DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CLIV.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy has confirmed via a test that her pregnancy is real, and then agreed to stick around Spike’s hotel a little longer so that they can talk…

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

Chapter 11: Quenched in a Cool Well

The steaming water traced illicit paths down the tiled walls, patterns mirrored on Buffy’s skin, and she stared at the designs it made as her hand rubbed absently at her stomach.

Pregnant.

She was pregnant.

With Spike’s baby.

She squeezed her eyes shut, tilting her head back into the spray to feel it pelt into her scalp.

Not Spike’s. William’s.

That was how she had to think of it. That was the only way she was going to be able to deal with this; it was the only way she was going to be able to sell keeping it to Giles and her mom.

Even if the line between William and Spike was so blurry now as to be almost nonexistent.

He’d terrified her when he’d bluntly asked her if she could kill the baby. Thoughts of terminating the pregnancy had been floating around before that, but the images his question raised had sickened Buffy to the point where the issue was moot. She couldn’t. He knew she couldn’t. She realized he was just making sure she knew that, too.

But keeping the baby carried with it a whole bunch of new problems that made introducing Spike to her life in Sunnydale seem as easy as sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night. A caustic laugh was torn from her throat. If she’d thought telling Xander about Spike was going to be hard, just wait until he heard that she was also pregnant with his baby. There was a very good likelihood that Xander’s head was going to explode from the news.

Willow would be supportive. She understood. She’d seen firsthand just how deeply William had affected her, had seen how Spike had been after he’d regained his memories. She would stand by Buffy no matter what she decided.

But then, there were Giles and her mom.

She was fairly certain the two adjectives to describe their reactions would be “disappointed” and “homicidal.”

And yet…Spike was right. Part of her wanted this baby. Wanted this piece of William, both to have the proof that it had happened and to be able to give back just a little bit to the poet who had helped her heal. Even besides that, there was the distinct possibility that this might be the only shot Buffy got at having one. She hadn’t been kidding about the limited lifespan, and to be honest, having Spike around to constantly remind her of William, Buffy wasn’t too sure how likely it would be she’d be having another serious relationship any time soon.

Unbidden, her gaze strayed downward, settling on the hand that hadn’t left the flat of her stomach since she’d stepped under the showerhead. How long before she would start showing? Maybe it wouldn’t be necessary to tell anyone right away. Maybe she had time to figure out how she could break the news. After all, it wasn’t going to hurt the baby’s feelings if her friends didn’t know about its existence the second she did. If she waited, she could always pretend that she had only just found out.

But Spike would know.

Spike would tell.

Maybe if I asked him not to.

She didn’t know if that would be enough.

William wouldn’t---.

Her eyes stung with sudden tears, and Buffy turned around in the spray to feel the water scoring into her skin before she lost control. William wasn’t here. It didn’t matter what he would or wouldn’t do. It was pointless to speculate because William wasn’t around to say yea or nay.

Except he was, in a way.

The unexpected cry choked in her throat, and she bent her head as the sobs shook her slim frame. God, she was so confused. Seeing Spike had brought it all rushing back, even more so than noting how he was signing off on his letters or how he was using his poetry to try and ease his way into her life. She looked at Spike, and she saw William, and she wasn’t so sure that they were really all that different any more.

And she wasn’t so sure she wanted to think they were.

“Buffy?”

She jerked at the sound of his voice, whirling instinctively in its direction. Through the semi-transparent shower curtain, she saw Spike’s blurry outline in the doorway, and deliberately straightened her shoulders.

“There’s such a thing as knocking, you know.” Her voice’s composure took her by surprise, and she took what strength it offered and held it close. “What do you want?”

There was a pause, and she watched as he took a step further into the room, his features coming into sharper focus through the plastic as he did so. “Heard you crying. You all right?”

Damn it. She was going to have to remember the vampire hearing when she was around Spike now. No letting her guard down for a minute.

“I’m fine,” she replied. “I just…everything just hit me all of a sudden. But I’m fine now. Really.”

That sounded plausible, even to her ears. Pregnant women were notorious for being moody, right? Surely it would be enough to convince Spike to leave her alone, even if he did sound like he was worried about her.

But he didn’t move. Backwards, that is. Instead, he closed the bathroom door, and hopped up onto the counter, looking very much like he was settling in while she showered.

“What’re you doing?” Buffy demanded, poking her head out around the curtain. “Kinda naked here, in case you didn’t notice.”

“I noticed.” His head tilted as he tried to see past the hem of the plastic, sending a rush of heat to a place on Buffy’s body that it was impossible to blame on the hot shower, but all too quickly his eyes were back on her face. “Just thought you might feel like starting our little talk now, is all.”
“I thought you were going to get me some food.”

“It’s got.”

“Oh.” It was too hard to keep up the act with him staring at her, so Buffy ducked back under the water, averting her eyes back to the rivulets running down the tiles. “I’ll be out in a minute then. Let me just…rinse off.”

Continuing the forced nonchalance, she reached for the washcloth and wiped it over her face. When she lowered it, however, a quick glance out of the corner of her eye revealed Spike still sitting on the counter, watching her just as closely as he had when he’d first entered.

“You’re still here.”

“You were crying.”

“No, I wasn’t.”

“Liar.”

Buffy exhaled, trying to stem the urge to let the tears flow again. If this was any indication of what her emotional state was going to be like for the next nine months, maybe she needed to reconsider keeping the baby. She didn’t know if she was strong enough to deal with all of this.

“You are, you know.”

His voice was low, muffled by the curtain and the wash of water over her ears. But the certainty with which he spoke made Buffy’s flesh ripple in goosebumps. Spike could still do the mindreading thing when it came to her, it would appear. It had always been freaky the way he could figure out what she was thinking, sometimes before she even did.

Her eyes widened. Was that a remnant of William that had remained after his memory had been taken away? She hadn’t considered that before, but then again, it had been months since she’d been face to face with this side of him.

Spike was still talking.

“Know your vision’s a bit tunneled with the news and all, but that’s just because it’s fresh. There’s not one thing in your life you haven’t beaten, pet. It’s just a matter of gettin’ some perspective.”

“Please tell me you didn’t come to Sunnydale to be my own personal Tony Robbins, because I’m fairly sure that falls well within the death-worthy specs we agreed on.”

“You know why I’m here.”

“Yeah, apparently to thin out the rest of the demon-hunting crowd.”

She silently winced as the barb slipped automatically from her tongue. She knew very well that he’d probably only killed Riley and the others to protect Oz and Willow---and a small matter of self-defense, according to Oz---but that didn’t negate the fact that they were still human and he was still a vampire. If she just sat back and accepted that without question, how could anyone take her seriously as the Slayer? How could she respect herself?

“All right,” Spike said slowly. She could tell he was pissed, but he was doing his best not to lose it. “Not exactly the topic I would’ve chosen to lead with, but if that’s what you want to talk about, so be it. Fire away, Buffy.”

“Did you feed from them?” The question came out before she could stop it. It was the first suspicion that had haunted her, and it was the potential answer that filled her with the most dread. She hadn’t bothered to inspect the bodies, but she suspected that was at least partially due to being scared of what she was going to find.

“No. And to head off the second part of that, no, I didn’t feed while I was gone, either.”

“You…didn’t?”

“Won’t lie and say I didn’t want to or that it wasn’t a ball-buster to stick to a bagged diet, but yeah, I didn’t. Made you that promise, didn’t I? How many times am I goin’ to have to make it clear that I don’t go back on my word before you start believing me?”

She risked stealing a glance through the curtain but only saw the fuzzy white of his bowed head. The realization that he was hurt she wasn’t trusting him made her guilt return with a fiery vengeance.

“I’m trying,” she said, and wondered if her voice was so low that he wouldn’t understand her. “Do you know how hard this is for me? What you want, it’s not going to happen overnight, Spike. This isn’t just about me. This is about my friends, and my family, and---.”

“Our baby.”

That word. Our. Like they were a couple. He used it so freely, like he believed in it. Did Buffy? Could Buffy? It was taking all she had to wrap her brain around the pregnancy, and here he was, taking it all in stride, as if his whole world hadn’t just turned upside down with the announcement.

She wasn’t ready to talk about that just yet with him. Better to go back and talk about the other.

“Why did you do it? Kill them, I mean.”

“Heard the lot talkin’ how they were goin’ to take Red’s wolfboy in. I couldn’t very well let that happen, now could I?”

“You didn’t have to kill them. You could’ve just incapacitated them.”

“I was outnumbered four to one, luv.” He sounded exasperated, like he was having to explain to a child. “That’s not usually bad odds for me, but these blokes were armed to the gills. It was me or them. I picked me.”

That was what Oz had said. Was it an attitude she could really blame?

“And I only killed that last one because he pulled a blade on me,” Spike was saying. “Red and the other---.”

“Oz.”

“---seemed to know who he was. So, if you want to get your knickers in a twist ‘bout this, be my guest, but don’t be tellin’ me you wouldn’t have done the exact same thing. I’ve seen you with your friends. You’re like a mother lion when it comes to protecting them, even if they don’t need it.”

“The difference is, you got off on killing them, didn’t you?”

“Well, yeah. Still a vampire, last time I checked.”

She sighed. He was going to have an answer to all of her arguments, and worse, more than half of them were likely to be good ones. This wasn’t a battle she was going to win tonight, if ever.

“If you’re not goin’ to wash, why don’t you get out, pet? This convo will be a bit more comfortable in the other room, I’d reckon.”

His words sparked her to start scrubbing at her skin again. “I’m washing! See? This is me being Miss Clean.”

“I think you’re stalling. If you didn’t want to face me, why the hell did you stay?”

Good question. Because I didn’t really want to go. Because I missed you.

“Because we have things to talk about.”

She was a coward to the nth degree.

She heard Spike sigh in disgust, hopping down from his perch on the counter and start pacing in the tiny space. “This isn’t talkin’, Buffy,” he said. “This is you and me, goin’ around in circles. I’m not interested in circles any more. Been around this rock more times than you can imagine, and I’d finally thought I was comin’ home. To you. And now here I am, and all I can bloody think about is---.”

He cut himself off, and Buffy held her breath while she waited for him to finish what he was going to say. She was about to prompt him to continue when she heard the unmistakable sound of a zipper being pulled down.

“What are you doing?” she asked, her voice panicked.

“You’re obviously not comin’ out,” he said. “So I guess I’m comin’ in.”

“No!” Her fingers scrabbled for the faucets, trying to turn off the water. “I’m coming out! Stay there! And for god’s sake, keep your pants on!”
From the far end of the tub, a cool rush of air tickled Buffy’s bare bottom, and she whirled to see Spike stepping into the shower. Her arms lifted to automatically cover her breasts, but the rest of her froze as her eyes fell over his pale form.

Time had been good to Spike. Very good. It was as if someone had taken William and carved away the rest of the softness of his muscles, sculpting powerful arms, lean thighs, that taut stomach. There was one part of him, however, that was completely the same, and Buffy jerked her eyes away from his semi-erect cock to stare at him in stunned disbelief.

He wasn’t being nearly as discreet as she had been in looking her over. As she watched, his head tilted, his gaze insinuating across her hidden breasts, lingering on the flat of her abdomen before devouring the length of her legs. By the time his eyes returned to hers, the blue of Spike’s irises had been swallowed by the pupils, and there was no mistaking the tension now tightening his jaw.

“Do you ever dream about the last time we were like this?” he murmured. He reached forward to stroke the golden curve of her shoulder. “It’s not exactly the same, but…God, you’re just so beautiful.”

Keeping him at a distance was much easier when he’d been safely on the other side of the shower curtain, not to mention clothed. Now, Buffy was having a hard time remembering why she’d been so determined not to tell him what had been bothering her.

“This isn’t talking,” she said. “This is touching.”

His hand dropped, and he leaned against the wall. “Right,” he said. “So I s’pose I’m goin’ to go first in our little tete-a-tete here.”

“You don’t---.”

“I was lookin’ for Rose.”

The blunt admission shocked her into silence, and Buffy immediately forgot that she was standing naked in front of him. “Why?” she finally managed.

Spike shrugged. “Thought she could give me something to bring back for you. I always thought there was more to her bein’ around Richard and bein’ so protective of you than she let on. I guess…I thought I could convince her to tell me what it was she was hiding. Maybe let me in on something that might help you out.”

“Did you…did you find her?”

His hesitation spoke volumes. “She was in Barcelona. Turns out we were too late, though. Someone else got to her before we did. Don’t think she even saw it coming.”

He was using the same “we” that he’d been using in his letters. “You weren’t alone.”

“No.” He paused, though his gaze never left hers. “Asked that Watcher bird to help me find her.”

It took a second for it to register just who it was he referring to, but when it did, Buffy’s jaw dropped. “You were with Lydia?”

“It was just a business arrangement---.”

“She’s obsessed with you!”

“Well, yeah, I’d say she fancies me a bit---.”

“A bit is the understatement of the century. I can’t believe you were with Lydia! Did you know she was ready to sell out the Council just to get a little more information from me about you? She’s not exactly someone you can trust, Spike.”

“She had resources I needed. And, she was the reason I found Rose in the first place. And…are you jealous, luv?”

“What? No! I mean, there’s no reason for me to be jealous. It’s just…” Buffy’s voice faded. No wonder Spike had never mentioned it before now. Her stomach flipflopped at the prospect of his involvement with the Watcher. Had he? Of course, he had. He’d been alone with her for weeks, and Lydia was completely in love with him. What guy wouldn’t take advantage of that?

“It was just a business arrangement, Buffy.” His voice was soft, coaxing her to look at him again. “Nothin’ happened between us. She’s not you.”

The last drove her head back up, and she chastised herself for the burning in her eyes. I’m not going to cry in front of him, she said. I’m being stupid. There’s nothing for me to be jealous about because there’s nothing going on between me and Spike.

Which, of course, is why I’m standing naked in a shower with him.

Damn it.

Taking a small step toward her, Spike lifted a hand to cup her face, his thumb brushing away some of the moisture that clung to her cheek. “Know we’ve got a fair bit to learn yet ‘bout what’s been goin’ on,” he said, “but there’s some things that haven’t changed. I still love you. As soon as I realized I wasn’t goin’ to get what I wanted with Rose, I was on a plane to California so I could be with you again. I didn’t even bother to wait for Lydia at the airport. For all I know, she’s still in LA, tryin’ to suss out what exactly happened to me.”

She couldn’t help the quirk of her lips. “You ditched Lydia?”

“Bloody right I did. She probably would’ve tried detouring us through the Grand Canyon on our way here, and I didn’t need anything that was goin’ to keep me from my promise any more than I already had.”

Her stomach turned again, but this time it wasn’t because of her roiling emotions. It was because of the gentle way he was sliding his hand through her wet hair, letting his fingers comb through the long locks, watching them drop and cling to her damp skin with a barely disguised hunger to take their place.

“I still can’t believe you’re here,” she said.

His palm ghosted over the swell of her breast, not touching but shaping the sultry air around it as if he was molding it to Buffy’s form. “Did you really miss me?” Spike asked.

“Yes.” It was pointless to deny it. “Nobody else…” She swallowed. “Nobody else understands me like you do. I missed…my friend.”

His hand floated over her stomach now, and after a moment of hesitation, he pressed it flat to her, closing his eyes. She knew he was listening to the baby; she only wished she could hear what he was hearing.

“You’re the only one who ever thought I was worth anything.” There was a catch to his voice, thicker than the one that had been there when he’d posed his previous question. “Outside of my mum, you’re the only one who ever gave me a chance.”

“What about---?”

But he stopped her before she could say the name.

“I was just a distraction for Dru,” Spike said. “Someone to keep an eye on her when Angelus and Darla couldn’t be bothered. Took decades for me to get her to myself.”

“But…she loved you.”

“Yeah. But apparently, not enough.” He looked up then, his hand still over her stomach. “Not like you do.”

Though he used the present tense, and though her mouth opened to contradict the truthfulness of his statement, Buffy found that she couldn’t, not while he was looking at her with such undisguised need. Not while those were William’s eyes begging her not to spurn him like the others.

Not while he was right.

“It’s not going to be easy,” she said instead.

“Good things never are.”

“I’m serious. People are going to wig when they hear you’re back in town. And this thing with the baby? I’d seriously start thinking about buying a crash helmet of some kind because I’ve got a feeling my mom is going to be dragging out her axe again when she finds out. And then there’s---.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’m here now. I’m not goin’ anywhere. People are just goin’ to have to either come to terms with that or bugger off.”

He said it so matter-of-factly, like it was an unalterable truth along the lines of the earth being round or pashminas being so last year. Then she realized…he believed it.

And all her fears washed away.

“I was crying because I was so glad you were back,” she confessed. “And it scared me.”

Gently, Spike let his hand slip from her stomach, around her hip to the small of her back, and he tugged her flush against him. “Know how much you hate that,” he murmured.

His eyes were fixed on her mouth, and his cock was thickening against her stomach. Slowly, Buffy lifted her fingers to his face, outlining his cheekbones with the fragile grace of someone who was afraid to forget, tracing the scar in his eyebrow with growing curiosity, sketching the slope of his nose. Though their bodies barely touched, she could already feel the bonds entangling them further, and knew that they’d been doing so ever since that first night she’d drunk Willow’s tea and met a shy young poet desperate for love. If she struggled against them, she would end up strangled. The only hope she had to survive was to concede to their strength.

“We got back to touching again,” she said softly. When he stiffened slightly against her, muscles tense to pull away, Buffy slipped her arm around his neck to stop the motion. “Maybe it’s time we did that instead of talk.”

Slowly, she saw the rush of delight come to Spike’s eyes, but he soon dropped his gaze again to her mouth, lowering his head at the same until their lips brushed against each other. The insistent water pelting onto her back was forgotten as Buffy dissolved against him, shedding the ghosts of everything in the outside world to focus on this man and this time.

A growl escaped Spike’s throat as he buried his mouth in her neck, sucking and biting at the tender flesh it found while his hands explored the canvas of the rest of her body. “Too long,” he murmured. “Been dreamin’ about you, Buffy. Been in my head, in my gut. Felt you under my hands every night, but it wasn’t like this.”

Unseen, she couldn’t help but smile as her eyes fluttered shut. Some things were definitely different, but one thing had remained the same; he still loved to talk while making love to her. Would he start spouting poetry, too?

She almost hoped yes.

His endearments continued as he held her close, mouth cool against her hot, slippery skin, tattooing its path along her shoulders, across her collarbone, down between her breasts. He dropped to his knees, hands falling to steady her hips, and Buffy held her breath while she waited to feel what path his tongue was going to take.

Below the swell of her right breast.

Along her ribs.

Then, stopping on her stomach.

The seconds stretched into one minute, and then two, as she felt his mouth along her abdomen. “Bloody miracle,” he kept saying. “You have any idea how beautiful you’re goin’ to be? Not goin’ to let anyone else touch you, either. Mine, you are. Hard and sweet, and don’t you ever forget that. Know you want to, know it’s hard, luv, but this, this is just proof that we’ve both been given another chance, right? Bloody miracle.”

She wondered if he was even aware of what he was saying. When she looked down at the tousled curls, all she could see were his dark lashes against his pale skin, his lips constantly moving against her, kissing and licking and whispering his words like he’d been storing them up and was grateful for the release of the dam that had held them in. “Spike,” she said quietly, but her voice was drowned out by the noise of the water hitting the white tiles.

“Spike,” she said louder, and this time, he looked up, his mouth red and wet and glistening. Wordlessly, she tugged him back to his feet and turned so that her back was to the wall. With her arms around his shoulders, she lifted herself until her legs were wrapped around his waist, the tip of his hard cock pressing into her inner thigh.

“Are you sure?” he asked, and the softening of his accent revealed for Buffy more than his actual question.

Her reply was to slide her hips down, letting his thick shaft penetrate inch by inch into her soaking slit. Spike groaned as her muscles stretched and squeezed around him, his head dropping so that their brows rested on each other, and dug his fingers into her hips, silently imploring her not to stop, not to pull away, not to leave him. When he was completely buried inside, she held him there, allowing her to get adjusted to his girth, allowing him to get used to her heat, and let her lips caress the contour of his cheek.

She knew this was reckless of her. She knew that yielding to her desire for him, conceding to her love for the man he’d been, was not something she could’ve done in the light of day, or in familiar surroundings, or anywhere, anywhen that wasn’t here and now. Unlocking her heart so carelessly was like inviting a strange vamp into her dorm room, and yet, this wasn’t a stranger.

Deep down, she knew Spike. She may only be aware of slivers of his demon existence, but beneath it all, Buffy knew the man he’d been, and could see it even now.

Maybe not so reckless after all.

His lips were a waterfall touch along her neck as he began pumping in and out of her, sensations so familiar that they made Buffy want to weep. The hot shower masked the true temperature of his body, and with her eyes shut, she could almost imagine herself in the tub with William, remember the ravenous appetite he’d exhibited as he’d fucked her against the ceramic.

And then Spike spoke.

“Look at me, luv.”

Reluctantly, she opened her eyes, and saw him gazing down at her. His lids were heavy, his eyes black, but the craving for her within their depths was unmistakable.

“This is me,” he said softly, and released his deathgrip on her left hip to push back a piece of hair that had glued to her cheek. “I know…I know you wish it wasn’t, but I’d rather…” His pelvis stilled, his cock still buried inside her. “…if you don’t want to be here, with me, right now, I’d rather we stop this before you can regret it. I can’t…I don’t want…”

She silenced him with a kiss. “I know,” she whispered when she broke away. She began riding his length again, slow and sweet as their gazes locked. “I know.”

She didn’t know how long they lasted like that. Longer than she’d ever gone with William. Minutes. An hour. Forever. It didn’t matter.

When Spike finally came, he held her so tightly against him that for a few seconds, Buffy felt like she couldn’t breathe. The jerking of his cock as he shot deep inside her pulsed against her clit, making her come for the third time since they’d begun their dance, and she cried out his name as her nails dug into his back. The wonder when he turned his head to her was quickly followed by his lips on hers, and he kissed her more thoroughly than he had since their encounter at the Factory.

“I knew touching would be better than talking,” she said as she slid off his body.

Spike’s arms came around her to help guide the washcloth she’d grabbed to clean off. “Does this mean you’re takin’ off now?”

“I should.” But it was a reluctant reply. “I’m sure Oz has told Willow about you being back, and she’s probably worried. I shouldn’t make her night worse for her than it already has been.”

“’Course.” He rubbed the washcloth over her stomach, every once in awhile dipping to her wet curls but mostly concentrating on the flat of her abdomen. “Nothin’ says you can’t just lie down for a bit before you go, though, does it?”

The prospect of lying in his arms, of hearing his voice in her ear again, was suddenly too irresistible to deny. “Just a little bit,” Buffy said, keeping her voice as neutral as possible. “But then I really have to go.”

Spike pressed his mouth to the curve of her neck. “Of course,” he murmured.

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

With a heavy sigh, Giles closed the book he was reading and tossed his glasses onto the desk. He couldn’t concentrate. Misgivings about his decision to allow Esme to meet with Willow the following day were plaguing his every thought, and it was impossible to focus on the text Wesley had brought from the coven in England. He had dropped the pair off at the hotel they were staying at with barely two words to the witch and instructions to Wesley to pick up some items for the following day, hoping that he would be able to return to his flat and resume some of his reading without worry. He couldn’t. His conscience was betraying him.

It was Willow’s decision, of course. However, after the incidents in London, Giles feared the worst. Esme had been primarily benevolent in her dealings with Willow, but that was because she didn’t have her powers. She still didn’t have her powers, a small voice inside his head reminded him. But that didn’t negate how rabid Esme had been when it came to April and to Slayers in general. If Buffy discovered the truth about Esme’s presence, Giles wasn’t sure how she would respond. Esme was responsible for much, if not all, of the troubles in England.

Of course, she was also responsible for introducing Buffy to William, and inadvertently bringing Spike back into her life. It was likely that might soften the antagonism.

The thought made Giles weary.

He was still mulling over the repercussions of Esme’s presence in Sunnydale when a soft knock came at his flat door. Rising from his seat, he glanced at his watch as he went to answer it. Quarter to twelve. It was likely Buffy checking in from patrol.

It was a blonde on the other side of the door, but not the one he expected.

“Lydia,” he said. His gaze swept over her disheveled form, before glancing over her shoulder to see if she was alone. “What are you doing here?”

“Didn’t you get my message? I left you one when I was in Barcelona about our return to the States.”

“Yes, but…” Crossing his threshold, Giles frowned as he noted the empty courtyard. “You’re alone. Where’s Spike? Did you leave him at a hotel?”

His direct queries prompted her to duck her eyes, and her hand came up to brush nervously at her hair. “Yes, well, about that---.”

“This better not be bad news, Lydia.”

She took a deep breath. “I lost Spike in Los Angeles.”

“You what?” His voice echoed in the midnight air, and Giles grew immediately aware of the late hour. Stepping back inside his flat, he held the door open wider. “Get in here.”

He waited until she was sitting on the edge of his couch, her hands knotted tightly together in her lap, before speaking again. “What happened?” he asked. His nails were digging into his palms in his efforts not to lose his temper.

Quickly, she told the story, only occasionally meeting his eyes during the tale. By the time she was done, Giles felt as if his head was going to implode.

“I asked you to do one thing,” he said. “Monitor Spike’s movements.”

“Technically, you asked for two as I had to let you know where we were---.”

“Is it so difficult to lose a bleached English vampire in the middle of the day in one of the sunniest places in the world?” He began to pace, no longer able to contain the frenetic energy coursing through his veins. “And if your sources are correct, he’s likely already on his way here. How on earth am I going to intercept his first meeting with Buffy if I don’t even know when he’s going to arrive?”

“I tried---.”

“You didn’t try hard enough.”

She jerked her chin at that, eyes suddenly cold. “I did everything you ever asked of me, Rupert, and not once did I balk, even when I thought you were being a controlling, manipulative bastard. You wanted to know the contents of William’s letters? I broke his confidence and steamed them open so that you could have copies. You wanted me to slow down his arrival in Sunnydale? I planted false leads for him to follow that would delay our coming. Don’t tell me I didn’t try hard enough. I did more than enough.”

“And yet you still managed to lose sight of him before you reached Sunnydale. Funny, that.”

“I came here to tell you, didn’t I? I haven’t even checked into my hotel yet. My bags are still outside in the rental car.”

“Then I must thank you for making me your top priority.” The sarcasm pulled at his nerves, his frustration driving him to sink into the chair opposite her. “He’s going to go straight to Buffy. I’m going to have to warn her.”

“And tell her what? If you say one word, she’s going to know of your involvement. I thought that’s why you asked me to keep an eye on him, so that you could keep your hands clean of the matter.”

She had a point. Rubbing at his eyes, Giles felt his exhaustion begin to return, the shot of adrenaline her news had brought to his system already waning.

“I thought you agreed with me about William.” Lydia was still talking. “I thought we agreed that it seemed his intent was honorable.”

Of course, she would bring that up. When it came to romanticizing Spike, Lydia was the worst.

“I said, it would appear that he had residual feelings for Buffy,” Giles said.

“You also told me you rather liked William when you met him.”

The woman had the memory of an elephant.

“That’s not the point---.”

It was her turn to interrupt him. “I think it is, Rupert. You had no problems with William coming to Sunnydale. You were just concerned about the time frame. Deny it all you wish, but you were just as swayed as I was by the passion in his letters. Can you sit there and tell me that you truly believe he’s a threat to her any longer?”

Arguing with her was pointless. They’d had many conversations regarding the contents of Spike’s letters to Buffy. Lydia was well aware that Giles would never have given her his Slayer’s dorm address if he didn’t think that she was safe from the vampire. He would be a hypocrite to say otherwise.

“Still,” he said, “I’m going to have to bring it up to Buffy in some fashion. She’s not been entirely well lately and since she’s not been in contact with Spike---.”

“Yes, she has.” At his confused frown, she added, “William received a note from her just before we left Barcelona. She said…that she missed him.”

Well. That certainly answered some of his questions. Like why Spike had given up on his search for Rose. Like why he’d been so quick to lose Lydia once he’d finished his use of her. Telling Spike she missed him was as good as begging him to come back to her.

Suddenly, he felt completely drained. Between this and Esme’s arrival, it would seem that his life had just taken a much more dramatic turn, and not necessarily for the better.

“Would you care for a drink?” he asked, rising again to his feet. “Frankly, I need one right about now, and after hearing what I’ve had to endure the last twenty-four hours, I think you might, too.”

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

Her body was screaming.

Fire ripped through her back as she clung to the side of the cavern wall. Grit was ground beneath her short fingernails, and she’d scraped the inside of her knee when she’d rappelled over the edge into the chasm, but Havi was doing her best to ignore the discomfort. It wasn’t anything she hadn’t experienced before. It was just in a different locale.

Sweat dripped into her eyes, forcing her to blink rapidly to clear her vision. A quick glance down showed the bottom only a few more yards away. Jumpable. She’d done worse. Still, her body was tired from the flight from Barcelona. She didn’t want to risk pushing herself too hard. It was going to be a long night as it was.

When her feet touched the dirt floor, Havi unhooked herself from the rope and let the bag she carried slip from her shoulder. She tilted her head, cracking her neck, and felt the distinct pinch of the piercings in her nape. The pain was a good kind, though. Reassuring. The pain reminded her of who she was when sometimes, she could feel the fog of forgetting threatening to overwhelm her.

The cavern feasted on any stray light that managed to come down the slim chasm, leaving her in a comfortable blackness until her eyes were more adjusted to the lack of illumination. Slowly, Havi’s gaze swung around the small space, finding the yawning hole she was searching for. Everything she’d been told so far was correct; for that, she was grateful. This trip to Sunnydale was hard enough on her nerves not to have to worry about silly details such as new directions.

Grabbing her bag, she navigated the carved-out corridor, following its twists and bends into the inner chamber she sought. A light grew at the end of the path, and she stepped from the blackness to see the stone pool in the middle of the circular room. The light it provided cast the room in shades of silver and violet, and quickly, she strode to its side, kneeling before the crystalline water and closing her eyes as she bowed her head in prayer.

Her chant was almost too soft to be heard, a soft whisper that could’ve been a breeze as easily as it was a human voice. As she spoke, ripples began to form across the surface of the water, growing in intensity, abounding in strength, until its lapping against the stone sides drowned Havi out.

“Welcome, Child of Life. We have been expecting you.”

The soft chiming of the voice emanated from the water, halting Havi’s chant as she lifted her head to gaze into the mirrored surface. Though she had been around such power since she’d been told she would never be Chosen, feeling its silken touch gliding in and around her on such a close and intimate level unnerved her.

“I am here,” she said, and her voice was shockingly clear to her. “I await your further instruction.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 12: Play the Mother’s Part