DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CX.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Everyone has retired for the night after capturing Graham…

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

Chapter 20: I Have Looked on Truth Askance

Any morning in which he woke up with Buffy in his arms was a good one, Spike decided. It didn’t even matter that she was out of bed a moment later, making apologies for having to skip out and leave him alone. He’d woken up to a warm body, not a note. That was progress.

“…enough time to get changed for class,” she was saying.

Lacing his fingers together behind his head, Spike laid back to watch her run the brush through her hair, quick and casual and completely at ease around him, even if she wasn’t paying him any extra attention. “This goin’ to be a habit?” he asked.

“What?”

“Spending the night. Might be worth leaving some of your kit with me so that you don’t have to rush off so quick in the morning.” He grinned. “’Course, seein’ you without your kit on is good, too.”

Buffy was already shaking her head before he finished. “I can’t,” she said. “There’s school, and the fact that Mom keeps reminding me how much money she’s paying for me to live in the dorms, and we won’t even talk about how you’re living in a hotel at the moment.” She paused in mid-stroke, turning away from the mirror over the dresser to look at him. “How long do you think you’ll stay here?”

Spike shrugged. “Dunno.”

Chewing at her lip, she turned away, and he watched her in the reflection while she weighed her next words. “Maybe you should go talk to Wesley today,” she said. “You could talk to him about what he’s planning.” The next came out in a rush. “Just for ideas, of course. Since you’re both in the same boat, what with the motel no-tell lifestyle choices. Just because I brought it up last night doesn’t mean I expect you two to be sharing paddles or anything like that.”

A single brow shot up. “Don’t tell me you fancy me takin’ a paddle to the Watcher,” he drawled. “Though, considering the new look Red was tellin’ me he has, maybe he’s a gimp in Watcher’s clothing. He’d probably get off on it.”

“OK, first of all, ewww. Thinking of Watchers getting off is just a world of wrong. And second, Wesley doesn’t even have a limp.”

It took him a moment to realize how she’d misunderstood him. “That’s not---,” he started, and then stopped. He could be spending a lifetime explaining British slang to her if he so chose. Better to just leave it alone and let her ask about it if she wanted to know.

“We’ll see,” he said instead. “Gotta get myself sorted out with blood first. Left all my supplies at your place.”

Finishing pulling her hair back, Buffy nodded. “I better go,” she said, and was halfway to the door before stopping and rushing back to his side to drop a quick kiss to his lips.

Spike grabbed her wrist to pull her against him, ignoring her feeble protest as he deepened the kiss, forcing her to respond with more than the cursory goodbye she’d been about to grant him. He was still floating from what she’d said to him in the night, accepting him into her life as easily as she’d allowed William, recognizing that the git was still a part of him as much as he might hate to admit it at times. All would be well with the world, now that he had that from her. He didn’t care what it decided to throw at him next.

“I gotta go,” Buffy repeated. She pushed him with more force than he expected, breaking his hold and slithering off and away before he could stop her. “I’ll call you later,” she promised as she grabbed her bag by the door.

Then, she was gone. And as high as Spike had been with her in his arms, a faint bruising threatened his good mood before he shoved the traitorous thoughts away.

She was in a hurry. That was all. There wasn’t anything more to her quick departure than just that.

There wasn’t.

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

Light of day always made things seem different. It was easy to accept monsters when they were just dark patches against darker sky, when they vanished into dust the moment she killed them. And she was all right with their intrusions into her real life, too. She might not like it, but Buffy was well aware that monsters lurked in the sun just as easily as they did beneath the moon. They were just a different kind.

It was the everyday, run-of-the-mill things that were the most terrifying lately. Things like unexpected pregnancies, and unresolved feelings, and men who made vows to her that she wasn’t sure how to deal with. OK, one man. One vampire, rather. Just when she thought she might start coming to grips with it, some other bumper car of a problem came up and slammed into her from the side and sent her in a whole new, uncertain direction.

Being with Spike in the dark was simple. It was simple to accept the William part that she understood now knew still lurked inside him when it was just him and her. No pretenses, no reason for them to try so hard. She could almost tell him she loved him when it was just them in the dark.

But when she’d woken to that unmoving chest beneath her cheek, and swallowed against the nausea she now knew was morning sickness, it became much more real. Harder. Was there anyone in her life who wasn’t upset by Spike’s new presence? Willow, maybe, but Willow was having huge issues of her own, so Buffy knew she couldn’t rely on her for moral support.

That left Xander, Giles, and her mom. Not one of them had been overjoyed when they’d heard the truth, and Xander had still to learn about the baby. How would she be able to face the disappointment in those puppy dog eyes when he discovered the truth? Would he go to Spike while the vampire slept and stake him to free his friend from the responsibility of doing it later? Would he ever be able to look at the baby she carried with anything but contempt because he knew who the father was?

Her head ached from all the questions. Her heart ached from being unable to give Spike everything he was looking for, everything that William deserved. Buffy just ached.

Her eyes were downcast when she pushed her dorm room open, keeping it as quiet as possible in order not to disturb Willow. She was startled, then, when a different redhead glanced up at her from the other bed, smiling gently before returning to the book spread out before him.

“Willow’s in the shower,” Oz said.

“Oh.” Relief flooded through her that no comment was made regarding her appearance, but then again, this was Oz. He wouldn’t have said something about it anyway. For a moment, guilt stabbed at her selfish thoughts from earlier. She wasn’t the only one having a hard time of it currently. “How are you?”

“OK.” He held up his arm, and Buffy saw the white of a gauzy bandage poking from beneath his sleeve. “Willow patched me up.”

“Good. It was kind of a rough night.”

She was rummaging around in her closet when he spoke again.

“Xander told me what happened.”

Though she stiffened at the reminder, Buffy maintained her calm façade as she pulled out a clean blouse. “What exactly did he tell you?”

“All of it.” He paused. “Did you know about Willow?”

His tone remained neutral, but the mere fact that he’d broached the subject at all told Buffy how deeply it affected him. “No,” she admitted. “How is she this morning?”

“Shaken. A little stirred.”

“Giles said they’re going to start right in with the meditations and everything to help her deal with it. That should help.”

“Yeah. Hopefully. How’s Spike?”

The question threw her off-guard, and Buffy dropped the skirt she’d just been debating on. “Why are you asking about Spike?” This time, she looked back to see Oz regarding her.

“Xander said he brought me in. Since I got this…” He lifted his arm to indicate his injury. “…it makes sense he probably got a scratch or two.”

“Nothing major. One on his face but that was mostly gone when I left him this---.” She cut herself off, turning away as embarrassment flared in her cheeks.

“Would you do me a favor?”

“Sure,” she said, jumping at the opportunity to shift the focus away from her.

“Tell Spike thanks for me. That’s two I owe him.”

Like a fish, her mouth opened and closed to reply, but the words failed her. She was relieved when the door opened and Willow walked in, smelling citrus-y fresh and babbling away about the benefits of hot showers in the morning. When she spotted Buffy, the three settled into a facsimile of their usual banter, but each of them felt the awkwardness of their efforts.

Apprehension intruded on their attempts at normalcy, and while Buffy worried about those concerns that might be distracting Willow and Oz, she was even more wrapped up in the confusion swirling around inside her head.

She’d been wrong about not having moral support regarding Spike. For whatever reason, Oz had accepted the vampire’s presence, even going so far as to inquire after his wellbeing. On top of that, he’d accomplished something else for Buffy with his gentle questions, something she hadn’t expected but was surprisingly grateful for.

He reminded her of just how much Spike had given up to be near her on the Hellmouth, how much he was going above and beyond what he’d originally promised to aid in protecting her friends.

Spike didn’t have to do all this. Spike was choosing to do all this.

And the distinction mattered.

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

Though they’d gagged and blindfolded Graham, Giles still found it incredibly offputting to use the bathroom with someone else present, taking little comfort that the young man had been unconscious and therefore unable to hear him when Giles got up from bed to relieve himself. It just meant he had to be extremely quick about it, an action that had proved agonizing at best.

Showering was out of the question, of course. He had to make do with washing up in the kitchen sink until they were finished with Graham.

As he towel dried his hair, Giles couldn’t help but hear Spike’s warning come back to haunt him. “And what do you do with him when he doesn’t give you what you want?” he’d said.

It was a valid question, one which Giles had been too distracted by memories of Jenny and Angelus to pay much heed. But now, in the light of day, with the very real prospect of interrogating the vigilante just minutes away, he couldn’t help but wonder.

He wasn’t a demon, so death was out of the question. Since he was human, he was also bound by human laws, and should he be so inclined, he could very well press kidnapping charges against the lot of them. On the other hand, Oz could easily press his own charges back, so perhaps those would cancel the other out. They wouldn’t know until Graham woke up and starting talking.

A knock at the door broke his reverie, but before he could cross to open it, it flew open and a very much awake Xander stormed inside.

“Why, yes, you can come in,” Giles said dryly as Xander brushed past him to drop a bag of donuts on the counter.

He didn’t even bother with niceties. He launched straight into a diatribe.

“Do I look stupid or something?” Xander demanded. “Because I’m beginning to wonder if that’s how you guys see me and you’re just afraid to let me know. Don’t tell Xander; he just won’t get it. For some reason, I thought we were past all the dopey Xander can’t understand anything crap. What is it about me that means none of you can trust me with the truth? Huh? What is it? Inquiring minds are dying to know.”

Giles frowned. “What on earth are you talking about?”

“Buffy hanging out with the Ungrateful Dead, that’s what. And Willow’s trip down the magic brick road. And that both of those are courtesy of your little vacation back to the mother country this summer.”

With a sigh, Giles turned away. He should’ve known that was what was bothering Xander. “Buffy’s…relationship with Spike was not my tale to tell,” he said. “And you were aware of Willow’s problems with magic. We hardly kept you in the dark about that.”

“You didn’t tell me how bad it was. She’s my best friend, Giles. You don’t just hold that kind of information back.”

“We didn’t tell you because we didn’t know. None of us did. Apparently, Willow must’ve believed she could control it.”

“Yeah, well, apparently, Willow was wrong.” He shook his head, reaching for a donut and taking a large bite out of it. “I just can’t believe you let Buffy get involved with Spike,” he said through a mouthful of pastry. “We should just stake him and get him out of our misery.”

“As appealing as I find that proposal, I’m afraid Buffy might be a tad upset with us should we choose to arbitrarily kill the father of her child.”

Donut crumbs spewed from Xander’s mouth, hitting Giles in the face before falling to the floor. “Child?” he choked. “Buffy’s pregnant?”

Bugger. Buffy didn’t tell him that part.

“She’s only just found out,” Giles said, attempting to rectify what he’d created. “I, myself, only discovered the truth yesterday.”

“She’s pregnant?”

“I’m sorry. I thought you knew. When you were so upset---.”

“She’s pregnant?”

Giles sighed. Xander was just gaping at him in disbelief, crumbs still clinging to his lips. “Yes, for the last time, Buffy is pregnant. And she claims that it’s Spike’s child.”

“But…how? Why?” He paused. “How?”

Handing over the towel to allow Xander to clean himself off, Giles replied, “It’s a long, involved story. One I would prefer Buffy tell you herself.”

“But vampires can’t have kids. If they could, we’d have little baby vampires running around all the time.”

“Spike wasn’t a vampire at the time.”

“…Huh?”

With a shake of his head, Giles turned his back on Xander and walked from the room. “You’ll need to sit, I think. And leave the donuts in the kitchen. I don’t wish to have any more crumbs to clean up.”

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

Thankfully, Xander sat silent throughout most of the explanation, only once speaking up to make an offhand observation about a Marty McFly that Giles didn’t completely understand. When Giles was done, he peered at the young man through his glasses, trying to decide whether this stoic response was about to explode into something more violent or if Xander was actually going to accept this in a mature fashion. Frankly, it was impossible to gauge.

“You say you met him?” Xander’s tone was deceptively calm, as if he was lost in thought. “What was he like?”

“Quite personable, actually,” Giles admitted. “A scholar, well-mannered. Rather like Willow, actually, except…male.”

“And you’re sure it wasn’t all hocus pocus courtesy of that witch? She didn’t just make you think you were meeting him?”

“Quite certain. And then there’s the matter of Buffy’s pregnancy test confirming it as well.”

“Right,” he muttered. “The rabbit died. All the proof in the world.”

For a long moment, the silence between them hung in the air like heavy cotton wool, choking Giles and driving him to resume the pacing that had punctuated most of his tale. In the long run, though this was not a task that he would’ve requested nor wished for, he supposed that it was probably best for Xander to learn the story this way as opposed to sitting through Buffy’s emotion-colored version or Willow’s skewed perspective. At least Giles was reasonably unbiased regarding the circumstances, and he had actually met William so could give a proper description of what a human Spike was really like.

“Why?” Xander asked. He was still calm, but his hands were beginning to knot in front of him.

“Why what?”

“Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

Ay, there’s the rub.

“Things were…complicated.”

“And I’m too stupid to understand, is that it? Everybody graduates and goes off to college, and suddenly, Xander’s too dumb to be in on all the secrets?”

“You’re taking this out of context. Buffy didn’t even tell her mother about what happened in London. Why would she tell you, when you so obviously detest Spike?”

“Maybe because I’m her friend? But I guess that doesn’t count for anything any more. It looks like the only way to get Buffy’s attention is to have a set of fangs and a leather coat.” He rose to his feet, ready to storm out of the apartment, but Giles quickly moved to bar his way.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“To talk to Buffy. To try and talk some sense into her. She’s got to be under a spell or something---.”

“There’s no spell,” Giles interrupted. “We ruled out the possibility of that back in London.”

“There’s got to be a reason why she’d turn her back on her friends like this.”

“She hasn’t---,” he started, and then sighed. This line of defensive comments was getting him nowhere. “I understand your feelings are hurt,” he started again, “but Buffy made the choice to keep a great number of people in the dark regarding what exactly happened to her. In fact, until yesterday, the only two who did know were Buffy and Spike. The only reason I found out is because the pregnancy dictated her coming clean. She expressed great concern about making sure you found out as delicately as she could. She wanted to make it as easy for you as possible.”

“Then she should’ve told me as soon as I got back into town.” Xander’s voice was tight with pain.

“She was trying to put it behind her. Spike’s unexpected arrival…changed things.”

Xander’s throat convulsed, his jaw twitching as he tried to find the words that usually flowed so easily. “Why does it sound like you’re OK with all this?” he managed to ask.

“I’m trying to do what’s best for Buffy,” Giles said softly.

“Since when does that mean inviting her vampire boyfriends into our lives? Didn’t we learn that lesson with Angel? And Spike doesn’t even have a soul!”

“I’m very well aware of that, as is Buffy. However, it would seem Spike is determined to prove to Buffy that he’s changed.”

“Into what? Evil is still evil, no matter how he tries to spell it.”

“Perhaps…evil can be…tempered.” He couldn’t believe he’d uttered the words aloud. Though the possibility had been lurking behind his every action over the past few days, Giles had been making a concerted effort from vocalizing it. That made it real, and…he didn’t wish it to be so.

“I’m not pleased with Spike’s presence, either,” he continued. “But Buffy isn’t willing to consider cutting him out of her life just yet, especially with their child on the way, nor does it seem Spike would leave her or the baby behind without a vigorous fight. That doesn’t mean he can’t be useful, though. In all fairness, it’s likely we wouldn’t have discovered Oz in time last night to save him without Spike’s intervention. Add that to the fact that he saved both Willow and Oz the night previous, and you must admit, he could make a formidable ally.”

“Until he gets bored playing nice-nice, you mean,” Xander said. “Because let’s face it, Spike’s the star attraction at Short Attention Span Theater.”

“I’m not saying you have to be his best friend. On the contrary, I think it’s absolutely vital we remain vigilant in watching our backs where he’s concerned. I’m merely suggesting that for Buffy’s sake, for her health and for the child she carries, we do what we must to make this as easy as possible for her. There is much more at stake here than what you presume, Xander. If the Council finds out about her pregnancy---.”

Xander groaned, his shoulders slumping. “Don’t tell me we have to start worrying about those guys again,” he complained.

“I’m afraid so. They hold rather antiquated ideas regarding their Slayers. Combine that with the circumstances of Buffy’s conception, and things could get very uncomfortable around here for her. I’m simply trying to do everything I can to ensure that that doesn’t happen. Unfortunately, that includes cooperating with Spike. For the time being.”

It was the most potent argument Giles knew he could voice. In spite of all his vampire prejudices, Xander would do whatever he must to help Buffy out, and it was that sense of loyalty that Giles was appealing to. Them against the world, as it had been during high school. Solidarity of the right against the wrong. At the heart of it, Xander was still just a young man desperate for peace.

“Just tell me there won’t be any more secrets,” Xander said, the pleading tone of his voice the only concession it would seem he was going to make. “This will be a lot easier if I know I’m not going to be left out of the loop from now on.”

“No more secrets,” Giles assured.

The frustrated tension between them eased, though Giles wasn’t foolish enough to think that Xander wasn’t still upset by the new information. After all, he’d been aware of Buffy and Spike’s relationship for much longer and was only now starting to understand the depths to which it ran. It would take time, but perhaps this was the first step in coalescing the group post-Sunnydale High. Life was offering them different paths, and while it would be incredibly easy for them to diverge, they performed much more effectively and were much stronger both individually and as a whole when they shared the same one. Or at the very least, similar ones.

He hid a smile from Xander as they started to discuss the upcoming interrogation of the vigilante. Perhaps Spike’s fortuitous arrival in Sunnydale could be providential. He strongly suspected William would appreciate the irony.

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

With the sun out in full, blazing glory, his options were limited, but Spike had learned this town like the back of his hand the first time he’d made it home; that kind of knowledge didn’t just go poof with the advent of impending fatherhood and recovered memories. With the tunnels and a bit of good old-fashioned William the Bloody tenacity, Spike could get to just about anywhere.

Except, for some inexplicable reason, any of the entrances to the Watcher’s hotel.

He gazed at it from the shadows across the street, scowling at the swathe of sunshine that blocked his path. He’d stalked the tunnels below for over an hour trying to find a route that would take him closer, but this particular domicile was probably the only soddin’ building in the whole of the Hellmouth without sewer access. The best he could manage was the greasy spoon behind him, but it still kept him a good fifty feet from his intended target.

Spike’s mood was growing fouler with each passing minute.

The day had started well. After Buffy’s departure, he’d had a good wank and then scarpered off to shake down Willy for some blood, smokes, and information, all in that order. The squirrelly barman had been flabbergasted when Spike had come swaggering in as if he’d never left town, but it had taken only the threat of draining Willy dry to get him to start ponying up what the vampire was after. Thirty minutes later, Spike hit the sewers with a promised delivery of daily blood, two cartons of cigarettes in his duster pockets, and the name of the demon who ran one of the most lucrative poker games in the city. Willy wasn’t sure Clem dealt with any cash games, but if Spike had to flog the kittens afterwards for the dosh, so be it.

That just left speaking with the Council prat about looking for new digs. Frankly, the idea of sharing a flat with anyone who wasn’t Buffy made Spike’s skin crawl, but she’d had a point about saving money. Plus, given the choice of which bag of blood and bones he preferred to shack up with, Wesley was nearer the top of the list than either Rupert or Harris. The bloke seemed just a mite more open-minded about Spike’s presence in Sunnydale, not to mention he chose to get around on a motorcycle instead of a beat-up Citroen. That was enough to testify to the Watcher’s potential not to be a complete git.

So, for the sake of his future and the reputation he was determined to hold on to regardless of who he happened to be shagging, Spike had gone off in search of Wesley. And hit the bloody great wall of sunshine.

Whirling on his heel, Spike marched into the diner, shoving the door open so violently that the bell overhead snapped off and went flying through the air. “Should fix that,” he growled at the waitress who turned saucer eyes to stare at him, and then skirted the sunlight-flooded front window to take a booth in the corner.

“What’ll you have?” the waitress asked, stopping a good four feet from the table. Her pencil shook slightly in her hand, and her gaze kept jumping from his coat, to his hair, and to the hands that were at that moment pulling out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. “Um…you can’t smoke in here.”

He held her gaze as he stuck the cigarette in his mouth and lit it with a quick snap of his lighter. Blowing the smoke in her direction, Spike said, “Burger. Bloody rare. And some of that hot sauce on the side.”

“Anything to drink?”

He gave her his most devilish leer. “I prefer my drinks on tap,” he said, and ran his tongue over the edges of his teeth.

“Water, then,” she said, and snapped her pad shut, scurrying away to leave Spike chuckling in the corner.

He had no intention of hurting her, of course. But it never hurt to stoke what fear and respect he could in the general populace. People were less apt to cross him and thus force him to contemplate going over that imaginary line he’d drawn for himself, if they feared what the result might be.

While he waited for his food to come out, Spike mulled over his options in getting to the Watcher’s room. He was lost in thought when the front door opened again, so he never saw her enter the diner. It wasn’t until the tickle at hearing an English accent in the middle of sunny California pricked at his consciousness that Spike glanced up. And promptly froze.

At the counter, ordering a cheese sandwich to go, was Esme.

 

To be continued in Chapter 21: The Imprison’d Absence of Your Liberty