DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet LXXXVII.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy and Spike have decided to return to Sunnydale for Christmas, after having a run-in with Angel and his discovery of the truth about Buffy’s pregnancy and her relationship with Spike…

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

Chapter 38: The Cause of This Fair Gift

It wasn’t going to be the Christmas that Joyce had imagined. No Buffy, no Spike, no excited giggles coming up the stairwell before dawn. True, it was partially her own doing---she had been just as supportive as Willow when Buffy had hit upon the plan to take Spike away---but that didn’t mean she didn’t regret that this would be her first Christmas without her daughter around. Part of her feared of it becoming a growing trend, which only made her feel old. She was too young and vital for empty nest syndrome. Maybe if she repeated that often enough to herself she’d start believing it.

So, when her body clock woke her up at seven, Joyce rolled over and stared at the window rather than rising immediately from bed. There was no need to rush around; the others wouldn’t be arriving until afternoon, though she expected Xander would escape his family’s get-together as quickly as possible in order to join Havi at the Summers’ home. Joyce could luxuriate with a few extra minutes in bed, and try not to dwell on the fact that she hadn’t heard from Buffy since their phone conversation the previous evening.

The crash that resounded up the stairs made the walls shake.

Up in a flash, Joyce grabbed her robe, slipping it on while she flew out her room to see what had happened on the lower floor. She came to a stunned halt when another door opened and someone else came charging out as well.

“Buffy?” she said, surprised.

Buffy shot a grin over her shoulder but didn’t stop moving as she headed for the stairs. “Merry Christmas, Mom!”

Joyce followed after, but the question of what her daughter was doing back from LA---and obviously sleeping in her own bed---had to wait when they came upon Havi and Spike glaring each other down in the kitchen. Both looked as if they’d just woken, Havi in a tank and bottoms, Spike dressed only in a pair of jeans. Shards of ceramic were scattered at their bare feet, while loose plaster dust spotted Havi’s dark hair. A skinny line of blood dripped from a cut on her temple.

“You were not supposed to be here!” she stormed.

“Well, I bloody well am!” Spike shouted back. “And since when do we keep stakes in the same drawer as the spoons? Goin’ to start skewering your Cheerios?”

Joyce’s eyes widened when she saw the wooden stake still clenched in Havi’s hand. But Buffy beat her to the punch when she stepped between the two, holding up her hands to each of their chests to keep them apart.

“How about someone telling me what’s going on here?” she asked.

“She bloody started it,” Spike growled, jabbing a finger in Havi’s direction. “Came up to get a cuppa, and next thing I know, she’s shovin’ me into the wall with the wrong end of the stick about to go through my back.”

“You shoved me as well,” Havi argued.

“To get you off my back, you bitch.”

“I thought you were a vampire.”

“Guess what? I am a vampire!”

“That’s not---you were not supposed to be here!”

“Enough!” Buffy’s voice rang out, sharp and clear, silencing the others. Carefully, she reached and took the stake out of Havi’s grasp, tucking it into the elasticated waistband of her own pajama bottoms. “It’s Christmas, OK? Remember Christmas? Peace on earth and good will toward men?”

“And vamps,” Spike grumbled.

“And some vamps,” Buffy conceded. “It was just a misunderstanding. Havi thought she was protecting Mom from a threat, and Spike reacted to protect himself. No harm, no foul.”

“She tried---.”

“Spike!”

As Joyce watched, Spike’s brows knitted together into an even darker line, and his hands clenched into fists at his sides. “Should’ve just stayed in LA,” he complained, whirling on his heel to stomp back down into the basement, slamming the door behind him.

Even after he’d left, Havi didn’t relax, her nostrils flaring with her quick breath. “You were not supposed to be here,” she repeated for the third time, this time addressing it to Buffy.

“I know,” Buffy said. She waggled a finger at the bleeding cut on Havi’s temple. “You should go clean that up. It doesn’t look bad, but…”

Havi lifted a hand to her head, as if noticing for the first time that she’d been hurt. With a curt nod of gratitude, she brushed past the other women and disappeared upstairs.

Buffy immediately sagged against the counter. “So much for sleeping in this morning,” she said.

“But you’re here,” Joyce said. Closing the distance between them, she took Buffy into a warm hug, grateful when her daughter’s arms immediately went around her waist. “What happened to your Sid and Nancy Christmas?”

“Called on account of Angel.” Briefly, Buffy explained what had happened in Los Angeles, ending with Spike’s assertion that Christmas was about family. “Not like that wasn’t what I’ve been trying to tell him for the past month,” she finished.

“I heard that, Slayer!”

They both giggled at Spike’s voice floating up from the basement. “And you drove all night just to get home?” Joyce asked.

“I found out there’s a huge bonus to driving on Christmas Eve,” Buffy said. “Absolutely zero traffic. We were here by four, but I didn’t want to wake you up. I was kind of hoping to surprise you with it this morning.” She offered a weak smile, throwing up her hands as if tossing imaginary confetti. “Surprise!”

“Well, I’m just glad you’re here,” Joyce said. “I know I said I was fine with the whole LA thing, but it wouldn’t have been the same without you, Buffy. And now I don’t have to try and rewrap the gifts I got you for Christmas in birthday paper instead.”

They laughed together, a warm, honeyed sound, and set to fixing breakfast. Joyce made a mental note to thank Spike later for bringing her daughter home for the holidays.

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

“He was in a Santa suit?”

The laughter that followed Willow’s incredulous query was contagious, to the point where even Spike couldn’t help but join in. Christmas was half-over, the meal eaten, the dishes done, and the gang was simply enjoying being together, with Buffy on the couch and her friends scattered in the room around her. Her face beamed with the flush of her happiness, and once again, Spike patted himself on the back for coming up with this little scheme of bringing her home. Even if Joyce hadn’t pulled him aside and thanked him for the best gift she could’ve asked for, he would’ve known from the look on his Slayer’s face that this was the right thing to do.

“It was the only way the administrators of the orphanage would let him anywhere near the kids,” Buffy explained. “They thought it would be less stressful for the kids that way.”

“Yeah, because seein’ St. Nick tear his fangs through a pack of demons isn’t traumatic at all,” Spike drawled.

“Well, at least it’s over and done with,” Buffy said. “Angel knows about Schmoo and none of us got killed saving Christmas.”

Willow’s smile faltered. “You weren’t…in any real danger, were you?” she asked.

“You mean, other than fighting off half a dozen seven-foot demons with hands the size of Virginia hams while I’m six months pregnant?” Buffy asked. “No, no danger at all.”

The others laughed it off, but Spike saw the shadow pass over the witch’s face, her gaze surreptitiously scanning the cut that was still prominent on the Slayer’s cheek. It clicked then where her worry was stemming from, and he stiffened where he leaned against the wall. Red’s protection spell was supposed to be keeping Buffy from harm for as long as she was pregnant; the Bhrylls should’ve been falling over themselves from the effects of the magic shielding the Slayer from their harm.

When he saw Willow break away from the crowd to go into the kitchen for another tray of eggnog to pass around, he slipped away to join her. “Need some help there, Red?” he asked from over her shoulder.

She jumped, the cups rattling against the counter. “When are you going to get over the sneaking up on people, Spike?” she snapped.

“When I stop bein’ a vampire,” he replied. He leaned closer, his mouth just millimeters from her ear. “Is there something ‘bout your little protection spell on Buffy you’re not sharing?”

“No!” she hissed. She whirled to face him, the color high on her cheeks. “She shouldn’t even have got the scratch. I don’t know what’s going on.”

“Maybe she needs a little booster shot.”

“But she shouldn’t,” she argued. “The spell is set to dissolve when she has the baby. There’s no reason for it to be fizzling out now.”

His mouth opened to speak, but a sudden thought made him pause. “You tied it to the little one?” he asked carefully.

“Well, yeah. Isn’t that what we wanted? Buffy to be safe when she wasn’t in top slaying condition?” Her eyes widened. “You don’t think anything’s wrong with the baby, do you? Could that be---?”

“Xander’s getting ready to chew off his own arm in there,” Buffy said as she strode into the kitchen. She didn’t even notice when Spike and Willow jumped guiltily apart, heading straight for the refrigerator. “You would never guess he ate half a turkey less than two hours ago. How’s the eggnog coming?”

“It’s noggy,” Willow said, too-bright.

“And…eggy,” Spike offered. He scowled at how phony they sounded.

They stayed immobile while Buffy loaded her arms with plates of leftovers, chattering away about how much she’d eaten at dinner, and how cute the maternity clothes her mother had bought for her were, and how wouldn’t it be funny if they could get Giles and Wesley under the mistletoe in the front door at the same time?

The last made Spike smile, but it vanished with the Slayer’s exit, and he whirled to face Willow again, his face grim. “Do what it takes to shore up that spell,” he ordered. “I’ll keep an eye on Buffy, see if there is some way I can get her to go for a check-up without makin’ her suspicious. I’m not about to let anything happen to that baby, understand? If I have to tear off my own arm to save the little one, I will. Just---.”

“I’ll do it. As soon as I get home and get to my supplies.”

He nodded. It was the best he could expect. He was just glad he’d come up with the suggestion to come home early. If something was wrong with the baby---.

He shoved the thought aside. Nothing was wrong. It was just Red’s magic not being up to scratch.

The fact that she was the most powerful witch he’d ever met was just something he wouldn’t think about.

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

Giles had to wait much longer than he wanted before finding the opportunity to speak with Spike privately. It had been a pleasant surprise to find the pair in the Summers’ home when he’d arrived for Christmas dinner, but ever since, they’d been inseparable. Buffy couldn’t even leave Spike alone in the kitchen with Willow for a few minutes before trailing after him.

Now, though, the younger people were piled around the TV watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, while Joyce was finishing the cleaning up in the kitchen. Wesley had left to fetch Lydia from where she’d been spending her Christmas holidays, leaving Giles standing on the periphery, wondering when it would be appropriate for him to make his exit. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Spike reach across the back of the couch and slyly pull his lighter out of the duster that was draped there, before rising to his feet and sauntering toward the back door.

Giles waited a full minute before following.

The air was brisk for Southern California, and the cigarette smoke plumed around Spike’s head as if frozen. When Giles stepped onto the porch, Spike was staring out across the city lights, his face oddly pinked by the flare of his cigarette.

“Couldn’t take it either, huh?” Spike commented without looking back. “Can’t say I blame you. They’ve watched that bloody cartoon every night for the past month. It’s enough to tear your own eyeballs out.”

Giles leaned against the opposite porch post, his eyes steady as they regarded Spike. “How was Los Angeles?” he asked. “Did you enjoy the concerts?”

“It was a bit of all right,” came the reply. “Doesn’t compare to the real thing, but then, can’t expect miracles when it comes to the classics.” He shot Giles a curious glance. “You didn’t really come out here to chat me up about our little holiday, did you?” he asked. “’Cause if you did…” He turned away, letting out a long stream of smoke. “…you really need to get a life. Or laid. Or both, most likely.”

“Actually, I was curious about LA---.”

Spike shook his head. “Brought her back, didn’t I? And I’m playin’ nice with the kiddies, even if Studs did try to take a poke. What more do you want from me?”

“That’s not what I was referring to. If you had let me finish, I would’ve said, I’m curious what Angel said to you regarding Cordelia’s vision. Buffy’s telling leaves a little to be desired, and the way Joyce was speaking last night, Angel seemed to be sincerely worried about Buffy’s safety.”

Dropping his cigarette to the step, Spike ground it out with the toe of his boot. “Angel gets his knickers in a twist if Buffy breathes too heavily,” he said. “Trust me. I was watching her back last night.”

“I don’t doubt that, but---.”

“You’re fucking joking, right?”

Giles looked up to see Spike staring at him in disbelief. “Pardon?”

“You heard me,” Spike said. “No sense in denying it, Rupes. I know you think this is all a lark to me, that I’m just goin’ to bugger off at the first sign of bein’ bored. So let’s just stop with the supportive Watcher routine when it’s just you and me, OK? It’ll be a hell of a lot easier for the both of us.”

He was surprised to hear the bitterness in Spike’s tone. Joyce had warned him that Spike had reservations about his acceptance with the gang, but Giles hadn’t realized it was as deeply rooted as this.

“I suppose if I say you’re wrong, you’ll call me a lying prat and storm off to sulk around Buffy,” Giles commented, wryly. He folded his arms over his chest. “So. What’s it going to take to convince you that you, in fact, are the prat in this scenario, and that I’m actually quite impressed with how devoted you are to her?”

The blunt approach seemed to work as he had hoped. Spike straightened in surprise, his head tilting curiously. “Since when do you like anything about me bein’ with Buffy?” he demanded.

“Do you wish a specific date?”

The question took him even more aback, but he replied, “Sure. Why the hell not.”

“Thanksgiving,” Giles said. “Oz and Xander told me why you were so badly beaten. I’m also aware of the deals you’ve been brokering within the demon community.”

That made Spike deflate, his aspect growing wary. “Bugger,” he muttered. “This is the talk to let me know you’re goin’ to be tellin’ Buffy about it, isn’t it?”

“No, I won’t be telling Buffy.”

“Is it blackmail, then? ‘Cause if it is, you’re goin’ to be disappointed. The only thing of value I’ve got is---.”

“It’s not blackmail, Spike.” He sighed. He hadn’t thought it would be this hard to get through to the vampire. “I’ll admit, I don’t think you appreciate the danger in which you’re placing yourself, but it’s your decision to make, and as far as I can tell, it’s not hurting anyone.” He stopped. “You…are…aware of just how the demon community is going to react when they uncover the truth about your relationship with Buffy, aren’t you? I know you’re fostering this…image, but when they learn that you’ve been lying to them---.”

Spike waved him silent. “Already thought this part through,” he said. “It’s worth it. It’s not like my life isn’t in danger every other day, and if it helps Buffy get through this pregnancy safely, then that’s all that matters.”

“What about the child? It’s very likely they’ll attempt to hurt you through it.”

An angry snarl accompanied a flash of gold in Spike’s eyes. “Not goin’ to happen. I’ll be dust before I let any one of ‘em lay a finger on the little one.”

It was the reaction he’d expected, and Giles nodded knowingly. When he’d first discovered how Spike and Oz were manipulating the demon community, his first concern had been for the baby. Well, his second. His first would always be for Buffy. But he’d quickly realized that the baby would become a target, regardless of who the father was, so his worries that Spike could potentially be exacerbating the situation were redundant at best. At worst, they were an indication of just how little he was showing his trust in Buffy. After everything she had been through, she deserved better than that.

Spike had earned it, as well. And if the Slayer’s child had such a fierce protector on its side as its father, its odds for survival were augmented.

“Which leads me back to my original question,” Giles said. “Do you know the particulars about Cordelia’s vision? I understood that they are quite accurate most of the time, and if this one was about Buffy, perhaps it’s best if we treat it with just a bit more care than joking about Angel’s choice of pants.”

Spike fell into a silence, turning away from the house to stare moodily up into the sky. Giles waited for him to speak, hoping that they would remain uninterrupted.

“Wasn’t too specific,” Spike finally said. “Seein’ as how none of them knew about the little one, they thought the way Buffy looked was a result of bein’ poisoned by some demon.”

“So, she was pregnant in the vision,” Giles mused.

“Yeah. The girl said she thought Buffy was the size of a house in it.”

He frowned. “Buffy’s certainly advanced, but I would hardly say that she’s as large as all that,” he said. “Perhaps the vision is further into the future.”

“Could be. Nothin’ happened out of the ordinary to her last night.”

“Any other details?”

“All’s he said was that it was dark. And Buffy was complaining about the light fizzling…out…”

The sudden distance in Spike’s eyes betrayed his thoughts. “What is it?” Giles prompted. “Did you remember something else?”

“No.” There was a long pause, and then he shook his head as if to clear it and repeated, this time with more force, “No.”

He was holding something back, but the stubborn set of Spike’s jaw was all Giles needed to know that nothing more would be forthcoming. Sighing, he straightened from his stance against the post.

“Well, if you think of anything else,” Giles said, “I’d appreciate it if you could let me know. It would be unfortunate if there was something I could do that might help keep Buffy safe and I missed the opportunity.”

He left Spike standing on the porch, hoping against hope that the indirect scolding of his last statement was enough to prod the vampire into sharing what he knew at a later date. In the meantime, Giles would satisfy his need to aid Buffy by keeping a closer eye on both her and Spike’s nocturnal adventures. Eventually, one of them would require assistance, and even if they weren’t going to ask for it, Giles was going to be there.

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

It was, perhaps, the loneliest Christmas he could remember having in nearly twenty years. Before Sunnydale, there had always been friends or girlfriends to spend the holidays with, and even longer ago, there had been Bernard and his determined need to expose young Robin Wood to the finer traditions of an English Christmas. Robin was the only kid he knew who celebrated Boxing Day; he remembered making that a literal translation with the other boys in the neighborhood who’d teased him about it.

But here on the Hellmouth, things were different. He’d been so determined to do good by Maggie that he’d been short making friends that semester. Outside of her, the only people he knew were students, and the only one he knew well was Buffy Summers. As strong as the urge to go see her was, he couldn’t. He couldn’t do much of anything. So, he drove around the streets of Sunnydale, watching the lights twinkle on the housefronts, wondering what festivities were going on behind the closed doors.

Somehow, he found himself on the outskirts of town, near the house he’d seen Willow go to the previous week. Glancing at the clock on the radio, Robin debated for only a second before angling the car in a new direction. Curiosity, he told himself as he neared the house. He was just satisfying his curiosity.

There were no cars in front of it as there had been before, but there, in the yard, was the stooped form of an elderly woman. She was tiny, bird-like, her skin like aged parchment left to fade in a forgotten cupboard. Her back was bowed in an identical arc to the woman he’d seen outlined in the curtains on his first visit, and he realized as he slowed the car to watch her that they were one and the same.

Then, she looked up. And when their dark eyes met, she smiled.

He pulled the car over without thinking. Maybe it was just because he was feeling the crunch of loneliness; he didn’t really know. But whatever reason, it didn’t seem right that someone of her experience should be alone on the holiday, too.

She was at his window before he could turn off the ignition. Black eyes bored into him as he slowly reached for the switch to roll the window down, and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat when she spoke.

“I know you,” she said. Her voice cracked from her advancing years, but there was a clarity to it that told him she was more than in control of her faculties, in spite of the confusion of her statement.

“I’m sorry,” Robin said with an apologetic smile. “I don’t think so.”

“Yes, I do.” For a moment, she looked off to her left, and when her gaze returned to his face, there was a newfound certainty to be seen there. “You’re Nikki Wood’s son. Robin. Dreadful name. I have no idea what she was thinking when she named you.”

The announcement shook him, wiping the polite amusement from his face. “How did you know that?” he demanded. “Who are you?”

She ignored his question, tilting her head toward the house. “Would you care for a cup of tea?” she asked. “My jailors shouldn’t be back for a few hours yet. We can have a nice visit and…catch up on old times.”

She began walking away without waiting for an answer, leaving him staring at her retreating back in astonishment. Automatically, his fingers turned the keys in order to kill the engine.

Maybe he wasn’t as alone as he thought he was.

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

He deliberately waited until the wee hours of Boxing Day to check on the team he’d organized. Being the head of the Watcher’s Council afforded Quentin a certain latitude in his judgment calls, but the last thing he wished to do was bring Buffy Summers’ current condition to the Council’s attention. Control would slip through his fingers like running water then, and that was simply not acceptable. This was a delicate situation. It needed to be treated as such.

Though he had yet to return the call, Quentin was grateful that Robin Wood had gone to the lengths of contacting him the week previous. The question of why Robin would be interested in the current Slayer had had Travers investigate what exactly the young man was up to these days, which in turn led to the intelligence he’d received from Sunnydale. Part of him was angry with Wesley, Rupert, and Esme for failing to report on the Slayer’s pregnancy, but another understood completely why at least the Watchers had held their tongues. They had already made their allegiances to Buffy Summers all too clear; it made perfect sense that they would protect her privacy so vigorously.

Receiving the pre-natal records from the surgery Ms. Summers frequented had provoked Quentin’s more fervent interest. The dates she provided, confirmed by the physician in charge of her care, had the conception occurring while she had been stranded in nineteenth-century London. That meant William Freston was the father, and more importantly, that a dangerous vampire was about to gain a personal interest in the Slayer’s life, more so than he already had. Quentin was aware of his presence in Sunnydale, but until this point, had known that interference would cost him more than it would gain.

Now, the scales were tipped back in his favor. A baby was on the line. A baby that should not, by all things reasonable, even exist. A baby that provided a much simpler means for controlling the Slayer.

The organization of a team to go to the Hellmouth had been the next logical step. As he waited for the other end of the line to pick up, Quentin scanned the files of the operatives they would have in place, assuring himself that this time, they would avoid the Slayer’s detection. There would be no repeat of the incident at the bookstore last summer if he could help it.

“Hello?”

He smiled. He loved having this kind of control over his people, and the team leader’s eagerness to please Quentin only made it that much easier. “Hello, Lydia,” he said, his voice smooth. “Happy Boxing Day.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 39: Eve’s Apple