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."