DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CXVI.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Baltozar’s in a coma, Esme doesn’t know what she’s going to do now, Graham has a brief reprieve when Maggie thinks Baltozar is the one who kidnapped him, and the rest of the gang is just trying to get through each day as it comes…

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

Chapter 34: Brief Hours and Weeks

It shouldn’t have been so easy. He was the Big Bad. He’d terrorized whole armies of humans across most of the continents, leaving a scarlet river of bodies a mile wide in his wake. Where Spike went, chaos followed, and he wouldn’t have wanted the last century of his life to be any different. He was William the Bloody, Slayer of Slayers. Bunkering down on the Hellmouth amidst a group of people he’d tried to kill less than a year earlier should’ve made him absolutely miserable.

It wasn’t.

As it turned out, it was fuckin’ great. It didn’t take long for him to slip into this little family as if it was his own, and he knew exactly who was to credit for that.

Buffy.

She loved him. More importantly, she liked him. She did everything in her power to get the others to see in him just what she did.

Even when it drove him crazy.

“I’m not bloody wearin’ it!”

“But it’s cute!”

“It’s ridiculous! Besides, s’posed to be my night off, remember? Halloween’s for the prats who can’t handle bein’ truly evil the rest of the year.”

She just stared at him, arms across the breasts that were already starting to swell from her pregnancy.

They held the staring contest for a full three minutes before Spike grabbed the tweed jacket from the hanger, nearly ripping the sleeve off in the process. “If Harris says one thing that pisses me off,” he warned, “I’m tearin’ his tongue out, got it?”

“Xander won’t say a thing,” Buffy promised with a wide smile. “He’s going to be too busy staring at the hotness that is Havi. You should see the outfit Willow and I helped her pick out. Xander’s eyeballs are going to melt.”

“You makin’ her go as a bloody awful poet, too?”

“Nope. Salome. You should have seen her wigging out over all the scarves.”

When she turned her back on him to start gathering the pieces of her own costume, Spike grabbed her hips, pulling her back against him so that her ass nestled against his hardening cock. “Make a deal with you,” he murmured into her neck. “You arrange to get a few of those scarves after Oz’s little shindig and let me do what I want with them, and I won’t say another word about you makin’ me dress in this godawful kit.”

“It’s not godawful. It reminds me of when we were in the park.”

“Do we have a deal?”

She affected a put-upon sigh. “I suppose. Honestly, Spike, the things you make me do for you…” Her voice trailed away when he let her go, eyes twinkling when she danced beyond his reach again. “Don’t forget the glasses. The glasses make the outfit.”

“Yeah, yeah.” But his bad mood was gone in the wake of images of Buffy stretched out on her bed, slender wrists bound over her head.

“Oh, and by the way…” She shot him a wicked grin. “I’d already made those arrangements.”

Interspersed with the good, however, were moments when he wanted nothing more than to take the nearest inanimate object and shove it through the chest of the person who was currently pissing him off. Not surprisingly, that person was often of the male persuasion. Spike had always had trouble playing nicely with the other boys in the sandbox. But then someone would come along and either distract him from the tension at hand, or the person doing the pissing would go away, and Spike could go back to wondering just what in hell had happened to him that he’d gotten so bloody lucky.

Except he already knew the answer to that.

A spell. Mojo from the witch he detested more than anything in this world. Magic that had sent a lonely Slayer back in time to meet a lonely poet.

A tiny, infinitesimal part of Spike wanted to kiss the ground Esme walked on for getting that part right.

He just never admitted that part out loud to anyone.

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

After Baltozar went into his unfortunate coma, it was all about control with the Watchers. No longer was Esme allowed to interact with Willow at Mr. Giles’ flat with just anybody around. Oh, no. Wesley and Rupert and that little bitch Lydia who showed up out of nowhere decided to take the matter by the horn and messed with Esme’s plans in finding a new partner by closeting her away in a small house on the outskirts of town.

“Away from the direct influence of the Hellmouth,” Wesley reasoned.

Insufferable prat. As if the Hellmouth had anything to do with Esme’s desire to get her magic back.

Lydia and Wesley moved in, and the three became their very own bad British television show, polite and restrained on the outside, ulterior motives on the in. They refused Esme the dignity of leaving her alone for even a minute; if one of them went into the town, the other stayed behind. The only time Esme got any privacy at all was when she went to the loo. It was getting to the point where they were making noises about bringing her a doctor because they worried she had picked up some urinary tract infection.

The only breaks in the dull autumn routine came when Rupert brought Willow to the house. Wesley had created a schedule where Esme met with the young witch three times a week, but she was no longer allowed to work with Willow alone. All sessions happened in the middle of the living room, with all three Watchers hovering in the background. Even Willow had made a comment in the beginning about watched pots and boiling points, but she’d been ignored just as effectively as Esme. They had no choice but to conduct their training sessions with an audience.

Under any other circumstances, Esme would’ve been fascinated by the young girl. She was highly intelligent, with an eagerness to master the magic that reminded Esme of her own youth. More than once, she answered a question or mastered a relaxation technique with unequivocal speed, and she countered the Watchers’ careful probing with an ease that Esme admired. In another time and place, she would’ve loved to take Willow Rosenberg on as an apprentice.

This wasn’t it, though. This was a time to figure out how to get her powers back, now that she knew the trick in doing so.

But days stretched into weeks which stretched into months. And each bound the magic even more tightly to the redhead.

Each made Esme even more determined to get it back, once and for all.

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

She never said another bad word about the magic to Giles.

Oh, she meant to. Honest. More than once, Willow’s mouth opened up, all ready to spill about how exactly the power made her feel, and maybe it might be a good idea to siphon some of it away instead of channeling it, and that it was OK for Buffy to be the only one with super powers, really, but then a tiny voice in the back of her head would whisper, “Do you really want to do this?”, and she’d clamp her lips together, and smile, and forget about some of her worries until the next time she blacked out.

Because she was handling it. She was. The sessions with Esme were working---sort of---and more and more of Willow’s attempts to use the magic were actually turning out like she planned. Like the protection spell on Buffy…

“Thought you said you were goin’ to talk to Rupert about this, Red,” Spike said with a scowl as he watched her dig through Buffy’s drawers.

“I did. I was. But then he made that comment about meddling with forces unknown and I started to think that maybe he might not think it was such a good idea after all.”

“Didn’t want to be told no, huh?”

“Well, no. Hey, did you ever tell Buffy about that funny demon we ran into the other night on patrol who thought you were the master of Sunnydale?”

Spike shut up then. He wasn’t stupid. And he stayed quiet the entire time he helped Willow cast the spell. They knew it had worked as soon as Buffy came back from class and told the story of how a pile of books had nearly missed falling on her in the library, somehow hitting the poor guy at the table behind her instead.

Spike’s hidden smile had told Willow all she needed to know.

His glee hadn’t been quite so secretive when she surprised him after Buffy’s first baby clothes expedition…

“Still think it was a bloody waste of time,” Spike grumbled. “We don’t even know the sex of the little one yet. You’re goin’ to end up takin’ back half the rubbish you bought today.”

“Nuh uh,” Buffy said. “I’m keeping all of it. Unisex clothing isn’t just for rock stars any more.”

“Not to mention, we needed your car for transport,” Willow added.

He just scowled at her, his hands filled with shopping bags.

Buffy peered at the night sky as they walked through the nearly empty mall parking lot. “You think I can cancel patrolling tonight on account of too much shopping?” she asked.

“I’ll take the watch,” Spike said. “Just tell me---hey!”

He’d been too distracted with Buffy’s question to notice Willow snatching the keys from his pocket and racing for the trunk of the car in time to stop her.

“You are way too paranoid about people touching your car,” Buffy said as they walked up to it. She began taking the bags from a stunned Spike and dropping them into the open trunk. “You haven’t even painted it yet. I totally don’t see what the big is.”

Buffy was too absorbed in her shopping to notice the blatant sniffing Spike did in the car’s direction, and she definitely didn’t notice the wide grin Willow shot him when he looked to her in question.

“Yeah, Spike,” Willow said brightly. “You’d think you had a dead demon or something back here, the way you act.”

As Buffy went around to the passenger seat, Spike tilted his head, his gaze hesitant as he looked at Willow. “Did you…?” he started to ask, waggling his fingers in the direction of the car.

“Sure did. Oz said---.”

“Oz said what?” Buffy asked.

“Nothin’,” Spike said. “Let’s go.”

But his grin was beaming as he caught the keys Willow tossed to him.

Every time a spell went right, Willow gained an ounce more confidence. Though she wasn’t willing to try anything too experimental, there was one spell she was curious in working out that kept niggling at the back of her brain. Truth be told, it had niggled ever since Buffy had brought up the issue of Spike’s soul way back when he first returned to Sunnydale, but it wasn’t until she started to feel like she was controlling the magic instead of the other way around that Willow gave any serious consideration about it. She knew how Spike felt about the issue, and she knew just how unnecessary it really was for Buffy. There was really no need to conduct the spell.

It didn’t mean she couldn’t figure out how to do it anyway, though. It could be an intellectual exercise, rather than a practical application.

She tried to ignore the fact that part of her really, really wanted to see if she could do it. The repercussions of such a spell could be amazing.

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

The three men stood there and just stared at the car.

“Black’s classic,” Oz finally said. “I like it.”

“But this is his chance to break out of that stereotype,” Xander argued. “Be his own vampire. Announce to the world, hey, I like color, damn it. I say it’s time for Spike to embrace his inner rainbow.”

“And I say, I don’t care if you’ve worked on t-birds before, Harris, it’s time to shove that spanner up your---.”

“Guys. Focus. The car’s not getting any younger.”

Oz’s reminder drew them back into silence.

“All I’m saying,” Xander started again, “is maybe we can think outside of the box here. Just because it was black once, doesn’t mean it has to be black again, right? What about green? Or red?”

“Because I’m not a soddin’ Christmas tree, that’s why.”

“Have you asked Buffy what color she might like?”

“Why? So she can match it to her nail polish?”

Now you’re getting it.”

Oz glanced at Xander out of the corner of his eye. “I think he was being sarcastic.”

“Harris wouldn’t know sarcastic if it bit him on the ass.”

“And what exactly is your fascination with my ass tonight, huh, Spike? Is there something you’re not telling us?”

“You’re the one dripping with the fashion advice, mate. What’s the matter? Studs not putting out yet?”

“Leave Havi out of this.”

With a frustrated growl, Spike turned on his heel and paced away, turning back almost as quickly to return to Oz’s side. “Tell me again why I’m putting up with his mouth.”

“Because Buffy asked you to,” came the reply.

“And I s’pose you’re here because Red put in a request to see if I make nice-nice, right?”

“No, I’m pretty much here because I like the car.”

More silence.

“How about a nice baby blue?” Xander tried again.

“Where the hell did I put that gag?”

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

They didn’t actually spend that much of their time together talking. Xander learned quickly that Havi was a doer, not a talker, and besides, he was chatty enough for the both of them. After Cordelia and his brief foray with Anya at prom, it made for a nice change.

At first, spending time around the Summers’ house was meant to help her out. Make sure Spike kept true to his word. But the truth of the matter was that Spike was rarely there. He’d sleep during the day and as soon as he was up, he was off to see Buffy. He seemed to spend a lot of his free time at Stevenson Hall.

Part of Xander was jealous. A big part. Spike got the time with Willow and Buffy that used to be his, and it was hard to see the bloodsucker usurping his spot. It was Angel all over again, except Spike was far more persistent than the other vampire had ever been, and Xander spent a lot of time when he was with Havi complaining about that, even if she had no clue who Angel really was.

“But you’re still their friend,” she said. “If it bothers you so much, why are you here with me and not with them?”

“Because they’ve heard all my jokes,” he said with a wide grin.

She didn’t get that one. That was OK. Xander didn’t need Havi to feel uncomfortable because of his growing feelings for her. He felt uncomfortable enough for the both of them.

But she did have a point. From that moment on, Xander started being a little more proactive about spending time with the others. When Oz suggested they help Spike with the repaint of his car, Xander was there. When Giles asked for help getting information about local military operations, Xander beat Willow to the head of the line for the research. And when Buffy wanted a night out at the Bronze before she got too big to boogaloo, Xander was the one who arranged for the rest of the gang to show. He even made Havi come along.

Though he’d seen her just a few days earlier at Halloween, Xander was still surprised by how much bigger Buffy seemed already. How far along was she now? Three months? Four? She was still wearing Buffy-style clothes, but there was a little more movement in the fabric to allow for her swelling stomach. Xander couldn’t stop looking at it. Of course, it didn’t help that Spike’s hand always seemed to be splayed across the bump, drawing his attention like a magnet, like that was going to add just an smidge more protection. Stupid vampire hand.

“Come,” Havi said, pulling Xander from the stool.

“Where are we going?”

She didn’t answer. She just led him to the dance floor where a ballad was currently playing, and pressed herself into his arms.

“You were staring,” Havi murmured in explanation.

Her arms were around his neck, her words whispered directly into his ear. Xander was having a hard time trying to figure out where to put his hands. He was having a hard time, period.

“Why are you jealous?” she asked.

She’d pulled back far enough to look into his eyes, and not for the first time, Xander felt the surprise at meeting a woman on eye level. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “He bugs me.”

“But you don’t wish to be the father of Buffy’s baby, do you?”

The idea of him as father made him laugh out loud. “Because I’m just dying for yet another reason for my own father to mock me,” he said. “That would be no.”

“Spike is grateful for the role, and his devotion to her is…surprising.”

Havi did this more often not, made an observation that was both obvious and unspoken. Xander wanted to say it was because she didn’t know the others as well as he did, but he knew that was exactly the reason she could. It brought him back to earth, every single time.

Wordlessly, they continued to dance. The beat of the music lulled him into allowing his body to press to hers, and Xander forgot for a few minutes that he was supposed to be the gentleman here. For a few minutes, he could enjoy her muscled curves as if he was a guy and not a friend.

“I would like to kiss you.”

It was an unexpected breath in his ear. A tickle down his spine. Blood straight to his already-hard cock.

“I think you would like to kiss me, too,” Havi continued. “And I think that this time, it would be right.”

Right. Over two months since that night he’d taken her to the Summers’ home and she’d tried to show her gratitude with a blow job, and not surprisingly, this train of thought was doing nothing to diminish his desire for her.

So, he kissed her. And she kissed him. Right there on the dance floor. And while a small voice in the back of his head was crowing about Xander Harris getting approached by a hot, older woman---though, thankfully, not a praying mantis this time---he ignored it and just reveled in the moment.

Nobody said anything when they returned to the table. It wasn’t until Spike followed him up to the bar to get the next round of drinks that any mention of it was made at all.

“’Bout bloody time,” he said, his forearms resting on the edge of the bar as they waited for their order to come out. “Buffy’s been on my case about givin’ you a refresher course on how to tell when a bird is interested. Glad you’ve finally saved me the trouble.”

And that was that. No snide comment about his lack of manliness. No derogatory remark about Havi’s previous boyfriend.

Xander began to think that maybe he shouldn’t have waited so long to finally kiss her.

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

She went during the day while Spike slept. The first few times, Havi walked to the hospital, unwilling to let Xander aware of what she was doing. He wouldn’t understand.

She didn’t completely understand her reasons. But…Baltozar had nobody in Sunnydale. The hospital had the witch responsible for the burns on his body listed as his emergency contact. Somebody should care. Somebody should see that he was well tended to.

As the only one who’d ever loved Baltozar, Havi decided she should be that somebody.

She didn’t interact with him when she visited. Most of the time, she just spoke with the nurse on duty to get an update on his condition, and then spent a few minutes standing in the corner of his room. Watching. Wondering what had happened to get them to this point. She still loved him, in a tiny, dark corner of her heart that she didn’t dare reveal to the Slayer or any of her friends. They wouldn’t understand. They wouldn’t appreciate that it was still possible to love somebody who had caused so much hurt, even when common sense dictated it shouldn’t be. They wouldn’t get that she couldn’t just turn her feelings off like a leaky faucet.

It would hurt Xander, too. More than any of the others, he believed in Havi. She couldn’t risk tainting that. She was growing to need Xander more than she would ever have expected.

When Joyce found out about Havi’s visits, it was an accident. A coincidence of fate. Those seemed to prevail on the Hellmouth. Havi literally ran into the older woman as she was exiting the hospital, unaware that Joyce had arrived to visit someone else. She felt trapped beneath the benevolent gaze, and she tried to lie, but Joyce merely shook her head.

“You don’t have to explain anything,” she said gently. “You’re a grown woman. This is a decision you need to make on your own.”

“But it’s not what you think,” Havi protested. “I just wished…”

But she didn’t know how to voice it.

And Joyce never said a word.

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

For some reason, Joyce had expected life to change. These were broad strokes that had been painted. Buffy was pregnant. The father was a vampire. Said vampire was now living under Joyce’s roof, along with the odd young woman he held responsible for some unknown murder. All of these should have wound together and given her a brand new picture to call her life.

But they didn’t. Not really. Spike and Havi were getting along remarkably well, and Buffy was adjusting to the pregnancy with a graceful aplomb. Xander was spending an inordinate amount of time visiting, but Joyce thought it was sweet. He’d always been such a thoughtful young man.

Once the initial shock had worn off, Joyce found the notion of Buffy’s pregnancy more than exciting. There was going to be a baby in the house again. It pulled mother and daughter together, sitting down more than once to discuss the future. Eventually, they agreed that the winter semester would be too much for Buffy to tackle. Her due date was in April, which would not only interrupt her classes before finals but also make it difficult for Buffy to navigate campus in her later months. So they agreed that once the current semester was over, Buffy would move back home. What would happen after the baby was born was a topic tabled for a later date.

Joyce took a firm hand in Buffy’s prenatal care. She knew her daughter had a tendency to take the “I can handle it on my own” perspective when it came to her health, but on this, even Spike was in agreement.

“Little one’s goin’ to get the best,” he told both women in no uncertain terms. “And if that means you’re at that bloody doctor’s every single day, then so be it, Buffy.”

It was just a shame that Spike couldn’t tag along for the appointments. There was absolutely no cover at the clinic; it was almost as if whoever had designed the building knew about the high vampire population density and did everything in his power to safeguard the next generation of Sunnydale citizens.

The day of Buffy’s first sonogram, Joyce was surprised to find Rupert waiting for them at the clinic.

“Moral support,” he said simply.

Joyce suspected there was more to it, but Buffy’s smile of gratitude compelled her not to say anything. Together, she and Rupert waited as they took Buffy back, and when the nurse came out to say they could enter, she felt a slight trembling in her knees.

Buffy was beaming when they stepped into the room. “Look,” she said, pointing at the monitor. A small, shapeless mass was shifting at its center. “It’s Schmoo!”

Somehow, Rupert’s hand found its way to the small of Joyce’s back as they watched the attendant move the transducer over Buffy’s exposed stomach. They heard the questions Buffy kept firing off to the doctor about the baby’s health, and they each unconsciously relaxed as everything came back in the affirmative.

Life went on.

It always found a way.

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

In many ways, it was like starting all over again. As Buffy’s body changed, her efficacy diminished, and Giles was adamant about training on a daily basis in order to teach her the skills necessary to keep her alive. Her patrolling responsibilities were eased with Spike’s intervention, but his Slayer was still quite vocal about maintaining her presence for the local demon population. Giles was convinced that if Buffy had her way, she would be on patrol when her contractions finally commenced.

She did manage to keep her pregnancy a secret from her foes, however; he had to give her credit for that. Gone were the tight little shirts and trousers that Giles had always disparaged. Now, traditional fighting attire consisted of baggy sweatpants and a loose t-shirt. It still allowed her freedom to move, and, most of the time, even Giles could pretend that she wasn’t pregnant. But then Spike would invariably show up and spoil the moment by putting a possessive hand to Buffy’s stomach, and the spell would be shattered. Denial was a difficult thing when they were both so obviously in love with their impending child.

That love transcended the pregnancy. With every passing day, the evidence of Buffy and Spike’s feelings for each other grew. There was residual tension in the beginning, remnants of arguments to which Giles was not privy, but those dissipated over the months up until Christmas, giving way to the affectionate camaraderie he had so briefly witnessed back when William and Buffy had rescued him from Esme’s prison. Given the opportunity, they rarely left each other’s presence, eyes seeking out the other when they thought nobody was looking, stealing tiny touches when proximity allowed.

What made it even more disconcerting was Spike. Though he seemed generally the same, there were flashes of the human he had been, moments when the accent softened or a particularly astute observation was made regarding a sticky research issue. In a way, Giles felt like he was watching the relationship Buffy had developed with William evolve all over again, taking root in the remnants of the personality that remained in Spike and germinating into something new and fresh. If he wasn’t so absolutely convinced of Spike’s devotion to Buffy and the baby, he would’ve been worried.

As it was, any doubts he’d had were vanquished by the events of Thanksgiving.

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

The house was crowded, warm and spicy with the scents so unique to this American holiday. Joyce was busy with the meal preparations, while the younger people were recovering from their recent adventures with the resurrected Chumash tribe. Havi hovered at Xander’s side, though when exactly their relationship had turned so affectionate, Giles had no idea.

The only one missing was Spike. He’d disappeared soon after the end of the fight the previous night with excuses of patrolling so that the rest of Buffy’s holiday could occur problem-free, but as of three the following afternoon, he had yet to return. Buffy’s worry grew with every passing hour, and more than once she vocalized her concern that the injuries he’d sustained jumping on the back of the bear/Indian might’ve been worse than Spike had let on. Only when Oz volunteered to go out and look around did she begin to relax.

Giles was the one who heard the van return. Stepping out onto the porch, he was about to ask Oz what he’d discovered when the younger man beat him to the punch.

“Get Xander,” Oz instructed as he climbed out of the vehicle. “Be discreet.”

The women were in the midst of setting the table, chattering blindly to the noises outside, so Giles was able to retrieve Xander and return to the van without any notice from them. One of the back doors was open, but even before they reached it, Giles had a sinking feeling he knew what was wrong. The stench of blood was almost nauseating.

“Holy shit,” Xander muttered. “And I thought I looked bad with my funny penis disease.”

He was right. Spike was a mess. Blood caked his hair and clothing, seeping through cuts too many to count. The left side of his face was swollen and bruised, and there were unmistakable burns visible through the holes in his shirt. On his left hand, two of his fingers were obviously broken, though it looked as if someone might have tried to splint those temporarily, and the entire right leg of his jeans was missing from the knee down, his calf scored with what could only be claw marks. The only good thing about Spike was that he was unconscious. At least he was unaware of his pain.

“What happened?” Giles asked, climbing in to get a closer look at the injuries. “Where did you find him?”

“At the garage where he’s been working on his car.”

“Don’t tell me he did it,” Xander said. “I told him it was suicide. Stupid vamp is going to get Buffy pissed at all of us now.”

“Did what?” Frowning, Giles’ gaze swiveled between the two young men. “What exactly are you holding back, Xander?”

“There were these guys---.”

“Demons,” Oz corrected.

“Demons,” Xander amended. “Spike was buying spare parts from them for his car---.”

“Buying? I was under the impression he still hadn’t found work.”

“He hasn’t. These guys trade in kittens, if you can believe it. And you don’t want to ask how he gets those.”

Giles sighed, shaking his head as he looked down at the unconscious vampire. “Go on.”

“Well, last week, we went down to pick up the paint, and we were standing around arguing about the color---.”

“Again,” Oz said.

“---and we heard these demons talking in the corner of the shop. About Buffy. And about how they’d heard these rumors about her being off her game on account of being pregnant.”

“Oh, dear lord.”

“Exactly. But there was at least a dozen of them, and only three of us, and we didn’t even have any weapons---.”

“Don’t forget the horns. Whoever coined the phrase ‘horny little devil’ was probably thinking of these guys,” Oz added.

“Except not so little,” Xander said. “Anyway, Spike wanted to take them on then but we managed to talk him down from it.”

“It appears he changed his mind,” Giles murmured.

None of them heard the approaching footsteps until it was too late.

“Did we decide to have Thanksgiving dinner out in the car?” Buffy chirped. Then, her gaze fell on Spike, and her sharp intake of breath cut through her good mood.

“Get him inside,” she ordered, hopping into the van. She worked faster than Giles would’ve expected, grabbing a blanket from the floor beside Spike to drape it over his body. “We’re going to need more of these. Xander, go inside and get something else to cover him. Oz, go ask Willow to get out the first aid kit. Tell her we’re going to need stuff for suturing, too.” When they didn’t move quickly enough for her, she barked, “Now!”

She worked with the brisk efficiency he’d taught her, all the while muttering under her breath about headstrong vampires. Giles helped as best he could without getting in her way.

“I don’t suppose you know what happened,” she commented.

“Not exactly. Something about a group of demons who suspected you’re pregnant. It would appear he tried to get rid of them in order to protect you.”

“Of course, he did, the big dope.” Her fingers brushed over his unbruised cheek. “One of these days, he’s going to get himself dusted.”

The ache in her voice was impossible to miss, and Giles was relieved when the others arrived with the necessary items to move Spike safely to the house. He said nothing when the vampire regained consciousness, though he noted how easily he avoided answering Buffy’s direct questions about what he’d done.

“It’s taken care of,” was all Spike would say. “There’s nothin’ for you to fuss over.”

Afterwards, when most everyone was clearing up after dinner, Giles watched as Buffy helped Spike get downstairs to the basement. Though Spike was the injured party, each leaned against the other, shoring weight that wasn’t only theirs. Her soft murmurs were followed by the gentle cadences of his as they whispered back and forth until they were both gone from Giles’ view.

It was probably the most intimate thing he’d ever witnessed between the pair.

It drove away the last of his reservations about the depth of Spike’s feelings for the Slayer. And of hers for him.

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

Buffy glanced at the clock for the seventh time in the past five minutes. Almost done. Finally. This would the last time she’d meet with Robin this semester, and while she didn’t exactly hate the tutoring sessions, she’d long ago stopped wondering why she needed them. Her grades weren’t stellar, but they weren’t of the suck, either. In the end, Buffy fully expected to pull a solid B which should’ve hardly merited such intense studying. Professor Walsh, however, had different ideas.

“Earth to Buffy, earth to Buffy. Come in, Buffy.”

She jumped at the soft sound of his voice, looking guiltily away from the clock to see Robin smiling quizzically across at her. “Sorry,” she said. “What were you saying?”

“I was saying, I think you’ve done great work this semester,” he said. She liked his voice. He had a way about him that was very soothing; it was one reason why she hadn’t protested that much when Professor Walsh insisted she continue with the tutoring. “Especially considering what kind of…distractions you’ve had.”

Automatically, Buffy’s hand went to her stomach. It was impossible to hide the pregnancy any longer, though Robin had never mentioned it before. “It’s been OK,” she said. “Believe it or not, I had worse times when I was in high school.”

He nodded in understanding. “Not that it’s any of my business,” he said, “but I’d like to think we’ve gotten to be friends this term, Buffy. And I want you to know that what I’m about to say is just because I like you.”

She laughed. “OK, now you’re starting to make me nervous.”

“Oh, it’s not that bad. I just hope that you told the father of your baby where he could go. Any man who could just abandon---.”

“Wait. What makes you think he’s not around?”

Robin hesitated, a slight frown between his eyes. “Well, we’ve been meeting how long now? And I’ve never once heard you talk about having a boyfriend, or seen you meet up with anybody after class. I just assumed---.”

“You assumed wrong,” Buffy said. “William hasn’t gone anywhere. In fact, he’s probably more excited about this baby than I am. I’m just not big on making my private life all that public, you know? It’s nobody’s business but my own.”

She didn’t know why she was bothering to explain all this, but she kind of liked Robin. He deserved an explanation.

“I’m sorry,” he was saying, embarrassed. “I didn’t know. I shouldn’t have pried.”

“No, really, it’s OK. You’re a nice guy who just can’t imagine other guys not being quite so nice. It’s understandable. But, honestly, William’s completely onboard when it comes to Schmoo. He even---.”

His frown was back. “Schmoo?” Robin queried carefully. “I…hope that’s not the name you’ve picked out.”

The flush heated her cheeks. “Pet name. Until it’s born. Because Spike has this weird thing about wanting to be surprised by the sex, which I totally don’t get because it would make shopping so much easier---.”

“OK, I’m lost. Who’s Spike?”

“Oh. Spike’s William. Or William’s Spike.” Buffy chewed at her lower lip. “I’m still trying to sort that one out.”

Chuckling, Robin leaned back in his chair. “I think I should just bow out of this conversation as gracefully as I can and say, why don’t we cut this early, Buffy? You don’t need me any more before the final, and considering how many times you looked at the clock this session, you’re probably dying to get someplace that isn’t here. I’m glad you’ve got someone to help look out for you and the baby. Too many young women in your circumstances don’t.”

Gratefully, Buffy rose from her seat, grabbing her book and notepad from the desk. “Yeah, I’m pretty darn lucky.” Slinging her bag over her shoulder, she headed to the door, shooting him a smile when she reached it. “See you at the final.”

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

He felt stupid. Considering all the education he’d had, considering how much he thought he’d gotten to know Buffy Summers over the past semester, Robin felt like an outright fool for believing she would get herself pregnant in a casual relationship. She wasn’t a stupid girl, his first impressions notwithstanding. And, contrary to his mother’s situation, she had a strong support group surrounding her to help shoulder the burden of being the Chosen One. It was ridiculous to think that she would’ve let herself get into a situation where she would become the victim.

That wasn’t the kind of slayer Buffy Summers was.

Maggie wasn’t happy about his lack of progress in getting to know Buffy on a more intimate level. More than once, she’d drilled him on what exactly she was trying to accomplish, how important it was that she get Buffy Summers on her side. Frankly, Robin didn’t understand why she didn’t just come out and be truthful with the Slayer. They were on the same side, after all. But that wasn’t Maggie’s way. That would’ve meant giving up too much control, leaving too much to chance, for Maggie’s tastes.

Still, Robin was satisfied that he’d grown to be a good enough friend to casually arrange to see Buffy outside of campus the next semester. She wasn’t going to be attending classes, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to be around. Willow would still be here, and if Robin had learned anything, it was that whither Willow goest, Buffy went to.

Locking the office door behind him, Robin contemplated their last conversation. He didn’t like leaving things the way they had. Maybe he could start the whole plan of seeing Buffy outside of tutoring now, since their sessions were over. It would definitely make Maggie happy.

Yeah. That sounded like a plan.

He practiced his speech all the way to Stevenson Hall. Way back in the beginning of the semester, he’d taken one of Buffy’s books, for use as an excuse to see her if the occasion ever arose. He never had, and the ironic thing was, Buffy had never noticed that she was missing it. It took only a few minutes to fetch it from the office; now was as good a time as any to return it.

He had the book in hand when he knocked at her dorm room door. It opened to reveal a surprised Willow on the other side.

“Robin!” she said. “Hi! What’s up?”

“I’m looking for Buffy actually.” He held out the book. “She left this and since it’s our last tutoring session, I figured I’d give it back to her now.”

“Oh, thanks.”

She took it away from him, stepping back to set it on the desk. Robin took the opportunity to follow her a few feet into the room, and it was only then that he saw the very pale man lounging on the bed in the corner.

“Oh,” Willow said when she noticed where he was looking. “That’s Spike, Buffy’s boyfriend. Spike, this is Robin Wood, our psych TA.”

The man rose from the bed with the grace of a wildcat, but even as Robin thought of him as such, he knew the truth. This was a vampire. Everything about Spike screamed, “Notice me!”, from the top of his bleach-tipped hair to the bottom of his black boots, but it was the long leather jacket that swirled like liquid night around his legs that captured Robin’s attention.

“So you’re the one makin’ sure that psych prof stays off Buffy’s back,” he commented. “S’pose I should be givin’ you some thanks.”

The accent made Robin’s skin crawl. It was too much of a coincidence. It had to be.

Though…why would a vampire slayer allow a vampire to hang around in her dorm room? And why would Willow, the most do-gooder, overachieving student Robin had ever seen, tell him that it was Buffy’s boyfriend if it wasn’t true?

“Buffy’s a smart girl,” Robin answered automatically. He hoped his shock didn’t show in his face. “All I did was guide her way.”

“Buffy’s not actually back yet,” Willow said. “Though, that’s probably obvious since she’s not in the room.”

“That’s OK.” He began to back up, suddenly desperate to get as much space between him and this Spike as he could. “Just let her know I brought it back.” He was halfway out the door when he changed his mind and took the risk.

“By the way, Spike, like your coat,” he said, meeting the vampire’s eyes for the first time. “I don’t suppose you could tell me where I could pick one up like it. I’m still trying to figure Sunnydale shopping out.”

Spike shook his head, squaring his shoulders proudly. “Can’t. It’s one of a kind. Got it in New York a few years back. Kind of a…souvenir, you could say.”

“Ah, well, my loss then.”

Though he was smiling when they finally closed the door on him, inside Robin, a small boy was screaming. One whose mother had been brutally killed by a vampire he’d never been able to find.

The one who now wore her coat like some sick badge of honor.

He felt sick to his stomach. It was a good thing he was done for the day. He was going to be useless until he sorted out this new surge of rage.

 

To be continued in Chapter 35: Of the Seasons Have I Seen