

“What are you saying? People have died and killed for this job?”

“Well, not killed exactly. More like . . . temporarily put out of commission. More’n a few times, there was no one left standing to be Bride’s Best and the couple had to wait until injuries had healed.”

“That’s crazy!” Mal starts, about to begin a fine long rant, when he realizes that Monty’s nodding his head mournfully as if he’s in complete agreement even as he tries to sidle away. Mal reaches out and collars him, none too gently. “If you don’t tell me what I’m going to have to do, I’ll hold you down and shave off that beard of yours with my dullest knife.”

Monty sputters a bit. “You’ve got to be the one who knows Zoe the best.” Mal nods. “And you’ve got to be the one she can always turn to.” Another nod. “And you’ve got to love her.” Relieved grin; this isn’t so bad. “And you’ve got to publicly declare your love for her and officially state that you support the union into which she is entering.”

Monty had been right; the ceremony was quite short. Nevertheless, he’d felt dazed throughout, as if he were half a step behind everyone else. Jayne’s striped shirt was too loose on him, and Zoe’s leather bands were too tight around his throat. Monty had neglected to mention that Bride’s Best actually functioned as Bride’s Seat for the duration, and he’d had Zoe’s warm, pliant weight on his lap as he struggled to find words fitting for the occasion. He heard little of Wash’s words, spoken in a voice excitement had raised an octave and a half. He felt Zoe’s words as a vibration. And then it was his turn to speak, to bare the heart Zoe had sheltered for so long. He spoke the words she’d pledged to him on Serenity, and Zoe nestled back against his chest and his lips found the spot just under her ear as he breathed her name. Then she stood, leaving him shivering from the sudden cold, and let Monty guide her hand to Wash’s and the three of them spoke in unison and smiled.

She can hear the captain coming, unfocused energy evident in his quick and heavy steps. Before he can finish bellowing out her name, Kaylee steps into the hallway with a smile. He doesn’t miss a beat. “Saw the job you did on shuttle two for Zoe an’ Wash.” She can’t catch his eye, dancing here, there, everywhere; can’t tell if he’s pleased or pissed. “Looks mighty nice,” he continues, talking a mile a minute. “Could you do more of the same for shuttle number one? No need for leaving around bottles of engine-brewed wine and flowers everywhere, but it could stand to be spruced up.” She nods willingly. “Good,” he says, deliberately not letting her get a word in. “I’m gonna stay with Monty for a few days. Says he’s got a fair few ideas about who might want to rent our shuttle,” he finishes with a brittle grin.

She watches him scurry off the ship and makes her way up the stairs. Halfway up, it strikes her. She’s alone on the boat with Jayne; she can’t tell if the shudder that runs through her is evidence of fear or desire. She turns and heads for his quarters.

Turns out it’s easier than that. He’s got a mat spread near his weight-bench, and he’s lying on it doing sit-ups. His movements are extraordinarily smooth, fluid rather than quick, so that her eye can barely capture one image – the roundness of his shoulder, the tautness of his stomach – before the next confronts her. “Jayne,” she finally says, closing her eyes and opening her mouth. Her eyes flutter open and she sees him sit up one last time, ending his routine so abruptly it seems as if he’s lunged at her. His eyes are boring into her. At her silence, he flips over and begins his push-ups. Now she’s watching him snap into place each time his elbows lock, and she feels like she’s being hypnotized. “I’m sorry,” she ventures.

“Sorry what? Sorry I play with knives?”

“Just sorry.”

“No, you ain’t.” It’s a statement, devoid of emotion.

“Truly, I swear,” she avows, carefully hedging around any specifics.

And he’s on his feet, towering over her, and she takes a step backward. He grins and advances. “You still think I might hurt you.” She can smell his sweat, and her body betrays her again. He takes in her parting lips and darkening eyes. “Say it,” he demands.

“I still want you,” she says instead, capitulating, and reaches for him.

He steps back. “My way.” She stills, uncertain of what that might mean. His eyes are giving away nothing. Finally, she nods. “No talking,” he says as he pulls her top over her head. He’s bending down to unfasten her pants when she stoops to kiss him. He gets her lower lip between his teeth and tugs her mouth open for the kiss that comes after he releases her. He uses the sides of his feet to strip her pants off her, the underwear tangling around her ankles. She breaks the kiss, stumbling away to rid herself of clothes entirely, and he takes the opportunity to do the same. He turns back to her, twisting at the waist, his arm raised and bent at the elbow. She stiffens, a cold sweat suddenly drenching her as she reacts to the knife he’s got in his hand. It’s her dream all over again. But she doesn’t feel a blade when he drags the backs of his fingers heavily across her breasts and the nightmare begins to dissolve. Her mind seems to shut down entirely when he brushes the rough pad of one long finger insistently over her clit. She’s barely standing, but she has just enough wherewithal to reach down and lace her fingers through his, pulling first that hand and then the other away. Joined only by their clasped hands, she walks backward until she can sense one of Serenity’s smooth, welcoming walls behind her. She lets go of his hands then, and he’s on her, teeth, fingers, tongues, palms. Her back is skidding up and down the wall as he pushes into her, not seeming to tire.

Every time one of her moans is cut short by the hitching of her breath, Jayne knows he can’t let this be over anytime soon. She’s afraid of his hands and the weapons they carry. But at this moment, his fingers are slick with her wetness. She sees him as an animal; he delicately grasps her shoulder with his teeth, teasing the flesh with his tongue, and she responds with hard little biting nips along his jawline. And all the while, he’s thrusting insistently into her, and the thick brushed-metal wall behind her is getting hot. He comes, finally, and afterwards, in the stillness before he lets her slide down and out of his arms, he sees the tears leaking from her eyes; she bit her lower lip to shreds trying not to speak. “Kaylee,” he says gently, cupping her cheek; he didn’t mean for her to be so slavishly obedient.

She looks up to meet his eyes. “Jayne,” she says, leaning forward to wind her arms around him once more.

He opens his mouth to ask Barak what it felt like to lose a limb, then decides he’s not drunk enough to ask the question innocently. He knows Barak wouldn’t be offended – he’d been the one to keep the rest of Barak intact – but he knows too that Monty and, hell, maybe even Barak and Riddler and Jenny, would know what he really meant was that he felt lost without Zoe.

Well, fine. God lets you down; Zoe never will. There’s no shame in putting all your faith in her. But he never thought he’d feel this wide open, cracked crookedly from side to side, just because she wasn’t standing beside him.

He gets up, a little unsteady on his feet, and waves off Monty’s fuzzy offer to put him up for the night. Back to Serenity, where Zoe loves him, where Zoe will return. He hears Barak saying something in a tone befitting a nagging wife and he nods noncommittally, raising his glass in a last salute before he turns and heads home.

He wakes with Kaylee’s firm hand wiggling his arm. “Cap’n?” she greets him inquisitively. “Got a wave from someone . . . Berrick? . . . about your appointment tomorrow?”

“Barak,” he murmurs sleepily, correcting her pronunciation. Then he hears the rest of what she’s saying. “What appointment?”

“Someone to see the shuttle,” she reminds him, looking a little surprised. “It looks as nice as Jayne and I could get it.”

“Early tomorrow?” he asks, smiling at her pride. At her nod, he rolls over, mumbling, “Wake me?” before he falls back asleep.

It’s illegal to own an image of a registered Companion, unless it’s the work of an Alliance-approved imagist, and had been commissoned by the Guild or the Companion herself. Naturally enough, a black market had sprung up, and along the course of his journeyings about the ’verse, Mal had seen several counterfeit images, garishly colored and elegantly drawn, cheap copies and quality reproductions. He’s never seen anything to match her.

She walks in with a smile that lends a glow to her black clothes and the dim hallway, even though it’s barely polite. Her beauty overwhelms him. He doesn’t like feeling off-balance. In his mind, he begins to pick her apart, anything to lessen the power she evidently has over him. Prob’ly not very pretty without all that face paint, he thinks, cursing silently as she walks into the light to get a view from the shuttle’s bridge, casually wrecking his theory. His disappointment takes verbal form as he needles her about running away, and she stiffens – but only slightly – in response. Hoping for more of a reaction, he casts about and baits her by announcing that the ship she’s on is captained by a proud Browncoat. But she smoothly sidesteps, and he can’t believe he’s spent so long talking to someone who calmly avers that she supported the Alliance. But then he remembers who she is, what she does, and knows his surprise was naive. Makes sense that she would favor unification; without it, her precious guild would be powerless; if all worlds were independent, she’d have to stay put or hack out a new life each time she moved. So she’s taken the easy way out, and that makes sense, given that she’s never worked a day in her life. Only the nights, because she’s a whore, spreading her legs for the highest bidder. In his last effort to get her off his ship, that’s what he tells her.

Continue: Part 16/21
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

long Firefly fic: "Phyxius" (part 16)

Flashback: Bellavista

She was always a silent child, never quite fitting in, never enthused by anything. Any other child let loose in her father’s workshop would have played in the piles of sawdust, held out a piece of wood and ordered an animal to be whittled. She smiled and quietly stepped around the mess. He knew he’d never be able to hold on to her. He was a mere craftsman and Inara was a work of art. When she turned thirteen and he was asked by the council to send her to the great city for testing, he knew he could not say no.

They take one look at her, this budding girl, and they say yes. She is too beautiful for words, the ideal girl to train to be a Companion. She makes no response to their sales pitch. Only, “It is for my father to say.” They send her back with a letter of acceptance to the Academy on Bellavista. He cannot say no. He holds on to the fact that he has three more years with her. They fly by far too quickly for him. She leaves Sihnon, observing its beauty from the safety of an Alliance transport. It is an ocean of light. But you can drown in an ocean. You can be blinded by light. She is only comfortable in the dark.

She is surprised by the happiness she finds at the Academy, on Bellavista. She’s never known the feeling before. But it’s there, in the cool confidence with which she meets every test she’s given. Her hair is pulled tightly back to discover the curve of her hairline; a stream of water is trickled under her to test how high the arches of her slender feet are. The grain of her skin is studied, the shape of her eyes carefully noted. Her body chemistry is programmed into a computer that determines that dark scents like sandalwood are most suited for her; they will seem to emanate from her drowsy flesh. There is nothing that does not come naturally to her. They do not need to teach her to keep her voice pleasingly low, to hold her head at the angle denoting dignity and grace. She knows what jewels her dark hair will wear well, what rich fabrics to drape around her shapely form. She is the pride of the Academy.

It has been two years of security at the Academy, two years of friendships, two years of dutiful letters to a father yearning for word of her. She enters the room where she will take her final test for the guild. She kneels and says, “Pleasure is a discipline. Pleasure depends on discipline. Their pleasure will be in me. My pleasure will be in fulfilling the duty which has been entrusted to me.” They nod approvingly, and she is asked to sit and take tea. They watch her prepare and pour tea, her movements as fluid as the spiced drink. She sips delicately as she has been taught, she smiles sweetly over the rim of her cup. When the drugs take effect, they bring her to a medical bay. The procedure, perfected over centuries, performed only by guild physicians, is over quickly. She awakens in her own bedchamber in the Apprentice Hall.

It is not until a few years later that she learns what was done. She knows she was given medicines and herbs that reduced her flux from five days a month to two days every ten weeks, as all the apprentices were; there is little point, they were told, to a Companion who cannot work for at least two months of every year. She has never followed that logic through to its utmost end, though, as they have. What, after all, is the good of a Companion who can bear a child?

Continue: Part 17/21
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away

long Firefly fic: "Phyxius" (part 17)

Thalia: II

This time, it’s like a game, and Wash is determined to win. She’s naked, lying on her side, head propped up on one folded arm. “I want you flat on your back,” he says; at his commanding tone of voice, she merely raises an eyebrow. He quits looming over her – he knows he’s not in the least intimidating – and rationalizes that there’s no such thing as cheating if all’s fair in love and war, and oh God, does he love this woman. “Zoe,” he murmurs, bending his head to trail his tongue along the bicep of her bent arm. He’s nearly at her shoulder when her breast gets in the way. “Not now,” he informs it sternly, “arm first.” He pushes it away and lowers his head again. But the heavy weight settles against his cheek once more and he sighs, shaking a denunciatory finger at her breast. “Greedy. Can’t wait your turn.” Her giggles turn to contented sighs as his mouth descends gently on her nipple, and she rolls languorously onto her back. He doesn’t stop, but she catches his mirthful eye.

“Yes, you won this battle,” she concedes, “but I’ve got the strategy to win the war.” He’s laughing too as he captures her mouth and settles himself between her legs like he’s come home.

Although he’d bought Serenity to elude people like her, people who willingly traded their freedom for a little ease, a little comfort, Mal ended up renting shuttle one to the Companion. The credits from the Orlo job were