DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CXV.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: After discovering Spike killed the vigilante group attempting to take Oz, Buffy goes off in search of him, only to run into him at the Factory…

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

Chapter 10: The Course of Altering Things

It was her anger at his outrageous accusation that slowed her response to his announcement.

“What did you say?” Buffy asked. Her head was swimming. The last thing she’d expected after the professions of his letters was to hear Spike turn on her so viciously. Every visible muscle in his body was corded taut, and she could tell that he was dying to lash out with more than just his words.

“You heard me,” he spat. “Don’t go denying it. I can feel it inside you.”

She winced when his hand shot out, grabbing her wrist and twisting her arm so that the flat of her palm was pressed against her stomach. “I don’t care what you think you can feel,” she said, though she didn’t try wrenching away from his grasp. “That’s not possible.”

“So you’re the Holy Slayer, is that it? Sorry, luv, but immaculate, you’re not.”

“Being pregnant requires having sex. And whether you want to believe me or not, I haven’t had sex since---.”

And then she stopped. Because the reality of just who it was she’d last had sex with stood right in front of her. Not in his human state, but him, nonetheless. The explanations from Richard and Willow, about how she’d been in both places at the same time, merged with the memory of the very real cut that had appeared on her thumb out of nowhere when they’d first discovered the truth.

Is it possible?

Then, there was the being sick lately. She’d thought it was just a stomach bug because frankly, the idea of pregnancy never even occurred to her. Though she knew that her experiences with William had been real, there was still a part of her that considered the whole thing too dream-like to accept the more visceral manifestations of their relationship, but Spike’s pronouncement made sense with the facts that she had.

Frantically, her mind raced, trying to remember when she last had her period. It had been prior to going to London, now that she thought about it. But because she was often irregular, she hadn’t given it much thought that she’d gone so long without one. It was just another of those Slayer things she’d come to accept over the years.

Spike was watching her intently, watching the connect-the-dots etch across her face, and as Buffy came to the understanding that yes, her being pregnant was very much possible and by who, his grip on her slackened as he reached the same conclusion with her. Slowly, he curled his fingers beneath her palm so that they touched her bare stomach, and their eyes locked as he seemed to be listening to some unheard melody.

“We didn’t even think of the consequences,” he murmured, and in that moment, he sounded like a lost William, his eyes glistening, though that could’ve just been a trick of the strobe lighting in the club.

“No,” Buffy said tightly, stepping away and breaking the contact. “You have to be wrong.”

Spike shook his head. “Not about this. Knew something smelled different about you when you walked up, but I thought…” He stepped closer, refusing her right to be distant from him. “Is it truth? You haven’t been with someone else since…us?”

Her eyes locked with his. “Have you?”

It was the only answer she was going to give him, but in the aftermath of her questioning, Buffy saw the soft set of his mouth as his gaze returned to her abdomen, the way his hands twitched to touch her again.

“Never thought it would be possible,” Spike whispered. “I dreamed about it when…that night on the banks. When you said you would’ve married me if you could. But since…”

“You have to be wrong,” Buffy repeated, just as subdued. Part of her felt like crying and, irrationally, she wondered if the constant moodiness was another symptom she’d chosen to ignore. “I can’t be pregnant. I just…can’t.”

The way he looked at her was as effective as a caress. “Have you had your monthlies?”

“My what? Oh. You mean my period. No, but that doesn’t mean anything.”

“It means everything.”

“It means I work out too much. I haven’t been regular since I got Chosen, Spike.”

“Don’t you want it?”

The question took her aback. “What?”

Those last few inches between them were devoured when he pressed her to him, and the sigh that escaped her lips when his arm curled around her waist to hold her close was almost inaudible. “Forget the vamp business,” he said softly. “Can you tell me that you wouldn’t want my---wouldn’t want William’s---child?”

“It doesn’t matter what I want, Spike. I’m the Slayer. Guaranteed death sentence, remember? I can’t be bringing a baby into this world, only to get killed before it can walk. That wouldn’t be fair.”

“You wouldn’t be the first to do so, pet. And you didn’t answer my question.”

“Your question is pointless. Because I’m not pregnant.”

She squeaked when he suddenly whirled, pulling her down the rickety catwalk and straight for the stairs. The drunk she’d passed on her arrival protested loudly when Spike shoved him out of their way, but it did nothing to curb their pace. Down the steps, into the cacophony of the club, through the strobing neon. It wasn’t until they were in the alleyway behind the building that Buffy yanked herself away from his grasp.

“What’re you doing?” she demanded.

His jacket made an ebony circle as he whirled to face her. “Goin’ to prove it to you,” he said. “You want me to trust that you haven’t been with another bloke? Then you give me the same courtesy, Buffy. I know what I felt.”

She bit back the retort. “Fine,” she replied. Her voice was tight. “But what happens when I’m right and you’re wrong?”

His teeth gleamed in the darkness as he grinned and grabbed her hand again. “Not goin’ to happen,” he said, resuming his quick pace to the street.

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

She made him stay out on the sidewalk when she realized what it was he had planned, though Spike insisted on giving her the cash to pay for the test. “Not goin’ to give you the ammunition to take this away from me,” he’d said through veiled lashes, and she’d whirled on her heel to disappear into the overly bright neon of the drugstore.

Every step that took her closer to the family planning aisle added a pound to her already heavy heart, so that by the time Buffy stood before the pregnancy tests, all she wanted was to go back to the beginning of the day and start over. It was easier to try and deal with the reality of Spike’s affection when it wasn’t gazing at her with William’s eyes, and it wasn’t telling her that she was now carrying his child. As hard as it had been trying to process the depth of what he conveyed in his letters, and as much as she’d missed having him to talk to, she was beginning to suspect that that was cake compared to the changes his actual appearance in Sunnydale had brought.

Well, except he hadn’t brought the pregnancy with him. If that was real, that had been there all along.

Her eyes jumped past the rows of condoms before settling on the assortment of tests that were available. Talk about the barn door being open, she mused as she reached for the nearest box. She had no idea what she was looking for. Something fast. Something reliable.

Something that would tell her she wasn’t pregnant.

After what seemed an eternity, Buffy finally settled on one that would give her a result in just a minute, though the urge to distrust something so speedy made her put it back and pick it up again more than once. Holding it close against her chest, she hurried up to the checkout, only to be stopped short when one of the last people she wanted to see rounded the corner of the aisle.

“Buffy,” Wesley said, a smile automatically coming to his mouth. “You’re looking very well.”

Blushing, she tucked the box beneath her arm and fervently prayed that he wouldn’t look too closely. “Hi,” she said, her own smile shaky. “Long time no see.”

“Yes.” He shuffled in place, his fingers fidgeting with his glasses. Regardless of the picture Willow had painted, this was very much like the Watcher she remembered. “I missed you yesterday when I arrived at Giles’. Are you going out to patrol?”

“Just getting done,” she said. “Willow asked me to pick up some…” She looked around desperately, and her free hand darted out to circle around the first thing that made sense. “…shaving cream.”

His brows drew together. “Shaving…cream?”

“For her legs. For the beach. Redheads’ hair is notoriously coarse, you know. Takes the tough ammo to, well, you know.”

“Oh. Yes. I think I’ve heard that.”

Her smile was too bright, too wide, and her eyes darted past his shoulder to the windows that overlooked the front of the store. The blackness outside meant she was looking into a mirror, and panic suddenly rose in Buffy’s throat when all she could see was her own pale face staring back at her. “I better go,” she said, inching around him to place herself between him and the cashier. “Willow’s waiting for me.”

“Of course. Will I see you tomorrow?” At her frown, he added to clarify, “When Willow comes to Giles’. We haven’t exactly started her sessions yet, so I assumed…”

“Probably. Maybe. I don’t know. It depends on what Willow wants, I think.” With an awkward wave, she turned on her heel to go, and then winced when he called out her name.

“I meant what I said,” Wesley offered when she glanced back at him. His smile was genuine. “I’ve never seen you look better, Buffy.”

She didn’t want to consider the ramifications of what he meant, rushing through the payment of her items before slipping back outside. Spike was leaning against the wall, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, but the moment he saw her emerge, tossed the glowing butt into the gutter.

“All sorted?” he asked, nodding toward the bag.

“I will be when this is over.” She took a few steps but when she rounded the corner, she stopped, swiveling to gaze up at Spike with a frown. “Where are we going to do this?”

“You don’t want to go back to your dorm?”

“Willow’s there. And I’d really rather not have to explain this tonight.”

Spike nodded. “Red’s had enough excitement, I’d wager.” He paused, his lashes lowering, and her heart clenched. It was such a characteristically William thing for him to do. This was going to take some getting used to. “Does she know?” he asked, and his voice was dark with untold emotion. “About…the letters?”

She knew it wasn’t really what he meant, but she answered the question he posed anyway. “Most of it. Kind of hard to hide the mail from her when she’s the one who goes and gets it.”

“S’pose not.” Pause. “What about your mum’s place? She hasn’t turned your room into an exercise room yet, has she?”

It wasn’t even worthy of a response. She just cocked her brows to let him know just how wrong and stupid the suggestion was, and the pair lapsed back into silence.

“There’s…another possibility, Buffy. Could just…go back to my place.”

He was shuffling his feet, exhibiting more anxiety in her presence than he had since she’d first seen him at the Factory. He was nervous. Like William had been. It made her throat tight to consider, and damn it, she really had to stop drawing all these comparisons between him and his human self.

“You have a place already?” she asked carefully.

“Just a hotel room. Nothin’ fancy. But it’s clean, and it’s private, which is what you want, right?”

He had a point, and as wary as the prospect of being alone with him made her, Buffy knew she wouldn’t rest easy until she had an answer to the pregnancy question, once and for all. Even more importantly, it was impossible for her to deny the opportunity to spend more time with him. Though the air between them was tenuous, it rang with such a familiar tenor that denying its pull would’ve been like denying the need to breathe. A few more hours before she had to return to her regular life was all she needed.

She wasn’t even going to consider the parallel to how she’d considered her encounters with William that summer.

“All right,” she said. “Lead the way.”

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

When he first got the hotel room, he’d never envisioned she’d be sitting on the edge of his bed, hands twisted nervously in her lap, staring at the bathroom door like her life depended on it. Well, not her life. The life of the baby she carried. The one she couldn’t quite believe existed until she had the physical proof in her hands.

But Spike knew. Spike had felt it. And if Buffy was telling the truth about not being with someone---something he realized now he’d only half-believed was even possible, even when he was ranting at her about it; she just wasn’t the type to kiss and tell---then that made it his baby. Theirs.

She didn’t want to talk, not until she had her answer, so Spike left her alone while they waited. Left her alone and just watched. He wasn’t too sure what he’d say to her anyway. It was tough enough suddenly being in her presence again after so long---and that so long was more than the weeks they’d been separated from London, that was a century-long so long that he had to find some way to bridge---but to have this news thrown into the mix as well? It was boggling.

Still…

He couldn’t get over how beautiful she looked. Though he could tell now that sleep hadn’t been as friendly as it could’ve been to her, Spike could also sense the peace she wore like a cloak to shelter her. It was a peace that he remembered from her time with William, those days at the end when they’d accepted each other and took pleasure in what time they could. She’d held onto it in his absence, refusing to revert to the broken young woman she’d been when they’d had the first dream, and Spike couldn’t help but pride himself on being responsible for helping her see that she was stronger than she gave herself credit for.

His eyes flitted to the digital clock on the nightstand. “Been more than a minute, luv,” he said quietly.

She didn’t move. “I’m making sure.”

“You want me to---.”

But she was already up before he could finish the sentence. As he knew she would be.

“Wait here.”

She disappeared into the bathroom, the door not quite latching behind her, and Spike inched over so that he could spy her through the narrow opening she’d left him. He could just see her standing at the sink, the white stick in one hand, the paper instructions in the other, as her gaze darted from one to the next. Then, she froze, and he couldn’t even hear her breathing any more. The silence was murder.

“Well?” he called out. He couldn’t stand it. “Ready to eat that crow yet?”

Maybe mentioning something to eat was the wrong thing to say because she was suddenly hunched over the toilet, the heaving sounds echoing inside the tiled room. In a flash, Spike was there beside her, pulling her hair back from getting entangled and sickening her even more, and he dropped his hand to the small of Buffy’s back to rub it soothingly.

“Water,” she gasped after the vomiting had stopped. She stuck out her hand and waited, not meeting his eyes when he stood and filled a cup at the sink, then gulped in a large mouthful before spitting it out again into the toilet bowl.

“Need anything else?” Spike asked gently.

“I don’t suppose you have a toothbrush?”

He was off and back before she could sit on her heels, handing her his black leather toiletry bag and saying, “Just help yourself, pet. If you fancy a shower---.”

“It’s real.” She was staring at the case she held, her eyes lost. “You were right. I can’t believe you were right.”

“Thought you’d sussed out that that happens more often than naught.” Spike crouched to sit down beside her. “One of these days, you’re goin’ to have to actually start listening to me.”

“What am I going to do?”

When she looked up at him, it struck Spike that he’d never considered she would question it, and the thought that this could get so cruelly ripped away from him made him stiffen, the sudden urge to take Buffy and just cage her up until the baby was born rising in his gullet. “Well, you’re not gettin’ rid of it,” he announced, and realized that his voice was just a little too loud for the small space.

It also served to jar Buffy from her complacency into anger. “I can’t keep it,” she announced. “I’m eighteen. I’m the Slayer. I’m in college. I can’t have a baby. My mom’ll kill me. Giles will kill me.”

“And you can just kill an innocent baby?”

It was a low blow, but it did what he wanted it to.

Buffy blanched. “No,” she whispered. Her eyes were suddenly venomous. “Bastard. This is all your fault.”

“Oh, because William knew exactly what he was doin’. Right, luv. In that little arrangement, you were the voice of experience. You want to lay blame, start lookin’ in the mirror, and just remember which it is of us who has the reflection.”

“But I didn’t know!”

“And neither did I, so don’t be turnin’ this around on me just because it’s tossed you about a bit!”

They glared at each other, but Buffy’s indignation lasted for only seconds before she crumpled before his eyes. Her shoulders fell, the toiletry bag tumbling from her fingers as she seemed to fold into herself, and then she was squeezing her eyes shut as if to block out images that only she could see.

Silently, Spike scooped her into his arms, ready to fight her if she tried to break free. Instead, her cheek turned into his chest, and it muffled her words when she spoke.

“How am I supposed to do this?” Buffy asked.

“It’s not like you’re alone,” he replied. “Got your friends, your mum. Even got Rupert. They’d do just about anything for you. Havin’ a baby isn’t goin’ to change that.”

“And you?”

He hesitated, and then decided to hell with it. “Even if I hadn’t already promised to be here for you,” Spike said, “I don’t walk out on my own. This is mine just as much as it’s yours. I’ll do whatever it takes.” He paused. “Except for the dirty nappies. You can have those. Your nose isn’t as sensitive as mine is.”

She laughed for the first time since they’d encountered at the Factory, and though it was just a small, tinny sound, it warmed Spike in memories of long talks in a sunlit park, longer nights back in his London bed. It was a start. It was a worthy start.

Buffy pulled away from his embrace to look up at him. Her eyes were solemn, but at least they were dry. Even a huge change such as this wasn’t enough to break his girl.

“William would’ve loved this idea,” she said. “He probably would’ve wanted a dozen.”

“William’s just pleased as punch about this one,” Spike replied.

“Why?”

It was barely a whisper.

“Because I’m evil and shouldn’t be fussed about them, right?” But he said it teasingly, hoping against hope that it wouldn’t provoke another fight. “You and I both know the truth of that, don’t we, pet? Done my fair share, but that’s behind me now. And, at the end of the day, there’s not a whole lot in this world I can call my own. Had Dru for a bit, but that was just a bit of ephemeron, as it turns out.” He stopped when she suddenly compressed her lips, stifling a giggle. “What?”

“I can’t decide if that effa-whatever thingamabob is a William word or a Giles word,” she said.

“It’s a perfectly good word, is what it is,” he retorted.

“And it does prove that your vocabulary goes beyond ‘bloody’ when you want it to, so bonus points there.”

His mouth opened to snipe back at her about little girls who’d best keep their mouths shut if they ever wanted another poem written for them again when he realized she was teasing him.

Buffy. Was teasing. Him.

Not William.

She was aiming it straight and true at Spike, and it was amusement with him that was now lighting her face.

Well, that was just…neat.

“Got more of those, you know,” he said with a sly smile. “Not all of them went into your letters.”

When her eyes widened with excitement at the mention of more poetry, it was all Spike could do not to visibly preen. Not only had he managed to divert her attention away from the distractions of the night---the pregnancy, his screw-up in not going to her first, her discovery of his killing---but he’d gained definitive reassurance that his verse still did something for her. Writing had been well and good while he was away, but he’d been creating in a vacuum. He’d forgotten how wonderful it had felt sharing his work with Buffy, how exuberant she got over his many attempts.

Grabbing the toiletry bag from the floor, Spike rose to his feet, pulling Buffy along with him. “Let’s sort you out,” he said. “Clean up, shower, do whatever you want. Have you eaten?” When she shook her head, he nodded as if he hadn’t expected any different. “I’ll run across the way and get you something to nosh then.” Before he could stop himself, Spike leaned in and pressed a hard, quick kiss to Buffy’s mouth. “Got a bit for us to catch up on, don’t we, pet?” he murmured. “Not just a few poems.”

“Are you…I still don’t know why you’ve been gone for so long.”

“I know.” His fingers played with the curled end of her hair. “If you’ll stay, I can tell you. Are you?”

“Staying?”

When her eyes drifted past Spike’s shoulder to the bedroom behind him, alarm began to replace the elation that had fueled his mood. He watched her face intently, ready to begin arguing with her again should she start to run, but kept his grip on her lax.

“I guess…I guess we do have a lot to talk about, huh?”

He wanted to shout out in bloody joy, but settled for a half-smile. “Fifty-three days worth, luv,” he said.

She nodded, glancing at the shower. “Maybe…I’ll just clean up a little,” Buffy said.

He could tell a request for privacy when he heard one. Any other time, and he might be inclined to debate the issue with her. Now, Spike was just glad she was sticking around. With a quick step backward, he said, “Burger and chips all right? Unless you want something else---.”

“A burger’s fine. And, Spike?” She turned away from him and busied herself with the shower, as if meeting his eyes while she said the next would make it impossible to do. “I’m glad you’re back.”

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

It was Riley’s failure to report in for his first update on the werewolf situation that prompted Maggie to send out the back-up team. The last thing she expected to hear, however, was that Riley and his entire squad had been killed while on the watch. And not by the werewolf, as might be expected.

The puncture wounds on Forrest were enough proof to indicate at least one vampire was involved in the attack.

There was evidence that suggested others had been present, but until she could analyze some of the scans Riley’s team had taken of the area, Maggie wouldn’t know what or how many were involved. What didn’t make sense to her was that none of the men were drained. The bite on Forrest had merely killed him; the lividity in his body testified that there was still plenty of blood left in his system post-mortem.

So, if it wasn’t for food, why was her team so effectively ambushed? They had been armed with the best weaponry currently available. The team contained two of the best soldiers she’d ever seen. Yet, all of them were now dead.

Worse, the werewolf still ran free, not that that had been anything more than a diversionary tactic in the first place.

And most importantly, she’d lost one of her greatest assets in searching for the artifacts on the Hellmouth.

Without Riley, Maggie no longer had a reasonable way of maintaining contact with the Slayer. Under her instruction, he had slowly been insinuating his way into her circle of acquaintances. Already, he was on a friendly basis with Willow Rosenberg, and his last report had stated that he was well on the path to gaining a date with Buffy Summers. He’d been reluctant for the subterfuge at the beginning, but once Maggie had explained the significance of what they were trying to accomplish, and how unorthodox and unpredictable the Slayer had been in the past, he’d agreed that perhaps the deception was necessary in order to gain her trust.

All of that was now moot, though. Riley was dead. Beyond the realm of the classroom, Maggie’s contact with the Slayer was now severed.

The information that the Initiative had already collected indicated that the Slayer was a necessary component to retrieving the artifacts, though what the specifics of that were, they still had no concept. Even though their searches had yet to unearth anything, Maggie could not allow such a trivial detail as this young woman derail all her hard work.

It was time to call in her back-up for Riley.

He would not be happy about it, but his hunger for the decimation of all HST’s exceeded anyone else’s Maggie had ever known. If she explained to him that this was the only way to retrieve the power they needed to further their offensive, he would fall into line.

He had to.

She refused to fail.

 

To be continued in Chapter 11: Quenched in a Cool Well