DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet L.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Giles has agreed to allow Esme to return to Sunnydale, and Spike stumbled across the Initiative trying to get Oz, only to kill the entire team before they could and then ran off…

*************

Chapter 9: My Weary Travel's End
He panicked.

He wasn’t fussed that he’d killed the wanker; as far as Spike was concerned, it was both a matter of self-preservation and helping out Red’s boyfriend.

But when the body fell from his arms, and Spike got the faintest whiff of the Slayer on the breeze, the sudden thought that Buffy’s first sight of him in Sunnydale would be standing over a human dead by his own hands terrified Spike beyond reason.

So, he did the only thing he could.

He ran.

And wondered desperately how he was going to sugarcoat this for his Slayer’s stomach.

*************

Her head was a muddle.

What had started out as a routine patrol before taking over the watch from Oz had quickly degenerated into a series of odd and just plain wiggy occurrences, and now Buffy was trudging through Restfield wondering what to make of it all.

The three dead demon bodies she’d stumbled across at Mercy Memorial, at least one of which had had its head completely torn from its body.

The vampire who’d run in the opposite direction when he’d heard who she was.

And the girl she’d literally bumped into outside Restfield. The one who’d been running away from something, but when Buffy had grabbed her to try and discover the source of her fear, all the girl could babble was something about her date exploding into dust and a man in black leather telling her to run.

It looked like someone had gone on a demon-killing spree tonight, but who it could be and why he was doing it escaped Buffy’s grasp. If the girl had claimed that the man in black had kidnapped the vamp, then Buffy’d be inclined to think it was the vigilante group at work again. But she hadn’t. She said he’d killed it and made her escape. Which left so many---or so few, if she cared to look at it that way---other possibilities about what could be going on that all Buffy wanted was to start the whole night over again and pretend she hadn’t found out any of it.

Her mind was elsewhere as she entered the clearing, but the smell of blood quickly cut through her preoccupation. Her head snapped up. There, next to the grave where they’d found the transceiver, Oz was crouching over an unconscious Willow. Automatically, Buffy broke into a run.

“What happened?” she said when she got to his side. Her gaze scanned over Willow, but saw no signs of cuts or bites. “She wasn’t attacked again, was she?”

“Not exactly.” Oz jerked his chin toward a lump in the darkness, waiting until Buffy stood and took a step toward it before adding, “Your vigilantes showed up.”

The coppery smell of blood grew stronger as she approached what she now realized was a body. He wore the same military-style clothing of the GI Joe from her previous encounters, and his breathing bubbled erratically, but it wasn’t until she was nearly on top of him that Buffy recognized the open features of the face.

“Riley…?” Her voice was barely a breath, and more than a shade of incredulity lingered in the air. She froze. In the space of that second, Riley coughed wetly, and then fell silent.

“I can’t believe you killed him,” Buffy murmured.

“I didn’t.”

Her head whipped around, her eyes wide. “Did Willow do this?”

The accusation made Oz frown, and his grip tightened on the young woman he cradled, as if he needed to shield her. “Riley knocked her out when she wouldn’t leave,” he said.

“Why?”

“He was trying to get me to come with him.”

“If Willow didn’t do it---.”

“Buffy.” The solemnity of his tone made her stop. “Someone else was here.”

Though he hadn’t raised his voice, something in the way Oz spoke made Buffy’s blood run cold. “What. Happened,” she said, and held her breath while he quietly related the story.

“Riley showed up. He said one of his frat’s pledges had gotten into trouble, and he needed some help. He kept trying to talk Willow into going back to the dorm so that I could help him alone, but his story wasn’t adding up. When he wouldn’t let it go, I told him to call the police, but turns out he didn’t like that suggestion. He grabbed me and pulled some sort of gun that knocked out Willow.” He paused, his gaze dark as he seemed to contemplate his words. “Someone jumped him before Riley could use the gun on me. They got into a fight.”

“Someone? A vamp?”

Pause.

“Yeah. Buffy…it was Spike.”

Spike.

Here?

A man in black leather.

“What? No.”

“It’s not what you’re thinking. Spike…well, I’m pretty sure he saved me. Riley and his buddies were here to catch a werewolf. If it wasn’t for Spike---.”

“If it wasn’t for Spike, Riley would be alive right now.” Her shock was turning her to steel. She couldn’t think. She couldn’t dwell. She wouldn’t consider that Spike was in Sunnydale. That he was killing.

That he hadn’t even bothered to tell her he was back.

“And I’d be gone. And who knows what would’ve happened to Willow.” Gently, Oz eased Willow off his lap and rose to face off with Buffy. “I’m not saying it’s a good thing Riley’s dead, but frankly, better him than me. Besides, he’s the one who pulled the knife. The first time around, Spike just knocked him out.”

First time…?

“That’s his knife?”

“He tried stabbing Spike, but it didn’t work.”

Obviously.

“You said something about…Riley’s buddies?” she asked. Get answers. Don’t dwell.

“Spike said he heard them talking.” He jerked his chin. “Over there.”

Her head swiveled so that she could stare into the blackness of the cemetery, but Buffy was certain that if she went to look, she wasn’t going to find a group of college boys trying to figure out where their hazing went wrong. She’d find a group of dead bodies dressed up like soldier boys. Bodies that Spike had left behind.

“But how…” She started, and then stopped. She didn’t have to ask the question about how the vigilante group had known to stake out the spot they’d dropped their gizmo. The memory of how she’d been playing with its buttons made her cheeks flame unseen in the darkness.

Slowly, she backed away from Riley. She would be getting no answers about her mysterious military men tonight. “Can you get Willow back to the dorm on your own?” Buffy asked, keeping her voice even and emotionless.

“Yeah,” came the reply. “If you can help me get her to my van.”

“I can do that.”

Silently, she strode back and scooped Willow into her arms, shaking aside the thought that it was the second time in as many days that she was carrying her best friend unconscious out of Restfield Cemetery. Oz followed her through the grounds, just as mute, not speaking again until he was ensconced behind the steering wheel and Buffy was already walking away from him, down the street and toward the heart of town.

“He didn’t have to help us,” he called out.

Stopping, Buffy lifted her head to stare up at the nearly full moon, her eyes burning from the tears she refused to shed. “I know,” she said softly, and carefully, resumed her path.

*************

She’d slept most of the journey, so now that the hour neared midnight and she waited for Wesley to pick up her keys from the hotel clerk, Esme’s body clock was on full protest of the California time, her mind alert as she drank in the austere surroundings. It wasn’t nearly as nice as the Los Angeles hotel, but considering she was due to stay in town for more than a single night, Esme knew that the Council was cutting its corners however it could. Still, it was functional, the staff plastic and polite, and should she find herself in need of midnight assistance, Esme was fairly certain she would get it. Sometimes, being old could be a distinct advantage.

Giles had dropped them off with barely a civil salutation. His eyes had been flinty, even through his glasses, but rather than frighten her as he intended, his antagonism served to excite Esme. He was a challenge. She thrived when faced with challenges. It was how she’d managed to survive for so long. And while Giles may have felt he currently had the upper hand, she and Wesley knew different.

This was going to be a most interesting game.

“Your room is directly across the hall from mine,” Wesley said. He was suddenly before her, towering above her diminutive form, his blue eyes icy. In his hand, he proffered a thin card, and she took it without saying a word. “I expect to be informed of your whereabouts at all times,” he said as he leaned to pick up her bags. “If you leave the hotel without me, you will let me know.” He began walking toward the elevator, not even bothering to look behind to see if she was following. “If you find you require certain amenities, you will let me know so that I can obtain them for you. All spending must be approved by me---.”

“Do you wish me to keep a log of trips to the bathroom as well?” she asked, mildly amused.

He ignored her sarcasm and punched the up button. “Willow has classes tomorrow. Giles and I agreed while you were asleep that she will be forewarned of your involvement. The choice of whether she will be working with you will be left entirely in her hands, so we will not know until tomorrow night at the earliest whether your presence will be required further.”

With a soft whisper, the elevators doors slid open. “She’ll agree,” Esme said as she stepped into the car.

“How can you be so certain?”

“Because I’m the only one who understands,” she replied.

He didn’t say another word until he’d dropped her bags on the second bed in her room. Even then, Wesley merely uttered a perfunctory good night before letting himself out, and Esme sat at the desk, wondering how it was she was going to pass her night if she couldn’t sleep.

The knock came within a minute of Wesley’s departure. Shaking her head at the Watcher’s incompetence, she rose to answer it, curious about what it was that he had forgotten.

Though the man on the other side of the door was tall and dark, it wasn’t Wesley.

“What are you doing here?” Esme hissed. As her gaze darted furtively to the closed door behind him, she reached forward and curled her hand around his tattooed arm, yanking forward to guide him into her room.

“I waited until your Englishman was gone,” he said. His tone was mocking, but he allowed the older woman to lead him to privacy, his lips curled into a smirk even when the door was shut behind him.

“Cutting it a bit close, though, weren’t you?”

“You worry too much.”

“And I’m still alive, which should show you that perhaps worrying is for the best.” The rush of adrenaline that had coursed through her veins at seeing him at her door dissipated, leaving Esme drained. She waved toward the empty chair as she returned to sit at the desk. “Don’t hover, Baltozar,” she ordered. “I hate it when you hover.”

Chuckling, the Spaniard obeyed her command, slouching in the uncomfortable seat and propping his boots up on the table. Her nose wrinkled in disgust, but she noted that at least his shoes were clean, even if his appearance left more than a little to be desired.

“Enjoying your time stateside?” he asked casually. He reached for the remote control, turning it on to a low volume. “You have to see some of their television. Americans are worse than the Japanese when it comes to their entertainment.”

“Does your presence here mean it’s done?”

He nodded. “In and out. The vampire and his girl Watcher pet found the seer too late. Just like you wanted.”

For the first time since seeing the mercenary at her door, Esme smiled. “Is it snowing? It feels like Christmastime to me all of a sudden.”

“Just tell me I won’t have to stay in this godforsaken place any longer than I have to. That’ll make it Christmas for me.”

“You must be patient, Baltozar. I’ve only just arrived. It will take some time for me to determine how to get my powers back. In the meantime, treat this as a little vacation. You have Havi to keep you company, right?”

His lips tightened. “Havi is already preoccupied.”

She couldn’t help the excitement his words wrought, and leaned forward, her eyes dark with hunger. “Did she tell you more? Are they really here?”

Disgustedly, Baltozar jabbed at the power switch on the remote, turning off the TV before tossing the controller aside. “She tells me nothing,” he spat. He rose to his feet and began pacing the length of the room like a caged lion. “I get only the smallest of details when she allows them to slip. It’s infuriating.”

“I thought she trusted you. She did help you in killing Rose, didn’t she?”

“That doesn’t mean she was pleased with it.”

“But it’s done. And the fact that she followed you here to the Hellmouth confirms what we already suspected. Give her time. She’ll tell you where they are. By the time she does, I’ll have my magic back, and we’ll be able to move on to the next step.”

His knuckles were white from the tension in his fisted hands, but Baltozar contained his vexation with the control his years spent in a dangerous world had taught him. “This better be worth it, old woman,” he growled.

Her brows lifted. “You haven’t grown feelings for the girl, have you?” Esme commented. “Well. I have to say I’m intrigued. I didn’t think you had it in you. But, isn’t that…dangerous in your line of work?”

He had no response to that. Instead, he stopped his pacing at her side, glaring down at her as he reached past to grab a pen and a piece of the hotel stationery. “This is how you can get hold of me,” Baltozar said as he scrawled out a phone number. “Havi is staying with me but you don’t have to worry about her answering the phone. If today is any indication, she probably won’t be around very much.”

She took it with a nod. “You should keep an eye on her,” Esme said. “Build her trust so that she divulges what she knows.”

“Don’t tell me how to do my job.”

“And don’t presume you can treat me like a fool simply because I’m temporarily without my powers.” Her voice had gone from amused to deadly in the space of a second. “It would be wise to remember that I am the only reason you even breathe today. If it wasn’t for me, you would be sniveling in some back alley of El Ferrol and not on the Council payroll, living a life that should’ve been stolen from you twenty years ago. I gave you this opportunity. It’s still within my grasp to take it away.”

The muscles in his jaw twitched, but in spite of Esme’s magisterial carriage, he lifted his chin and glared back at her defiantly. “Leave Havi to me, and we will have no more problems,” Baltozar said simply.

She regarded him for a long moment. “Agreed.”

The concession pricked the balloon of his agitation just enough for his shoulders to relax, and he stooped to pick up the remote again. “It was a shame you weren’t in Barcelona for the grand show,” he said, resuming his sprawling seat. “That Rose never even saw me coming.”

Though his words made her pause, Esme shook off the unease that chilled her flesh. “What’s more important,” she said, “is that the Slayer doesn’t see you coming. Not until we need her again.”

*************

Her skin was tingling long before she saw the club, and Buffy’s step slowed, indecision clenching her stomach in a fist of ice. Was she ready for this? What if he wasn’t actually here? If she was wrong, could she really follow through on staking him?

God, she really didn’t want to have to kill him.

There was a possibility she was wrong, too. He’d been nowhere around at Restfield; as she and Oz had walked out to the van, she’d scanned what she could of the grounds, but there had been no tinglies to indicate any kind of vamps in the vicinity. He was just…gone.

But prior to his encounter with Riley, Spike had been out that night with purpose. Buffy had little doubt that he was the one who’d saved the girl from the vampire date, and she suspected he was responsible for the demon deaths as well. It wasn’t that he was avoiding letting her know he was in town.

He’d been slaying. Doing her job.

Doing what he’d promised her on the banks, in each of his letters, with every word, that he would do for her once he got to Sunnydale.

Buffy was pinning her hopes on Spike wigging out when he realized he’d killed a group of humans. Oz had said he hadn’t killed Riley right away, that he’d only done it in self-defense, and while killing of any humans was still wrong to her, it at least mitigated some of the damaging intent.

And she knew that if Spike was upset, Spike drank.

Which, on a Sunday night in Sunnydale, didn’t leave a lot of options open for him.

For a while there, she’d contemplated going to the Bronze. He was familiar with it, and would likely be comfortable with the pounding music and heated bodies.

But pounding music had brought up the memory of the Factory. And the fact that she’d just written to him about its new opening. And how Spike had taken Willow and Xander there the last time he’d been in town.

So that was where she stood. Staring at the techno exterior with a sickening sense of dread that he wouldn’t really be inside.

Terrified that he actually would.

Taking a deep breath, Buffy skirted the crowd that milled out front, avoiding the eyes of the bouncer at the door to dart unseen down the alley. She didn’t have time to deal with the politics of waiting for entrance; if Spike wasn’t here, she needed to get over to the Bronze before it closed and check for him there. After that, she wasn’t sure what she would do. She’d cross that bridge if and when she got to it.

The music made the air inside the club pulse with a frenetic energy, a contagion that whispered in her ear to dance though she was far from the mood for frivolity. It surged, and ebbed, undulating over her bare arms with the hungry demand of a jealous lover, the power it offered intoxicating. She blinked, pausing as she adjusted to the lack of light, and steeled her stomach against the onslaught of perfumes and colognes when she inhaled. She was dizzy. She wouldn’t be able to find him easily. She needed to get a birds-eye view.

Much of the scaffolding had been left in place during the club’s construction, made safer to conform to safety codes. With so much of the Factory’s activity centered on the floor, only the brave or lonely were driven upward, compelled to navigate the precarious stepladders that served as stairs, the metallic creaks and groans drowned out by the music that blared from too-many speakers. Carefully, Buffy climbed the nearest steps, her gaze searching the crowd for a sign of leather, a flash of platinum, and she pushed her way past the questing hands of a young man who looked like he was going to topple over the railing, noting the bloodshot eyes and the powerful reek of beer.

There were too many people. She was never going to find him. As she paused along a break in the catwalk, Buffy felt her mood plummet as she realized that she’d been wrong.

And then…she felt the tingle.

Like the hesitant caress of a bedpartner who thought his lover still slept.

And her head turned, her eyes lifting up and away from the throng to level against the upper deck. Searching for the source.

Found it.

Found him.

And the music disappeared. All she could hear was the pounding of her pulse inside her skull. All she could see was Spike.

His head was bowed, his face in profile to her. He sat at one of the small tables that had been placed on the scaffolding with his back to the crowd, a bottle of Jack Daniels nearly full before him. Even in the dim light, she could see that he’d grown his hair out a little, stopped being so stringent with the gel that kept it slicked back. A few loose curls were mussed along the top, and in the ocean of that moment when she first spotted him, she was no longer in the cacophonous Factory.

She was in London. Sitting on the banks and watching him as he told of how much he didn’t want her to go.

As if he knew he was being watched, Spike’s head slowly lifted, turning with excruciating lethargy toward her, stopping when she appeared in his field of vision. The cast of his skin was a mixture of bone-white and blood-red, the spattering from the lights making it even more otherworldly than it normally appeared, but his eyes were left in shadow, even when she felt them boring into her.

Even when she resumed the trek toward him.

Though the specter of Riley’s dead body lingered in the back of her mind, there was a curious euphoria suffusing her limbs that made her feel like she was walking on air and not a steel grate. In that second, Buffy didn’t care that Spike had killed someone she’d had a passing acquaintance with.

She was just glad he was here.

**************

He knew it was just an effect of the strobes overhead, but when he saw Buffy standing on the catwalk, just a matter of a few feet away instead of the miles and oceans that had separated him from her for so long, Spike would’ve sworn she glowed.

She’d let her hair grow longer, the slightly curling ends gracing the middle of her back as it hung loose over her shoulders. The gauzy white top she wore allowed her tanned skin to peek through in snatches of sensual promise, but it was the way the low-slung black slacks hugged her hips that made Spike’s mouth go dry.

She looked good. She looked better than good. She looked…content.

The doubt he’d felt at the hotel returned, kicking and screaming and sounding remarkably like Angelus when Spike had been laid up in the wheelchair. Taunts about how inadequate he was. Gibes about how she was better off without him. Now he had the truth of it standing in front of him---correction, walking toward him---and he could just call himself a bloody fool for putting so much stock in a few hastily scribbled words.

He looked away as she approached. As much as he wanted to etch the sight of her into his memory, Spike wasn’t willing to let Buffy see just how badly she was getting to him, how much he wanted to pretend that he couldn’t see the truth of her wellbeing and take her in his arms with vows to never leave again. He felt her pause, wait, and heard the skittering of her heartrate. Not excitement. Not fear.

What was she waiting for?

“Someone’s had a busy night.”

No greeting. Straight to business. That wasn’t good.

“Well, you know me, pet. Can’t keep a bad vamp down.”

He sounded glib. Cocky. Exactly as he’d planned. Not as he wanted.

She was walking by him then, so close that all he had to do was lift his hand and he could be touching her, but Spike settled for breathing in her scent, wondering at the curious mixture that seemed so like her and not. When she sat in the chair opposite, he looked up, but rather than the self-righteous smugness that had been her expression of choice prior to that summer, he was greeted with a naked longing that she hastily hid when he met her eyes.

“So, what do you think?” she asked, and her tone was frighteningly casual.

Spike frowned. “Of what?”

Buffy gestured toward the dancing crowd below. “What they’ve done to the place. Although you picked a much better spot to sit in than we did. I can actually hear you up here.”

She wanted to talk about the club? Confusion made Spike sit up, glance at the whiskey bottle he hadn’t really been drinking anyway. “It’s all right,” he said carefully. “Not exactly my cup of tea, but it’ll do in a pinch.”

“So…I guess that means you got my letter.”

Sitting there with her hands twisting in her lap, Buffy looked more like the girl he’d first encountered in the dreams than the Slayer he remembered, and felt his chest tighten. “Yeah,” he said, though it was so soft he was certain she didn’t hear him. Her heartbeat wasn’t so rapid because of fear. She was nervous. About seeing him. Why?

He saw it then, slivers of light that danced on her wrist. Stopping from reaching for it was impossible, and he heard her sharp intake of breath as he leaned across the table and took her hand in his, turning it over so that he could better see the bracelet dangle from the delicate limb.

Spike tightened his grip when she started to pull away, lifting his eyes to meet hers. “Knew it would look good on you,” he said. Her pulse danced beneath his thumb. “But you’re still more beautiful than it is.”

Cheeks flaring with color, Buffy snatched her hand back, but he was glad when she didn’t avert her gaze. “I thought…” she started, and then decided against whatever she’d been about to say, chewing at her lip in a gesture that was endearingly innocent.

It was time to stop dancing around the subject. “How’s Red?” Spike asked, leaning back in his chair. “The boy said she was just knocked cold.”

Reminder of why she was there seemed to snap her out of the fugue she’d been in, and the Slayer returned in full control. “You could’ve stuck around to see for yourself,” she snapped. “What’s with the Invisible Man act?”

He shrugged. “Not much of one for the sentimental claptrap that comes from rescuing the damsel,” he said.

“That must be why you didn’t stick around after dusting that girl’s date, either,” she shot back. When he jerked back in surprise, she smiled. “What? Did you think I wouldn’t find out? This is my town, Spike. You can’t keep secrets from me for very long.”

“Well, well,” he drawled, “look who’s grown up into her own Wyatt Earp.”

“I just don’t like being in the dark. You, of all people, should know that.”

The rebuke stung. “So…what? You come here to get me out of your hair for good?” He deliberately let his eyes slither over her form, waiting until she felt it just as surely as if he’d taken her in his arms. “Don’t see where you’re hidin’ your stake, though those few extra pounds you’ve put on are certainly in the right places.”

“What? I’m not---.” Suddenly self-conscious, Buffy folded into herself, crossing her arms in front of her to shield herself from his inspection. “It’s not going to work, Spike. I’m not going to let you distract me by calling me fat.”

“Now you’re puttin’ words in my mouth, luv. All’s I said was that life’s been more than a little good for you since last I saw. It’s a shame I wasn’t around to help you with the shopping, though. That’s one secret Victoria shouldn’t be so stingy with, if you ask me.”

A lull in the music settled the club into a dull roar, driving both of them to silence. It was almost that each needed the sanctuary of the noise to bolster their nerve to speak, but when the next record started, Buffy was the one who found the strength to break the peace.

“You didn’t let me know.” Her voice was soft, aching, and her eyes refused to meet his. “You said…were you ever going to tell me you were back?”

That was it, then. All his fears about disappointing her with his presence had driven him to be laggardly in letting her know, and it was that which now drove the distance between them. “I’ve only just been,” Spike replied. He kept his voice low, soothing, hoping that it would be enough. “My plane got into LA this afternoon.”

“You had enough time for a fight. Or three. Didn’t you think for a second that I might want to know?”

“Buffy---.”

But she was on a roll, the dam broken.

“All those letters,” she continued. “All those words. I can’t believe I trusted them. I trusted you. I thought…and you said…but it was all just a big lie, wasn’t it? You just can’t help yourself---.”

She gasped when he grabbed her arm, yanking her forward, across the table, nearly into his lap. “Not lies,” Spike hissed. His eyes flashed. “Not to you. Never to you. I told you that.”

“You told me a lot of things.”

“I told you I loved you. Are you forgettin’ that little fact, too?”

Buffy shook her head. “It’s not you. It was all a sham. You used my feelings for William---.”

Me. You love me.”

“I don’t know you. I…I thought I did. But---.”

She was silenced when he jerked her to her feet, pulling her flush against his body so that he could slam his lips to hers in a bruising, frustrated kiss. There was a moment when her fists came up to shove him away, but the moment they touched his chest, Buffy’s hands uncurled, flattening against his shirt as she started to kiss him back.

It wasn’t the same type of caress, however.

Her mouth begged his to soften, refusing to give in to the disquiet that punctuated his embrace, and it took only seconds before Spike yielded to her demand, his hands releasing their vigorous hold on her arms to follow new paths, one to the thick hair at her nape, the other to the small of her back to press their pelvises together.

“Missed you,” Buffy murmured against him. Her fingers tangled in his curls, her form molding to his. “So much. It was…so lonely without you.”

Hearing her say the words made reading them a phantom of a memory. Tears of relief stung Spike’s eyes, but he squeezed them tight, refusing them the opportunity to escape. “Missed you, too,” he whispered as his lips left hers to blaze a trail across her cheek. “Don’t know how I did it.”

“Don’t do it again.”

“Never.” His mouth was at her neck then, tasting and teasing the soft skin. “Never leavin’ you again.”

And then he felt it.

The softest of rhythms.

An echo that he hadn’t noticed, wouldn’t have noticed, if it weren’t for their bodies verging to join.

And he froze.

She noticed the change immediately, stiffening within the circle of his arms. “What?” Buffy asked. “What is it?”

Spike didn’t say a word. The fingers that had knotted in her hair loosened their hold to slide between their torsos. As the line deepened between her eyes, he slid his hand beneath her top, heard the sharp intake of breath as his cool skin met her heated flesh. But where she fully expected him to take his search higher, he stopped, choosing instead to press his palm to the flat of her stomach.

He hadn’t been mistaken.

He jerked back as if scalded, almost stumbling against his chair as he fought to put the distance between them again. Humiliation made him see red, and it took every fragment of his control not to throw the table over the railing into the crowd below.

“Lonely, huh?” he spat. “Did it take you all of a day before you were parting those dimpled knees for him? I’ll wager he had a real broad set of shoulders for you to cry on, too. History tells you’ve got a soft spot for the neckless type.”

His outburst shredded any remaining vestiges of understanding she might’ve had. “What the hell are you talking about?” Buffy demanded.

“It’s no wonder it took you so long to answer my letters. You were probably too busy off shagging Wonder Boy to give me a second thought.”

It took a moment for his meaning to sink in. When it did, Buffy’s eyes went wide.

“You think I was with someone else?” Her voice was incredulous, bordering on furious. “How dare you!”

“Don’t have to think it, pet. Know it.”

“You don’t know anything, Spike. I’m beginning to wonder if you ever did.”

“You think you can lie to me about this?” His head tilted, his eyes blazing. “Buffy, this thing between us might’ve blindsided me, but it didn’t make me stupid. I know, all right? There’s no point in whitewashing the truth.”

“Nobody’s washing anything, white, black, or chartreuse.”

“Who is he? Least have the courtesy to tell me that.”

“There is no ‘he!’ God, why in hell would you think I could go to anybody after what happened with us in London?”

“Because,” he said through gritted teeth. His hands balled into fists at his sides. “You’re pregnant.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 10: The Course of Altering Things